Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Over the holiday weekend, my husband and I went to the high school graduation party of a good friend's daughter. And it got me to thinking about transitions. Just one year ago, we were hosting such a party for my younger son--he's now home from his first year at college and he's different. Not better or worse, just different. He's made the transition and it shows. (This picture is from last August when we moved him into his dorm. You don't want to see what it looked like when I picked him up two weeks ago.)

And that's what transitions do--move people forward or towards a new beginning; sometimes forcibly, sometimes painlessly. And at some point, when we're going through such a change, we realize there's no going back.

I've been thinking about this with my novel-in-progress. Sometimes, I move my characters forward very incrementally--from day to day, for example, and other times I'm leaping them forward by weeks or months (or, in the case of one of my two narrative lines, anywhere from 1958-1971 and not always in chronological order). And the transitioning is mostly by instinct, by feel (or leap of faith!). And while I worried some about this, I'm finding, as I reread and edit, that the transitions work. Sometimes the two narratives are very closely linked, other times not at all, but in the big picture, the connections become clear and the characters become who they are going to be --both for themselves and for the reader.

And by the end of the draft, I know that, just like my son in his freshman year of college, the characters will have changed; they'll be further along on their way to becoming who they were meant to be, and I'll have had the pleasure of watching it all evolve. And, as I edit and revise and rewrite, I'll help polish them (sort of like I'm hoping to do with my son this summer).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Book Recommendations!

There are many perks to being a published author. Right up there with the thrill of walking into a bookstore and (hopefully) seeing your own book on the shelves and getting to meet other authors is receiving free books, and even better, receiving ARCs (Advanced Reader's Copies). ARCs allow me to read books before they hit the stores. It makes me feel real hip and with it (in a very nerdy English major/teacher sort of way, I know).

Sometimes I get them because authors/agents/editors would like me to read them for possible blurbs. And sometimes I request them from authors/agents/editors because I want to read them. Either way, it rocks. And in an effort to appear unselfish, I will recommend great reads when I come across them. I love to champion a book, especially when it's by a new or lesser known writer. I love to share with other readers books I've found that I think they'll enjoy as well. And today I have two to offer up to all of you.

Thrity Umrigar
and Tony Romano each have new books in the stores and they are not to be missed. In each, you'll meet complicated, interesting families you'll ultimately fall in love with. You'll meet characters who will stick with you long after you've turned the final page.

Thrity's book, If Today Be Sweet is set in Cleveland in the days preceding Christmas through New Year's Day. It explores how we define and redefine family and home and how we must come to terms with loss and the past in order to appreciate today and hope for the future. You'll also find yourself craving Indian food

In Tony's book, When the World was Young, you'll meet a first generation Italian-American family living in Chicago in 1957. Over the course of the next two decades, you'll see the inevitable struggle between the generations set against the backdrop of an indescribable loss. This book illuminates how our decisions shape us, scar us, and make us more who we are.

Both of the families in these books will draw you into their circle through their flaws and their love for one another, imperfect though it may be.

So, grab these books, pull up a chair, and prepare to enter into worlds you'll miss when you're done. Me? I've got three more ARCs waiting for me. I promise I'll share them with you later this summer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Here's some of what I did today:

~went to the gym for a cardioball workout (I'll be sore tomorrow)
~checked my e-mail (at least 17 times)
~emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it
~read scads of other blogs
~balanced my checkbook (and then grimaced)
~pet my dog, chatted with my dog (rather one-sided conversation), decided my dog needed to be brushed, looked for the dog brush, went to Walgreens to buy a new dog brush (and other personal care items), didn't find a good dog brush there, so went to PetCo and bought new dog brush (and some new rawhides), returned home and finally brushed the dog. He was unappreciative.
~e-mailed my husband three times. Read his responses.
~thought about doing laundry but decided to wait until tomorrow
~e-mailed some writer friends to see how they were doing
~checked dialidol.com (for the first time ever) to see who they predicted would get bounced tonight. They said it was too close to call. (It better not be Melinda!)
~did today's New York Times crossword puzzle (but held firm and wouldn't let myself start last Sunday's yet. That's gotta be a reward for something.)
~wrote a lame blog about not writing

Here's what I DIDN'T do today:

~get any damn writing done.

And no, it's not because of all that I did do. No, I can't use the excuse that I'm so busy it's hard to find time to write. I was completely flat today. No inspiration. Every sentence I started went nowhere. So, I kept inventing things to do so I wouldn't have to sit there, pen in hand, struggling to find my voice. (Best example would be the dog brush, I think. Or dialidol.)

But, by the end of the dog brushing episode, I think I have a place to start tomorrow. I mean, I'm 35,000 words in. That's halfway for me. I'm getting to know these folks pretty well. I like them, I worry about them, I think about them when I'm supposed to be talking to other people (I still talk to them, I just don't pay very close attention).

So, do you ever get stuck? What gets you unstuck? And hey, if you're feeling charitable, send some good writing karma my way, okay?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Old Friends

Remember that song from Girl Scouts, "make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold . . . "? C'mon, you know you do.

I was thinking about it because this past weekend was my 8th annual "Gardening Weekend" with my two oldest and dearest friends from Wisconsin. This started in 2000 when I wanted to put in a perennial garden and they offered to come down and help. We gardened that year and the next, but then, due to the beauty of perennials (they keep coming back no matter how non-green your thumb is) we found ourselves with time on our hands. So, we shopped. And that's what we've been doing every spring since (because, clothes are NOT like perennials, we explain to anyone who asks). The weekend, like old friends, has a definite rhythm to it. They arrive late Friday afternoon. After exclaiming over how good each of us looks and commenting on the cute new hairstyles at least one of us is sporting, we get down to business: sitting on my front porch, snacking and drinking wine. The next day, after lingering over coffee and whatever new breakfast recipe I've come up with (this year it was leftover lemon cake from the night before, but we dressed it up with fresh berries), we head out. At every store, we ask for (and are willing to wait if necessary) the biggest dressing room so we can all pile in together to critique the various outfits. About two hours into the shopping, we head to our regular stop: the Mexican restaurant in the mall for quesadillas and a pitcher of margaritas (over ice with salt). Our shopping purchases usually multiply after that rest stop. By evening, we've hauled home a new spring wardrobe for each of us and have only one thing left to do--decide what to wear for our dinner out. This is the only thing that varies year to year--we always try a new restaurant (at least for them). Sunday, they head back, and I model the new clothes for my husband who nods approvingly.

So, why did I bore all of you with this? No, not to show you the totally girl side of me. (I actually have a point to make about books if you'll just hang with me a bit longer.) It's that I so appreciate the comfort and ease of old friends. People who knew me when, know me now and love me anyway. People who knew me 40 pounds and numerous bad hairstyles ago. People who knew me before I was a mom, a writer, a wife.

And that's why I reread books. I have a new pile of books to read--some I bought at recent book festivals, some are ARCs sent to me for blurbs and reviews, some were gifts for Christmas--and I'm really looking forward to reading them. But, first, I'm going to reread To Kill a Mockingbird, for oh, probably the 30th time. I want to feel that comfort and that familiarity. I want to see something new in people I love and care about and trust. I certainly don't reread all my books (who has time?), and I'll probably skim some of Mockingbird, too, but I'll crawl into it, knowing what to expect, and it won't let me down. I love characters like that--who feel real long after I've turned the last page. And then, when I get back to my own writing (first thing tomorrow morning), I'll be even more inspired to create the same kind of people--who are real and flawed and struggling with doing the right thing in spite of themselves. Who have quirks and fears and hopes. Because that's who I want to spend time with when I read . . . and when I write.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Book Clubbing

This Saturday morning, I get to do one of my favorite book-related things: participate in a book club. Over the years, I've belonged to bookclubs. Some were more about the wine than the reading (nothing wrong with that); but all of them were about coming together to share a love of books.

Since my novel came out last July, I've met with over 20 different book clubs. Each group has been wonderful and different. We've met in private homes, churches, coffee shops, and bookstores. I've talked with groups in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Virginia, and Kansas as well as my home state of Missouri. We've chatted in person, by phone and live-chat. At the end of one meeting, I was asked to stay and help decorate the Christmas tree. After another, I got to play with the owner's new golden retriever puppy. When I was getting ready for my first visit as an author, I was nervous (even though the woman hosting it was someone I've known for 15 years since we live in the same town and our kids played soccer together). I wondered what they'd expect from me, if they'd be disappointed in my lack of "authorness" (whatever that is, I doubted I had it). But each time, no matter how tired I am beforehand, I come away from a book club meeting feeling energized. These are women who intentionally chose to read my book, felt it was worthy of discussion, and cared about my characters as if they were the real people they'd become to me. Each group helps me to see different layers of my book; they view it with varying lenses which allow me to see it differently too. Their questions are thoughtful and insightful and make me think about the very words I penned.

And the funniest thing about each meeting? They thank me when it's over. They appreciate my willingness to attend. Silly them, I think as I'm getting in my car to go home or hanging up the phone. They're what makes all of this possible for all of us who write and who love to read. Without readers, we're toiling away in a vacuum. Yes, I write because I love it, because I don't feel as though I have a choice, but the real thrill is in the connection with readers.