Musing About Writing

Musing About Writing

Joan Donaldson and I met at a book signing in Saugatuck several years ago and since then, knowing her has made me want to be a better writer. Joan is the author of Wedded to the Land: Stories From a Simple Life on an Organic Fruit Farm, On Viney’s Mountain, The Secret of the Red Shoes and other stories. Joan asked me to join the blog hop.

What am I working on now?

My writing style is to work on several manuscripts at a time and when I am stuck with one, move on to the next. This often results in two or more novels being published close together. I might stop working on something that is near completion because I am discouraged, then go back to it later. I have done this three times and each time I am delightfully surprised at how much I like the story.  Right now I am finishing Slow Dancing, a dark piece about a young girl who has a wonderful relationship and secure life with her step-father until the real father she never knew comes to town.  It’s finished in my head but I just need those last paragraphs to come through. Also in the works are Soulmates: Book #8 of the Pam of Babylon Series, A Greektown Wedding: Book #4 of The Greektown Stories, Oh Beautiful, Book #2 of The Saga of Ravenna Morton, Burn District, Memory of the Color Yellow, House to Share, OR Stories and about five more. Slow Dancing will be out soon, and the three series books are next in line in the order I’ve written them here with my goal  to release in the fall.

 

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

It’s different because I wrote it. I feel my writing comes from a part of me that I am not fully in touch with. Today while we were at a party at our son’s house, one of the guests asked me if I write to satisfy what I believe readers want. My answer was that I write what comes from me, not worrying about it being popular. Somehow I have been so blessed to have a following of readers who love my stories and wait for their release and I do think about those readers as I write. But I trust that when I am led to write something different, such as The Liberation of Ravenna Morton, or The Savant of Chelsea, two works that are completely unlike what I usually write, my readers will find something gratifying and will enjoy it and so far, I’ve been right.

Why do I write what I do?

Oh I am so compelled, I don’t have much say over it. The stories come and I put them to paper. It’s either a gift or luck. Sometimes, a theme will develop according to where I am in my own life, and later, I might go back and have to delete a large portion of it, and that’s okay. Giving myself permission to delete has been really good for my books. Another thing is  if my characters yawn a lot, it often means I better stop and go to bed. Same thing if they are eating constantly or I start going into too much detail with the food. In The Greeks of Beaubien Street, I was on a strict diet and the book is full of descriptions of Greek food.

 

How does my writing process work?

As I said, I have several pieces going on at any given time. I am very lucky to be able to write full time. My office is a sanctuary, and if there is anything distracting, I wear noise canceling earphones. We recently moved and my house has a different view of tranquil mountains.  My previous office overlooked my sheep pasture, and now they are both gone. It is so sad to look out and not see the girls. I enjoy sitting with my husband when he is working quietly, but as soon as the conference calls come, I’m outta there. I value note taking . It might be some ideas about a story ending which I’ll write down to add later. Or I’ll take notes as I’m going along about a story line. A reader asked that I provide Character lists since my books always have a dozen or more characters. If there is a family, they might have six kids. I often change names accidentally and thankfully, usually my editor or proofreader catches it. But recently a reader came to the rescue and we quickly fixed the name.  That was a close one!

 

 

 

Mademoiselle

Mademoiselle

mademoiselle

After June 1st, my novella Mademoiselle will be available FREE!! Sign up for my email list to receive more information soon!

Atlas of Women-A collection of short stories

atlasofwomen

Women are the heart of the home. (Unless it’s a home with a man as the heart!) This volume is about women. The stories are a melding of truth from my own experiences and fiction created from both observation and fantasy.

            Mademoiselle, a novella, started out as young adult genre. But as I wrote, Philipa grew up into a young woman who found her way after a short detour, choosing the more difficult path.

            The Golden Boy ended up exactly as I imagined it would. A family deals with a loved one’s mental illness with love and support, but when there is no longer any hope for normalcy; prayer and grace allow them to step aside.

            Tribute to a Dead Friend is my tribute to every woman who’s lost a close friend but continues to be inspired and comforted by her spirit.

            A Night Encounter, currently published on Amazon, is a short story about regrets and self-forgiveness. A daughter’s disrespect borne of sibling rivalry comes back to haunt her in a most unusual and gentle way. As in every work, there are elements of truth in the story, but it is pure fiction. I spent time in my garden last summer, convinced my late mother was there with me. It was a very therapeutic and comforting experience.

            Vapors, selected to appear in Willow Review 2013, is a fantasy in which a wife discovers a way to make her presence known after her husband reveals a painful secret.

Release Date: Summer 2013

 

Guest Post by Pamela Smith

Guest Blog Post by Pamela Smith of Babylon, Long Island, New York

(Note: In memory of Pam’s late husband, Jack Smith the book Pam of Babylon is free on Amazon until May 26th.)

                This weekend will be the three-year anniversary of Jack’s death. Three years since we cancelled our annual Memorial Day picnic, and had a funeral instead.  Amazing how quickly time has passed. I decided to come forward when I heard Mrs. Jenkins was considering writing another book about me and my family. So much has happened since she released Family Dynamics and there’s enough material for several more books. My boyfriend, Dan Chua suggested I write one myself and I’d mentioned it to her. That’s when she offered to give me the platform here on her blog.

I still can’t believe it’s been a year since you last heard from me. We were just planning our annual picnic when Family Dynamics ended. Another Memorial Day is fast approaching, and we are having the picnic this weekend.  It’s so much more than a picnic though. Did you see the video on Youtube yet? You’ll understand what I mean when you see it.  We even had dignitaries here last year, judges and friends of Dan’s in high places.  It’s really that lavish if do say so myself.

                The biggest news is that I’m a grandmother! Lisa gave birth to a little girl, Megan Anne last February. Everything I said about not wanting to raise another child still stands; Lisa is a great mom and I am not that involved with the baby’s day to day care. They are living here at the beach, up in the apartment above the garage.  I make time for Megan when it is convenient for me. I love to babysit her, and since Dan and I are homebodies on the weekend, if Lisa and Ed want to dash out after she’s in her crib for the night, I’m happy to keep an ear open for Megan.

                Lisa and Ed got married right after they found out the news…you know what I mean, in mid June. I’m so afraid Mrs. Jenkins is going to rub that in my face over and over again like she’s known to do. Anyway, it was a small wedding with just the immediate family present. Brent was here anyway because he was going to drive Julie’s car back to Pasadena. My mother and mother-in-law, Sandra and Tom, the Ford’s and Jeff Babcock attended. I didn’t ask my sisters and their families because they’d just been here for the picnic two weeks before.

                Ed’s still teaching in the Bronx, but is searching for a job here on the island and then they’ll look for a house to buy. Dan tried talking him into going to law school, but he doesn’t want to have that much work with the baby here. He’s very involved with her care. His mother and father come often from New Jersey; Megan’s their first grandchild, too. I’m happy to have them here. There’s plenty of room. Mrs. Ford loves the beach and does everything she can to be pleasant and helpful. I keep telling her to relax, but she says she wants to be sure they are invited back. They’re here now for the picnic, upstairs in one of the guest rooms.

                Who can forget Nelda and Bernice? Oh my God, those two are a comedy act. They seem to be getting younger in spirit, except for the more frequent lapses of memory my mother-in-law has. Both of them look great; we had to hire a personal care giver who comes into the home every morning just to primp them. But it’s worth it to maintain their dignity.  We don’t have an elevator in this house, believe it or not, so they’ll be staying down here in the children’s wing for the weekend. I am expecting them to arrive any minute.

                My life has settled down to a dull roar. Dan moved in here with me at the beach, and I have to admit it was a little odd having another man sleeping next to me. We remodeled the bedroom completely so that all traces of my former life with Jack are gone. I’m still not completely comfortable in there yet. Remember, Jack was away all week, so it took some getting used to having someone else around all the time. I’m grateful Dan is very involved in the Native American community here on Long Island, volunteers his services as an attorney and helps at his family’s farm. It gives me some space. I won’t say much about our personal life, but will leave it at…vavavoom!

                Okay, I know you are all wondering about Brent. He and Julie announced their engagement last summer, but then nothing more happened. She moved to California in the fall and then by Christmas, came back home to White Plains. My son doesn’t say much, but he told Lisa and she told me that he realized he didn’t love Julie enough to stay committed to her.  Boy, that was a shocker. They have been together since high school. I called Julie to tell her how sorry I was and that I hoped we could remain friends. The response I got was totally uncalled for. She started screaming at me, said I was to blame for Brent’s “problems” whatever that means, and that I should prepare myself for more shocking news. Then, she hung up on me. I called Brent right away, but he said she’s just angry with him for leading her on for six years, and not to take it personally. That was like a slap in my face. How can you not take it personally when someone says you are to blame for her problems? Anyway, enough about Julie. Brent says he’s going stay single for a good long while to recover from Julie.

                I don’t want to say too much about Sandra because it feels like I’m gossiping. I will say she and Tom are doing wonderfully, baby Miranda is growing fast, bringing the family a lot of joy. Tom’s mother is very involved in her care. Tom’s stepmother, Gwen is a frequent visitor too. Evidently, it takes a lot of balancing on Sandra’s part to keep the two women in Miranda’s life. I know my sister would be so happy to know how well everything is going with her daughter. Now I’m gossiping.

                And the biggest shocker of all is that Peter Romney got married! He met someone during one of the Save the Library campaigns; they hit it off right away and got married within a month. She’s from a wealthy family, lived in the city all of her life, and is just as perfect as Peter is. Confidentially, I thought she was a little dowdy, but maybe that is the only way she can look and stay as pristine as Peter must expect her to be. It appears that he and Sandra are working together well, since I never heard another word about her leaving the company. All I care about is that my check arrives each month.

                I guess that’s all the news I have. I know Mrs. Jenkins will dig through our garbage, looking for more morsels for you. It makes me sick, but I never read her books anyway, so what I don’t know won’t hurt me.

               

Another Interview-Blogcritics

The following interview is one that appeared at www.blogcritics.org during my                                      Book Tour for  The Greeks of Beaubien Street. 

* Taken from their interview questionnaire -More than 100,000 daily visitors rely upon Blogcritics.org — the famously “sinister cabal” of more than 2,500 writers — for the latest news, opinions, and reviews on music, books, film, TV, popular culture, technology, and politics. Blogcritics.org is an online magazine, filtered microcosm of the blogosphere, and a full service news and reviews source, covering all aspects of contemporary culture and society.

 Blogcritics.org is an official Google News and Yahoo News source, syndicates content to online editions of newspapers around the United States via the Advance family of websites, and has won numerous awards, including a Bloggie, Forbes.com’s Best Media Blogs, and was recently showcased on the prestigious AlwaysOn and Technorati “Open Media 100″ list.

If you had to describe your book in two sentences, what would they be?

 Jill’s story is about a strong, Greek American woman who is able to traverse the streets of Detroit, while keeping one foot in the traditions set by her family. She is a no nonsense workaholic with no girlfriends, an odd boyfriend who refuses to grow up, and an uncanny intuition, inherited from her mystic grandmother that acts as her secret weapon to crime solving success.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your current work?

I like the dialogue between Jill’s cousin Andy and his mother, with their thoughts juxtaposed.             

“We’re coming in tomorrow for the market. Want to go with?”  Anna Zannos asked her son.  “You should bring the kids with you.  School will be starting soon and then we won’t see them until Christmas.”  The unspoken, Your wife hates us and doesn’t want her kids influenced by us.

            “We’ll see, Mom.  Dana may have something planned for them.”  The unspoken, Dana and I are on the verge of divorce and making waves with her is the last thing I need to do right now.

             “Maybe next week?  We can wait until next Tuesday to do our shopping, can’t we Papa?”  The unspoken, Your father is almost dead.  He should see his grandchildren one last time.

             “Next week might be better, Mom,” Andy said.  “But don’t change your shopping day for us.”  The unspoken, I would rather poke out my eyes than ask you to shop next week.  Do you think I have a death wish?

           “Then you’ll shop with us tomorrow?” Anna asked.  The unspoken, This is what happens when you have just one child.  Oh God, why are you punishing me?

         “Sure, I’ll shop with you tomorrow. I need to go for the store anyway.”  The unspoken, Why is God punishing me?  Why didn’t they have more than one kid?

           Andy hugged his silent, long-suffering father and gave his mother a kiss goodbye.  His parents were young, his father was just sixty-seven and still as virile as when he was a young man, and Anna was only sixty.  She acted like they were ready to die. 

What are five important things that you take into consideration while writing your story?

1. I try to make at least one quality about a character likable.

2. I ask myself if the story be as interesting if I left a certain character out? Or event?

3. As much as I try not to censor myself when I write, I don’t want to be completely insulting to anyone. For instance, in The Greeks of Beaubien Street, Jill has a brother with Down Syndrome. I have a sister with mental retardation. I had to be really careful when adding some painful truths. It was a fine line to traverse.

4. Do I know enough about a topic to make it realistic without spending a year researching? I love people who share their expert knowledge.

5. Although I realize I’m writing fiction, I don’t want it to be so off the wall that it becomes sci-fi. For instance, the Detroit in The Greeks of Beaubien Street is a conglomeration of the Detroit of my youth, in the 1950’s and 60’s, and post riot Detroit. I haven’t been there in thirty years, so it really is a product of my imagination.

 What was the turning point when you realized you wanted to write and share your voice with the world?

 I was lucky enough to be at a place where there was no long any excuse not to write.

What genres do you prefer to read?  Which do you enjoy writing in?

 I love Contemporary Fiction. My favorite authors are Pearl Buck, Paul Theroux, Maeve Binchy and PD James. I definitely prefer to write fiction, although I am writing craft based how to books and that is fun.

What five things would you have with you at all times if you had to be prepared to take a trip at the drop of a hat? Rune stones, computer, makeup, bra, toothbrush.

Writing from my Altar

Writing from my Altar

The following is a repost of the guest post I wrote for the Bunny’s Review as part of my book tour with Orangeberry Book Tours for my latest book,The Greeks of Beaubien Street. Watch for the sequel, The Princess of Greektown, soon. You can read an excerpt here.

 

When I first began to write full-time, I did so at the dining table. My laptop was across from my husband, who also works from home. This setting worked fine for two years. We were both quiet, the only distraction coming from our dogs when they wanted a bone or from the wildlife outside our windows when it was time to refill the bird feeders or put more corn out for the deer in the wintertime. My ideas were flowing so quickly that it wasn’t an issue if he had a conference call or an unexpected visitor or the UPS man interrupted me.  Then reality hit.

I began to write a book that required research and concentration. If my husband was having a business discussion with his partner, I lost my train of thought. If the dogs wanted attention, I got frustrated. It seemed that the most minor of annoyances could throw me completely off track and I would forget what I was writing. It was time for a private office. Leaving my husband and the wildlife view was difficult. There was a small, empty room at the front of the house; if I got lonely, we could yell to each other. The dogs could come and go. I decided I had to position my mother’s large old farm table in front of the window facing my sheep pasture. I put two bird feeders close by so I could watch the birds. Occasionally in the spring, wild turkeys pass across the lawn with their babies. It’s very tranquil.

Items I love began to find their way to my tabletop. Ancient sepia photos of my grandparents and parents grace the background, along with those of beloved dogs now gone to the big kennel in the sky. A hand-thrown pottery cookie jar filled with dog bones sits in one corner next to a clear bowl of sea glass my Aunt Von collected out of the water off the village of Capitola in Santa Cruz County.  My owl collection includes pieces from my mother’s antique shop and gifts from my friend, Betty. I have a small bronze sculpture of a naked girl kneeling; I bought it for my dad and my mom gave it back to me when he died. From my daughter Jennifer, a pendant of Saint Anne, the patron saint of grandmothers and from my son Andy, a candle bought for Mother’s Day when he was fourteen.  A nest my friend Cate knit with five knitted Robin-egg blue eggs is treasured.

Things I love began to find their way to my desktop, which was reminding me more and more of an altar. The process of writing is almost worshipful, meditative. You must pull thought from the back of your mind and put it into words another human can make sense of. Doing so, and knowing that not everyone will find the same meaning in your collection of words is both intimidating and egocentric. I’m not sure if making an altar of my desk was intentional or accidental. I may have hoped it would help me be more successful at the task of writing. However, I think its real purpose is to comfort me. It’s a scary proposition to put it all out there. Writers know what they are inviting; criticism, ridicule, shame even. But it’s a compulsion. There is a story to tell and I must tell it. I’d asked myself at one time, “now Suzie, who is going to care about this?” It’s vanity, thinking a series of narratives compiled of some childhood boogeymen are worthwhile reading.

So the writing-table becomes a sort of combination spring-board/cocoon. I am alternately withholding/expounding, hiding/exposing.  Someday, I hope to make up my mind.  I keep waiting for someone to have me arrested for writing tales that should be kept under wraps. My office is a safe haven for a dangerous occupation.

photo(81)

*Please let me know where your favorite place to read and write is. I would love to hear about it. I remember loaning a book out years ago, and my friend called me up, laughing. She wanting to know if I’d been eating pistachios while I was reading. Embarrassed, I had to say yes; the book was full of tell-tale pistachio detritus. In my youth, I used to plan a reading binge to coincide with a snack binge. Now, in my old age, I can’t afford the calories. As a writer, reading fiction is a luxury, but when I find a writer who’s captured my attention, I love it.

Orangeberry Tour Spring

Here’s an interview I did with Peace from Pieces.  Support this wonderful blog when you can. The books presented in addition to The Greeks of Beaubien Street look fabulous….I already bought three today.
Tell us a bit about your family. I was brought up in a Greek/American household in the Detroit suburbs. My mother came from a family of English origin, and my dad was born in the United States to Greek immigrants. My Greek great-grandfather was a published poet and lived here in west Michigan where I now live. I might have inherited my interest in writing from him. Both of my children are a combination of artist and techy, like their parents. Both write.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why? Definitely, my favorite quote about writing is by E.L. Doctorow. “Writing is like driving a car at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” It validated me when I was a new writer and a well-meaning editor told me I should have an outline of my book before I started to write. I often sit down at my desk without knowing what the next chapter will be until I begin to write it. I’m finding the more I write, the more I am able to foresee some of the action in a story.
How did you come up with the title of your book? Titles are so important and I am a little regretful of title for The Greeks of Beaubien Street. It doesn’t tell you anything about Jill and what an intriguing woman she is; a Detroit homicide detective who is a rarity in her field because she is Greek and city raised. I liked the idea of using the main street in Greektown in the title, but then discovered no one knows what it means unless they are from Detroit. So the title might be too regional.
Can you tell us about your main character? Jill Zannos is a strong, somewhat independent woman. She is smart, fearless and self-confident. But she is also a loner; her police officer partner is her only friend. Jill stayed in a dysfunctional love relationship until her aunt exposed a family secret. Knowing the truth about her family gave Jill the courage to leave her lover when she discovered more about him. She is also a mystic but her gifts don’t seem to work in her personal life. I wanted to include more about how she used her intuition to solve crimes and will do so in the third book.
Why did you choose to write this particular book? Greektown represented what was Greek about me. We didn’t go to the Greek Church or socialize with other Greeks after my grandmother died and most of my family left Michigan for California. After that, going to Greektown to shop with my father and then preparing the food we bought was all that was Greek about my life. I wanted to extend my memories in a way that would make them more interesting to the reader, so the fiction drama was developed. But I was compelled to include some of my own memories in the story; the vignette about the roasting lamb’s heads is a true experience of mine as a child. It used to scare me to death! And there are a few other true incidents but I’ll let the reader try to guess what is real and what is fictional. I realize so much backstory is not for everyone.
What was the hardest part about writing this book? Wow, that bathtub scene. I was creeped out that I could think up something like that, but it was a perfect foible in contrast to their white picket fence life. It was shocking. I almost took it out because of its perversity, but ARC readers said to keep it.
How do you promote this book? I am a serial promoter! It’s a constant. I love the virtual tour genre like the Orangeberry Spring Fling. It gives me something to tweet about, and to promote on my website and Facebook page. When I’m asked to write for another blog, I jump at the chance. Anything that will link back to my books on Amazon, I do. It’s the responsibility of the self-published author because no one else will do it for you.
Have you started another book yet? I have. The sequel to The Greeks of Beaubien Street; The Princess of Greektown, should be ready this summer 2013. I’m also writing a book about a woman who is going in search of her late mother’s birth parents; no title for that one yet.
What are your current writing projects now? I’m writing a series of short “how to” booklets teaching dyeing. I’ve been a textile artist since the 1970’s and decided to share how I do it. The first is on natural dyeing with plants and weeds from the yard.
I’m also working on short stories. They are very satisfying; you can take an idea that might not be meaty enough to make a complete novel and develop it quickly.
 
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life? My kids, of course!  Personal achievement; probably going to nursing school. And it is both a positive and a negative. I always wanted to be a nurse, and I finally did it at age forty-two.
Everyday when I sit at my desk in my office with a cup of coffee and turn my computer on, all I can do is say how grateful I am that I get to write full time and don’t have to worry about killing anyone anymore.
 
What’s your favorite place in the entire world? My house. I love my office, too. I write at an old farm table that belonged to my late mother. It’s positioned at a window, and I gaze out at my sheep in the pasture when I take a break.
 
How has your upbringing influenced your writing? I think my life experiences; moving around the country with my husband, being Greek and the sibling of a mentally retarded sister have given me a broader view.
 
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I started writing little stories when I was a small child. I took creative writing in high school, but was awful at it. Finally, at age 45 I had an idea for a book that I had to investigate further.
 
When and why did you begin writing? My husband invited me to go on a business trip with him to New Orleans in 1985. I was both intrigued and worried about the horses that pull the buggies around the French Quarter. I set out to write a children’s book, but it reminded me too much of Mr. Ed, the talking TV horse. So I switched it around to an adult mystery and over a twenty-five year period, wrote a very dark book about New Orleans. I doubt if I’ll ever publish it.
 
What genre are you most comfortable writing? I like contemporary women’s fiction, because I like writing about emotions and the deepest feelings and those are things many women are comfortable with.  I never thought I’d write anything else, but then I started writing a science fiction story and now I’m working on a historical romance, sort of. I really like it.
 
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? The most difficult part about writing for me is keeping my time sequence in order. It’s a real struggle. A reviewer once said that I “didn’t miss a beat, everything was so smooth” in Prayers for the Dying, a story which covers a lot of territory. So my efforts in that regard are working.
 
Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it? I did recently have what I now think was writer’s block. I just couldn’t think of one thing to write about. So while I was in the slump, I marketed my books and tried to blog, although I didn’t like anything I wrote. Finally, I had to write a few guest blog posts. I was assigned a topic which was very helpful. Once I started to write, it just flowed again.
 
Do you have any specific last thoughts that you want to say to your readers? Just keep writing. Try not to place too much importance on the critics. You aren’t writing for them. Once you find your voice, the audience will follow. That’s key.

What’s On the Agenda?

Every morning, I get a text message from my sister Liz, asking me this question. Since our mother died, I’m her go to person when she’s making her morning list of things to accomplish. Our mother was a list maker since I can remember, and when she died eighteen months ago, Liz found many of her lists with check-marks next to items, ticked off as she finished a task.

Our mother was Liz’s best friend. Liz stayed at home until she got married. She and her husband built a house next door to mom, and for the next twenty-five years, they shared all the fun experiences truly good friends share, antiquing on the top of the list,  and some of the mundane; grocery shopping, doctor appointments, etc.  They were also business partners for twenty years, running first a successful brick and mortar retail shop that segued into an online store.

I can’t imagine the trauma of losing your mother, your best friend, and your business partner, all in the same day. But my sister is a tough cookie. And she’s a realist, and I think that helped her overcome crushing grief. She just got up every morning and got to work.  We come from a long line of workaholics, I might add.

I’m a poor substitute for my mom because I live too far from Liz to be a companion, I really don’t like to shop, and since I’m eleven years older than she is, I’m looking to downsize and cut back, and she’s at the most productive time in a woman’s life.

When you’re fifty years old, you still have almost your entire life ahead of you! (That’s how it looks at age sixty-two.) You still have plenty of time to go back to school, (I had a classmate in nursing school who was fifty.) and make it worthwhile. Fifty is a great age to do what you want because children are becoming independent and taking care of them is no longer as all-consuming as it once was. Even if you still work full-time as I did, you start thinking about what you’d like to do with the rest of your life.

When she asks me what’s on the agenda?, I always say the same thing. I’m writing and marketing. Or as it sometimes happens, marketing and writing. I have a list of things in my mind that I want to write, or re-edit, or blog about, that’s a thousand lines long. Taking time from my agenda to grocery shop, or do Facetime with my grandson, or even take a walk with my husband, is a sacrifice from my writing.  I’ll be at what I think is a critical place in a story, and my husband will come into my office and interrupt me to get my opinion on something.  Or he’ll ask me if I’d like to go out to lunch and I’ll refuse the invite because I’m at what I perceive as a critical point in a story.

A few nights ago, Cindy Crawford was on Oprah’s Master Class. I have to admit I was laying in bed near comatose, and the television was still on. The first things that came out of Cindy Crawford’s mouth caused me to sit up and listen. It was worth an hour of my time to watch her. But one of the last things she said really caught my attention. Because of my failing memory, I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was about being present.

I thought about how disrespectful it was that I would even begin to put a stupid piece of fiction ahead of my husband or my children. I have a friend who calls me and then looks at her email, or has a conversation with someone else in her house, all while I am hanging on the phone. It is so annoying that unless I have time to waste, I won’t talk to  her during a work day. It suddenly occurred to me that I was doing the same thing to my family. I was putting them last. Last night, my husband took me out to dinner and I asked him to forgive me. He was so gracious, as he always is, and told me to stop being dramatic. But I meant it from the bottom of my heart.

Women are givers. We give our entire life, many of us, to caring for others. We plan their food, make sure they have clothes to wear, keep their spaces neat and clean. We go off to jobs we might not be thrilled with to support them, or help make ends meet. I remember as a young mother, having a cousin who insisted on saying every time we were together in a family gathering, “Poor Suzie has to work to put food on the table.” It was hardly that bad, people! My husband was a college student after he got home from Vietnam and we both worked like dogs for our family and to meet our goals.

When my kids left home and life eased up a little bit, I gradually rid my life of what wasn’t working and wholeheartedly filled it with what I love doing. Somewhere along the way in the past two years, I may have gotten off-balance a little bit.  It’s really not always such a good thing to be driven in one direction because it is so easy to lose sight of what’s important and is as fragile as butterfly wings, and what will be waiting there tomorrow, like my stories.

So today when Liz asks me what’s on my agenda, I think I’ll start with spending time with my husband having coffee, (with my phone turned off). I’ll have Facetime with my grandson and I’ll go away from my office when I’m doing it. When my husband asks me to walk down to the mailbox, I’ll jump at the chance to spend a half hour with him in the middle of the day. I won’t turn down an offer to have lunch with him or to run to the store. And then, in between those events, I’ll write.

The Story Behind The Greeks of Beaubien Street

The following post is a reblog from a guest post I did for Lori’s Reading Corner.

 

I grew up in a Greek-American household in the Detroit suburbs. We didn’t go to church; we ate. Our Greek food defined us as family. My father took us to Greektown to buy food he would prepare.  It became an adventure we looked forward to every week until the riots of 1967, when he no longer felt it was safe to take his family into the city. After that, we’d go to a small, Greek grocery store on Joy Road. In 1975 I went one last time. I was due to deliver my daughter any moment, and the men in the store were intrigued with me. I remember my father looking at me like it was the first time he’d seen me pregnant. I must have been giving off fertility vibes that the older men were drawn to.

The idea for the book came about as life events jogged my memory. I began thinking of our trips into Greektown, and how it represented being Greek to me. I wanted to write about it, but as I put the words down, a fictional character began developing, pushing out my own boring life. Jill was someone I envied; she lived in Greektown and spoke Greek. Her family hovered around her as she grew up; she became a police officer. (I am definitely obsessed with police activity, and get the chills when I hear a siren.)  Her parents put her special-needs sibling in an institution, while mine grew up along side me. As I wrote about Jill, her family slowly came into view. They are a conglomeration of Greek people and non-Greeks I knew as I grew up; the stern aunts and reckless uncles, the loving grandparent and kooky friends of the family. The milieu of the grocery store was compelling. It represented history of the Greeks who lived in Detroit and security for the children who lived above it.

The crime Jill solves is harder to explain. It is perverse; I was an operating room nurse for many years and saw some things that were hard to take, but that only explains a small portion of the crime and its intensity.  The stark contrast between the parent of the murder victim and Jill’s own father came into view as I wrote. Greek mythology and the plays of Euripides influenced me.

As the book was coming to an end I knew that I would have to write a sequel. The characters are intriguing, and I want to give each one full attention.  I can’t wait to get started!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The following essay is featured on the blog The Writer’s Life.

 

The most difficult issue I have as a writer is insuring that words going down on paper

are telling a story and not just occupying space. Often, an idea will come to me as I’m

writing and not a second before. I might have a general idea of the story, but the details

come later. After writing, I might ruminate on what’s been written and go back later to

delete it all. I’m in the process of doing just that with my current story, Alice’s

Summertime Adventure.  It sounds so bucolic. Alice lives in south Jersey, not far from the

Delaware Bay.  She is going to spend the day sunbathing in her yard. I could smell the

mossy smell of peat and scrub pine, and even the motor oil of a trawler leaving for a

fishing trip. And then reality set in and I remembered that readers want something more

than the visceral memory I have of the Jersey shore. That is where the real story telling

comes in; the journey of Alice and her children. It will not be a light hearted read.

The Greeks of Beaubien Street has its origins in my love for Greektown. It is the

birthplace of my family’s traditions.  We didn’t go to church like some Greek families; to

the big Orthodox Church in Detroit.  We also didn’t speak Greek, nor have many relatives

around who spoke it, or go to Greek School.  After my grandmother died, our relatives

migrated to California, leaving my family alone in the Detroit suburbs. We no longer had

the benefit of other Greeks around us.  Our family still loved to eat however, and that

meant trips to Greektown to shop, to the Eastern Market on Gratiot for fresh meat and

cheeses, and to a little Greek grocery store on Joy Road. I distinctly remember refusing a

night out with girlfriends as a teenager because my father was putting on a spread for my

mother’s large, English extended family. They came in droves to eat. So our “Greek” life

centered on food. It was what made us Greek. I wanted to capture that in my story, but

realized that few people want to read my about childhood memories.  I would have to come

up with a story that was intriguing enough to spend precious time reading. I think I

succeeded.

I fantasized about what Greektown meant to me and what it might have been like to live

there. I imagined a community of people who lived in the apartments above their

businesses. At first, I thought it might be a safe, warm, loving place to raise children.

By the time my characters are living in Greektown though, it is no longer inhabited by

Greeks. They are isolated from other Greeks, just like I was growing up.

Over the course of the book she makes several heartbreaking discoveries about her family.

They are in contrast to the horrors hidden by the rose gardens surrounding the house of

murder victim Gretchen Parker.  The white, cottage-like Cape Cod in the quiet Detroit

suburbs was the antithesis of Jill Zannos’ home.  The Parker’s house looks so inviting,

but don’t be deceived.

I definitely don’t write warm and fuzzy. Where does the darker stuff come from? Today,

another long conversation with my aunt revealed that she believes everything I have

experienced in my life is leading up to these stories. It gives some meaning to some of

those I regret. There are events in The Greeks of Beaubien Street that shocked me as I was

writing, as though I were reporting the crimes committed. I deliberated whether or not to

leave the more shocking material in the book when I came to the conclusion that the

perverse stuff is purposeful. It forces the reader to make a judgment about the

perpetrator, and hopefully, make a comparison with the simple, Greek father.

Yesterday, as I was writing Alice’s story, I started sobbing as a part popped into my head

that was almost too much for me to contemplate. Where the idea came from is an unknown,

but it is devastating.  My husband came in to my office to make sure I was okay when he

heard me crying. He asked me why I insisted on writing about topics that cause pain. The

truth is that I am intrigued with the deepest of human emotion. Death, betrayal,

humiliation; they are all experiences that I am eager to delve into. I want the reader to

feel the emotion of the sufferer. All of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

 

At this date, Alice’s Summertime Adventure is shelved.