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

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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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Posted in Accidents of Marriage, My Opinionated Self, Reading | Leave a comment

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
Posted in Books, Mothers, Reading | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

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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The Reader-Writer Covenant


What is the relationship between reader and writer? I’ve been a reader for far more hours of my life than I’ve been a writer. As a child, I made twice-weekly trips to the Kensington branch of the Brooklyn library nearest my home (my haul each time limited by the rules for children’s cards.) Writers were gods to me, purveyors of that which I needed for sustenance. Food. Shelter. Books. Those were my life’s priorities.

Naturally, I liked some books more than others. Some of the books I read as a child etched themselves on my soul (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). I felt as if these books reached inside me and wrenched out truth.

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Posted in My Opinionated Self, Writing | 5 Comments

Fiction From Emotional Fact


A parent’s tragedy will always influence the life of their children—often to an overwhelming degree. Writing fiction from the emotional truth of one’s past can be liberating and also confusing. How do writers use their past without being wedded to events as they happened? How do we write honestly, without spilling family secrets that other’s want kept private?

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Data dump
Posted in Books, Domestic Violence, Family, Writing | Leave a comment

Writerly Etiquette

As I waited for my first novel to launch, I was told by the experienced:

1) “Don’t expect to get on Oprah.” (I wasn’t.)
2) Waiting for launch was “the quiet before the quiet.” (Hey, thanks for depressing me!)
3) “You don’t need to spend money on an outside publicist.” (Very glad I ignored that one.)

And my very super favorite warnings:

4) “Don’t get too excited.” and “Don’t pay attention to reviews or Amazon numbers.” (To which I should have answered: “And where should I get the lobotomy?)

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blue book of social usage
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“Ask The Author” for Independent Bookstore Day at Papercuts

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Have a question—about anything?
Publishing? Love? Finding an Agent? Best Mascara? What Tie to Wear?
I’m yours for an hour
And the questions can be anonymous!

I must give out the whiff of “yes, let me tell you what to do!” each time I leave the house. Or even when I don’t. (My daughters will attest to this.) That must be why Papercuts, the newest Independent Bookstore in town, right here in my Jamaica Plain, Boston neighborhood asked me to be their anonymous (you, not me) “Dear Abby” for Indie Bookstore day.

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ask the author chicken 2
Posted in bookstore, promotion, Writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Book Club of the Week: Hickory Stick Bookshop

Hickory Stick Bookshop

While not a typical book club, per se, after having the great good luck to be invited to two of their intimate author luncheons, all I can say is: Yes! Yes! Yes! Owner Fran Keilty of The Hickory Stick Bookshop has designed a perfect marriage of delicious food, great readers and hungry authors. What else does together so well? (Yes, after being alone in our sweat pants, eating cereal and milk for as many as three meals a day (oops, is that only me? TMI?) what could make me happier than a bookstore in a gorgeous setting in Connecticut, artfully prepared real food and talking to sharp fun women who love to read?

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Hickory Stick Bookshop
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Book Club of the Week: Club Red in Braintree

Club Red in Braintree MA

Club Red in Braintree MA

One of the best parts of being an author is getting to eat cake . . . wait a minute, I meant visiting book groups. Who also happen to have the best cake, gossip, wine & ideas for new books to read. Of course, when I meet with a group by Skype I don’t get to drink the wine, but I do get to be invited into beautiful living rooms all over the country.

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