Dog to Writer: Life Isn’t a List

Baby and LeeBaby Rae, my Australian cattle dog, is talking to me.

How do I know? She’s bringing me things, all sorts of things: dog-speak for, Hey, down here!  So far, she’s deposited a muddy ball in my lap, a sock from the laundry room, and remnants of the newspaper front page.

I get it: she has a valid point. I’ve been “missing in action” again, my head firmly up—watch it—in the air. Lost in the ether. Inside myself. Not part of the world.

I’ve been gazing at a computer screen the better part of a weekend, tying up loose ends and marketing stuff re my novel’s release (The Angry Woman Suite) at the end of this month; getting taxes out of the way, and trouble-shooting my husband’s long term care insurance reimbursements, grrrr (note: this is how insurance actually works: you pay the provider—much the same as you pay premiums before you’re ever eligible for benefits, on time—and then the insurance company gets around to reimbursing you at their leisure).

Leisure being the operative word.

But back to the point: Baby and I have a “contract.”

When I brought Baby across the border to the U.S., I vowed never to let harm come to her if I could help it; and to feed her, exercise her, give her rawhide treats, groom her, take her to the “puppy doctor,” throw balls for her to fetch, and sit with her in the sun, preferably for hours on end. And to sing “How Much is That Doggy in the Window?” before she falls asleep at night (don’t ask).

For her part, she shows up.

See how uncomplicated dogs keep things?

But this is what Baby keeps reminding me: Love isn’t a list. And neither is life.

Instead, it’s about showing up, sharing food, and not biting others. Pretty simple.

And I know this, but I sometimes forget. That’s why we need dogs, who teach by example, and so of course they never forget the lesson. And the lesson is that somewhere in the middle of anything is the balance for everything. And balance, not a list with everything on it crossed off, is the goal, the optimum—the whole point of sucking air.

Not that I can leave my lists behind. Or doing. You might as well ask me to make my tall self shorter.

But I can keep aiming for balance.

The muddy ball is back in my lap. And we all know where this is going.

I’m closing down the computer. Baby’s an excellent teacher: we’re going outside.

We’re going to be instead of do.

An Improbable Life: Baby Rae, My Writing Partner

I arguably have one of the world’s most neurotic dogs. Her name is Baby Rae Fullbright—Baby for short. (Baby is for “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” and Rae is after my sister, Colleen Rae, who was with me the day I took Baby.)

Smuggled out of Tecate, Mexico as a puppy—a very sick, abused one—hers is an improbable life. That she survived puppyhood was the biggest improbability. But she didn’t survive unscathed. She has—how do I put this? Well, she has issues. Like a draining bathtub can send her into paroxysms of drooling and shaking. And she hates dogs. Considering she is one, how messed-up is that?

She fears men, eyeglasses, hats, bicycles, scooters, towels, riding in cars, looking at cars, screen doors, wind, leaves, and lizards (the teensy ones!)—and that’s nowhere near a complete list. That’s a “just getting started” list.   

She is the unlikeliest cattle dog (normally brave and energetic—but also loyal and incredibly smart). She is lazy (except she loves to “dance”). And she’s the total house dog (she doesn’t do rain or cold—and cold is anything less than 68 degrees). She sleeps on a down pillow. Wherever I am, she is. Unless I’m working at the office. But at home she never lets me out of her sight. Never. When I get ready for the office in the morning, those big brown eyes of hers are almost comically mournful watching me, as if I’m never coming back. It’s pitiful, actually. You’d think after eleven years she’d get it: I am coming home. I’ll always come home to you.     

But her world has rocked a little more than usual the past two weeks. I’d some Kindle pages to read (many pages, actually; for reference, the print version of my novel is 370-odd pages), and formatting to modify as necessary and turn back around in a week or so. This is a different kind of work than creative writing, where I take lots of little breaks and read aloud to Baby, for the rhythm of words and phrasing (and, yes, she always approves); where she and I are “partners.” But galley-type work is intense, extremely focused, as in no interruptions, please.

Well, I finished (in fact, I just finished!), but I know Baby’s missed our regular “talks,” and those silly “dances” we do while I cook dinner (no time for cooking!), or the workouts after (that’s my sad, pensive Baby above . . . ouch).

And, yes, I’ve missed her, too. She’s a special old girl in spite of her issues. Or maybe because of them. She’s my friend—my best friend. She gets me. I get her. She even understands English. The only thing she doesn’t understand is that she’s not ever going to be abandoned again, or hurt; otherwise, this dog is so smart you can have a conversation with her. And she doesn’t chew furniture, or pee on the rugs.

She just waits for me—and now I’m back. And we’re getting ready to dance.

New Release Critics’ Pick: The Angry Woman Suite

Hi all, First off, a big SORRY to my poor dear friends reading this and already so over hearing the following, BUT—    

Just. One. More. Time. (promise) . . . so here goes:

My soon-to-be available novel, The Angry Woman Suite, about a Pennsylvania murder and its effects on two subsequent generations, was named a “New Release Critics’ Pick” by Kirkus Reviews last week (google Kirkus online newsletter of 1/4/12).

I did have champagne for dinner that night . . . and that’s all, just champagne.  

Second, while I’m so obviously aboard the “all about me” train tonight, I’d like to talk more about The Angry Woman Suite, starting with the lovely cover design by artist Laurie Fuller, which several people have asked about, as in who is this beautiful woman?

Still others have asked if The Angry Woman Suite is biographical or partly autobiographical (no, it’s not; it’s fiction, although it incorporates many historical elements); and others have asked about the title, if it means what it sounds like; i.e., a bunch of pissed women off their meds.    

The novel’s title refers to a famous suite of (ten) portraits that figure predominantly in the novel’s plot. This collection of paintings is called The Angry Woman Suite.  

The woman on The Angry Woman Suite cover is Magdalene Grayson, the model for this suite of portraits.    

The novel—mystery and love story and coming-of-age (three intersecting stories)—is told by three narrators in different time zones (between the early 1900s and 1968), in Pennsylvania.

Magdalene Grayson is not a narrator, but she is pivotal to the lives of all three narrators.

She is the love interest of one narrator, Aidan, and the mother of a second (more about him later). The third (and lead) narrator is her step-granddaughter, Elyse, who is the glue of the novel (and we know everything about Elyse, every thought in her head, from page one, on). But Magdalene remains a bit elusive, which is why I chose not to make her a narrator: I wanted her elusive. She is a beautiful cipher wrapped up in a riddle—and I think the book’s cover art captures her mystery.

So moving forward with what I love best about writing fiction, creating characters, two excerpts from The Angry Woman Suite follow. Both concern Magdalene Grayson from Aidan’s point of view. But the second excerpt, which shows Aidan’s new, wavering perception of Magdalene, reveals as much about Aidan as it does Magdalene.     

We meet Magdalene briefly when she is in her early thirties—but then, moving back in time, we get another, different picture of her through Aidan’s eyes, when she is sixteen—and it is not love between them. It is not even like.

What it is, is disdain on both sides.   

Because Magdalene is one of those people born observant and curious, and so she questions everything. She will listen, but all the while she’s likely to be thinking, “I wonder when the bullshit ends and your real story begins?” The much older Aidan finds this threatening to his walled-off existence.

This is what Aidan says about Magdalene when she is sixteen, in 1916:

“And from the back of Magdalene, I could tell nothing. I saw only a fall of long blond hair, the way she straightened her broad shoulders, and the dirt on her skirt where she’d been sitting . . . when she turned back around, her pale eyes were anguished. Other than that, she looked fine, same as always: large and awkward for a sixteen-year-old. What I didn’t see was that Magdalene Grayson’s bigness was smooth and symmetrical, even classical. I didn’t see it because, primarily, Magdalene did not impress me, never had. And I had my reasons (and it’s a long list). Let me condense it for you: Magdalene was difficult. She was damn difficult. Even as a first-grader she’d been difficult, restless and moody, regularly declining participation in the schoolyard, not wanting to be in my band, looking at me with disdain, as if she knew more than I.”

But a year later, on the eve of America’s entry into WWI, at Magdalene’s wedding reception—and Aidan has not seen Magdalene during this year—this is what he has to say about the woman destined for imminent widowhood, who will subsequently and unintentionally start a war on their own rural home front while having to choose between two men, and shield her disfigured sister from murder charges. . . .

Again, this is a year later, at Magdalene’s wedding reception through Aidan’s eyes:

“. . . But then, when they were almost on us, Magdalene turned her head. Our eyes locked, as did the breath in my chest.

            “I’ll close my mouth,” Jamie whispered in my ear, “if you close yours.”

            Her beauty was more spectacular than even Lothian’s. Whereas Lothian’s face was soft and oval-shaped, Magdalene’s had become chiseled angularity, fine and even—yet she wasn’t just beautiful. She had mystique, something rarely seen; it was something in her eyes. Tendrils of pale hair escaped the white snood she wore, making a halo around her damp forehead and flushed cheeks, and I sensed rather than heard Matthew’s own soft exclamation when she laughingly brushed Frederick’s cheek with her lips, lips that were wide and red and ripe, parted slightly, teasing, yet weirdly circumspect . . . 

            She was real, the dream existed, and of course she was not a good woman, this lovely dream of mine. How could she be? She’d been a challenging child to put it mildly, so she couldn’t be long-suffering like my mother, or generous like Sahar. No, Magdalene Grayson was interesting. She was inquisitive, fractious, self-absorbed and judgmental. And to top it off she was totally out of reach, and the absolute worst thing in the world for me.

            Of course I wanted her.

            Exhilarated, I looked closer and saw those pale eyes weren’t actually unkind; how could I have ever thought that? It was question I now saw in those eyes, and suddenly I also saw the rub . . .”

 Okay, so what’s the rub? Well, The Angry Woman Suite will be available at the end of February, so stay tuned.

 Not nice, huh? *smile*

However, what the rub is not, in this story, is truth. And the truth is that sometimes when we fall in like/love/lust—as Aidan’s apparently beginning to do—we are compelled to square that decision with a previous assessment. I mean, who’s going to say to him or herself, “I’m attracted to so-and-so because no one sets buildings on fire the way s/he does?”   

No sane person. So the first assessment has to be modified. Also, this last bit of narrative suggests our walled-off Aidan possesses at least a modicum of vulnerability.     

Thanks for coming by, and more on The Angry Woman Suite characters later—and, oh, my “metaphor,” the wooden ship! More on it, too. I’ll walk down to the bay and get new photos (see my post of 1/4/12), and be back with you in a week or so.  

Wooden Ships and Writing Fiction, Free and Easy

I love the sun—an excellent reason for living in San Diego—however, because I live on the peninsula, I generally experience more fog than sun. I don’t love fog but the deep, steady cadence of fog horns stirs something deep and primal in me—perhaps I was a seafarer in a previous life?

Hmmm . . . more likely I sold smelly fish dockside. . . .

But when the sun breaks through the fog or marine layer on the peninsula—and bear with me here, because I’m about to go all sappy on you—when it does, it’s like a benediction.

We celebrate the sun up on the point because it’s rarer here, and thus never taken for granted.

When it happens, it is the absolute loveliest thing to wake to sun streaming through my windows. What I see on a clear day, down the hill, is a sail-studded bay and the graceful arch of the Coronado Bay Bridge, and beyond the bridge, the hills of Mexico. To the left of the bridge is a city of silver skyscrapers shining in the sun, cradling an airport.   

And that view, instead of fog, is what has greeted me every morning this past week, thanks to a high pressure ridge, and it’s something we’re expecting for another full week.      

It was four days ago, right after I sent the last read-through of my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, back to my editor, and was thinking, What’s next? What do I do next, first? (if that makes sense) that I opened the newspaper and looked straight on at a full-page color sketch of a 3-masted Spanish galleon—so beautiful, she took my breath away. The stuff of dreams, of magic and adventure. I jumped into her story.

The galleon was called San Salvador, and she sailed into San Diego Bay in 1542—a full sixty-five years before the first English settlement on the North American continent. She was the flagship of an expedition led by Juan Cabrillo, the first European to explore San Diego Bay. Although Juan Cabrillo is memorialized by a statue at the tip of the peninsula, there is no remaining physical evidence of the beautiful San Salvador in San Diego.

But, oh, it gets better. . . .

Because there’s going to be. Funded in part by The San Diego Maritime Museum, and a very large contribution by an anonymous San Diegan, the museum is building a full-sized, historically accurate, working replica of Juan Cabrillo’s wooden ship.

In my backyard.

Okay, not literally. But almost.  

The San Salvador is being built on public land at Spanish Landing, across from the airport, an easy walk from my house—and so, of course, off I went with my brother, Brian, who also lives on the peninsula, a student of anything maritime and historical, to take a look at her.

It was still early morning when we set out—as I said, an easy walk—and climbing the Nimitz St. bridge, caught a glimpse of long reddish “fingers” touching the bluest of skies.  

We walked twenty feet or so along a winding underpass, past a myriad of mysterious tools and band saws and huge stacks of wood, until we emerged bayside again; amazingly, right next to varnished oak cross ribs rising ark-like from the keel, the backbone of what will be, in a year or so, a 92-foot, 3-masted wooden ship.

We didn’t speak . . . we walked the length of that keel and those ribs that look much like cathedral ribs turned skyward, and I imagined 16th century ship shipwrights piecing their wooden ships together without the help of naval historians or plans drawn on a computer and transmitted to a 93-foot by 35-foot lofting floor where today’s crew can look on a virtual drawing (made up of “jigsaw puzzle” pieces) of the ship for construction.

So how did those 16th century shipwrights build their ships?  

By the seat of their pants, come to find out. Trial and error. And probably always asking themselves, What’s next?

Because isn’t that what we all ask ourselves when we begin building something new for the first time, whether it be a house, a business, a painting, a Spanish galleon—or a novel?

What’s next? How do I make this work? How do I make this the best of the best? How to start, which direction to go, how to make my “dream” workable, and solid and beautiful at the same time? 

And that’s what I think is so cool about us. By that, I mean the big “us.” The human race. We reach, we move forward, and we build things from nothing but dreams and visions. We are innovative, and though our penchant for momentum is what often makes us giant pains in the patooties, too, it more often—and definitely historically—is what makes the human condition magnificent.

And that’s what I saw in that San Salvador skeleton. I saw “us” as builders—and it moved me, because the upside of us as a species is that we do bring the impossible to life. And if the first San Salvador, a “mere” vision before it became a launched reality and made history, wasn’t a stunning example of that, nothing is. And this second San Salvador was “just” a dream, too, before it became a keel and ribs on the beach—and the vision is that our second San Salvador will be used to travel the California coast as an ambassador for a city shining in the sun: San Diego.

What’s next?

Interestingly—to me, anyway, but especially on my “San Salvador day”—I’ve been asking myself, What’s next? a lot lately. I’ve started a second novel, and it’s slow going, primarily because I’ve been working toward the launch of The Angry Woman Suite, my novel about a double murder and the ensuing fallout on two generations—and I also have a fulltime day job and an ill husband: I’m busy.

But you know what they say about excuses. Plus, I don’t want to be one of those people who wave excuses around, until excuses become how they’re known. You know, like “the excuse lady.” Ugh. I don’t want to be that.      

What I want is to be a 16th century shipwright flying by the seat of her pants. Yes, I do.

Because building a story is also like working with jigsaw puzzle pieces. Making up believable primary and secondary characters; constructing a story arc, a plot line, secondary plots, dialogue that is spot-on, narrative with momentum, building tension—and, oh, did I once mention cohesion in all this?—a story with cohesion, where everything fits perfectly together, coming right up! Whew, where to start? And when you close up shop for the night, where to start again the next night?  

Of course it would be easier to plop down in front of the TV and tell yourself you’ll “work it” when you’re feeling the inspiration, when life isn’t so busy, when the day job’s not so hard, when you’re not needed so much, when you’re not so tired or put-upon—which is exactly how novels don’t get written.

And “plopping down” also guarantees a galleon won’t be built.  

So, what’s next? I asked myself on the beach the day I met San Salvador, walking the length of her keel and ribs and marveling at the idea, the sheer ballsiness, of her. Not just because she’s in my backyard, so to speak. But because she truly is rising from the ashes of a 16th century ballsy dream, from the hands of long-ago shipwrights who had to have asked themselves a few hundred times, “Oh holy hell, what do we have to try next to make this bloody thing fast and maneuverable, yet still big enough to hold people, horses, pigs, and cargo for weeks, months, on end, on the high seas?”

Variations of this question have always defined us, from inventing the wheel through to re-inventing it a bazillion times more throughout millennia—but the answer to “what’s next?” has always been the same: stay with “it” . . . stay the course; otherwise you’ll never know about bringing something home.   

So there you have it. Easy-peasy (do you want to slap me now?). Whether it’s a ship you’re building, a career, a family, your first book or the second, commit, and then fly by the sea of your pants. Trial and error. Stay with the vision, if for no other reason than the sheer ballsiness of rising to a challenge, falling down, and picking yourself back up again, until you finally bring your vision home. Because bringing home a dream is about as good as it gets.

As always, thanks for coming by! Till next time (and more on the ship and more on writing). . . .        


Anti-laments and The Angry Woman Suite Book Cover

I read a lot of blogs most mornings, and this morning (the day after the day after) I’m reading a lot of Christmas “laments.” You know, like it’s over, dregs everywhere, and what was it all about, Alfie? (Yes, I realize the Alfie thing dates me to pre-historic.)

So, this is the anti-lament. But, first, yes, it is over. Time to assimilate.

Separate the wheat from the chaff. Events and people are not perfect—though all dogs and some moments are. *smile* So, keep the perfect moments out, like accessories, and put the imperfect ones in a box, to be packed away—who needs to keep pulling them out to obsess over anyway?   

Christmas, 2011, is history. And mine was nice—at least the season was. The actual day was defined by a nasty head cold (mine) and seizures (my husband’s). We—he and I—know what to do about seizures by now; we’re experts. And we all know what to do about head colds (not a damn thing—the upside of a cold, though, was the perfect excuse for planting myself in the lawn swing with Baby Rae and playing with my new Kindle Fire, which I totally love).

The San Diego weather has been, and remains, a balmy 72+ degrees (that’s perfection). Now, there are some who argue that Christmas isn’t Christmas without snow, just as there are some who argue that Christmas is over-hyped and over-commercialized, and over-everything, BUT— 

That’s silly.

We all choose how much to participate, easy as that. I don’t have to go to the mall, or listen to carolers, or eat all that yummy holiday food—nobody does (except it’s fun: the music, merry-making, prezzies, and food, all of it). Point is, I see no need for making minor things, like commercialization and letdowns, federal cases, unless making things federal cases is your claim to fame (and, personally, I wouldn’t touch that one).   

As for snow at Christmas—ahem: my husband and I’ve shared many a snowy Christmas. We used to be skiers, until he got sick. We spent a dozen Christmases at Snow Summit in Big Bear, CA, and sometimes in Park City, Utah.

My husband and stepsons thought all that snow and ice and skiing = bliss. Hog heaven every Christmas.  

Here’s what I thought: lovely to look at but damn cold. Uber cold. Way too many layers of clothing required for taking the trash out (and, hey, why weren’t those blissful guys taking it out?? Short answer: something to do with my guys not seeing trash as, well. . . trash).

And ice is slippery.

Let me repeat: ice is slippery. If I had a free lift ticket for every time I ended up on my ass taking the dang trash out, I’d still be skiing. 

I’m way happier with the simpler 72-degree San Diego life. Barefoot and sipping a cold one by the pool, with a new Christmas book in hand. Ahhhh. Not 20 layers of clothing and big honking parkas, and hats that make my hair go smooshed, or reading a Christmas book under an electric blanket—oh, and water heaters that run out of hot water because, hey, I just happen to be the last one to shower because I was cooking everybody’s dinner and cleaning up (after a full day of skiing, too) while my three guys warmed their oh-so-sore muscles under steaming 20-minute hot showers, poor babies.

It’s okay; the foregoing is the stuff of family lore and giggles.

But back to the best parts: this simple weather and those Christmas books = the anti-lament.

Since I can remember, the best part of Christmas, besides food and music and lights, has been books. New books! Meaning, when I was a kid and my grandparents had packed up and left and the tree came down, the books remained, and so I never felt blue after the Christmas hoopla. In fact, I barely noticed a lack of hoopla, I was so engrossed with the worlds my new books offered.  

And my husband always gave me books, too. Books to read under electric blankets or at the pool, it didn’t really matter.

I didn’t get many print books this year. I resisted my first e-reader (2 years ago), but I am totally into my new Kindle Fire. I’m not giving up print books, but I’m here to tell you: the Fire is pretty cool.

Now, here’s where I am with my own soon-to-be-available novel, The Angry Woman Suite:

The cover is done, ta-da! Loooooooooooooooooove it! Artist Laurie Fuller did a magnificent job capturing Magdalene Grayson’s mystique (above). Kirkus Reviews posted the cover to their website, and took The Angry Woman Suite review public (although the book will not be available 1/1/12, which is how it’s listed at Kirkus—we’re running a bit behind. Looks more like 2/1 now—of course I’ll keep you posted!).

Happy New Year everyone! Be safe in 2012, and be happy. Love deeply, work hard, read voraciously, laugh often, get a dog (and you will laugh often), and get as healthy as you can. I’ll resume regular blog posts after the holidays (in-between reading all my lovely new downloads).

Dancing With Dogs

It’s a rooty-tooty time of year for a lot of people (vacation, holiday food, kids’ joy, more food), but for many others it’s a blue season (memories of things and people past, no money, no job—the list of why/how this holiday can be painful is as endless as the number of people who feel this way).

At my office—an ophthalmology practice —we go all out for the holidays. We hang wreaths, burn cinnamon-scented candles, and play seasonal music non-stop. So when I heard Tchaikovsky’s “The Waltz of the Flowers” the other day, I said aloud, “That was Boo’s song.”

It will always be Boo and Katie’s song. . . .

Boo was a slender chocolate-colored dachshund with a serene disposition, like a little buddha, brought home from a shelter at the age of eight years, meant as a companion for my two-year-old Katie, a rescued miniature pinscher with über attitude and energy (aka min pin ADD).

I’d no intention of falling in love with Boo. I was already in love with Katie—I just wanted a playmate for Katie while I worked. And it had yet to occur to me that one can love two of anything equally, or, put another way, differently but just as intensely.    

Which is something a friend and I talked about yesterday.

We compiled a list of things and people we love, but maybe not exclusively or the same, but just as intensely, like best friends for instance. We can have more than one best friend, and often do; different personalities who tap into varying aspects of us and vice-versa. And people can even fall (more or less equally) for two people at the same time . . . *ahem, spoil alert: problem with the love triangle, of course, is the drama and sometimes irreparable hurt. Great fodder for novels and film, but not so great for real life.

The first thing Boo did right was fall in love with me. Who can resist being the center of another’s universe? Sometimes, after writing for long stretches of time, I’d scoop Boo up and whirl her around the living room to “Glory Days,” working the kinks out, or to some old Beatles or Stones—and always, at Christmas, we’d dance to Tchaikovsky.

Katie preferred “dancing” to slower pieces, which was surprising given her need to be constantly moving at breakneck speed. We’d “waltz,” her sleek body stretched lengthwise against my chest, head tucked under my chin—perfect happiness.        

I’m smiling writing this. My little buddha girl Boo and my incorrigible Katie are now part of my history, equally loved and unbelievably missed. They lived long lives, long enough to know Baby Rae, the abused cattle dog from Mexico who now shares Christmas with me, and who is also greatly loved. Differently from Boo and Katie, but with comparable intensity. Baby Rae, though, is too big to dance around the living room in my arms.

But, dang, can Baby dance on her own.

Surfacing from a round of “hunchdom” at my desk, after being in my head for long periods of time, writing, it’s usually The Boss who jump-starts me back to real life.

And when the The Boss starts in, “The Babe” swings into full dance mode, becoming “everywhere dog,” bouncing on her hind legs, front paws, well, pawing the air, because she wants me to grab hold, and I do—and then we dance. Do we ever. It’s a weird kind of canine lindy hop—Ellen DeGeneres need not worry—but we dance hard, and we dance fast.

We dance because we can. Or at least we think we can. We dance for the joy of moving. We’re good partners, well-matched by a shared determination to live well. 

Christmas is different this year. . . .

This holiday Baby Rae and I dance in front of a “surprise” Christmas tree. Surprise, because I briefly (like for one second) considered not putting one up this year. Those who’ve been following me know my husband is ill, and we haven’t been all that festive lately.

But of course I did hang stockings and I did put up the tree, and spent a gazillion hours making it just as perfect and lovely (I think) as my mother’s, who adored the tradition of Christmas and passed that love of tradition on.      

My husband can’t enjoy the tree this year, but this tree, decorated with ornaments he’s given me through the years, and my mother’s ornaments, and even my grandmother’s, and ornaments from many best friends, is beginning to feel right.       

Though life is different, some things remain the same.

Every ornament on my tree has a story; it’s the story of the person (or dog) who gave it to me, and where we were at a particular stage of our relationship. I cherish those stories—and so of course I had to put this tree up to hang these stories on.     

Last night, on my way upstairs, I paused and looked at the beautiful tree shining like a beacon in my living room, and I suddenly understood that the tree and the light mean that nothing is going unrecognized or wasted, even as life shifts and changes time and again. This tree not only symbolizes a continuation of loves different but equally intense, but it validates and honors them. 

It’s a little like deciding to dance.

Joy, that is. As an adult, I now understand just how hard my mother worked to make our happy childhood holidays seem effortless.  

How hard my husband worked it.

Baby Rae doesn’t work it, though. Joy is as instinctive to a dog as breathing (which is why it’s good to have a dog: joy is also contagious).    

So when Baby and I finish wrapping presents and baking goodies tonight, we’ll rock out to Springsteen. We’ll dance BIG. She’ll go overboard, of course, because she always does, and I’ll probably look stupid, but she won’t care.  

And after we finish with The Boss, when Baby’s exhausted, we’ll dim the lights—except for the Christmas tree—and turn on Tchaikovsky and we’ll dance for my husband who used to do a jive like nobody’s business, and for my mother whose legacy still works magic (as in making me put up a Christmas tree when I didn’t want to).

And we’ll time everything just right, so that when “The Waltz of the Flowers” begins, we’ll both be ready.      

Then Baby and I’ll dance for Boo and Katie too, for the stories they left and a love shared there as well, different for each, but just as intense.          


Heaven’s Not A Colon

Hi all, I’ve been hunched (and I do mean hunched) over a computer for 12+ hours a day, for a week, between clinic (day job) and last minute edits to my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, sent over from the editor at TP. 

And what I have to show for all this hunching and sitting? A spasm-y shoulder, red eyes, and a butt that’s spread another six inches.

Is it worth it?

Would you think me too weird if I were to say my idea of heaven is replacing colons with semi-colons and dashes with ellipses points? That I’m totally in my element hunting down slippery paragraph and page breaks?   

I’ll be wrapping up this proof in a couple of days, then the manuscript will be formatted again by Telemachus and downloaded to my Kindle, where I get to read the whole bleeping thing yet one more time, rechecking formatting for Kindle readers.  

Then The Angry Woman Suite goes to Smashwords for setup for the ipad, Nook, Sony e-reader, and all the rest (more on the print version next post). 


E-book trivia:

The Amazon Kindle, when first released in 2007, retailed for $400.00.

And, oh, the cacophony over paper books versus e-books! Of course, now we know it’s not a contest, but a done deal: it’s a co-existence between print and electronic, for now. We’ve all pretty much slipped over to the “dark side,” to electronic, even those who prefer paper (I will always have a love affair with paper, but who can argue with convenience and less money per book, going the e-way?). 

Blogger Nathan Bransford annually asks his readers if they will buy mostly e-books, and the results for this year, as well as every year since 2007, since the Kindle debut, are:

2007 . . . only 7% said they’d pick an e-book over a paper book

2008 . . . hanging in there at 11% (who said they’d pick “e” over paper)

2009 . . . picking up momentum at 19% (who’d choose e-book)

2010 . . . 32% say electronic is the way to go  

2011 . . . 47% say yes they do and will buy mostly e-books      

What a trend. Hope you’re enjoying the season! I’ll check back in a week or so. Oh! oh! oh! wait till you see The Angry Woman Suite cover–it’s coming along, and I love it. Can’t wait to show you!

The Creative

Alan Alda on the red carpet at the Emmys 9/11/...

Image via Wikipedia

Thanksgiving dinner conversation drifted to the subject of Alan Alda—why or how I can’t tell you, I was so intent on the epic spread my niece had produced (this girl can cook!), but it reminded me of a quote I’d clipped recently of Alan Alda’s, from a speech about creatives and creativity (and isn’t that really all of us and what we’re doing—or should be doing—with our time here, creating something?). When I got home, I pulled it out and fell in love with Alan Alda all over again. I thought, He gets it, he really gets it. And here it is:  

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk, and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you discover will be wonderful. What you discover will be yourself.”—Alan Alda

 See why I love him? Madly?

Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season!   

A Magic Place

Happy Thanksgiving week! A lot of us are on holiday break right now, or will be (and I’m one), so I’m writing just the one post this week—and then I’m off to cook like mad, eat like mad, and hang with those I love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother lately, who died too young—and not just because of Thanksgiving, although that is part of it . . . but I think it’s also my crazy life: sick husband, FT job, house, writing, what’s going on with my book right now. . . . 

No booze in Norden.  

Her name was Donna, and she had an isolated start as an only child living in the Sierras, in a place called Norden (close to where the Donner party perished), in a small railroad cabin. In the winters she couldn’t even see out the windows for all the snow—and there were no other children around; no playmates. It was a lonely existence.    

Donna’s father worked for the railroad, which was the first reason they’d moved to remote Norden, to tend trains crossing the mountains. Donna’s neurotic, alcohol-loving mother was the second reason. There was no booze in Norden, so her sobriety was guaranteed—there was nothing but a railroad platform, work station, and the railroad cabin.  

Donna’s father was a loving man, but her suddenly sober, 40-year-old mother was not. She was sullen, thirsty, and ignored the little girl. But Donna’s father had to work long, hard hours, so Donna, for all intents and purposes, alone, learned to nurture herself. She made an extended family: her dog Laddie, the chickens, and her doll. She was a self-reliant dreamer who imagined herself one day living in a city surrounded by lots of friends. She dreamed she’d be loved. Immensely loved. And she’d have children. Happy children. In the meantime, she loved on Laddie and her doll—and the few books the family brought with them to Norden.  

And, as it would turn out, books were to be Donna’s ticket out of Norden. Her father realized that Donna’s mother couldn’t home school Donna, so the family eventually moved to Sacramento. Finally, the city!  

But there was booze in Sacramento. . . .

And Donna’s mother found it. Drunk, she often beat Donna and locked her in a dark closet for hours on end. Blaming herself for the abuse, a shamed Donna didn’t tell her father. She covered her bruises and took refuge in books instead. But when Donna was twelve, a neighbor told Donna’s father what she’d seen and heard while he was at work. Donna’s mother was committed, which often happened to alcoholics in those days. 

Her father eventually remarried, to a woman with children, and Donna became part of a real family. It was a bit of a John Irving-type family, but after what Donna had been through, she thought she’d died and gone to heaven. She started making friends, and doing well in school. Very well in school. Donna was a sharp cookie who could not only read and write circles around everyone else, but she was also an accomplished musician.  

Donna fell in love and married—and I was her first-born. A lot happened to Donna after she married—life changed many times over, which is the nature of life, change—but I remember the laughter, music, and the books, those things my mother loved most, after her three kids

The books and music nurtured my mother’s spirit, as did quiet time. I think she must’ve been leery of her childhood wounds, afraid she’d reopen them, of becoming anything like her mother. Though she didn’t dwell on her childhood trauma, she was vigilant against its aftermath of depression and migraines, and she avoided conflict, and even, sometimes, too much intimacy. She was careful how much she let others see. 

She wanted happiness and she kept her eye on that ball, having learned young that if she didn’t nurture herself, she’d lose her semblance of balance. 

So books were everywhere in my mother’s house—but not strewn. Nothing but nothing in her house was strewn. But books were part of our backdrop, like the lamps. And we all read. We read like mad. And my mother’s taste and mine meshed. We talked of the Brontes and Alcott, Dickens and Mitchell, and many other authors and stories, as well as the stories playing out on the block we lived on. She told me the story of her isolated early life (though she didn’t tell me of the abuse until I was an adult). She talked, I listened. And I began writing, and she began typing up my little stories and poems and sending them to magazines.

But then something happened: full-blown adolescence. My writing became private, sacrosanct. I didn’t appreciate my mother’s overtures–the magic was gone. She could no longer do anything right. All her decisions had ruined my life.

I think this often happens with mothers and daughters, that mothers don’t get the credit they deserve, because we daughters are somewhat wired to, at some point, pull away in order to become our own women.

Well, my wiring was pretty good.

My adolescence (and young adulthood) was one giant pull-away. For many reasons. But then I came back. And after a pretty big, disapproving, “Well, you took your time,” my mother never said another word about my crappy behavior or about not living up to my potential. Not once—and I eventually got life and discipline on track, and the best years with my mother began: we were grownups together, talking stories–the magic was back.

When my mother passed, my niece read a journal entry of mine at Mother’s memorial service. I’d written of my mother’s connection with each of her children. With my sister, it was cooking, and with my brother, music. I did write of the pride Mother took in my writing, but what I felt when I wrote that entry was nothing like what I feel today, because this story/reading-writing connection I had with my mother was so natural, so intrinsic, like having two arms, that not having her in my life anymore couldn’t be wholly absorbed. It was like I was missing parts of me, my other pair of arms, and it didn’t feel real.   

Until, actually, right now, when our shared love of stories has morphed again, this time into my novel, The Angry Woman Suite—

—and I’m missing her. Really, really missing her. And, finally, fully,  appreciating her.

I actually imagine my mother and me sitting at the kitchen table, where we always sat and talked, and she wants to know everything, every last detail about The Angry Woman Suite, and the whole publishing process, and then who said what, where, when, how, and why. 

And I’m thanking her. I’m thanking her profusely. Not only for giving me books, for instilling the love of words and sharing the magic of storytelling, but for showing me how to self-nurture. For teaching me that nurturing is not only okay, but required when shit hits the fan or responsibilities mount and time’s not getting any longer.

First she gave me the life, and then she gave me purpose, and then she showed me how to keep my balance—all pretty cool things to give someone, and I’m grateful.    

And her dream did become reality: she was immensely loved, and she knew it.      

I’m thankful for that, too.

Gratitude does feel good. Happy Thanksgiving one and all. I hope your day is wonderful (and the oh-dawn-hundred wake-up call on Black Friday doesn’t kill you). *smile* I’ll be back next Monday . . . or maybe Tuesday.

It’s Fiction, Not Memoir

New business: This photograph is under consideration for the cover of The Angry Woman Suite. Like it/don’t like it? Don’t be shy . . . first thing off the top of your head—good? bad? Do you feel the “wistfulness”? Feedback appreciated!   

Penquin’s online community Book Country has launched a plethora of tools for authors to digitally publish, with distribution to all major outlets that Penquin distributes to. . . .

Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet is making its appearance sooner than initially announced (sharing the love with Amazon’s new Fire).

Old business: Some time back, a non-writer friend, an avid reader, was looking over a very rough first draft of The Angry Woman Suite for me, a story with a double murder at its core (emphasis here for a reason), told by three narrators in different time zones.

One of these narrators is Elyse Grayson, a young girl at the start of The Angry Woman Suite, and eighteen at its conclusion. The other two narrators are males. Now, as I’ve written before, Elyse Grayson had me from the beginning of the story. She is the glue of this book, and the character I relate to. I didn’t want to leave her when the novel ended.    

Is that because Elyse is female and has understandable issues? (rhetorical question)    

Francis Grayson, on the other hand, her stepfather, was the most difficult character to move forward from a first-person point of view. First off, it was über difficult being male when I’m not, and, second, having to stay in Francis’ head for any length of time made me a little nutty—is that because he’s male (redundant) and has issues?

So this friend (the one who’d read the first draft of The Angry Woman Suite) and I were at lunch one day, menus still in hand, when she leaned over and asked almost conspiratorially, “Lee, did all those things really happen to you when you were a child?”

I was speechless—seriously speechless. “But this isn’t a memoir—”

“But what about Francis? Isn’t he—?”   

Since then, as The Angry Woman Suite has grown, and been read by more people and critiqued and commented on, I’ve heard again and again, “How much of this story is you; is any part of it true?”

Okay, so here’s the deal: other than writing these blog posts, I write fiction. Stories. I make things up. 

There is no double murder in my background.

Are you kidding? If there were, I would write a memoir—and a sequel.

As for creating characters with foibles and neuroses, well, ever since I can remember, I have watched and listened to people and wondered, “Really, is what you just said truth or bullshit? And if it’s bullshit—and you are looking like you’re believing your own shit —then which hat did you just pull that one out of?

And this, seriously, is the genesis of my storytelling. I make up stories to explain the otherwise (to me) unexplainable.

So, yes, there are people in my stories who are reminiscent of many real-life people I’ve either appreciated or puzzled over. We all work with the tools we have, what we can lay our hands on, what is familiar; what we know. And, like everyone else, I’ve had good and bad influences in my life—those influences are my tools.  

But, again, excepting the historical references to the American Revolution, The Angry Woman Suite is fiction.

And fiction is an art form I’ve loved from the very first Louisa Mae Alcott “big girl” novel (Rose in Bloom) my mother gave me when I was eight, to the novel we talked of as she lay dying (The Last of the Mohicans).        

Thanks for coming by—oh, and one other thing, and yes, it is about me *smile*: I met my Telemachus editor today. Her name is Karen, and she’s brilliant. She turned 40 pages back around to me thisfast—so there’s much to do (but it’s fun). Except I haven’t quite figured out the sleeping thing, as in where it fits in. I’ll be back on Monday—comments appreciated!

Being and Doing

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Cover via Amazon

Before I pick up where I left off (about my mystery man, Lazarus, and publishing my book), I just have to share something that’s struck me funny. Publishers Lunch Deluxe is a weekly (or whenever they feel like it) report on all things happening in traditional publishing (like what publisher bought what book, and for how much, and which pubs and/or literary agencies are merging or quitting (aka running for their lives).

Okay, so here’s a direct quote from their November 9th bulletin: Amazon announced three more authors who have each sold a million Kindle ebooks or more, but we’re really not going to report on these releases any more.”

Serious? You’re really not going to report on “these releases” anymore? Here’s what I hear: “You Amazon people and this so-called new age of publishing (read: indie, who are over-populating the Kindle play list) are major pissing us off, so we’re not going to play with you again, ever. So there.”

Moving on . . . the three newest authors to join the Kindle Million Club are David Baldacci, Amanda Hocking (indie–you go, girl), and Stephanie Meyer. 

And now back to me. *smile* And Lazarus Bening (his spy name). But, first, a question:

How many of us, do you think, are doing/being what we pictured ourselves doing/being when we were, say, 17? Or 21?

I knew Lazarus Bening while I was still in high school. He was four years older, in college. He wanted to become a commercial pilot—he didn’t. He became a teacher instead (what I’d believed I’d end up doing, though I was never excited at the prospect). Because I was so unmotivated by the career choice picked by my parents, I became more of a “fritterer” than a serious college student, trying on all sorts of mindsets and people, and having way more fun than was legal. Along the way, Lazarus and I parted.   

Come to find out, Lazarus began writing. Essays and short stories at first, in-between teaching classes. He published a novel. He published two more. Fiction for men. He gained a following (while I was still frittering), all unbeknownst to me.

And then we met again after an embarrassingly long time, at a signing for his latest novel that my writer cohort-friend, Josh, dragged me to. And the first stupid thing I said to Lazarus was:

“I didn’t know you were a writer.”

He laughed a little (very little).

And the second stupid thing I said was (because this event was about his book, not mine, duh): “I have a book too!”

I explained about my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, and how my agent had left the book business for a new career in finance, and how I was now thisclose to going indie.

Lazarus’ expression had turned—quizzical, maybe? I couldn’t read him. He said, “I have two words for you.”

Uh-oh. Was he still that ticked over what had happened between us a thousand years ago?

I swallowed hard. I was a “grownup” now—I could take what was coming (and what, truth be told, I probably deserved). But I moved in a little closer to Josh anyway.  

“Telemachus Press,” Lazarus said.

“Excuse me?”

“Telemachus Press. Best there is.”

And then, “Steve Jackson’s the guy you want to talk to—a good guy; he’ll steer you straight. He’ll get your novel out there, and it’ll be done right; a class act.”

And that, my friends, between my writer friend Josh, and my computer guy, and old flame Lazarus is the more or less true story of how I came to know Steve Jackson at Telemachus Press. Steve Jackson is truly Mr. Wonderful. Every phone call and email is responded to quickly and thoroughly—and Steve makes me laugh. A BIG plus-plus.

Two big thumbs-up for Telemachus Press.    

The Angry Woman Suite will be out in a couple of months—I think. Maybe longer. Depends on how the editing goes—I think. And how the cover goes. (I’m picturing a black and white cover, because The Angry Woman Suite is largely a period piece, taking place between 1915 and 1968.) An amazing review of The Angry Woman Suite goes public on the Kirkus Reviews website 12/15/11, but you can read it here— it’s a link in the right column. 

And Lazarus?

Well, like it or not, first loves leave lasting marks on us. Maybe not big fat scars; maybe only scratches—but, whichever, we’re changed forever.    

But this is what grownups do when assessing our scars and scratches: we notice the parts we played, or didn’t, in all our relationships. We forgive others and ourselves, and we heal. We keep evolving—otherwise, the point would be??–and we stay open.

We make the positives a part of us, and store the negatives for future reference.

Reference for—what, you ask?     

Whatever comes along next—and, well, in this case, you’ve got to know that every player in my life story, and every take-away, is going to end up in a book someday (or a post)—or maybe already has. *smile*

Thanks for coming by! More later in the week. . . .     


Publishing Revolution and Lazarus

Barnes & Noble

Image by roboppy via Flickr

Barnes & Noble's Union Square store in Manhatt...
Image via Wikipedia

“There’s a revolution going on and we’re watching it happen.”

“You sure?” I ask.

“The old paradigm has already vanished.”

This was my thousandth back-and-forth with Josh, a well-known non-fiction writer who’d prodded me—and, no, prodded is not too strong a word—into taking the digital/indie route with my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, after my agent made a career switch. He’d convinced me that digital/indie publishing is the future. But he’d yet to reassure me that I’m prime revolutionary material.

Not to say printed books are going to vanish, or that a revolution needs me to thrive.

Just like many of us online news readers still read newspapers too (albeit skinnier ones), there will always be print books via Amazon (I hope!)—also, hopefully, Costco will keep its little book section going—otherwise, I’m just gonna have to plop myself down in an aisle and cry. And, yes, I do have a Kindle and am currently salivating over the Amazon Fire (to be released 11/15), Amazon’s answer to Apple’s ipad—

—BUT I do love the feel and smell of paper and binding—love, love, love. There is almost nothing better than a paper book, Baby Rae, and a muffin on a rainy day, all together on my bed.

Now Josh has many fine qualities, but none are patience, especially when I keep repeating the same thing over and over about going indie: “Am I doing the right thing?”

He read the opening of Mark Levine’s The Fine Print to me, over eggs and hash last Sunday morning:

“Amazon’s rolled over onto B&N and is now the largest book retailer in the land . . . Borders laid off 900 people in 2009 . . . in 2010 Borders announced the closing of 185 WaldenBooks, and Borders stores . . . Barnes and Noble closed the remaining B. Dalton bookstores . . . by the summer of 2010, B&N announced it was up for sale.”

Levine had also written, “Toss in the brewing ebook turf war between Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and wow—this industry is changing fast.”    

“So there you have it,” Josh said, also for the thousandth time, turning off his ereader. “You pacified for the next 15 minutes? Also, don’t forget, in one year alone, ebook sales went up 213% . . . what’s that tell you?”

His tone told me I was on his last nerve—but I was needing something else before my first jump off the high dive; maybe another sign?

That sign presented itself.

It arrived in the form of someone I hadn’t seen for a very long time—a Lazarus, so to speak; rising from the “dead,” back into my life. He wants to remain anonymous for now, so Lazarus will be his spy name.  

Lazarus and I met my last year of high school, when he was in his third year at SDSU. I was ushering at a theater—my first night on the job—and he was parking cars at the same theater. I saw Lazarus before we actually met, walking toward the theater, and thought—well, let’s just say it was a good first impression—and then I forgot him until intermission when he came looking for me.

Lazarus was going to become a commercial pilot—and everybody thought we’d eventually marry—and I was going to become a teacher.

But we went our separate ways, and I eventually married DDF (best decision of my life). I’d no idea what became of Lazarus, but when I did think of him, I imagined him flying off to Paris and Singapore and what-have-you. As time went on, Lazarus faded in importance, even in memory, part of another time, another me, long gone. 

Until I was standing on my metaphorical diving board, looking down into the scary waters of indie publishing (or, better, the scary waters of marketing), and Josh said to me—still over eggs and hash—

“Lazarus Bening is signing at Mysterious Galaxy (one of our remaining book stores)—you interested?”

I knew who the author Lazarus Bening was, but in a very murky, corner-of-my-brain kind of way—so murky I couldn’t come up with the title of his latest bestseller if Baby Rae’s next meal had depended on it. Bening’s niche is fast-paced adventure thrillers, and I mostly read slow, character-driven literary, so Bening wasn’t in my stack of books to read before I die. But he was Josh’s top pick, and apparently every other red-blooded American male’s as well.

And that’s when it hit me: Lazarus Bening.

Could it be? No, it couldn’t be . . . but, maybe—but how could that have happened, Lazarus and I both ending up fiction writers when he was supposed to be piloting a plane to Singapore?  

I’m running late for the office, but I’ll pick this up next time out . . . next post: more about Lazarus and Telemachus Press and Mr. Wonderful. . . .

I post on Mondays and Thursdays, and sometimes more, but sometimes less. Thanks for coming by.

Because you matter . . .

Books I've Read: The Immortal Life of Henriett...

Image by Myles! via Flickr

The other day I visited a friend—I’ll call her Amy—whose mother had just passed. A close friend of Amy’s had also recently died, and her dog had passed as well. All within weeks of one another, although only Amy’s beloved dog’s passing had been unexpected.

Still, even when a death is expected, it’s often a punch to the gut when it happens—a pretty amazing thing, really, when we’ve already projected and think we’re ready, only to stand in the midst of pent-up emotions flying free when it occurs, facing down a new paradigm of knowing zip about the enormity of loss—of knowing zip about anything, actually.    

Amy told me about packing up her mother’s clothes and books—and then we talked of the photo albums—in this case, dozens of photo albums that her mom had so carefully put together; every photo captioned and arranged just so. Catalogs of life—all intended for her progeny. 

My mother died young and I inherited her albums and my grandfather’s as well, so I know about this photo album conundrum. As a little girl, I’d loved sitting beside my mother, listening to stories about the people and events documented on her and my grandfather’s album pages—it was one of our sacred pastimes.  

But I have not looked at my mom’s albums since she died, except to find a photo that a relative requested.

But can I just toss those albums out?

Can I just stick a rusty fork in my eye?      

So I said to Amy, “It’s sad about these books, that someday when we’re gone, our mother’s books will be gone, too, and all their stories lost.”

But Amy said, “Does it matter? Are any of us really that important?”

I didn’t dismiss Amy’s words. I examined them instead, turning them over and over in my head—which wasn’t at all pleasant. But I kept thinking, Even if I don’t want it to be true, what if it is? What if our stories don’t count for anything?

Then what’s it all about?   

Open for Business

Now, I have this perception of the universe as analogous to a big invisible computer hard drive holding all the answers (and even the questions) about, well . . . everything. But in order to see or hear the answers, revelations, affirmations, what-have-you’s, we have to be open for business, all senses attuned.   

So that same night, still pondering Amy’s words, I sat down to dinner with a newspaper, and wouldn’t you know it, on the front page of the local section was a piece about Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  

Here’s the story: When Rebecca Skloot was a biology major, she was constantly running into references about “HeLa cells.” (HeLa is code for Henrietta Lacks.) When she asked her teachers who Henrietta Lacks was specifically, no one seemed to know.

Well, Skloot found out. She spent ten years finding out, and when she published her biography of Henrietta Lacks, a poor tobacco farmer and mother of five, it became a mega bestseller. Huge.   

Long story made shorter (because you must read the book), Henrietta Lacks had a diagnosis of cancer and wound up at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where doctors removed two pieces of her cervix for research. Henrietta died at 31, several months after this.

Turns out, Henrietta had some remarkable cells. Strong, sturdy cells—and those amazing cells of Henrietta’s became the first human ones successfully grown in a lab. And since then, billions of those cell lines have been grown in labs, and the medical treatments they’ve given birth to changed the world. For example, by 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk was using HeLa to develop a vaccine for polio.

I went up to bed that night with Baby Rae and a smile, not only because the universe had delivered the goods, but because I’d liked its answer:

Henrietta Lacks had mattered. Amy’s mother had mattered—and Amy’s friend mattered, and her dog mattered, too.

My mother mattered.

Every story matters.

It just took a writer to dig up Henrietta’s (another big smile here), so we could all know just how very much Henrietta mattered.               

I post on Thursdays and Mondays, and sometimes more, but sometimes less—and thanks for coming by, because you matter.

Writing Sexy Scenes and Cutting Corners

I once heard John Grisham say in an interview that he runs away from writing sex-explicit scenes because the first one he wrote made his wife laugh.  

Which made me laugh.

Because I can relate.

I haven’t written much about my husband DDF, because his struggle is so heart-rending that even for a writer who naturally loves words, I’ve run away from the sad, powerful ones needed to adequately convey DDF’s journey from brilliant, athletic, curious and at the top of his game to, now, a fetal position most of the day, and unable to read or write, or speak coherently—a once beautiful man largely “trapped” by a progressive neurological disease.

But there’s a reason I’m writing about DDF now (instead of more about indie publishing and mystery men as promised, but we’ll get back to those later).

The reason is last night.

I do all my reading in bed, so last night’s pick was an indie novel someone told me I should take a look at. It has generated mixed buzz, but I started it with high hopes, because I love that every writer now has the opportunity to get his or her best stuff out there via the indie revolution; to share a dream with the world—and that we, the world, now get to experience all visions—nothing is closed off to writers or readers any longer.  

But I was so disappointed—and I wanted to take this author, who is such a capable writer by the way, by the shoulders, and tell her, “Please, please, please, no cutting corners. Use an editor or proofer next time out, because you lost me with this one—and you didn’t have to.”

The first lead she used incorrectly (instead of led), I chalked up to a typo—and I can live with typos. But the next dozen leads she used incorrectly all led to what the author must’ve considered a requisite sex scene, which for the life of me, I couldn’t see the point of, so mired was I in the misuse of a dozen freakin’ leads.

And that’s when I missed my old DDF—again. I wanted him back—I wanted to be able to elbow him and say, “Wait—listen to this passage,” or “Oh dear, what do you think of this?

It’s a funny thing about marriage.

Or any long-term relationship. The things you think about when it’s ending; things you already miss. Little things: a certain look, a half-smile, a cocked eyebrow. Intimate, intrinsic, positive “us” things—magic things that no one else in the world sees or hears.

Because it’s a shared “language” understood only by two.   

DDF and I’d have giggled in the old days, but not in a mean way, not at this author’s misuse of lead (which, unfortunately, undermine her credibility, and just ten pages into her baby)—but at me.

No cutting corners. . . .

To backtrack, DDF and I have known each other for forever; perfect at times and other times not, but even when we have been imperfect, we have loved each other. No cutting corners. We met unexpectedly through a friend, and discovered we shared a love for books. DDF introduced me to Gunter Grass and Vonnegut, and I introduced him to Michener and Wouk. We read Irving Wallace’s The Seven Minutes at the same time—different copies of course—and hardly came up for air during, and then talked non-stop over wine and dinner after. We had a “glue”: it was books. Not only novels. We read everything: art, history, biography, philosophy. When we weren’t working or biking or skiing, we were reading or browsing in book stores.

We’d read passages from books to each other, and I’d share ideas for my own writing, and he would chide me for not using an editor, because I thought I knew it all (ouch). Or I’d throw a sex scene in (which he’d laugh at), because, hey, doesn’t everybody do it? Isn’t it expected, even required? Doesn’t sex sell books, movies, music?

Sometimes, but it doesn’t feel manipulative when . . . 

. . . it moves a story forward, or offers a better understanding of a character or characters, or if the plot itself hinges on it.    

And that’s what DDF intuitively knew—and probably why John Grisham’s wife laughed too. If a writer’s uncomfortable with a subject, it’ll show—and if s/he’s throwing sex in “just because,” it will show. Gratuitous always shows.

And, second point: everybody needs to hire an editor before putting their stuff “out there”—even if you’re an English teacher, because: 

People, we cannot see our own screw-ups.

If you love your story, make it shine. If you don’t love it, holler for the cavalry. And I’m not talking just books here. Our bigger stories are our relationships–and we need to give those everything, because we can’t unring the bell. So, no cutting corners, and no assuming we know it all (even if we actually do). 

One other thing about DDF:

I haven’t read the big love-sex scene from my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, aloud to him, because today’s DDF would have to struggle to comprehend a scene and I don’t want to add to his frustration.

Yet, I think my old DDF would say it’s a pretty good scene. In fact, I see the old DDF with my mind’s eye (I see him a lot this way): the cocked eyebrow, the bemused half-smile, the pride in me. And I still hear this man who now has such difficulty speaking, because after so many years with someone, you can hear the unspoken, that contextual backwash of a long shared history. And this is what I hear him saying: 

“Well, kid, you finally nailed the damn scene. Took you long enough, but it’s honest and it was needed–and you’re not rubbing my nose in it. Good—no cutting corners.”

The man knew how to say stuff: brief, to the point.

“No cutting corners.”

I post on Thursdays and Mondays, and sometimes more, but sometimes less.

 Hello gorgeous