Stepping through the doors of any library and combing the shelves for treasures qualifies as one of life’s most exciting adventures. Really. Recently, I came across Neil Gaiman’s poignant and humorous Newbery Medal Acceptance speech for his novel, The Graveyard Book (2008). In it, he speaks of his devouring (literally) the books at his local library on all of his school vacations between the ages of eight and fourteen. He describes himself as “an awkward child, ill-fitting, uncertain,” who found a home and a marvelous escape through books. Gaiman could have been talking about my experience, or the experiences of the myriad of his fellow writers past and present. I’ve yet to meet a writer who didn’t start out as a voracious reader and lover of books, or one who didn’t seek solace in them as a way to cope with not fitting in or belonging in some way to “the real world.” In a sense, I think those of us who write see what we do not only as a way of nurturing ourselves but of “paying it forward.” We long to give readers the same pleasure, solace, and comfort we derived from those wonderful books we dove headfirst into as children and revel in as adults. Books. Libraries. Readers. Writers. What amazing blessings in our lives!
Originally posted on May 21, 2015 After spending decades as a dancer and choreographer, I often get puzzled expressions from folks when I tell them I’m now writing fulltime. “Don’t you get antsy?” they ask. “All that ‘butt-in-chair’ time after years of leaping around?” Well, yes. I’m only too glad to get up from my desk and go for a swim after several hours of writing. But I do have to say that being a dancer can be pretty good preparation for the writing life. For one thing, we’ve got the discipline part down. As a dancer, I never had the option of saying, “Hmmm… just not feeling it today. I guess I’ll skip those pliés.” Nope, whether or not I felt inspired, I headed for the studio and took class. It’s the same for writers. We don’t always “feel like writing,” but it’s the daily practice of our craft that produces results. And once we get started, on the days that things are going well, we can have the opposite problem. Shutting down the computer to attend to the rest of our lives can feel like an unwanted interruption. Dancers are also pros at dealing with critiques and coaching. We know that’s how we get better, and we know there is always more. It’s good to have a second eye, or a third, or a fourth before the curtain goes up. So it is for writers. Long before our creations go out into the world, we need to have [...]
Originally posted on December 5, 2014 Dear Friends, Here we are again smack in the middle of the holiday season which seems to have begun … Oh, I don’t know, around August 1st? I admit it. I’m a huge sucker for the holidays. I love getting out the holiday decorations we’ve collected over the years (the best ones made by our kids as they were growing up), lighting a zillion candles, and snuggling with my husband and our cat Lucy as we watch an endless succession of made-for-television holiday movies. The cornier and the more predictable, the better! It’s the season where I can never seem to get enough of those “happily ever after” endings, preferably wrapped up in a scene with snow falling. This is also the season where I find myself doing a lot of reflecting about what really matters. My principal dance mentor, the late Gay Delanghe, had a holiday tradition that meant a lot to the succession of dancers, choreographers, and students who became her friends as well as colleagues. Every December, we looked forward to getting a phone call from her. We’d talk for hours and catch up on our lives, families, and careers. It’s so easy to lose touch with the people who really matter. E-mail and social media are great ways to remain connected, but nothing beats hearing the sound of a loved one’s voice. I miss those phone calls, but I know a piece of Gay lives on in me and all the dancers [...]
Originally posted on July 26, 2014 My husband teases me that I should own stock in Hallmark. I admit it. I’m a definite schmaltz. I love going to my local Hallmark shop and finding just the right card for a special event in the life of someone I care about. Cards for anniversaries, milestone birthdays, first homes, new babies abound. And yes, there are sympathy cards for life’s biggest and most inevitable losses—the deaths of our loved ones. The thing is, though, that a lot of mini-deaths take place along the path to our ultimate demise. And for a lot of them, there’s no card section to pore through. I’m not going to find a card to send to my ninety-something mom that says, “Gee, sorry, about your dementia.” And if there were one, I don’t think she’d appreciate receiving it. She knows perfectly well her short term memory has taken a hike, and she hates living in that nether-world where she can’t retrieve what happened earlier in her day, let alone what she talked about two minutes ago. Friends tell me it will be easier once she’s no longer aware of what she’s lost cognitively. Somehow, that doesn't feel all that comforting. Perhaps my own grief is more intense right now than it will be when my mom actually dies. It’s not fun to see your mother know she’s losing it, or to lose her by inches. I miss our daily chats about our favorite authors, politics, and what’s [...]
Originally posted on March 14, 2014 No writer is everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve been blessed to have my share of fans for my debut young adult novel, While I Danced. In emails, reviews on the web, and phone calls, folks have told me that reading my story moved them emotionally. They cared about these characters. Me too! As a writer who’s had plenty of practice coping with rejections and “thumbs down” on my work, these comments have meant more to me than I can possibly say. A letter from a fan this past week was especially meaningful. It’s one I will save and treasure for years to come. Not only was the letter beautifully written, but it came via snail mail, buried between the bills and requests for money that arrive in our mailbox with alarming regularity. What a thrill to open a personal letter written in cursive in which a 90-year-old reader talked about how the book reminded her of “being fifteen, being in love for the first time, and most especially dancing.” She went on to share her own delightful memories of dancing as a child and teenager. Whether it’s the tactile experience of opening a handwritten letter and fingering the pages, or the knowledge that the writer took time to make this thoughtful gesture—all I can say is it feels different. In fact, it feels quite wonderful. I’m not a big resolution maker, but this lovely reader has inspired me to resolve to send more [...]
Originally posted on February 16, 2014 When my husband and I decided to incur significant debt to send our 28-year old son to the NOLS School for mountaineering training in the Himalayas for 40 days, the judgments from our friends, family, and co-workers were unanimous. We were right up there with the parenting idiots of the decade, members of the Enablers’ Hall of Fame—still trying to pour money into a son who had definite “failure to launch” issues. Are we guilty as charged? We are. Then again, in this case, maybe we aren’t. When our son became a father in high school and then again at age 23, we started down a long path of helping him not only learn to parent, but to do so while earning a college degree and then a master’s in teaching. And when he was devastated after losing his teaching job and ended up severely under-employed delivering pizzas, we tried again to help emotionally and financially. Concerned that he was dragging his heels in finding a better job and draining us, his exhausted parents, we gave him an ultimatum. We wanted out of the business of helping support him. He needed to look for a better job. His concerned older brother got into the act too, offering to pay for career counseling. The counselor helped my son identify that he was best suited to have his own business, and that his passion was mountaineering. But clearly, he needed much more experience and training if [...]
Originally posted on January 19, 2014 The other day, I ran into a friend who told me she’d been reading While I Danced and was amazed to discover that my mother was French! I had to explain that my novel wasn’t autobiographical. My mother was a California girl who played the piano. In fact, the details of my life story and dance career are very different from Cass’s, the protagonist of the novel. For starters, the blisters on my feet were the kind you get from years of dancing barefoot as a modern dancer, not from pointe shoes! Of course, like all pros, I studied ballet intensively for years and have a great love and reverence for classical dance as well. But there is a sense in which as a fiction writer, whatever characters I make up will always reflect my own life and experiences. Authentic fiction comes from mining the emotional terrain of our own lives. Like Cass, I’m familiar with betrayal and lack of support on the home front. I too grew up with an absent mother I wasn’t supposed to talk about. And my dad was so concerned that I might pursue a career in dance that I was not permitted to take dance classes my senior year in high school! Decades later, that still stings, despite the long and happy career I went on to have in the field. So yes, While I Danced does draw upon some of the painful stuff I experienced growing up. But it [...]