There “we” are, The Angry Woman Suite and me, right above Bill O’Reilly. October, 2013. Lovely.
An unsolved celebrity double murder in the early 1900’s, and the fallout on three generations of one fragile family, as told by three very different narrators: a young girl in search of autonomy; a young man in search of an identity, and an older man in search of justice. Read On »
The Angry Woman Suite was published March 10, 2012.
What’s the book’s first line?
“It is said that love is comfort, and that comfort comes from recognition of the beloved.”
What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch.”
The elevator pitch is it’s about an unsolved celebrity double murder in Pennsylvania, in the early 1900’s, and the fallout on three generations of one fragile family, as told by three very different narrators: a young girl in search of autonomy; a young man in search of an identity, and an older man in search of justice.
What inspired you to write the book?
The autonomy slant was the inspiration. I was visiting Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, site of a Revolutionary War battle, exploring George Washington’s headquarters and the battleground. It was a warm, quiet day, and I considered how different it must’ve been the day of the battle; the noise and bloodshed—and that’s when it hit me: the idea of another story about a battle for freedom, but within family. I even knew, on that day, that my lead narrator would be a woman looking back on her life, and that I would include the Battle of Brandywine as background and as a metaphor for a story about family.
What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?
There are three narrators and they pretty much share equal billing. But the character who starts off the book, Elyse Grayson, is the novel’s glue—and she’s an understated rebel. As for who she reminds me of, she looks like a girl on my street, but other than appearance, Elyse is, for me, an original.
What’s the main reason someone would read this book?
The Angry Woman Suite can be an immersion and an adventure; a book to get lost in. And I think that’s why many of us read novels. To become lost and then found again.
There are now many (thankfully, excellent) reviews coming in for The Angry Woman Suite (one follows here), a recently released novel about the effects of a celebrity murder on three generations of one family. And there are just as many comments about the neglect suffered by a character who subsequently perpetuates the cycle of abuse in his own family (note: The Angry Woman Suite is non-graphic).
It’s been asked how this particular character could’ve become an abuser considering his own history of victimization. The answer is that abuse of any kind—whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological—is a rampant—and it’s been documented (first by Lenore Walker in the 1970s)—cyclic fact of life. Here are some stats:
A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds in this country (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families).
More than 90% of juvenile abusees know their perpetrator in some way.
And a full 30% of abused kids grow up to be abusers.
Unfortunately, children who grow up in abusive families, or women in relationship with abusers, often can’t acknowledge the severity of their own abuse. How can a child, especially?
And how many of us know that a sustained pattern of abuse can result in “learned helplessness”?
Do I think we need to talk about our walking wounded? You bet. Not only talk, but also learn to recognize the signs of abuse—and I’m referring to psychological abuse just as much as any other. We need to learn and confront not just for the neglected children’s sake, but also for the neglected and abused children’s children-to-be.
A well society doesn’t hide from abuse. Awareness and openness are the stepping stones to breaking its cycles.
A Review of Lee Fullbright’s The Angry Woman Suite
Lee Fullbright’s The Angry Woman Suite is a heartbreaking tale, a mixture of historical fiction and soap opera spanning six decades. There are three storytellers: Elyse, Aidan, and Francis, each offering a different perspective of a murder and its effect on one family over three generations. The real lesson, though, is that people are complicated, not all bad or all good, though perhaps more one than the other. It’s worth reading.
I found many aspects of Fullbright’s novel intriguing, including her portrayal of the public perception of divorce, marriage, and disabilities and the cyclical nature of child abuse. Diana Grayson declares in 1955, “divorce is unacceptable,” telling her daughter to stop talking about her “real daddy,” who had passed away, because “where we’re going, people might [mistakenly] think I’ve been divorced.” Fear of divorce and/or marriage motivate several characters to remain in unhappy, unhealthy unions or to shy away from the institution of marriage, adding to the drama of the novel.
This story takes place in a time period when divorces were difficult to obtain, when sparring couples had to assign fault in order to legally sever their union. That changed with evolving attitudes about women and sex in the 1960s and 70s. California became the first state to provide residents with no-fault divorce in 1969. Pennsylvania was one of the later states, amending its laws in 1980 to provide for no-fault divorce when a marriage was “irretrievably broken.” 23 Pa.C.S. § 3301(c) & (d). The ability to divorce without legally assigning blame has made divorce more accessible to individuals in unhappy marriages and has reduced the stigma associated with it. The dysfunction between the characters in The Angry Woman Suite may have played out differently in a post-1960s world, though I imagine it wouldn’t have been any less dramatic. Matters of the heart are always dramatic.
I was also struck by Stella, a woman with a cleft lip and palate, who repulses some of her family and is fiercely loved by others. Her own parents saw her as a monster who should remain hidden. She became the perpetual scapegoat, a role she accepted in light of her situation and loyalty to a family that was not loyal to her. While I imagine there are still some people who view individuals with disabilities harshly, the United States is a different place after the disability rights movement’s major legislative achievements, including the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, laws that send a message of inclusion.
Another compelling theme in this novel is the cyclical nature of abuse. Some members of this family are abused as children and then grow up to abuse others. As a mother, I find it especially difficult to read novels about child abuse, and I found myself judging the mothers in this novel for not protecting their children, momentarily forgetting that there are many reasons parents may turn a blind eye, including fear for their own safety or their concern that ineffective intervention could exacerbate the abuse.
Overall, The Angry Woman Suite is an intriguing novel about complicated people, at times perplexing and confusing, but always interesting. It would appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction with elements of suspense and drama. Also, if you’re interested in early American history or are from the Philadelphia region, the book has additional appeal. We take Revolutionary War history seriously in Philadelphia, the home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, which may or may not have been rung when the Declaration of Independence was read in 1776. Much of the story takes place in areas surrounding Philadelphia, such as Chadds Ford, where the major Battle of the Brandywine took place. It’s a beautiful part of Pennsylvania with a rich history, of which Fullbright makes great use.
Image credit: wihtgod / 123RF Stock Photo
When I was in my 20’s, a friend—I’ll call him Anthony—gave me a book called Be Here Now, by the Western-born spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. I was eager to dive into it because Anthony was totally gaga over the “amazing” concepts contained therein . . . um, none of which I’d been able to put a finger on, because I hadn’t been able to pin Anthony down to my satisfaction.
So the book would be my way into Anthony’s head was what I thought, because the title meant nothing—it held no mystery or cachet for me (although Anthony did)—because where else could or would I be except where I was?
So in I went, leafing through the book before actually reading, what I always do with new books—and my heart sank looking at a drawing I didn’t get, which mirrored a man I didn’t get (Anthony, who, in the end, I shouldn’t have gotten).
But now here I am, many, many years later, with my own book out—a novel entitled The Angry Woman Suite—and I get “be here now.” I get it big-time, because “be here now” got me from “back then,” when I was a mess, to, well . . . here and now, where I like who I am.
Yet, why, someone recently asked, has it just come up again? Why are you talking about it so much now?
First, it didn’t just. But I haven’t written about “be here now” much until now, because, for me, it feels a little like talking or writing about breathing—which could make me sound a little too much like Anthony lecturing on the right way to breathe.
But the truth is, “be here now” never actually went away, because big truths never do.
After Anthony, life eventually took me from being a scatterbrained, impulsive, unhappy, immature and romantic compulsive idealist (and those were my good traits) with a big ol’ stirring spoon in a drama cauldron the size of New Jersey to a relatively centered—and, according to others and I’m not going to quibble—calm, and mostly content (the three C’s) woman who learned to “be still.” To listen to the quiet (yes, that does mean turning off the cell, the music, the car radio, and the TV).
And that, as it turned out, became my path: quiet. Not Anthony.
But I didn’t even know I loved quiet so much until I forced myself to finish my first book after Anthony broke my heart (and I say forced, because as any novelist will tell you, it is extremely easy to turn away from finishing a book). But, come to find out, writing is a lot like meditation.
In fact, writing is meditation.
Just as it takes practice and focus and quiet to meditate, it takes focus and quiet to write. But here’s the B-I-G clincher:
Creating something from nothing, becoming fully absorbed in its creation, even separating from time and place during, causes us to secrete dopamine, a lovely fulfilling hormone that stills the “hysterical” hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.
According to Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Way in a Wild New World (Free Press), “. . . research indicates that we’re most creative when we’re happy and relaxed, and, conversely, that we can steer our brains into this state by undertaking a creative task.”
“Steer our brains”? Oh, boy. Who knew? Why isn’t this stuff being packaged and marketed?
And who needs a drama cauldron that invariably leaves its stirrer exhausted, unfulfilled, and unhappy, when real joyfulness is creativity—“be here now”—or, put another way, “mindfulness”—and why couldn’t Anthony just have said that?
Mindfulness is engrossing, beautiful, and ever-changing—and it’s habit-forming, so that after a while we even notice that the desire for creating becomes stronger (and the books and blog posts get finished).
And another plus is that with practice, quiet, and continual creating, we become able to tune into the “here and now” even when not actively creating.
On the other side (the dark side *smile*), my just-released novel, The Angry Woman Suite, a Kirkus Critics’ Pick, with enough drama in it to fill ten cauldrons, is available from Amazon.com in quality softcover, or from the Kindle store, and also via the Barnes and Noble website.
The Angry Woman Suite, about a celebrity double murder in Pennsylvania, in the early 1900s, and the effects on three generations of two families, has also been nominated for a Global Ebook Award.
Thanks for stopping by, and here’s to peace and quiet in a compulsive, noisy world. How do you “be here now”?
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.
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.
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!