Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nick Cave, George Glass Loves Lily Snow, Fear, Zoloft, and words.

Obsessing: I suspect that it's something all writers do, but I do it a lot, and right now I'm obsessed with Nick Cave, nothing new there, but I'm writing this novel, George Glass Loves Lily Snow, and it's about a boy, George, who wakes up on his 13th birthday with another boy's memories in his head. This other
boy, Wesley Howard, died thirteen years prior on the same day in the same hospital two minutes before George Glass was born, and like all my fiction, this book is derived from my greatest fear, the loss of my beautiful boy, who is twelve this year. 

After he was born, I was overcome with fear that something terrible would happen to him... I had visions of gas chambers, mothers with crying babies, fingernails scratching the walls, everyone wailing, desperate and dying. 

I was responsible for this new, amazing child, and I found myself out of my body, hovering over my backyard, watching myself talk to people, analyzing how I was doing. Did I seem normal? Did I make sense? Was I speaking words how people speak words? I was holding this baby in my arms, and I couldn't enjoy him. I couldn't breathe. 

I went to see a shrink and decided that after almost twenty years of refusing anti-anxiety medication because I thought it would make me less creative, I would give it a try. I needed to breathe. Zoloft. It made me physically sick, nauseated, and I had awful dry mouth, but I would do anything to shake the fear that paralyzed me.

Now, twelve years later, the novel, the fastest I've written, first draft January to April, is nearly revised, my third novel (Lost in the Beehive) has been accepted, and I've weened off the Zoloft. 

I've put down the words for my fourth book, inspired by the parents I know who have lost children, inspired by my worst fear, inspired by Nick Cave's documentary, One More Time with Feeling, about the loss of his fifteen-year old son, Arthur, in 2015; Inspired by the album, The Skeleton Key, and the book, The Sick Bag Song, and I'm going to see Nick Cave in June. 

The last time I saw him, I passed a copy of my first novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, to a roadie in the hopes that they would pass it on to him. He's in there along with David Bowie. He's the doctor at the end of the novel. It was 2010, I believe, and back then he was a different person because his son was alive. His music was different. Everything was different.

From The Sick Bag Song:

"In a studio in Malibu, Johnny Cash sat down and played a song. He was partially blind and could barely walk. I was there. 
I saw a sick man pick up his instrument and be well.
With regret I have seen the opposite too. Pick, pick, pick.
I have seen well men pick up their instruments and be sick" (19).

It's our lack of longing that gets us in the end (35).

My words are my instrument. Thanking Nick Cave today for his words and his music. He sings, "I'm down here for your soul," but really, I think, We're down here for his soul.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Travelogue Edition: Journey to Eleuthera

Day One: Day one (Wednesday, 15 Feb., 2017):

After we got through customs, we met Mr. Pinder, from whom we rented a great car, a Mazda SUV with Kilometers, not Miles per hour, so while I was driving on the left side of the road, I thought I was a speed-demon, doing 60 mph, when in fact, it would 60 kilometers per hour, more like 40 mph.

It was funny.

There is one main highway, the Queen’s highway, that runs the length of the island. As we were driving south, we were met by the most beautiful water, a turquoise color on our right, a deeper blue to our left, the glass window bridge, the narrow manmade bridge that replaced a natural rock formation after a hurricane took it out. Here, the Caribbean meets the Atlantic, and as my son Christopher said, “It’s like oil and water.” The waters touch, but they keep their color. We changed clothes on the side of the road, dropping our jeans for shorts and sandals.

As we drove through James Cistern, we saw two young Bahamian girls in Catholic-school uniforms, their hair in braids, holding hands, and skipping down the narrow road which is laden with unmarked speed bumps. I think eleven.

Just a few miles north of Governor’s Harbour’s airport, we spotted Captain Kirby’s bar, restaurant, and jet-ski rental. A very eclectic, cool place with its flag poles made from sticks and fishing poles. Bahamian, British, U. S., and Cubs flags flying. We had drinks at the bar, a Bahamian Sands beer for Danny, fresh pineapple juice for Chrissy, and I had vodka and cranberry. (I am allergic to pineapple, but I had a sip.) When I told Captain Kirby that Christopher didn’t like fish or conch, but that he liked rice and beans, he said, “I have a batch of pumpkin rice I just made.” It was SO good, and of course they had the universal language of French fries.

After Captain Kirby’s, we made our way to Governor’s Harbour, a crystal blue harbor. We drove uphill to our rental house.

Later at dusk, we walked in search of Bacchus Fine Foods, but they were out of the wine I like. They were also out of bread. Friday is the day that supplies come to the island. They bake bread at Island Farm on Tuesdays and Fridays so we’re going there tomorrow. Then, we went in search of a liquor store, but it closed, just missed it. We found a little market, no booze, but got milk and some rolls and Cadbury chocolate (love that stuff), and then we went to the Buccaneer restaurant and bar for drinks. The town at sunset is magnificent. Our bartender was Chrystal with a Ch. She’s lived here her whole life. Then, we met Patricia, who’s older. Children weren’t in her cards. We had some good stiff drinks before walking home to have dinner with Chrissy. 

A great day!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Welcome 2017, Novel #4, a new beginning in Eleuthera

Book #4: What's it all about?

Next month, I take my first trip to Eleuthera, an "out island" of the Bahamas, with an amazing history. I am researching my fourth novel, currently untitled, but for the sake of this travel adventure aspect of my blog, we'll call it The Preacher's Cave. It was in 1684 that Captain Sayles and his band of Puritans sailed west from Bermuda in search of greater religious freedom, only to shipwreck off the coast of Eleuthera on a reef called the Devil's Backbone. Sayles named the island after the Greek word for freedom: "Eleuthero." 

The island's original inhabitants, the Lucayan Indians, had been forced into slavery 100 years prior and taken to work the gold and silver mines in South America by the Spanish. Thus, the island was empty when Sayles and the others shipwrecked.

The Preacher's Cave, Eleuthera
I became interested in Eleuthera after reading a non-fiction book on the fate of 60,000 British citizens/loyalists who supported British rule during the American Revolution. The British supporters were forced to leave America following the revolution. Some went to England, an unfamiliar country for most. Many went to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, but those who wanted to keep their slaves (plantation owners) chose to attempt life in the Bahamas. Because they had lost their land and possessions, they thought that they should keep their slaves. Of course, the Bahamas is mostly rock, and not suitable for the kind of farming the southerners wanted.

Nothing would be easy for the loyalists. First, they decided to settle in British-owned Northern Florida. This land was ideal for them, but then King George, whom they had vehemently supported, gave Florida to the Spanish King in exchange for Gibraltar so these American Loyalists felt trapped. They were Americans without their America. 

My novel is about the dispossession of women, all women, but in particular, an African woman, Mbali, her slave name Mary. When Mbali is sold in Savannah, she curses her owners, praying to her gods that they lose everything, their land and loved ones, how she has. When her owners are forced from their land, their loved ones forever changed by the revolutionary war, her prayer has come to fruition. What fate, what reversal of fortune awaits Mbali in Eleuthera? 

Friday, February 5, 2016

How the birth of my son changed my life as a writer, & 5 tips for making it work

I even had another MFA student tell me that I couldn’t do both--motherhood and novelist.  “You can’t have it all,” he said. 


After my son was born, I realized that my former view of the world was incomplete.  I had only thought about my characters from the perspective of the child, but after I had my son, I understood the fears and complexities of motherhood.  I had never loved another person as much as I loved my son.  I was terrified of what the world might do to him.  I understood “mama bear”.  I understood that I had to protect him, that he was my responsibility.  I revised my first novel manuscript with this new perspective.  Mind you, before his birth, this ms. had been rejected by hundreds of agents, and it took me a long time to fully understand and revise the book based on the gravity and miracle of this new perspective.  (I hardly had time to take a shower.) 

My revised novel had a depth and perspective that had been lacking in earlier drafts.  
            My son opened my eyes.  He made me a better writer and human being.  I remember first talking to an agent in 2006, walking back and forth with him in my arms, hoping that maybe this agent would be the one.  (She would be, but not for another two years!  ... long story, and lots of rejections along the way.)  

When I got my first book deal, my son was just three, and we were
Fun in NYC with my former editor, Sarah Knight.
at the beach together.  He was screaming, "Yay, Mom!"  We spent a lot of time at the library, so he was thrilled at the idea of seeing my book in our library.  (As was I.)  Then, we went to New York City and he met my editor.  That was pretty amazing!  At my first book-launch party, he came up on stage with me while I read from The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.  Today, he's a voracious reader and creative writer in his own right.  At ten years old, he's gotten to meet scores of writers; he's also had the opportunity to listen to panels on setting, character, and everything in between... and he enjoyed it.  He also read my second novel, Above Us Only Sky, and I'm relieved to say that he liked it.  Having my son read one of my novels is a "pinch me" thing.  Unbelievable.  
         My second novel, Above Us Only Sky, is dedicated to him.  He gave me new eyes with which to see the world.
            I had thought and I'd been told that motherhood would be a hurdle to being a successful novelist.  I even had another MFA student tell me that I couldn’t do both.  “You can’t have it all,” he said.  "You won't be able to do it."  He was wrong.  I can.  So can you!  Today, I'm published, and he's not.  Today, I balance the worlds of writer and mom.  They’re intertwined. There is nothing better than being my amazing son's mom, and I wouldn’t be the writer I am if it weren’t for him.  

Five Practical Tips for Being Mom and Writer
1. It seriously does take a village.  In order to write, I had to leave my house so that I wouldn't be distracted by everything: even if someone was watching my son, I'd start thinking about laundry and dishes and the two-hundred other things I needed to accomplish.  

Find a quiet retreat.  I had some neighbors who let me work in their house while they were at work.  It was free.  I was a half block from home, and I didn't have to buy anything or reek of coffee to work there.

2.  Don't beat yourself up.  You can only do so much, and your baby is only going to be a baby for so long.  It goes by way too fast.  Chances are, you won't be able to write every day, maybe not every week, and that's okay.  Family comes first!

3.  Whether you have postpartum depression OR you're the
happiest new mom on the block, make some mom friends.  Seek them out.  You'll sift through and find some keepers, and those keepers will end up saving you in a million ways, and if you're like me, your friendships will last a lifetime.  As your child gets older, maybe all the kids will have a playdate at Kim's house, and the next day, it's your house, and the next day it's Annie or Marie's house.  The fact is that you'll have some time to write, and your son or daughter will have lifelong friends.

4.  When you have time to yourself, WRITE.  Don't do the dishes.  You can do those later.  Don't write bills.  Do those later.  You're the ultimate multi-tasker.  You know it!  You got this!

5.  As a professor once told me: If you only write one page a day, you've written 365 pages that year.  That's a novel.  Don't stress.  Write.  Revise. Query.  Repeat.  Write.  Revise.  Query.  Repeat.    

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year: the birth of THE BOOK; OBX oddities and observations

Drum roll, Christopher!  (Santa brought him drums for Christmas.)

In less than two months, ABOVE US ONLY SKY, will be born into the world: March 3, 2015.
Coincidentally, my son was also born on March 3, but in 2005.

You can preorder the book through any of your favorite Independent Bookstores: I like Downtown Books in Manteo, NC, Island Books in KDH, NC, and Chop Suey Books in Richmond, VA.

Book Launch Party
March 1, 2015
Big-Ass Book Launch Party, 2-5 pm, Northside Grille, Bellevue Avenue, Richmond, 23227; this is your chance to buy the book two days before it's available to anyone else.  Go Indie!

And whoop whoop: For a full list of upcoming book events, like my April 2nd signing at Downtown Books in Manteo, check my website:  

OBX OBSERVATIONS: As I enter my third year living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I have many observations to share.
PBR is NOT just the official beer of Richmond, VA.  People here drink the shit out of the stuff.
For some unknown reason, Food Lions down here are currently selling Red Stripe beer for $8.99 a twelve pack.
There is a magic mailbox at one of the public beach accesses for letters, prayers, and hopeful wishes.
The Jolly Roger is open 365 days a year.
There are itty bitty ducks who stop here during their migration in Dec. and January.
We have snowy owls and white pelicans.
If you're a tourist, don't be a dick about it.  Those of us who live here, live here on purpose.  Be friendly.  Drive safely.  You're on vacation.  Take a chill pill.  K? K?
Look up.  The stars are spectacular.
Beach Clean-Up is for everybody, everyday!
My #1 observation is that everyone on the OBX is equal.  The semi professional surfer is no better than the young woman cleaning your room at the Ramada.  She used to be a business executive.  There is equal footing in the sand.  Get your feet wet, stay a while.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right!!!!!!!!!"

The tourists are back, and this year with their arrival, I have also received my FIRST PASS Pages for my novel, ABOVE US ONLY SKY.

This is the final step before the book goes to print for the first time for the Advanced Reader copies, also known as galleys.  These first soft printings will be sent to independent booksellers and other important folk in the book industry.  We'll also be hoping to garner reviews from other novelists and reviewers.

I still do not have a set publication date, but we should have galleys soon, and I am looking forward to enjoying this summer.  Relaxing, working on something new!!!

This is my third year living at the beach.
I have finally become a "summer loving" girl.  When I write

on the beach, I am really focused, my mind is clear (unless some asshole is blaring a boom box or climbing on a sand dune or flicking cigarette butts on the sand).  But when it's good and clean and pure, it's phenomenal.  I guess that "clean" is the word.  I can focus.  Clear my cluttered mind.  Ahhhh.

READ MORE ABOUT Above Us Only Sky at

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Tourists Are Gone (mostly). The symbiotic relationship of a tourist destination.

That is my handsome son catching a small ride on Labor Day afternoon.

I was so excited, anticipating an uncrowded beach on Monday afternoon, as most of the kiddies have to go back to school the day after Labor Day, and boy oh boy, I was not disappointed.

I ran down to the water screaming, "I got my beach back!"

I like living in a tourist destination because if it weren't for the tourists driving to the Outer Banks from locales as far away as Kansas, we'd have no economy.  All summer, I meet visitors from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia (of course), Ohio and even New Mexico.    I've met tourists from France and other European countries.  It's amazing how far people travel to experience where I get to live!

Those of us who live in the OBX have a symbiotic relationship with the tourists.  We need them to come here and spend their hard earned dollars, and they need us to cook their food, take them deep-sea fishing, ring their groceries, and clean their hotel rooms.  

Today, most of the tourists are gone.  The beaches that were five families deep from dune to wave, are crowded with sand and birds.  It is incredible!