Last Day on the Cape: So Many Towns and Bookstores, So Little Time

I think of myself as at least a tad bit worldly and well-traveled. So it came as a surprise to learn that Cape Cod is not one town. It is many towns, separated at the farthest ends by a two-hour drive.

This would have been good to know, as I’d allotted one day to visit Cape Cod’s indie bookstores. I’d have to forgo Wellfleet and Provincetown, and stretch just as far as Chatham and Brewster.

In my defense, this was an easy mistake to make. I’m an L.A. kid, descended from Eastern European Jews who did not build houses on the Cape in the 1900’s to pass down to me. (And those Cape Cod t-shirts do give off the “it’s-one-place” impression.) For me, summer meant day camps called Cali Camp and Tumbleweeds, and sleep away camps were in Malibu and Big Bear. Family weekends might be on Catalina or Coronado Island, not Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard (yes, I’ve now learned the difference between them, too).

So we picked two stores, in Chatham and Brewster, and set out toward Chatham first. We missed a turn and ended up rerouted north. No problem! We’d go first to Brewster. Except we missed the road to Brewster, which forced us to backtrack through a town we hadn’t planned to visit, Orleans. Great news. Orleans has two bookstores.

Picture perfect Main Street Books in Orleans

Main Street Books in Orleans.

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Erin, Lady, and Matt at Booksmith Musicsmith in Orleans.

That was my favorite wrong turn of the trip. (The kids kept playing Go Fish in the minivan. Seen one indie bookstore, seen ’em all, I guess.)

Go Fish.

Go Fish.

We finally arrived at Brewster Bookstore. It was packed with customers, and its summer event schedule was packed, too, with 8 author events in July, and 7 in August, including Alice Hoffman.

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Books and your local lawyer all at one place.

Bookseller Maddie at Brewster Bookstore

Bookseller Maddie at Brewster Bookstore

After lunch, we headed to Chatham, whose Where the Sidewalk Ends bookstore plans a drool-worthy summer of author literary events. Walking in, we were greeted by a vision fitting the final stop: on the front table of the store, Shelter Us shared space with Harper Lee and Anthony Doerr. Be still my heart.

This is a "pinch me" moment.

A “pinch me” moment at Where the Sidewalk Ends bookstore in Chatham, Mass.

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Nina and store owner Joanne took a moment away from helping their many customers to pose with Shelter Us.

My family left while I signed books (please go get one from this wonderful store, or order online if you want a signed copy) — and I found them at the ice cream store discussing the Soviet Union before the fall of communism. (True story.)

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We had completed the task. After another hour’s ride, back in our rented house, the kids wanted nothing more than to be left alone to (and with) their own devices. But it was our last night on Cape Cod, the sun had come out, and we were going to get some fresh air or else. We had to scream to get them out the door, and it was worth it.

We swam (even me). We played soccer (even me). We felt the delicious breath of salt air on our skin. We looked over a landscape so different from our California beaches, vibrant green marshes growing out of the sand, inlets of saltwater stretching toward scrub pines. I felt the tiniest bit more familiar with this place called Cape Cod, knowing well I had only scratched its surface.

(And still knowing nothing about that other exotic, mysterious-to-me place known as: The Hamptons.)

Philadelphia, Stories

When I was a student at Penn, most of my activities were limited to a square 1/2 mile of its West Philly campus — classes, rehearsals, libraries, parties. Occasionally I ventured downtown. There was the (impressive but ineffective) rally for Michael Dukakis in front of City Hall. There was my weekly SEPTA ride to an internship at the Women’s Law Project. And there was lovely, leafy Rittenhouse Square, an area I had no particular business in, but which appealed to my west coast eyes and ears with its older, sophisticated sensibility.

Flash forward (ahem) years to 2015, and I walked up to the Barnes & Noble in Rittenhouse Square to see its window filled with my first novel. BN Window

It’s hard to put that feeling into words. I’ll try, and then I’ll let the pictures tell the tale.

When I graduated from Penn and returned home to Los Angeles, I could not have known that some day I would marry a boy from Pennsylvania, that his family would become my extended family, and that they would be some of my biggest supporters. Time passes so swiftly that I can sometimes forget I’m not a “newcomer” still, that I’ve known them nearly 19 years.

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My Philadelphia PR team (and cousins) extraordinare, Sharla Feldscher of SFPR…

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…and PR maven and super cousin Hope Horwitz of SFPR.

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Happy happy joy joy.

Philadelphia book signing!

Suzanne Myers from Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Philadelphia joined us, accepting a donation to the agency from book sales that evening.

Deborah Waxman

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College, was in attendance!

I talked about the connections between Shelter Us and the values Jewish Family & Children’s Services represents, helping others, welcoming the stranger. One woman pointed out that being “a stranger” does not always refer to the stereotypical outsider I’d referred to — a homeless person, an immigrant — and that money can mask stranger status. She choked up. I did, too.

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I kinda see my Dad’s face in my expression.

At Q&A time, my son asked: “Did you ever have doubts about some of the things you included in the book?”

Yes, I answered. Doubt abounds. But when the time came to finish, I had to let it be. I hope I modeled something for him and his brother. To follow elusive dreams. To celebrate achievements. And to be grateful for the people who celebrate with you.

My favorite readers.

My favorite readers.

Thank you, thank you, one and all.

Humbly yours,

Laura/Mom.

In Which a Book Tour Masquerades as a Hudson Valley Retreat, with a Surprise Finish

The last (and only) time I came remotely close to the Hudson Valley in New York was while racing from Vermont toward Pennsylvania, trying to stay a step ahead of Hurricane Irene. Danger tends to sprinkle itself through our travel.

We had wanted to return to this beautiful area ever since. As the last book event in New Jersey wound up, Christopher found a Bed & Breakfast in Rhinebeck, New York, that would be our home base for the next two nights.

The late sunlight of mid-July guided us to Whistlewood Farm Bed & Breakfast just as twilight descended. Oh me oh my. Consider this my hearty recommendation of this place, three miles outside of the town of Rhinebeck. Whistlewood Farm B&B not only offers creature comforts (comfy beds, lots of living space to stretch out, and homegrown, homemade breakfasts) but also creatures. We watched the horses have pedicures, fed the chickens, and unwound into the pace of life away from it all.

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In the morning, our host Maggy asked how many just-laid eggs we wanted, then pointed to the fresh baked blueberry muffins, sausage, and dollar pancakes. Thinking of what my Dad calls “preventative eating” — eat now so you won’t be hungry later — we said yes to everything, and figured that would last all day.

It worked. We drove all over, visiting small town bookstores, meeting booksellers and signing copies of Shelter Us. We visited Oblong Books in Rhinebeck (and could not pass by the Rhinebeck Aerodrome, to ogle biplanes and triplanes.) IMG_2505
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We visited the small town of Millbrook, which boasts the lovely Merritt Bookstore.

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We stopped at the Vanderbilt MansionIMG_7070 and gawked at its immensity, wondering what impulse compels some people (and peoples) to construct castles, while other peoples (say, Native Americans) would never deign to claim the land as theirs at all?

In keeping with that theme, we meandered the grounds of FDR’s home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park.

Just a thought.

The next day brought more small towns and more bookstores, including the charming town of Hudson’s Spotty Dog (books and ale).

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(Hudson, it is worth mentioning, rocks the eclectic, hip, artsy and funny, as in this store, Flower Kraut — selling flowers, sauerkraut, and “gifts” — and this sign outside of a motel.)

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We would not rest until reaching Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, and sampled some of the famous waters.IMG_7099

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Our last day, we visited The Golden Notebook in Woodstock, woodstock

and Inquiring Minds in New Paltz.

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Before heading home for the long drive, we wanted to get some exercise.

In Woodstock, we hiked Overlook Mountain Trail, and were rewarded with beautiful views and a fine adrenaline rush — not from climbing the six-level tower at the top, and not from watching a rattlesnake slither across the path. It was from the bear.

The bear, whom I saw face to face when I peeked into the woods, curious about the little sounds I had heard, expecting perhaps to see a fawn, or a chipmunk. “Bear!” my brain said. “Bear,” my mouth said to Christopher. The syllable was not fully formed before I was scooting at twice my previous speed up the hill.

Yes, the Hudson Valley trip proved to be memorable for many reasons. Each bookstore had friendly, enthusiastic booksellers who welcomed this California author’s first novel. Each town had a distinct personality, even if they didn’t all have a stoplight. And everywhere we looked, wild nature in all its manifestations came out to greet us. Heading back to urban Philadelphia never sounded so good.

“Beautiful, Hopeful, Gorgeous…” OMG!

It is with humble gratitude (and a helluva a lot of glee!) that I share a review by my fellow novelist, Lorraine Devon Wilke. Check her out, too!

What a beautiful, heartrending, ultimately hopeful story this is! I absolutely loved this book by Laura Nicole Diamond; it is gorgeously written, deeply felt, and set with such detail of character, plot, and emotion that a narrative about motherhood, loss, and the meaning of life becomes a true page-turner.

Told from the point of view of Sarah, a former attorney and married mother of two boys who has lost her six-week-old daughter to crib death, we follow her tumultuous trajectory through grief, self-examination, and a fascination with, and compulsion to help, a young homeless mother she stumbles upon in downtown Los Angeles. Distanced from her husband by a mix of his work demands and her own emotional turmoil, Sarah finds herself so drawn to the young woman that she takes some dubious risks, and makes some questionable choices, that not only cause her to question her own motives, but put her marriage and the life she’s attempted to rebuild in serious jeopardy. How she struggles to resolve each layer and nuance of this tsunami of issues becomes the churning center of Shelter Us.

As a native of Los Angeles, I particularly enjoyed the specificity of her “place,” picturing each turn of the road and image up ahead! As a mother, I reveled in her absolutely spot-on descriptions of the many elements of “mother love,” that powerful emotional world of indescribable, passionate love and never-ending need and frustration. Her illuminations on loss and grief will, no doubt, resonate deeply with anyone who’s lost someone they loved, particularly a young child to unexpected death. In fact, every element of this story rang true and deep, with its resolution built on compassion, forgiveness, and love the most salient of its themes.

A deeply satisfying read that I heartily recommend, I will be sure to follow this writer to whatever is next. 

Launch Day

For almost a year, today’s date, June 8, 2015, has glimmered impossibly in the future: my first novel’s Publication Date. It has the same magical qualities as a baby’s due date.

And, practically speaking, it is almost as reliable a metric for when your baby or book will arrive.*  Stores have been selling Shelter Us for a couple weeks, Amazon has been shipping it, and friends and family who have read it and liked it have told me so. (I’m not keeping a list, ahem.)

Still, I’m human, and humans love to infuse meaning into 24 hour periods — like birthdays, anniversaries, and the 4th of July. I can’t let this date pass without a little huzzah. Besides, seeing as I’ve been talking and talking and talking about this book (I’m so sorry) for so long, the least I could do is share some Launch day trivia with you.

Here’s a glimpse of the glamorous life of a newly published novelist:

  • Wake up foggy-headed and remember that you’re supposed to pick up your eldest child from a sleepover in twenty minutes.
  • Send newsletter announcing Launch Day, asking everyone to please read your book. Again.
  • Throw on sneakers and sweatshirt, lick finger to wipe mascara from under eyelids (why does it never come off all the way?) in case there’s an earthquake and you have to get out of the car.
  • Check e-mail, read a new review!
  • Bring child home, make him breakfast and a sack lunch for camp. Take to camp.
  • Come home. Wash dishes.
  • Do a radio interview! (…while sitting in a closet, because this is the day tree trimmers came.)
  • Closet 1Take child shopping for shorts and bathing suit for camp.
  • Come home. Wash dishes. Again.
  • Let your kids break into the cookies you bought for tomorrow’s Launch Party.
  • Remember to thank your spouse for being unconditionally supportive and amazing, including that last text that dinner is almost ready.
  • Pinch yourself that people are reading your book, and even if you never write another word, this is enough.

There you have June 8, 2015, a big day, and also just a Monday, drizzled with bursts of excitement and the mundane. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get any better than this.

 

*Side note: Only 5% of babies are born on their due dates. My second baby was one of those!

How to Write a Novel: Start with a Journal and an Open Heart

One of the most unexpected highlights of publishing my first novel (hey, see how I’m calling it “my first novel” to motivate myself to dig into the next one?), has been the support of other authors, new and established.

The novelist Meg Waite Clayton is one of those established authors who consciously create and nurture community. (See also, Amy Sue Nathan, Therese Walsh & Kathleen Bolton, Christina Baker Kline, Jenny Milchman and Kamy Wicoff, to name a few.) Meg Waite Clayton’s website and “1st Books” blog is an amazing resource for writers and readers, and I’m honored to be her guest writer this week.

In my piece for 1st Books, I write about the long and indirect path from keeping a journal (beginning with my Hello Kitty diary in the 4th grade) to seeing my first novel published, and explain why I wrote about my worst fear. (Funny what happens when you sit in front of a blank screen.)

1st Books

Authors like Meg are the kind of author — and person — I’ll aim to be: generous, supportive, and inspiring. Sure, there are those who arrive in the promised land of bestsellerdom only to pull up the ladder behind them. But I haven’t met them. Here’s to those who reach the ladder down for the next person to climb up and check out the view, and in so doing create a happier, more loving, and more literary world.

Here’s my piece on Meg’s blog. While you’re there, sign up for her newsletter to keep apprised of her writing and events.

Words Meant to Be Shared

It may have been the glass of red wine with dinner. Or the 3-hour time change. Or my mother’s delicate snoring in the bed next to mine in our hotel, that kept me awake our first night in New York. Yet, as I pulled the pillow over my head, planning a Duane Reade earplugs run, I was grateful to be able to hear that sound, to sleep near my mother, still.

Our reason for being here: the Jewish Book Council (JBC) and its author networking conference, aka the “Pitchfest.” In those wakeful midnight hours, I ran over and over my two-minute pitch.

You get two minutes. Two minutes to summarize seven years of writing, revising, abandoning, and returning to a manuscript that represents your most personal ideas and emotions. You sit in a filled-to-capacity sanctuary (thinking everyone here wrote a book, too??), waiting for your turn to tell the savvy book festival planners from around the country why they must choose your book for their communities. And you pinch yourself because you’re one of the authors, and everyone in this room loves books as much as you do.

When it was my turn, I left my written notes on my chair, I looked out at the audience, remembered that they wanted me to nail it, and took a breath. I talked to them like I was talking to my mom, telling them about my labor of love. And instead of two minutes it happened during a single encapsulated, time-not-passing, bubble of a moment.

Here’s what I said:

One of the most beautiful commandments in our tradition is to take care of the stranger – the vulnerable and powerless. This always resonated with me, but even more so after I became a mom. I began to see everyone – even a homeless person on the sidewalk – as someone’s child. But like many people, I struggle with wanting to help and not knowing how.

In my novel Shelter Us, Sarah, a mother of two who is grieving the death of an infant, sees a young homeless mother and child, and she can’t stop thinking about them. Remembering her late mother’s many examples of caring for “the stranger,” moves her to reach beyond her comfort zone and try to help them.

Writing about Sarah’s journey allowed me to explore the difficult question of how we respond to the need we see every day. But even more, it was my way of wrestling with a mother’s universal fear that the worst could happen to her child. Sarah, who suffered that loss, sings a Hashkivenu prayer to her children at bedtime, asking for God’s sheltering arms to keep them safe. The song she sings, “Shelter Us,” I first heard at Jewish summer camp, and its primal yearning has stayed with me all these years.

Shelter Us raises some wonderful questions to explore together:

Who are today’s strangers and what are our responsibilities to them as Jews? 

Can helping others heal our own wounds? 

What are the values we want to pass to our children, and how do we communicate them? 

In what ways did Torah study impact my thinking and writing? 

How do we move beyond our fears, to savor the small, beautiful moments of parenthood that are all too fleeting?

And then it was the next author’s turn.

As soon as I sat down I was thinking of what I’d wished I’d said: This book has great blurbs by brilliant bestselling authors! Library Journal recommends it for book clubs! You’re gonna love it! You’re absolutely gonna love it!

But, like life, there are no do-overs. There are words you will wish you didn’t leave unsaid.

My mom is sitting behind me as I write these words to you, and she’s about to leave to spend a day in the city with cousins, while I go do more book stuff. “Mom,” I call out before she leaves. “I have to tell you something!” She stops, a  look of concern floats across her face. And I try to tell her what she means to me.

 

 

Sizzling Summer Reads Giveaway!

I have never before used the word sizzling in a blog post. (You can check me on this. If you find that I have, I will publicly announce your doggedness and my wrongness.)

But today is about sizzle! And gifts! Announcing the “Sizzling Summer Reads Giveaway!”
Click here for giveaway

To celebrate the impending publication of Shelter Us (June 8), we’re having a giveaway party. All this week, register to win a gift bag of summer reads and a $50 Sephora gift card. And while you’re doing it, if you want to show some love and like my FB page, or check out my fellow authors, have at it.

Whether this April day is showing you dreary gray skies or the possibility of blue, hang on — summer is on its way. Wouldn’t winning this bundle of books brighten your day?

Enjoy,

Laura

How to Procrastinate: Interview with Laura Diamond, on writing, mothering, philanthopy, and messing up.

If you’re like me, you go online with an idea in mind — like, “I’m going to buy tickets to Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s new musical at the Old Globe,” or “How am I going to get rid of these ants,” or “we really need bicycle lights,” but then you end up trolling around for an hour, reading about conflict-free minerals and liking your cousin’s funny one-liners on Facebook, and then it’s time to pick up your child from school and you still have ants in the kitchen, and are no closer to getting to the Old Globe, and you’re still riding in the dark.

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It’s almost dark!

If that’s you, you may as well add one more stop to that list: please do me the favor of checking out the interview Jessica Schaub did about Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood and me, and let her know you like it.

(Buy Deliver Me at Lulu.com or Amazon.com, or get the ebook here.)

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Then don’t forget to pick up the kids.

Thanks!

Laura

 

 

How a Book Can Help Us Talk About Feelings: The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm

My friend told me that in her daughter’s Social Studies class, the teacher has allowed the 15 year olds to choose their own discussion topic for the past few weeks. Without fail, they have chosen to talk about the Islamic State, and also without fail, each week a few of her classmates are in tears.

My first thought was that neither I nor my kids are well-read enough to sustain an intelligent discussion about the Islamic State (apart from “H&ly $h*% they’re scary!”). My second thought was, that is for the best. ISIS is a terrifying external threat, beyond my kids’ and my control, which can only make sensitive folks like us feel nuts.

I think I’m in luck: when I do try to begin a conversation about current events, it is quickly sidetracked to sports or Legos or “What’s for dinner?” But I know that doesn’t guarantee that they aren’t worrying about it. How do I ask my children if they are afraid of something, without inadvertently introducing a scary topic they may not have been worried about?

Enter a new book by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, by LeVar Burton

A story within a story, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm introduces us to a mouse who is terrified by a terrible storm, and whose wise Papa reads her a book called…The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.

The story is a point of entry for talking about feelings that can overwhelm. The illustrations and poetic story-telling express the roiling feelings that we sometimes don’t have words for. Its mission is to help parents and children deal with external fears and anxiety, without once using words like fear and anxiety.

I don’t have the littlest of children anymore, but we all have worries, no matter our age. I’m happy to have this book to read to my kids (and to myself), to introduce a conversation we may need to have now or years hence, with imagery and language that are as reassuring as anything I could want. It won’t stop the terrorists, or hurricanes, or crazy gunmen, but it can help us get a handle on how not to swallow up and internalize those worries.