Where to find a muse? Look right in front of you.

Muse. (v) To wonder; (n) A mythical source of creative inspiration.

For years motherhood was all I could feel, think, or write about. It drenched me (though sometimes it felt more like drowning) and consumed me. From the first days of feeding, changing, and tally-marking pees and poops (must make sure the pipes work), to driving tests and college applications, motherhood has been a 100% all-in operation.

But the intensity and shock do give way. We do settle into our skin. We do find a new normal. This is not a bad thing for humans, but not optimal for writers. Faded along with the initial shock and the keeping my head above water, went my muse.

I have been in the market for a new muse. While I wait, I write what’s in my heart. My grandmother’s story has a lot to say. She keeps me company — part guardian angel, part gossip partner. I’ve written about her here, here, and here; I’m sure I will write more.

And then there is Maria, who joined our family almost four years ago, just after her 18th birthday. Her story, and our joined stories, lately command my mind. She is a refugee and a role model. A college student and a pre-school teacher. She is like a sister and daughter, a cousin, niece and granddaughter; yet she belongs fully to another family. She is a confidante and a sage, a knowledge-sponge and a striver. She is vulnerable and strong, disciplined and determined, and an empathy-conduit between the worlds she straddles. She is a laughing, living, longing reminder that politics is always about real people.

Feels like the motherhood muse may have a new chapter…

 

 

Writer’s Life: Camille Di Maio

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Author Camille Di Maio and I have a couple things in common: we both like to belt out show tunes on a whim, and to have travel adventures. Someday I hope to add to that list what she has accomplished today — the publication of a second novel. Today marks publication day for Camille’s second novel, BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS — no easy feat for a home-schooling mother of four! Meet Camille:

  1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I have four children, ages 18, 16, 12, and 8. What I have learned through homeschooling them and running a large business out of our home is that they are watching everything. Whether any of us is aware of it, they are influenced by our every action, positive and negative. How did that affect my writing? It motivated me to press on through all the hardships that come with writing a book — finishing it in the first place, receiving rejection letters from agents, and pushing through difficulties to achieve a dream. I thought that writing a book was something I would do after they were grown, but through the process, I realized that it was so very important that they were there to see it all play out. Whatever they choose to do in the future, they will face adversity. They need an example of perseverance. So, the need to set a good example affected my writing in that it propelled me to write in the first place.

  1. Where do you write? What do you love about it?

My favorite place to write is a coffee shop. It can be hectic to write at home (although truthfully, that’s where most of it takes place). I’m an introvert at heart, so I love the buzz of having people around me but the privacy of  being in my little cocoon. I also love to write at a beach. The vastness of water is so inspiring to me. We are making a big life change to move from Texas to the East Coast, so that we will have more opportunities to enjoy a coastal life!

  1. If you had a motto, what would it be?

My favorite motto comes from (Saint) Mother Teresa of Calcutta:  “Let no one come to you without leaving better or happier.” It is paramount to me that every encounter I have with someone is positive and loving. This is not always possible depending on the circumstances, but I can say that I try with everything I have. The smallest things can make or break a person’s day.

  1. Who inspires you?

My Aunt Cheryl inspires me. There is nothing she won’t try, no adventure she won’t go on, and she boldly sported a bald head as she fought through two bouts of cancer. She is unashamedly herself and her thoughtfulness knows no boundaries. She always puts others first. I aspire to be half the woman that she is.

  1. What charity or community service are you passionate about?

For many years, I have run an unofficial group called Camille’s Theater Club. I organize group tickets for hundreds of people when Broadway shows tour through San Antonio. This has helped many families — including my own — receive huge discounts on ticket prices, introducing many people to theater who might not otherwise have been able to afford it. Many times, a group of us met before a show for dinner, and that camaraderie was so much fun. Sometimes we wait at the stage door to meet the stars of the show. We have seen some amazing performances and created great memories.

  1. What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

Right now, I am reading an early copy of THE WEIGHT OF LIES by Emily Carpenter. It is my favorite book of the year and I think it will be a tough one to topple. My favorite book of all time is OLIVIA AND JAI by Rebecca Ryman. It was her debut novel and is simply breathtaking.


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Find Camille here:    camilledimaio.com    Facebook    Twitter

Writer’s Life: Ellen Umansky

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First, some high praise garnered by Brooklyn-based author Ellen Umansky’s debut novel, The Fortunate Ones.

“The Fortunate Ones” is a subtle, emotionally layered novel about the ways art and other objects of beauty can make tangible the invisible, undocumented moments in our lives, the portion of experience that exists without an audience but must be preserved if we are to remain whole. —The New York Times Book Review 

Umansky’s richly textured and peopled novel tells an emotionally and historically complicated story with so much skill and confidence it’s hard to believe it’s her first. — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Now that you have hopefully clicked the link above to buy it, I’ll reveal that Ellen and I were good buddies in our Santa Monica middle school. Our paths diverged, but not too widely, as we both attended Penn, and recently reunited for a reunion author panel called “Words with Friends.” I could not be more proud of her, more excited to read her novel, or more pleased to introduce you. Meet Ellen Umanksy:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

My immediate response to this question is a pragmatic one: I have so much less time to work than before I had children, but I’m a better, more disciplined writer now. I’m less precious about my writing; as a parent, you can’t afford to be. You simply have to get your words down on paper and take it from there.

My mother, who passed away a year ago, was my role model in all kinds of ways, large and small. She was sick for several years, but she rarely complained. She was a cheerful and warm person, almost relentlessly so, and because of that, it was easy to overlook her persistence and resilience. She pushed through some seriously painful months — years, actually — during which she continued to work, travel, spend time with her family, her grandchildren in particular. I think of her determination all the time, and try to apply that to my own work and life.

Where do you write? What do you love about it? (or I suppose, what don’t you love…)

I write anywhere I can, but often I’m at my desk in our house in Brooklyn; that’s where I am right now. A big window to my left overlooks a parking lot, but affords a slice of trees too—a light-filled urban view. There’s something I love about working in my house alone. There’s usually so much chatter and noise, questions being asked of me—mom, where are my gym clothes? Mom, I can’t find my [insert random toy here]—but then they leave for school and it’s suddenly, blessedly quiet again. For the next five hours, the space belongs only to me. When I’m stuck in my work, I find it useful to get up and take care of a mundane, household task. I might have no idea where I’m going plot-wise in a story, but emptying a dishwasher? That I can do.

I’m also a member of the Brooklyn Writers Space, a collective workspace where I’ll often decamp in the late afternoons or if I’m working on a weekend. When my kids were young, that space was a lifesaver. I know a number of other writers who also belong, and it’s nice to run into them and chat and be reminded of that camaraderie. Writing can be such lonely business, and that fellowship, wherever you find it, is essential.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Get it down on paper. You can always revise. And revise. And revise.

Who inspires you?

So many people: My mother; a big, ever-changing mix of writers, Grace Paley, Wilkie Collins, Elena Ferrante, Jane Austen, and Lore Segal; my daughters; my husband, too. He’s a psychiatrist and a voracious reader, my secret weapon. He’s insightful about character and human relationships, doesn’t get caught up in questions of craft, and is one of the funniest people I know.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

My grandmother, who passed away a year and a half ago at the age of 101, was born in Russia before the Russian Revolution, and fled that country as a young girl in 1921, crossing into Poland illegally and waiting with her family for close to two years before they could come to America. I remember my grandmother talking about that stressful time, living in Lemburg, Poland, and how her parents would go every day to the offices of the HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which was helping them with their visas and so much more. Last month, I went to a rally at the foot of Manhattan, in view of the Statue of Liberty, to protest Trump’s ban against immigrants and refugees. The rally was organized by HIAS, the same group that helped my grandmother’s family so long ago. I am both inspired and heartened by their work and appalled that we need them so badly today.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I devoured Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah a few years ago, and read her novel Half of a Yellow Sun this winter. I don’t know what took me so long to turn to it. It’s a tour de force, told from different points of views during the Biafran war of independence in 1960’s Nigeria, something I knew little about. But just as compelling, it’s a story rich in character that focuses on a pair of sisters, twins, what sets them apart and what brings them together.

Joanna Hershon’s A Dual Inheritance is also a favorite of mine. It opens at Harvard in the ’60’s when two men from vastly different backgrounds meet and become friends. But college is just the starting point for this sweeping, deeply emotional story that crosses decades and continents. It’s a such rich and compulsive read; I’m friends with Joanna Hershon and witnessed her writing the book and I still don’t quite understand how she did it.


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Follow Ellen on Facebook and Twitter and EllenUmansky.com


The Fortunate Ones, Synopsis:

“One very special work of art–a Chaim Soutine painting–will connect the lives and fates of two different women, generations apart, in this enthralling and transporting debut novel that moves from World War II Vienna to contemporary Los Angeles.

It is 1939 in Vienna, and as the specter of war darkens Europe, Rose Zimmer’s parents are desperate. Unable to get out of Austria, they manage to secure passage for their young daughter on a kindertransport, and send her to live with strangers in England.

Six years later, the war finally over, a grief-stricken Rose attempts to build a life for herself. Alone in London, devastated, she cannot help but try to search out one piece of her childhood: the Chaim Soutine painting her mother had cherished.

Many years later, the painting finds its way to America. In modern-day Los Angeles, Lizzie Goldstein has returned home for her father’s funeral. Newly single and unsure of her path, she also carries a burden of guilt that cannot be displaced. Years ago, as a teenager, Lizzie threw a party at her father’s house with unexpected but far-reaching consequences. The Soutine painting that she loved and had provided lasting comfort to her after her own mother had died was stolen, and has never been recovered.

This painting will bring Lizzie and Rose together and ignite an unexpected friendship, eventually revealing long-held secrets that hold painful truths. Spanning decades and unfolding in crystalline, atmospheric prose, The Fortunate Ones is a haunting story of longing, devastation, and forgiveness, and a deep examination of the bonds and desires that map our private histories.”

Writer’s Life: Pam Jenoff

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Pam Jenoff is the author of ten novels, her latest — THE ORPHAN’S TALE — launched last month to much acclaim. I met Pam at the Jewish Book Conference in 2015, and she impressed me as warm, intelligent, funny, and humble. She is also a Penn Law grad and mother of young children. I’m pretty sure her motto (see below) has something to do with her prolific output. I’m pleased to introduce you to Pam Jenoff:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I’ve had occasion lately to think a lot about the inherent tension between being a writer and being a mom. As a mother, I want to always be present in the moment. But my writer side secretly wants to sneak off and be with my characters. Essentially it is about the precious commodity of time, and I think the answer is to be wholly present for whichever aspect of life I am spending time on at that moment.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I have written in mountaintop retreats and castles. I have also written in my doctor’s office and in my car, and can tell you whether the coffee shops within a five mile radius of my house open at 6:00 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, because I’m there with my nose pressed against the glass wanting to get inside and write. Usually my office is my favorite place because I just love to be in my daily routine, doing my thing. I also do very well writing in hotels on book tour. But you can’t be too fussy about it.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Every Damn Day. It’s all about moving the manuscript forward, even an inch at a time.

Who inspires you?

So many people! Great writers and great athletes. My kids. Right now, my mom, who has waged an epic health battle this year and is a total warrior for our family.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

My big three causes have always been hunger, homelessness and at-risk youth. Right now, I’m passionate about book fair scholarships – making sure that children who cannot afford a book at a school book fair are able to choose one, instead of watching others get a book while they do without. My kids go to a very diverse public school and I’m really focused on including students from low-income families in all aspects of school life.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I am reading constantly. There are so many good books coming out this year: thrillers from Mary Kubica and Heather Gudenkauf, historical fiction from Janet Benton and Jillian Cantor, summer novels by Jamie Brenner and Jane Green, [read her Writer’s Life interview here – LND] just to name a few!

For book tour info, and to buy this book and her others, visit www.PamJenoff.com

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“A gripping story about the power of friendship to save and redeem even in the darkest of circumstances, The Orphan’s Tale sheds light on one of the most colorful and inspiring stories of heroism in Nazi Germany. This is a book not to be missed.”

 – Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife

Writer’s Life: Christina Baker Kline

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There are people who, having reached a sweet spot of success, pull up the ladder behind them, cutting off those who wish to follow. Then there are people who arrive at that pinnacle and do everything they can to reach out and help pull up the next person. Author Christina Baker Kline, whose novel Orphan Train spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list, including five weeks at No. 1, is decidedly the latter. My personal testimony: When I was seeking blurbs for my novel, I looked at my own bookshelf for possible kindred spirits whom I might ask (and it’s a big ask — “please read my whole book and publicly praise it?”). My eyes alighted on my copy of Orphan Train, and I took the chance of contacting Ms. Baker Kline. To my astonishment and delight, this busy author, mother, sister, daughter, wife had the kindness to reply that she would try to make time to read it. And then she blew my mind and DID! My gratitude is boundless.

Christina Baker Kline has given us a beautiful new novel, A PIECE OF THE WORLD, inspired by Christina Olson, the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s best-known painting. I am thrilled that she was willing to share her thoughts about writing and give us a glimpse into her personal writing world. Meet Christina:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

My mother and father were free-range parents before free-range parenting was a thing (so many years before it was a thing that it was actually another thing, hippie parenting). They were not worriers, to put it mildly. When I visited them for the first time with my own five-month-old son who’d never eaten solid food, I came downstairs one morning to find my father feeding him bacon and eggs. Though I panicked a little in that moment, mostly I took to heart their laissez-faire attitude, and I’m glad I did. My now almost-adult sons (21, 20 and 17) are pretty self-reliant and self-motivated.

My father was a historian and my mother a feminist activist and they both wrote books. They got on with their own work without apology. I think that’s the most important thing I learned from them: that it’s good for kids to have parents who are passionate about their work. The older they got, the more passionate they became about the things that truly interested them. I’ve found the same is true for me.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

When my kids were little I hired babysitters and went to coffee shops. I found the ambient noise helpful; it tamped down my inner critic. I still go to coffee shops sometimes, but I’ve learned over the years not to make strict rules for myself about where and when I write. I write in dentist offices, on subways, in libraries and lecture halls. When I’m immersed in a novel, I can write almost anywhere.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

James Carville’s legendary directive for the Clinton campaign was “It’s the economy, stupid.” My motto would be a variation on that: “It’s the writing, stupid.” Research and pre-writing and thinking about character are all important parts of the process, but eventually you have to grit your teeth, put pen to paper (literally, in my case; I write longhand), and WRITE. Another motto I love: “If you don’t put it in, you can’t take it out.” I used to attribute that to the writer Honor Moore, but I ran into her at a party and she told me she’d never said it. So I’ll claim it.

Who inspires you?

Fierce and gutsy females who’ve been in this business for a long time and still get up every day and write: women like Toni Morrison and Hilma Wolitzer and Alix Kates Shulman and Louise DeSalvo. I want to be like them when I grow up.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

When I wrote my novel Orphan Train I learned quite a bit about the foster care system in the U.S. Roots & Wings is a New Jersey nonprofit that provides young adults who age out of the foster care system with safe housing, educational support, counseling, and life skills. They are doing incredible work, and I’m proud to serve on their advisory board.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I just read Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, and it blew me away. It’s wide-ranging, fierce, and deep. The language sings; the magical-realist railroad is a spectacular fiction.  I’m going to re-read it to try to understand how he pulled it off.


Christina Baker Kline is the author of the new novel A Piece of the World, about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the subject of his best-known painting, Christina’s World. Kline has written five other novels — Orphan Train, The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines — and written or edited five works of nonfiction. Orphan Train (2013) spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list, including five weeks at # 1, and was published in 40 countries. More than 100 communities and colleges have chosen it as a “One Book, One Read” selection. Her adaptation of this novel for young readers, Orphan Train Girl, will be published in May.

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Praise for A PIECE OF THE WORLD:

“A Piece of the World is a graceful, moving and powerful demonstration of what can happen when a fearless literary imagination combines with an inexhaustible curiosity about the past and the human heart: a feat of time travel, a bravura improvisation on the theme of art history, a wonderful story that seems to have been waiting, all this time, for Christina Baker Kline to come along and tell it.” —Michael Chabon, author of Moonglow

“The inscrutable figure in the foreground of Wyeth’s Christina’s World is our American Mona Lisa, and Christina Baker Kline has pulled back the veil to imagine her rich story. Tender, tragic, A Piece of the World is a fascinating exploration of the life lived inside that house at the top of the hill.” —Lily King, author of Euphoria

“With A Piece of the World, Baker Kline gives us a brilliantly imagined fictional memoir of the woman in the famed Wyeth painting, Christina’s World, so detailed, moving, and utterly transportive that I’ll never be able to look at the painting again without thinking of this book and the characters who populate its pages.” —Erik Larson, author of Dead Wake

Writer’s Life: Holly Brown

If you are among the people who this week may be craving a little extra reality-escape, I’m here to suggest: Read BOOKS! To that end, allow me to introduce you to family therapist and author Holly Brown, and her new psychological thriller, THIS IS NOT OVER.holly-brown-ap1

 

  1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

In high school, I wanted to be the next S.E. Hinton (no, I’m not dating myself at all here.) S.E. Hinton wrote “The Outsiders,” “That Was Then…This is Now,” and other fantastic books that were all the rage when I was a teenager. She was a teenager herself when she was published, which made her my idol. So when I was about fifteen, I finished writing my first novel. My family lived in Philadelphia, and there was one literary agent that we found in the Yellow Pages. My father drove me to the agent’s office so I could deliver my manuscript personally. Now, barring the fact that this is not at all how submitting to agents works and that I was summarily rejected and that I didn’t get published for many more years, what I love about the story is that my parents never doubted that talent and drive could make things happen. They never doubted that MY talent and drive could make things happen. So I carry that confidence and determination into my writing, and my life. And I want to bring it to my daughter’s life, too.

  1. Where do you write? What do you love about it?

This is the least sexy answer ever, but I love to write from my bed. It’s just so cozy. Sometimes I have the TV on, which is something you would never encourage your kids to do at a time of concentration, but it’s kind of like having a party going on nearby. For some reason, that works for me. And I think it’s important that every writer just finds a system that works for them and embraces it, fully.

  1. If you had a motto, what would it be?

Stay curious. It’s critical to me as a writer, and as a therapist, and as a human being. It’s dangerous to feel like you know everything. And it’s boring.

  1. Who inspires you?

Sue Johnson, who developed emotionally focused therapy. It’s informed by attachment theory, which says that the emotional bonds we have with our loved ones are vital, starting with our parents. But it doesn’t stop there, and even if you didn’t get what you needed as a child, you can still get it later in life; you just have to work a little harder. Sue Johnson helps couples learn to love well, to become emotionally secure and able to truly depend on one another, and her teachings have made me a much better therapist.

  1. What charity or community service are you passionate about?

I feel passionately about an informed electorate, and about the necessity for independent investigative journalism. Investigative journalism is on the decline at a time when we need it most in order to keep elected officials and corporations accountable. ProPublica is an amazing non-profit dedicated to finding, researching, and telling stories that advance the public interest. They’re funded almost entirely through donations: https://www.propublica.org/ 


For more about Holly:

Website: HollyBrownBooks.com       Facebook: Facebook.com/HollyBrownAuthor

Blog: Bonding Time   Buy the Book: http://bit.ly/TINOHB

 


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P.S. If you are lucky enough to be in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area on Tuesday, January 17, at 7pm, you can meet Holly for her launch party at Books Inc. Alameda (a hop, skip and jump from the Oakland Airport), one of my favorite bookstores.

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My Son’s Advice to Keep Going

The writing deadline I gave myself seemed expansive back in January: complete the first draft of a novel by year’s end. But as we creep up on Halloween, that draft remains listless and sprawling, even though the idea, hatched years earlier, still inspires me. There’s something there, I still believe, and I’ve got 10 weeks to get myself to some sort of ending.

I put mediocre words on paper in service of a first draft deadline, knowing even as I write them that they’ll have to be jettisoned. That my own writing sometimes puts me in the mood for a nap cannot be a good sign. Where is the magic? Where is the emotional truth? The keen observation? The aha insight?

Into these doldrums comes Emmett, twelve years old, and the personal narrative he has just completed, his first writing assignment in middle school. He chose to write about the Vermont ropes course.

The fresh Vermont air smelled like what the Earth should smell like, pine cones and wild fruits. The air was also infected by the smell of multiple people sweating. I saw a tree swaying inches below the platform I was on. The area was a forest and everything was green, except for the ropes. I suddenly realized my climbing gloves were coming apart. I knew I had to finish as quickly as possible.

I reached the third net with sweat falling off me and hitting the ground far below. I struggled to keep my grip as I crossed the net. Through my tearing gloves I could see how white my knuckles were. I was wondering what was more white, my knuckles or Dracula’s face, when I heard a cheer from my brother. He had finished the holed wall. He was on the easiest of obstacles: a rope with a ring that you had to swing on. I reached the end of the third net. I didn’t think I could go any further. “Don’t quit! Don’t quit!” I hissed at myself.

He reminds me why I love writing: you can lead someone to feel something deeply. You can place someone not only in a particular space and time, give them the touch of wind and cool air on their skin, the smell of soil and trees, the blisters budding on palms, but you can also lead them to an emotional place, can make them see themselves in someone else’s experience, can recognize their common humanity. I love writing because it is a treasure hunt, searching for a nugget of what I am hiding from myself.

I shake out my body, stretch my arms and legs and get back to it. I search for treasures, trying to trust that if I don’t find them on this go ’round, I’ll be closer to them the next revision. “Don’t quit! Don’t quit” I hiss in unison with my boy.

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This stock photo must stand in for our real experience. Because where would YOU have put your camera???

Carolyn See: The Audacity of Creativity, Generosity, and Persistence

For a moment, I want to put aside all news related to grand-scale pain and death, and reflect on one single candle blown out yesterday, not by terrorism or war or weapon, but by cancer.

I want to pay tribute to author, teacher, inspirer, Carolyn See.

Thirty years ago I read her novel Golden Days. I was so young, I didn’t know anything about her, didn’t know that she was the queen of Literature of California, or even that she lived near my town. I knew only that her descriptions — like how it felt to drive on lazy, meandering Sunset Boulevard — would embed in my brain until they became my own world view.

Twenty years later, I was a mother of two young boys, timidly daring to spend free time writing, though not brave enough to call myself a writer. I came across another book of hers, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers

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Carolyn See helped me believe in my idea to write, edit and publish my first book. Her words helped me squash the inner voice that said I was an impostor, wannabe, dilettante. She spoke directly to me, and every other would-be writer hanging onto her advice, saying: Go For It. Cultivate Your Own Literary Life. She invited us in, but advised us that we’d have to push the door open and walk through by our own efforts. It wouldn’t be opened for us.

She commanded two essential ingredients: Write 1,000 words, and one charming note, five days a week. (Her daughter, novelist Lisa See, in the anthology What My Mother Gave Me, described this lesson as her mother’s gift to her.)

The thousand words a day I understood. But that “charming note” seemed so awkward. Who would I write? What would I say? “Hi, I really liked your book. Have a nice day.” How would that help me make a literary life?

I decided to trust her, and tried it. Once. Ten years ago, I wrote a note to Carolyn See herself. (I imagine she got a lot of those from people like me who couldn’t think of who else to write a note to.) I wouldn’t have remembered writing this note, but it turns out I never sent it. It appeared on my desk last week, unaddressed, except for her name.

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I opened it this morning after reading of her passing.

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I took her message to heart, and through years of writing, rewriting, abandoning, returning, and committing to the end goal, I became an author. In the words on the book jacket, “Carolyn See is not only a wonderful writer — she’s a wonderful writer who wants you to be a wonderful writer as well.” The audacity of generosity.

Dear Lisa, and dear Clara, your mother surely gave you many gifts, but I wanted to publicly thank her for the gift she gave me – allowing me to believe that the writing life was open to me, and so many others, simply if we wanted it.

We cannot always know where our inspiration or role models will come from, or to know what piece of advice will stick with us and make the difference years later. In a world whose grand trends can some days fill me with despair, I find solace today in zooming in, on focusing on one creative, original, and generous life lived.

Writer’s Life: Susie Orman Schnall

I chose today’s interviewee with Mother’s Day in mind. Susie Orman Schnall, author of the novels On Grace and The Balance Project, is also the creator of an interview series also called The Balance Project to explore one of her deep curiosities: how do successful women in many fields balance the demands on them, especially work and motherhood? Below, you’ll read how she answers that question for herself. Meet Susie:

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What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

Through parenting my three boys, I’ve learned that everything can change in an instant, the journey is often more important than the outcome, flexibility is everything, never take a “phase” too seriously — either positively or negatively — because it will most likely end, and a warm hug cures almost everything. All of those apply to writing. I’ve also learned through my almost 15 years of parenting, that I enjoy being a very hands-on mother and they enjoy having me present in their lives, which means I can’t treat writing as much as a full-time job as part of me would like.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

We have a small sitting room in the entry to our master bedroom that I’ve turned into an office. It’s my favorite part of my house because everything in it is mine, no boy detritus piles up in it as it does everywhere else in my house, and I feel I’ve accomplished so much there.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

I’ve always loved the quote, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (—Mary Oliver)

Who inspires you?

Women who are able to toss off the mantle of expectations society places upon them and live their lives authentically. And Lin-Manuel Miranda.

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

This is a sore subject for me because I’m not actively involved in any charity at this time. Since I was young, I have always volunteered for non profits, and I’ve worked professionally for two, served on the board of one, etc. As part of my quest to be somewhat balanced and not load too much onto my plate, volunteering for an organization is one of the major things I don’t currently do right now. I give a little time here and there to my kids’ school, other committees, etc., and my husband and I donate money to various causes, but I don’t give time to the degree that makes me feel like me. I know that I will get back to it and I’ve accepted and embraced that. I also struggle with which organizations to support because there are so many worthwhile ones, I have a hard time saying no to any of them. But I especially connect with organizations that give children opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I’m reading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She wrote it in 1955 but her wisdom and truths about being a woman resonate so deeply with me.


Susie Orman Schnall grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout her career, she has worked for advertising agencies, non-profit organizations, Internet companies, and magazines doing marketing, communications, website creation, and writing. Susie’s writing has appeared in local and national publications, most notably in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, POPSUGAR, Writer’s Digest and Glamour, to name a few. Susie has written two award-winning novels. Her first, On Grace, is about rediscovering yourself as a woman after motherhood. Her second, The Balance Project, is about work-life balance and was inspired by an interview series she does with working women on her website. Susie lives in Purchase, NY, with her husband and their three boys. More information at susieschnall.com.

 

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Writer’s Life: Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

liz and lisa 2014 photo credit debbie friedrich

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke are best friends who write bestselling books together. How wonderful is that? (I confess I have to suppress some jealousy over the fun they must be having together.) Their latest novel, THE YEAR WE TURNED FORTY, debuts April 26, and asks: “If you could repeat one year of your life, what would you do differently?” They manage to capture the human yearning, regret, humor and optimism, all in one “uniquely magical and deeply real” novel. Meet Liz and Lisa:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer or to life in general?

Liz: I’ve learned that sometimes bad things happen for a reason—you may not be able to have perspective at the time, but later you’ll see that it led you down the path you were meant to be on. It’s important not to let regret rule your life.

Lisa: Parenting is like one long ride on a rollercoaster. I’ve learned that there are ups and downs, steep climbs and long easy plateaus. And being a writer is exactly the same thing. Not to say I’m an expert by any means. I’m a “WIP” (work in progress) in both areas.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

Liz: I write in my office, which I recently remodeled. (I have doors on it, finally!) Anyway, it’s eclectic and romantic and I feel so thankful it’s all mine.

Lisa: I have a loft that you get to by pushing on a “secret” door in the wall. (My five-year-old daughter just found out about it six months ago!) I climb a ladder and I’m at the highest point in our home, looking out several windows. I love the solitude. I love the secrecy. I love the way I have it decorated, with all of my favorite things. I love that it’s mine, all mine!

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Liz: Make sure to fail forward in life. (Meaning: learn from your mistakes and take feedback to get better!)

Lisa: Let it go! (This is something I’m constantly working on!)

Who inspires you?

Liz: My mom inspires me to always help people and be kind.

Lisa: My daughter. She’s at that age where she’s constantly discovering. Looking around her and realizing there’s a huge world out there and wanting to know what’s in it. I love that she notices the beauty around her. That she is never in a rush. That she lives in the moment.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

Liz: I recently read I’ll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable—a charming story set in England and Paris. A must read!

Lisa: I just read The Passenger by Lisa Lutz and Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica. Both were excellent thrillers that had me frantically turning the pages so I could find out what happened next! And I’m currently reading Luck, Love and Lemon Pie by Amy E. Reichert. It’s absolutely delicious. Pun intended!


Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have been best friends for over twenty years and are the co-authors of the forthcoming THE YEAR WE TURNED FORTY, out April 26th, as well as THE STATUS OF ALL THINGS and YOUR PERFECT LIFE. You can keep up with their writing antics at @lisandliz on Instagram. And for upcoming book events, go to Lizandlisa.com.

The Year We Turned Forty on Amazon and Indiebound

Enter the “Pre-Order” THE YEAR WE TURNED FORTY contest to win 50 books!

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