Dancing on Broken Glass: A Review

Dancing on Broken Glass is book club majesty, a novel readers can chew on and then talk up one side and down another, like a good, thought-provoking episode of The Big C (for those who don’t know Showtime’s stellar series, The Big C, it’s about a woman with cancer—brilliantly portrayed by Laura Linney—who finally, and hysterically, begins living with gusto after getting her terminal diagnosis). 

Dancing on Broken Glass (so put your combat boots on) by the very capable author, Ka Hancock (a psychiatric nurse in her non-writing life), is like that in a way—and yet it’s not. First off, it’s not hysterically funny, and there’s no suspense or mystery, and it’s overlong. About a marriage between a bi-polar man (Mickey) and a woman (Lucy) with a long history of breast cancer in her family, it’s not even a little bit funny. Still, I started the book falling in love, even knowing the premise couldn’t possibly end well (yet hoping otherwise), because I was enamored with Lucy’s voice. Hancock’s set-ups and characterizations are flawless. I loved Lucy’s grit, gusto, and her commitment. I wanted to hang with her. I wanted a good life for her.         

But here’s where the many lovers of this soap opera will begin wanting to throw their e-readers at me:

After Mickey’s first psychotic break (cringingly rendered by Hancock), before his marriage to Lucy, I wanted to hustle Lucy aside and say, “Sweetie, don’t do it! Run! If you marry Mickey, your entire life, the breadth and the scope of it, will be defined by this illness. Broken glass is nothing! Your life will be about picking your way through land mines!”

Of course, Lucy didn’t listen to me. The young never do.   

I commend Hancock for wanting to show mental illness as something that can be dealt with instead of run away from—I’d like to think we can face down all the monsters living under our beds. And I agree with the premise that mental illness shouldn’t be stepped around.

Unless psychotic states are involved—and then step lively and out the front door.

Despite the argument that real committed love is often messy, were I Lucy, I’d have had to love Mickey from afar, for my sanity. Saturday night dates maybe, but only IF Mickey’s meds were humming along. Because psychotic breaks can make “regular messy” look like Christmas in Paris.

It’s for this reason I wish Hancock had depicted Mickey’s bi-polar disorder as less severe, so we’d have had the opportunity to learn how this currently almost-ubiquitous diagnosis is successfully managed.

But see why Dancing on Broken Glass is ideal book club fodder? I’m still yakking it up.

Image credit: kostrez / 123RF Stock Photo

Our Year of Blogging

This month marks the one-year anniversary for Rooms of Our Own, the webbed site of three “rooms” housing me (writer) at LeeFullbight.com, and photographer Geri Wilson in her own “room”—and right now we have a vacancy (interested parties can contact lfullbright@prodigy.net for a room of your own, “almost” ready for move-in and, naturally, no rent here in Blogland. Our only requirement, if you can even call it that—we’re pretty loosey-goosey, and our “rooms” are autonomous—is that you have a passion you want to write about and know where spell check is, and that you attempt a blog post every couple weeks—or more!—and, yes, I know I just said “autonomous,” but we live in the same “triplex,” a click away, and gotta keep the ‘hood up).     

So when Geri and I started this blog, we were so neophyte-ish we didn’t know about brevity (I still have trouble with this; I’m used to a big canvas!), or what we might look like a year down the road. I had a novel to introduce (The Angry Woman Suite, which wasn’t even out then), and uber-photographer Geri Wilson had a line of greeting cards (featuring her amazing photography) to debut. 

Where are we now, a year later, and what do we think of blogging in general?

Well, Geri is just returned from a photography expedition to Bryce Canyon, so expect those photographs to go up in her room anytime now—I’ve had a preview and they are awesome.   

And The Angry Woman Suite (Goodreads link here:   http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13555924-the-angry-woman-suite) is now the 2012 Discovery Award winner for Literary Fiction.         

(One thing, though is unchanged: Baby Rae and I still dance to Gregory Page every night.)

I have another novel in the works, but I also have an idea for something else (based on the truism that we can only talk about our stuff so much and so long without risking emptying a room and/or triggering our own gag reflex—both pathetic)—and it’s this:  

I want to write about other writers, and about other books in particular—btw, I just started Dancing on Broken Glass last night, and I think it’s going to be love.      

So, I will begin reviewing occasionally, starting with Dancing on Broken Glass (next post).

However, reviewing isn’t a permanent thing (what is?). I don’t read as many novels when I’m actually writing one, for two reasons: It’s too easy to subconsciously pick up another writer’s voice, and reading is passive (as in I’d get lazy and never finish my own work). But, until I pick up my own manuscript again (a few more months), I’m enjoying reading novels again!  

As for blogging itself, I do think it’s kept my brain limber, plus I’ve discovered I am totally capable of shorter sentences and paragraphs (and shorter posts!!)—however, I don’t think blogging has yet revealed how funny I am (and yes, I am funny in real life—everybody knows).

Writing Mountains

Crime writer Patricia Cornwell (of the best-selling Scarpetta series) said in a recent interview that writing is hard work; that “it isn’t just sitting around fantasizing, or having a drink with somebody and talking about how cool it would be if you write a story. It’s work.”(italics mine, because of course I agree)

Cornwell also said, “And research isn’t easy. But if you’re going to have a character who’s a musician, you should learn everything about that you possibly can.”

As an aside, The Angry Woman Suite (see sidebar), does have a musician; a pivotal character—and guess what? I don’t play an instrument or even sing (at least you wouldn’t want me to), and I don’t remember how to read music … everything this character (Francis) does in the way of music was researched.

But what really, really struck me about the Cornwell interview is when she said this:

“You don’t become a writer—you are one. And if you really are a writer, it’s like telling a songbird to shut up—you can’t … (and) you have to be willing to be bad at something to be good at it.”

So this is what I thought (and not for the first time): What kind of person is willing to really suck at something and feel like a total failure, and yet still get up in the morning and go back to her or his personal challenge?

A freakin’ masochist, that’s what.

My brother is a self-described non-athlete. He also just summited Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. He said it was the hardest thing he’s ever done. The first time he tried climbing Whitney, he lost part of his gear. Back down the mountain he went, crestfallen. The following year he tried Whitney again, but his hiking partner got altitude sickness, so back down the mountain he went with his partner, because that’s the kind of guy my brother is.  

This year, like the two years before, he trained for months, hiking and climbing in San Diego’s backcountry, and the Sierras. He and his partner agreed that if one became ill, the other would continue to the top.

Why’d my brother keep plugging away at this mountain?

Because that mountain was calling for my brother’s personal best, and my brother heeded the call.   

It’s the call that goes out to each of us; to all athletes, professional or aspiring, and to all writers, seasoned or fledgling. You name the job or challenge, the call’s there. It’s the call that makes every morning a promise, and each day an opportunity to go a little farther and a little higher than the day before.

Patricia Cornwell also said this (about being sucky before you’re proficient):

“You are going to trip over your own feet … (and) you will never be good at writing the first time you try, any more than Nadal hit a tennis ball the way he does now the first time he picked up a racket…. The only way you get better is to just do it all the time. And if this is the inevitability of how you express yourself, you’re still going to get up after failures.”

And you will climb mountains.

PS The Angry Woman Suite is currently on a blog book tour, and it’s going very well– I love bloggers! And Emlyn Chand over at Novel Publicity. Check out GoodReads for new reviews each day….

Image credit: kamchatka / 123RF Stock Photo

Falling in Love Again

I am big-time in love, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt this way.

For the longest time (since even before The Angry Woman Suite came out in March, and my husband’s death in May), I’ve been reading only magazines before falling asleep at night—no time for the commitments books require (and this from someone who at one point routinely read 4-5 books a week—geez, did I have no other life back then?).

And then a friend handed me a copy of Elizabeth Berg’s The Year of Pleasures (pub. 2005), and I’ve been head over heels ever since. That I actually starting reading it is a bit of a miracle, since I try not to read novels when I’m working on my own stuff (I don’t want to subconsciously pick up another author’s voice).    

It’s a little book—but I actually do think most “miracles” are small, overlooked things—about a youngish woman—Betta—whose husband has just died. Okay, connection right away. But instead of being a pedantic, tear-your-heart-out story, this one is about renewal; about a woman moving to a small town with the goal of finding pleasure in “simple daily routines.”

It’s about reclaiming life—without claiming to have answers for anyone else. It’s about choice, as in it’s up to each of to choose contentment (over misery), and how we get from miserable to content is highly individualized. (Perfect for me. I hate when a book—or person!—thinks it’s the oracle of all things for everyone—it’s  just way too dang condescending, not to mention boring as all get out.)   

The prose is gorgeously simple. It had me about seven pages in (about Betta’s husband’s terminal cancer), at this:

“Near the end, I started looking for signs that the inevitable would not be inevitable … I watched the few leaves that refused to give up their greens to the demands of the season. I took comfort in the way the sun shone brightly on a day they predicted rain—not a cloud in the sky! I even tried to formulate messages of hope in arrangements of coins on the dresser top—look how they had landed all heads up, what were the odds?”

“Oh, I know, I know!” I wanted to comfort Betta, an instant sister of my heart.

But I couldn’t of course, and my comfort wasn’t needed anyway, as this sister of mine was already miles ahead of me. Instead I (and Baby Rae) curled up together on our new-to-us antique bed (a simple pleasure), cradled by plump lavender and green pillows (more pleasures), and we let Elizabeth Berg’s Betta show us the rest of her path and her new relationships, and we watched her revive old ones; and I cheered Betta on when she opened a new shop in her new town—c’mon, didn’t we all love playing “store” when we were kids?—and at the end of this deceptively simple and lovely book I was fulfilled and grateful when Berg wrapped these final comforting words around me, about contradictions:

“I thought of rich men who were poor; poor men who were rich; ascetics who lived with nothing so as to have everything. I thought of how ‘lost love’ is a misnomer, for love is never lost at all but only different in appearance, conforming with that well-known law of physics. John used to tell me that there was grace in mathematics and romance in physics. In this, as in so many things, he was exactly right.”

I hugged Berg’s book when I finished—literally. And considered that this is why many of us read.

I thought back on all the novels—okay, not all—that have given me something, starting with Alcott’s Eight Cousins, when I was nineish, about family—Oh, so that’s how it’s supposed to work! I remember thinking—to Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind when I was eleven, about war and love at odds and never giving up, and Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird of course, and … well, the list is endless, all the books that have formed me; taught me, and got me to thinking, and even, sometimes, brought me community. Berg’s small book, The Year of Pleasures, has been added to my list.

And it’s a new day.

(and blog tour starts tomorrow)           

Aha Moments

Sunset from Pt. Loma (San Diego, California) Photo by Geri Wilson

The topic of Aha’s—inspiration or ideas or those nano-seconds of perfection when we know, without qualm, we’re on the right track to something—has  come up more than once the past few days (which I’m sure is a sign). 

Put those occasions together with the most spectacular, and currently hot San Diego weather, complete with red sails in my Point Loma sunsets, and coming home from the office and getting into shorts and little else, and opening up the whole house so I can hear the mourning birds last thing at night and first thing in the morning, and the foghorns and the trains—and I’m practically brimming with ideas and inspirations. This is my favorite time of year; always has been.

Where I can hardly wait to, 1) get in the pool, and then, 2) get to my computer and start writing. Oh, those trips I can take in my head, and those perfect aha moments, the almost trance-like ones, when a story flows right through you.  

I asked two friends what inspires them.  

My one friend, a photographer, said, “Sage, and infants, and sunsets and waves … and the first (and very recent) realization that I could hike without pain, with the right shoes, after a (debilitating) car accident.” 

My second friend, an artist, said. “I love my creative and silly co-workers who help keep the atmosphere fun and lively! I love that my arthritic dog got up easily this morning and raced me to the top of the stairs. I loved taking a shower with the windows wide open and feeling the warm breeze, and I loved singing all the way to work with the Beach Boys.”

“And what inspired you to write this book?” 

That’s the question put to me by a book blogger who interviewed me about my literary suspense novel, The Angry Woman Suite (a Kirkus Critics’ Pick, 5-starred Readers Favorite, and 2012 Discovery Award winner for Literary Fiction). My answer centered on one of my biggest aha moments ever, ever, ever (after seeing my husband for the first time, that is):

“I was in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, sightseeing, and stopped at the Chadds Ford house where George Washington plotted his infamous Battle of the Brandywine. I wandered the battlefield, thinking about this lost battle and what was being fought for—freedom—and then there was a second, literally, when something took hold within my imagination: the beginnings of a novel about 20th century characters also struggling for autonomy. I knew on that day that one of my characters would be a woman looking back on her life, and that her journey to autonomy would be interwoven with another character’s similar journey, and analogously with Washington’s fight for freedom at Chadds Ford.”  

Along that same line, The Angry Woman Suite will be going on tour starting August 27th though September 21st, stopping at book blogs not only in the U.S., but also internationally. The tour is being facilitated by the incomparable Emlyn Chand of Novel Publicity http://www.novelpublicity.com/, and I think it’ll be fun, maybe inspiring, and perhaps produce a couple more aha’s along the way … oh, and one other thing: I’m on Twitter now. I’d thought it would be impossible to say anything in less than three full paragraphs, but I’m getting the hang … follow me at @LeeFullbright, and I’ll follow back!         

Oh, and one last very important thing: A huge Congratulations! to San Diego jazz artist Gregory Page, my absolute favorite musician (sorry, after Mick, that is, who is, after all, a god), for his Best Jazz Album win (for Shine, Shine, Shine).  You’ve got to check him out. http://www.gregorypage.com/

Baby and I (below) dance to Gregory Page every night. Gregory also inspires me, and Baby’s dancing is improving.  

Try on a little Gregory Page and consider what inspires you.  

“Before I Die I Want To___________”

I’ve been writing some heavier than usual stuff lately, since my husband died, and I’m getting kind of sick of myself. So in my new, lighter (and, most likely, welcome) vein, I’d like to share the gist of a U-T San Diego front page article that recently grabbed me. Here’s the headline:  

Before I die, I want to …”

Sorry, couldn’t resist *smile* . . . but the piece has a really cool photo of a global art project at the corner of Richmond and University, started by Candy Chang of New Orleans and brought to San Diego by local artist Andrew Barajas. The project is a giant chalkboard with “Before I die I want to__________” inscribed a million columned times, and passers-by are invited to grab chalk and fill in a blank.   

The point of the project is to encourage people to reflect on their lives, which most of us don’t do often enough (because, why? aren’t we going to live forever?).

The filled-in blanks run the gamut from “Meet Oprah” to “Go to China,” to “Live Fully!” to “Fail Everyday.”

But what I especially love—and I mean love—is the number of times the word “love” is used. There’s “Love Myself,” “Love Forever,” “Find Love,” “Love Everyone,” and so on. 

So of course I got to thinking what pithy thing I’d write in my own blank. I’ve done a bunch already with my life (because I’ve had a lot of it—I’m not young). I’ve traveled. I’ve seen the world’s most beautiful things and people—and I’ve been moved to tears by unbelievable want and squalor. I’ve worked hard and played hard. I’ve been careful with money and loose with love. I married the right person for me. I’ve had incredible happiness. I’ve had sadness (I appreciate my happiness). I’ve been lucky, and I’ve been cheated. I wrote a book. Two of them, actually. The first one makes for super shelf paper. The second is getting great reviews and selling—simply put: the above is the yin and yang of life. So, what have I missed, or want to make sure I don’t miss?

Actually, this really wasn’t a hard exercise. My former blank reads:

“Before I die, I want to make sure each of my friends knows how much I love and appreciate them.”

For who they are, their own unique specialness. And for the big belly laughs; for being silly with me, and for the hand-holding and instant understandings, and for the space, knowing it’s not necessarily you, but maybe me who needs aloneness to recharge; and for the encouragement and patience—and to the creatives who walk with me, for the beauty of your amazing art, whether drawn, written, photographed, danced, sung, interior-designed, planted—whatever. But not just for your work; for your special joy also. Creatives know their passion; their comfort spot, their “home,” and that inspires me and expands my universe. It’s reassurance that the world we inhabit is a magical place after all. You’re the magic.

Profiles of two recent magical friend encounters: The Playola piece above (and below) was created by teacher and artist, Ana Seeley, visiting San Diego from North Carolina last week … “Playola” is three feet tall, two feet wide, constructed of poster board and construction paper, and cardboard for structure strength. The colors—simple tempura paint—were painstakingly matched to the original you-know-what. C’mon, I know you’re smiling.   

And Geri Wilson, photographer and blogger, posted a collection of rose “portraits” that she photographed at San Diego’s gorgeous Balboa Park. Amazing. Have a good new week, everybody, but before you go, check out the rose collection (while maybe contemplating what you’d write in your own “Before I die I want to________” ?) 

http://gerisroom.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/balboa-park-inez-grant-parker-memorial-rose-garden/

Our Walking Wounded

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

Coming Up For Air

THE ANGRY WOMAN SUITE WINS 2012 DISCOVERY AWARD FOR LITERARY FICTION

“June 11, 2012– Last week, the winners of the annual IndieReader Discovery Awards (IRDAs) were announced at BookExpo America (BEA), a major trade show inNew York City. The First Place award in the category of LITERARY FICTION was shared by THE ANGRY WOMAN SUITE by Lee Fullbright and IN LEAH’S WAKE by Terri Giuliano Long. 

Judges for the awards included publishers, agents, publicists, reviewers, authors, bloggers, and producers. Judging was based on the quality of writing, and the originality of the story . . . ” 

***

And, yes, of course I’m thrilled by the Discovery Award for The Angry Woman Suite (published March, 2012), and I was floored to learn of my finalist status in the Historical Fiction category as well, which I found out about just one day before the win in Literary Fiction. Talk about a blur.       

So why my delay in knowing anything? 

Because my dear husband (everybody called him DDF) died on May 21st, and I lost track of life. I was numb immediately following, and then machine-like, taking a million sympathy calls and making a million business calls, and filing paperwork, and going to the CPA, the banker, and the candlestick maker. I finally came up for air this week, back to life (sort of), and was welcomed by the Discovery Award (and also this week, a very nice review of The Angry Woman Suite from Midwest Book Review). I can’t help thinking—and I’ve told several friends this—how much I wish DDF was here to share this with me (he was my biggest rooting section). And then my amazing friend, Laurie, emailed the following, and made me laugh out loud and cry at the same time: 

 “DDF’s playing non-stop golf at the most prestigious and beautiful golf course right now. AND the drinks are all free. When he wants a break from golf, he can play tennis. The courts are enormous, but you can hit the ball half a mile—a clean shot every time, with that great sound the ball makes on the sweet spot of the racquet. Skiing is also phenomenal—like the Swiss Alps on steroids—and he can do 360’s and huge jumps, and the sun is shining and always warm, but never melts the perfect powder snow. While he’s resting after his very full days of long missed favorite sports, he’s looking down on you and smiling—no, beaming—over your Discovery Award, and watching over you while you sleep. He can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!”

I think I’m going to frame Laurie’s words for my bedside table.

Here’s to coming up for air.

Image credit: vsurkov / 123RF Stock Photo

A Good (Writing) Life: Blurring the Lines

I have an excuse for having been recently AWOL from “my rooom,” but, first, I’d like to share something a good friend just told me about being CEO’s of our own lives (which applies to every wage earner and hobbiest on the planet, not just writers!).  

The analogy (and another “nugget”) was supplied by a recent seminar this friend attended. The other nugget is that we’re also our own board of directors.

The rule of this “game” is that every 90 days you (the CEO) and you (the BOD) meet to discuss how you (and you) are doing with your life. The other caveat is that the only two questions y’all discuss at your 90-day meetings are these:

Where am I going? And how do I get there?

When I was twenty years old, my answer would’ve been shallow, considering I never looked at life past the next party.  

By thirty, I’d morphed into a worrier because I still was not challenging myself; only now I knew it. I was thirty, after all! But I didn’t know how to challenge myself in a healthy way. I didn’t trust myself enough, so I’d somehow convinced myself I wasn’t going beyond where I was—which actually wasn’t a bad place. I wasn’t massively discontent. I had many blessings: good health and good relationships.  

But I wasn’t stretching myself. And it wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to go after, because I did. I really wanted to write novels, but I had one large problem in this arena (actually, several, but first things first): I couldn’t accept that novels-in-process are largely ephemeral things, some never finding their endings (or, often, even their middles).

And that’s because their “architect” just isn’t ready or seasoned, or committed.

And then something happened. My mother got sick. And I stepped up the pace and began writing furiously—and before I knew it, writing was my healer. And then it became my habit, and when my mother died, it became my commitment—and then, surprisingly, it evolved and became my joy: I had evolved. My new life was that I could hardly wait to get to my desk in the morning and dive back into my story.

I didn’t know it yet, but I’d just begun blurring the lines between work and play.   

And the next before-I knew-it was I’d finally found a middle and an ending to a novel—my novel—and I became content with myself, even though this first novel wasn’t commercially viable (and I knew it).

But what that first finished story (the one every writer has at the bottom of her/his closet) gave me was the knowledge that I had the ability to find middles and endings.

I held a meeting with myself. Where was I going next?

The answer was I now wanted to try writing something commercially viable. How would I get there?

By taking another first step, my husband, DDF, reminded me.

This next first step was already growing from an idea I’d fallen in love with some time before this. It had come about while visiting a Revolutionary War battlefield. Wandering that old Pennsylvania battlefield, I imagined a woman looking back on her own life’s fight for autonomy, and I knew, at that moment, I had “something”—what, specifically, I’d no clue. As I said, novels are especially fragile at their beginnings.   

But I did know I wanted to incorporate suspense, mystery, a love story, and all sorts of other meaty things into my autonomy story—and I wanted to have fun “building” it.   

So I took that first next step and began writing, and at a subsequent “daily briefing” with myself, I suddenly came to another realization: I wanted more than a book.

I wanted the lines in life to blur further.     

Actually, I want to make living well an art form.  

DDF, who enjoyed life to the fullest, knew the value of play. My husband played his heart out at tennis, golf, skiing, skating, biking, table tennis; you name it, all the while never losing sight of his responsibilities. He became ill while I wrote what would turn out to be The Angry Woman Suite, a suspense/historical novel about a celebrity double murder in Pennsylvania and the fallout on three generations of two families.

His illness, which started with the occasional “lost” word, became a 6-year journey to the bed just a few feet away from me, where he lies peacefully as I write this. He’s near death. Has our 6-year journey been hard? You betcha. But did we still have fun along the way?

You betcha times ten. We did our best to blur the lines.

I had a 90-day corporate meeting with myself last night.

Where am I going next? I asked myself. What will life look like without my husband in it? How do I even get started going where I’m going? And do I really have to go there?

Yes, I really do.

Many times I haven’t had a clue about anything in life. I rise up to meet it, only to find again and again that life’s a lot like novels at their beginnings: ephemeral, variable, hard to pin down.

But a master in the art of living—and, trust me, I’m not there! I’m a wannabe—knows that the pursuit of something, anything, is undertaken with equal parts work and play, blurring the lines.

I’ve picked up my husband’s healthiest tools for living well and added them to my toolbox. I intend to use all mine and his where I’m going, which is on to the next novel outline, the next character sketch—in fact, one of my new characters is almost fully developed, looking something like this:  

“He was decent, no matter the stories whispered about him, which I’ve since concluded were due to the fact that he was relatively young and still good-looking by the time everyone got to calling him “the keeper of Broadway”—in short, that he was a conniver was assumption. What he was, after all was said and done, was still a boy from the sticks, the purest kind of Oklahoma boy, a charm that worked for him—and on me—every single time.”      

This character is looking a bit like the man I married—or at least he does now. But characters, like life, have a way of changing.

Still, this is where I’m starting, Baby Rae at my side, for now.  

The Angry Woman Suite is available from Amazon, and via the Barnes and Noble website.

Writing, Creativity, and Meditation: I’m in a Yogi State of Mind

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”?

        

Rejection: The Final Frontier

The two best pieces of advice I ever got about writing were: One, you have to know all the rules before you can break them, otherwise it shows; and, two, should you decide to take your writing on the road, you must believe that rejection is not about you as a person, otherwise you won’t last two minutes. 

The first piece of advice, about rules, is actually easy. If you care about words and stories—or building things, or sports, cooking, photography, gardening, whatever—you probably want to be really proficient at this thing you love. If you’re a writer, it’s natural to want prose that shows a command of punctuation, grammar, syntax, and rhythm—because anything less than complete proficiency here takes away from the main event: the story.

But the second piece of advice I got, about rejection—now this one just sucks eggs. Not the advice—it’s right on. It’s the subject matter. Ick. Every writer I know has agonized over rejection. Agonized. I once knew a writer whose query had been rejected eight times, and he absolutely couldn’t figure out what was wrong with them (you do know who them is, right?).       

But eight rejections is nothing. Eight rejections is just getting started. So’s fifty rejections, and a hundred.   

And unlike actors who go to audition after audition, their “out there” personalities under a spotlight, a requirement of their business, it’s not the same for writers.

Writers aren’t known for spotlights. The act of writing, of creating something from nothing, is a solitary cerebral endeavor, not an “out there” one. And so of course many, many writers’ basic natures are largely introverted—not to say we don’t like people, because that’s not the point or even necessarily true. The point is we require time alone, and often feel drained by the presence of others (it’s not personal; it’s who we are, and we often mesh best with other introverts or “introvert-hybrids” who get this). We’re also self-starters; otherwise, we couldn’t write.  

We’re also probably much, much worse at rejection than other artists, whose job descriptions put them front and center from the get-go.

So, yes, rejection can feel covers-over-the-head, chest-pounding devastating. Every submitting writer has been there. I’ve been there, and there’s just no other way of putting it: it sucks dozens of eggs and the hens that laid them. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner recently wrote a post entitled “Do You Have a Thick Skin?” and said, “I’m here to tell you: some of you will never develop a thick skin. But the important thing is: You’ll survive.”

Of course, if you want to excel, if you want to trump yourself, survival in and of itself won’t be enough for you. (my words).

Neither will the metaphorical suit of armor.

It will take all your bravery (dig down deep)—especially for solitary writers not heretofore necessarily known for their great balls of steel, though that doesn’t mean they don’t have them; they just don’t flaunt them—to get out of your own way and consider if the criticism or feedback you’ve received has merit. If it does, be braver still and get out of bed and go back to work. Just do it. If the criticism doesn’t have merit—and criticism is always subjective—still get out of bed and go back to work.

And, yes, it is hard to move forward when you’re not feeling the love. Is it ever. But if you’ve already completed a project, or have made inroads on one, you are already so waaaay ballsy, my friend, sticking to something so hard and making it look easy, meaning you can survive rejection and live to laugh about it, too (though it doesn’t have to be today).             

More about survival: The Angry Woman Suite, a novel about a celebrity double murder in the early 1900s, and its effect on three generations of two Pennsylvania families, is just out in print (in addition to e-book format) and is now available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.     

Check out amazon.com/author/leefullbright—and thanks for stopping here. Comments are always welcome!

How do you handle criticism?

 

 

 

E-book at Amazon: The Angry Woman Suite

Hello, and finally! To all who’ve been following this blog—first, thank you!—and to friends and family who’ve asked, here it is, the first announcement:

The e-version of the novel, The Angry Woman Suite (about greed, murder, love gone bad, and imbalance in every single neurotic form there is—and who doesn’t love somebody else’s problems?) IS finally out as an e-book, yahoo! No, double yahoo!

The Angry Woman Suite e-book is now available from Amazon (and soon to be available for the Nook and ipad, too).

Here’s the link to my Amazon author page: amazon.com/author/leefullbright

If you’re partial to print books (who doesn’t love print?), the print version of The Angry Woman Suite (the novel is also about redemption and love gone good—in fact, very good love, and who doesn’t love good love?—and check out the super Kirkus review link over in the right column on this page) will be in the Ingram distribution channel in about a week, and available via both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites shortly thereafter—I’ll shout “when” as soon as I hear.  

And then I will be eternally grateful to each of you (forever) who posts a review or comment to my Amazon listing, and to Goodreads if you’re signed up with them, and to my Facebook page for The Angry Woman Suite, which is www.facebook.com/fullbrightlee

I know it’s a lot, but reviews and comments (especially at Amazon, leader of the free world) are what can set The Angry Woman Suite apart from the—yikes!—1,800,000+++ other books listed at Amazon! It’s truly going to be an uphill battle (and writers never use clichés?). Simply put, I need Y-O-U. 

I’ve just seen the completed back cover text for the print version of The Angry Woman Suite and it goes something like this . . . actually, it goes exactly like this:

A superb debut that exposes the consequences of the choices we make and legacy’s sometimes excruciating embrace.—Kirkus Reviews 

When overbearing former big band star Francis Grayson mentions the “murdering bitches” who supposedly ruined his life, his resentful stepdaughter Elyse—always on the lookout for simple dirt on Francis—takes note. Intertwining narrative with Francis, Elyse stumbles across glimmers of big murder instead of simple dirt, while Francis moves perspective of his “bitches” back to the 1930s, to his childhood in Pennsylvania. His coming-of-age story centers on a mysterious painting and search for the artist who he believes can fix his feuding family. Aiding him in his quest is his mother’s lover, Aidan Madsen, who not only mentors Francis’ music career, but knows everything about two murders implicating the women in Francis’ family. The three narrators of The Angry Woman Suite—Elyse, Francis, and Aidan—weave together a picture of two disturbed families who meet their match in the young, determined to survive Elyse Grayson, and the human to a fault hero, Aidan Madsen.

 

    Thanks for stopping by!

A Million Other Girls

The following is a story of risk and fate.   

Many years ago, three thirteen-year-old girls became friends. They were like a million other girls in the world, eager to put their stamp on it. They were in junior high, and, interestingly, looked somewhat alike, in that they were all blond, slender, and tall. Of course their temperaments were different.

Susie was soft-spoken, slow-moving, almost languorous, and she was self-effacing, very sweet, never said a bad word about anyone—maybe it took too much energy? She was probably the prettiest; definitely the one who spent the most time on her almost platinum hair, plus she somehow got away with wearing blue eye shadow to school. Her grades were across-the-board C’s.    

Kathleen was giggly and energetic. She was Everywhere-girl, like a hummingbird flitting in and out and around the cliques in the lunch quad, raining energy—that rapid speech, constant giggle, and brilliant smile—down on all. Kathleen had long shiny hair parted in the middle, and was always tossing her head this way and that, making her light hair ripple. Kathleen didn’t care about her report card; she cared about movement.

Eileen was a moody bookworm who envied Susie’s blue eye shadow and Kathleen’s beautiful hair. She was prone to sullenness.                

The girls often spent weekends together at Susie or Kathleen’s house, but never at Eileen’s, whose parents had lots of rules and a curfew, and didn’t like the music the girls played or the makeup they experimented with—and let both be known.

Eileen, who pretty much lived in her head and was on the honor roll, broke away from herself when allowed to spend the night at Susie or Kathleen’s, reveling in the music she wasn’t allowed to play at home, and the dancing and makeup, and talk of boys. No surprise, but Eileen didn’t care much for rules for rules’ sake.  

Besides a shared love of blue eye shadow, the girls shared stories about where they’d be in twenty years—fantasies. All, of course, would find love, and their respective “Mr. Rights” would, naturally, be “cute” and accompany them to Rome.   

Kathleen talked of the four children she would someday have and the big parties she would throw, and Eileen wondered if she could one day write like Tennessee Williams, or sing like Joan Baez, or become a potter; perhaps all three. But Susie was curiously silent on life after returning from Rome. Susie merely listened to her friends dream aloud, smiling in her sweet way.

After junior high, Eileen went to one high school, and Susie and Kathleen to another. Although they vowed not to let their different schools and classrooms split them up, the girls made new friends, became involved in different activities, and inevitably drifted apart.

Years passed. So did graduations, many parties and attendant good and bad choices, trips to Rome, long hair, and blue eye shadow.

And then one day many, many years later, Eileen had lunch with another friend who dated back to junior high. His name was Jim, her oldest friend. By this time, Eileen had of course broken her share of rules, because she’d finally could; and become way less sullen and more complacent, even content; written a novel, and grown her hair long again because she still considered some rules, and any rule about hair length after a certain age, supremely asinine—and she was currently struggling with writing a piece that had been prompted by this question:

“What risk do you regret not taking?”

The piece wasn’t going well, yet Eileen still loved the question and asked it of everyone. But there were no “good” answers; in fact, there was much misunderstanding about the question itself, and Eileen began realizing (duh-oh) that “risk” is subjective.

Eileen’s BIG  risk, the one she’d avoided for an embarrassingly long time because it required all her bravery—finishing a novel—had finally been committed to—and so had her primary relationship. Ditto for financial decisions/risks, and for driving herself four hundred miles to Land’s End on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road. But physical challenges, which is how many people understood the question, like skydiving or sailing solo around the world, had never been attractions for Eileen, and so couldn’t be categorized as regrets.     

Considering the possibility that she had no regrets, Eileen was amazed . . . had her life really been so adequately . . . complete? So splendid? But—wait. What about all the stupid things she had done, the rules she had broken (and shouldn’t have); people she had hurt, and the recklessness and bad decisions—there had been plenty of those to go around! Fodder enough for ten novels! How was it her life hadn’t been utterly ruined by her bad decisions, or maybe even cut short?

Lunch conversation with Jim got around to junior high school days—and then, next, to Kathleen—what had become of her, did Jim know? Jim wasn’t positive—maybe he’d heard she’d married? Had a big family? And was happy? So much time had elapsed, he couldn’t be sure—but, yes, that had to be it. Eileen agreed: Kathleen had been such a magnet for activity, surely that big, happy family had been her destiny. 

And what about Susie?

Jim stared at Eileen.

“She died,” Jim said. “She was murdered. I thought you knew.”

Nooooooooooooo! How, when, what, where??????????

The murder had occurred years before. Susie had been hitchhiking alone in Sacramento, California, 600 miles away. She was 22.  

Her body had been found by youngsters playing in a sandy ravine—they’d seen the near-platinum hair, just a lock of it. The rest of Susie had been covered with sand. She’d been buried alive, suffocated, her only visible injury a dislocated jaw.   

A day or so after their lunch together, Jim sent an old newspaper article about Susie’s murder to Eileen, and Eileen carried it around for days, reading it time and again, wondering if Susie’s murderer had ever been caught, and what Susie had been thinking, hitchhiking alone in the dead of night. I mean, how stupid was that? And then—Eileen couldn’t help the thought—she kept imagining Susie’s terror when all that sand came down on her and filled her throat, her mouth, nostrils, everything . . . it couldn’t be borne—yet, Eileen, who could still so easily get stuck in her head, couldn’t shake the picture loose.   

Eileen saw other pictures as well. She saw the three young girls they’d been, their camaraderie and blue eye shadow. She saw them styling one another’s hair, laughing and dancing, sharing dreams, knowing they would one day own the world—but then Eileen suddenly remembered: Susie had never talked about life for herself after her dreamed-for Rome trip.  

Had Susie had a premonition?

Eileen thought again of her own younger-years’ stupid actions and decisions—and wondered, how is fate determined? Because it was surely not by doing everything by the book, as she could attest; making all the right decisions and never slipping up, or, completely fearless, taking every risk there is.     

Or, in Susie’s case, regretting the risk taken.

What was it all about then? Was it possible a young girl’s life had been in vain? Eileen couldn’t get that thought out of her head fast enough either–but what point had Susie’s story served?  

I believe there remains this huge attachment to history, to lessons learned. There’s everything right about that, learning about life through stories, because everything goes back to stories handed down through generations, or other firsthand accounts; or film, novels, periodicals, and journals—every single way we get stories counts. Because every story goes back to the people in them.

We were just three young girls full of life and dreams and hopes, who knew nothing about the vagaries of fate—or that vagaries even existed.   

We were like a million other girls.

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.