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My First Short Story Or Why I Wanted to Be Joyce Carol Oates

In college, Joyce Carol Oates was one of the first short story authors I feel in love with.  The fact that she lived in my hometown only made it sweeter.  I read everything I could find of her.  I studied her biography.  When I found out that her first story was published via a Seventeen Magazine Contest, I knew I too had to apply!  By some stroke of luck, my story, Family Heirloom, earned an honorable mention in the contest, along side the submission of my college friend, Holly, and I believe another classmate, too.  We were very proud of our honorable mention trifecta.  And this early win in publishing, kept me motivated to keep writing.  But the honorable mention meant that Family Heirloom never saw the light of day.  So moving fear aside, I am sharing my first attempt at writing "real" fiction here with you:       

Family Heirloom

A great piece of pie must be imperfect.  The lattice-work top should crack a little when cut, the cherry filling slipping out of the sides and onto the plate.  Perfect pies come from machines and taste that way, Grandmother said, on account of Great Aunt Viola and the lopsided piece of pie which got passed her way.  She was right though, sloppy pie is the best pie.  I ate mine quickly, getting down to the last piece of crust, the top edge, darker and tougher than the rest.  I gripped my fork and pushed into thepiece.

"Why, Judith! Look at your granddaughter," Great Aunt Viola exclaimed.

Mother turned and looked at me.  "Lily, eat like a lady," she said.  Mother had sat with me for hours last week trying to get this whole tea thing right.  After I spilled the water we were pretending to be tea for the third time, her face turned red, and she left me to clean up the mess by myself.  Until today, I never thought my mother's face could get any redder than it had at our practice tea.

"No, look at the girl's hands.  Why the child has such long fingers! I do believe they are the hands of a piano player," Aunt Viola said, setting down her cup and saucer for emphasis.

"I suppose she does," answered Grandmother, kneading my fingers in her hands.  "Perhaps, we'll be able to do something about that." She often said things like that, giving off the impression that she cared very little for the matter one way or the other, but the truth was Grandmother never said a thing unless she had some point to make.  She just didn't always want to let on to what her opinion might be.

Great Aunt Viola, a woman of extraordinary fashion with her deep, purple, peplum dress and thick, gold and ruby rings, just looked at Grandmother, her sister of the last sixty years, and smiled.  "I trust you understand the interest of the child.  She is family," Viola said, looking past my mother to me.  I smiled back, before looking my hands over to see what the bother was about.

This small point, one of a thousand made throughout the Great Aunt Viola visit of that summer, settled something that Mother and I had very little to do with.  A month after the visit, a piano arrived, sent by Viola, from her very own music room, not as gift for me but as a service to my grandmother. My mother just shook her head as I stripped the cardboard down away from the stately upright. 

"Your father played," she said flatly.

"I believe he did," answered Grandmother, before she looked off out the window, to a space in the distance reserved for thoughts of my father, then gone for three months.  He wasn't even dead.  Two months ago, he came homeannouncing he had a job, in Texas, drilling oil offshore.  He told us to pack up a few things for a long trip and get in the car.  Then, he dropped us off here with his mother.  She took us into the house, and waved him off.  She told us he'd send for us shortly.  Mother told me not to hold my breath and that he'd be back first.  Now Grandmother stared off like that for a few moments, looking deep into nowhere, before she turned and asked me where the piano should go.

"Our room," I said, meaning where Mother and I slept in the back of the house, "so no one will be bothered by my noise."

"Dear, no one will hear you back there," she said.

"Exactly," my mother said.  She didn't especially like noise, especially not noise from me.  She felt that while other people's noise was beyond her control, my noise was within reach of two solid fingers poised for a pinch.

"That's not the purpose of a piano," Grandmother said, before she moved away from us and the tall, polished upright.

She started walking around the parlor, slow at first, then briskly.  I watched her walk, the color of her faded, plaid house dress shifting as she passed in and out of the sunlight.  Her shoes were old and cracking.  The fake, black leather peeled away from the foam insides around the laces and the toes. She said they were comfortable that way, and I believed her.  My mother said she would never wear shoes like that.  She called them old-lady shoes and said, laughing, the nursing home attendent would have to cut her feet off to ever get shoes like Grandmother's on her feet.  Still, those shoes reminded me of a couch, an old couch, good for naps and magazine reading.  Grandmother paused, rearranged a doily on the arm of the Chesterfield, and left the room.

"Here," she called from the front porch. 

Mother and I went to find her pointing at a place where a sun beam landed on the floor.  The shadow mimicked the window; the panes of the window laid out on the floor like checkerboard.  It was as if the window had fallen out of the wall and placed itself down on the floor, piece by piece. 

"Won't it be too loud out here?  Bothering the entire neighborhood?" Mother asked.

"I don't believe so," Grandmother answered.  "What do you think, Lily?"

I looked up at Mother and Grandmother, wondering how they ever got along in the baking business together.  I avoided their eyes, by looking past them or back down at the floor.  My mother had course hands, flour-crusted around her fingernails from the morning's bread orders.  She always does the bread, kneading and pounding the dough into twists and loaves.  I watch her from the living room, punching and folding the dough until it becomes soft smooth perfection.  She tapped her foot and stepped inside the house.

"I like it here, too."

         "You hear that, Lynne?  The piano goes out here.  That okay with you?"

"Does my opinion ever really figure into either of your plans?" Mother shouted, from the back of the house, slamming the screen door, at that point a familiar sound.

Later on that day, I walked past my mother on the back porch, where she often worked.  The porch seemed as if it wasn't really part of the house.  The wood siding that made up the main wall and skirted the area below the screens wasn't even the same size, kind or color as the rest of the house.  It was gray in color, a shiny, blue gray, meant to stand up to the elements.  There was even a certain dust to the porch, clinging to the little, empty spaces of the screens and on the floor, left behind from the many people who had gone in and out.  I stopped in front of my mother, looking down at the comic section which she peeled potato skins onto. 

"You, your father and that woman. One in the same," she said. 

She often said things like that, in a low voice without looking at you.  It was the same voice that told you things the third, fourth, or fifth time, on a day when she already had done a lot of work but had a lot more to do.  It was shouting without raising her voice.  It was the voice that in the morning before coffee said, Lily, be silent, or in the afternoon while you're playing jacks on the back porch said, stop.  She dropped a quartered potato onto the newspaper instead ofinto the strainer and cursed.

  "Go play something," she said, a new order, fast to become her favorite of the summer.

I liked to sit in front of the piano, pressing hard on the low notes, mad at the world.  The keys felt nice under my fingers, smooth and cool, like the top of a Baked Alaska.  I ran my fingers over their tops, without making noise.  It was making music without sound, like dancing.  The instruction books we ordered by mail made a little sense, but required more concentration than I could muster in the heat ofan average summer afternoon.  Those books were reserved for Sunday mornings when Grandmother would sit on the porch behind me, asking to hear a song. 

She'd finish her glass of ice tea and stand up, resting her hands on my shoulders.  Let me help you, she said, taking the instruction book off the rack.  A breeze blew in from behind us, pushing her dress up and around me.  I loved the way her cotton house dress felt on the back ofmy arms, all cool and tickling, smelling like baby powder and flour.  After we picked out the basic notes and tested their locations, Grandmother sat down on the bench and played out the first page with me.  Then, she got up, sat back into her own chair and listened to me pound through the whole thing.  Mother would stop in the doorway to the kitchen, shake her head, and go back to making pies or whatever else for the new week's orders. 

On regular days, I just perched myself up on the high stool, and lightly touched the keys, making up combinations which sounded good to my ears only.  I wanted to make people, like my mother used to, on Saturday nights after my father had left for bowling.  She'd turn the radio on to the station that played slow songs with sad lyrics.  My mother danced with all of her being, standing tip-toed, as if she were wearing high heels, swaying with the smallest motion.  She'd be the middle of the living room, the music so loud, her hand held up to her mouth like a microphone.  I watched her pretending to be someone else.  I would say her name, wanting to see her face, but she never heard me.  My mother wasn't there anymore.

 

Saturday night, after all the lights were off, I heard Mother leave our room.  She got up out of bed, trying hard not the let the springs squeak, and slipped out into the kitchen.  I watched her go, waited a minute, then followed. 

She stood in front of the sink, holding on to the edge of the counter looking out the window into the night.  The moon shone brightly over the yard, coming through the trees and down in the window, onto my mother's face.  She looked different then, less tired somehow, and still, as if not a thing in her body moved, not even her heart.

I watched her pull down a glass from the cupboard and get out the milk.  I walked into the room, slowly, not wanting to startle her or wake Grandmother with noise.  The linoleum was cold under my feet. She pointed at the cupboard and sat down.  I got down my own glass and joined her at the table. 

"I'm tired," she said.

"Go to sleep then, " I answered.  She turned away, looking over her shoulder at the shelves of canisters and spice jars. 

"Tough week, lots of pies."

"Yeah," I said. "Who for? Anyone from church? Anyone special?"

"Just people," she said.  "People like Viola, with money and parties and all the time in the world to be doing anything but making it themselves."

"Viola's okay," I said, picking up the silver sugar bowl, another gift from the great Aunt Viola visit.  It was very old but shiny, belonging at one time to my great great grandmother.  I watched the distorted reflection of my mother and her talking hands move in the lid of the bowl.

"Oh, everybody's okay, some people you just have to deal with any way." She stopped and looked up, quiet and listening.  "She asleep?"

"Snoring. Can't you hear it?"

"Sure, sure. Thought it might have been a neighborhood dog." 

I looked into her face to make sure it was okay to laugh.  Grandmother sounded like a beagle in a cave with an echo.  She lost some dignity at night, the quiet of her house betraying her in the darkness.

"It just proves that she never stops making noise.  All day long, in that voice.  Telling me this, telling me that.  Then the snoring at night, ruining everybody's sleep."

I nodded, letting her go on, watching her hands move.

"She gets me, Lily. Really gets me." 

She moved to stand, picking up the silver sugar bowl.  So suddenly the bowl dropped, slipped really, falling down, landing so far from Mother and me, to the floor.  The hinged lid snapped off, spiraling away toward the stove.  Sugar spilled across the floor, sinking into the cracks of the worn, yellow linoleum.

I jumped up out of my chair and settled the loose lid.  Silently we paused, hunched over the pile of spilt sugar, listening for sounds of Grandmother.  She exhaled another breath, long, deep, and loud, but still asleep. 

"Serves her right. Family heirlooms. Ha!" 

Laughing, we cleaned up the spilt sugar, refilled the bowl, balanced the lid on its hinges and went to bed.

Sunday morning started as usual, with me and Mother making our scrambled eggs and toast before Grandmother came down.  We ate our breakfast quickly, leaving the kitchen to her.  Mother took up a book on the back porch, and I waited at the piano. 

Grandmother appeared and slowly set about making her coffee in the kitchen.  I timed my wait with the noises from the percolator.  I chose my song for the day, Lucy's Lucky Waltz, and pressed down on the first few notes. Grandmother and I had started Lucy's Lucky Waltz earlier in the summer, and my fingers found the notes easily.  Soon the porch was filled with music.  I kept playing the first section, repeating it until I didn't have to look at the keys.  I turned to call out for Grandmother and found both of them standing beside me. 

I looked up at them, smiling, proud of my progress on the song.  My fingers moved over the keys without any attention.  My mother reached out and placed her hand on my shoulder. 

"Stop," she said. In her other hand, she held the sugar bowl, broken, dented, and not quite as shiny as it used to be.  "Tell her, tell your Grandmother, that I did not break this on purpose?"

I dropped my hands away from the piano and looked at my reflection in the broken sugar bowl.  I had watched it fall, slip really, from my mother's hands and spiral around the floor.  She picked it up, but did she drop it? Neither one of us had even cared that it broke when it fell.  Laughing, we picked the mess up and went to bed.  It wasn't our bowl.  Technically, it wasn't even Grandmother's bowl--it really belonged to some long-dead woman she never met. On purpose would be wrong, and my mother did not do the wrong thing on purpose, not then, not ever, to Grandmother, my father, or me. 

"Of course not," I said. "It was an accident."

"There, " my mother said, handing the sugar bowl to Grandmother.

Grandmother stood there for a moment, staring down at the broken sugar bowl, before placing it on my lap.  Slowly, she lowered the lid over the keys to the piano and left the room.                           

 

 

 

 

 

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How Much of My Romance Novel Is True

When Triple Love Score, my first “romance” novel made the rounds to book bloggers and interviews, one question kept popping up in my inbox: is any of this book true? While Miranda’s journey to find out what she really wants echoes my own, her finding internet fame with a Scrabble board and seducing a man or two along the way, isn’t my story. Her story though was born out of my own love story, and my desire to create something that reflected the choices I found myself able to make after a rough divorce as I stood the precipice of a fairy tale happy ending.

My feelings about fairy tales could be called mixed at best. I am a sucker for fancy dresses and love the fairy godmother’s magical wisdom. But the whole love at first sight concept rubs me raw. What if you miss it, you know, turn head slightly to the left or look over Prince Charming’s shoulder instead. And what do you really know at first sight anyway?

I met my ultimate prince charming one night at a going-off-to-college party for a friend. I found Avram in the kitchen making chicken Parmesan at midnight at the behest of a stoner friend eager for a midnight snack. We bonded over burnt chicken and dirty dishes, our mutual sobriety despite our “animal house” surroundings, and the strong, yet opposing, religious faiths our families raised us in. When I returned to college, I mailed him a recipe for blueberry muffins in the care of my best girlfriend from high school. When I never heard back, I didn’t think much of it. How many nineteen year olds, even dorky sober ones, had pen pals before the internet?

We caught back up with each other the following year at a house Avram shared with my best girlfriend and another roommate, a hot guy with long curly dark hair. We reconnected over a love of food and writing; I marveled at my luck at finding this interesting person again.

Later that night, my girlfriend slipped off with another guy into the bedroom I was supposed to share with her, leaving me no place to sleep as their place didn’t even contain a couch or a carpet on the floor. When the rest of the group broke up for the night, it wasn’t Avram who offered me a space in his bed, but the attractive and somewhat brooding roommate did—the offer being one of only things he said to me that night aside from a nodded hello.

In the year prior, my dorky, sober self gave way to some traditional college impulses. I found the whole package alluring.

“Sure,” I said to the hot guy.

So began the triumvirate that shaped life: my future husband, my new best friend, and me. I could have sex with the hot, complicated guy and hang out with the sober, nice guy—a pattern that lasted for the next nineteen years.

Once, a woman at a party leaned in close and asked, “Are you all just friends, or is it something more interesting?”

“It’s not like that,” I said.

“Oh,” she said with a tone of disappointment before turning back to her Pinot Gris.

Soon after, we agreed to call ourselves siblings to thwart any misguided rumors we didn’t want to explain to my seven year old.

The next Christmas, Avram gave me a bracelet marked, my sister, my friend.

I cried at the sentiment; genetics aside, the description fit.

After hearing about our friendship, my therapist asked whether there was ever any spark between Avram and me. “Do you hold hands? Anything?”

“No,” I said shaking my head, “Nothing.” I told her about a recent archery tournament. My score plunged dramatically, and I dissolved into a puddle of tears and frustration. I collapsed against Avram for a hug. His whole body went rigid; he patted my back awkwardly. It felt like hugging a board. A friendly board, but a board nonetheless. No chemistry, no spark, nothing that hinted at romantic love.

Things with the hot complicated guy didn’t really get any better. He stayed hot and complicated. We argued. We got married. We argued. We had a baby. We argued. She grew. We argued. After so many years and a bunch of counseling, I realized that hot and complicated didn’t always work for a marriage.

I asked for a divorce.

When I told Avram, he didn’t believe me at first. He offered the same old protest: “But he loves you.”

“Maybe. But it isn’t enough. It isn’t like this.”

I gestured to the space between us. While devoid of chemistry, that space radiated love. During my pregnancy when the doctors ordered bed rest, Avram took off from work and sat at the end of my bed, keeping me company while assuring me the baby would be fine. He laughed at my jokes and read the stories I wrote. After I hurt myself playing soccer, he took to coming to my games to make sure I was okay, and because I played soccer with reckless abandon, he more than once took me to the hospital the day after. When I took Statistics, he ordered the textbook and tried to work along side me to cheer me on. When I took up archery, he practiced right along side me.

I looked at him that night and saw all of these connections between us. All of this love between us. A light bulb moment—all of those things meant love. The actual every day work of love, not the fireworks fairy tales teach us to expect. And with a flash, I understood I wanted this love, even if our lack of chemistry meant we would live like old cat ladies together. The together mattered more than any sparks.

“What are you going to do after I’m divorced?” I asked him. “Are you going to step up or just hope the next guy is as accommodating as the last one?”

“No,” he said. “Things don’t work like that.” Then he left.

The next day we argued—our first and only time—back and forth via email. Like many of our conversations, the argument debated a metaphor about writing.

“Maybe we can write a new story. Maybe we can have a happy ending,” I protested.

“We can’t risk this,” he said. “You’re my best friend. And life isn’t a fairy tale.”

But then night came, and exhausted, I shut down the computer believing that maybe he was right; fairy tales didn’t happen in real life.

In the morning, I found this in my inbox, “Life, especially the life we choose, evolves, changes, picks-up new chapters, retells old stories, but it doesn't have an ending - we're living it. The story is about the journey. The story highlights humanity. Friendship, addiction, adversity, courage, growth, drive, cowardice, pain, song, laughter, silliness, happiness but mainly love. I love the heroine, and I love the story.”

It would be easy to rue the time we spent as only friends as wasted or lost, but doing so would invalidate some pretty wonderful things like my lovely daughter and all the amazing things we did share in our friendship. I could try to re-write this story as something else, as a fairy tale where dark forces kept us from finding true love, but that wouldn’t be true either. As much as the love we’ve found feels like something out of a story, I don’t want it to be the kind from a fairy tale. No offense to love at first sight, but there’s something to be said for taking the long way around.

So I turned to fiction to capture these feelings, the emotional echo behind my own story through Miranda’s in Triple Love Score. And I hope this answers the question about how much of my novel is true. In some ways, none of it is true. And in other ways, it all is.

This blog post originally appeared on the wonderful Cathy Lamb’s blog.

 

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Cruel Beautiful World: A Conversation with Caroline Leavitt

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt delivers on the promise of the novel’s title.  Here we watch the lives of Iris Gold and her two adopted daughter spiral out from the home and life they once shared.  While some of their fate is indeed cruel, the beauty of life and love does find a way to still shine through.

Speaking of love shining through, I’d love to know how your mother’s experience of falling in love at 93, which you mention in the acknowledgements, informed your writing.   What did you learn from watching the real life love story unfold?

I watched my mom change because of love. Her whole life opened up. She was easier to talk to, more loving. But she made me feel so hopeful, that you could find love at any age, that you could be happy, too. It’s quite a gift.

I loved Iris’ pluck and determination.  Life threw her many curve balls, but she kept playing.  What do you hope readers take away from Iris’ experiences?

My mother and sister always joke that I am the Pollyanna of the family. I always try to see the bright side, to fix the dark side until it, too, is bright.  I’ve had some horrific things in my life—my fiancé died in my arms two weeks before our wedding, I got critically ill with a mysterious blood disease after giving birth to my son with my new husband. No one thought I would recover, but I kept telling myself, like a mantra, “You can do this. You can do this.” And I did. I think I want readers to just know that nothing is final. You can always change if you are brave enough to do so, to take that risk into something better. And you have to learn to look for the beauty in life and to grab for it.

The Manson Family murders and the general time period of late 1960s cast a pall over Cruel Beautiful World.  Why did you choose this time period?  What did it take to write about it so convincingly?

I was young when 1969 turned into 1970 and I remember what that felt like. The sixties were goofy and wonderful and yet they had a profound sense that we could change the world, we could end poverty, we could end racism. And then the 70s hit, and the war escalated into Cambodia, there still was poverty and racism, and all the peace groups began to use weapons. I went to Brandeis and was a year ahead of Susan Saxe and Katherine Ann Power, who joined with an ex-con to rob a bank for the revolution. They killed a cop and went underground for years. I couldn’t believe it—all this loveliness from the 1960s, the flowers in your hair, the peace marches, and it came to that. How, I kept wondering, do you still live with ideals?

I also talked to people who had lived near the Mansons on Spahn ranch. My favorite quote was from a guy who said, “Well, they were hippies, but not the good kind.”

I’m haunted by Lucy’s experience.  One question that kept coming to me over and over again was did Lucy actually have agency or was she a victim from start to end?

I absolutely LOVE this question.  And I think the answer is both. She fell obsessively in love with someone who controlled her, who thwarted all her attempts to call home, to get out. By the time she realized she wanted to go, she didn’t know how to, so she had to ask for help. She was still a kid in so many, many ways. I think she would hate being called a victim, but she sort of was, with William’s controlling.

What keeps you returning to the page each day?  What keeps you engaged with writing?  

I love it! I can’t not do it, even when it’s hard and I keep thinking that I should go to dental school instead. There is something so completely wonderful about being lost in another person’s world. I love talking story with other writers and with my editor. I love the whole process. I write a book to figure out something that is haunting me, so it’s really my own personal Valium.

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How to Punctuate Dialogue

A challenge many new writers face is how to punctuate dialogue.  Below I break down some of the basic grammar rules and reasons behind them for punctuating dialogue.

First, let's start with definitions:  Dialogue is often marks with dialog tags that tell who is speaking or something about the quality of the speech.  Dialogue is also interrupted by physical actions not related to speech or description.  You need to know the difference between the two types of interruptions to punctuate dialogue well.

Each time someone new speaks, a new, tab indent paragraph is started.

Not everyone book will follow these rules.  Cormac McCarthy doesn't follow these rules, but if you want to get to be someone as respected and famous as McCarthy, you increase your odds by submitting manuscripts for publication that are polished, professional, and adhere to standard grammar rules.  When you get famous as a writer, people could see your grammar quirks as art; until then, they might make it so your work gets dismissed without being read by editors and agents.

Example A:

    "I love it here," says character A.  (The comma is used after the person speaks because it is followed by a dialogue tag indicating who spoke.

    "I love it here."  Character A spun around with her arms open.  (That dialogue is follow by a period because what follows is a sentence describing physical action.  It is not a dialogue tag.

 

Example B:

    "I love it here," says character A.  (Each time someone new speaks, it starts a new tab indented paragraph).

    Character B sighs.  "I don't."  (Sighs is followed by a period because sighs isn't a dialogue tag; it is an action.  Don't is followed by a period because it is the end of a sentence.)

 

Example C:

    "I love it here," says character A.  

    Character B sighs.  "I don't."  

    Character A laughs.  "You don't like anything, Henry.  I can't believe you aren't able to love the South of France."  Her face darkens.  "Wait a minute, are you even able to love me? I die if you didn't," she says.  (In this line, there is a period after laughs because it is a sentence describing an action--not a dialogue tag.  Same with after darkens.  There is a comma after didn't because it leads to a dialogue tag.)

    "Precious."  He takes two steps toward her and picks up her hand.  "I've always been able to love you," he says.  (Precious is followed by a period because it doesn't have a dialogue tag.  Hand is followed by a period because it is a sentence of physical description.  You is followed by a comma because it leads to a dialogue tag.)

 

Here are some links about this:

This article by Steve Almond is masterful: http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/attributiveclauses

https://www.thebalance.com/punctuating-dialogue-properly-in-fiction-writing-1277721

https://litreactor.com/columns/talk-it-out-how-to-punctuate-dialogue-in-your-prose

 

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Diner En Blanc NYC 2016 Edition

I'm the type of woman that likes to put on a fancy dress and hit the town.  I also love a big party and a "scene."  I long for the heyday of places like Studio 54 or maybe even colonial balls.  A dream vacation for me would be going to the New Year's Waltzes in Vienna.

Diner En Blanc with its secret location, thousands of attendees, lengthy list of rules, and beautiful white outfits totally hits the mark.  

But after wearing the same dress for a few years in a row, I am in need of a new frock for the 2016 NYC event.  (That and I'm celebrating the launch of my latest novel, Triple Love Score--thus I could use a treat!)  So I decided to ask for some help: which dress is best?  Let me know in the comments below.

The Lacy Number!

The Lacy Number!

The 1950s Number

The 1950s Number

The Kate Middleton Inspired

The Kate Middleton Inspired

The Glam

The Glam

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Root, Petal, Thorn: An interview with Ella Joy Olsen

Ella Joy Olsen’s debut novel, Root, Petal, Thorn, explores how the history of a home and its many inhabitants overlap and reach through time to touch the heart of its current resident at a time in her life where she needs all the support she can get.  You will find yourself captivated by how the different story lines throughout time weave together to the present day.

How does a woman with the middle name Joy write this beautiful line:  “Understand there is a little sad in every story?”  How did you come to this assessment?  Do you agree with this point of view?

I started writing Root, Petal, Thorn shortly after my sister died in a boating accident (she was overcome by Carbon Monoxide while swimming). One day she was fine and the next day she was gone. It was unfathomable. After her death, the one thing that comforted me, that let me know joy would return to my life, was realizing everyone carries a quiet sadness, something they may or may not disclose. In grief, you are never alone.

As I wrote the stories of the five women who inhabit the hundred-year-old bungalow on Downington Avenue, I realized I gave each of them this, a secret grief, or a little sad in their story.  As writers, we can label it “conflict” intended to keep the narrative active, but I prefer to think of it as the truth.

In the novel, this conflict comes to my characters in many forms: from sending a child to war (like Eris), coping with a mental illness (like Lainey), or surviving the loss of a husband (like Ivy).  But one thing all the women share - that we all share - is given enough time and love, joy can also be part of every story.

I’m pretty sure that Bitsy’s story is my favorite; how did you decide which characters to weave in and which to follow more strongly?

The modern day character, Ivy, is the one who weaves the stories of the four other women together. She’s the one searching for clues from past occupants and researching the house. I really wanted her to meet a one of the historic characters face-to-face, to hear the story of the house told in-person. So I gave her Bitsy. I’ve always wished someone who lived in my house decades ago would visit and tell me how things were, back in the day.

I’m so glad you like Bitsy. She’s also one of my favorites! In the novel, Bitsy is a child who lives in the home during The Great Depression. It nearly breaks her to move away, but her father loses his job and the family is unable to pay the mortgage. Bitsy is an old woman when she finally meets Ivy. Together they search for an antique diary she kept as a child. Those youthful memories paint a vivid and, at times, heart-wrenching picture of Bitsy’s past.

 

Root, Petal, Thorn is also a love story to a home.  What makes a house a home in your case?  How is that reflected in this novel?

I probably shouldn’t say something cliché like, “Home is Where the Heart Is.” But actually it’s true. Not everyone lives in the same home for decades, not everyone owns their own home. Some folks have the white picket fence, or a mansion, or a downtown apartment. These places can all be homes, but they are not the definition of home.

Home, to me, means sanctuary. It should be a place where you can be your truest self. Maybe that means eating ice cream out of the container and spending the day in a bathrobe. Or maybe that means safety from the overwhelming world, from mean people, and uncertain situations. Home in this sense is not a given, but it’s something we all strive for. No matter the appearance of the dwelling, we all want a place we can call home.

In Root, Petal, Thorn each of the women finds a true home in the little brick bungalow. They are changed by the years lived within the walls, and in turn, the home is altered by each of them.

What did you learn about writing from the process of creating Root, Petal, Thorn?

If I answered this question completely this interview would fill the pages of an encyclopedia. How about I go for a best and worst?

Best: Fellow authors are the best “co-workers” I’ve ever had. They are sponsoring, irreverent, smart, kind, and funny. And they totally understand the pleasure and pain of writing for a living.

Worst: I’m not writing for a living. Meaning most authors will never make enough money to give up their day job. Many non-writer friends are aghast to learn I’m not sleeping under a quilt stitched of hundred dollar bills. I liken it being in a garage band. One or two of those bands will become the Beatles, but most will continue to play in the garage. A writer must love the process to persevere.

If you want to win a copy of Root, Petal Thorn by Ella Joy Olsen and Triple Love Score by Brandi Megan Granett, please enter here.

 

 

 

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TRIPLE LOVE SCORE: The Soundtrack

Joyce Lamb of USA Today's Happily Ever After Blog asked me what music I write to, so I decided to share my Triple Love Score romance playlist with everyone on Eight Tracks:

http://8tracks.com/brandigranett/triple-love-score

From Brandi Carlile's cover of Radiohead's Creep which catalogues the darker side of love to the rousing Hallelujah of Rufus Wainright to ultra sexy groove of the XX's Islands, I hope you have a listen and jam out with some of the songs that inspire me to bring romance to life on the page.

I'd love to know your favorite romantic song--let me know in the comment below or on Facebook.

 

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Miracles & Flowers: A Conversation with Author Stephanie Knipper

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin transports the reader to the beautiful Eden Farms and into the lives of sisters, Rose and Lily, as they grapple with life’s biggest challenges: love and death.  Stephanie Knipper’s rich prose moves us through Rose, Lilly, and Rose’s daughter, Antoinette’s points of view to weave this beautiful portrait of a family as they grow through life’s difficult moments.

The setting of The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is stunning.  How did you find Eden Farms?  What did you know about flowers?  What did you need to learn?

I knew I wanted to set the novel in Kentucky.  I’ve lived in the state my entire life.  The beauty of the land and the strength of the people have left their imprint on my writing.  I first thought of setting the story on a horse farm—after all, Kentucky’s known for horses—but it just didn’t feel right.  I was an avid flower gardener (I’m one of those people who can’t wait for winter to end so I can put my hands in the soil), and I began toying with the idea of setting the story on a commercial flower farm. 

Although I was already a gardener, I felt like I needed to know more.  I enrolled in the Master Gardener Certification program offered through my local county extension center.  The classes gave me the in-depth gardening information that I needed to write the book.  They also made me a much better gardener and enabled me to pass the information down to my children.  Most of them are now gardeners and understand ecological issues we’re facing like honeybee colony collapse!

Family, and its importance, is a key theme in this novel.  What does family mean to you?

As the mother of six children (five of whom are special needs children adopted from China), family is at the center of everything I do.  I firmly believe that everyone deserves people in their life who make them feel safe and who love them unconditionally.  This can either be your biological family, or people you gather to you.  For better or worse, family—or lack thereof—molds who we are. 

Family has also shaped who I am as a writer.  I didn’t find my voice as a writer until I became a mother.  Several of my children have special needs.  They’ve changed the way I see the world and the issues I’m passionate about.  I find myself returning to two themes over and over again: the unexpected ways in which families are formed, and the ways our perceived “differences”—whether physical or psychological—can be both a source of isolation and of strength. 

Through Lily’s counting the novel raises some issues about mental disorders.  Antoinette similarly faces development delays and challenges.  What care did need to take in writing about often marginalized populations to ensure your depictions are accurate and respectful?  Have you heard any reaction to these elements of your book?

As the mother of several special needs children, it was vital that the characters in my book with mental and/or physical challenges were written in a way that portrayed them as more than just their “illness”.  As a society, we’re quick to dismiss people who struggle with physical and mental challenges, incorrectly assuming that their disability defines them as a person.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A disability, whether mental or physical, is just one aspect of a person’s life, not their entire life. 

To accurately portray my characters, I turned to people in my life who dealt with similar issues.  I talked to people diagnosed with OCD, anxiety, and depression.  I also talked to adults who believe they have undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome.  Lily is a composite of several people I worked with, but Antoinette is based almost entirely on my daughter, Grace who has autism, developmental delays, and seizures. 

Grace can’t speak, dress herself, or manage the little things most of us take for granted, like brushing her teeth.  However, Grace knows her mind.  She loves when I sing old Gospel music and Broadway show tunes, but if I sing the Mockingbird Song (“Hush little baby, don’t say a word…”) she’ll cry every time.  My point is that although Grace interacts with the world differently than I do, if you strip away her physical and mental challenges, we’re pretty much the same. 

 Likewise, Antoinette is a child with severe disabilities, but she’s a child first.  She’s a little girl who loves her mother, music, and flowers.  She has strong opinions and expresses them to the best of her abilities.  Along the same lines, Lily struggles with OCD and possibly undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome.  Yet her love for Rose and Antoinette helps her move beyond her fears.  Lily and Antoinette’s conditions are but one aspect of their characters.  They both lead full and rewarding lives despite the challenges they face. 

As far reactions to these aspects of the book, they’ve been extremely positive.  In fact, Antoinette is definitely the most loved character in the book.  As she is based on my daughter, Grace, you can imagine how happy this makes me!

 The one thing that has been questioned a few times is why I gave Antoinette the ability to heal, especially given the belief some people have that everyone with autism has some Rain Man-like ability.  Honestly, I struggled with the decision for just this reason.  But for me, Antoinette’s healing ability isn’t about magic.  It’s about control.

One of the things people with special needs often face is a lack of control.  My daughter Grace can’t control her own body.  She can’t speak. She can’t use a fork or a spoon to feed herself.  She’s twelve and still in diapers.  Often, this lack of control over her life frustrates her. 

Antoinette has similar challenges.  I wanted to give her something that she could control and that’s where the healing ability came into play.  Antoinette can pick and choose who she heals.  Although she can’t say the words, “I love you, Mommy,” she can express her love for her mother by attempting to heal her, even if it’s at significant cost to herself. 

In the novel, Rose leaves art behind to focus on Antoinette and the farm.  How do you balance your own family life with writing?

I won’t lie; it’s difficult.  Parenting six children, some of whom have special needs, requires a lot of time!  Often, I can’t spend as much time writing as I’d like because my children need me.  It’s easier during the school year because I write while the kids are in school.  It’s harder over the summer, but I still try to write every day.  I work on my laptop at the kitchen table while the kids run through the house, and I set small, easily attainable goals so that I don’t get discouraged.  And like any other family where both parents work, my husband and I divide the childcare duties.  If I don’t get enough writing in during the day, he takes the kids when he gets home from work while I finish writing. 

 Ultimately, it’s a tradeoff.  Though I struggle to balance writing and family life, my kids and the issues they face form a large part of my writing.  It might take me a little longer to finish a manuscript because of the kids, but my work wouldn’t be the same without them!

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Goodreads Giveaway Ends 8/15!

Enter for a chance to win 1 of 3 first edition, signed copies of TRIPLE LOVE SCORE.

Miranda Shane lives a quiet life among books and letters as a professor in a small upstate town. When the playing-by-the-rules poet throws out convention and begins to use a Scrabble board instead of paper to write, she sets off a chain of events that rattles her carefully planned world. 

Her awakening propels her to take risks and seize chances she previously let slip by, including a game-changing offer from the man she let slip away. But when the revelation of an affair with a graduate student threatens the new life Miranda created, she is forced to decide between love or poetry.
 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Triple Love Score by Brandi Megan Granett

Triple Love Score

by Brandi Megan Granett

Giveaway ends August 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Or if you don't want to press your luck, you can pre-order the book on Amazon:

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What makes me laugh....

In doing promotion for my next novel, Triple Love Score, my Tall Poppy sisters asked me to name something that is guaranteed to make me laugh.  Well here it is:

I dare you not to smile.

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Scrabble Tile Necklaces

To thank the lovely authors that are willing to read my upcoming novel, Triple Love Score, I wracked my brain (Scrabble pun intended) to find a way to thank them.  And I wanted to match the theme of the novel which holds using a Scrabble board to write poems at its core.  So I came upon Scrabble tile necklaces, and I wanted to share the how to with you.

The first step is to print out the image you would like to place on the necklace.  We reduced the size of the image so that when it is printed, it matches the shape of the Scrabble tile.  (I say we because my husband did this fancy piece of computer work for me!).

Then you cut out the image to size.

 

Use Diamond Glaze to adhere the image to the tile.

 

 

After this is adhered, you top the image with Diamond Glaze.  Draw a square around the outside of the image with the Diamond Glaze and then fill in the space.  Tap out any bubbles that form with a pin or use your finger.  (i found my finger worked best). This gives the tile the shiny image.

Here is a great video from Ben Franklin Crafts that goes into more detail about this:

 

After this dries, you need to attach the back.  I used Gorilla Glue to attach the necklace backing.

On this one, I didn't tap out the bubble before it dried.  But I wanted you to get the idea.

On this one, I didn't tap out the bubble before it dried.  But I wanted you to get the idea.

Then I strung the necklace on a cord.  Here are the materials I used:

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Belgian Waffles: Adventures in Breakfast Part One

Avram and I have ideas.  Well, I have idea, and he usually goes along with them.  People that know us are nodding their heads, clucking, oh, that poor man under his breath.  Let's put it this way: he humors me.  With a big smile on his face and willingness to do whatever.

My latest harebrained scheme (no offense to rabbits) is to one day own a bed and breakfast.  To achieve this, one must get better at making breakfast.  Breakfast should be an orgasmic experience to top a guest's stay.  So, I, in the nature of my grand plans, are charting our journeys to make better breakfasts.  First up: Belgian Waffles.

One cup of butter!!!!

One cup of butter!!!!

Egg whites whipped to stiff peaks!!

Egg whites whipped to stiff peaks!!

And they turned out, okay...the batter was flavorful, but it stayed too moist.  It didn't get that crispy waffle crust.  So next time, I think I am going to experiment with adding more flour for a stronger dough.

Yummy but not crispy!!

Yummy but not crispy!!

You can find the recipe I used here:   http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/true-belgian-waffles 

If you have any waffle advice, I'd love to hear it below.

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Please let me know your favorite!

Wyatt-Mackenzie will be publishing my next novel in Fall 2016.  

In this novel as yet untitled, poetry professor, Miranda Shane believes planning to be the key to life. Not an exciting life, mind you, but her life.   Until a man and a Scrabble Board change everything. 

To get ready, we are seeking the perfect title.  Here are some possible contenders:

Love Letters


Triple Love Score
Blocked Connections
Love is a Four Letter Word

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section or on Twitter @brandigranett.  Which one would catches your eye the most? 

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Bridge Eight: Fall 2015 featuring Places You'll Go

Bridge Eight

I was lucky enough to have my story, Places You'll Go in Bridge Eight's Fall 2015 edition.  I am going to share the introduction below; please check out Bridge Eight for the full story and many other great stories and poems.

Places You'll Go

One would think the low pile and dizzying pattern of the carpet could hide the vomit stain better.  Instead, Shelia scrubbed at it with the industrial strength cleanser that burned the hair from her nostrils.  Not even the scrub brush typically reserved for just the toilets made a dent in the purple streaked stain.  The kid must have drank a gallon of grape soda the day before.  They didn’t even leave a tip.  Or a note. Just a towel, now streaked purple and green, over the wet spot between the two beds, with the corner of some Dr. Seuss book sticking into the ooze. 

Judging from the baseball cards and muddied cleats in the corner the family stayed at the hotel just off I-10 for some Little League tournament, a state qualifier for the Little League World Series. Next to the man’s side of the bed, he left a stopwatch and a list of times marked first base, second base, third base to home and a list of jersey numbers.  He marked some numbers with stars, other numbers with three angry lines under them; those times seemed the longest.  The longest time matched the number from the dirty jersey she picked up from the bathroom floor.  She imagined the kid puking from stress; she didn’t blame him. 

Sheila examined her cell phone.  Her shift ended two hours ago.  The time she took on this mess got her behind.  She stopped scrubbing a few times and picked up the other rooms on her rotation, but one guest still remained behind her locked door despite the “service please” sign on the knob.  

I hope you check out Bridge Eight to get the rest of the story.

 

 

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This Broken Shore--and a story for you

I had the pleasure of being selected for This Broken Shore, a literary magazine; I am going to tempt you all the first few pages of the story:

Chan settles his cup of coffee down a little too hard.  Latte bursts from the top like a tiny Old Faithful.  Coffee dots the manuscript in front of him, a “romance” from Walter.  In this one, a woman delivers a pizza and then a whole lot more to the lonely retiree who answers the door.  “That’s not it,” Chan says.  “I wish you would write something that would add value to your life.  What we think is what we are.”

Walter puffs up his shoulders; his belly strains against the confines of his Cosby sweater.  He leans close and whispers.  “Chan, that is the value I want.  I want to get laid.”  He leans back, and in his regular voice adds, “And eat pizza.”

There’s only four of us left in the Saturday morning writer’s group I started during the summer after my senior year.  My in-patient clinic/high school English teacher, Walter, who got fired/retired for drinking too much and over-sharing about his non-existent sex life in class, Michelle, a nurse from the clinic who likes to write vampire and zombie stories, and Chan, a Chinese herbalist/grocer who gives lectures on natural cures for behavior disorders in his free time.  We started with eight people; the half-life of the group is four years.   In two more years, I suspect it will be just me and Chan.  Or maybe Walter.  I can’t tell which one will go the distance.

“Time to open the store,” Chan says.

Michelle looks at her watch.  “My shift starts in twenty.”

Walter shrugs again.  “Not like I have any where to be.”

“I’ve got work,” I say, suddenly grateful for the excuse to shove off, get away from them, the Starbucks, and this town I grew up in.

 

As I walk from the station to the tavern, I let my mind replay over yesterday.  Or at least what I think was yesterday, maybe the day before.  There’s something about my mind that won’t settle enough for me to sort out my days; they all just sort of run together, like I haven’t slept in weeks and drank too much coffee and maybe didn’t take all the right pills.  But I don’t want to think about that.  I want to think about Bill Johnson.  I’ve written about him for years, imagining myself a lovesick paramour, and he the Ur-male companion, a prototype for love.  I practiced my married name Leesa Johson.  I composed imaginary family trees for our children.  I started the Christmas letter for the year we moved to Colorado. It was all very on paper, the stuff Chan recommends, until Bill walked me home from my evening shift at the tavern. 

There was something about the way he appeared under the streetlights which dotted what passed as Main Street that altered my perception.  Light, dark, light, dark, like a winking eye, only Bill was lid or maybe it’s the pupil.  I can’t remember any more.  He talked to me about Kafka that night, the one where the guy turns into a bug.  As he moved from the circle of lamplight to darkness, he gesticulated six buggy legs.  I suppose that helped too; suddenly, I could see Bill dancing. 

As I walked the next ten blocks, the January chill whipping under my coat, I lost the thread of the conversation and immersed myself in an image of Bill and I dancing a waltz.  I wore a yellow ball gown with a single rose in my hair.  He sported a navy blue tuxedo with tails.  I told Joelle about this vision over French fries with gravy at the diner that night. 

She snorted her Pepsi through her nose, nearly spraying me and the waitress.  “You mean like Beauty and Beast,” she chortled.

            “No,” I said.  But yes, it was exactly like that.

            Joelle regretted the outburst.  “So you like him, like him?” she asked.

            “Yeah,” I said. 

Only it’s complicated.  I’m not sure if Bill is real.

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A Conversation With Karma Brown

Come Away With me

When a tragic accident derails Tegan Lawson's life, she turns to an unlikely source for her next steps forward. Karma Brown's novel, Come Away With Me, will both break your heart and give you hope.

What inspired you to tell Tegan's story?

I have always been in awe of those who find a way to move past life-changing tragedies, to find happiness again despite the loss, and I wanted to explore that bravery and grit in a novel. Also, many stories focus on the experience of falling in love and I wanted to look at the other side of it. The "what happens?" to a great marriage, and the people in it, when the unimaginable occurs ... does it pull people closer, like magnets, or force them apart? But this isn't a simple story of loss and grief and marriage, despite how it appears on the surface--however, you'll have to read to the end to understand why!

 

What would be in your jar spontaneity?

The jar of spontaneity in the Come Away With Me was inspired by a similar jar my husband and I started when we were first married! Now instead of a jar we have a travel bucket list with the top ten places we want to go and things we want to see. We recently ranked the destinations to see where we might end up first, and swimming with pigs in Bahamas was high on my list, while skiing in the Alps tops my husband's list, so we probably need another family meeting pronto to sort it out. One thing I recently checked off my bucket list was indoor skydiving for my forty-second birthday.

 

I'd love to know more about your 5AM Writing group? How does that work?

The #5amwritersclub is a group of authors who have banded together in the early hours on Twitter to offer support, encouragement, and to commiserate over vats of caffeinated beverages. I have written two books mostly between the hours of 5 am-7 am, and this group has made the early morning writing routine a much happier experience!

What's next for you? What are your working on?

My next book, The Choices We Make, (on shelves June 28, 2016) is a story of friendship, mothers, and the risks we take for those we love. When Ben and Hannah receive the heartbreaking news that Hannah will likely never get pregnant, her best friend, Kate, offers to not only to be her surrogate, but also to use her own eggs to do so.

Everything is going well until Kate suffers a devastating aneurysm--at 26 weeks pregnant -- and ends up in a coma, on life support. Hannah and Ben know their baby is at great risk if delivered so early -- something Kate's husband, David, is pushing for, as he believes removing the stress of the pregnancy could give Kate's brain a chance to heal. What follows is an emotionally charged story about two mothers -- one desperate to protect her unborn child, the other on the brink of death -- and the impact those struggles have on their families and friendships.

I'm also working on my next book, but we've only just started dating (at 5 am no less!) so I can't talk about that one yet.

I'm also dying to know about your name--what is the story behind being named something so powerful?

I'm a child of the 70s, which pretty much sums up how I got my name (which I do love, now that I'm older and past the terrible days of Boy George's Karma Chameleon). My mom said she desperately hoped I would be a girl so she could name me Karma--a name she felt embodied love and goodness and wisdom. I'm not sure I've entirely lived up to my name, but I'm grateful to have it--even though as a kid I dreamed of changing it to Nancy or Cathy. And not to be left out, my parents gave my sister Free as a middle name. When we're asked about our unusual monikers, we shrug our shoulders and say, "We have hippie parents."

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