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BETWEEN THE LINES

Homage to book groups

You might think I’m nuts to travel 500 miles to attend a book group discussion, but that’s exactly what I did last week. My friend Rita invited me to join the book group she started eighteen years in the Society Hill/Queen Village/Bella Vista/Washington Square neighborhood of Philadelphia. They were discussing my novel, HOUSE ARREST. I said, “yes, of course. I’d love to.”  Read More 
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The Writing on the Wall

I just finished reading a new novel and it blew me away. Typically when I finish a book I’ve really enjoyed, one I think I might want to blog about, I wait a few days to let my responses marinate, settle. But this book wasn’t typical and I can’t wait to tell you about it.  Read More 
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By the light of a padiddle

After a summer of interruptions, I’m back to my novel-in-progress, trying to satisfy my characters that I’ve returned for real, that I didn’t abandon them. They’re not entirely convinced.

To be honest, I’m not convinced either. I don’t yet know where this novel is going. But I believe in the truth of E.L. Doctorow’s statement, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Unfortunately at the moment my writer-car has a single headlight – a padiddle – and that one is dim.  Read More 
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Two weeks without writing. Yikes.

Vacation is over and I’m home. I didn’t write a word of fiction in two weeks; I can’t remember the last time that happened. Usually I write on vacation. This time, I decided to take a break from my characters. My two delicious grandchildren might have had something to do with that decision.

Instead of writing, I’ve been time travelling - decades back in time - to recapture muscle memories long unused. Like the unconscious sideways sway my body begins the second 12-week-old Abel settles on my chest in the BabyBjorn. How to maintain that baby-sway while cooking a scrambled egg for four-year-old Josie or drinking coffee or checking email on my laptop. Not that we had email back then, of course.  Read More 
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Reading Kingsolver and Chabon

Some books create worlds so complex and multifaceted that it’s difficult to write cogently about them, much less reduce them to three or four or five stars. Sometimes my reactions are complicated too, and take time to sort out. I’m glad I’m not a book reviewer by profession; as a fiction writer, I read novels for enjoyment of course, but also to learn - to deconstruct a compelling voice, make mental notes about an unusual perspective or dissect a clever pacing device.

Recently, I’ve read advance copies (thank you, HarperCollins) of two admirable and complex novels: FLIGHT BEHAVIOR by Barbara Kingsolver and TELEGRAPH AVENUE by Michael Chabon. I’m still chewing on the varied delights offered by both of them, and still second-guessing my criticisms.  Read More 
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Writing for change, and Matthew Shepard

I recently led a workshop called Fiction for Social Change, as part of the Writing the Counter Narrative program at World Fellowship Center. If you’re not familiar with World Fellowship, check it out. It’s an amazing community in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, sort of a progressive summer camp for adults and families. Their motto is “where social justice meets nature,” and that’s a pretty good description.

World Fellowship was a perfect venue for this workshop. Although I’ve taught it before (at the San Miguel Writers Conference in Mexico last year and as a panelist at the 2012 AWP Conference), I continue tinkering with the content – refining the exercises and looking for new examples of exemplary politically-themed work.  Read More 
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All those who wander

This morning I drove from the White Mountains to mid-coast Maine. Not a difficult drive, unless you happen to be geographically challenged. I’m the kind of person who, when someone asks which way to go and I offer an opinion, anyone who knows me goes in the opposite direction. For this trip, my daughter Jenn generously lent me her GPS, plus I have maps, and a mapquest app on my phone. Using all these tools and suggestions from Robby (who was born with a GPS hard-wired in his brain), I chose my favorite kind of route, mostly two lane roads meandering through small towns and countryside. Still, I was worried about getting lost.  Read More 
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Need inspiration? Read.

One evening recently I received a long email from my wonderful agent, with more suggestions about revisions to my manuscript. I admit I was disappointed; I’d thought I’d nailed it on the last draft and we were done. Guess not.

So I proceeded to my usual two-humped process when receiving this kind of feedback. The first hump is, "No way; that doesn’t make sense." But my agent is smart and savvy, and after thinking about it, I had to agree that most of her recommendations do make sense. The second hump is, "Omigod, I can’t do that. I’m not smart enough, talented enough." That hill is harder to climb.  Read More 
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Recent reads and her perfect reader

It’s been a busy month since I last posted a blog – a month that included several writing-related events, major revisions to my “finished” manuscript, attending Book Expo America, and welcoming a new grandbaby to our family. These happenings have interfered with my ability to work on my brand-new manuscript, but they haven’t interrupted my reading. Or trying to think critically about the books I read.

Because the nasty truth about being an unrepentant writer/reader is that you can never just read a book again. I mean just for fun. At least, I can’t. Every book I pick up is irresistibly subjected to the questions I ask myself: Is that opening paragraph both provocative and true to the pact I’m making with the reader? Does the narrative arc take me on a compelling journey? Is the voice one I’m willing to stay with for 300 pages or so?
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Honoring our three mothers

Anne Shaffer Meeropol, 1909 – 1973
Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg, 1915 – 1953
Pauline Taube Diamond, 1918 – 2008

Robby and I have had three mothers, all born in New York, all gone now. Of course, I never met his birth mother; Ethel was executed when Robby was six. But Ethel lives in our family history and in my imagination. I’ve written poems, dramatic programs, and stories about her, trying to find my truth of the woman among the multitudes of others' journalistic and literary interpretations. Robby's adoptive mom, Anne, was the woman who raised him, who I met and loved as his mother. My own mother, dead four years now, returns to me in quick gestures and phrases – sometimes remembered but more often glimpsed in the mirror or heard from my mouth. I’m only now starting to be able to write about her, to transform her into fiction.  Read More 
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