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!

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).

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!

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.