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Killer Nashville’s Distinctive Brand

  At the Coming of Age Panel with Alison McMahan and Sheila Sobel Every professional author on the planet hears the consistent message that publishing has changed. Gone are the days when we can spend all our time doing that writing thing. Nope, we have to get out there and market our babies. Promote, promote, promote! A big part of that is creating and publicizing what makes our work special, unique, and worth paying for—what marketing specialists call “developing our brand.” I have to admit that I never really thought about writing conferences as having “brands” as well. But after attending my first Killer Nashville conference, I’ve come to appreciate that they really do. Founded by Clay Stafford, Killer Nashville, now in its 14th year, is devoted to supporting and nurturing writers of mystery, suspense, and thrillers at all stages of their careers. This year’s honored guests were Alexandra Ivy, David Morrell, and Joyce Carol Oates—not exactly shabby literary company. All three were thoughtful, down-to-earth, and much more interested in talking about writing than how to sell lots of books. And that in a nutshell is what I loved about this conference. The emphasis was on the work, not on sales, awards, number of reviews, or likes on Facebook. As Stafford pointed out, “Write because you love it… if you love what you are doing, then that sustains and nourishes you no matter your career highs or lows.” He advised all of us to support and encourage one [...]

By |2019-08-30T10:45:14-04:00August 30th, 2019|The Writing Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Family History: Not What I Expected

Until my sister Lucretia began digging into genealogical research, it never occurred to me that my family had anything to do with the abomination of slavery. My mother’s California family was one of modest means, while our Texas-born dad grew up in abject poverty. So, imagine our surprise when we discovered that we were direct descendants of Major Richard Bibb, a wealthy Kentucky plantation owner who came to believe that slavery was wrong and freed his slaves upon his death in 1839. Thanks to the leadership of Russellville, Kentucky’s J Gran Clark and Michael Morrow, there are now two separate but related SEEK (Struggles for Emancipation and Equality in Kentucky) Museum sites in Russellville which tell the stories of three generations of enslavement at Bibb’s 1817 urban plantation, as well as the struggles and accomplishments of newly freed persons after the Civil War in a vibrant neighborhood called The Bottom. This past weekend, my sisters and I travelled to Russellville for a reunion of the descendants of those enslaved by Major Bibb and his family, as well as the descendants of Major Bibb. It was actually my second visit to SEEK, having visited this past October with my sister Lucretia. Both visits have been deeply emotional experiences. The contrast between the opulence of the Bibb mansion built by the enslaved folks and the cramped, stiflingly hot attic where up to a dozen slaves were forced to live while on call 24 hours a day seven days a week is incredibly [...]

By |2019-08-08T11:25:31-04:00August 8th, 2019|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Hating the Endings of Otherwise Wonderful Books

This past week, I read two beautifully written young adult novels. Both feature a Romeo and Juliet trope which I also explore in my third YA novel, Leisha’s Song. Interestingly, both books star Hasidic heroines who live in Crown Heights, New York. In Like No Other by Una LaMarche, Devorah, described as “a consummate good girl who has never challenged the ways of her strict Hasidic upbringing,” gets stuck on an elevator during a hurricane with Jaxon, a boy whose family hails from the West Indies. The two fall for one another and begin meeting secretly. Told in alternating viewpoints, the novel movingly depicts the intensity and beauty of their relationship. Of course, all hell breaks loose when her family discovers their strictly forbidden relationship. Jaxon is brutally beaten up by Devorah’s brother-in-law and his friends, and Devorah is sent away to Hasidic “rehab” while her family plots to arrange an appropriate marriage for her. It’s impossible not to root for these star-crossed lovers, but at the end, Devorah can’t bring herself to leave her family and community. She dumps Jaxon and her consolation prize is to be “allowed” to go to college and postpone marriage. Likewise, in Eva Wiseman’s The World Outside, seventeen-year old Chanie is expected to marry as soon as she graduates from high school. She dreams of becoming a singer, a forbidden career. But when she meets David, a boy outside her tight knit community, he encourages her to pursue her dreams and helps her arrange [...]

By |2019-06-26T11:12:29-04:00June 26th, 2019|The Courage to Change, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Love, not Labelling

Friday night, I marched with a contingent from my Unitarian church in the Gay Pride parade in Louisville. This annual event is very special to me. It’s not only because it expresses my deepest values that we all have the right to be accepted and celebrated for who we are and whom we love. It’s also because it’s just such a “feel-good” occasion! There is something quite magical about folks of diverse ages, races, sexual orientations, and gender identities coming together to celebrate love in a hug-filled, colorful way. For a few hours, I feel as though I’ve stepped into a judgment-free zone. We are who we are—gay, straight, neither—and all have seats (well, make that floats) at the table. I couldn’t help but compare this experience to the one my husband and I had the week before when we attended an evening of cutting edge performances by artists who’d spent a year in a special mentoring program. The program’s theme was “Dis/Comfort Zones.” We’d come to support a former modern dance colleague, Theresa Bautista, who performed her brilliant solo, “I am a pretty girl.” Afterward, we wandered over to the art gallery where viewers were invited to add comments to white boards on what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable. My husband, probably the least sexist, traditional white male I know, not to mention being a strong supporter of gay rights, visibly drew back when he read some of the comments. One person wrote that what makes him/her/they uncomfortable is [...]

By |2019-06-19T10:57:32-04:00June 19th, 2019|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Still Dancing

I was asked to write an "artist's statement" for my upcoming college reunion. I've always been uncomfortable with this whole "artist" thing-- I've spent my life doing creative work, but somehow, I never think of myself as an artist! But I was inspired by dancing with my grandson, so here's what I had to say: “Alexa, play Run-Around Sue,” my four-year-old grandson commands. He slides off the counter stool, eager to be done with lunch. “Dance party, Mee-Ma!” he cries. “I’ll start.” He launches into a series of twirls. He jumps, gyrates, and slides in and out of the floor. He freezes in a dramatic upside down shape with one leg thrust toward the ceiling. I clap my hands in delight. Time falls away. I’m not only watching my beloved grandson in ecstasy as he dances—I am also gazing at myself all those decades ago in my own childhood living room. Music was a constant presence in our house. I cannot remember a time when I could hear music without itching to move, to dance. Truthfully, I couldn’t not dance. And so, despite parental pressure to pursue anything other than a career in the arts, and despite my strong interest in sociology, I ultimately left my doctoral program and became a modern dancer, choreographer, and dance educator. Looking back, I feel incredibly blessed that I made that choice. To me, dance has always been a life-affirming, ecstatic experience—the marriage of physical, spiritual, musical, and emotional expressiveness. The choice to pursue [...]

By |2019-04-19T15:53:22-04:00April 19th, 2019|Dancing, Uncategorized|0 Comments

One Month Later

It was a little over a month ago that our younger son Joel married Priscilla Hernandez, the love of his life, at Cliffview, a rustic retreat near Red River Gorge. It took him a mere fourteen years to convince his bride to marry him, and I’ve never seen anyone more thrilled than our son! We are incredibly happy for him, and to officially be a part of Priscilla’s family. Our extended families spent the weekend at Cliffview, and it was wonderful to spend time together. Priscilla’s mom Betty and other relatives prepared the most amazing authentic Mexican food. My waist line will never be the same, but it was definitely worth it! Meantime, I have some fun book events coming up. This coming Saturday, November 10, from 2-4 PM, I’ll be signing books at the Hurstbourne Barnes and Noble in Louisville along with other mystery writers in Derby Rotten Scoundrels, our local Sisters in Crime chapter. Then next Thursday, November 15, I’ll be attending Indiana University Southeast’s opening reception for an Authors and Artists exhibit that includes my YA novel, It Should Have Been You. And on Saturday, November 17, I’m thrilled to be a part of the annual Kentucky Book Fair from 9 am to 4 pm at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.  At 10 AM in the Spalding Room, I’ll be a panelist along with YA writers Mindee Arnett, Geanna Culbertson, and Kristina McBride on “Fierce Females in YA Literature,” a topic near and dear to my [...]

By |2018-11-08T13:51:28-04:00November 8th, 2018|Family, Uncategorized|0 Comments

When You Change Someone Else’s Life, You Transform Your Own

We had a guest speaker yesterday at church. His name is David Benson, and he’s the founder of a Southern Indiana-based non-profit called "Dogs Helping Heroes.” As the product of a military family, he’d witnessed firsthand the physical, emotional and mental toll war takes on returning veterans. Many suffer from PTSD and a host of other difficulties that make re-adjustment to civilian life extraordinarily difficult.             Benson, a long-time dog trainer, discovered that training a service dog to be a constant companion for a wounded warrior or first responder, could transform that person’s life and help restore his or her connections to family, friends, and willingness even to venture outside or shop for groceries. After three people suggested to Benson that he start a non-profit to expand his work, he decided the universe was sending him a message, and he founded Dogs Helping Heroes. The operation is a volunteer effort. Rescue dogs are carefully trained, often initially by inmates as part of their rehabilitation, before being paired with their new owners.  Benson showed a video and brought along two veterans and their service dogs to illustrate how life-changing the program has been.             Benson spoke passionately about the program. He teared up when he told the story of being at a celebratory picnic for participants in which a little girl had come up to his father and said, “Your son gave me my daddy back.”             It was so clear that it wasn’t just the recipients of the service dogs [...]

By |2018-07-02T11:27:06-04:00July 2nd, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

My Favorite Part about Writer’s Conferences

  I just got back from an amazing writer’s conference, In Your Write Mind, at Seton Hill University. It happens every June, and is not only for alums of their MFA program but for any interested writer.  Not only was it chock full of great workshops, panels, opportunities to pitch to agents and an editor, but it was a lovely opportunity to reconnect with old classmates and fellow writers, and get to know new folks. I do have to put in a plug for my alma mater, Seton Hill. I have never encountered a more supportive writing community for popular fiction folks, and that wonderful sense of community continues way past graduation. For me, my favorite part of attending conferences is sharing stories and listening to the stories of other working writers. Writing can be a lonely business and almost every career has its ups and downs. It’s very encouraging to hear from folks who’ve recovered from down periods and gone on to solid publishing careers. This year’s guest of honor, for example, was award-winning horror writer Paul Tremblay. He was delightfully honest in sharing that his first two published novels weren’t well received, and he ended up splitting from his publisher. It was five years before he published his next novel and got his career back on track. I also loved that he was a husband, dad, and school teacher who’d taught for 23 years and was managing to keep writing, despite a very full life! His self-deprecating humor [...]

By |2018-06-26T14:06:45-04:00June 26th, 2018|The Writing Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Celebrating Great Dads

Ed with his son Milo Joel with his son Cameron               Someone once told me, “A lousy childhood needn’t sentence you to a miserable life.”  As a corollary, I’d say that having a less than an optimal relationship with your father doesn’t mean you can’t be a great father for your own kids.              My older son’s dad had a father who adored his children, but he was deeply involved in running the family business and was in his forties by the time Mark arrived on the scene.  And in those days, fatherhood was defined more in terms of being a good provider than spending quality time with your kids. Still, I remember Mark saying, “I kept wishing I had a dad who’d play catch with me.”  In contrast, Mark made a point of spending lots of play time with our son and the two children he had with his second wife. He has always been a devoted and wonderful dad.             Likewise, my younger son’s father, my husband Alan, was determined to be a different kind of dad than his own had been. While Alan’s father loved his children, he was impatient, judgmental, and controlling. He considered Alan to be a disappointment because he preferred music to engineering. With both children, Alan was determined to be different. He made a point of offering unconditional love, acceptance, and encouragement for following their own dreams, as well as providing lots of play time and laughter.             [...]

By |2018-06-18T10:50:14-04:00June 18th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Reflections on My College Experience and Beyond

With a big college reunion coming up, we alums were asked to write an essay reflecting on our lives and college experience-- really made me think about who I was as a college student and the directions my life took. Here's what I wrote: Other than my summers teaching at Interlochen, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more inspiring dance space than the Boathouse studio overlooking Paradise Pond! In fact, whenever I’ve returned to Smith, I’ve been struck by the incredible beauty as well as intellectual richness of the campus. And I’ve wished I could have attended at a later time in my life when I might have been less filled with coming-of-age angst and better able to truly appreciate the experience. In all honesty, Smith was more my father’s choice than my own. I had unsuccessfully petitioned to attend a school with a dance major, which Smith did not have at the time (although I wrote a proposal for one in my senior year). But my dad was determined that his daughters attend Seven Sister colleges, so off we went to Wellesley, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith. Looking back, I had no idea how privileged I was to get a first class education and not have to work and go into deep debt to get an education, as is the case for so many of my college students. At Smith, I discovered a major, sociology, which I genuinely loved, and had professors who took my work and ideas [...]

By |2018-06-11T11:27:55-04:00June 11th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments