Wednesday, December 28, 2011

As I consider taking down the tree.

How do our mothers trick us into believing they will live forever?

It’s the rituals, these annual holiday rituals.
It’s the antique pie plate, and the recipes only made for Christmas breakfast. It’s the stockings swinging above the fire, matching red pajamas, and candy canes nestled into cups of cocoa.

So this is what we are doing, as we pin up our Advent calendars and hide trinkets in our New Year’s Eve cakes. We are imprinting ourselves, as mothers, in our children’s hearts. Making them believe not in Santa or in elves, but in the concept of everlasting home.

My mother, my complicated mother, might as well be reincarnated as a Douglas fir, for the way she magically appears, sparkly and commanding, in my living room the last month of every year.

She was no angel, of course. But she loved to dazzle, and so she does.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Prayer.

Please, dear Lord, may the gift certificates my daughters receive from the mall not be redeemable at The Tattoo Palace.

May the client who always sends me those iced cookies from that place in Wisconsin send them again. But not the tower, God. Please, please, dear God, not the tower.

I pray that you speak to your co-worker, Mother Nature, to forgive me for all the gift bags I am going to throw away. I can’t keep them all, God. I believe they are breeding in my cabinet. The big shiny ones beget the ones shaped like wine bottles. They do. It's the garden of freaking gift bag Eden in there.

Please, Lord Jesus, when the carolers come to my house don’t let me giggle involuntarily. If I go to the Christmas pageant and the kid playing the wise man speaks with a lisp, that’s okay to laugh. Even the priest will laugh at a kid with a lisp.But not at the carolers. Please let me keep a straight face with the earnest, off-key carolers.

When the Salvation Army bell rings outside Costco, let me have a dollar in my jeans pocket so I’m not the a--hole who says “Sorry, I’ll hit you on the way out” and then pulls my coat over my face and runs.

May I stop mocking the younger mommies at the school Christmas concerts by making jokes about “Toys for Ta-Tas.” That is simply not in the holiday spirit.

When my husband invites people over for drinks, may I just smile graciously and offer them the only food left in the house not designated for Christmas dinner: sardines on a triscuit.

May no one recognize that I have been wearing the same red corduroy flares for 6 Decembers in a row. They still fit, dear God. And if that isn’t a Christmas miracle (have I mentioned The Tower?) I don’t know what is.

Let me make time for the people I love, and make excuses for people I don’t.
Let me stop cleaning and start singing.
Let me watch Charlie Brown and listen to Mitch Miller.
Let me buy gifts that make people laugh, because making them happy is just too much damned pressure. And, um, may I stop swearing? Sorry about that. I'll do better in the New Year.

In thee I pray.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Occasionally oblivious.

Sometimes we writers wander around in a beautiful place and don't see anything, because we're so tied up in the worlds we're creating in our heads. And then there are the other times.

I'd been down that path to Carmel Beach a million times, but today I saw this.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dear twentysomething . . .

I was asked recently to contribute to a series of letters written by writers to their younger selves (and their younger brethren everywhere.) Here's what I had to say.

Dear twentysomething,

Maybe these aren’t the best years of your life. Maybe you miss college, the hug of a dorm room, the hush of a library. Maybe your obnoxious, preening professors don’t seem nearly as dangerous as your stupid, scheming bosses. Maybe you know too many people who have more money in the bank and more clothes in their closet and more stamps on their passport than you do.

Maybe you are walking a tightrope. That thin moon that hangs between being a self-starter and a go-getter. Being a lot of fun and being a bit too much. Between being ready and being there already.

The thirties await you on the other side, with all the shiny gifts and promises they seem to bring.

But know this.

You are the age when you are always lit from within.
Older people see it like a golden lamp when you walk into a dark room, your skin still plump like a baby’s. Your source of energy now, if you don’t mute it, is endless.

Strip away the cocktails and the Red Bulls, the all-nighters at the office. Walk past the 24-hour carbohydrate palaces, and lay down on a pillow with a flannel case you washed yourself. Rest. Heat up some soup. Listen to the music people make fun of you for liking. Build an altar of your favorite books, a toy, a card your grandmother gave you.

These are not the years to burn up and grind down. To scratch or claw or pound.

These are the light years. The weightless ones, the lily-pad days.

I won’t say enjoy them; everyone says that, no one listens.
I will say: Use them. Use them not to move and jostle and scheme. Use them to be still enough to learn what you truly want.

Read the whole series of “Dear Twentysomething” letters all this month, on Melanie Goodman’s book blog,

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Broken Things. (Again, no links. Not about buying today, at all.)

"Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in." ~ Leonard Cohen

I guess I could just stop right there, with Leonard Cohen. Damn, he compresses everything into rich antioxidant juice.

But since it's the holidays, I feel inclined to share that I didn't spend Black Friday in line at Best Buy. I probably should have, though, because my dryer door is duct-taped. Every ten minutes or so, the tape comes undone if the load is too heavy. And some days, damn, that load is way too heavy. The dryer is not that old. I reluctantly bought a new one three years ago when my garage-sale one died. I have paid to fix this new dryer twice. Paid to have the door replaced, then turned sideways. Paid by staying home and waiting when I could have been out trying to get new clients. And paid now, in ten minute increments, and by hanging up everything that fits on the line, everything that likes catching sunshine.

My life is a tad duct-taped.

Three kids, two dogs, two cats. Nothing stays nice for very long. I've learned to not even start out with nice. If you start out with used or borrowed, you don't feel as badly when you have to mend it. Or steam-clean it. Or ignore it. Ignoring works.

Right now, after 10 years in one place, everything small is falling apart. We fixed the big things. Now the small things, one on top of another, snowball. The oven, the fan, the toaster, the dryer, the bed frame. It's okay knowing the sofas have holes but now the slipcovers hiding the holes have holes. Can you duct-tape a sofa? I believe you can.

My middle daughter is still traumatized by the year that my husband duct-taped her down parka. But we all know how much parkas cost. And how, when you sew them, the feathers still sneak out around the slash of your stitches.

This morning when I let the dogs out in the dark, there was a light welcoming me. Was it the star of Bethlehem? No. Our car, headlights left on all night. (Should teenagers be allowed to drive at night, let alone vote? Discuss.) The teenager is awakened. In pajamas, we juggle owners manuals, keys, flashlights in our teeth. Electric principles, positives and negatives, remnants of science classes gone by, are discussed. The car does not turn over. It does not spring to life.

The cost of a battery, deducted from babysitting earnings, is silently calculated in my daughter's eyes as the sun comes up. She has seen how big that battery is, how much larger than "C" or "D". She has already paid for a flattened tire, a dented bumper, a small accident when she hit a friend. She is young, and already exhausted with paying, of replacing, with comparison shopping, with time away from homework and friends, with making new again.

I see it in her eyes. And I know: This is how duct-tapers are made, not born.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Just A Little Early Holiday Story. No Links. Nothing to Buy.

It's too beautiful to sit inside writing all day. The bike must be ridden a bit. What else are 66 degree November days for?

I weave through the trucks up and down the street, the trucks driven by the foremen, the stone masons, the plumbers, the roofers, the plasterers, the kitchen designers, the marble cutters, the mural painters who replicate the Sistine Chapel in the breakfast nooks.

Our neighborhood, once divided equally between lush woods and modest homes, has been under construction for 10 years. Wooded lot by wooded lot. McMansion by McMansion. Truck by truck. The noise some days requires headphones indoors. Outside, riding my bike, it's even worse. As a little girl in one of my not-yet-published novellas says, as she stares at a wood chipper: "Is that the sound of the tree screaming?"

Yes. Yes it is.

Some of these homes are beautiful beyond measure, filled with fine people I have loved getting to know. But two of them, the ones built later, at precisely the wrong time, sit empty, in limbo. Too expensive to sell. Too big to rent. Too showy to do anything but attempt to keep up appearances. Raked, trimmed, tidied. Chin up! Last weekend a service came and put up Christmas decorations and lights. Part of me finds this absurd, and part of me is grateful that someone is trying. Someone is staying cheerful, showing up, lighting the light. Fighting the fight.

Surely these homes would sell faster if they knew an author lived in the neighborhood. ;-) Or knew, perhaps, simply that someone who cared was home, and listening for them. And hoping all would turn out merry and bright.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Autumn Rules: Collection #2

Autumn Rules:

1. You're not really a parent until someone drops a pumpkin on your toe.

2. Somewhere in a dark warehouse, all the ROAD WORK AHEAD signs are loaded onto trucks for use on the exact SAME DAY.

3. Recipes in all magazines shall contain either maple syrup, bacon, or butternut squash.

4. If you have no trick or treaters, it's a sign from God that you deserve to eat candy.

5. As leafblowers descend like Hell's Angels, you will mourn the sound of a rusting rake against a drying leaf.

6. Pecans toasting on a closed fire. Jack Frost nipping at the Pinot Noir.

7. It ain't over 'til it hits 68 degrees one. last. time.

8. You will be expected to be thankful at the precise same time you have to remove mountains of dead leaves from your lawn.

9. Someone very short will ask you what the pilgrims ate, and you won't remember.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You Are A Writer. You Know You Are.

Being a writer has nothing to do with being published. Or wearing glasses.Or having a nice author photo that looks younger than you are. No.

You know you’re really a writer when . . .

1. Your clothes are not easily distinguished from your pajamas.

2. Your friends ask for help writing their wedding vows, their resumes, and their Netflix complaint letters.

3. On vacation, you walk into a hotel with a beautiful view and think, “ooh I can’t wait to write here!”

4. Your laptop is worth more than all your furniture combined.

5. Your primary criteria for viewing real estate is: Where will my desk go?

6. You spend more money on books than clothes.

7. You have paid a babysitter to take your children out for the night.

8. Your idea of a spa is Breadloaf.

9. You refuse to share your bookshelves.

10. When you take your child on college visits, the only thing that excites you is the library.

11. When people ask you what you want for Christmas, you say “an agent.”

12. When your kids have puppet shows, you urge them to work on their dialogue a little harder.

13. You have a backup to your backup to your backup.

14. Your children have never said “Sssh, Mommy’s sleeping,” but “Sssh, Mommy’s writing.”

15. You have written a tender and compassionate acknowledgments page for each unpublished work.

16. You have had paper cuts on your palm, not just your finger.

17. The idea of going to jail just . . . does not seem that bad to you.

That's my list -- feel free to share yours!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On My Mind: One Word Tips. NaNoWriMo. Cajones.

Saturday at Montgomery County Writer's Conference (which was a beautifully organized event on a gorgeous campus with great food -- how often does THAT happen?) I taught a 75 minute class called Do's & Don'ts for Writing. I adapted it for the Thriller genre,as they requested, but it's a good primer for any plot-based fiction, and I worked really hard developing the material and the point of view, culled from all my how-to books and working knowledge as an author.

Afterwards, a gentleman came up to me and said, "Great class. The best of the day." I thanked him, and then he said something so bold I didn't even understand it: "Can I have that paper you're reading from?" I asked him to repeat himself. He pointed to the stapled outline in my hand. "The notes you taught the class from. Can I have them?" And I burst out laughing. "No," I said. "Why?" he asked. "Because it contains trade secrets," I whispered.

Given my overall openness at sharing writing tips on my blog, and on twitter, and helping complete strangers who write to me and ask, maybe I shouldn't have been that shocked. But I was. If he had been a man with no hands, or a blind man, or a deaf man, I would have given him the world. "Take notes!" I wanted to scream at him. "Bring a pencil or a laptop, you knucklehead!" He walked away and I was still shaking my head over his nerve, when he walked up a few minutes later with a copy of my first novel, STANDING STILL and asked me to sign it. This was surprise number two, that he wasn't angry with me, and was willing to buy it abook. Then he unleashed surprise number three, as I bent my head over the title page. "Just write your phone number down," he said.

Sigh. Apparently, "Can I have your notes?" is a pick-up line.

I know slides are turned over in the corporate world all the time. But a lifetime of writing advice? Weigh in, guys, go ahead. Tell me I'm wrong.

In the meantime. . . in the spirit of "handing over my notes" -- here are my twitter writing tips from the week:

Today's #NaNoWriMo Tip: STUCK? Maybe someone new needs to knock on the door. Or someone needs to travel to a new place.

1-Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: SENSES. As in what does your character smell, taste, hear? Use the senses to show.

1-Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: DESPERATE. If desperate to up the word count, add a dream, flashback or prologue.

Today's 1-Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: WHY. As in give every character a concrete reason for their actions and desires.

1-Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: CONFLICT. As in inner conflict. Two paths to take. Two lovers to choose. Creates tension!

1- Word Tip for #NaNoWriMo: DESIRE. Your lead character must want something badly and have obstacles in the way.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Longish Writer's Tip. Along With A Story of, Well, Woe.

What do I do when I'm stuck in the middle of a novel? I look out the window and play a game I'm good at. It's called "What If . . .?" Spend a few minutes coming up with ten "What if?s" for each character, and you can't help but have plot possibilities unfold. Soon, character by character, connections will emerge. Suddenly "What if Julian was having an affair" lines up with "What if Sylvia is hiding a secret from her daughter" and boom. You have a subplot.

Why am I good at this? Because I have panic disorder. Which is, essentially, the ability to wake up in the middle of the night, hear a thump, and "What if?" myself right into believing tanks from the Spanish Inquisition (hey, what if they have tanks?)are rolling across my lawn. It's a great skill. For those of you who are naturally anxious, use it. For those of you who are not, give it a try.

During the day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tips for #NaNoWriMo So Far This Week:

Yes, I'm a two-time veteran. And having written so damn many manuscripts I know how to get tripped up and how to untrip myself. Hope these help.

1. If you have an idea but don't know where it goes, write it anyway. You'll need it for the dreaded middle.

2. Whenever you're feeling strong, surpass your daily word goal. So you have some words banked.

3. Don't take the time to name any characters. Just assign a letter & do it in December.

4. At the end of a work sesh, write a sentence leading into the next scene, so ur not left hanging.

5. Don't be tempted to stop and do research. Leave a placeholder, i.e. "Brilliant facts about X go here."

6. Avoid editing temptation. After a sesh, make a page break & write a sentence of the next scene.

7. Don't fall into the trap of always using description to fill word count. Move to the next scene.

8. Set up mini- rewards tied to mini-goals. Like a few M&Ms, cup of tea, or a warm neck wrap.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just a Story. No Links. No Sell-i-ness.

Order In The House.

When I was eight, I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up.I thought this would be the best job in the world, because it involved two of my favorite things: Books, and orderliness.

Now, maybe it wasn’t natural for a child to hang her Barbie clothes by color, or line up her days-of-the-week panties in her top drawer in descending order, from Monday to Sunday. In the years since, I have let down my standards quite a bit: My spice rack is not alphabetized. My driveway is covered with leaves. But at eight, order still ruled.

Which was why every book I owned was listed in a card catalog by subject, author, and title. And if someone wanted to borrow it, I filled out a little slip with a due date and paper-clipped it to the inside flap. And if my friends dared to return these books a day late?. . . I fined them a quarter. I know: what a little bi--h, right?

Luckily, I married a man who appreciates order almost as much as I do. And who would never leave a wet towel on the floor * Shudder *

Last year, after painting our living room, I decided to re-shelve some books by color. The result, after a few hours’ work, was beautiful: the yellow spines gave way to cream gave way to white: green to turquoise to blue. When I wrote each morning, I could look up at those books and take in the beautiful rainbow.

About a month ago, I came home from the grocery store and noticed, with horror, that the books had been rearranged by height, from shortest to tallest. The rainbow was dead!

You guessed it: The hubby did it. And oh, how I wanted to fine his a—.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tilda Swinton kinda lives in The Bird House. Whoa.

My passion for US Weekly piqued anew with Tilda Swinton's revelation in this article about her brother.

Since this is something dealt with in The Bird House, with ambiguity, and, I hope, with grace -- and rarely spoken of, way more fascinating and perhaps more common than incest, who knows? I honestly did not know what to think, but I was stunned. Stunned that she confessed, without irony.

My Most Fun Guest Post Ever!

Ashley at Basically Books has a reading blog that features a reading memory each Monday.
Memory Monday. Some of you who have met me at book clubs might remember me telling you that in my childhood I always read, shall we say, above my grade level. As in, wildly inappropriately.(And my dolls were usually naked and headless.) I was a weird child. My Guest Post, entitled: This is So Not Little House On The Prairie,is, with big thanks to Ashley, right heah. Go visit Ashley and give her some love!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Just A Plain Old Writing Story. No Links. No Pitch. No Motives.

I apologize for the ridiculous photo in what will be, a hope, a non-ridiculous post. It's there to make a point: That this is how I think I look. That this is how I see myself. Laughing, with my glasses on. (See, when your glasses are on you can see how freaking funny the world is.)

Anyway, all of us have an idea of what our essential selves are like. But as writers, it's critical to also have an understanding of what our essential voice is like. Every agent and publisher tosses that word around liberally. A great voice is like porn: they know it when they see it. Yet it's the thing hardest to learn or to teach.

So how do you develop it? The best writing advice I've received over the years came not from writing teachers, but yoga and dance teachers. "Find your pose, not mine, not your neighbor's," she whispered as we flowed, flexed, strained. "Move like yourself."

Isn't that the best advice? To move like yourself? To be inspired by others, but to find your version of movement?

A few years later, in a jazz dance class, my teacher stopped me mid-leap. (Okay, it was more of a leap-ette.) "Kelly," he said, "use all your height, your length. When you are making a gesture, make it all the way down to your fingertips. Finish it!" (Thank you Bruno Tognoli!)

That's what I think when I read a manuscript or book that's all plot, all motion. Why didn't the writer finish it, follow the line all the way? (Actually, what I think is: Would it have killed you to take a few more weeks and write some sentences in here that I might enjoy?)

And last week, in a challenging yoga pose that required both balance and flexibility, when I thought I couldn't go on one second longer, the teacher said: "Can you slither in a little deeper?"

When I find myself skating the surface of a character, not allowing him the full range of emotion and heart, I have to remind myself to just slither in under his skin. Go a little deeper. Finish the gesture. Move like yourself.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A new book to fall in love with

Beth Kephart, who I first ran into at BEA-- and who spoke so eloquently at The Book Blogger's Convention in New York -- has a new book debuting, YOU ARE MY ONLY. She's a National Book Award Finalist and her young adult fiction is so beautifully written your teenager's verbal SAT score may kick up a few notches -- but she'll be so entranced you won't notice. This is the first time a professor from Penn has answered my five questions. Beth, you are a credit to the Ivy League. More about her fabulosity right here.

1.What kinds of things are on your desk or near your work space to inspire you?

Honest answer? (No, Beth, lie to my readers.) It’s a glass-topped desk. I’m most inspired when it’s so spanking sparkling clean that it holds the reflection of the trees beyond my window. Upside down trees. Upside down birds. Crazy mixed-up storm.I like that best.

2.Describe the last page/chapter you wrote.

There has been a violent accident. My protagonist witnesses the aftermath from a window above.

3. Who is your favorite fictional character from any book you’ve ever written--or read?

I am very in love with Death, the narrator of The Book Thief. I am very in love with Michael Ondaatje, who is right there, so whisper close, behind every character he writes.

4.What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at a book club or bookstore?

Funny? Do funny things happen to me? Do I go to book stores? Have I been invited to book clubs? Oh. Yes. I just reminded myself. The members of a book club came in from a certain west-coast city and asked that I give them a tour of Chanticleer gardens, where some of my stories take place. They arrived, in force. I gave them what I think was a damned fine tour. Introduced them to gardeners and to garden things. Told them history of both the political and particular sort. Soon the book club members were all giving me their cameras, and I was standing in the hot sun (this was July, Philadelphia), taking their portraits. Standing on the hill, taking their portraits. Squatting on the grass, taking their portraits. Several hours into the event, damp as a newborn and heat overcome, I said to myself, Beth, my dear. You are what fools are made of. (See, everything is a damn novel, people! This is a novel!)

5. Name a word you’d like to put into one of your upcoming books.

I just asked my husband, an artist who has never written a book and believes (we just counted) that he has read no more than 20 of the things in his adult life, this question. He said “wan.”

I asked myself. I said “stinker.”

Not sure if I have ever used either of those words in a manuscript. One is Victorian and the other is just old school. I have used: "Rats!" which is awfully close to stinker. Beth's YOU ARE MY ONLY has other beautiful words in it, and is a great choice for a book club. Just don't ask for the garden tour.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Keep On Keeping On

This week I guest blogged for Amy Sue Nathan's great blog on the topic of "My Long Journey to Publication." Sigh. Fortunately the post is shorter than the journey.
Check out her fun blog and it's great great title and theme line right here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's Indie Thursday to Celebrate Indie Bookstores

This week I had the extraordinary pleasure of guest-blogging for Jenn's Bookshelves about my favorite independent bookstore, Childrens Book World, in Haverford, PA.
Read the post on Jenn's blog and please, if you can, buy your books from stores who know books and know you and know your community. Win, win, win. (This is not a Charlie Sheen joke.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Utimate Path to Publishing

There's been a lot of press about the new novel THE ART OF FIELDING, a "literary baseball" novel that is not being marketed that way because they're afraid of scaring away book clubs. Now that it's climbing best-seller lists, maybe that madness will stop. I'm a huge baseball fan -- the tenacity required to get published comes from my growing up a Cubs fan-- and one of my marketing clients is The Phillies. So I have no fear.

But what's most interesting, for writers, is an excellent article about the book's genesis, written in Vanity Fair. There's an "extended play" version of the article in eBook form, and it is the most interesting and most hopeful, discussion of how a bestseller can come to be, that I have ever read. Read the novel or don't, my fellow writers, but the article is worth every penny.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New Short Fiction Anthology: Liar Liar

Sometimes a short story anthology is perfect for busy people: you can read one or two a night and feel a sense of closure. The Liars Club new fiction anthology Liar Liar is on sale now, featuring stories by me and New York Times Bestsellers Jonathan Maberry, William Lashner and more more more.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Proud to be in Shelf Awareness for Readers this week

Shelf Awareness is a great free e-newsletter for booksellers, librarians, and publishing folks, and now they have a consumer version. It's a great resource for serious readers and book clubs (and I'm not saying that just because they reviewed my book.)

They featured this review of The Bird House by bestselling author Lisa Tucker, who fell in love with my book the old-fashioned way -- her friend gave it to her. Her description of the book's themes is so beautiful, we can only hope she'll bring herself to write critically again -- in between penning her own gorgeously written novels. Her praise means so much to me -- but honestly the review is so well written it's worthy just for that alone!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Five Questions Answered by Bestselling Author Chevy Stevens

If you're looking for a great summer read, Chevy Stevens' second novel arrives JULY 5. It's a book that's been called riveting and suspenseful and a worthy follow-up to her first best seller. And she had some great answers to my FIVE QUESTIONS only another writer would ask!

1.What kinds of things are on your desk or near your work space to inspire you?

This is such a great question, and one I’ve never been asked. Let’s see, I have to take a look around. Well, first I have a huge vision board in one corner, which is covered with inspirational photos and phrases that I’ve cut out of magazines, or handwritten myself. One wall is covered with a whiteboard and the plot for my third book is drawn out, with photos of characters on it for mental imagery. I also have a belt buckle on my desk that says “Chevy” which belonged to my father. I have a photo of me and my brother when we were kids, which is inspiring my third book, and I have a photo of my husband and me on our wedding day. Above my desk I have a cork board that’s covered with some special cards, a photo of my grandfather who was a pilot and an author, a quote a friend gave me about believing in ourselves. Then there are some quotes I’ve written out for myself, like “There’s always a way” and “Don’t quit before the miracle happens” and “The best novel you can ever write will be the result of small sustained efforts repeated over and over.”

2. Describe the last page/chapter you wrote.

Right now I’m working on a section in the book about a cult that my main character belonged to when she was a child, which is set in Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island.

3. Who is your favorite fictional character from any book you’ve ever written--or read?

That would have to be Peekay from The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. I read the book for the first time many years ago and I connected with him instantly. His voice, his thoughts and feelings, stayed with me for a long time.

4.What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at a book club or bookstore?

At my local grocery store, which has a book department, I stopped to introduce myself to the book manager before Still Missing was released. I got part way through my explanation of who I was, and she said, “Oh, my God! You’re Chevy Stevens!” Turns out she had read an early copy and loved the book. It was the strangest and funniest experience to be “recognized” like that.

5. Name a word you’d like to put into one of your upcoming books.

“Nefarious.” I have no idea why, but as soon as I read this question that word popped into my head.

So there you have it -- I discovered our mutual affection for the book POWER OF ONE -- and at Chevy's insistence have created a vision board for my next novel.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How is Teaching like Visiting a Book Club?

Realized recently how similar it feels to visit a book club and teach a writing class. (This comes after back-to-back stints at BackSpace and Philadelphia Writer's Conference, with lots of book club visits, bookstore visits, and a journalling workshop or two . . . Phew. I'm tired. Thinking #bubble bath)

Why the similarities? It's the wonderfully high level of intellectual discourse in some book clubs. The discussions about character, motivation, plotting and symbolism in book clubs like the one I just visited in Staten Island at the Barnes & Noble are as stimulating as anything discussed or taught at a writer's conference.

Which makes me think: should aspiring writers join book clubs, if they can find one that's more focused on books than on cocktails? Yes. Particularly if they want to write women's fiction. If they find the right group, they'll have a built-in focus group for their novel -- and a group that will be proud to have a writer within.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's Still May, right?

This essay was supposed to run on Book Reporter's Mother's Day May Cavalcade of Mommy Memories, but I guess they had an over-run of riches. My mother was a fascinating larger-than-life personality, and our relationship was complex and worthy of not just an essay, but a whole book. (Still working on that. But there's a novel on the front burner, as always.) Enjoy. Relate. Go hug your mommy. Wish I could hug mine.

I knew my mother was different. I knew because other mothers did not scream the following when one of us scraped a knee: “Don’t show me! Go get your father! If Daddy’s not home, go get the neighbor! If the neighbor’s not home, flag down a stranger and ask them if they know how to make a tourniquet!”

My friends didn’t play at my house because they knew they were taking their lives into their hands. Any of us could drown in a pool of our own blood while my mother shrieked ‘do you need stitches?’ and ‘can you drive a stick shift and take yourself to the emergency room?’ from behind her mask of clenched fingers.

Luckily, my father was calm around injury. And since we weren’t allowed to skateboard, climb trees, or use any utensils except spoons, we usually got hurt only when my father was home. Usually.

One Spring my mother volunteered to help my Girl Scout Troup while my father was away on business. Long tables were set up with materials to make crafts. There were no scissors, no knives. I remember Styrofoam, pipe cleaners, plastic balls. But what I remember most vividly was a piece of plastic splintering into a weapon beneath my thumb, the shards going in and the blood pulsing out, roaring redder than a cardinal.

Because there was another mother there, a witness, my mother seemed to rise to the challenge. She led me to the bathroom, handed me a towel. But I made the mistake of looking down. And this time, instead of my mother screaming, I was the one who wailed that it was never going to stop! That I was dying! And that was it; it was too much. The blood, the noise, the belief that it would end in the bathroom, with my father at a convention shaking hands when he should have been home holding mine. My mother couldn’t stop the blood, but she could stop the hysteria. She slapped me across the face and said, “Stop!”

She may as well have said split an atom, morph, turn water into wine. The other mother ran up the street to summon a nurse, a calm person accustomed to hysterical children. Her soothing voice confided that thumbs bleed more than other parts of the body, a fact I would carry with me always. (Thirty years later I clung to it like a lifeboat, dripping in a kitchen from a bagel-cutting injury, as my mimosa-fizzed friends insisted I would not die before the lox was served.)

You are guessing I did not choose a career in the healing profession. No. Although I am a writer, my mother’s legacy of, well, hysteria, lives on in my work. My debut novel was about a woman with panic disorder. My current novel, THE BIRD HOUSE, features a paranoid overprotective mom. Yet there are always words I cannot bear to type: Compound Fracture. Jaws of Life. And the worst: Blood.

Live carefully enough, close your eyes during select movie scenes, and you can stay on the blood periphery for a long time. Until a baby arrives on the scene and starts to crawl. On the back of every child containment device it reads: Never Leave Child Unattended. I take this seriously; I must watch them until they go to college. Until then, they must not bleed.

Still, it happens. The phone rings, I turn away. Her formerly perfect forehead slams against a shelf. I pick her up from the carpet, my mother’s words dancing in my head: Is it bad? I turn her over, wincing. No blood, no bump. She stops crying, and I am perplexed. I heard the sound; I felt the vibrations beneath my feet. Do I need to call the doctor? Does she need to go to the ER?

Other people would have called their mother; I knew better. I did the only thing I could think of: I got down on my hands and knees, and recreated the fall. I closed my eyes and pulled my arms away, clunking my own head. Hmmm. It stung a little. My daughter looked at me and cocked her head; even at six months, she understood I was insane.

I didn't call the doctor. I didn’t let my daughter go near the shelves again. And when, the next day, my baby and I sport faint matching bruises on our foreheads, I tell my husband we fell.

“You both fell?” He asks.
“You should be more careful,” he says, sing-song-ing it to our daughter, before he realizes whose child he is talking to.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A brilliantly written email. Query writers take note!

My friend Marc Schuster is one of the wittiest people I know. That's what makes him an ideal drinking companion, a great teacher and a novelist who knows how to wield humor. Here is his email promoting the second edition of his first book.

Dear Friends,

Just a quick note to say that the new, blue edition of The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl is now available at Amazon. If you bought the pink edition in 2009 and are wondering what kind of scam I’m running by bringing out a second edition this year, allow me to put your mind at ease by saying it’s the most cultured and erudite kind of scam that you’re likely to fall for this week. Here’s how the new version addresses several major bugs inherent in the first edition:

- It’s shorter.
- The print is bigger.
- The story is told chronologically.

For those of you who haven’t heard from me in months or even years—this despite your having gone through such life-changing events as getting married and/or having children—there’s a good reason for that: I’m a bit of a bastard. And for those to whom I owe money, think of buying my book as a chance to put money in my pocket so that I might put it back in yours. It’s a win-win proposition from every angle.

Of course, this is probably the kind of business I should be taking care of on Facebook or some other social networking website. The problem is that I’m no longer on Facebook, which leads me to the next favor I’m about to ask for: I’d appreciate it greatly if you’d tell all of your Facebook friends about my book and link them to my website. It doesn’t have to be a big production—just a quick status update saying something like, “Wow, I’m so proud of my friend, Marc Schuster, for figuring out how to publish the same book twice!” followed by a link.

In any case, thanks for reading this far into the email. I hope you’re in good health and in such a position financially that buying my book (a great value at $17.95!) does not pose too great of a burden.

Sincerely, Your friend through thick and through thin,


Friday, May 6, 2011

Mothers & Daughters

I just ran a giveaway on my Facebook page -- Win two books, one for your mom & one for you. (Please click on my Facebook badge if you like --there will be more giveaways.) And at the last book club gathering I visited at the beautiful new Towne Book Center in Collegeville, PA, there were 3 sets of mothers & daughters in attendance. The idea of mothers and daughters reading the same book and discussing it makes me inordinately happy. My middle daughter and I are in a mother/daughter book club and it gives us something to talk about every month, which is especially helpful during the years in which talking is difficult. (High school sometimes seems longer than four years. Sigh.) The last book we read was Swamplandia, in case you are wondering, and we both felt the same way about it. Miraculous! She is my child!

Maybe because my mother didn't read and I did, voraciously, I miss that connection. My mom and I could yak for days about any movie or any TV show but never a book. So many novels appeal to female readers from 17 to 70 -- the longings and the fears are universal. Nothing makes me happier than a teenager coming up to me at a book signing and telling me her mom thought she'd like one of my books, and she did. She really did. I like to think about the two of them talking about it, maybe opening their relationship a tiny bit more. Cracking the door a bit and letting them have the chance to talk about other things, too.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone. I have a special Mother's Day essay running on Book, but it won't appear until later in the week. So let's call it Mother's Day Month.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Name In Lights! Maybe Film Deal to Follow?

Okay, everyone should do this at least once: Have a book signing at a cool renovated theatre that does this for you! The renovated-but-original Genesee Theatre is in Waukegan Illinois--a cool little town on Lake Michigan where I grew up. It's a place where you can dine on award-winning ribs at Big Ed's, hear live blues at Greentown, and hear authors like me and David Sedaris (who is often compared to me ha!)at The Genesee Theatre -- or maybe come down and watch Sheryl Crow (whose name was on the other side.)

You know, lots of people have baked me cakes and given me gifts when I visit their book clubs, libraries, and stores, and I have loved them and been touched by them all. But this raises it to a whole new level, people! Maybe I can decorate my house for Christmas this way . . . hmmmm . . . . in the meantime we'll wish for someone smart to snap up the film rights to Standing Still or The Bird House. (Oh right, it's the actors names that would be in lights . . .must rethink.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Guest Writer: Lisa Dale

From time to time I'd like you to meet some of my writer friends. Here's what Lisa Dale, author of the new book, Slow Dancing on Price's Pier, told me about her writing life:

1.What kinds of things are on your desk or near your work space to inspire you?

I have two workspaces: one for writing, and one for the business stuff that goes along with writing.

The latter is a mess right now—notebooks everywhere, bits of paper, strewn pens…my “mother ship” computer crashed two nights ago. It’s now at the infirmary for computers (Best Buy) drinking chicken soup, doing Pilates, and praying they don’t give it a lobotomy (aka wiping out my hard drive). In the meantime, my laptop is doing double-duty.

When I work on my novels or any creative writing, I write in bed. Curtains down, door closed, nothing to distract me or make me feel like writing is ever “work.”

2. Describe the last page/chapter you wrote.

While I can’t talk about my new fiction project yet, I can tell you I’ve been doing a lot of promotion for Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier—interviews and whatnot. Kelly—yours is especially fun! Great questions!

3.Who is your favorite fictional character from any book you’ve ever written--or read?

It’s early as I write this and I haven’t had my tea yet. So I’m not sure who my favorite character from all of literature is. Maybe Mrs. Dalloway?

I can tell you that my favorite character that I’ve written so far is Thea from Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier. She kind, warm, passionate, and because she owns a coffee shop, she knows a lot about coffee (which was really fun for me because I got to do a lot of research about coffee).

4.What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at a book club or bookstore?

I can tell you about a life lesson I learned at a library when I was in middle school. I’d borrowed (and loved) Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, then returned it. A few weeks later, I got a call saying that I still owed the book. Then, later, they called again. I was a painfully shy middle-schooler, so I gathered up all my courage and walked myself to the library like the general of an advancing army. And when I got to the counter I told the librarian that I no way, under no circumstances, still had that book and that they’d better take it off my account. The librarian’s eyebrows just about jumped off her head. I tried to pat myself on the back about—for once in my life—being firm.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, there was the book—right under my bed. Boy did I feel silly bringing it back. But I did apologize, and that actually took more guts than anything!

5. Name a word you’d like to put into one of your upcoming books.

Defenestration. It means the act of throwing someone out a window. I love it, but have never had much use for it!

Thanks Lisa! Visit Lisa's blog for more on her book and life as a writer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Perfect for the week College Acceptance Letters Arrive . . .

And now, the answer to the question that stymies me whenever I speak to a group of high-school-age writers: “What should I major in if I want to write novels?”

Major in statistics. You’ll learn the odds of getting published are roughly three zillion to one.

Major in economics. You’ll understand why the publishing companies will never put you on a book tour or run an ad for your book in The New Yorker.

Major in law. You can fight Google and everyone else who wants to offer your book as a free download.

Major in journalism. Your future will appear so tenuous your parents will beg you to be a novelist instead.

Major in history. You’ll unearth enough material that you won’t need to invest in research and travel, which you’ll never make back on your advance.

Major in drama. Being rejected during auditions will make being rejected on paper seem like child’s play.

Major in forensics. When you inevitably end up writing for a hack TV crime show, you won’t have to work too hard.

Major in English. That’s what all the English majors would tell you to do.

Major in computer science. You can invent something with a better name than “vook.”

Major in Spanish. It will help your parents understand your Hemingway-esque desire to run with the bulls.

Major in psychology. Trust me --it’s easier to work through daddy issues on the couch than on the page.

Major in Phys Ed. Most first-time authors are attractive and fit. (Oh, don’t tell me you don’t look at those author photos!)

Major in music. Since you’re going to be singing the blues your entire life, you may as well be in tune.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Writers For The Red Cross

Throughout the month of March, great writers will be contributing guest posts and book giveaways to support The Red Cross. Today was my turn to guest post, with a funny story about dogs, Puerto Rico, Sarah Palin, and hydration.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bird House, indeed.

My post from the Liars Club Blog is below. Check out the Liars Club for steady stream of info on writing and the writing life.

My husband and I moved into the house intending to share the tiny, dark den off the living room. It seemed reasonable enough: couldn’t anyone who managed to share a bed and a bathroom share an office?

I would use it during the day, to write, and he would use it late in the evenings, to pay bills and catch up on emails.

The problems began immediately: I wanted to paint it a pale color; he loved the dark green. “It’s the color of money,” he smiled, and I frowned. I’m a writer, I responded, what does that have to do with money? Turns out the color was the least of my decorating worries. Every night I left him alone in the office, unpacking, puttering, and every morning I would wake up to some strange thing hanging on the wall or sitting on the bookshelf.

Paintings of ducks flying across a meadow. A carving of a pheasant he did in seventh grade. Pictures of his friends from high school. Watercolors of golf courses. A trophy he won in a sledding competition. Then, a freaking television appeared.

He was turning my office into a man cave!

I confronted him. “I can’t work in there,” I said. “It’s dark and filled with golf balls and f’ing birds!” He pouted. There was no space for his stuff, he said. He needed a place for his stuff. I struggled to understand what he was talking about – in my view our whole house was already overflowing with crap. I’d grown up in a modern, ‘60s style Brady Bunch house where there weren’t even magazines on the coffee table. I wanted less; he wanted more.

When I thought more carefully, I saw his point: he was living with four women, after all. (Even the dogs were girls.) He’d probably reached his limit of pink and lavender. And everything I liked was pale: white, beige, pale blue or green. He wanted his darkness, and there was only one room available.

So now I have no office. No desk. No tether. I move from room to room, depending on the light or the level of noise. When I’m on a diet, I stay as far away from my own kitchen as possible. When there are workmen on my street, I retreat to the local library or a coffeehouse sometimes, just to break things up. When I have to go to New York or DC on business, I write on the train, which is one of my favorite places. I make “writing dates” occasionally with other writers and go to their houses.

A lot of beginning writers seem to think they can’t get started unless they have their own office. People attach something holy to the altar of the desk. I know better. Writing isn’t done at a desk, or in a room. It’s done in your head. And sometimes that means you’re writing on a walk, or in your car, or in the shower.

You don’t need a desk. It could be argued that all you need is paper and pen. And what you don’t need is a room full of flying ducks.

Note: Kelly Simmons' new novel, The Bird House, has nothing to do with her husband's duck prints.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reviews and giveaways on some great blogs!

A great review of The Bird House -- and a giveaway for readers!! on Lori's Reading Corner, a terrific book blog.

UPDATE: Here's an interview with me and another giveaway opp, on Lisa Dale's great blog.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Valentine to my Grandmother. No links. No pitch.

A friend of mine called The Bird House a "valentine to grandmothers." Here is my actual valentine to my grandmother, from LitFest magazine.

If you asked somebody else’s grandmother to bring something to a Midwestern mid-summer picnic, she would probably make potato salad. Or tuck wildflowers into a Mason jar. But my maternal grandmother always smuggled in something less predictable. Like the time she walked straight up to the picnic table and laid down fireworks. Not firecrackers, mind you, but big fat illegal fireworks. Blow a kids finger to bits fireworks. Darkly dangerous, in stark contrast to the brightly set Fiesta ware-clad table. It’s not a picnic until there’s fireworks, folks! It’s not a party until somebody loses a limb!

My grandmother grew up on a farm, one of six children. But it’s easier to picture her as a young girl not on a farm but in a city, as a flapper, at a speakeasy, rolling cigarettes as easily as she rolled down her stockings. She was petite, slim, stylish and loved to smoke and drink. She was outgoing, funny, flirtatious and often tipsy. She was everything my mother was not.

I think one of the greatest gifts a grandparent can give a grandchild is not being like their parents. Who needs duplicates? One person to say “brush your teeth and do your homework” is truly enough. But maybe I feel that way because my mother was especially neurotic and overprotective: she forbade us to chew gum, and my grandmother stuffed my pockets with it. She didn’t let us light matches, and our grandmother let us light firecrackers. She wouldn’t allow me to roller skate, and my grandmother bought me a skateboard to keep at her house. As a mother myself, this idea is beyond horrifying. But as a child, having a grandparent like this was as magical as having a fairy godmother. We did not bake cookies together. We did not learn needlepoint. We stayed up till midnight playing poker with her friends, dancing in our nightgowns to her Roger Miller and Tijuana Brass records. And when I couldn’t sleep, she did not give me warm milk. She gave me two inches of beer in a Flintstones jelly glass and told me not to tell my mother.

This propensity for secrets between grandmother and granddaughter led me to wonder, much later, what secrets my own grandmother held. It was only after her death that I realized she’d probably been an alcoholic, like my grandfather, and like one of her brothers. And that she’d married two men and possibly never really loved either of them. And that from what I knew of her first abusive marriage, and hard working life, that she’d never really parented my mother, an only child, in any maternal sense, leaving her largely to her own devices, feeling lonely and unsafe her entire life. My grandmother’s thrilling, nervy, alcohol-fueled sense of adventure had left my mother fear-filled, and agoraphobic for much of her life. They were opposites not by destiny perhaps, but by necessity.

One of the last parties I remember at my grandmother’s townhouse, where she’d downsized after retirement, was a large potluck with dozens of family members, a casual affair really, but my mother, always a stickler for details, made me change my clothes twice because she thought I wasn’t appropriately attired. When we finally arrived, ironed and color-coordinated, we were late and everyone was politely sitting on the patio nibbling cheese.

“Kelly,” my grandmother whispered in her smoky voice, “this party is a real snooze. I think you and I need to liven things up.” I smiled at the mischief in her voice as she pressed five dollars into my hand, told me to run down to the store and buy a bunch of balloons. I did as she requested, thinking we were going to blow them up for decorations. No. She told me to fill them with ice cold water, tie them up and hurl them at the guests from behind the stone wall. “And honey,” she said conspiratorially, “make sure you hit your mother’s linen shorts first.”

I laughed and told her I’d try. But even as my bright jiggling missiles sailed over the wall, I hoped they landed on the kids. Or the pavement. Or the macramé basket of crackers. And not on my mother, who would have no logical or emotional choice but to blame the assassin, and not the arms dealer.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I'm not sure but --

I think this review from the NY Journal is better written than my book!
Appreciate the praise though. People seem to relate to The Bird House deeply.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A lovely write up

on The Bird House, on NY Times Bestseller Chevy Stevens' blog.
(And if you haven't read her book, Still Missing, don't, uh, miss it!)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Story of the Day. Just because. Not sellin' nuthin.

My daughter and I recently embarked on an afternoon outing together that we used to call having a "Mommy Day", but now that she's a teenager, is more of an "ATM Day."

We circled the block twice, looking for a prime parking space near the store she wanted to visit, and when I found one I promptly turned on my left blinker. I waited for another car to pass, and suddenly, whoosh, a sleek black SUV slid into my space. Deep breath. Don't kill her, I repeated to myself. You don't want to be in the pokey with a book coming out. I rolled down my window and waited for the vixen to open her door so I could simply inform her of her crime against shopping society without calling her any names. ("You, you, blinker blanker outer you!") My daughter cringed in the seat next to me, begging me not to swear or make a scene. But the woman remained in her car, endlessing playing with her phone, and I decided yelling at her wasn't worth the wait. We found another space and settled into our day.

Approximately $80, one pair of jeggings (Why couldn't they call them "leans"?) and one completely innappropriate tiger striped push-up bra later ("But it's on sale, Mommy!") we went to one of our favorite places for lunch and ordered fried things for her, a salad for me. The waiter took our order then came back, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, ma'am, a woman at another table just ordered the last grilled shrimp salad."

My daughter leaned over and whispered,"Mommy, I bet it's the same be-yotch who took your parking spot."

<3 that child. But still $#@! that woman.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guest Blog at Lit Fest Magazine

I'm writing essays about grandmothers all month at Lit Fest Magazine.
Here's the first essay.
A little taste of The Bird House's grandmother/granddaughter relationship!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Borders and Simon & Schuster

Remember when Borders first opened and nobody had ever considered putting coffee and books together? Let's hope they regain the magic. In the meantime, I was interviewed along with Jodi Picoult on the debacle at