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Polyauthoramorous....or Rather Oops I Did It Again

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Remember what I said last week about Ross Gay—all that still stands. I.love.him. But as many people know, love is not a finite thing. We can love lots of people. Places. Things. Authors. Poets writing micro-essays.

This week Beth Ann Fennelly’s collection of 52 micro-memoirs, Heating & Cooling, captured my heart. While I harbor any running into coffee store fantasies involving her yet (I suspect we would be better Twitter friends, trading witty barbs about feminism, parenting, and grilled cheese—I am not sure why I said grilled cheese, but I am going with it. Maybe it is grilled cheese that shows Jesus on the cross or something, something that could bring together a lapsed Catholic and lapsed Baptist over a good laugh) I did absolutely laugh out loud read my away through this collection. Especially with pieces like this one:

This one reminded me of a few people I know, but then I realized I probably shouldn’t send it to them. Not everyone shares my sense of humor.

This one reminded me of a few people I know, but then I realized I probably shouldn’t send it to them. Not everyone shares my sense of humor.

But this whip-smart, laugh out loud pieces are juxtaposed with a few that a bit more serious in tone taking on both the macro issues faced by many women and the more personal issues Fennelly has dealt with like the untimely death of her older sister that left her bereft. This reflection on their childhood relationship cuts to the bone and captures the nature of being siblings without being sappy.

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Like Ross Gay, she mixes that personal, political, public and poetic in a way that as my poetry teacher Tom Lux would say, makes me want to “sell my soul to the devil” to have written it myself.

Here’s a glimpse of the political that stirred such a deep pride for my own birthing experience:

Women don’t get enough credit for this. Fist bump to Beth Ann for capturing it so perfectly.

Women don’t get enough credit for this. Fist bump to Beth Ann for capturing it so perfectly.

So if you are looking for something smart-funny, quick to read, but deep to think on Heating & Cooling is the real deal. The simplicity of the micro-essay keeps everything razor sharp, swerving away from the saccharine. They bite; they sing. And they speak deep. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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Don't Compare Your Sparkle to Someone Else's Rainbow

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This is my sparkle.

10th place in USA Archery Rankings for Senior Compound Women after 2019 Outdoor Nationals

10th place in USA Archery Rankings for Senior Compound Women after 2019 Outdoor Nationals

For this result, I am pop open the champagne proud. I worked hard this outdoor season and faced some crazy complications from what is beginning to look like a Lyme disease flare up. (At one point after Arizona Cup, I forgot how to shoot my bow—but I will write on that in its own posting one day.) I stuck with shooting even after days spent taking to my bed in tears from the confusing and loss I experienced. I kept traveling to tournaments and competing even though I often feared embarrassment at my weird decline in ability. Then with a lot of practice (And help from some awesome people—looking at you Avram, Rhonda, Joe, Tamara, & Jamie), things turned around. At Outdoor Nationals, I posted my best scores in a qualification round.

At that tournament, I had the pleasure of shooting with someone new to archery, with fewer than six months under her belt. She shared how the quality of shooting around her intimidated her; she didn’t feel like she measured up. But that measure was the problem—not the quality of her shooting. I said to her, hey, don’t judge your sparkle by someone else’s rainbow; set your own goal for the day.

I recently listened to a the Don’t Tell Me the Score podcast, and one of the guests spoke about a EU Football Team that came in second in either the premiere or championship league to great elation. For that team, the second place meant everything. The budget of team above them was many millions more—with the resources they invested, their result was stellar, out of the ball park success—even if to everyone else it was just a second place finish. This anecdote (and I wish I could remember which episode of the podcast it was on, but I was binge listening to them) to me demonstrates the principle of not judging your sparkle by someone else’s rainbow. Because many times, we simply aren’t playing the same game. If the team above you has millions more dollars to spend, or to put it in archery terms, if the person shooting next to you has a decade more experience and the sponsorship support that comes with it, you perhaps aren’t playing the same game yet. And if you aren’t playing the same game, you shouldn’t evaluate your performance by their benchmarks.

This isn’t to say we can’t dream about winning or achieving big things—there is a time and place for setting the bigger picture that will drive us to practice, train, and work hard. But there is also room for being realistic and measuring the short term progress by a yardstick that won’t leave you feeling like you can never accomplish your bigger picture goal. In the heat of specific tournament, it doesn’t serve you to think you are going to out-shoot your typical performance score in practice. Yes, you can have a jump in score—plenty of people do—but being honest with yourself can keep you from dashing your own hopes against the rocks of disappointment and make that jump all the more possible. People berating themselves for falling short rarely summon the power to excel—their energy is spent being negative and paying attention to other people.

Just as we are each playing our own game, we are going to evaluate the results of that game in different ways. I only shared my NRS position. There are women above me and below me, and they will each have their own personal reaction to the ranking. Some will be elated at how far they came or at finally getting a chance on a World Cup team. Others may be reconsidering their role in archery and what they can achieve or even want to achieve—the price they pay for these little numbers. Some may be grappling with a loss of status. Others may be looking to new things in life and what it might mean to leave archery, and its ranking systems, behind. My number 10 is my sparkle moment—someone else’s number 10 could their worst day. For a newbie, that 10 could still be an unattainable glimmer. We will all see it our own way.

We all come to our sport for different reasons, looking for different outcomes. Yes, we all want to win, but that winning can mean different things to each of us.. And I think that is okay—even though I know some people could dismiss this as hippie dippie bullshit. To buy into that worldview though is to fall into the “Silver is the First Place Loser” category—one that only celebrates the pinnacle of achievement and not the steps along the way or the individual differences at work on any field of play. But to me, these differences play a huge part in what makes coming together as a community to share a passion worth it—we all bring our own vantage point to share. And when that happens, it’s winning all around. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.

So keep up your sparkle and admire those rainbows without comparison. Let them guide you were you want to go instead of being stop signs that hold you back.

#bacardi #liveresponsibly

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The Book of Delights...Falling in Love with Ross Gay

I fell in love with someone new over the weekend. Someone my friend and poet, Skye Van Saun told me I would adore. She was not wrong. When I saw him in the bookstore, I knew I had to take the first step. So despite my beliefs about carrying hard cover books on airplanes, I bought The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, thus unlocking the best reading experience I have had all year.

The first part of falling in love is often recognition. When he mentioned Frenchtown, one of the river towns we haunt locally, the spark of the familiar pulled me in. He knew my home; we could be friends in real life. I could be browsing at the Book Garden, and Caroline Scutt could turn to me and say, oh, hey, Brandi, do you know Ross? And then we would go get a lavender latte at Early Bird and talk about writing for a while. Maybe Skye will roll up, with her guitar somewhat inexplicably, and start playing for us on the bench out front.

You have to forgive me for such a vivid fantasy. That is the second part of The Book of Delights that pulled me in; Gay writes about the things that struck his fancy, the moments that most of us smile at and pass over on our way to our next grievance. I feel like he would delight in my whimsical world view. At least, I hope he would; no one wants this type of love to be unrequited.

But the real reason I fell in love goes back to something I learned in the early days of my women studies education: the personal is political. In the case of The Book of Delights, the personal is political is poetic. While simultaneously launching us into moments of delight, a depth of experience creeps in that belies some of the hard truths of being an African American man in the contemporary United States. Not all of the pieces do this—some are just straight up delight—but there is so much capital T truth mixed in with the recording of delights. Like finding delight in outlasting the store owner that told him he couldn’t sit on the coffee shop porch or the exploration of the “negreeting,” a nod given to other African America men in public spaces that is sometimes withheld. These moments are truly delight, but they also present something deeper, a life lived in a space that doesn’t always make it easy. And he does so with language that sings off the page. I laughed out loud, interrupted my husband’s reading to read him passages out loud, and took pictures of paragraphs so that I would never lose them. Like this passage:

Ross Gay, The Book of Delights

Ross Gay, The Book of Delights

I fell in love with this book, and by extension Ross Gay, for showing that you can have both delight and challenge. While I don’t share his path as a middle aged white woman, I connect to the idea that life is neither one nor the other—that adversity doesn’t need to supplant delight and how in even the most obtuse, frustrating, unjust moments, a person may still retain the spark that connects them to source, no matter how hard external forces may work to snuff it out.

So I will keep stoking my platonic meet-cute fantasy and be on the look out for delights of my own to share with the world. Thank you for this book, Mr. Gay. I hope to see you soon.

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Losing My Words

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In 2016 in the midst of pretty bad Lyme disease fuckuppery, I told creativity to take a hike. I walked away from a publishing deal after I was told my completed novel Ever Glade was too literary. I shuttered a novel-in-progress, three quarters of the way through, about a woman who loves archery that inherits a summer camp—a book I once gleefully tackled every morning to meet my 500 word goal. I stopped listening to stories to appear in my mind’s echo chamber. I quit my writer’s group, The Tall Poppy Writers. I stopped observing people around me to figure out how they could fit into my imaginary worlds. But most of all, I silenced my brain.

At the time, I thought I was doing myself a favor. Tripe Love Score, a book I was immensely proud of and worked my ass off to promote, launched with little success. This book scored mention on Redbook, a good review from Kirkus, and placements on fifty different book review blogs. I hosted a book festival in its honor, River Reads, coordinating with 40 other authors to bring books to one of my favorite public spaces, Prallsville Mills. I worked hard in my marketing collective, The Tall Poppy Writers, feverishly promoting the work of my sister authors in exchange for the same. I did all the things an author is supposed to do to be successful. And yet—none of it mattered.

Couple this disappointment with eight different kinds of antibiotics (my favorite treated meningitis, too!), and extreme hair loss, and you may find a person at their literal wit’s end. As REM sings, I was losing my religion. I was a hurt, lost, and blinded fool.


Elizabeth Gilbert in her exceptional treatise on creativity, Big Magic, talks about how if you don’t tend to creativity, listen to it, engage with its ideas, it will move on. She posits this as a caution—she hopes that artists of all ilk will honor that creativity (my assumption here—she may not care what we do with our creative impulses, but she certainly seems in favor of following them). But I took her words in a different way; I told myself I could turn it off. I could turn off the muse. The voice in my head that brings me stories. The spark that always marked me as weird and on the side of things watching and listening. Maybe I could escape the pain and frustration of having my creative efforts ignored by the larger world if I just stopped writing. If I stopped caring about story and let it all go.

For awhile, I would say this worked. I didn’t care. People would talk to me about working on their novels or writing their poems, the struggle of it, and I would chuckle inside. I put that down. I moved past it all. I was free.

But dear reader, we all know that story is a lie. No one can severe themselves in two and walk away unscathed. Once the shock wears off, you will eventually notice your missing arm and cry out at the tragedy. This summer my body finally sounded that alarm for me.

I’m a big fan of Louise Hay and her work on illness as our bodies way of speaking to us. I know these ideas are controversial, and some accuse this method as victim blaming, as in its all your fault that you got cancer because you didn’t think enough positive thoughts. I don’t see it this way. Instead, I look at it as being blameless in the activation of the illness of disease but having a responsibility as to how we respond to it. It we can take some of the emotion out and learn to look at the disease as something that can teach us, something we can learn from, or listen to, then we might be able to support all of the healing efforts both from conventional Western medicine and any alternative therapies we try. I don’t see it as wishing it away; I see it as accepting all circumstances as moments of grace where we can choose to learn or grow. (Hippie dippie, I know, but when you have a chronic thing like some bastard tick infection coupled with EBV that won’t go away, you need to develop a paradigm for dealing with it lest you drive yourself mad.)

As I was fixing to turn 45, I began to get signs that perhaps I needed to deal with “writing thing” in order to get past whatever was holding me back energetically. In my other life as an archer, I struggled with accepting success. The idea of winning made me nervous and afraid. So we began to look at other areas of my life where I walked away from pursing goals (We being myself and Joe Crisanti of Pure Space Hypnosis—my mental game coach for archery). The finished but unpublished novel on my desk stood out as a big candidate for exploration. After a hypnosis session, I came to the realization that I needed to clear the cobwebs. I decided to self-publish Ever Glade rather than let it rot in a drawer. I was going to own my power and let it be the book I wanted it to be—whether or not it was too literary.

I met with Karen Hughes of Open Door Publications and Eric Labacz of Eric Labacz Design and hired them to make this project happen. After years of ignoring this book, bitterly resenting the publishing marketplace, it felt great to see it come to life and move from my head and desk into the wider world. Over lunch to set things up, Karen asked about other books I might write, and instead of scoffing, something about writing about archery and how it is a tool for self-development slipped out of my mouth. I took note of this, and on my birthday, I made my way to the Book Garden and bought myself a fancy notebook. I vowed to start capturing this next possible stage in my writing career.

If you know writing at all, you know this is where the bad part happens. The heroine gets stalled in her journey. Perhaps meeting a dragon or two, or an evil king from another realm. Actually, nothing that dramatic happens—in fact nothing happens. I don’t write at all. The notebook sat unused on my desk.

But something else was happening; something weirder that I couldn’t put my finger on. When speaking, the ends of words would get stuck in my mouth. Sometimes, the sound would be off like I was putting on a long Island accent for show. Sometimes, I couldn’t say them at all. Typing was impacted, too. I couldn’t get some words close enough that spell check could pick them up (like just a few moments ago, it took me about three minutes to figure out how to spell feverishly). Or I would type a word—perfectly spelled—but not the word I was trying to type. Or I would say the wrong ones: calling my long time archery coach Dr. G instead of Mr. C or our neighbor, Deb instead of Bev. Or the scariest one when I was trying to read our license plate number to Avram, and I kept turning the sevens in Js, even though I was looking right at it and knew I kept saying it wrong.

Nothing could be scarier than not being able to speak to Avram. Being in conversation with him is probably the biggest joy of my life, and now, something threatened that, lurking around the edges and tripping things up. When I told my acupuncturist (the amazing Tamara Berisha) about all of this (plus some fainting in a gas station) she said, you realize that this is all neurological, right? And then she said, it’s not like you have Lyme disease. And then I reminded her that I had. Or did. Or whatever it means to have been exposed and not treated, then exposed again and treated but still present with symptoms.

I didn’t want this to be Lyme disease. I thought that the almost year on antibiotics would be enough. Then I thought the year on a herbal protocol would be enough. But I am learning that perhaps I thought wrong. I’ve found myself a new Lyme Literate Medical Doctor, and I just submitted myself to a battery of tests, leaving me in the wait and see category for the moment.

But as a Louise Hay admirer, I know I have to look at this situation. I work in words when it comes to figuring things like this out, looking to the metaphor of something in the body to see how it might apply to the larger whole. In this case, the metaphor reveals itself quite easily—I am losing my words. For a writer, there many nothing more devastating, except in my case, I asked that my “words” stop. I told creativity to take a long walk off a short pier.

So while I wait for answers from the LLMD, my spirit holds this other truth—I need to turn it on again. I said to Joe, I get it, I need to write—but what? No stories call to me. The unfinished novel fails to beckon. Share your view of the world, he said—people like to see something beyond normal. (I didn’t get offended at the beyond normal bit—I know that I was minted a weirdo at birth). And it hit me—the words I needed to write weren’t just any old story—they were my own.

I need to let words flow through me, the way they always did before. I have to accept that what I may write won’t find a reader or success (whatever the hell that means). It means putting myself out there. It means writing this. It means actually putting on paper about all of the things that light me up like learning from illness and seeking personal growth through archery and listening to intuition.

I also see the main roadblock in my way to doing this. I falsely believed I needed to earn some kind of credential before putting my personal story out into the world, that I needed to be some kind of noteworthy individual first before my voice would be worth recording for others. Like maybe if I won an archery tournament. Or had a story published somewhere exceptional. Or earned another degree. I waited on some external permission slip to capture my own experience on the page. Losing my words, watching them slip away from me in pieces at a time brought this idea of waiting for permission crashing down—what if I don’t have time to wait?

So it goes. I wrote this. I am open to the next idea that comes to me, and the one that comes after that. I am asking creativity to come back. I’m ready. Finally. Ready.

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Taking the Circus to Lab Corp

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I looked at form from the doctor—three columns of possible lab tests, with ten to fifteen check off in each column—and thought, “whelp.” Like an actual whelp. Like WTF, how can that even possible on one form whelp. So when my buddy, Joe, offered to go with me, I silenced the part of me that normally demands I tough it up and accept no help, and agreed to his wonderful offer. Then I asked wait, what do you think it going to happen? And he said, “you never know. It’s a lot.”

The thing is I usually don’t mind going to Lab Corp. V. runs the show there, and the woman is amazing. Like truly amazing. Makes you feel safe and calm and seen—even though you are afraid of needles and blood draws amazing. I’ve met other local people who go to this Lab Corp, and we stand there gushing about how great she is a passerby would think we are talking about a delicious massage therapist or a personal trainer that can turn you into Beyonce rather than a phlebotomist. I was actually excited for Joe to meet her because I may actually be in love with her. BUT—-she wasn’t there.

I didn’t see her SUV in the parking lot (don’t judge me—she has a distinctive license plate that advertises her side hustle ) and my spirits fell a little, and I was even more grateful that Joe came with me. But I regrouped. I would make the best of this—the three columns of checkmarks not withstanding.

My usual way of dealing with situations I don’t want to be in is to learn more about the people around me. I started to asked the great lady checking me in about why she draws blood, which lead to a conversation about going back to school. I found myself repping Thomas Edison State University, where I work in the nursing department. Then it was time to get the blood drawn. A fine man, who paid me subtle compliments and pronounced himself Sir J., took over and began the process of what would wind up to be 52 vials of blood by the end of the day.

While I politely ignored him, I introduced Joe to the great lady who checked me in. As things happen when Joe and I roll in, we quickly found out she suffers from some PTSD and anxiety. This was all it took for us to launch into our virtues of hypnosis road show. This was followed up by a quick NLP session conducted by Joe, which zapped the great lady’s anxiety to a zero. All while I was getting vial after vial drawn.

There is never a dull moment around here, but hey, if you have a gift to share with the world—do it—no matter the place. We are born to spread our light. Joe doing his NLP helped the great lady see a different way of approaching something that was probably pretty distressing. For my own part, I like to ask people questions and make them laugh, even if I myself am in the middle of a pretty distressing situation. I want to make connections and really see people for who they are underneath the job title or the way they need to present to the world.

To me, it’s this way: we can choose light or dark. I could have walked in nervous and upset and pretty pissed off about the whole situation (especially because V. wasn’t there—I might not be over that yet), and with that bad attitude, everyone else would have been affected. It would have bounced around those walls into the fine man and the great lady and back on to me. We wouldn’t have talked to the lady about a solution to her problems or going back to school. I wouldn’t have felt the care of friendship. I would have missed the things to be grateful for and the connections to be made.

So after all it is a lot, but not in a bad way. It’s a lot because we all are afforded so many opportunities in our every day to show up, see others, and be seen.

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ASA Bahamas Shoot 2018: Wrap Up

Getting There

We started our journey to the ASA Bahamas Shoot 2018 on Halloween, with the Daybreaker PHL—a 7 AM dance party at NOTO in Philly. What archer doesn’t benefit from a little cardio on the dance floor?

When we finally landed in Freeport later that evening, we were wisely instructed by our hotel to go to the Smith’s Point Fish Fry, a Wednesday evening tradition that features several local cooks frying up fish, chicken, and conch fritters at beach side stands along with a DJ playing some great 70s & 80s dance and funk hits.

Shooting Starts

By Thursday, my day off from archery caught up with me, and instead of just hitting the beach when the World Archery 50M practice field hit a snag and wasn’t open, Coach Dee Falks talked me into shooting in marks to compete in the 3D/ASA portion of the Bahamas shoot. This lead to a wonderful afternoon of sighting in my bow, with my beloved husband, on one of the most beautiful ocean fronts I have ever seen.


Friday morning, we tackled our first ever 15 Delta Mackenzie Targets on the beautiful range at Pirates Cove Zipline and Water Park installed by Antonio Abraham of Archery Culture, organizer of the 2018 Bahamas Shoot. We shot with the Pruitts from Oklahoma and the Jacksons from Nassau, Bahamas. The amazing company only complimented the beautiful settings. Saturday, we came back for more of the same—-only with light touches of rain instead of wind!

Brandi at Pirates Cove

Lessons Learned

In terms of shooting, I learned a few things:

  • I can sure my target sight (AXCEL sight with 25MM housing, 7 power Feather Vision Lens, green Gunstar Chubby Dot, Hamskea Peep with #1 clarifier) to see the 3D animals just fine.

  • Getting a bow that fits really helps. My PSE Phenom with the short draw makes it so that I can concentrate on making good shots while figuring out where the 12 ring is instead of messing around to get my head in the right position behind the bow. I switched effortlessly from World Archery 50M to ASA 3D in a few minutes.

  • I love my Leupold range finder—women’s known 40 or 45 would be the ASA class for me!

  • When the terrain isn’t challenging, wind can make up for it!

But as I say, archery is life, so there are a few things I learned at this tournament that can help me in my regular life too:

  • Sometimes you have to embrace Island Time—car keys locked in cars, broken ferry boats, pesky custom’s officials—just roll with it, and the universe will put you in the right place at the right time. I never would have signed up for an ASA, let alone do so without sight marks on hand.

  • Keep trying. The organizer of this new tournament did an amazing job of getting this first event together. Antonio’s passion for archery and desire to see it grow in the Bahamas is a great example to learn from for anyone looking to achieve their dreams, whether they be in archery or something else!

The Fun Stuff

Here are some of the songs we danced to this weekend on my Spotify Bahamas Shoot ASA Archery Playlist. In addition to the Wednesday night fish fry, the Lucaya Marketplace offers some great restaurants and live music too!

In my lovely beach down time, I enjoyed Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an intelligent love story about race, Africa, America, and what it means to be from someplace and of someplace.

Antonio Abraham, Me, Bobbie Pruitt, and Steph Jackson

Antonio Abraham, Me, Bobbie Pruitt, and Steph Jackson

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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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