Seeing Themes & Obsessions In Novels

Close-up of a pencil drawing on a computer monitor

“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”–Frida Kahlo

Writers often don’t recognize their own embedded themes until after writing “the end”–and sometimes not even then. True revelations are often handed to us by reviewers, book clubs, and Goodreads. Only by looking back do we recognize our sore spots and consistent curiosity.

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Novels About Novelists

Does everyone have sub-genres within genres for which they hold an unusual fondness?

I can’t resist a good infidelity story (really, can anything beat Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow?) I can rarely refuse the intricacies of inter-racial love (Meeting of the Waters by Kim Mclarin,) or a memoir about substance abuse (Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. I treasure reading about the layers of an unknown (to me) culture (A Fine Balance by Rohintin Mistry) or the heartbreak of emigrants navigating a new world (my current audio/car book is Shanghai Sisters by Lisa See,) but for a real roll in schadenfreude reading, I pick up a juicy novel about novelists.

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My Father Bought Me Pretty Shoes

dad 3

I dreaded Father’s Day as a child. Every year (during those far less aware days) we were asked to make a card for our father as a classroom project. My father died when I was nine, so from that day forward I made cards for my grandfather, embarrassed by my lack.

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Chris Cooper Reading Scene From “Accidents of Marriage” at Fundraiser

Last night, at a fundraiser for AccesSportAmerica, inspired by Madelyn Bronitsky, Oscar-winnng actor, Chris Cooper, read a scene from “Accidents of Marriage.” (Hosted by Bella Luna Restaurant in Jamaica Plain, with the sponsorship of Papercuts JP and Westwinds Bookshop.

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Launch Day: ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE In Paperback

best of summer reads 2015 great thoughts

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Waiting for Xanax

1-RSM 9 (1)

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Madelyn & Madeline: When A Character Pops Out Of Your Book

fundraiser-access 2

There’s a reason more people understand the Holocaust from The Diary of Ann Frankthan from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Story. Since the cave man days we’ve learned more history through storytelling than textbooks. I know I have.

Writing a novel that includes social, health or political issues carries great responsibility. We want our audience to learn as they’re immersed in the story; those of us writing hot-button issues are impassioned. We want to write a compelling story. And then there is the third, equally important point of the triangle. We must be unflinchingly honest and also empathic with the characters carrying our banners. We must represent for the people who experienced in real life what we put on paper.

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Homemade MFA


(originally published in 2011)

How did you get published? Do you have an MFA?” a reader asked last week. I struggled for the right answer—how to tell her that, no, I don’t have an MFA, but still, I credit being published on other people’s teaching.

A number of years ago (about ten to be inexact) I faced reality. If I were to be taken seriously by publishers and agents, I had to work with more intent. For a number of reasons (money, reluctance, working 50+ hours a week, and hyper-impatience with lectures) I didn’t return to school. Instead, I dove into self-study and set myself up as a virtual Miss Grundy.

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JESSE, A MOTHER’S STORY: A Ferocious and Raging Love

I started Jesse, A Mother’s Story twice.

The stark beauty of this memoir hit me the moment I began. Marianne Leone’s narrative, written with an unrelenting immediacy, yanked me into her world.

Leone’s son Jesse owned me from his first moment on the page. By the end of the prologue, Leone had so engaged me that I put it aside. Because I knew how it would end. Because I was a coward. I’d already fallen in love with the family and I needed to build up courage to continue.

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jesse a mother's story
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Give Mom Some Schadenfreude for Mother’s Day!

Two years ago ago, at an event at the incredibly wonderful Reading Public Library (in Reading Massachusetts) one of the librarians bought my second novel book, The Comfort of Liesfor her mother. For Mother’s Day. Using a large amount of not-usually-available-to-me control, I didn’t say any of the following:

“Nothing says Mother’s Day like cheating, anger, and hating-being-a-mother for Mother’s Day!”
In fact, that’s true. Who the heck wants to get Little Women on Mother’s Day? Not me. Does anyone want  to psychically compete with Marmee?

No. I. Don’t.
I want to be feted with a pile of books that say:

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