Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gatlinburg Girls Gone Wild

Okay...so it wasn't exactly "Girls Gone Wild." Not even remotely. But it did turn out to be a wonderful gift to ourselves.

Last weekend, six friends who'd known each other for 30+ years set out to enjoy a Girls Weekend together. One came from Los Angeles, one from Knoxville, and four from Dayton...and they all trekked to a beautiful cabin in the Great Smokey Mountains.

People always talk about doing such things. But too few people actually DO it. I know I would've just continued to talk about "how fun that would be," if not for our kickass, organized friend Kathy—who made it happen. About four days after we first discussed it, Kathy sent us links to various cabins and prices. I'm proud of us all for saying yes and following through.

It was easy. And it was so, so FUN. And it was an important reminder of how much good friends feed our spirits and how inspiring it is to keep those connections strong.

We laughed so much, even on the road trip. One of my favorite moments was when I banged on a rest stop stall door thinking one of my friends was still inside, saying, "Hurry up! We need more pictures!"...only to discover it was a total, terrified stranger. We apologized (and the woman had a great sense of humor, thank goodness), but outside we were laughing so hard another stranger said, "I don't know where you ladies are heading, but if you're having this much fun HERE, I don't think it matters!"

Amen to that.

We talked, we ate, we had a religious experience involving a divine concoction known as bleu cheese grits, we hiked the Rainbow Falls

Trail (even eating smoked salmon and Melba toast as a picnic—how civilized is that?), we ate, we talked, we consumed copious amounts of coffee, we laughed until our ribs ached.

Our "wild" weekend translated to: in our jammies by 10 PM each night, falling asleep on couches, running out of coffee but re-packing many un-opened bottles of wine to take home, the police actually making some arrests in our cabin compound...but not of any of us. My oh my, how times have changed...but for the better!

My wish for you is that if there are friends you've known for decades that you'd love to spend a weekend with—make it happen! Consider it your holiday gift to yourself. People and memories are worth so much more than anything that needs a gift bag, anyway!

Give the Gift of Books!

Doing Your Holiday Shopping?

One of my favorite sayings is: "A book is a present you can open again and again." It's so, so true. If you're looking for book ideas to give as gifts, please check out my October blog, "National Reading Group Month" for a list of books I loved this summer and highly recommend.

The only thing better than receiving a book as a gift is receiving a book that is personalized to you and signed by the author.

So…if you're considering buying one of my books as a gift, not only would I be eternally grateful, but I'd happily personalize it for you, AND I'll pay the shipping to return the personalized book to you (anywhere in the United States).

Here's all you have to do:

1.) Buy whatever copies of my novels you desire. (Available online or in stores—please patronize your local independent booksellers!)

2.) E-mail me at katrinakittle (at) gmail.com and I'll give you an address and shipping suggestions.

3.) Send the book to me anytime between now and December 17, with instructions on how to sign and personalize your gift books. (Are you buying it for an animal lover, for instance? Or a writer? I'm happy to make the inscription very specific to your friends or family members).

4.) Relax, sip a latte...and wait for my return package in a day or two. :-)

The first 5 people to respond will also receive a snappy Harper Perennial tote bag with a quote from The Blessings of the Animals on it!

If you're in the Dayton area and don't wish to bother with shipping, please drop by New & Old Pages Bookshoppe on Saturday, December 4th. Fellow author Kristina McBride and I will be there from 1-3 PM signing books, reading, and longing for your company!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Culinary Cat

I have a very odd cat. I know that. Joey has anxiety issues and takes daily doses of valium. He has a jelly belly that swings from side-to-side when he runs.

And he loves a spatula.

That’s right. My cat’s new favorite toy is a spatula.

I discovered this one morning when I rolled over and discovered a spatula in bed next to me. Just a simple, flat spatula. How did it get in my bed from the canister it usually lives in beside my stove? Unless I had taken up sleepwalking (and it is true that I love to cook) the only culprit could be my cat.

I washed the spatula, replaced it in its canister...then forgot all about it. Until it happened again two days later.

I’m a light sleeper. I’ve always been an insomniac. It amazed me that I didn’t HEAR this happen. I was especially astounded when one morning I rolled over on the whisk instead of the spatula. What the heck? He really took the whisk from the canister, got it from the counter top to the kitchen floor, then all the way into the bedroom without me hearing a sound?

He only chose the whisk once, though. And one time only he brought the carrot grater (which he must have taken from the dish drainer). Every other time—about nine times that I've counted—it’s been the spatula.

I’ve never yet seen him do it, but I’ll come home and find the spatula on the couch...or in the bathtub...or under the table.

I finally decided—why not let him have it? I drew a little cat face on the spatula with Sharpie. This would be his, and I’d use another one for actual cooking. He carries the spatula from room to room. He doesn’t actually play with it, but he seems to like it near him—he naps with it, sometimes even holding it like a doll while he sleeps.

I figure, who am I to judge? I’m all about tolerance.

But I documented all of this on Facebook. One morning my FB status was “Katrina Kittle finally gave up and is letting the cat keep the spatula as a toy,” and later that day I attended the fun and rowdy No Name Book Club. As a thank you gift, they gave me a lovely bottle of wine...and a new spatula.

That, my friends, is social media at its finest!


Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Book, The Movie

Okay, that was kind of a cheat of a title...this is just a game, an exercise...but we can keep hoping, right?

Thanks to all of you wonderful folks who helped participate in the game of casting The Blessings of the Animals for the website Campaign for the American Reader. What fun—instructions were to assemble your "dream cast" and not worry about practicality or budget (meaning you could put A-listers into even the tiniest roles). Most people had heated opinions on casting. The only casting choices no one argued with were my choices for the Davids and for Cami's parents.

See my final choices here!

And keep sending that good movie mojo out into the universe, okay? Many thanks!

Kittle & Riggle Comedy Hour in Detroit

In honor of National Reading Group Month, I was thrilled to get to "share the stage" with wonderful author Kristina Riggle (author of The Life You've Imagined and Real Life & Liars) at a Women's National Book Association event in Detroit.

I know, I know...Katrina Kittle and Kristina Riggle? Really? Whose bright idea was that? Don't we sound like a comedy team or a talk show?

When I first met Kristina in Grand Rapids last summer, before my reading/signing at Schuler Books & Music, both of us chatted with the event coordinator...and then the poor guy introduced me as Katrina Riggle. So...we're used to it.

Kris and I had a great time and here's a blog we co-wrote for Book Club Girl to celebrate our love for book clubs and reading groups. Hope you enjoy! If you're in a book club yourself, do something special to celebrate this month!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

National Reading Group Month!

Did you know that October is National Reading Group Month? Are you in a reading group or book club?

I'm incredibly, incredibly honored that the National Women's Book Association chose The Blessings of the Animals as one of ten Great Group Reads in honor of this month. Honored doesn't begin to cut it—more like over the moon!

I want to take this time, though, to share with you some books I've read this summer that I think are great group reads that I'd recommend to book clubs. (And speaking of book clubs, you all know I love to talk to book clubs, right? If you're not close enough for me to visit in person, I can Skype or call. Just last week I Skyped a book club in Saskatchewan).

My reading tends to be all over the place. I can't stand to be without a book and will often have more than one book "going" at a time. Lately, though, I've been blessed with amazing books that suck me right in and demand undivided attention. Since I've been out on book tour this summer, I've had lots of time to read in airports, on planes, in hotels, and once even waiting for my hotel room to be ready!

Since I'm at work on a young adult novel, I've been reading much of that genre. My very favorite of the summer was Kristina McBride's debut novel, The Tension of Opposites. The story of a kidnapping victim returned after several years, told from the perspective of the best friend who lost her...and feels she lost her again once her friend is "back" but so changed, this book is smart, beautiful, and so tensely suspenseful I stayed up until 2:17 one night to finish it.

Another young adult novels that won my heart was Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor. This book is made up of three stories, not really linked by anything other than at their hearts they're all about the power of yearning. Taylor is a genius at blending in old tales and myths and historical details. Full of the supernatural, hauntings, visits to hell, old curses, and ghosts, I absolutely ate this up. The vivid imagery is rich and dense as decadent chocolate cake.

Still in the young adult category was The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. I have a soft spot for zombie stories, people are sometimes surprised to learn. This is a coming of age story set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse, where a young woman fights to find her true self and follow her own destiny within her walled, sheltered, and confining (in every way) community, surrounded by the forest of the "unconsecrated." If you feel dubious about zombies, rest assured they are simply the backdrop of this rich story that features a strong, brave, and resourceful heroine. I'm very excited to get my hands on Ryan's sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves.

One book that helped me "get lost" this summer was Commuters by Emily Gray Tedrowe. I'll be honest that I was eager to read the book initially simply because I met Emily at ALA in June and she was so lovely and fun. Well, her book is the same, but also touching and rich. Told from multiple points of view, this is exactly the kind of family drama I adore—and a story where each different viewpoint adds something to your understanding of ALL the characters. The character who totally stole my heart was Avery, a chef. I've had chefs as characters in my last two novels, so Emily really had me with her amazing descriptions of food and food prep. I was itching to get home and into my kitchen. There's a Thanksgiving menu in this book that I long to get my hands on.

In July, I taught at the Antioch Writers' Workshop and was blown away by two other faculty readings. Crystal Wilkinson could read a grocery list and I'd be enthralled. I picked up her book Water Street, and quickly learned that you don't need Crystal reading her work herself for it to be enthralling. Describing the secret and intertwining lives of neighbors and friends and Water Street in a small Kentucky town, this book will haunt you with its truths and breathtaking observations. I'm very excited to know that her new book, The Birds of Opulence (not yet released) will contain many of the characters from Water Street.

Another writer I was delighted to discover at the Antioch Writers' Workshop was Donald Ray Pollock. Just as with Crystal, it was the power and fine performance of his reading that convinced me to buy his book of linked stories, Knockemstiff. The recurring characters who live in Knockemstiff, Ohio (a real town, by the way, although the work is fiction) are tough, sad, depraved, and resilient. Their stories are gritty and often violent but the stories have a dark sense of humor and are delivered without judgment. He makes me think of Flannery O'Conner. I'm not kidding.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok transported me in the most beautiful way on a travel day. The inspiring story of a bold, scrappy girl from Hong Kong plunked down in Brooklyn with her mother and forced to survive unspeakable squalor, slavish factory work, and overwhelming odds against her, this book is one of those triumphs of spirit that make you feel sooo good (but without ever resorting to sentimentality). I was rushing to finish a chapter when my plane was landing. The next thing I knew, a flight attendant was asking, "Ma'am?" and gesturing to me that the plane was empty! It's that kind of book and that kind of writing!

I finished If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous. A young woman goes to teach English in a tiny Japanese town shortly after the suicide of her father. During her trials and tribulations with the language and the "trash police" she learns that you can't really throw away your past...or anything else easily in Japan, for that matter. Sometimes this book made me laugh out loud, and other times it made my eyes burn as I fought not to cry. I found it so unflinchingly honest that it was sometimes painful, sometimes awkward, but very refreshing and unlike anything else I'd ever read.

Over Labor Day weekend, I read Labor Day by Joyce Maynard. Wow. I'm really on a roll of great books. Narrated by a young teenaged boy, this book looks back at an unexpected encounter (an escaped convict who stays in the boy's home and the mutual love between the convict and the boy's mother) that turns into a life-altering weekend. When I finished reading, I felt as if my own life had been altered. I recognize that I really, really love adult novels that are narrated by young adults or children...

...which leads me to a book that utterly, completely, blew me away: Room by Emma Donoghue. Where do I even begin? I have to agree with Michael Cunningham, whose blurb of this novel says, "Room is that rarest of entities, an entirely original work of art. I mean it as the highest possible praise when I tell you that I can't compare it to any other book." Narrated by a five-year-old whose entire life has been spent in "room"—where he was born, and where his kidnapped mother has been held prisoner for seven years. I don't want to give too much away. Just trust me: you want to read this!

There are so, so many more—The Life You've Imagined by Kristina Riggle, The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby—but this is a good starting place. Whenever I'm visiting a book club and they ask me for recommendations on what to read next, my mind always goes blank and I can't think of all the amazing things I've read. Now, I'll be able to direct them to this blog.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

September Summary from a Bad Blogger

My apologies for being a bad, bad blogger and only posting once in September! I had a busy, wonderful, rich, full month and would love to give you the highlights here:

TWIN CITIES LIVE
I was honored when Twin Cities Live television host Elizabeth Ries chose The Blessings of the Animals for the Twin Cities Live Book Club. (That's Elizabeth in the third photo with me). She announced the choice at a "preview party" held at Common Good Books (a bookstore owned by Garrison Keillor), where I met with wonderful Minneapolis readers, ate perhaps the best chocolate chip cookies ever, and spoke to an audience in by far coolest venue I've had yet—in a little grotto in front of a fountain and pond.

Elizabeth is an animal lover bigtime and we bonded immediately. Seriously, I felt like I'd known her forever. Was lucky to get to dine that night with her and her wonderful producer, Anna, at the Cheeky Monkey Deli (is that a great name or what). Learned all about Elizabeth's dog, Henry, and her former cat, "Spicy Ries, may he rest in peace."

The next day, I got to appear in front of my first live TV audience on Twin Cities Live (sharing my hour with Toby Keith and a Real Housewife of Orange County). Elizabeth interviewed me about the book and everyone in the audience got a copy of Blessings in their swag bag (signed by me).

I had a great time, made all the more great by the fantastic company and transportation of Susan Walker of the Midwest Booksellers Association. Thanks, everyone!

GUEST AUTHOR AT MIAMI VALLEY SCHOOL
I had the distinct, unique, and wonderful honor of being Guest Author at the school where I used to teach fulltime—the Miami Valley School in Dayton, Ohio. I discovered it's a very different experience speaking to an audience who knows you and knows you well. I spent a Thursday addressing the entire Upper School (who had read Blessings for their summer reading assignment) then visiting English classes. On Friday night, MVS hosted a public event with delicious appetizers and wine. To the students I spoke about my evolution as a writer, and to the Friday night audience I spoke more in depth about the evolution of Blessings as a novel.

The MVS community has been so supportive of me and I'm grateful. Huge thanks to Rachel Moulton, Sam Wagner, and Susan Strong for making this happen and inviting me to be part of your Visiting Author Series.

REASONS TO BE HAPPY
In September, my wonderful, incredible, kickass agent Lisa Bankoff sold my first young adult novel! Reasons to Be Happy will be published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in the Fall of 2011. That's right—this time next year I'll have another book out in the world. I'm over the moon! I'll fill you in more soon.

ELLEN GOODMAN AND THE DANGEROUS DAMES OF DAYTON
If my September cup wasn't overflowing enough, I was invited to emcee the League of Women Voters' 90th Anniversary Celebration—Dangerous Dames of Dayton...which included getting to introduce the keynoter, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman. I managed not to make a fool of myself and gush too much. She's a writer I greatly admire. Her talk was excellent— inspiring and sobering. I had the good fortune of sharing her dinner table, along with Ariella Perlman (daughter of Itzhak Perlman)—artist, jewelry designer, yogi, flutist, and entertaining dinner companion. A lovely night. That's me, Ellen Goodman, and Ariella in the first photo.

BLESSINGS GALORE...
In addition to all the above-mentioned blessings, I met with several book clubs, began teaching two classes at Word's Worth Writing Connections, harvested my overflowing garden, and managed to get back into a writing groove after all this travel. I'm trying to savor every moment and not take any of this bounty for granted. Love and thanks to all of you for making my new book's launch into the world so special and memorable!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Help Cast Blessings!

I was honored to be contacted by a wonderful blog called Campaign for the American Reader and asked to participate in some of their fun author exercises. One of them is a game called My Book, the Movie—where you cast the leading roles in your book however you see fit.

Wanna help?

Here are my ideas so far (thanks to Erin Flanagan and Sarah Twill, who brainstormed with me over a bottle of wine and way too many chips and guacamole...). Please let me know what you think and feel free to offer other suggestions, too, either by commenting here or on Facebook (if you came to this blog through the Facebook link):

Oh, please please don't let physical descriptions from the book limit your casting. For example, thinking "Julianna Moore can't play Cami because Cami has blond hair and Moore's is red" would be a terrible mistake! Hair color is not crucial to the character, plus it's really easy to change. So think more in terms of actual acting ability.

And because it's just a game, therefore with unlimited budget, we can put A-listers in every single role!

THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS

DIRECTOR—Jodie Foster

CAMI ANDERSON—Laura Linney, Julianna Moore, or Kate Winslet
BOBBY BINARDI—Dominic West, Hank Azaria, or Robert Downey Jr.

DAVY—Neil Patrick Harris
BIG DAVID—Philip Seymour Hoffman

CAROLINE ANDERSON—Meryl Streep
CLEVE ANDERSON—John Lithgow

AURORA—Jennifer Garner

OLIVE—Julianna Margulies

ZAYNA—Ellen Page

HELEN—Holly Hunter
HANK—Hugh Laurie

DUBEY—Michael C. Hall

VIJAY—Okay, this one stumped us, simply because there is an unfortunate dearth of Indian actors in Hollywood films for us to choose from. The beautiful and talented Kal Penn is too young. Now, my friends will laugh, but I'd like to point out that Robert Downey Jr. has played an African-American after all...he can do anything, so why not see how he plays an Indian? Or, since the Boston Globe review suggested that Vijay seemed to be based on Dr. Sanjay Gupta, maybe he would do a guest spot?

MIMI—suggestions?

GABBY—suggestions?

Let me know what you think! Remember, unlimited budget and every star will say yes!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

St. Louis, Not Cleveland, and Cincinnati

Once again, I find myself behind on blogging...and feeling the need to report on book tour before September (really? tomorrow is September? How did that happen?)

I've been so fortunate, with lovely crowds at my events both near and far.

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
On Thursday, August 19 I was part of the author series at the amazing St. Louis County Library. If you live anywhere near St. Louis, check them out. They bring in a diverse, interesting group of authors and have several events per month! Books were sold by great indie store Pudd'nHead Books.

The reception beforehand featured some of the yummiest desserts I've ever eaten—including something called sugar cake, which was divine.

The event was in an auditorium that filled up with fun, smart people with excellent questions. It's a joy
to be on tour with a new book getting to answer all new questions.

In the audience were Carla and Annette Beck—two friends from high school (in last photo). Ah, high school drama club memories...

NOT CLEVELAND
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. I was on my way to Cleveland's Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Tuesday, August 24, when not one but two flat tires prevented me from getting there. That's right, I said two flat tires. At the same time. Along with two other cars near me who also pulled over with flats. Hmm. Something damaging was clearly in the road, but none of us saw or heard anything. Where is CSI when you need them? I had to call the store and apologize profusely. They were gracious and understanding, and the event has been RESCHEDULED FOR TUESDAY OCTOBER 19TH.
Someone teased me that I had horrible travel luck, but really, with all the traveling I've been doing lately, I feel like I have excellent luck. These days, especially, a flat tire (even two) is much easier to remedy than a missed flight!

CINCINNATI

The travel gods smiled upon me and I made it to and from Cincinnati's Joseph-Beth Booksellers with all tires intact. I absolutely adore this store and all its booksellers.

Wonderful writer friend Katy Yocom drove all the way from Louisville to join me for dinner and attend the reading. Lots of writer friends, former students, and book clubs I'd visited were also in attendance.

A sight that makes writers really happy? Seeing the event coordinator adding more chairs minutes before the event! Woo hoo!

One book club there was the Wine, Women & Words Book Club (middle photo) who once drove from Cincinnati to meet me for a book club at El Meson restaurant. They were such an interesting, great group of women, and if you read my acknowledgments you'll see that Jayne Patton of this group is the one who told me the "inexpensive Christmas tree" story that made its way into Blessings. Don't worry—she gave me full permission to use it, saying someone ought to get something useful out of it. (Just so you know, her story involves even more mishaps and expense with that "cheap" tree).

Annette, one of Joseph-Beth's event coordinators, gave me an incredible gift. When someone in the audience asked me about the Blessings of the Animals ceremony on St. Francis Day at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, Annette scurried away and came back with a remarkable, stunning children's book called The Day the Animals Came: A Story of St. Francis Day, by Frances Ward Weller, illustrated by Loren Long. Many of the book's illustrations look just like photos taken when I attended the ceremony. The story is beautiful and I highly recommend it!

A full crowd, a successful event, and some delicious tiramisu? Who could ask for anything more?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oconomowoc and Lake Effect

Look! Here's photographic evidence that I didn't wear the exact same shirt on my entire book tour! Here I am with wonderful Lisa from Books & Co. and my Most Amazing Mary Gielow, media escort. The sign behind us? Words to live by.

Had a lovely time at the Books & Co. in Oconomowoc (I still really love saying it...). Tucked into a cozy corner of the store, I had a great conversation with an audience that had nearly all read The Kindness of Strangers and were eager to delve into Blessings. Quite a few writers were in attendance so the questions were fun and specific about aspects of craft. For example, can any of you think of books that centered on just one main character with a very slim or nonexistent supporting cast? We talked about the movie Castaway but came up with very few book titles. (This conversation came from the discussion that you must have conflict to have drama, but conflict does not have to come from other characters.)

I was thrilled that more than one person in attendance was there because they heard me do an interview with Stephanie Lecci on Milwaukee Public Radio's fabulous show Lake Effect. Several people joined my Facebook fan page yesterday, too, because of that radio interview. That made me do a little happy dance (yes, alone, in a hotel room...you entertain yourself how you can on book tour....) You can hear the interview here for yourself.

Next stop: St. Louis Public Library, with Pudd'nHead Books!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Next Chapter Bookshop

Greetings from Milwaukee! This is rare for a book tour, but I actually get to stay in the same hotel (and a wonderful one at that—Milwaukee's lovely Pfister) for three nights.

There were truffles on my bed when I arrived Monday night. Truffles. :-)

Last night I had the pleasure of a great event at Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon. What a great turnout, what great questions, and what a great store! They had the Humane Society there giving out information. My very favorite audience member (of MANY special audience members) was a puppy named Bert. Bert has a brother Ernie, who was not able to attend.

The Next Chapter event was especially special because after years of correspondence, I at long last got to meet one of my favorite authors, Lesley Kagen. Years ago, we were always missing each other by one or two days, our paths almost crossing at various stores on book tour, and it was that amazing Jill Miner at Saturn Booksellers who recommended Lesley's novel, Whistling in the Dark to me. We've emailed, we've blurbed each other's books, and now we've finally had dinner together and got to meet face-to-face. It felt like we'd known each other forever!

I was very honored that Lesley introduced me at Next Chapter Bookshop.

(In the first photo, from L-R, Anne, Lesley Kagen, Morgan, me, Connie, Mary Gielow).

Also in attendance in the audience were two former students of mine from when I taught at Centerville High School in Ohio. Thanks to Megan and Susan who walked me down memory lane (um...yeah...remember the group who pretended to be digging up a grave in David's Cemetery for their parody of Frankenstein and the police got called? Stuff like that...).

Also wonderful wonderful FB friend Lindsy O'Brien, a writer, a publisher, and bookseller extreme made the trip from Duluth (!) to see the reading! I was so touched. That was like being handed a present. Wow.

I had a great day with media escort extraordinaire, Mary Gielow, who not only took me to a delicious lunch on the river, but took me to Milwaukee's many bookstores to sign stock and meet cool booksellers.

Tonight, on to Books & Co. in Oconomowoc. And I've gotta say, I love saying Oconomowoc. Really. Try it. Now say it six times fast.

Be careful. It's addictive... Oconomowoc. Oconomowoc. Oconomowoc.

Oh, and you know what? I'm wearing a different shirt tonight. Now, watch, I probably won't take any pictures, which means every single one of my tour pictures will have me in the same purple shirt...ah well. What are you going to do? Oconomowoc.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Third Stop at Saturn


Last Thursday, I enjoyed my third visit to Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Michigan. This is one of my favorite book stores on the planet! Shortly before my return to Saturn, I wrote about them for the blog Too Fond of Books. Read it here to understand just why and how much I love them!

I had the great pleasure of having lunch with wonderful owner Jill Miner and one of her daughters, Kelsey (after a GPS-mistaken trip to drop off some scrap metal that landed us in some serious Deliverance country. It's a bit unnerving for the GPS to announce "arriving at destination" when the only sign of civilization on the dirt two-track road is some underwear hanging on a clothesline in the distance...that scene is gonna end up in a book someday, I just know it!).



I absolutely adore the wonderful booksellers at Saturn and it was fun catching up with them before the reading and signing. As usual, they had done a stellar job promoting the event and it was standing room only—every available chair was taken and some people stood on the stairs to hear the reading! I recognized several audience members from my previous trips to the store, and that made it feel like a reunion with old friends.

Jill and the booksellers had the great idea of collecting donations for the Otsego County Animal Shelter, and by the start of the reading the decorated box was overflowing! They had quite a haul of bleach, brushes, food, leashes, etc. to take to the Shelter. I was thrilled!

I'm not sure which I loved more: the warm audience response, the fact that the store has sold well over 100 copies of Blessings, or how much I laughed at dinner afterward! Dinner conversation included: fainting goats, zombies, zombie goats, sharktepuss, just how amazing the cheesy mashed potatoes were, punchcards, and foutons...




So, big heartfelt thanks to Jill, Jody, Karin, Taylor, Maggie, Karrie, Darcie, Emily, and Carley (forgive me if I forget anyone!). Thanks to Kelsey for leading me to the Traverse City Airport after I got coffee-ed up in Saturn's great Coffee Cabin the morning after my event.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Michigan Highlights #1

Greetings from Michigan! I'm way behind in keeping you posted on the book tour, but I'll try to do better.

Here are the highlights from stops at Schuler Books & Music in both Grand Rapids and Lansing:

GRAND RAPIDS:
-My cab driver from the hotel to the book store actually went inside the store and bought a book for me to sign! That's a first. I was mightily flattered.

-A friend from high school, Jim Curry, came to the reading! So the book travel ends up feeling like a reunion.

-Speaking of reunions...relatives also joined me at the store: Johnine & Orel Callahan and Jim & Lindsay Dean. Yes, that's right. You didn't know I was related to Jimmy Dean, did you? And you know what I love about my cousin Jim Dean? He actually showed up wearing a James Dean T-shirt! Thanks for making the trip, you guys!

-Former Dayton Ballet dancer, rock climber extraordinaire, and all around sexy beast and great guy, Cory Goei, came to the reading and then took me on a grand tour of his hometown (including the Giant Vagina. Anyone in Grand Rapids will know exactly what and where that is. I thought it was kind of pretty, to be honest...).

-Fellow writer Kristina Riggle came to the reading! Not only do we share rhyming names, share the same publisher, and share protagonists named Cami, we were dressed alike! I think she must be my soul sister. You should definitely check out her books, especially her brand new book coming out this week, The Life You've Imagined. (That's her in the final photo).

-Fellow writer Lorna Jane Cook attended the reading, too! I had the honor of giving a heartfelt glowing blurb for her upcoming book Outside Wonderland. Once I know when her publication date is, I'll be recommending it to everyone!

LANSING

-My event was part of a series called Girls' Night Out. Free wine. The only combination better than books & wine is books & chocolate! Throw in some intelligent, fun women and you can't do better! (check out the photos of some early audience members toasting with their wine glasses).

-The only man in attendance sang the "Ohio Song" to me. That's a first...

-A person browsing the bookstore at the back of the event did a double-take when he heard me say, "This will be my third trip to Saturn," as I described my other upcoming tour sites. He looked so startled, then so skeptical, that I interrupted the talk to assure him, "Saturn Booksellers. It's a bookstore." He nodded and moved on...

-The event coordinator, the wonderful Whitney Spotts is a fellow zombie lover! That was a huge bonding moment for us. We shared our love of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, possible child-friendly movies for her upcoming Halloween zombie party, and our "secret" plans for surviving the zombie apocalypse!

Stay tuned for a full report about my third trip to Saturn!




Sunday, August 8, 2010

My doggy "amen" section

Please see my previous post "Blessed Indeed" about my debut signing for The Blessings of the Animals, because this one is a continuation.

In the front row at my crowded signing (I'm still floating on that crowd, feeling so so grateful!), was a big, beautiful dog named Micron. The dog is temporarily the charge of Donna Sword who is training him for CCI—Canine Companions for Independence, a wonderful, worthy organization. (Donna was one of the honorable mentions in my July "Animal Blessings" essay contest).

Micron was very well-behaved. He was was vocal one or two times during the signing, but what was hysterical was his timing! He barked once at the perfect time, just when I was discussing how our animal companions truly are blessings in our lives. This prompted another friend to later send me a message about how perfect the night was: "You even had your own little doggy 'amen' section."

Donna wrote a lovely blog about Micron at the Books & Co. event. I hope you'll read it and enjoy!

Blessed Indeed!

I'm still floating from my debut reading and signing for THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS on Friday night. Wow. There's nothing like a hometown crowd! A book release wouldn't be a book release without a stop at Dayton's wonderful Books & Co. (this time at The Greene). A decade ago, the "old" Books & Co. (which was the only Dayton Books & Co. at the time) hosted my very first ever book signing...and they've been the first stop on book tour for the subsequent three books. I thank them all so much—especially wonderful Director of Public Relations Sharon Kelly Roth—for all their support and encouragement on this crazy journey!

Friday night was surreal. The store was packed! Standing room only! I was so thrilled that I actually took photos from the podium of the crowd, so I could remember what it looked like. The photos here are in order: Looking out straight from the podium (there's my sister and nephew in the very front row, thanks to my friend Rajeev who gave up his seat to them), then looking to my left (people lined up against both balcony railings), to my right, then finally further to my right where some writer friends sat on the floor (can you spot Kristina McBride, author of the fabulous YA novel, THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES?) and some former students stood in the stacks! Oh, and there's my mom and dad in the back row!

Everywhere I looked were people from every single aspect of my life: former students, former bosses, relatives, friends from near and far, neighbors, book clubs I've visited, writing buddies, actor friends, dancer friends, former teachers, high school classmates, people I've never met (hooray!) and on and on. It felt like "This is Your Life"!

We actually ran out of books! How cool is that? I signed books for an hour and a half...and couldn't have been happier to do it. I thank every single person who attended. As corny as it sounds, I felt very blessed indeed.



Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lyra the Wonder Cat


Meet Lyra the Wonder Cat. This entry came in too late to be considered for the contest, but I LOVED the photo so much, I had to share it with everyone.

This'll be the last blog from the contest. Once last time: Thanks to everyone who entered!




LYRA THE WONDER CAT


Since early polls predicted that felines were going to be the most prevalent entrant in the popular “Katrina Kittle Animal Contest,” I’d decided I wouldn’t bother to enter my cat Lyra. But as I watched her swimming this afternoon, her black ears slicked back against her black head, her eyes focused intently on the shallows (where she eventually waded for over a minute before she decided she’d had enough), I figured my Little Black Cat deserved her shot at five minutes of fame.

Lyra was my 23rd birthday gift from my parents, a black kitten to keep me company while I was living alone in a different city. It was my first time away from home, and I’d been terribly lonely. But once Lyra moved into my apartment, there was always somebody there to screech at me from the top of the toilet while I showered, to steal my clean socks from my laundry basket and hide them around the apartment, or to bite at my hair to wake me when I slept too late in the morning.

I figured out pretty quickly that Lyra wasn’t your run-of-the-mill house cat. First off, she loved to ride in the car. She’d sit quietly on my lap the entire three hours up north to Mom and Dad’s, and she’d somehow know exactly when I turned onto their dirt road. Then she’d mash her face up against the window and meow until I rolled it down so she could let her head hang out, the wind blowing through her ears.

Four years later, Lyra still knows the instant we turn the car onto “Grandma and Grandpa’s” road, still presses her nose to my car window until I roll it down. She loves to kayak like she did as a kitten; she’ll crawl out to the very tip of the boat and sit with her nose lifted like an Egyptian statuette, sniffing at the bugs as they float by and compelling passing boaters to laugh and snap photos. She likes to hike at state parks, has been cross-country skiing in a front-pack I ordered for her online, loves to sit on Grandpa’s lap while he drives the pontoon boat, and yes, she swims (but that does take a little convincing, I admit). She’s walked down the beach of Lake Superior and sleeps in a tent on family camping trips. When it’s cold out, she happily wears a Christmas tree sweater that came off an old teddy bear. And Lyra isn’t afraid of dogs, especially not blond dogs that look like my parents’ golden retriever Annie.

Lyra leaves my socks scattered all over the house, it’s true. But when I cry, she’s there in an instant, meowing incessantly until I lift her up. Then she’ll lick my nose and get that same concerned look in her green eyes she has when she’s swimming. “Hey, it’s all right, Mom,” I imagine she says, her expression eager. “When’s our next big adventure?”
—Lindsy O'Brien, Duluth, Minnesota

Canine Contenders

Today I'd like to feature three honorable mentions from the dog category. As I said before, cats really swept the contest, but there were some great dog essays, as well. And look at these three memorable faces. Meet Lucas, Grace, and Inga (pictured in that order).

Again, I thank everyone who entered the contest! Your pride in and love for the animal companions who bless your lives is inspiring.

LIFE WITHOUT LUCAS
"I looked at my very large canine friend Lucas (generally described as half Holstein and half reindeer) and said, “What do you think, boy? Walkies?” The mention of the “W” word stopped Lucas, who turned and stared, head cocked to one side, motionless. I broke the trance. “Let’s go!” When we reached the bike path, I let Lucas off lead. Zoom! Off into the woods, then back to check with me, then off again, ranging out and coming back as I walked through the snow hushed woods. We’ve walked this quiet, almost otherworldly path many times. Even though it winds through the very center of our city, there are no car horns, no one yelling at their children. The soft gurgle of the creek and a low sigh of wind in the tall trees is our only accompaniment.

I usually hook Lucas’s lead back up where the swamp begins, about halfway down the path. But, instead of hooking him back up, I thought, "What the hell! The swamp is frozen! No worries!"

Just when I was comfortable allowing him to range through the swampy area, he decided to bolt. I knew when I saw his head jerk back and his eyes change; he had smelled something out there. “No!” I yelled. But Lucas's mind was already fixated, and he was off. He raced over the levee, crossed the railroad tracks and crashed into the scrubland behind Taggart Building Supply Co.

I stood atop the levee and repeatedly called him. The minutes crawled by in the now eerie and unnatural quiet. Nothing. Not a glimpse of dog, nor sound of dog jewelry jangling. Then, I heard the unmistakable sound of a diesel locomotive pounding its way nearer and nearer. I screamed “Get back here right now!” into the softly falling snow. Nothing. Afraid he might attempt the lethal sport of train dodging to get to me, I crossed the tracks just ahead of the deafening DT&I diesel. Still nothing. I walked the tracks, fecklessly calling. In the approaching darkness, my thoughts were gloomy. “What if he’s hurt or trapped and can't respond?”

As the daylight dimmed, I began to track him through the snow-covered scrubland. I found where he entered the woods, where he went under bushes, over logs. I wound around and around, until finally arriving back at my starting point. It was dark, and I considered giving up the hunt. I imagined a “Lost Dog” poster, and contemplated the hellish thought that I might never see Lucas again. In despair, I knelt to check once more for tracks, when a series of short sniffs reached my ear. I turned. Lucas's big head was six inches from my face. He cocked his head quizzically, as if to say “That was fun, what do we do next?” I gave him a big hug and a vigorous rub on the head and securely attached the lead to his collar. We walked home together through the soft violet night."
—William Price, Springfield, OH

KODA & GRACE

"Koda Marie was my best friend. She was my heart; she was part of my soul. Koda was a gorgeous all white boxer. One day, due to someone’s horribly selfish choice, she was ripped from our lives.

Only weeks after her passing, right before my 29th birthday, I received more life-altering news. I had the beginnings of cancer and would need to have surgery to remove all of my large intestines. I had no idea how I was going to get through this without my best friend.

After Koda’s tragic death, I swore off ever owning another pet; I could not fathom going through the pain of losing again. My husband, however, had another idea. Daily he was on petfinder.com scouring through all the needy babies. Day after day, I listened to “How about this one?” or “What do you think of him?” Always my answer was the same; I didn’t think my heart could take it. Then one day, I had enough. I agreed to go visit a litter of boxer pups at a local rescue.

I will never forget the first time we saw each other. All of the puppies rushed over to us to greet us. All except one, The Runt. Oddly, she sat back and looked us over, tilting her head from side to side, as if she was judging us. I realized she was looking us over, to see if we were “The Ones”. The instant I picked up her tiny body, I knew. The Runt looked at me with these penetrating brown eyes, and something clicked. The gaping wound in my soul was no longer quite so raw. While it will never fully go away, that day it started to heal.

A few weeks later, we got to bring The Runt home. That is when the healing, both emotional and physical, began. I was only a few weeks out of surgery, but this little pup was the best therapy. I no longer had time to feel sorry for myself. The Runt would not allow lying around on the couch all day. On the rough days, when the pain was just too much, she would bring me offerings. One by one, she would lay her favorite toys next to me. As if to say “Here you go Mama. These are my favorite things. Feel better please.”

Two years later and not a day goes by that she doesn’t bring a smile to my face. Not only did she help me to heal from a devastating loss, she also helped me to recover from multiple surgeries. It is almost as if every time she peers at me with her soulful eyes she is assessing what it is that I need from her.

There is no doubt in my mind that my angel, Koda, picked her out and sent her to me. On the base of her head is the tiniest white patch of fur that marks the spot where Koda kissed her baby sister, Grace, before sending her down to me.

grace–noun
the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them."
—Stephanie Hayes, Grand Rapids, MI

INGA

I’d like to share something that I wrote last year intended for a very specific audience. First, a little back story to explain: I’m a volunteer puppy raiser for a non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities. Puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence are tasked with welcoming an eight week old puppy into their home and then care for, train, socialize and love the pup for the next 14 months. It is truly an awesome job.

After 14 months with the puppy raiser, the dog is returned to the organization for another six to nine months of advanced training before being placed with an individual.

Last November I turned in the beautiful Inga, the first puppy that I raised for CCI.
We’re asked by CCI to share our thoughts at turn in about the puppy raising experience. So, filled with emotion, I wrote the following. The specific audience was really just me; it was therapeutic to get these words out. But I did submit these thoughts to CCI, which were later shared with all in attendance at the November Team Graduation ceremony.

"I’ve spent the past 14 months with a constant companion. This beautiful dog has been by my side more than any one person. And I’ve fallen in love. I love that I’m never alone. I love that this dog is ready to go when I need to go somewhere. I love how easy she is to be around. It’s been wonderful raising a little round cotton ball puppy into the amazing dog she is now. And now I’m letting go. Not because I have to, but because I want to. And like the other puppy raisers, I’m working through the confusing process of being happy and sad at the same time. I’ll miss this incredible shedding machine and suppose that I’ll still be checking on her in the back seat of the car for a while. But my job is done. She has more to learn and much more to do. More than just me. We’ve worked so hard to reach this next step. I’m ready to wish her luck. And maybe soon, someone else will know the awesome wonder of having this extraordinary dog as their constant companion."

How do we give them up? With a lot of pride and a box of Kleenex. This dog that changed my life will now change someone else’s. Inga’s graduation is next month on August 14.
—Donna Sword, Clayton, OH
Canine Companions for Independence
www.puppyraisingbythesword.blogspot.com


Friday, July 23, 2010

Feline Honorable Mentions

Meet Ronan, Amanda, and Enkil & Akasha (pictured in that order), four cats who almost won the Blessings contest. I'm telling you, these choices were tough! I thank each and every person who entered the contest and shared the story of their animal companion. From the number of entries alone, much less the heartfelt essays, it's obvious that animals do indeed bless our lives. Enjoy!



RONAN
"We can't have a cat, we've discussed this before," my husband said when I told him that the neighbours had found a kitten on the road near our house. "I just want to have a look at him, nothing more, OK?" I said, believing myself. This little black ball of fluff meowed ferociously when we appeared, as if to say, "What took you so long?" He was so friendly and cute I couldn't believe he didn't have a home. I persuaded my husband that we'd only take him until we found his real owners. The kitten meowed and purred in our arms all the way to our house. The next day, we put up posters. The second day, we were shopping and bought some cute cat bowls. "Don't you think Ronan is a good name for him?" I suggested to my husband on the third day when we were out walking. "I know it's Irish, and I like how it sounds like the Japanese 'ronin', he's feisty enough." My husband agreed. A telephone message awaited our return: the kitten's owner. My husband looked despairingly at me. He made the call. I was too upset. Ronan had been found a couple of weeks earlier, and the woman who called had also been trying to find his 'real' home. The kitten had stowed away on her husband's truck, and had obviously fallen off near our house. I listened in on the other phone and scrawled a note to my husband: ask her if we can keep him! We could.

Ronan is now ten months old and we dote on him. My husband travels a lot and when he telephones, the first thing he asks is, "How is the little boy?" We smile and coo over his every move and look sheepish when we realise we have been talking to our friends for twenty minutes straight about how wonderful our cat is.

Ronan's entry into my life has been a gift. We live in a remote country area, I am a writer, my husband is often away, and because of health reasons I don't drive. Sometimes two weeks can go by without me seeing anyone other than the postman (and he's not that cute). Now I have Ronan. Just as I believe I am part cat, Ronan believes he is part human. He talks all the time; he has learned to use the human toilet, he will play 'fetch' with me when I'm not well enough to chase him around the house (we take it in turns to do the chasing); he will curl up against my chest in bed and lay his head on my pillow, his little body stretched out underneath the duvet, paws entwined in mine, his eyes gazing lovingly at my husband. Not long after we had him for keeps, I discovered that Rónán in Gaelic means "little seal". I remember the selkies, who are able to become human... I think Ronan meant to fall off that truck."
—Sandra Jensen, Inchigeelagh, Co. Cork, Ireland


MISS AMANDA

She could have fit in a tea cup when I got her in 1993. I had recently moved from an apartment to a 100-year-old fixer-upper house and decided maybe I would like some company. I was in a local play, and a fellow cast member had kittens to unload. So, I picked a cute little gray female. I decided to wait and observe her personality before naming her.

That didn’t take long. The first evening as I was watching TV, she started whining and yapping so loud I could hardly hear the program. She had a lot to say and insisted that I was going to listen. That was it! I had played Amanda Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie” the previous year and that woman never shuts up. Teacup cat was immediately dubbed “Amanda.”

Night was her busiest time. Between her constant monolog and her walking on my face, I was getting no sleep. My bedroom door had a gap under it, so I borrowed a 2’x 4’ from the construction and blocked the opening to keep her out. An hour later she was back on my face. She was small, but mighty, and had pushed the board out of the way. “Ok, Miss Amanda, I’ll show you who’s boss.” I got a brick and put it on top of the board to weigh it down. That took her about 20 minutes to move and I remember that she had a lot to say about the incident. After she moved 3 bricks, I gave up. She finally learned to settle down at night and I eventually got some rest.

We both lived through the remodeling, of course I was always concerned that she would get lost in the wall, or get stuck under a loose floorboard. She had the strength of a mule and the determination of an ant, so there was no way to keep her from going anywhere she wanted to go. Our house eventually became our home and I’m pretty sure she felt that she was somehow responsible for the improvements.

Amanda was never a cuddler, but then neither was Amanda Wingfield. My Amanda had a nervous streak that set her pacing at the slightest sound; even a light rainfall on the metal porch roof. Her nerves convinced me constantly that there was a mouse in the house, even though that turned out to be a very rare occurrence.

She was always there; never leaving the house except to go to the veterinarian once or twice a year. Her resistance to those outings set off so much drama that I often wondered if it was in either of our best interests for her to have health check-ups.

She stayed tiny, but always made an unbelievable amount of noise going up the stairs and jumping in the bathtub. I still hear her doing those things, even though she passed several months ago. We had 17 years together. I still call out “goodbye” when I leave. She likes that.
—Dodie Lockwood, Dayton, OH


ON BECOMING A FATHER

Over the years, I have found myself daydreaming about becoming a father. This reality seemed continually overshadowed by fears and worries surrounding whether I would be able to provide a stable environment to a child and sacrifice all that is required to care for another. Would this responsibility bring me to my knees? Would I harvest the stamina to manage unseen challenges that would surely arise? The immense weight of such questions would settle over me like a smothering blanket.

Since late adolescence, I have lived independently, caring only for myself. At the age of 29, however, I made the decision to adopt 16-week old Bengal siblings (Enkil and Akasha) mostly for companionship, but also to liven my surroundings. The thought of caring for these exotic furry felines initially caused me pause as I refused to relinquish already mentioned insecurities; nonetheless, I took a leap.

It became evident within their first year that Enkil intermittently would become lame, especially after hefty periods of tumultuous kitty wrestling with his sister. Even so, he did not appear to be in pain, which allowed me to tuck away any overly cautious concern regarding long-term illness. As their first birthday approached, however, Enkil started having trouble walking, and what is worse, I began to see pain in his dark eyes. A blur of rotating medical appointments and interactions with orthopedic specialists ultimately led to a diagnosis of an organic knee deficiency that carried a poor prognosis. Decisions of risking an invasive knee reconstruction (on a young cat, no less), versus the alternative that inevitably involved chronic pain and potential disability, quickly emerged.

I found myself catapulted into unfamiliar territory, negotiating between logic, medicine, and most of all, my heart. Standing in front of radiographs, being forced to make difficult decisions regarding the one who snuggled close to me each night seemed impossible at best. Despite the risk, I moved forward with the full knee reconstruction. Although surgically successful, the knee’s recovery was sure to be grueling. Keeping Enkil sedated, “comfortable,” and most of all still, for many weeks was next to impossible. Managing this unbelievable feat required many things: missed work, lost wages, excessive worry, countless tears, and angry punching of pillows, all while feeling my heart break slowly in the wake of his pain and drug-induced confusion.

In the end, Enkil rallied his strength and recovered. Looking back on those torturous months showed me several things; it illuminated what it felt like to sacrifice everything—sleep, work, sanity—for another. It reminded me how painful loving attachment can be and how fiercely one responds in the face of crisis when the object of their affection is suffering. Many people consider their companion animals as children; I am one of them. Having Enkil (and his sister) in my life has been a blessing and although I am now 32 and single, I feel confident that I will one day be able to father a child. I know this because I am already a father to them.
—Raymond Sheets, Jr., MI


Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Winners: Poppy, Ugly and Striper!


CONGRATULATIONS to the winners of my Animal Blessings contest, and huge thanks to everyone who entered!

The choices were tough. I received nearly 70 entries! I do need to report that cats were BY FAR the most represented in the entries, with dogs a very distant second. Three horses and one dead squirrel were also represented (yes, that's right...one great essay was about how an experience with a dead squirrel turned the reader into a vegetarian). I love all animals, but as a cat owner myself I had to smile at the feline love that came through in the contest!

Because I had so many entries, I narrowed them down with these two guidelines: 1.) Did the essay express in what way the animal had been a blessing? and 2.) Was the essay 500 words or less (or at least close)? Since that was the only "rule" I set for the contest, I didn't consider any essays that were over 700 words. (Lots of really, really good essays were way over the word count!)

I'll be posting some of the "honorable mentions" soon, but for now, meet our wonderful winners:

POPPY
I had forgotten how easy it was to receive and give love. Without any strings attached. Without earning her trust. Yet, there love was, sitting in front of me with bulging eyes, an under bite, and Yoda like ears.

I am adopted, and although I don’t consciously let that define me in any terms, it is still very much a part of who I am. My heart beats a little faster for those who are displaced, not wanted, or abandoned. Perhaps that’s why I immediately fell in love with Poppy. Poppy, who came from North Carolina’s coast with heart worm, teeth problems, and was left at a Pound. She was lucky to be placed into Chihuahua Rescue and Transport and spent a year with a foster mother. I saw her little picture on the internet and knew that it was meant to be. Much like the way my mother saw a tiny black and white picture of me and knew that I was meant to be her daughter.

Her kisses in the morning wake me up. Her sighs at night put me to sleep. Her eerie way of knowing when I am sad is comforting. Her dancing and dainty feet keep me laughing. Her flying white fur prevents me from wearing black. She charms everyone who meets her and has a legion of fans. To say that she has changed my life would be corny. To say that she is the light of my life would be the very honest truth.
—Kimberly Mohn, Morrisville, NC

UGLY
“Four-eyed Bucky Beaver” is what the other kids called me in school, along with other names that painted my 10 year old heart with isolation and defiance. My mother always said having just one true friend was more important that being a part of the group. I accepted my fate and my one best girlfriend and I romped in the woods, crawled through sewage pipe portals under busy streets and lost ourselves in the wooded land across the way.

Then things changed and my best friend forever was gone. I now had to face the taunting and loneliness of suburban school life with the outer strength of indifference, a void swelling in my chest, my imagination and inner life my only escape from the darkness I felt enfold me.

It was with this emotional backdrop that a horse named Ugly opened himself to me and became my bridge to self love and confidence that would be a lesson of survival through adolescence and beyond.

We would drive 25 minutes out of the plats, through cornfields, past banks of scrub brush filled, wooded land to get to the 30-acre farm for riding lessons. Cathy, wearing her carrot brown hair in two long braids, would greet me and help me saddle up the random horse of the day. Infused with the searing smell of horse sweat, I loved the solid feel of the well worn blanket and saddle being hoisted to the waiting steed’s curved back. These were Pony of the Americas, so when standing shoulder to shoulder, I could just see over the saddle horn as I came to mount my excitement for the day; looking forward to running the barrels and improving my time on flags.

On one particular day, Cathy brought out a horse with a mostly brown head that washed into speckled spots of lighter color ending in a dirty white rump. She said his name was Ugly, but I immediately defended him saying I thought he was the most beautiful horse I had ever seen. I could see myself in him and felt indignant that a creature so magnificent could be saddled with such a name. Putting my boot in the stirrup, I pulled myself up with confidence, feeling the usual surge of power that came with being atop an animal with such gentle power. I felt at peace.

Cathy laughed and said Ugly was now my horse. She said I was the first student who Ugly didn’t buck off right off the bat. I now felt exhilarating fear and adventure humble my indignant thoughts. All my attention was with Ugly now. And so began a deep friendship and mutual respect between horse and girl.

From Ugly I discovered the power of becoming one with another being, wholeheartedly giving your trust and experiencing the connectedness of an unspoken friendship and understanding with each other. I would experience this later in life with my grandmother and then again with my life partner. Ugly and I broke a couple of fences as our friendship grew, but I was never thrown to the ground. I had to learn to know when he was ready to ride fast and how not to fight my own body, dancing with his wild energy. I loved him intensely.

Two years later Cathy’s family sold the farm and all of the horses. I remember feeling such a deep loss of abandonment. I cried in my grandmother’s arms for hours knowing that my friend was gone. I came to understand the gift of life that Ugly had given me through my experience of interdependence with him. To this day, I still search the passing farmland and open fields for his distinctive marks, so beautiful. I still hold his fiery energy inside; sharing it now with confidence with the people who I know will ride my emotions with me through this adventure of everyday life.
—Gail Hixon, Yellow Springs, OH
A CAT FOR ALL SEASONS
Striper – so named for the banded pattern woven throughout his fur – was not a fair-weather cat. He was the faithful family pet and resident lap-warmer for over 17 years; steadfast through moments of joy and times of heartache. As the one member of our family who just happened to walk on four legs, he joined us as a kitten when my children were young adolescents; reached maturity when they were receiving high school diplomas, and settled into senior when they said their “I Do’s.” Striper was the wise family member who knew when to curl up on your lap when you needed a friend, and when to perch on a windowsill when you needed your space. It is regrettable that - throughout all the years of his devotion - I did not find the true gift in his loyalty and feline intuition until it was gone. But if hindsight lends clarity to insight, then I have found a gift in that.

Hindsight reflects upon certain memories of Stripers’ life that stand out. The memory of a freshly chewed hole in the beautiful cashmere sweater I’d just purchased reminds me that there are angry moments in life about which you will laugh later. One recollection captured in a precious photograph finds Striper fashioning himself as a scarf around the neck of my sleeping son; giving comfort and security to a young man’s dreams. Brief moments such as these are forever a part of who my son is now, and for this I am forever grateful. I can reflect upon a time of trepidation when Striper became very sick and spent days that seemed like months in the veterinary hospital; each day spent worrying and wondering how I’d tell my children, should he pass. The experience renewed a sensibility of the gift in each day; that each day must be a treasure completely spent and never saved for the uncertainty of tomorrow. The most difficult and poignant memory surrounds the last few moments of his life, when I held him as he slipped into a peaceful sleep to take his last breath. The moment was a closing to his illness and suffering that coincided with the sudden and devastating end to my 30 year marriage. At that time, the exquisite pain of the experience coupled with my own hardship left only the foul taste of life’s cruelty. Looking back, I see that this cat of quiet majesty, love and dedication had given all that he could to our family, and was leaving us with memories that would continue to walk us through life.

Indeed, hindsight illustrates how much our cat Striper has enriched our lives in ways we may not yet fully realize. My daughter is rewarded with a profound respect and love for all animals. My son benefits from the knowledge that sensitivity and compassion are not gender specific. And I have gained a very difficult lesson in how life must go on, and found rewarding enlightenment that memories built upon love never end.
—Jackie Liss, Coatesville, PA




Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Big Ol' Box O' Blessings


Early last week, my cute UPS man delivered a big ol' box of THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS to my door. There's nothing that makes a book release feel more real than to hold the actual book in your hands.

I'm so pleased and thrilled. I think it's gorgeous. I love the cover, I love the font, I love the flap copy, I love how it's all put together. I've been blessed by so many talented, wonderful people at HarperCollins...and very blessed by the three amazing novelists who gave me generous blurbs.

I even woke up in the middle of the night, got out of bed, and turned on lights just to look at the book again! All that time, all those various drafts, all the revisions, all the slogging work of putting words on the page...and here it is, an actual book soon-to-be-for-sale in stores. Even though there actual, physical book makes the years long process seem real, there's also something very surreal about it.

Here we are, less than two weeks away from the August 3rd publication date. Huge thanks to everyone who helped bring this book to life—fellow writers who inspired me and offered insightful feedback, all those who helped with research, every reader, friend, and book club who offered me encouragement and support on this crazy journey!

Here we gooooo....

I'm feeling very blessed indeed.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Goodreads Debut Author Panel

Would you like the chance to ask some first time authors questions about their writing lives and routines, their paths to publication, and their thoughts on promotion? Here's your chance!

From July 12-18, I'll be moderating a panel of five, fabulous debut authors.

If you're already a Goodreads member, just click here to join our group. If you're not a member, it's easy and free to join (and a really, really cool site). Just go to www.Goodreads.com Signup info is on the home page.

Here's more info from Olive Reader (a blog about all things Harper Perennial) about who these great authors are.

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