Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

The Mother Shot

The Mother Shot

How was your Mother’s Day?

Mine was sunny and warm. Freshly picked lilacs filled the kitchen with my favorite smell. I received funny and heart-felt cards from both kids and Tim, my husband.

The family had asked what I wanted several times leading up to the big day. I hemmed and hawed.

Several pieces on the internet referenced women really just wanting to be left to use the bathroom alone.

A piece in Salon heralded non-mothers and chastised any who claimed it as a virtue, calling it the “cult of motherhood.”

Motherhood to me is both a crushing burden and a weightless joy. I’m not unaware that many choose not to experience it for themselves and that many want it desperately and are denied.

It’s been said that having a child is to feel your heart walking around outside your body, but that doesn’t quite capture it for me.

It’s more like having your heart stomped on, thrown down the stairs, and then when you least expect it, dipped in chocolate and rolled in fairy dust.

Motherhood is an awful paradox. We see toddler cheeks in the faces of our adult kids, yet are denied the full memory of their physical weight in our arms.

We want desperately to be left alone for one minute—I used to say I was going grocery shopping, then I’d park under a tree with a magazine and an iced tea—then we cry the first time one of them doesn’t return home for a holiday.

And it’s never really over.

Not all mothers feel this way, and not all moms are saints. I’m certainly not.

I’m lucky to still have my mom who made me believe I was smart and beautiful. She taught me to never give up and made me feel someone was always in my corner. She still does.

I had a lot to be thankful for yesterday, as far as moms go. I’m friends with some terrific moms, and both of my sisters are great at the job.

I have my big sister, whose gorgeous, loving, hardworking kids first gave me the awesome job of “Aunt.” She taught me how to get my firstborn to sleep and taught me to trust that no one knows my kids as well as I do.

I have a younger sister with a creative, funny brood of three, who makes me believe my parenting experience is worth sharing.

Most importantly, I have my husband and two healthy, witty, loving, hilarious, and challenging children who support me, my writing, and try not to complain too much about my singing.

They are good. They are generous. They make me proud. They make me fear that the world isn’t good enough for them. I always knew I’d be a mother. I just didn’t know we’d all be such a good fit—most of the time.

lilacs

Shortly before the big day, I decided to tell them exactly what I wanted. I wanted two donuts—one glazed, one chocolate—and a strawberry milk for breakfast.

Then, I wanted to go on a hike in the forest preserve with my husband. Next, I wanted two or three hours alone to write.

All of that happened in exactly that order. Amazing!

Later, all four of us plus my new son-in-law went to see Captain America: Civil War in the big reclining seats at the mall. Every year, the latest superhero movie is released suspiciously close to Mother’s Day.

I like these movies but in the past they weren’t my first choice. There was a twinge of resentment that it was my special day, and I was sharing it with The Hulk or Batman.

But in the strange way of traditions, it’s become something I look forward to. It was a given that we’d make it our family movie this weekend.

By nightfall, we were well-fed and relaxed. I opened gifts (liquor and bubble bath . . . awesome together or separately), and we shared texts and phone calls with those far away.

My mom did not have a great mother, but she became one. I had a great mom, and I worked very hard and consciously to follow most of her examples.

Not every woman wants to be a mother. Not every woman gets to be a mother.

I certainly don’t feel like I joined a cult, even if I didn’t think of becoming a mother as a deliberate choice. My path seemed clear. I would raise a family. Biology cooperated.

Yesterday was a great day . . . the weightless joy kind of day and I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

  1. This is so lovely Suzanne. So nice to read a positive post for a change. Will share on #wwwblogs tomorrow.

    Hedgey xxx

  2. j baum on May 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm said:

    Great post. Beautiful writing.

  3. Sounds like a lovely day and well-deserved day. 🙂

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On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to the Village

Catherine Lloyd Author

On a lucky trip to the library a few months ago, I pulled Death Comes to the Village off the shelf and quickly hunted down the next two novels in The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries series (Kensington Books).

There’s nothing like writing your own first novel to give you an appreciation for all authors. One of my goals this year is to reach out and thank those writers whose books I’ve enjoyed. That’s how I “met” New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Catherine Lloyd. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her books and her writing process.

Death Comes to the Village        Death Comes to London      Death Comes to Kurland Hall

Congratulations on the success of The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries. You write under a pseudonym (Kate Pearce) as well. Do you have a preference for one genre over another?

Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to write something different. I also write romance, but they are very different entities. With romance it’s more about the love story and the character’s romantic arc. With the mystery, the plot is more front and center, and the characters don’t have to be quite so romantic.

I don’t really have a preference for one genre. They speak to different sides of my brain and my writing process. I’m lucky to get the opportunity to do both.

You’ve previously said it took you five years to get your first novel published. Can you describe those five years; the successes and setbacks?

Yes, that was back in the days before self-publishing in its present form existed, so the process was literally to send off lots of submission letters with a stamped addressed envelope and wait for the reply in your mail box. It took me a while to find my first agent, who then immediately died, and a little longer to find my second agent. The third one was the charm. Once I’d sold a couple of my romance novels things did start to get easier, but it took me 5 complete manuscripts and almost five years to get there.

Sometimes it was difficult to keep going. At one point I almost gave up, but decided instead to be braver with my writing and really write what I wanted to rather than what I thought was the popular thing. That proved to be the right decision for me. I also learned how to deal with rejections in a more private way than anyone who self-publishes these days and has to deal with reviews on amazon etc.

With the mystery series things happened a bit differently in that my current editor asked me if I’d like to write something else for the same publishing house. I went home to think about it, and submitted a proposal for the cozy historical mystery series. It combines my knowledge of the Regency period with my love of Agatha Christie in a perfect way.

How did you develop a knowledge of the Regency Period?

Well, I grew up in London with a mother who did her teaching qualification in history, and always talked about places we were visiting, which inspired a great love of the past in me. I also did my degree in history, so I know how to research a time period. I read voraciously and loved Rosemary Sutcliff, Dorothy Dunnett, Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I gained a sense of what I wanted to write from there, and the rest I just research as I go. It really does help having been born in England with the history all around you.

You say you went with what you wanted to write rather than what you thought was popular. What did you think was popular? What were you trying to write?

I was originally trying to be Jane Austen or write more cookie cutter romance.  I couldn’t really be Jane, and I’ve always had something of a subversive nature, which meant that my historical romances always pushed at the boundaries of what was acceptable. (I was more interested in writing gritty dark romances with multifaceted heroes with questionable sexual proclivities than the standard Alpha male. LOL.)

For my mysteries I wanted to write something that wasn’t centered in the city of London with a strong male protagonist. I wanted to write a cozy mystery set in the English countryside where the hero and heroine are unconventional in a different way. I researched what was published in Regency mysteries, and I found a nice little niche for myself.

What was your mindset during those years? What made you persist?

I think I just wanted to communicate. I knew that writing was the piece that made sense of who I was, and I was determined that I’d eventually get published. I couldn’t not persist if that makes sense, but I had to give myself permission to be brave, and think outside the box. Getting angry at all the rejections helped sometimes as well.

What does the physical process of “thinking outside the box” entail? Do you make lists, brainstorm, try scenes from different angles, etc.?

No, I just write and let my brain noodle away at what will happen next. Sometimes if I’m aware there is a problem my unconscious will happily provide me with a solution when I wake up. Sometimes I can see a scene is wrong, and I’ll go back, try it in a different point of view or look for where the problem starts, and write on from there.

For me thinking outside the box means more that I look at my strengths as a writer and I commit to using those strengths and not compromising when I write by worrying about the market too much or what I ‘should be writing.” You have to be aware of what is popular, but you can’t follow trends, and make yourself miserable writing things that don’t work with your writing style.

How does penning your own books affect you as a reader? Are you able to read and get lost in stories?

It depends on the story. A fantastic author who can pull me in, and not let go makes me very happy. I do have a tendency to work out the plots ahead these days though, which sometimes even annoys me.

What books are on your to-be-read pile now? Favorite type of story to get lost in?

I have eclectic tastes. I currently have:

Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes.

Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison.

Get A Clue by Jill Shalvis

The Roads of Taryn McTavish by R. Lee Smith

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen

I’ll try anything, I like to see how other authors do things especially in literary fiction.

Being a full-time author is a dream for many writers. What is one thing about the reality that would surprise most people?

I think it can be quite lonely, and that you have to establish boundaries to either protect your writing time, or not let your writing time take over your real life. For me, it’s also my job. I sit down five days a week and write. That’s what I do.

Aspiring writers have a fascination with the writing process of a published author. Do you care to share any special aspects of your process or your opinion on this fascination?

I plot my mysteries quite extensively, and talk them through with my editor. The end product sometimes doesn’t have a lot to do with that initial synopsis, but the basics are there. I like to be surprised when I’m writing, and I like to follow off down trails that appear and use them to make the book better.

For my romances I’m even more vague because I really enjoy writing in the moment and discovering the emotion along the way.

My husband sometimes taps me on the head and says, “Where does all that stuff come from?”

Answer: I have no idea.

How much of real characters in your life make it into your books?

None in the sense that you’d recognize anyone. I do, however notice small things about people, their body language, the way they accent certain words etc. etc., and those things sometimes creep into my writing. I am fairly famous for eavesdropping in restaurants.

What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you ever received?

The best? Write the book. Repeat.

The worst? Write what you know.

Why was “write what you know” not good advice for you. Can you elaborate?

I meant it in the sense that most of us live fairly unremarkable lives, and can’t time travel back to the Regency or out into the future. To me my imagination was my escape from the everyday, and it’s where all my best ideas come from.

Something readers would be surprised to learn about you? Any hidden talents or obsessions?

I’m British, but I currently live in Hawaii. That’s fairly unusual I think. I love to knit. I make hats and scarves and Outlander cowls and send them overseas to the cold people in my life.

If time and money were no object, describe an ideal day for you:

I’m pretty lucky actually. I get to live on the Big Island of Hawaii, with my lovely husband and daughter, three cats and fluffy little dog. I can get to the ocean in ten minutes. I love my job. I can’t really think of anything else I’d want except if I were a billionaire, I’d have a cat butler to let the cats in and out because they drive me nuts.

Lastly, if you could get newer writers to understand one thing about writing a book, it would be:

It’s hard work, but if you get it done you will learn so much along the way that even if it sucks, (and first books often do), the next one will be better.

A big thank you to Catherine for her time and generosity! Look for Book #4 Death Comes to the Fair, set to be released November 29, 2016.

Visit my #BooksByTheBed page for my take on the first three books in The Kurland St. Mary series.

For more information about Catherine and her books, check out her website. If you enjoy edgy romance, check out her Kate Pearce Novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Thoughts on “On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

  1. Just finished today the third of the Kurland St. Mary mysteries and loved all three – it’s a long wait until the next one

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Has This Ever Happened to You?

Suzanne Brazil at Haven Retreat with Laura Munson
Suzanne Brazil at Haven Retreat with Laura Munson

Me at Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreat in Montana 2014

Has this ever happened to you?

Life got in the way the last 10 days or so, and my writing ground to a standstill.

No novel revisions, no new words on blank pages, just lots of ruminating in my head. E-readers have evolved but I don’t believe they’re telepathic—yet.

I spent the 10 days tending to family medical issues, financial issues, employment issues, everything except writing.

That happens sometimes. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Life Goes On.

The world isn’t waiting for my debut novel or another of my essays on motherhood, marriage, body image, etc.

But maybe one person out there is waiting for something I have to say or the way I have to say it. Maybe I have the words that help one writer, sitting in their living room, wondering if they should go for it.

So, it’s time to climb back on the horse. Back to work. I’m not going to waste precious time forming the perfect post. My blogging goal was every Monday and today is a victory because I showed up.

Here are a few previous posts that helped guide me back here today:

Avoiding the drift (keeping in touch with your project).

Thinking about writing (sometimes it does count).

Establishing a fall-back point (when life forces you to take a break).

If any of these links are useful to you, I’d love to hear from you.

In the electric words of the late genius, Prince: We’re gathered here today to get through this thing called Life. LET’S GO CRAZY!

Prince

Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons, Graffiti in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain), 2009, Zarateman

 

 

 

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Exploring the Writing Animal: An Interview with Abby Geni, Author of The Lightkeepers

Abby Geni

abby geni

Abby Geni lives, writes and teaches in Chicago while her imagination wanders the globe. She has impressive credentials that would crash my site if I attempted to list them all. A small sampling: Graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and recipient of The Iowa Fellowship; First place, Glimmer Train Fiction Open, “Captivity”; Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers 2016 selection, The Lightkeepers; Illinois Arts Council Agency Award, “In the Spirit Room”; 2014 Friends of American Writers Literary Award, The Last Animal.

I first met Abby at StoryStudio Chicago where she teaches the popular Novel in a Year class. I had the pleasure of reviewing The Lightkeepers for Blogcritics earlier this year. The Lightkeepers (Counterpoint Press, 2016) is Abby’s first novel and has met with rave reviews and garnered attention from People, O Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and the New York Times, among others. Both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly gave starred reviews.

In my ongoing quest to figure out “this writing thing,” Abby was kind enough to answer a few questions about novels, short stories, and when it’s okay to call yourself a writer.

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni      The Last Animal by Abby Geni

Congratulations on the success of The Lightkeepers. What has been the most surprising aspect of bringing the book to publication?

Novels create more splash than short story collections.  After publishing The Last Animal, I thought I knew what to expect when The Lightkeepers came out, but the novel garnered much more attention than the short stories had.  I definitely did not anticipate that The Lightkeepers would be reviewed by the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times Review of Books and People Magazine and O Magazine.  It’s been a nice surprise, but it’s a surprise nonetheless.

Much has been made of your use of and connection to the natural world in your writing. Where do you think this connection stems from? Has the literary world made too much of this distinction in your opinion?

Not at all!  Much has been made of my connection to nature because nature is vital to my work. I can’t imagine writing something that didn’t link to animals or climate or oceans or plants, something entirely separate from the natural world.  This theme was central to The Last Animal, and I had a wonderful time exploring new aspects of marine fauna and island life in The Lightkeepers.  I hope to be able to continue to integrate nature into my work in unexpected and unfamiliar ways.

Is it the story idea that chooses the form (i.e. short story or novel) or do you think most ideas can be executed in either form?

One of my dear mentors, Dan Chaon, told me that a majority of novels could have been written as short stories, and that if you, as an author, have the ability to tell a narrative as a short story, then you have no business telling it in novel form.  I have to agree.  If an idea can fit inside a short story, then it should be told that way.  Stretching it out into novel form will just weaken and dilute it.  Only those rare ideas that are too big and wide and deep for short fiction should become novels.

Do you write with a specific reader in mind or more for yourself?

I’m going to quote the master here.  Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  I never know who my writing will reach or touch or influence, and I don’t have an ideal reader in mind; I just write the kind of stories I would like to find on the shelf.

Which writers have had the most influence on your own work?

Mainly nonfiction authors—Susan Casey and David Quammen and Craig Childs and Mary Roach.  I love to read about science and the natural world, and I love when talented, enthusiastic, inquisitive authors teach me new things.  Their passions become my characters’ passions.  Much of my fiction is born that way.

Aspiring writers have a fascination with the writing process of a published author. Do you care to share any special aspects of your process or your opinion on this fascination?

Anyone can write.  Many people can put a sentence together fairly well, many wrote stories when they were kids, and many secretly believe that they could write a novel one day if they just had the time.  It can be hard to delineate a “real author” from an amateur or a wannabe or a daydreamer.

This can be difficult for aspiring writers.  They may feel that they aren’t allowed to use the word “writer” to describe themselves.  They may be unsure about how their passion and creativity fit into their identity.  Many believe that publication is the bright line—with “real authors” on one side and wannabes on the other.

I disagree.  I was a real author for years before I ever published anything.  Publication is an achievement, not the mark of a new identity.  Aspiring writers are real authors too. My writing process should not be the model for anyone else, because every author is different.  I recommend that all aspiring writers look inward for a sense of what their writing process should be: what works for them, what aids their creativity, what they need in terms of discipline and structure, what they hope to achieve.

What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you ever received?

The worst piece of writing I ever received was that I should write every day.  This idea is everywhere, and it causes aspiring writers a lot of stress.  I’ve been a writer since I was six, and I’ve never written every day.  Usually I write four or five days a week and take the rest off to recharge.  It bothers me when people make rules for what real writers should do.  Each writer should find his or her own rhythm and structure for effective work and joyful creation.  No rules apply to all writers.

What books are on your to-be-read pile now? Favorite type of story to get lost in?

My favorite stories right now are mysteries. I’m working my way through the Golden Age of Mysteries, tackling the canon of Georgette Heyer and loving every minute of it.

Something readers would be surprised to learn about you?

I hate to travel.  Though many of my stories take place in far-flung places, like the Farallon Islands or the Nigerian delta or an ostrich farm in Arizona, I have never been to any of those spots, and I don’t intend to go.  I’m a Midwestern girl, born and bred in Chicago, currently living in the same neighborhood where I grew up.  I like to research and explore as I write, but more than anything, I love to be home.

If time and money were no object, describe an ideal day for you:

Up at sunrise, black tea, meditation, more black tea, a few hours of passionate and focused writing, more black tea, a few hours of desultory and daydreamy writing, lunch, a long walk with my dog, pick up my son from school, play outside and talk about toddler things, bedtime for my son, a few hours with my husband doing and talking about grownup things, early bedtime for me, deep and unworried sleep.

 

A big thanks to Abby for her time and her original, intriguing stories. Check out her website for more information about Abby, her teaching and her books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Exploring the Writing Animal: An Interview with Abby Geni, Author of The Lightkeepers

  1. Great interview.A great book evidently inspired it.

  2. Enjoyed the interview Suzanne, loved reading another person’s insight on writing.

  3. Great interview, Suzanne! I’m looking forward to checking out Abby’s books. And I like her advice on ignoring the usual advice. 🙂

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Five Words That Will Change Your Writing Life

Aha moment Do the work

Hard hat

You have questions.

And the internet is a rabbit hole of answers.

When is the best time to write? How do you tackle revision? Should you write in the morning? Do you need a Mac or is Windows still ok? Word or Scrivener? Music or no music? What kind of music?

Suggestions are everywhere.

Truman Capote only wrote lying down. Philip Roth writes standing up. Writing in long hand boosts creativity. Your desk should face the window. Your desk should never face the window.

How do you know you’re doing it right?

On a snowy night in late March, I  sat with two other writers in an Irish pub discussing our works-in-progress (all first novels, two Women’s fiction, one hard Sci-Fi).

We all needed answers.

I had a new chapter to workshop. The Sci-Fi guy, a proud new dad and entrepreneurial mogul, was making progress but wanted to write more consistently. The other WF writer, an MBA and busy VP Marketing executive by day, had just finished her rough first draft and was “stymied” by revisions.

Creative Commons: www.skinnyartist.com

We tossed around suggestions over appetizers and a vodka tonic (don’t judge—the drive in from the suburbs was horrendous).

Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” method which I saw him describe in a TV interview, struck a chord with Sci-Fi guy. I’d brought along four books on revision to help MBA tackle her second draft. Sci-Fi guy produced a three-foot long stapled printout from Scrivener illustrating how he kept track of character arcs and timelines, because I’d lost count of the draft I was on.

This was good stuff. Stuff we could act on.

Aha moment Do the work

Creative Commons: blogs.worldbank.org

Still, we pondered. Were we doing it right? Maybe we should try that new book or class! Then Sci-Fi guy said something that we strained to hear over the music and revelry of the pub:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

My eyes locked on MBA’s, and together we turned to Sci-Fi guy, not sure we’d heard him correctly.

The look on his face was what I imagine Ben Franklin looked like when his uncredited minions helped him discover electricity. It was a literal “Aha” moment.

I resumed my book recommendations, pointing out a chapter MBA might like on setting. Sci-Fi guy grinned at us (I’d say maniacally but, you know, adverb) for a few seconds. Then he interrupted, louder this time:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

No problem hearing him this time.

MBA: “Wow, this meeting just took a turn.”

Jack Nicholson The Shining

We all laughed, until he said it again.

Sci-Fi guy: “I’m serious. We need to just do the f$#king work.”

Maybe a rowdy Irish pub wasn’t the best place for a critique group, now that we thought about it.

Fast forward two weeks to a snowy April night (that’s right, snow in April . . .my kind of town, Chicago is…), MBA and I sat in the same pub and shared an order of fries.  She provided specific, generous insight that helped me interpret feedback I’d received from a professional editor

Then MBA said she had a question for me.

MBA: “What notebooks do you use? Like, how many different ones and how do you organize them?”

I laughed out loud, repeated Sci-Fi guy’s memorable suggestion and then said, “No, seriously. I have like one for the novel, and another for interviews. . .”

So what’s the point? The point is you have questions. You need advice. You need to learn craft. And you will find endless answers. That’s what fantastic blogs like Writers Helping Writers and Womens Fiction Writers and Bang2Write and are for.

The point is no matter how far you are into your essay, or memoir, or novel, you may always feel you’re doing it wrong.

The point is no matter how many books you read, or how many lists you study, or how many podcasts you listen to, no one way works for every writer.

In an interview on Writers on Writing, Author Sari Wilson put it this way:

“The process has its own intelligence. Committing to the process through all the different obstacles that are presented has its own logic and its own power, and it will take you through the process. There will be an end.”

In other words, the doing of “it,” whatever “it” is, teaches you how to do “it.” You have to DO. You have to mess up.

All the “Habits of Great Writers” lists and viral posts in the world can’t change that.

Sometimes you’re just scared and stalling. How can you tell the difference? How do you get from stalling to writing?

Just Do The F$#king Work

Here’s the best of what’s worked for me:

Set a goal. Any goal.

What should yours be? Who cares? Time spent, words added up. It doesn’t matter. My first one was 500 words a day/5 days a week (flexibility was key).

Refer to a few trusted guides (don’t overload).

Go for tried and true, review recommendations. In the end, the voice that speaks to you matters. I like Wired for Story, Immediate Fiction, and Stein on Writing.

Stay in touch with your project as often as possible.

Don’t fall prey to the drift. I like Seinfeld’s approach. When I had the flu, it all went to pot. Touching it every day makes it easier to get back in. Staying in touch can mean reading a paragraph, or rewriting a whole chapter. You decide.

Practice. Reading about how others do it isn’t enough.

Find a suggestion that resonates? Put down the damn book and go try it. Then and there. Share what worked and what didn’t with your peers.

If you believe you don’t have time to write, keep a time/activity log.

I claimed to want a writing life as I munched on popcorn watching The Voice for the third time in a week. That’s not writing, that’s lying. Make your intentions match your actions.

Make contacts with writers you admire who will call you on your BS.

Go out on a limb. Take a class. Go to a conference. Be brave. Be bold. Have business cards or a pen and notepaper (you’re a writer, after all). Get contact information. Email people. Invite them for coffee. Bam!

Eventually, as Sci-Fi guy knew, we all just have to do the f$#king work. And that’s the only answer you need.

Are you ever guilty of avoiding the work? How do you get back to it? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “Five Words That Will Change Your Writing Life

  1. How do I follow you on Word Press?

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Crying in Restaurants

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil
Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

Flickr: loungerie / Via Creative Commons

This is going to be my thing: sharing work that’s been previously rejected.

The following is a true story. The idea for the piece came from a writing exercise while on a writing retreat at Ragdale, an artist community on Chicago’s North Shore. Oh, and the title is courtesy of Dani Shapiro.

I submitted it twice and received two rejections: one with a personal note that they’d just published something similar; one with some suggestions for changes.

Writing is revision, and I’m arm-pit deep in revising my novel. So I’m not suggesting that we all run out and post our crappy stuff that couldn’t hack it elsewhere.

But I loved this piece. I loved that it happened. I loved writing it. I cried writing it. I’m glad it’s out of me, and I don’t want to work on it any more. I want to share it for whatever it’s worth.

The writing of it was the point. Not the publishing of it. Sometimes that’s enough.

 

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

My newly formed writing practice is fueled by a medium iced tea and a shortbread cookie at the local Panera coffee shop. In these two hours carved out of a busy weekend, I aim to add 500 words to the first draft of my novel, and I vow to stay off the Internet. But first, I reinforce my commitment with writing tips and encouragement from my favorite authors.

still writing

I begin with a chapter from Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. In its pages, I see shades of myself in a description of her mother, a frustrated, middle-aged woman, clickety clacking away furiously on a typewriter.

My eyes fill with tears and my stuffy nose blocks the yeasty aroma of the café’s freshly baked bread. These hours with my laptop in the corner booth are my attempt to finally pursue a passion long denied. I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer.

I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer

Maybe the catalyst was an emptying nest, age spots on my hands, or preparing to celebrate my own mother’s 70th birthday. Whatever the cause, a few months ago, I realized I had to give writing everything I had, or regret it for the rest of my life.

Still Writing was a reward for meeting my word count goals. It joins Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and other sources of inspiration on my shelves.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers; living vicariously through Natalie Goldberg, Brenda Ueland, William Zinsser and many others.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers

Long ago, after reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, I filled countless yellow pads with morning pages. There were flashes of stories in those pages I didn’t yet have the skill or courage to tell.

Back then, I marveled at King’s brazen recounting of his rejection slip collection. What nerve to believe he had something to say, and how fortunate for his “dear readers” that he never gave up.

I’m part of the tribe because I write

In a later chapter of Still Writing, Shapiro recalls sending an early manuscript to author Tim O’Brien, one of her literary heroes. His unexpected and encouraging endorsement symbolically welcomed her into the tribe of writers.

A chill passes over me. Maybe it’s the air conditioning on this hot summer afternoon, or maybe it’s that this morning my son handed me a copy of his favorite reading assignment for the semester: O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

I close Dani Shapiro’s book and open my slim silver computer, prepared to add pages to my rough draft knowing I’m part of the tribe because I write. I allow myself one foray into social media to message the author who inspired my writing session today.

I click on Shapiro’s Facebook page not knowing who manages her account or if she’ll see it. I thank her for Still Writing and confess that reading her words and pursuing my passion has unleashed a flash flood of tears in this very public place.

Hours later, my laptop timer and the condensation on my watery iced tea signal it’s time to head home and make dinner. I’m satisfied with 873 words added to my manuscript. Before packing up, I check Facebook and see the message waiting icon. It’s from Dani Shapiro.

I wipe away new tears and take a screen shot of her generous, encouraging comments. As to my crying in the coffee shop, she empathizes and says she once thought of writing a book based on similar experiences. She’d call it Crying in Restaurants.

Dani Shapiro Facebook Message

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Crying in Restaurants

  1. Barbara Armstrong on April 5, 2016 at 7:51 am said:

    This will be copied and added to my files from my WRITER daughter and when she has her novel published, I will show it to her and we will probably be in a restaurant and we will both be crying!!!!!

  2. This is a great piece, Suzanne! I love those seemingly random synchronicities that give you chills. They’re kind of like trail markers, letting you know you’re on the right path. …I’d say you’re not only part of the writing tribe, you’re part of that tribe of encouraging and inspiring writers who welcome others into the fold. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  3. Daisy Wawrzonek on April 6, 2016 at 12:06 pm said:

    What a wonderful story!! Thank you for sharing.

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9 Books That Changed My Life – No, To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t on the List

9 Books That Changed My Life

9 Books That Changed My Life

Let me warn you before you continue reading: To Kill a Mockingbird is not on the list.

My family is full of reluctant readers, avid readers, fanatical readers, anti-readers. We’re a mixture, like society at large. In fact I’m married to a man of action who reads magazines and articles online but not many books.

Books inform my parenting, they impact my marriage, they influence how I relate to my siblings and friends and coworkers. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re much the same.

That’s not to say I follow a manual to operate as a human on a daily basis. My way of being in the world is more influenced by the wisdom of my elders sprinkled with liberal dashes of quotes, ideas,  and anecdotes from trusted books, along with the occasional visual aid. Sometimes, I’m not even sure where I read something but I quote it anyway.

So how do ink, paper and glue actually transform a life?

The following books did one of these things for me:

  1. Instilled a love of the written word or a particular author
  2. Provided insight on human development, including my own
  3. Inspired risk-taking and change (aka living)
  4. Stuck with me

That a made-up story could evoke emotion and temporarily remove me from the everyday turned me into a reader.

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare – I was an 8th grader from a blue collar family, and I was reading Shakespeare. I marveled at the double entendres, luxuriated in the language and understood the humor.  It made me believe I could operate in a world of books, it made me feel legit. Of course,  I came to realize and appreciate that some of the most well-read people, and definitely some of the most intelligent, do not have formal educations.

Anne of the Thousand Days by Maxwell Anderson – That same 8th grade year introduced me to the decadent world of the Tudors, political intrigue, murder, corruption, and told so much about the haves and have nots. This book was about discovery and adventure and betrayal and my own naivete. It shattered the myth of the happy ending.

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough – Also in junior high and the first time I was lost in a thick, epic novel meant for adults. I would rush to finish chores and homework so I could get back to Maggie and her priest. That a made-up story could evoke emotion and temporarily remove me from the everyday turned me into a reader.

It was ok to seek, to question, and that both could be done without yelling

The Shining by Stephen King – The first time I was scared to death by ink on paper. Thrilling, intoxicating, foreboding. One of my favorite Stephen King-isms is that writing and reading are like ESP between the author and the reader. The writer is having these thoughts and then making you, the reader, think about what he wrote. This still gives me chills.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – The first time I saw logic and prose used to discuss something as ephemeral as spirituality. Far from convincing me to be a believer or a non-believer, it taught me that it was ok to seek, to question, and that both could be done without yelling and poster boards.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar  by Cheryl Strayed – Occasionally timing determines impact. This was a cold splash of water at the start of midlife. Life is hard, wah wah wah…GET UP AND DO SOMETHING.

That’s a lot to ask of a story and it made me careful never to dismiss fiction as mere entertainment.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. – Thoughts = Your Reality. My thought patterns were laid bare in this book and I was shocked. Can you say clueless? Less a self-help tome, this is more a call to arms about how we educate our children and perpetuate labels, especially on ourselves. We can substantially improve in anything with the proper mindset. I keep this in the bathroom in case I forget. I read it like I brush my teeth, in furious little bursts.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – Another junior high influencer. Golding’s novel about boys inhumanity to one another showed me that a fictional tale could legitimately impact how I as a human interacted with other humans in the real world. The story of these castaways, their crimes, their fears, and their kindnesses, entertained, horrified and made me think. That’s a lot to ask of a story and it made me careful not to dismiss all fiction as mere entertainment; though I’m a big fan of reading for the fun of it.

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott– I’ve decided to give the last slot to the first book I read by Anne Lamott. I read this the first time lying on my side, with my post-partum belly lying next to me like a little puppy (to paraphrase from one of my favorite passages). Reading her words slayed me. They made me identify, which is the point of all stories. They taught me about voice. They comforted me. It’s a skinny book and it pulled its weight. Maybe more importantly, this book introduced me to Lamott whose other books were instrumental in claiming the title of writer for myself. For that reason, this edges out a gazillion other novels, memoirs, or self-help books I could have listed.

Books not only changed my life, they inform my parenting, they impact my marriage, they influence how I relate to my siblings and friends and coworkers.

So that’s my list this week. It’s heavy on adolescent touchstones and mid-life signposts. These floated to the surface when I pondered today. If you were to ask me again next week, most likely the list would change.

What’s on your list? Share your life-changing books (include why) and I’ll put your name in a drawing for one of the books listed above or in the comments! But you’ve only got this week to do it. Please feel free to share and encourage others to comment for their chance to win.

P.S. Dirty little secret: I’m not opposed to having To Kill a Mockingbird on anyone’s list. It’s just that I never had to read it in school and I can’t remember if I’ve ever actually read the whole thing! Whew, that feels better. Glad I got that off my chest.

6 Thoughts on “9 Books That Changed My Life – No, To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t on the List

  1. Barbara Armstrong on March 25, 2016 at 7:02 am said:

    My favorite book was, as you know, Gone with the wind! It was my Thornbirds” of the day for me. I rushed home from my blue collar job and was transported to my heritage, and sooo much more. I was learning about how strong a woman could be, how wrong it is to think of only yourself, romance, history, and so much more. All from a novel. You put it soooo well !!!! XOXOXO

  2. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It opened my inner eye, giving me the opportunity to see the reality of my life, not the fabrication I’d created.

  3. Wow, I love this. What great insights! Out of curiosity, have you reread any of these books (other than Mindset, which you mentioned)? Or was one reading enough?

    I think books inform most aspects of my life too. And I definitely agree that fiction is more than just entertainment. Making a list of special books is hard for me, though. I’m not sure why. Maybe because there are too many to remember. LOL. I’ll give this some thought, though!

    • Good question, Jennifer – Yes, I’ve re-read a few of them. Lord of the Flies was assigned to my children and I read along with them. The Shining I go back to every five or six years and just marvel at King’s ability to convey a mood, setting, personality quirk, etc. I’ve given away at least six copies of Tiny Beautiful Things to important people in my life. Just this weekend my son asked to borrow Mindset but I’ve made so many notes in my copy (plus it’s autographed by Dr. Dweck!) that I ran into a bookstore to pick up another for him.

      I agree it’s hard to narrow down the choices so I tend to pick what keeps floating to the surface and these all left indelible marks! Would love to hear yours 🙂

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Foiled by Phlegm

flu

flu

Last Monday, I had edited and readied for publication two author interviews and a long-overdue book review. Filled with hubris at my productivity, I gave a little cough to clear my throat and proclaim my triumph over lesser mortals.

I could not stop coughing for the next seven days. Add chills, body aches, fever, lack of appetite and a general inclination to remain unbathed and you have the puny remains of my flu-ravaged self.

Word count on the latest novel draft since that fateful Monday = 0

Published articles/blog posts since that fateful Monday = 0

Tomorrow is a new day. I’m climbing out of the menthol-vapor soaked depths of delirium. I managed to submit the two interviews, tomorrow will be the book review, and I’ll be up early to add words to the Work in Progress.

I read a beautiful novel while I was recuperating. It’s not new, my sister had been recommending it for months, and it was a big hit when it was first released. I will offer that it’s timeless, eloquent, and magical. I cried when it ended. It’s called Peace Like a River and I hope everyone reads it. I also watched Pride and Prejudice again for a gazillionth time. Comfort food.

Sometimes we have to take care of ourselves. Creativity does indeed sleep.

 

 

5 Thoughts on “Foiled by Phlegm

  1. Me too! I just got out of the creative dark side of illness. Welcome back!

  2. Sorry to hear you have been sick. I did notice your absence, but thought you were just busy!

    Hope the ‘break?’ has given you much-needed dreaming/thinking time, and turns out NOT to be a waste of time, after all! (Every cloud… )

    Love, Hedgey 😉 xx

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REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

Tired kid
Tired kid

Creative Commons Image – Click on photo for source

For about a week, I’ve been contemplating an inspiring post about things that amaze me. But here’s the thing, I have a full time day job, and I’m committed to finishing this latest draft of my novel sooner rather than later. I’M TIRED PEOPLE.

Especially today. My husband and I dogsat last night for my daughter’s two dogs. We love these rent-a-pet opportunities. Throw a stick, scratch a belly, and then wave goodbye.

Thor and Ruger

Last night, her slightly neurotic boxer and fluffy mixed-breed slept over. Thor, the boxer, decided that 2:30 a.m. was a good time to slink over to my side of the bed and lick my hand. I was up Netflix-ing for the next four hours.

But writing this book is something I want to do, so instead of catching up on sleep, I brainstormed the rest of my outline.

All of this whining brings me to the topic of my post today. Sometimes writing things and flinging them out to the universe isn’t always gratifying. Sometimes we’re rejected by the very people who once accepted us and validated our writerly existence.

But I’m trusting all the legends out there,  all the novelists who tell us persistence is the key. So I’m persisting. And yawning. Which is why today, you’re getting a previously unpublished essay instead of my amazingly useful post on wonderous things that amaze me.

This essay was my second submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was rejected. The essay made my sisters cry which is one of my litmus tests. It did not make me cry. Maybe it will make you cry. Maybe not.

Maybe you’ll instantly know why my first submission to the Soup people was accepted and why this one was rejected. Maybe not. Probably not.

I don’t have the energy or desire to resubmit or rewrite this particular piece. I got it out of me and—to paraphrase a lovely novelist I interviewed this week—made it an artifact. This time that was enough.

It’s a true story. Names changed, etc.. I hope it speaks to you.

Remember to just keep “making stuff.” (Yes, that’s from Big Magic by our friend Liz, and yes, I resisted reading it because everyone’s reading it, and yes, now I have bent over every other page because it speaks to me…damn you, Liz!)

Here’s my rejected piece:

Lessons Learned

Had I known that sunny September day would set a course for the next 17 years of my life, I might have thought twice about attending the Parent Volunteer meeting. My brown-eyed girl was starting Kindergarten and I was determined to get involved. I left her two-year-old brother with a neighbor and dressed in my best mom uniform, khaki capris and sandals.

The gymnasium was set with folding chairs and long tables littered with sign-up sheets. There were paper cups filled with lemonade and rows of sparkly sugar cookies and grownups having conversations! I’d escaped the confines of stay-at-home-mom, venturing into the land of Moms Who Help. It was a vast land with its own politics and customs. Our comfortable community in a desirable school district had the unusual problem of fielding too many volunteers. Assignments filled quickly.

Our leader for the afternoon ended her welcome speech by reminding us that there were always areas in need of more help such as the Read-A-Book program. We had a diverse student body many of whose parents did not speak English in the home and did not have access to reading materials. Those volunteers selected would choose books and read aloud weekly to children in need of special attention.

It seemed like the perfect fit. We’d read to our kids from an early age and my daughter would see me helping her classmates. I put my name at the top of the list and selected a few other events as well. I would help stock the Book Fair and come in once a month for Art Parent, whatever that was. I also filled out a lottery form for Room Parent, the most competitive category. Those lucky folks that planned all the classroom parties were chosen in an annual drawing clouded with rumors of fixed entries and other shenanigans.

Throughout the next 17 years, I read to many of my children’s classmates and served as room parent more often than not. I chaperoned field trips to museums and zoos, spotted climbers on the knotted rope in P.E. classes, filled water balloons for orchestra camps, fed referees at wrestling tournaments, grilled bratwurst at football games and demonstrated sculpture to third graders using Hershey Kisses and toothpicks.

The assignment that resonated the most was the reading. It seemed such a simple thing. Each reading day, I’d choose a book from a cabinet in the volunteer room. I’d pull the pocket folder belonging to my student and record the book title. After reading, I returned the folder noting any comments the child made about the book or any requests they had for the following week.

We sat wherever we could find a spot. We’d plop down on big bean bag pillows in a carpeted hallway, a corner of the library, or a special sunny nook with no lockers off the office corridor. Most of the children spoke English but didn’t read much at home either because their parents didn’t have the time or didn’t speak English.

Each year, every session started out tentatively as I got to know my students. They’d ask whose mom I was and slowly, over weeks, they’d relax, revealing their personalities. Some demanded the same book each week. Some wanted me to scour the library to find a special title. Then there was Jake.

Jake was in my daughter’s fourth grade glass and according to other classroom parents, was likely to end up in juvenile detention before making it to high school. He was always in trouble. He swore. He was high energy. He received poor grades. He was troubled by most every definition and was assigned to read with me as his parents didn’t speak English at home.

The first day I called his name, he slapped a book off a classmate’s desk on his way out to join me in the hallway.

“Hi Jake,” I said.

“I hate reading.” He said.

“Good, you don’t have to read. You can just listen if you want.” I slid down the wall to the carpet wondering how I got so lucky to have him on my list.

“Maybe.” But he also sat down, three feet away from me as if he might bolt at any minute.

“I heard you like Goosebumps?”

“Whatever.” But he wasn’t punching anyone or trying to run away.

I opened the book and began to read. Occasionally, I’d sneak a peek at him. He had the spiky bangs in fashion with a lot of the boys. He had giant brown eyes and an 18-inch tail of hair down the middle of his back, the rest of his hair cut short to match his spiky bangs. The tail definitely stood out and I learned other students often teased him about it. The radical hairstyle contributed to his aura as the bad boy of the grade school set.

Our first meeting was deemed a success by his teacher. I could see a change as I called him each following week. He no longer acted out on his way to greet me. Instead, he practically ran and sat so close I could feel his warm skin and smell the baby shampoo his mom used on her special boy. He was always cheerful and seemed well-cared for. I didn’t understand the source of his behavior problems. I was just there to read.

One late spring day, we were finishing our last book of the year. I’d bought each of my students a book as a parting gift and I handed him a new Goosebumps paperback. He didn’t say much just twirled the long tail of hair. I took a risk and asked him about it.

“That must have taken a long time to grow, huh?”

“Yeah, my mom won’t let me cut it.” He didn’t let go of it and rubbed his other hand over the book cover.

“Really? How come?” I didn’t want to be nosey but I was intrigued.

“I was really sick as a baby and my mom told God if he let me live, she’d never cut my hair.”

I swallowed past the lump in my throat and finished reading. When I got to “The End” I closed the book and listened as the muffled sounds of a busy science lesson drifted through the closed classroom door. Other than that, our little alcove in the hallway was silent.

Then I heard Jake clear his throat, “Thanks for reading to me. Maybe I’ll get you next year.”

As my tears threatened to overflow, I risked possible rejection and hugged him. He hugged me right back.

My volunteer efforts on behalf of my two children and several school buildings have had splashier successes. In truth, I’m not even sure that my reading with Jake made any impact on his life other than those few hours we spent together in quiet enjoyment of a good book. What I am sure of is the valuable lessons Jake taught me.

Everyone you meet has a story and usually, you’ll never know what that story is. Secondly, any effort expended on behalf of another human being has the capacity to improve a life. In this case, that life was mine.

11 Thoughts on “REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

  1. Well, I liked it Suzanne! A valuable lesson to be reminded of. Who knows what the peeps at Chicken Soup were looking for, anyway? Doesn’t mean they didn’t like it, just that they liked something else better!

    A lovely story, though. <3 🙂 <3

  2. ksamudio on February 29, 2016 at 4:01 pm said:

    Yes, I love it; yes, I did get teary (even before the vow his Mom made to God – it hit me when he sat so close you could feel his warm skin/baby shampoo/Mom’s special boy); yes, I feel confident that you did have an impact on Jake – I’m betting he has never forgotten you, Suzanne the kind reading Mom!

  3. As we ride the life river we pass over stones we may never see again, unaware that our motion has changed their position forever.

  4. That’s a sweet story, Suzanne. I was still thinking about it the next day and the day after that. I think that’s the mark of a good story–one that stays with you! I bet you could find another outlet for it.

    I can also relate to your tiredness and your faith in the power of persistence… in spite of the tiredness and occasional disappointments. It’s all part of the process.

    P.S. I look forward to reading about things that amaze you some other time. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jennifer! I know we all have this limited time and energy quotient to spend on our activities, thoughts, pursuits. How we allocate it can affect what we finish, submit, etc. Pondering the “amazement” thoughts some more. Many thanks for chiming in, especially on the persistence and the process!

  5. Hi Suzanne! I’ve been getting many rejections lately as well! I have to remind myself how many times I have been lucky to get acceptances, which means someone else got the rejections! So I rejoice for those who are getting the “yes” this time around!

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Book Review: Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Connor

Murder in an Irish Village jacket

Murder in an Irish Village jacket 

“If Janet Evanovich and Maeve Binchy wrote a book together, Murder in an Irish Village would be the result.” ~ Laurien Berenson, author of Live and Let Growl

I was fortunate to read an early draft of Murder in an Irish Village,and despite a busy schedule, finished it in a day and a half. If you love mysteries with heart, humor, and a world you can get lost in, you’ll look forward to the next installment of the series. 

Carlene O'Connor headsho

First-time mystery author Carlene O’Connor shares her love of storytelling and an affinity for the Irish countryside in Murder in an Irish Village (Kensington Books, 2016), the first in a planned series featuring Siobhan and her raucous, engaging brothers and sisters.

The fiery redhead navigates guardianship of her siblings and a hint of romance with a local police officer while trying to carve out a semblance of normalcy for herself in her home village of Kilbane, County Cork.

Excerpt:

Niall brought his face close to hers. She stood her ground despite desperately wanting to back away from him.

She’d never seen such a look in anyone’s eyes before. It was as if he was pleading with her and threatening her at the same time. Like a wounded animal you feared would tear into you the minute you stepped in to help. She was trapped.

“I need ten thousand euro.” Niall inched even closer.

They barely had a thousand euro in the bank. Not that it mattered. She wouldn’t give Niall Murphy the lint from her pocket.

Siobhan O’Sullivan is doing the best she can. Barely a year has passed since her parents died in a car accident, leaving her to run the family bistro and look after the rest of the O’Sullivan Six. James, the oldest brother, is only a few months sober and their four younger siblings depend on them for just about everything.

When they wake to find a man sitting in their bistro dining room with a pair of scissors sticking out of his chest, the future of the restaurant is as unsure as their own. Siobhan has already sacrificed her scholarship to Trinity College and now risks her own safety to help track down the killer, protect her siblings, and keep the doors of Naomi’s Bistro open.

O’Connor has created an enchanting village filled with colorful locals, each with their own distinct roles to play. The engaging characters include Siobhan’s siblings who add warmth, laughs, and more than their own slew of problems to her already burdened shoulders. Amateur sleuth Siobhan faces these challenges with believable determination, a fiery wit, and more than a hint of charisma.

The fictional town of Kilbane is rendered in breathtaking brushstrokes of blue skies, rolling green hills, historic ruins, and the authentic dialogue of its inhabitants. Carlene O’Connor writes with humor, an obvious love of her chosen setting, and a deft hand at plotting. She strikes just the right balance between a fully fleshed out world and brisk pacing.

Readers and armchair sleuths will find solving this crime challenging. Luckily, they’ll enjoy the journey as they meander the lanes and fields of this walled village, and will eagerly await the next adventure of the O’Sullivan Six.

For more information on author Carlene O’Connor, you can read my interview with the author here. You can also connect with her on Facebook and her website.

2 Thoughts on “Book Review: Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Connor

  1. Kim Samudio on February 26, 2016 at 2:27 pm said:

    I wanted to read this as soon as I saw the reference “heart, humor and a world you can get lost in”, especially if that world is the Irish countryside! Great review, love the details – I will be reading soon!

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