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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Raised by Books

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn_

Perhaps every insatiable reader has a book so thoroughly imprinted at a vulnerable age, that they carry those characters like family of the heart forever. Some marked me for horror. IN COLD BLOOD assured I’d never stay alone in a country house. Others taught me about the awful mixes of fear, revulsion, and sadness we can barely tolerate, like OUR GUYS, by Bernard Lefkowitz, a book which assured I’d look at any boy my daughters dated with more judgment than I wanted.

And some taught me faith in the future.

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The Ben Chart

wheel with ben font


From Accidents of Marriage. Read an excerpt here.


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How To Use Critique & Advice


When it comes to criticism from my writer’s group, I need to hear or read the same idea two, three, or four times before I can incorporate it into my work-in-progress. Months after arguing with my fellow writers, (so blind! so ignorant!) I re-read their notes and am struck by wisdom where I formerly saw idiocy.

How do you decide what to keep and what to leave behind from critiques? One sure bet is the power of all yea or nay. I can’t say it any better than Stephen Koch did in A Guide to the Craft of Fiction:

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Writer’s Groups: Don’t Drink and Read

Randy with wine glass vignette boosted cropped

“No child could possibly be happy about her father moving out!”

The above was said to me at a writing workshop, in a discussion about my then unpublished novel (it eventually became The Murderer’s Daughters.) The ‘child’ in question lived with a selfish, sarcastic, angry mother and an oft-drunk “mooning around” father. In the questioned scene this 10-year-old protagonist voices guilty relief at finding a less troubling atmosphere after her father moved out. A workshop member, adamant in his belief that no child would ever feel relief at her father leaving the house, expressed insistence bordering on disbelief (that I would write such an emotion)! bordering on disdain (that I would be able to dredge up such an emotion)!

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How Besteller Lists Are Made, Authors, & A Bit of Crazy


“My agent and editor started talking about ‘the list’ from the start, virtually ensuring that I’d consider myself a failure if I didn’t make it. At first, when they talked about it, I didn’t even know what “the list” was—didn’t know there was truly only one ‘list.’

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Ray Bradbury 

The New York Times Bestseller list (AKA “the list”) is the writer’s holy grail. Despite being rife with methodology that many claim to comprehend, but none can swear to understanding; despite not being a measure of selling the most books, but of selling the most books that week at those stores, every author wants the honor.

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Debut Books by Writers Over 40

(first published in 2011)

Originally, I tried to resist writing this—especially after my plea against categorizing authors.  Plus, so many of us hide our age in this world of never-get-old, unearthing this information, even in our Googlized world, was difficult.

But when , along with the plethora of lists of writers under 40, I was faced with the declaration that, as headlined in a Guardian UK article about writers, ‘Let’s Face It, After 40 You’re Past It.”

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Micro-Inequality: Why Review Equality Matters


The first time I looked for a job, Help Wanted was divided into three sections: Men, Women, and General. If memory serves me (I doubt it) men’s jobs were the professional ones, women’s were the handmaiden ones, and general included dishwashers and drivers.

Trust me, the career paths were separate and not equal.

I remembered those categories while writing this post (which I wish I wasn’t writing) when I came across the terms microinequity and micro-affirmation, first coined by Mary Rowe, who defined micro-inequities as “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different.’”

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Soothing Words For Bad Reviews


It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

For every moment of awe a writer has at seeing her book on a shelf, at being told by readers they found comfort they found in your words, for each time you visit a warm and loving book club, there come the time when you read the word “blech” in a reader’s review. It’s part of the business and there’s no answer except chocolate and wine. It hurts. Writers from NYT bestsellers to just-on-the-shelves authors must find ways to soothe themselves through the pain.

I come bearing brownies and a shot of tequila. The comfort needed for times when nothing but schadenfreude will do. I would offer mead to Shakespeare, had he lived in the time of Amazon and read this review of Romeo and Juliet:

As far as I’m concerned, the only good thing about “Romeo and Juliet” is that it spawned the plot for “West Side Story,” which, although laden with cheese, doeshighlight some of the more noble facets of the human character (along the less noble) and features some wonderful music. “Romeo and Juliet” will, however, simply annoy anyone with half a brain.”

A newly published author-friend privately spilled her horror (to a group of not-surprised writers) when, after a spate of reader-love, she found this on a popular book site: “To those who loved this book, may we never meet on subway, train, or plane.”

Shock usually follows the first angry reader review. I don’t think they’re as hurtful as critical professional reviews, but they go where NYT reviewers would never tread.

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Food and Loathing and Hamper Cookies

beach kids

Everyone hates a fat woman. Or is it that a fat woman thinks everyone hates her? Or does a fat woman simply hate herself?

As someone who’s measured her worth in dress sizes, waistbands, and, when in the midst of bravery, the hard-core truth of pounds, I’ve felt all of the above. We are a harsh country, filled with both self-loathing and a Calvinist push towards walking off, dieting away, running away from, and when all else fails, surgically sucking out unwanted fat.

Do men suffer as women do? I’m not sure. I don’t think so, not as much—not when fat men on screen are allowed to bed and wed women as lovely as Katherine Heigl. I think being fat is painful for men. I simply don’t think they’re as reviled; they need to climb far higher up the scale to merit as much hate as heavy women.

I recently re-read (even re-bought, when I couldn’t find my copy) Food and Loathing by Betsy Lerner. From far too young, Lerner’s existence rested on her body size—real and perceived. The book begins thusly:

“It is 1972. I am twelve years old. It is the first day of sixth grade, and I am standing in the girls’ gymnasium waiting to be weighed.”


If your flesh doesn’t crawl with those words, if you don’t want to either go running for a cream cheese smothered bagel, or conversely, vow to stop eating as of tomorrow, this book will still

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Posted in Books, Family, My Life, My Opinionated Self | 15 Comments