Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Moment of Thanks" Reprise

I wrote this post last year, and ask your indulgence as I post it again. It still seems appropriate. . . .

"You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."

Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

Thirteen years ago, just before dinnertime on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, my seven-year old son was hit by a car. Now twenty, he'll be arriving home from college tomorrow; his twenty-one year old brother the next day. We have much for which to be thankful. But that night, for a few moments, I wasn't sure I'd ever breathe a thankful breath again. When the neighbor boy burst into my house, yelling, "Eric just got hit by a car!" my world froze. I wasn't sure I could face what awaited me just outside my front door. Somehow, I propelled myself outside, after tossing the phone to the neighbor and telling him to call 911. When I hit the porch steps I heard my son's cries and I thought, Okay, he's alive. When I knelt by his side, I saw his feet moving and told myself, Okay, he's not paralyzed. And I knew right then we were incredibly lucky. And I was thankful beyond measure.

Later, after the ambulance ride, after the X-rays, after the doctor shook his head and said, just before releasing him, "He's fine. He shouldn't be but he is," I remembered the above Stegner quote. The salt had been just ready to pour down on me, on us, on our life. And then it didn't. But I knew how easily it could have rained down over our world. A different driver. A bigger, faster car. A shift in the trajectory of my son's body as it flew through the air. But, even now, I have to turn my mind away from those awful possibilities.

Our lives are full of such moments, but many times we don't even know it. We don't know what we've narrowly escaped, what's just missed us. And so, for what we know and don't know, I am thankful. For the times the salt didn't pour down and for the strength to continue when it did, I give thanks.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, but even more, I wish you a spirit of thankfulness as you go about your lives everyday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love Your Neighbor/Writers in their own words

I've been lucky to have the best neighbors anyone could ask for. We've lived next door for going on 18 years. In that time we've graduated 4 kids from high school, two from college (the last two aren't far behind . . . at least that's what they tell us). They've driven my younger son and me to the ER more times than I can count. We've shared meals and tears and laughs and wine.

One day, when I was at work, they noticed a bird flying around inside my house. They knew that while I didn't have a pet bird, I did have a dog and cat who were likely wreaking havoc throughout the house. Fantastic neighbors that they are, they used the spare key they have (yeah, they're that kind of neighbor), came over, rescued the bird, set it free, calmed down the animals who were supposed to be in the house, and straightened up the lamps that had been knocked over. When I got home, all was well.

I know I'm lucky. But, if I ever forget, reading Saralee Rosenberg's new book, Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead will definitely remind me!

A “For Sale” sign on your lawn is fine, unless you’re not the one who put it there. In DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD, Saralee Rosenberg’s fourth hit-home novel on Long Island, Mindy Sherman and Beth Diamond are warring next door neighbors who have zero in common, but no place to hide. Housewives have never been this desperate, or this funny.

The story begins on move-in day when Mindy notices that her new neighbor’s shed is bigger than her mother’s condo, and the vanity plate on Beth’s Lexus reads FSHNCRZY. It hardly bodes well for meaningful friendship as the Shermans are broke and Mindy’s favorite designer makes Mets t-shirts. Still, her husband, Artie, predicts that Mindy and Beth will become the next Lucy and Ethel. “In real life they hated each other,” Mindy cried. “In real life they laughed all the way to the bank,” he pointed out. “Which bank?” she asks.

Now, eight miserable years later, Mindy is still trying to compete, squeezing into jaws-of-life jeans, for in her neighborhood, thirty is the new wife. Even Artie isn’t immune. “Someone called us Shrek and Fiona!”

That someone is Beth, the ivy-league blonde next door who as resident sancti-mommy, makes Ann Coulter seem civil. It’s another day, another dilemma until Beth’s marriage becomes fodder on Facebook. Suddenly she needs to be “friended” and Mindy is the last mom standing.

For two women who have never shared a meal, it’s a hilarious balancing act as they join forces in order to keep their messy plates spinning thanks to overbearing in-laws, errant husbands, a troubled step-son, a failing business, an unplanned pregnancy and a possible relocation that would leave one of them very far from Bloomingdales.

Then, Mindy and Beth’s reality check nearly bounces on a harrowing flight when they discover a startling secret that they pray they are not too late to share.

DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is a highly emotional, spot-on romp through bedrooms, boardrooms and backyards, making unlikely heroines out of two moms who never imagined themselves as survivors, let alone as best friends.

Here's Saralee in her own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Of my four novels, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is the only one that was inspired by, well, me! The story is based on my first novel, ALL IN THE CARDS, which was never published, but did take a very exciting journey to Hollywood. Back in 1997, Bette Midler optioned it for a feature film (she was looking for a follow up comedy to “First Wives Club”). Exactly! Wow! First time out and it’s a homerun. Sadly, the reason you never heard of it is because ultimately, Bette and her partner couldn’t get financing or find the right screenwriter to adapt it. Bye bye Bette... Now fast forward to a few years ago. My novels, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT and FATE & MS. FORTUNE had done very well but were about single women looking for love in all the wrong places. I wanted to write about my “peeps” in the suburbs and pitched my editor on letting me rewrite ALL IN THE CARDS. She was hesitant because she wasn’t sure Avon was the right publisher for a suburban/soccer mom story with bickering neighbors. Then came “Desperate Housewives” and suddenly it was, get me suburban/soccer mom stories with bickering neighbors. Timing is everything.... So although DEAR NEIGHBOR is an incarnation of my earliest novel, it is a much richer, deeper, funnier story and is resonating with readers of all ages.

2) Are you more driven by plot or by character?

I always tell readers who ask what my new book is about that the better question is who is the book about because if the characters don't resonate for them, they'll lose interest and possibly not finish. That's why I work so hard creating three-dimensional characters who sound, look and feel real and who have their good points and bad. If readers can relate to them as they do friends and family, and if they even worry about them when they put the book down, then I know I have done my job and the reader will take the whole ride with me.

3.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

I absolutely adored my protagonist Mindy because she was so honest and genuine and she never stopped trying to improve herself, improve her husband and her kids and improve her life. The fact that she rarely saw any signs of progress is what her made her so funny and vulnerable. But the one character that I grew to love and was challenged by was 17-year old Aaron, Artie's son from his first marriage. I drew from my experiences from when my son was that age and was one part sweet and three parts nasty. But in him I saw so much heart and intellect that needed discovering, I enjoyed peeling away the layers of the onion chapter by chapter so that readers would see his great potential too. The old adage about not judging a book by its cover is true for people as well.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

I’m a crack-of- dawn morning writer maybe because my muses are busy all night and can’t wait to have me pour out what they sunk in (at least they let me go to the bathroom first). That being said, when I’m in the zone, I write morning, noon and night. I know I’m done, however, when I look up at the computer screen and I see this, “She said, hjkljkl;uiop.” Then it’s time to shut the lights. As for where I write, the majority of my work is written while chained to my computer table which is situated right smack in the middle of my master bedroom... I never thought this would be my workspace. I always fantasized about having the kind of home office that “playwright” Diane Keaton got in “Something’s Gotta Give.” - this huge, white, ocean-facing office that was stocked with floral bouquets and a breathtaking view. Perhaps one day, but for now it’s fine. I look out at my beautiful backyard and at least my commute is a breeze. Not to mention I can make it to the fridge in under thirty seconds.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

I am crazy about writing dialogue and would spend days working on a scene between Mindy and Beth to make sure that I got the tone, the phrasing, the timing and the subtle nuances just right. There was so much that they wanted to say to each other after eight years of making each other crazy, I just had to let it out a little at a time, like air coming out of a balloon. But the scene I loved writing the most was the one where they are in a hotel room and Beth confronts the fact that she might be pregnant. It is a funny, poignant moment where both characters reveal their greatest joys and misgivings of motherhood and I remember when I sat at my computer, the words just poured out and I had to sit still to hear every last word coming through. I realized at the end that they had just broadcast my own conflicts and vulnerabilities about being a mom and it was whoa... where did that come from?

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

Good question. When I first began writing fiction, I turned to many of the wonderful books that are out there to teach the craft. But the two books that became my bibles, the ones that I still refer to when I'm stuck are the stand bys for many writers, Bird By Bird by Anne LaMott and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I found so much wisdom in their words, and they gave me the courage to listen to my inner voice and trust it. Now when I'm being pulled in different directions, I just close my eyes, listen to the conversations going on in my head and miraculously, I know what to do. I thank them for that.

Finally, here's praise from Booklist: "Through a winning blend of hip and humble humor, Rosenberg simultaneously skerwers and celebrates the institution of suburban sisterhood."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Novel 101--A Radical Revisionista

So, once again I'm revising. Revising the MS I thought was done a year ago. The MS I've since rewritten 3 (or was it 4?) times.

This has been the hardest book I've ever written. Okay, I know it's only the third (or fourth?) book I've even started. But I also know it's the most complex. I think it's better than All the Numbers. And the writing of it has been a completely different experience.

I remember when I was pregnant with my second child, thinking, well, I'm an experienced mom so I know what I'm doing. Uh huh. I knew the basics. Nursing. Diapering. But each baby taught me how to be his own mom. What worked with one son didn't always (or ever) work with the other one.

We talk about books being labors of love . . . like child rearing. We talk about the fear of sending them (kids and books) out into the world to get knocked around. And I'm discovering that each book gets written in its own way just like each child gets raised in his or her own way. And I have to give myself over to that.

My sons taught me how to be a mom. My sons taught me I could handle things I'd never imagined. They taught me I was stronger than I ever thought. They taught me I had to take risks and be fearless so that they could dare to take chances and chase dreams.

My characters teach me the very same things. My characters are teaching me how to be a writer.

And one of my dearest, most trusted reader-editors used the perfect phrase for all of this. She told me being cautious wouldn't strengthen my story. She told me that "a more radical approach to revision is the right one."

Which means that I'm reconsidering major plot points. I'm looking at scenes and thinking, what the hell, what if I connected these characters here? Or here. I'm fearlessly "killing my darlings"--deleting those scenes that might be beautifully/wittily/choose-your-adverb written but DON'T MOVE THE STORY FORWARD. Or worse, SLOW IT DOWN.

I'm moving things around, withholding information, rediscovering characters' motivations. It's exhilarating and terrifying (kind of like parenting toddlers or teens). I know it's working when I wake up thinking about my book, when in those not-quite-awake moments an idea or solution comes to me and I just know it's perfect. Which tells me that all night my subconscious has been working on my book.

I'm letting go of what I thought the book was supposed to be and grabbing on to what it's becoming, what it was destined to be.

Again, kind of like watching my sons become the adults that was in them from the start.

It's an amazing journey, both parenting and authoring. And much of the time I need to remind myself to enjoy the ride and stay out of the way.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Words Take Us All Over the World/GCC

I had an amazing experience this week . . . and it was proof, once again, that when we send our words out into the world, we have no idea where they'll land and who they'll touch. This week, I received a fan letter (via e-mail). While fan letters are ALWAYS cool, this one was even more so. Because it came from a reader half a world away, a young Taiwanese woman who loved my book (which has been translated into complex Chinese characters) and wrote to tell me so. I was incredulous and thrilled. When I first imagined being a published author, when I first dared dream the dream, I couldn't have foreseen the lovely people I'd meet because of a story set on a small Wisconsin lake. But that story has taken me around the world.

And now I get to introduce you to another writer whose words will also go places she could never imagine. Kelly Para's new novel, Invisible Touch, poses the question, Do You Believe in Fate?

Kara Martinez has been trying to be "normal" ever since the accident that took her father's life when she was eleven years old. She's buried the caliente side of her Mexican heritage with her father and tried to be the girl her rigid mother wants her to be -- compliant and dressed in pink, and certainly not acting out like her older brother Jason. Not even Danielle, her best friend at Valdez High, has seen the real Kara; only those who read her anonymous blog know the deepest secrets of the Sign Seer.

Because Kara has a gift -- one that often feels like a curse. She sees signs, visions that are clues to a person's fate, if she can put together the pieces of the puzzle in time. So far, she's been able to solve the clues and avert disaster for those she's been warned about -- until she sees the flash of a gun on a fellow classmate, and the stakes are raised higher than ever before. Kara does her best to follow the signs, but it's her heart that wanders into new territory when she falls for a mysterious guy from the wrong side of town, taking her closer to answers she may not be able to handle. Will her forbidden romance help her solve the deadly puzzle before it's too late...or lead her even further into danger?

Now, let's hear from Kelly in her own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

I've always believed in intuitive vibes and repetitive signs and thought wouldn't it be cool to have a girl who really saw visions and have to piece the signs together to help others? But not only that, but this gift had to also be a curse and would a logical mother believe her? And from there Kara was born in my mind with secrets and pain and grief and romance. I am more character driven. I don't believe plot is my strength. I really love to push my characters to their limits.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

My favorite character in Invisible Touch is Kara. She's dealing with a strong psychic gift that is often at times a curse and tries to get a handle on it all by herself while the family deals with the grief of losing her father. She's got a strong heart and like a lot of teens with personal dilemmas trying to hold it together.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

Before I take any notes, or jot down ideas, I always start a book by writing a scene. Once I get that scene down then the brainstorming comes next. My writing environment is my laptop. :) I have a desk with a computer with access to the Internet, and at times I'll set my laptop there or take it to the recliner.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part is building characters from scratch, and then using my imagination to create their stories.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

So many, but I think the one that comes to mind often is that your writing skill is like a muscle. You have to work that muscle in order to build your strength as a writer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This and That

So, you can tell I'm following in the blog footsteps of Therese and those cool gals over at The Writers' Group by changing the look of my blog. Let me know what you think.

I know my posts have been sorta skimpy lately (sorry!), but I've got a new post up over at Erma all about seizing the day, I'll be touring for GCC tomorrow, and next week I'll have a new NOVEL 101 post.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Have You Ever?

Lisa over at Eudaemonia got this from Debra over at From Skilled Hands--
“Have you ever…?”

Bold the things you’ve done and will admit to.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the star
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain

9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill

24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run

32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt

43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted (sort of
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma

65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades

75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book

81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person

96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee

How about you?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


We did it. All of us. We voted and changed the world.

Now the work begins.

But we move forward with hope and wonder.

And we move forward behind a smart, brave, kind man.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Think. Vote. Please.

Earlier this summer, a picture on the front page of The New York Times stunned me. And it haunts me still. It was of a little boy, a toddler, with both of his ankles in casts. He was from one of the African nations struggling to have fair elections in the midst of war. Men had come in, and when his mother refused to say where his father was and how they had voted, they shattered the little boy's ankles.

Think about that for a minute if you can. Think of the terror and horror his mother endured. The pain of the little boy. These were people who faced brutality and possible death just for trying to vote.

We have an election on the horizon and while there has been lots and lots (and lots!) of words said and written about it, there are people who won't vote because they are too busy or they just plumb forget or they don't care. There are also people who will vote without being informed. They'll vote one way because of hair style or skin color or internet rumors that are e-mailed and forwarded by idiots (sorry, Dad.).

And I want those people to think of that little boy and his mother.

I'm voting for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. There, I said it. For all to see. And with no fear of harm coming to my family or me.

I believe that Obama is our best chance for change and hope and a positive direction for our country. I believe that Obama as president can help America regain her stature and good standing in the world. I like that he's smart. I want a president who's smarter than I am. I firmly believe that he wants the same things for his family and their future that I want for mine. I trust him with my economic future. I agree with him on most social issues. I wish he were more adamant about gun control, but I can't have everything. I support what he proposes for health care.

Do I know every last detail on all his positions? No. But I have listened and read enough to trust him and his vision for America.

For the past few weekends, I've walked through neighborhoods in my town, canvassing for Obama. I've chatted with neighbors who are undecided, who have decided for the other side, and who agree with me (and asked for yard signs). Everyone was friendly (okay, one woman was a bit crotchety) and what struck me was the thoughtfulness of those I talked to. One woman in particular said she was really struggling; she likes Obama, but she's pro-life. She couldn't decide what to do. And while I wished I could sway her, I know she has to decide. But she's thinking about it which is the most important.

I wish I could go door-to-door in more neighborhoods, more states. I wish we could talk to and with rather than at.

This election is too important to hand over to the talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC and CNN.

Think of that mother in Africa and her little boy.

And please vote.