Saturday, December 19, 2009

Perfect Holiday Message

Have you read Eat, Pray, Love? If not, do yourself a favor and rush right out to buy it. It makes a fabulous gift for any strong woman you know!

Elizabeth Gilbert, the wonderful author of that inspiring book, says this:


We are the strivingest people who have everlived. We are ambitious, time-starved, competitive, distracted. We move at full velocity, yet constantly fear we are not doing enough. Though we live longer than any humans before us, our lives feel shorter, restless, breathless...

Dear ones, EASE UP. Pump the brakes. Take a step back. Seriously. Take two steps back. Turn off all your electronics and surrender over all your aspirations and do absolutely nothing for a spell. I know, I know – we all need to save the world. But trust me: The world will still need saving tomorrow. In the meantime, you’re going to have a stroke soon (or cause a stroke in somebody else) if you don’t calm the hell down.

So go take a walk. Or don’t. Consider actually exhaling. Find a body of water and float. Hit a tennis ball against a wall. Tell your colleagues that you’re off meditating (people take meditation seriously, so you’ll be absolved from guilt) and then actually, secretly, nap. My radical suggestion? Cease participation, if only for one day this year – if only to make sure that we don’t lose forever the rare and vanishing human talent of appreciating ease.

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love. Her new book
Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage will be
published in January, 2010.

Early Christmas Gift!

I LOVE receiving emails from readers. Love it. I respond to every single letter and I keep them all for those dark days when I sit at the desk and wonder why I'm doing this. Every writer has those days—the days where anything else seems easier than writing, where I think about all the people I know who aren't trying to write and how happy they seem… Well, the letter below was one of those messages than absolutely makes up for those days! And it was a reminder to me how lucky I am. I thank every reader who's written to me, and I'm eternally grateful to every bookseller, from the independents to the "Large Chain Bookstores," who has the passion of this letter writer below:

Dear Ms. Kittle,

I am writing to inform you that I have challenged myself to hand-sell copies of your book TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE. This is my 9th holiday season as a bookseller at a Large Chain Bookstore, although (and I don’t confess this lightly) my mother purchased your book on a whim from Sam’s Club last spring. She gave it to me to read even though I usually hate to take book recommendations from her because she rubs it in if I like them. Despite my reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed your novel, which was refreshing because I hadn’t gotten excited about a book in months.

I loved the characters in TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE, how they felt like they were really immersed their day-to-day lives. I was about five chapters in, I recall, when I slapped the book shut and exclaimed “Holy crap! This is the third person!” I would have sworn you were writing in first. It felt that close, that immediate. I’m a writer myself, and I struggle making a third person voice feel vivid and real. Kudos on that, and on the way you seamlessly slip in and out of the various heads of your cast. THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS is genius in this way, too.

I’ve been working at the Large Chain Bookstore (LCB) for my health insurance and 401K while I manage my own small local publishing company, substitute teach (I read that you’re a middle school teacher—I spent the day with 8th graders last Wednesday and am still recovering), and work to polish my own novel to submit to agents. I’ve been at the LCB since my freshman year of college, and I get bored, burned-out, and otherwise alienated very often in that particular realm of my life.

Thus my hand-selling challenge. Since April, I’ve kept TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE as my staff recommendation on and off, and I sold 25 copies without batting an eyelash. But in my past three shifts, I have been actively recommending your book at every opportunity, and I’ve sold 8 copies just like that (insert finger snap).

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted. I believe my current number is 45 copies. The thing is, your book sells itself. I sneak it onto our Noteworthy Fiction table just for my shift, and when I see people browsing the table, I go over and slide the book in front of them. “If you’re looking for a good book, this is my pick of the year,” I tell them. Then I walk away. Ten minutes later, when I check stock, we’ve sold another one. There is something about that back-cover copy that draws people in. I just have to get it in their hands.

I hope you believe me when I say that I am not a crazy stalker (although there’s nothing like a stalker or two to boost a person’s self-esteem, I’d guess). I was just thinking that, praise the Lord, when I ever manage to to get one of my books out into the world, I’d probably be amused to know that someone was forcing my novel down the throats of the unsuspecting population of a medium sized midwestern city. Plus, I’d like you to know that I keep your book (the copy that I never gave back to my mom) on my short-shelf, the books I go back to most often. You are currently snuggled between Marisa de los Santos, Amy Tan, Charlotte Bronte, Henry David
Thoreau, and the Dalai Lama.

If I am successful in selling a significant quantity of your book, you will hear from me soon. If not, I’ll bury myself once again in anonymity. In the meantime, have a happy holiday season!

See how this is an early Christmas present? I'm honored to be on her shelves "snuggled between" so many writers I greatly admire.

Oh, and an addendum: She has already gotten back to me after selling seven copies of Two Truths and a Lie in four hours one shift! Her new goal is to hit 55 copies sold by Christmas. Music to my ears. And anyone who has worked in retail—especially at this time of year—will relate to her claim that, "I get so BORED at work, and this seems more productive than memorizing sonnets like I did last winter to keep my head from caving in."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Queen of Christmas Trees

Do you all know about Book Club Girl? It's a fabulous website/blog that anyone who loves books should follow. I was honored recently to guest-blog for Book Club Girl's "Holiday Open House," joining such wonderful authors as Adriana Trigiani, Susan McBride and Jacqueline Sheehan in sharing their favorite holiday memories, gifts, or traditions. The series will continue throughout December, so check it out in case one of your favorite authors appears.

You can see my guest-blog here with Jennifer Hart's intro or read the content below. Many people have asked for a photo and I'll try to add one soon!


My mother is the Queen of Christmas Tree Decorations. Seriously, her tree strikes people dumb. When guests see it for the first time, I can count on approximately ten minutes of awe and examination before any other conversation continues. The seven foot, artificial tree itself is no big deal—what's extraordinary is the 1,027 ornaments adorning it.

And, yes, that's an exact figure, not an estimate. That number was accurate when the ornaments were boxed up and stuck back in the closet on January 6th, 2009.

The quantity alone is enough to make your eyes widen—the ornaments literally cover every available inch of the tree, going four and five deep all the way to the trunk. Getting all 1,027 of those ornaments on the tree is a three day process that leaves my parents' living room looking like a cardboard box and tissue-paper bomb exploded (and which my dad, a bit of a Scrooge, endures with much grumbling). But it's the quality that really grabs you. There are no generic round bulbs here, no color scheme, no trendy theme. No, every ornament is individual, some unusual (how many people have spiders and garlic cloves hanging on their trees?)—many of them handmade—and all tell a story. Her tree is a veritable scrapbook of memories.

See, my mom started a great tradition when my sister and I were babies. Every Christmas, she bought us a new tree ornament. She always tried for the ornament to commemorate something important or memorable from that year in our life. From as early as I can remember, she told us that when we moved away and had our own homes, we could take our ornaments with us, so our Christmas trees would be personal and meaningful. When Monica and I were old enough to have a clue, we started buying our mother an ornament each year as well so that we wouldn't wipe out her tree when we moved away.

The memory is far more important that the appearance when selecting an ornament. It matters not one iota to my mother if the ornament doesn't look “traditionally” Christmas-y, as long as there is a good story. Among the decorations on her tree are a blue hot-air balloon (commemorating the year we sent her up in one for her 50th birthday), a pink elephant (for the year my niece and father created an elaborate story about Zamboni, an invisible elephant who lived in our basement), and a gingerbread house (for the year she and I attempted to make one ourselves...only to have it turn into a gingerbread “ghetto” whose roof kept collapsing).

My own tree displays such oddities as a hoof-pick painted red for the year I bought my first horse, a pair of eyeglasses for the year I had Lasik surgery, a small set of paddles for the year I almost drowned in a rafting accident on the Gauley River, and a little log cabin for the year I won a residency at the Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers. There are ornaments to represent every pet I've ever had, as well as ornaments representing some of the fictional animal characters in my books. These all hang along with the ugly pink plastic angel with white Barbie doll hair that I begged her to buy for me when I was five.

When my creative mother can't find the item she's looking for, she'll make it herself—my favorite being one she gave me the year of my divorce. To commemorate my new home and its every wall that I painted in bright colors, she crafted a miniature paint bucket and brush with the label: “New Beginnings Paint.”

A longtime Girl Scout leader and preschool teacher, my mother has been given hundreds of ornaments from former students and Scouts. She keeps a notebook in which she draws a small picture of the ornament and a description of who gave it to her, what year it was given, and any special significance it has. Her tree is a testament to how many lives she has touched.

I'm so grateful for the tradition she's begun. It's funny how the actual gifts will blur together and be forgotten, but I can always remember the ornament I received the previous Christmas. I look forward to unpacking my ornaments each year and the memories that come with them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Clinton County Reads!

Talk about an early Christmas gift! I just learned that The Kindness of Strangers was selected as the Clinton County Reads pick for 2010. There will be some events and readings connected with it in March and April. To add to the ego boost, other books on the short list that Kindness beat out were Toni Morrison's Beloved and Uncle Tom's Cabin. Wow. Wow. I can't stop grinning.

Read the Wilmington News Journal story announcing the win.

Monday, December 7, 2009

He's Baaaack

As I expected, Huckle Buckle made an appearance on opening night of The Hallelujah Girls. (please see three previous posts, November entries “Huckle Buckle: the Beginning,” “Huckle Buckle Goes to School,” and “Huckle Buckle Backstage.”

Some backstory on Hallelujah Girls is necessary to fully appreciate Heather’s handiwork this time. My character, Sugar Lee, holds a nasty, 30-year grudge against her high school sweetheart, Bobby Dwayne, who she believes (incorrectly) has wronged her. Through a series of unfortunate events, Sugar Lee is forced to hire Bobby Dwayne to do construction work in her day spa. In one scene, Bobby Dwayne drops a gasket, bends over to pick it up, then accuses Sugar Lee of “checking him out.” When she denies it, he says, “Yes, you were. You were sizing up the merchandise and admiring the view.” The “view” is made all the sweeter by Bobby Dwayne’s habit of wearing shorts, even in December. He claims “My entire body can be cold as ice, but my legs are always hot.”

So...opening night, I arrive to pre-set my props, and there is Huckle Buckle sitting in the salon chair. He is wearing SHORTS, a tool belt, and work boots, just like Bobby Dwayne. He even has a beard, just like Bobby Dwayne. And he has a note pinned to his chest, which reads: “Go ahead. Size up the merchandise and admire the view. Who’s your Bobby Dwayne now?”

I think Michael Boyd, the actor playing Bobby Dwayne, was even more disturbed than I was. I’ve included a photo of the “real” Bobby Dwayne as well as Huckle’s creepy imposter disguise. I need to figure out the next move in this ongoing game of Huckle placement...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Huckle Buckle Backstage

This is Part Three of a three-part series. Please see November entries “Huckle Buckle: The Beginning” and “Huckle Buckle Goes to School.”

Almost two years had passed since I’d seen or heard from Huckle and I was lulled into a false sense of security. This past summer, though, I was in the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the brand new Dayton Theatre Guild venue (please see September entry “Costumeless in a Costume Drama”) and Heather was helping style all the crazy big hair for the women.

Production week, I walk backstage and there is Huckle sitting in my chair at the makeup table! He is naked, wrapped in a sheet (since this is the way I played my first scene in the show). His nakedness only adds to his creepiness! Heather was kind enough to leave his little checkered suit in a brown paper bag.

The cast had fun messing with Huckle. He was always under tables, getting under the women’s panniers, or peeking over the folding screen used for quick changes.

When the show closed and we had strike to clear the set and props for the next production, Huckle’s little bag of clothes accidentally got thrown away! So now he’s permanently nude...unless someone handy makes him a new set of clothes.

When the cast went to The Dublin Pub for a final cast party, I left Huckle in my driver’s seat with his creepy little face looking out my window. Hours later, when I left the Pub, some stranger had stuck a note--on a napkin--under my windshield wiper that said, “That is seriously fucked up.” So see? It's not just me who is deeply disturbed by Huckle Buckle.

Heather’s birthday was rapidly approaching. I knew just the gift!

I bought Huckle a party hat, wedged a party blower into his teeth, and sewed a “4” and a “0” candle to his crotch. Then I pinned a note to his chest that said: “Blow my candle, birthday girl!”

Heather’s good sport husband positioned Huckle in her closet where he greeted her bright and early on her birthday morning.

So...Huckle is now in Heather’s possession.

Heather and I are currently in a production together.

I live in fear and remain vigilant...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Huckle Buckle Goes to School

This is Part Two of a three-part series. Please see November’s entry “Huckle Buckle: The Beginning.”

So, after Belles closes, I go about my business, teaching at The Miami Valley School, writing in the wee hours before I have to be at work. All is well and I’m living in peace and happiness.

On the morning of my birthday, I get to school, unlock my classroom, turn my swivel chair around to face me...and scream.

Huckle Buckle is sitting in my chair!!!

He has a note pinned to his chest that informs me he is enrolling at MVS and I’m to be his advisor. Heather has used a mutual friend to sneak Huckle into my classroom for this birthday surprise.

Huckle Buckle my advisee? We’ll see about that...

I had such fun, updating Heather (and the rest of the Belles cast) with weekly updates of Huckle’s misbehavior at school. My students were more than happy to participate in staging odd photo sessions so we could send evidence to Heather than Huckle Buckle simply was not “MVS material” and was not fitting in!

Huckle was caught, among his many misdeeds:
1. vandalizing the school
2. sneaking into the girls’ restroom
3. cheating on tests
4. using my classroom computer to access porn
5. stalking students

Once Huckle was expelled, he was seen lurking around outside my classroom with an axe! The police were finally involved...and Huckle disappeared.

Actually, I bundled Huckle up the next time Heather was in a show. I asked the stage manager to deliver him backstage...with Huckle’s hands down his own pants. I heard Heather’s laughter all the way in the lobby.

I thought this was a truce, right? The natural ending to a fun game?

No such luck...

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Huckle Buckle: The Beginning

This is the first of a three-part series about a very creepy little ventriloquist’s dummy. His name is Huckle Buckle.

About five years ago, I was in a show at the Dayton Theatre Guild called Belles. In it, five sisters converse only on the phone with each other—there are no face-to-face scenes. [Tangent: my friend and fellow actress Heather Martin was one of my sister’s in this play. The first show I did with Heather, she stage-managed me in Collected Stories. Next, we were in Sordid Lives, but were never onstage at the same time. Then, in Belles, we got to speak to each other, but only on the phone. At long last, we are facing off in The Hallelujah Girls. We’re not only onstage at the same time, talking to each other, we’re laying on the hate because she plays my nemesis!]

So, Heather’s character—a bad, untalented ventriloquist—was a woman who couldn’t have children, so she developed an unnatural attachment to the dummy with which she performed. When the dummy is stolen at one point, she is absolutely devastated.

I once came backstage and found Huckle Buckle sitting in my chair in the dressing room. I made the mistake of saying, “I think Huckle Buckle is creepy.”

Big bad mistake.

My character made her first appearance of the show in a towel, rushing to answer a phone. After that scene and my hurried costume change, another cast member would kindly take my towel to the dressing room.

Well, I found Huckle wrapped up in my towel. Eww.

Next I found the perverted little puppet in my bra!

One night I was looking for my earrings during intermission and Heather said sweetly, “Maybe you should ask Huckle if he’s seen them.” Some of the cast had actually drilled holes in his plastic head so he could wear my earrings!

The war was on.

I threw Huckle out the back door of the theatre one night into the snow. Another time I shoved him in a drawer with only his hand poking out.

One day, as I went onstage before the show to pre-set my props, Huckle was in my bed! He had a cigarette in his mouth and was holding my prop vodka bottle.

I put Huckle’s head in the set’s oven. Another time I tied phone cord around his neck. Next, I tied his legs together in a knot.

I naively thought that when Belles closed, my time having to interact with Huckle Buckle was over. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I should’ve known trouble would start when the director allowed Heather to keep Huckle as a memento of the show. Stay tuned for the next installment of the Misadventures of Huckle Buckle. It only gets worse...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Keeping My Clothes On

I am happy to report that I’m in another production…and this time I keep my clothes on! (If you’re wondering, “huh?” please check out the previous post “Costumeless in a Costume Drama” from September). I’m thrilled to be part of the ensemble cast of The Hallelujah Girls opening at the Dayton Theatre Guild on Thanksgiving weekend.

My character, Sugar Lee Thompkins, is fully clothed in every single scene. That’s a record for me! In one scene she wears a salon robe and scuffies to go into the sauna, but that’s as racy as it gets.

I gotta say, it’s kind of a relief.

I also have to say that I am loving my life right now: writing all day, then playing in shows in the evening. Live theatre is the exact opposite of the writing life—I go from ultra-focused solitude, to extreme extroverted collaboration. Heading to rehearsal is a wonderful way to “get out of my head” after a writing day. My two passions give my current life some lovely balance.

And there’s nothing lovelier than studying lines with a purring cat in your lap. Ahh...

If ya’ll are in the Dayton area, I hope you’ll consider coming to check out The Hallelujah Girls. Described as a “rollicking Southern comedy,” the play takes place in SPA-DEE-DAH!, the abandoned church-turned day spa. It follows five close women—motivated by the loss of one their dear friends—as they try to “fix” their lives while battling several hysterical obstacles (which include—among many other things—probation officers, stagnant marriages, a reputation as the Black Widow of their town, loser children, the unwelcome re-appearance of a sexy ex-fiance...and most of all, the evil, nasty, social-climbing Bunny Sutherland).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Zombies Cause Poison Ivy

I recently got a bad case of poison ivy.

Because I was distracted by zombies.

While “stealing” plants.

Let’s back up. There are a few things you need to know: I’ve been gardening like crazy, so plants are always in my mind. I notice what’s growing and what’s flowering more than I used to. It’s rather obsessive, the way I hone in on a new plant and want to know what it is...and want to have some, of course.

Well, I started noticing this gorgeous purple wildflower on the sides of the highways. I pointed it out to various people who all identified it as ironweed. I’d like to stress that point: it’s a weed. Not a wildflower. A weed.

There’s a cement company near me that has a quarry full of rock remnants that they allow people to come take for free. I’ve been taking trips out there since June, filling my trunk with rocks to border my garden beds and to make pretty stone paths through all my gardens. One Saturday, while selecting perfect flat paver rocks, I noticed that the quarry had lots and lots of vibrant iron weed growing all around it—surrounding the entire perimeter of the quarry. I decided to come back the next day with a shovel and dig some up to plant in my yard.

That’s not stealing, right? It’s a weed! A weed growing in a quarry where anyone is allowed to haul away what they want. It’s not like this was a landscaped garden in a park. I just want that to be clear.

All would’ve been well, but that night I went to see the movie Zombieland with my friend Rachel. Rachel and I love zombies. We see all the zombie movies, good and bad.

Zombieland was a comedy. It was fun, then immediately forgettable…or so I thought…

I headed to the quarry early Sunday morning and kept running the scenario of the movie through my mind as I drove the deserted interstate. Because I passed no other cars, even when I got on the side roads, it was easy to imagine that I was perhaps the only human left alive since whatever horrible outbreak of virus caused most of our race to become the walking dead. I imagined that I wasn’t driving to get rocks and some ironweed; I was on a mission to get much-needed food from the only place I knew where to find it. I had to go this quarry. My life in zombieland depended on it.

Maybe it was the fact that I’m a fiction writer and in fiction the worst case scenario is always the most interesting. Maybe it was the fact that I’ve always had a vivid imagination. Maybe it was the fact that from the moment I began to pretend my own community was a zombieland I hadn’t seen a single other person.

Or maybe I’m just a big ol’ freak.

Whatever the reason, by the time I wound my way down the deserted country road to the secluded quarry, I had myself in a jangling ball of nerves. I tried to joke with myself that I was just passing the time, as I thought things like, “Okay, I’m going to park REALLY close to this patch of ironweed. I’ll keep all the doors locked, but the driver’s side open. I’ll leave the trunk open, but not all the way open, because I want to be able to see over the car…” I could envision it clearly: the snarling, furious zombies hurtling through the cow pasture, stumbling over the loose rocks as they came for me, the way I’d whack one in the head with my shovel, dive into the driver’s seat, lock the doors, and speed away— zombies trying to cling to the car, falling away one by one.

I was jumpy as I waded into the waist-high weeds to tackle my first batch of iron weed. When three deer leapt out of the brush and dashed across the road, my pulse raced away along with them.

I hurriedly dug up three big clusters of the purple flower—again, I feel the need to tell you that my three extractions were not even noticeable in the ocean of ironweed surrounding the quarry—and put them in my back seat, checking over my shoulder often. Then I limited myself to looking only at those picked-over rocks near my car (instead of climbing over the mounds of rocks to the farthest piles where the real treasure are found, like I usually do). Once my trunk contained the ten or so pavers it’s capable of holding, I breathed a sigh of relief as I locked my doors and drove away. Mission accomplished: I was still alive.

Alive…but itchy.

Oh, it took about twenty-four hours. The ironweed was planted and thriving in my yard when the first unmistakable blisters appeared inside my wrists.

Then on my fingers.

And one especially aggravating patch on my ankle.

I know poison ivy. I watch for poison ivy. My allergy to it is especially bad, so I’m always on the lookout, and I knew there was none in my yard. Just to be sure, I walked through my yard, all around my house, peering closely at every weed in every garden bed.

Along my back fence, near the flourishing rich purple ironweed, it dawned on me: the way I’d wandered into deep weeds to dig these flowers. How I’d reached down through the weeds to pick up the root balls.

That damn ironweed better come back next year in my backyard! Because that “free” weed cost me: $28 worth of cortisone cream and Domeboro at CVS, a $31 prescription of steroids, and a doctor’s office visit fee for an injection.

I met my friend Rachel for coffee a few days later and as I scratched forlornly at the now disgusting red clusters, I told her, “I’ve got poison ivy—bad— and I deserve every oozing bit of it.”

“From your yard?” she asked.

“No. Remember how I told you I was going to dig some up at Cemex? It must’ve been from there. I wasn’t paying attention.”

She shook her head, smiling. “You were distracted because you were stealing,” she teased me.

“No, I was distracted because of the zombies.”

She is the only person in the world who would totally understand that statement without another word of explanation. She took a sip of her coffee and with genuine sympathy in her eyes said, “I’m so sorry.”

I knew she meant it.

If the zombie apocalypse ever happens, I hope I get to survive with Rachel.

And if the world as we know it has to end, I hope wild ironweed will bring beauty to the devastation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Gardening/Writing Connection

I’ve always contended that a writer is always writing, even when she's not sitting before the computer. Certain stages of the writing process can’t happen in front of the computer...for
me, anyway. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a stickler for discipline and I show up at the desk for my allotted time every weekday, but a lot of my writing happens at other times, too.

A lot of my writing happens in my garden.

Deciding to land in a home base and have a garden may be the best thing I’ve done to boost my writing life in a long time. Here’s the thing: when you’re discovering the story in a first draft, or stuck in a scene of a work in progress, or contemplating the next move for a tricky character, it’s nearly impossible to just sit at the desk and think, “Okay, what happens next?” I mean, of course, you CAN sit there, but it’s usually very frustrating. For me, those ideas flow when I’m doing something else, especially something mindless with my hands—mowing the grass, driving a long distance, washing dishes...and gardening. It's as if I get out of my own way, and the idea sneaks up on me while I'm distracted.

Gardening is perfect for my writing. Gardening is creative in its own right and therefore highly satisfying, but it also doesn’t take a huge amount of concentration. Digging in the dirt, weeding, deadheading, picking vegetables, and watering—oh, especially watering, which is such a meditative, Zen-like practice to start with—my mind is free to wander and explore all kinds of plot possibilities.

When I first bought this house, I fretted over how much time I spent in the garden, feeling guilty that I should be in my new writing office instead, until it dawned on me how much the time in the dirt fed the time at the desk.

For me, too—not to stretch the metaphor too thin—novel writing takes the same kind of tending and patience as gardening does. It takes a vision and some faith. It takes watering and fertilizing, even before you’re certain anything is going to take root. It takes time before anything fruitful begins to emerge or flower. Weeding, pruning, and cutting back spent growth is a lot like editing—attention to small detail that has such a cumulative effect on the overall beauty.

Now, instead of feeling guilty that I’m “cheating on” the novel, I’ve embraced some daily puttering in the garden as part of my writing routine.

My garden helps me grow books.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

BLOW Book Club

First of all, is that not the best book club name ever? It stands for Book Lovers of Westchester (New York). Believe me, they have the sense of humor to match their name.

They've been together 18 years, in their own words, “through babies, divorces, death, marriage, and grandchildren.”

They contacted me about a Skype book club. Just in case you don’t know what Skype is, it’s like a “video call” where both parties can see and hear each other. It’s free! And it’s wonderful—it means I can meet with book clubs anywhere, even in other countries. I used to do a lot of speaker phone calls. Skype is better, but it does change things—they can see me after all! I can’t do a Skype call in my jammies or with bed head, for instance. So, after leading my fiction workshop last Wednesday, I rushed home, brushed my hair, set my laptop up in a relatively clean part of my home and called the BLOW Bookclub.

The BLOW women like to pick a theme from their book pick for their menu, and they said The Kindness of Strangers made it easy. They had challah bread, pizza with roasted vegetables, and chocolate-raspberry-caramel frosted cake. They each frosted their own piece of cake and adorned it with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce.

Let me just savor that image a moment.

Have I mentioned how much I adore a book club that gets into food? This group is really creative—sometimes the hostess decorates her house according to some theme of the book, and at times they’ve dressed up as the characters. I love it! (Reminds me of my own book club—we humbly call ourselves the Goddesses—and the time we met in the Yellow Springs Cemetery for our discussion of The Lovely Bones).

This was a wonderful discussion. They brought up something no other book club or reader ever has (and this book has been out since 2006)! They commented on the choice of the name Laden for the family, how not only was The Laden Table a great name for Sarah’s catering business, but how each member of the family was laden with a heavy burden. I wanted to jump up and do a little dance! Writers spend soooo much time mulling over names. They’re never arbitrary choices. So I was so grateful to these insightful women for this pat on the back.

The time flew by—we talked for nearly an hour and I enjoyed every bit of it. Skype worked just fine and other than my cat nearly knocking over a vase of flowers on my laptop, all went smoothly.

With the next book, I’ll do my best to take a train from NYC up to meet these fabulous women in person....and there’s plenty of good food in the upcoming novel that maybe they’ll make for me. (Hmm...I see a new motivation to include food in all my future writing!)

The group sent me a photo of them from the night of our chat. And Julia emailed this, which I think sums up beautifully why I love book clubs so much,
“Being that we have been together for 18 years we are so fortunate and grateful to be part of this amazing group of women who love and respect each other. We have had many wonderful experiences together. Thank you for giving us another great experience it put into our memory bank.”

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Social Work Alumni Book Club

I have not been keeping up to date on the blog, but I soon will be! I promise.

On Wednesday, September 16 I had the privilege of attending the Wright State University’s Social Work Alumni Book Club. They are a fairly new group—they’ve only met for three books, but Kindness of Strangers was their third meeting’s book.

I was a wee bit nervous attending this club because it was made up entirely of people involved in social work. I shouldn’t have been nervous, though—we met at the home of Sarah Twill (see June entry), who is one of the funniest, most laid-back people around. The reason for my butterflies was that these are people who would know if my research was “right” or not. I should still be worried about such things! After all, the book came out three years ago! But, because I care about the subject so, so much, there’s always that fear that I won’t have done the story justice, that someone somewhere will think I didn’t treat the subject with respect or responsibility.

Lighten up, right? But those are things that keep me up at night with ALL my books.

Much to my delight, the group was thrilled with my research. Libby Nicholson from CARE House was there (a wonderful, amazing organization that helped me immensely with my research) and it was great to see her again.

I can say that a gathering of all social workers concentrates on other aspects of the book than any other book club I’ve attended. It was a true pleasure to listen to them discuss Courtney’s suicide, Jordan’s recovery, Sarah’s parenting, Nate’s burden of guilt and on and on.

And if that wasn’t heaven enough, the food was amazing! I sure do love a book club with food. And bless Sarah Twill’s heart, she knows how these things work—the minute I arrived, she had me start eating since “you’ll be doing all the talking later.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heaped my plate with goodies at a book club...and the plate just remains heaped as the questions begin. I knew I loved this woman.

How could I not love her, when she sent me home with a bag full of her mother’s homemade cookies? And a ticket to a Social Work Alumni Society’s Wine Tasting Fundraiser at the Therapy Cafe. Many thanks!

But thanks, most of all, to all of you social workers everywhere for the important work you do every single day for people who are not fictional. I wish I could give you all much-deserved raises!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Teaching Fiction Classes

I am thrilled to be teaching two adult fiction classes this fall at the Word's Worth Writing Center in Oakwood, Ohio. This is the second fall I haven't been teaching full time, and while there are things I don't miss at AT ALL (grading, conferences, meetings), I do actually miss the act of interacting with a group of students while the creative energies sparkle. This will be perfect—teaching only fiction, without having to teach grammar, vocabulary, or Tom Sawyer!

The Word's Worth Writing Center offers many, many wonderful classes. I'll be teaching two—a Craft of Fiction class on Mondays (where we will delve into Character, Voice/Point of View, Dialogue, Plot, Description, Beginnings and Endings) where you can apply our exercises to a work-in-progress or use them to jumpstart a new project. I'll also lead a Workshop on Wednesdays where you can receive feedback on your work in a supportive, constructive environment.

You can check out dates, times, and registration info at the link above. If you're local, I'd love to have you join us!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Estates of Willow Creek Book Club

On Monday, August 31 I met with the lovely book club of the Estates of Willow Creek in Centerville, Ohio. This group meets once a month in the club house of the development, and for August, they read my novel The Kindness of Strangers. The group loves wine and had a wonderful spread of food! Whoever brought the pumpkin bread is a goddess in my opinion!

The group used my reading group guide from the Harper Collins website, and although a moderator moved us through those questions, several of the women had other questions as well. I absolutely LOVE listening to readers discuss certain points from the story. This always feels like a gift to me, since so much of writing happens in solitude. The most controversial point of discussion seemed to center around the character of Courtney—[spoiler alert!] was her suicide a gift to Jordan or just another selfish act? Was her friendship with Sarah genuine at all, or was she simply using Sarah? Was Courtney’s relationship with Jordan more or less damaging than Jordan’s relationship with his father, Mark? I was delighted, listening to intelligent women defend their various views!

I also loved that this book club maintains a library for the entire housing development. Anyone may come and borrow books. That’s impressive enough, but even better is the fact that whenever they have duplicate titles, they ship the books to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bravo, ladies!

I have to admit to being a little out of sorts, on my first night off from the play at the Dayton Theatre Guild and the night before my fourth novel was due! If I was a bit ADD or scatter-brained, this wonderful group didn’t let on and were nothing but gracious! Many thanks!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Costumeless in a Costume Drama

Okay, while I was working away on revisions this summer, I was also in a production. Not just any production, either, but the first production ever in the new Dayton Theatre Guild location—Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

First of all, everyone thought I was crazy auditioning for a show when I had the book due, but it actually turned out to be the perfect balance. I have a small, but juicy role, so it didn’t require too much extra time, and being a part of the cast kept me from being a total hermit when I got into the final push on the book. I could rise early, write all day, then shower and go interact with people in the evening. It was the perfect way to “get out of my head,” plus the cast is a great, fun group of people.

The Dayton Theatre Guild is an amazing organization. After having been in their rinky-dink location on Salem Avenue for years, they finally moved! They bought the Dayton Gym Club and began transforming it into a theatre. This made our production a little nervewracking. I’ve never been rehearsing a show while the theatre is being built around us (that is not an exaggeration).

More on that later, but first, a bit about my role...I’ve developed a bit of a reputation at the Guild, for appearing scantily clad. It happened slowly—a revealing pageant outfit in The Miss Firecracker Contest, a rush to answer a phone wrapped only in a towel in Belles, a leather dominatrix get up in Communicating got to the point that when I tell my sister I’m cast in something, she asks, “Do you keep your clothes on this time?”

When she asked me that about Liaisons, I had to answer, “Um, well, no I do not.” Here I am, cast in this magnificent costume drama...and my character doesn’t wear one! I play Emilie, a courtesan, and in my first scene, I wear only a bedsheet...and lots and lots of jewelry. The main character, Valmont, uses my bare back as a desk to write a letter to another woman.

I’m thrilled, though, that in my second scene I get the full 1780’s regalia, complete with custom-made corset and pannier.

A word about corsets. Oh my. No wonder those poor women fainted all the time! I have a love-hate relationship with my corset. It makes my waist look three inches around, it lifts my boobs up under my chin, and it makes my posture regal...but whew, it’s hard to draw deep breath and it wreaks havoc on your stomach. How we suffer for our beauty...

The panniers are another matter. They make a woman take up three times as much room as a man. They make it impossible to put your arms at your sides. And navigating a room of women backstage all wearing them makes me think of bumper cars.

So, as opening night approached, it became a daily discovery to walk in and see what state the building was in. We were navigating our enormous costumes through dry wall dust and wet paint, but I’m happy to report that all went well. We opened to wonderful reviews and receptive audiences. You can read our Dayton Daily News review, our City Paper review, and our Oakwood Register review. A few highlights: Russell Florence said of me, “...and the delightful Katrina Kittle whose portrayal of courtesan Emilie is so saucy that even her legs become a character all their own.”

Burt Saidel joked about my bedsheet scene being a “money saver” for the new building: “Perhaps one scene was meant to save money. Beautiful Katrina Kittle was a lively courtesan clothed only in a strategically placed bed sheet. How much more could have been saved by eliminating the sheet?” Only Burt could make that seem charming, instead of lecherous!

And my favorite “review” came from a patron on opening night who stopped me in the lobby and said, “Where can I get a desk like that?”

That made me smile...but I do wonder if I’ll ever be cast in a show that allows me to be fully costumed the entire running time?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bodacious Book Babe Bounty

This is just a brief addendum to my Bodacious Book Babes entry of July. If those babes weren't bodacious enough, then get this: they later sent me a VERY generous gift certificate to the Zig Zag Gallery in Centerville, Ohio.

If you're local and you don't know about Zig Zag Gallery, do yourself a favor and check it out! It's in the Cross Pointe Center near 675 and Alex-Bell.

This bodacious gift was not at all necessary (it was honestly gift enough to spend time with such fun women...and savvy readers to boot), but will be greatly savored. Now that I've turned in the manuscript, I can't wait to get in to the store and treat myself to some celebratory purchase!

Thank you, babes!

The Manuscript Has Left the Building

I was a horrible blogger in the month of August. My apologies. I’m happy to report that, at long last, I finished the revisions! After a final push of working nose-to-the-grindstone, on the morning of September 1, I hit “send” and the book flew through cyber space off to my editor. It’s hard to know if this is the final or if more revisions will be needed. I should know soon. Keep the vibes coming!

The book has changed a great deal, more so at this late stage than any of my other novels. I’ve never had so much new material enter the book so close to “the finish,” but it was right for the story and the manuscript has finally become the book I envisioned.

I thank my wonderful, talented, insightful team of readers, who turned the book around within a week for me, delivering great feedback—Katy Yokum, Anne Griffith, Sharon Short, Dr. Kathy Joseph, Mom and Dad, and most especially Rachel Moulton (who was reading the manuscript for the fifth time in as many years, with a brand new baby and a new school year beginning).

I’ll keep you posted! I’m taking some days off, to catch up with my neglected garden, my neglected cat, and my neglected social life. I can read again! And see movies! But...after a week, I’ll settle in to begin book #5. I can hardly wait...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Deadline Diva

Forgive my scarce blogging lately. I’m in marathon mode, nose-to-the-grindstone working on revisions on my fourth novel. They’re due September 1. When I look at a calendar, my heart races.

I received my editorial letter the same week I got possession of my new house! I spent about a week painting walls and tilling garden beds while I mulled my editor’s suggestions, and since then I’ve gotten back to my writing routine. I’ve been putting in nine and ten hour days of working, declining invitations to lunch and to the pool. A friend recently dubbed me “the deadline diva.”

This stage of revisions can be grueling. I’m NOT complaining—I love it, but it requires close and constant work to make any progress. This stage requires much rereading of the entire book. Each change I make has a ripple effect through every page.

Several writing quotes come to mind. Recently Stephen J. Dubner wrote in an article:
"A book is like a child who never naps, never goes to camp, always needs care and feeding, and whose presence gnaws on you if you dare neglect it."
So true! At this stage, no matter where I go or who I'm with, the novel is continually tugging on my elbow for attention.

But I also agree with Annie Dillard in her amazing book The Writing Life:
“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”
I can relate to the feeling that the book has many disorders, and I can relate to that daily hope that it will get better. This kind of immersion always leads to doubts. It reminds me of the sensation when you write a simple word—like "house"—and the more you look at it, the more it seems wrong. If you keep staring at the word, it stops making sense. In the same way, a manuscript will suddenly seem to have no point. I’ll labor over a passage and think, “Oh, my God. Who the hell is going to care?” Every single passage, image, or line of dialogue starts to look odd and seem meaningless.

But I don't agree with Dillard’s dread. Even in the self doubt, I LOVE what I do. I wake up before my alarm, eager to get to the desk, coffee in hand, cat in my lap.

I did take two unusual days off this past weekend and was horrified to find that with only two days without handling, the novel had gone totally feral! Many friends sent advice: “Shoot it,” “No, talk soothingly,” and “Set out a bowl of adverbs but don’t make eye contact.” I was happy to report to them, that by the end of Monday I had managed to humanely the trap the book yet again. By Tuesday it was caged, still snarling a bit, but no longer trying to bite. This morning—Friday—it was again taking deletions and additions from my hand. Whew.

That proved to me that at this stage of the process, breaking the routine at all is a mistake. I’ll keep plodding along until I turn the hefty stack of pages to some trusted readers. Until then, I shall remain the deadline diva!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bodacious Book Babes

Last night I had the great pleasure to be the guest at the Bodacious Book Babes book club.

Is that a cool name or what? It's WAY better than their original name. When I asked what their name was, one woman hesitated and admitted that they had once called themselves the Book Bags "but we think we need something better." I'd only been there maybe ten minutes at that point and I whole-heartedly agreed! These were gorgeous, smart, witty women. There was not a "bag" in the bunch.

In no time, they came up with the new name. I think it suits them MUCH better!

Have I mentioned how much I adore book clubs???

This club was fabulous! We were discussing Two Truths & a Lie and it was a blast for me to "revisit" a book I hadn't talked about in years. Many of them had read all three of my novels, though, so there were questions and stories about all of them. A great night. They had insightful, interesting questions and comments. The hostess had told me the group was "fun and informal" and that's exactly how I like them! Everyone just dove in with questions and we jumped from topic to topic. In addition to the books, our loud and lively discussions covered moon offerings, the therapeutic properties of Sex & the City, publishing, and Robert Downey Jr.

Kim, our hostess, was soon to have a birthday, so another member had brought a Coco-Cola cake. It was divine, and made even more other-worldly by raspberry sorbetto.

Sure there was wine, amazing food, and silliness, but these are SMART women. I love meeting tribes of interesting, intelligent women who love books. In this world, you know, it's a small minority of people who read for fun. Of that small minority, it's an even smaller percentage who read fiction. We book lovers are outnumbered, so when we gather, it's cause for celebration.

It was my honor to be surrounded my kindred spirits! Many thanks and all best wishes to you bodacious babes!

(Apologies to Susan, who had to leave before the pictures were taken!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How to Nap

Oh, the thing we can learn from cats...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Being the "Rebound Boyfriend" Book

On June 25, I had the great honor and pleasure of visiting the Mental Health and Contemporary Fiction class at Wright State University. My novel
The Kindness of Strangers is on the syllabus.

The class is just the kind of interesting combination I love. Here’s the official description:

This class will include an intensive study and discussion of contemporary fiction in relation to specific mental health disorders, such as substance abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia and others. Through the lens of contemporary fiction the class will revolve around discussions of the disorders, their symptoms, how they are portrayed (or not) through specific characters, how they’re diagnosed, the positives and negatives of such classifications, the prevalence of disorders in contemporary literature, and what this says about our society as a whole.

The class is taught by two of the most dynamic, energetic, funny women ever—Erin Flanagan from the English Department and Sarah Twill from the Department of Social Work. Seriously, these women are great. At a pre-class dinner at Jeet (yum, thank you, thank you) we discovered we were kindred spirits in that we wish we were the sort of women who liked yoga, but all three of us have tried it and it just ain’t our thing!). They baked homemade cookies for the class (and not just when a guest is coming)! Don’t you wish all your professors were like that?

This is the third time Erin and Sarah have taught my novel and the second time I’ve visited the class. The Kindness of Strangers is in really good, flattering company. This summer the class is also reading Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard, The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold, The Bright Forever by Lee Martin and short stories by Dan Chaon, Madison Smartt Bell, Jhumpa Lahiri, Adam Haslett, and ZZ Packer.

Going to visit the class was fantastic. A mix of English majors, education majors, and social workers, the group had insightful questions and comments. I thoroughly enjoyed myself (and the homemade cookies).

If that weren’t good enough for my ego, get this: my novel is always taught in the second week of the course. Erin and Sarah told me that they call the week three book the “rebound boyfriend.” Erin said, “No matter how much we hope students are going to like it, they’re still so in love with the Kittle novel the relationship doesn’t stand a chance.” Hee hee hee! Music to my ears. My head is swelling and swelling....

But, some very touching reports keep me from getting too fat a head. This group of people remind me why I wrote this novel in the first place. My book is scheduled in the second week to pair it with a service learning project. Twenty-three students completed the Stewards of Children training through CARE House, so they will have the ripple effect of helping to protect hundreds of children. When I hope a story of mine will have a lasting impact, this is exactly the sort of thing I wish for! Students also go out into the community and ask for board book donations for CARE House. Last year they collected over 500 books! Many of the students in this class will help (or are already helping) real children who face abuse like my fictional Jordan. I’m full of thanks and admiration for the important work they do.

I thank Erin and Sarah for a wonderful evening, the students for their inspiration, and Sarah F. for taking the photos!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Facebook Music Challenge

I did it again...I fell for one of those silly Facebook challenges!

I have managed to avoid most of the "quizzes" they offer, such as "What drink are you?" "What Sex & the City character are you?" and "What crazy writer would you be?" ( I do not want to know the answer to that one!!!) Okay I admit, I did take the "What state are you?" and was pleased as punch to be New York. I enthusiastically dove into the "# of Days You Will Survive in the Zombie Invasion" challenge. The answer? "You survive the entire Zombie Apocalypse! You are a zombie killing deity."

These are lovely ego boosts on slow writing days.

This little challenge required a bit more brain power than most FB offerings. Since it was sent to me by my cool, groovy friend Holly G (no relation to Ali G), I couldn't resist.

Her directions: "Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people (or not) and include me. Try not to repeat a song title. It's harder than you think... but delightfully fun."

She used Billy Joel and was amazing. I thought about it, considering Suzanne Vega or Paul Simon, then one day when I was avoiding a particularly tricky revision I should be working on I decided to take a stab with the Rolling Stones. (and I cheated a couple times, using album names instead of just song titles).

Pick Your Artist: The Rolling Stones

Are you male or female: Bitch

Describe yourself: No Expectations

How do you feel about yourself: I Go Wild

Describe your current boy/girl situation: You Can't Always Get What you Want

Describe where you currently live: Made in the Shade

If you could go anywhere you wanted to go: Voodoo Lounge

Your favorite form of transportation: Wild Horses

Your best friend(s) is(are):Emotional Rescue

Your favorite color is: Brown Sugar

Favorite time of day: Moonlight Mile

If your life were a TV show, what would it be called: Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)

What is life to you: Connection

What is the best advice you have to give: Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!

If you could change your name, what would it be: Susie Q

Thought for the Day: You Gotta Move

How I would like to die: Not Fade Away

My soul's present condition: Loving Cup

Try it some day...especially when there's something much more pressing and important on the desk next to you!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Style Substance Soul

Check out this great Style Substance Soul site for their summer reading list! I'm honored that The Kindness of Strangers is included among such great company. Their list has led me to many other great titles I wouldn't have wanted to miss. That's one of the great joys of summer (along with walking barefoot in dewy grass, the smell of tomato vines when you brush them, and watching fire flies)—sprawling in a hammock with a good book and a glass of mint lemonade.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My assistant

This is my new assistant, Joey. He critiques manuscripts by tasting them. Fortunately, he declares my current revisions to be lip-smackingly delicious!

Other services he provides:
1. "Testing" my coffee
2. Occasionally reminding me to rest my eyes by closing my laptop
3. Pouncing on pages coming out of the printer
4. Sucking my elbow if I daydream too long.
5. Lap warmer
6. Keeping desk free of "debris" by knocking pencils, rubber bands, and paper clips to the floor.

7. Alerting me to "intruders" outside (ie, birds, squirrels) with deep growls
8. Ambushing me from behind the sink in the bathroom
9. Workout partner, resting his 16 pounds on my forearms as I type
10. Enforcing required breaks by dragging toys to office

Okay, I know I've made him sound like a pain but he's truly a joy! I adore him, and I think the feeling is quite mutual.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

No Place Like Home

I now have blisters, mosquito bites, a farmer’s tan, and the reek of Ben-Gay...but so far no buyer’s remorse!

I am loving my new home. The place just felt sooo right from the very first time I saw it. I had a blast on my gypsy year, but “coming home” is what I craved. This house will be a perfect home base from which to continue my travels.

I got possession of the house at 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. By 8:00 that evening, I had pulled up a pile of thistle (that ended up as tall as me), planted beans and peas I’d started from seed, and painted two of the four colors in my kitchen. I was READY.

I spent the first weeks mostly working outside getting a garden in—I dug and tilled garden beds, planted flowers and veggies, put in stone paths, hacked away out-of-control honeysuckle, and hauled 2,400 pounds of dirt—48 fifty-pound bags of dark black garden soil. (My wonderful sister helped me haul 1500 pounds of it).

Hauling all that weight felt like symbolically hauling away baggage from the past to plant this new beginning. A lot has happened in the last years, and I have anewfound clarity and happiness. Ahh... There just seemed to be an abundance of metaphors available about starting over, putting down roots, and—clich├ęd as it is—blooming where you’re planted! (there’s more, oh so many more).

So many of the perennials I’ve planted have been orphans from friends’ gardens, so I feel surrounded by my tribe when I walk out there every morning with my coffee cup. There are theconeflowers and gargoyle from Michael, the lilies from Ted and Dave, the Siberian irises from Michelle, the lilies and coneflowers and hummingbird feeder from Anne, the arugula and lamb’s ear from Laurie, the bee balm from Mike and Lauren, the stone pavers from my parents’ yard, and on and on...

The day my belongings arrived from their year in storage felt like Christmas! I really pared down last spring. I kept only what I truly loved. For the most part, there were no surprises—I welcomed my Fiesta ware, my African artifacts, my paintings, my Indian wall-hanging, my gorgeous divorce quilt. But I do have some gaping holes: I have no dining room chairs, for instance. I’ve decided to take my time and slowly replace things only when I find items I adore.

The office, which I’ve dubbed my “sanctuary,” is my favorite room in the house. All windows, with a view of the privacy-fenced gardens, it is an inspiring, Zen-like place to work. Lots of sunlight and birdsong. Squirrels and hummingbirds galore keep Joey the cat entertained.

There are still projects galore, but this week I returned to my writing routine. I will continue to unpack, weed, and decorate “after work.” But first, there are books to be written in that lovely sanctuary...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Missing in Action!

Some lovely, caring readers have contacted me, inquiring if I'm all right since I haven't posted a blog for all of June. felt good to be missed. All is well—I've just been crazy busy with moving into my new house! (woo hoo) Buried in boxes, paint-spattered, with power tools charging in every room...if you've ever moved, I'm sure you can relate.

This house is a dream house for me—and the yard even more so. I spent the first four days working solely outside digging, tilling, and planting new garden beds. The gardens will be in full view of my fantastic new writing office.

Photos will follow soon...just as soon as I find my camera among all the boxes...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For!

Remember what I said about patience? (see previous post) a perfect bit of “we’ll show you,” the universe delivered...but in a cup-overflowing kind of way! I close on the house tonight at 5:30 (yes, I got the loan!), then I immediately race to my first readthrough for Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Dayton Theatre Guild (yes, I got cast!). Then, I immediately race to Louisville to be on a panel of writers tomorrow at Spalding University.

But wait. There's more. I get possession of the house next week, on THE SAME DAY I’m supposed to get the edits on my fourth novel.

How can you not laugh at the timing? It’s never boring!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Goat Girl

I am happily distracted by goats.

I need distraction right now.

There are many things conspiring in my life at this moment to teach me about patience. I’m still waiting to find out if I get financing to buy my dream house (hey...I understand that being self-employed in a field as capricious as publishing might make the underwriters a wee bit nervous in this current climate...but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!) and I’m still waiting on my edits on novel number four, feeling stuck in limbo land.

I don’t do patient very well.

So how perfect is it that I have goats to distract me? Or, rather, one specific goat named Humphrey.

Have you ever been around a goat? If you have not, you should try to remedy this as soon as possible. Goats are good for the soul. I firmly believe that if everyone had a goat in her life, anti-depressants would become obsolete. Goats are very very good at BEING HAPPY IN THE PRESENT MOMENT...which is something I need big doses of while I’m in waiting mode.

Humphrey is a stout pygmy goat with beautiful markings on his impish face. Humphrey greets you with a thin, warbling bleat when he sees you approaching his pasture (his voice is eerily childlike and once prompted the neighbor’s construction men to inquire if “that baby” was all right (what? you mean the baby locked in the barn who’s been yelling all afternoon? that baby?). Then, he comes trotting to greet you, switching his tail and throwing in a click of the heels, just for the fun of it.

That’s just it—Humphrey does lots of things just for the fun of it. When you’re near him, you can’t help but smile. I’m especially fond of the act of joy we’ve dubbed “the happy goat dance” in which he skips down a low stone wall as nimbly as a gymnast on a balance beam, then leaps off the end of the into the air, putting in a buck or two upon landing.

He is very playful. You can convince him to chase you—but be careful, as it is often hard to convince him that the game of chase is now OVER.

Once he’s good and riled from chasing, he’ll start with the head-butting, a personal favorite of mine. He rears up on his back legs, angles his (horn-less, ind you) head at a rakish angle, then lands and rushes in to butt you with his nubby forehead. He has twice knocked me down when he headbutted me while I was crouched to pet Ethel, the barn cat.

And the tail. He’s so expressive with that little switch of a tail. When he’s playful (contemplating a head butt, perhaps), it just switches back and forth, back and forth, giving his mischievous intentions away.

He has a charming burp.

He loves to scratch himself on fences, branches, rocks, and people and will often contort himself hilariously to do so.

Goats are clever. They’re every bit as intelligent and personable as dogs. Something about the way they mince around like women in high heels is highly entertaining as well.

It has struck me that there are important goat characters in both novel #4 and #5. Hmm...

Since I’m a Capricorn, it makes perfect sense both that I have trouble with patience, and that I’d be so fond of goats.

Capricorns are known to be tenacious, which is not at all the same quality as patience. Tenacious means that while I’m forced to wait, I stubbornly decide I will write an entirely different book in the limbo months—and do so—but fret about finishing book number four during every single day of the entire process. Tenacious means that I’m already scoping out cool houses to rent if I don’t get the loan.

I wish I could be more caprine about it, however.

Do you know the word caprine? I only just discovered it. Caprine means, you guessed it, “Of, relating to, or characteristic of a goat.” Just like equine means of horses, bovine of cows, feline of cats, canine of dogs, etc. Caprine is so obviously the root of words such as capricorn, caprice, and even capricious (which I used earlier to describe the business of publishing). If I were caprine, I wouldn’t fret. I wouldn’t necessarily be patient, but I wouldn’t waste energy stewing, either. I’d be happy in this moment. I’d know that when the edits come, I’ll be better able to tackle them, having been given the objective eye of distance from the manuscript. I’d know that if I don’t get this house, it means that something better must be out there.

So...I’m taking deep breaths. I’m trying to use Humphrey as my role model. Perhaps it’s time I start to develop a “happy goat dance” of my own.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Nancy Girls Book Club

On May 4th, I attended a fabulous book club in Centerville, Ohio. I’ve attended nearly fifty book clubs just for The Kindness of Strangers alone since its release in 2006, but I’ve never kept track of them all on my website. I sincerely wish I had! I’ve met with just incredible groups of people, such as the Novel Women, the Book Ends, the You Don’t Have to Read the Book Club, and the winner for my all time favorite book club name: The Beautiful Women Drinking Martinis Book Club! The keeping track and blogging about each group on my site will be a new thing for 2009, and I hope none of the book clubs of my past feel slighted.

I’m a huge fan of book clubs. I belong to one myself (we humbly call ourselves the Goddesses) and I really think book clubs help keep new fiction thriving in our society. I know for a fact that book clubs are responsible for keeping my books alive, so I’m eternally grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you to every book club who had ever chosen one of my novels, whether I attended your discussion or not! There’s just something so appealing about social gatherings revolving around books. Does my heart good!

I genuinely enjoy hearing clubs discuss my novels. It’s an entirely different dynamic than a book store reading. At a reading, you’re sort of convincing people to read the book, but at a club, everyone (well...almost everyone...there are always exceptions! I’ve been the exception a couple times among the Goddesses) shows up already having finished the book. So much of writing happens in such solitude that it’s a real gift to hear readers argue over plot events, describe how certain scenes and characters affected them, and what passages made them laugh, cry, or throw the book across the room! A fascinating (to me) argument often develops from discussing Courtney’, “resolution” (don’t want to be a spoiler) in The Kindness of Strangers, for example.

Every book club has a different personality, feel, and mode of operation. Book clubs are often asking me about other clubs, so I’ve decided to start recording them here, so they can read about each other!

It was with great pleasure that I ventured to Centerville to meet with the Nancy Girls (named because a Nancy happened to be the common person introducing these women in their early days of the club). The Nancy Girls were informal, interesting, and FUN. They socialize with each other in addition to book club. As far as books go, their selection process is pleasantly casual. Once they all even went to Barnes & Noble together, branched out, then came back to a common area to discuss their discoveries. I love that!

Another thing I love is that the Nancy Girls EAT. Books and food are two of my favorite things so their combination always makes me happy. Making me doubly happy was the fact that desserts were so well represented. A big fat brownie with whipped cream on top? Heaven. Ah, women after my own heart!

They were women after my own heart in other ways as well. By sheer coincidence, every woman in this club has experienced divorce (it is NOT a prerequisite for membership!). They were wise and strong and resilient as we talked about divorce phenomenons such as the “blindside” and the “blindside that turns out to have been self-imposed blinders.” I’m eager for this group to read my fourth novel (you know how my books always center around a social issue? This one is marriage, divorce, and same-sex marriage).

Whoever picked the book for the Nancy Girls is that meeting’s “leader.” Each leader can do whatever she wants, but our leader Bobbie had each person fill out a card listing one question they had, or one passage they wanted to comment on. This group had read TWO of my books (see why I love them so???)—both The Kindness of Strangers and Two Truths and a Lie—so the questions alternated. The questions were interesting and fun, and the group was totally open to tangents and followup questions. The time flew by.

One member, Nicki commented: "What I’ve found most interesting about the book club is that the books I think will trigger the most discussion, don’t. Other times, I’ll read a book and not find one thing I think we will discuss, yet at the meeting, that book will trigger a great discussion.”

If their insightful comments were gift enough, the Nancy Girls presented me with a wonderful Target gift card, and a sassy little gift bag full of cute notebooks, pencils, and a fridge magnet (I LOVE fridge magnets). This was such a lovely, thoughtful thing for them to do. They’d been following my blog and they knew I was soon to be buying a house, so they knew the Target card would be useful. I’m happy to report to them that the card bought me potting soil, gardening gloves, a shovel, and several pots—I can start gardening BEFORE I have possession of my house!

Book clubs often ask me what other clubs are reading, so I’ll report that past Nancy Girl picks included: The Sparrow, Three Cups of Tea, The Faith Club, The Last Templar, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, The Secret Lives of Bees, Eat Pray Love, and many books by Mary Kay Andrews (who I was tickled pink to report is a fellow Goddess Book Club member).

Many, many thanks, Nancy Girls! Happy reading!