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.)