Monday, August 27, 2007

Best-laid plans

I had planned to dig right into my routine today as my kids went to school. But it was not to be. My neighbor’s basement—where I paint in the afternoons—flooded yesterday after all the rain we've been getting. We helped them clear it out. It will need the attention of contractors to make it right. Carpets, cabinetry, paperwork, and other possessions were ruined. I had a few canvases over there, but I think I'll be able to salvage my things. Luckily, I didn't have my finished work stored there. But my dreams of writing in the morning and painting in the afternoon were dashed. I am not upset. I just feel bad for my friend who must regroup. I know, I'll figure a way to finish up my paintings for my show in October. Somehow, art will prevail--it always does.

So this morning, I took my walk and got home to see my daughter off to school. (Son was already gone.) I cleaned my desk for 20 minutes and settled in to read my middle-grade novel so I could see where I last let off when revising it. It’s going to take some concentrated work-- which I started. I should just do that full-time while I am waiting for the studio repairs, but I took the afternoon to visit my 90-year-old grandpa. He lives pretty far away, so it was a full outing. I got home in time to see my son off the bus and to sign the massive number of forms that go with the beginning of the school year. (Not more signatures than my book signings, but definitely more monotonous.)

For the back-to-school occasion, I decided to make this special dinner of 3-cheese macaroni with a side of baked garlic tomatoes. Took me forever. This was work and expense. Who puts Gouda and muenster with cheddar in mac-n-cheese? I have the best mac-n-cheese recipe ever. This was not it.

Here it is. All mothers take note. This should be in your repertoire.

Get a 9x13 in pan
Melt 6 T butter and put into pan.
Dump a box (you know the size--REGULAR) of dry macaroni noodles in pan
Pour 4 cups milk—any kind-- over noodles
Sprinkle an 8oz pack of shredded cheese (your favorite—I use sharp cheddar) on top

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for an hour. Nobody ever believes how easy this is. Always first gone at the covered dish. Guaranteed. It’s easier than Kraft’s blue box.

But did I make this recipe? Noooooo! I decided to do mac-n-cheese acrobatics. I got out the table cloth and china for our macaroni and 3-cheese experience. We had candles even--and music. Don't even mention the tomatoes. Kids weren't even crazy about the mac-n-cheese, so Mark bribed them with milkshakes after dinner. Guess I'll have to restrain (and retrain) my creativity to the written page.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

One more day

This is the last day before my kids return to school. I am trying to get systems in place that will carry us through the year and enable me to get lots of work done. Why is it that so much of what I do seems to be administrative? Today I have a full day of correspondence, research for business purposes (not writing), and paperwork for the kids. That just reminded me! I never got the dentist to fill out my son's form to enter seventh grade. For all the money we are spending on his mouth and all the gadgetry he is sporting, I think that a piece of paper that says he is under the care of a dentist is a little redundant. And yet, this is the drama I am trying to keep from happening so that I can maximize my time for writing and painting and spending quality time with my family. I feel like I am the family secretary. What I wouldn't give for a personal assistant? (Well actually--I wouldn't give much. We didn't win Powerball last night.)Hopefully, I'll get enough done today to feel competent--otherwise, feeling besieged with obligation, I may just blow off my first day of work and fly solo to the Cineplex to watch The Nanny Diaries and gorge on popcorn--extra butter.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Deep Forest

I spent three days with my friend Marsha and our kids in a cabin by the Loyalsock River. I wanted the kids (and me, too) to have one last moment of AHHH! before we get down to business--them with school and me with writing/art. And it was a big breath of fresh air. I sat on smooth boulders and dipped my feet in the cold running water--all while smelling the green of the forest. Lots of journaling and reading. Sweet revival.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Before my book came out, I sent out emails to everyone I knew announcing its publication. I also went a step further and emailed a few of my favorite authors--when I could find a reliable address. I didn't expect a response, but I wanted to thank these writers for being so pivotal in my path to authorship. A couple weeks ago I got a congratulatory response from Lynn Robinson who is an inspirational writer my mom first introduced me to. Today, I got a gracious reply from Chris Bohjalian of Midwives fame. Mr. Bohjalian has been a personal mentor for me in many ways. I saw him give a speech at a local library luncheon in April of 2006. At the time, I told him I had a book coming out, and he wrote the most heartening inscription in my book--the hope that I would sell my novel by the pallet load. It was later that same month, while sitting on the top of a mountain on a fine spring day that I decided to quit my job and write full-time. I was up on that mountain for hours with my journal and the Chris Bohjalian book Waterwitches.

In my email to him, I said: I can’t think of any specific ways that authors have affected my writing, except for this—I want to grab the reader immediately—like Chris Bohjalian does. I also like dealing with situations where opposites dance—and I think you do that, too.

Perhaps the best compliment of all is the listing of my book on The double purchase option--better together--features my book and Bohjalian's Double Bind. To have him write back to me is encouragement beyond measure. I can't wait to read his latest book.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Girly Book, part II

O Magazine features a column A Million Ways to save the World. In September's issue I saw the call to mothers, teachers, and coaches to help our boys become more emotionally literate. This will help save the world by allowing men to have empathy toward women (without emasculating them) and thereby curbing violence against women. I am going to go one step further and restate what I said in my last post: one way to help our boys become more emotionally literate and have more empathy is to encourage them to read more books written by and from the viewpoint of women and girls.

Girly Book

"Daddy's reading a girly book." It was the jesting call of a seven-year old, son of a friend ours, as he observed his dad reading my book. I have no doubt that he was prompted--programmed is more like it-- by another adult. I am proud of my good friend for taking the time to read my book--wedding dress cover and all. (His usual genre in books is the espionage type thriller.) My dad, too, is reading outside his genre on this one. He likes my writing style, but wonders why I can't write a story more in keeping with the novels of Zane Grey--author of pulp fiction cowboy and adventure novels. (I had to look him up on Wikipedia.)

I cannot blame these men for their preferences. I do admire them for stepping outside the box for me. And they are not the only ones who are in the box. Even though my book is written from the perspective of a woman, it is considered to be of the literary genre. Not women's literary, but literary. Period. But not many will see it as such. In terms of literature, a man's perspective is the default. It is a sad fact that in junior and senior years of high school honor's English classes, of our seemingly endless reading, our required classwork only included one novel by a woman. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. (Luckily the protagonist was male.) I did manage an independent book report on Wuthering Heights, but it wasn't until I was in college women's studies classes, did I discover books by: Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, Toni Morrison, Isabelle Allende, Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston.

Today, the Sunday Reading Eagle ran an associated press article about female directors struggling for equality. The article quotes screenwriter, Robin Swicord as saying that she wishes, ". . . we could make our movies without people saying, 'And she's a woman director,' Here's Julie Delpy doing this wonderful comedy and here's Judd Apatow doing his comedy and no one is saying, 'And he's a male director.'" The article concludes by saying that though many women directors are interested in telling more intimate, character-driven stories, it is films like The Departed, Braveheart, and Dances With Wolves that win Oscars.

Yes, I like to write novels that are character-driven, emotional, spiritual, sexual--all at once. Novels that explore the artist psyche and the psychology of the family dynamic. To me these stories are more vibrant and intriguing than swashbuckling heroics. I do understand the need to market my novel to women, but I do not understand the limitations of gender perspective.

Why did J.K. Rowling make her main character male? Imagine for a moment... Harriet Potter. Why not? It is common knowledge that girls will read books where the protagonist is male, though boys rarely make the same leap. Numerous studies analyzing children's literature find the majority of books dominated by male figures. A 1995 study (See note below) analyzed titles of children's books and discover that male names were almost twice as prevalent as female names.

I have read male writers: J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, Philip Pullman, Dan Brown, C.S. Lewis, Wally Lamb, Pat Conroy, Robin Cook, Chris Bohjalian, John Grisham, Khaled Hosseini, and Robertson Davies-- among many others. I read almost indiscriminately and love getting a new perspective. I now encourage all men and boys to read outside the lines. Gender lines that is. Teachers--I dare you to challenge your students in this way. The sexes need to have more understanding of each other--and I'm going to say it: men (and they are the ones who have the seats of power in business and government) especially need more understanding of women, so that the feminine perspective is integrated into the norm instead of merely the fringe. Is it too much to ask that the next president of my country is someone who can claim at least one book by Margaret Atwood in his/her education?

* Ernst, S. B. (1995). "Gender issues in books for children and young adults." In S. Lehr (Ed.). Battling dragons: Issues and controversy in children's literature. (pp. 66-78). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. [ED 379 657]

Thursday, August 16, 2007


The publicity appearances are finished for now. School has yet to start. I am waiting to hear some numbers on the book or if my publisher is picking up the next novel. It is raining. I am listening to Johnny Cash and singlehandedly peeling and deseeding 50 pounds of tomatoes for soup, sauce, and salsa. I am quite sure this is a sign of insanity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Writing groups

Last night, as part of my book signing event at Barnes & Noble Lancaster, I was invited to speak with the writer's group that meets there twice monthly. I have to admit that I am jealous of people who have found their group--a collection of people you can trust with your writing. And I mean trust. Trust them to be gentle. Trust them to tell you the truth. Trust their insights and sensibilities.

I have girlfriends I trust with my life and my truths, but not many that I truly trust with my words.

I think about Stephen King and his wife Tabitha. I imagine them propped up on pillows (very expensive ones) in bed, passing pages to each other. She is nodding and chewing on the end of a pen. He is underlining a phrase and writing YES! in the margin. What must it be like to have that instant audience? A sounding board for all those great and not-so-great ideas?

Sometimes the first feedback I get is from my agent. Maybe this is good. Maybe it isn't. I take comments to heart and don't always defend my work. I am too quick to try it another way--afraid that someone who knows the publishing world is more knowledgeable about my characters and plot than I am. I am learning. Perhaps when I learn to trust my instincts, assert my dominion, I'll look for a writing group. Would it be in a classroom or workshop situation where we can learn to know one another first and then decide that our community is too good to abandon when the class ends? Or maybe I'll just take out a personal ad:

Literary novelist who likes poetic devices, word play, twisted plots, and dimensional characters seeks like-minded writer for insightful critique, exchange of ideas, and brainstorming. Love of coffee and/or a good Chianti is a must, as is a wicked wit. Special consideration goes to any applicant with access to a Tuscan villa. Send an email to introduce yourself. Attach a writing sample and picture of your dog. Put the name of your favorite kind of cheese in the subject line.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What's your sign?

On Saturday, my daughter and I were driving by Wal-mart. A woman, flanked by two young children, stood at the entrance to the parking lot. She was holding a sign that said, There is no such thing as a Christian homosexual. I had to wonder what prompted this woman to gather her children and parade her sign before all those people. Was there a recent controversy I missed, or was she simply spewing her views before the largest gathering of folks she could find? Did she feel her family was so threatened by these opposing values that she would risk ridicule rather than to sit in pew with someone who was gay?

This sign fascinated me because of the characters in my book, SUMMERS AT BLUE LAKE. The opening scene, which takes place inside a church, introduces the protagonist's grandmothers and outs them as lesbians. The entire book emerged from the opening sentence which juxtaposes the words lesbians and grandmothers. It gives a tension in the mind as we counter contemporary gay rights issues with our sociological history. On one hand is a population that is still being shunned (as evidenced by the woman's sign) and on the other hand we have a pair of grandmothers (Who doesn't love their grandmother?) belonging to the revered WWII generation. I will admit that I deliberately set the stage in a church to take advantage of the tension. In my earliest drafts I was very hard on the members of the congregation--judging them for their judgments toward my characters. It took many rewrites to soften my words to the concerns of the congregants. The scene was post WWII America. The happy family was the ideal. Rec rooms. Backyard barbecues. A reality worth preserving against all perceived moral threats. But...What if the church-goers genuinely liked Anja and Lena, the grandmothers? What if they had a hard time applying their moral certainties?

I don't carry any signs. I envy people who have convictions so powerful as to take a stand for what they believe--even if it is, as in this case, a belief counter to my own. I have never marched on the capitol or stood on courthouse steps. I have contemplated both, but I guess that makes me a contemplatist not an activist. I consider things deeply, perhaps to extreme. For every truth I have been taught, I have asked a question. Maybe--just maybe-- that's what makes me a writer.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

You can go home again

Last night, I had a scheduled reading and signing at Aaron's Books, a bookstore in my hometown of Lititz, PA. The event coincided with Lovin' Lititz Every Second, a monthly celebration of the arts and business in the downtown sector.

My hometown is one of those tight communities with a rich sense of its own history. It is a small town that is often described as quaint when the travel bureau or TV newscasters are grabbing for adjectives. The downtown is bustling with shops in an era that has seen the erosion of many such Main Streets. (About a decade ago, Lititz successfully fended off the advances of Wal-Mart--if that is any indication.) I say all this to give a backdrop, but it is really the people who make it into the place I like to call home.

Last night was just an indication of that. I signed about 70 books for classmates, teachers, church members, friends of friends, neighbors. My second grade teacher, who is mentioned in the acknowledgements of my book, brought me a gorgeous Gerber daisy--one of my favorite flowers. My novel deals with some sensitive issues, so the fact that my town was willing to embrace it, meant so much to me.

I am working on a third novel. It is in its infancy, but I would really like to use Lititz for the setting. My publishing company publishes a lot of work by southern writers who are known for their sense of place, the ability to make their locations breathe as if they were characters. I've often admired that style of literature. Could I, as a northern writer, invoke the same sense of place?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Place to hang

Yesterday, my friend Missy and I went to the twin towns of New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ for a day of gallery hopping. It was supposed to be more of a scouting mission for me. I wanted to get a feel for what the galleries featured, how the works were hung, in what frames, prices, etc. I hadn't planned on making contacts, but we started a casual conversation with one gallery owner about her style of frames. Before we knew it, she was online looking at my work. It was a helpful discussion filled with practicalities and helpful critique--all in all a positive exchange. She suggested that I bring the work to her for further discussion.

Today, I got an email from another gallery owner, closer to home, who is also interested in talking to me again about my work.

Meanwhile, I am having a show of my work in October at Moondancer Winery in Wrightsville, PA. That will come before I know it. Although I am confident in my ability to produce art that is marketable, I am a little apprehensive about launching myself into yest another field of business with a new set of circumstances. Part of me just wants to paint and turn over my canvases to someone else to deal. I know I don't want to go the art show route. Do I want to sell prints or just originals? I've barely cracked the literary world, trying to understand the intricacies of that business.

My gut is telling me that I need to journal a little (the longhand variety) and figure out my priorities. My other impulse is to paint, paint, paint. With my kids home this summer and all the publicity I have had to do for the book, I have carved out little time to paint and write. That needs to change... and soon!

Friday, August 3, 2007

The book is born

Today is the day. I am sitting in a coffee shop overdosing on caffeine while my son is at technology camp. Can you say BUZZ? The location of the camp is too far for me to contemplate going home in the interim. After this, if the traffic gods lay tracks for us, my son and I will zoom over to watch my daughter in her preview performance at drama camp. I write these details to say that this day is not about me, and nor should it be. SUMMERS AT BLUE LAKE was my book for six years. Now it belongs in the hands of the readers, while I go about my business. No book release parties--which is fine. I had a huge party for myself last August when I quit my day job. Now that was an occasion to celebrate.

I am not trying to downplay this day. Far from it. I have already spent my morning marveling at the people I have met along this path. For that alone, the journey has been fruitful. Each step has brought an array of talented, inspiring souls. Some I have known only over a short conversation, but the connection was there. The writing of this book has brought others in my life--associations that I wholeheartedly feel will remain for life. And then there are those relationships that have been rekindled. Old friends have heard the news and made an effort to contact me. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the support I have received from my community, both the physical place in which I live and the greater creative collective. I look forward to more of this as readers react to the book.

Now that the book is out of my hands, I ask two things of its readers. If you feel so inclined, please leave feedback with the online booksellers (Amazon, B&N etc). Secondly and most importantly, I ask that you take a moment and read the acknowledgements at the front of the book. I can't say enough about those whose names are there. Even before SUMMERS AT BLUE LAKE was under contract, I began to think about who I would thank because those people have been so instrumental in my writing life. A few names are missing and I would like to mention them here (and hopefully in the acknowledgements of future novels): Elena Nazzaro and Michelle Abeyta who gave me daily doses of creative encouragement; my godmother Jane Markert who taught me perseverance and compassion; and Heather Auman whose friendship has transcended the goofy, school girl alliance of the early eighties and matured into a sisterhood of the soul. Thank you, all.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

I Hear America Talking

Yesterday, I visited Philadelphia as part of my publicity campaign for the book launch. Mr. Ralph Collier interviewed me in the lobby of the Omni Hotel for his syndicated talk show, "I hear America Talking." My friend Sue came with me for moral support. We drove into the city early. Good thing, too, because the trip that Mapquest predicted would take one hour and 13 minutes, took us two hours. (You can never predict traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway.) I overcame my apprehension of city driving and parking to get there.

We had a pleasant lunch and tried to tour some of Old Town. I am a history buff, especially the American Revolutionary period. Are you kidding? All that rebelling and making up your own rules? I've toured the homes of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson with my kids and husband. We've done the Williamsburg trip countless times, but I had never seen the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall (although my kids have). Sue and I missed out on the Independence Hall tickets. The people in front of us in line got them; we didn't. We saw the Liberty Bell and toured a strange little museum called the National Liberty Museum. By the time we finished, it was time for my interview with Mr. Collier.

Mr. Collier is one of those men who ooze the charm of a different era. He was dressed all in white, with hat and cane. The only deviation in color was his plaid jacket. Our radio interview went well, but we had plenty of unrecorded time to discuss other topics. Mr. Collier is a wellspring of knowledge of the cultural happenings, past and present, of Philadelphia. After buying us each a glass of wine and delivering a few naughty quotes from various art icons, Mr. Collier directed Sue and me to a Charles Wilson Peale portrait gallery across the street. It was a fine way to end our trip before the two-and-a half hour drive home.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

New Blog

After taking more than a year off from my blog, I have decided to give it another go. This blog will focus more on my creative life than family life, but I am sure that the family will make an appearance. I am not creating work in a vacuum. Please be patient with me while I get my formatting the way I want it. (Ideally in the template of my site, but I may have to consult with the resident computer guy for that.) I am looking forward to having dialog through the comments section, so be sure to say hello when you stop by this site.