Just Wait! A short story rejected in grade school becomes a cause of action

In elementary school, back in the 1950s, we were never given writing assignments, and I never imagined there were any living authors. I pictured a cemetery filled with tombstones of my favorite writers with their last names first, like card catalogs in the library: Baum, L. Frank 1856-1919. Writing – the pleasure of articulating interior worlds sensed but not seen – was something I did on my own. I was in eighth grade before I got a chance to write a story for school. My eighth-grade English teacher, Mr. Mortem, was a malevolent-looking man with a low brow and small beady eyes. We joked that he moonlighted as an axe murderer. But he was even scarier as an English teacher. He terrorized us with menacing-sounding exams called “evaluations,” which turned out to be ordinary multiple-choice tests. But he was the first teacher to give us an assignment to write a short story. “Remember,” Mr. Mortem called as we filed out of class, “no stories from TV!” I hardly heard him. I was … Read on

The Ambivalent Agnostic: An Adoption Story

I was in my 40s when I decided to quit a cushy secretarial job at a Park Avenue law firm in order to write full-time. The move felt risky. My husband, a professor at NYU, was 17 years older, and the loss of my pay check cut our already modest income in half. But the fear, confusion, and indecision I felt was only partly due to our precarious finances. The main reason was because we had just decided to adopt a baby. In spite of my worries and reservations, John and I flew to Lubbock, Texas, to register with an adoption agency recommended by friends. My mother had retired to West Texas, and only a few weeks earlier I had traveled there to visit her before she died. Now I was returning to that barren land in search of new life. The adoption agency said it could take months to get a baby. We filled out all the application forms, … Read on

Read the First Chapter of My Memoir

beach run

In 1965, when I was eighteen, I ran away to Portland, Oregon. Running away was an act of rebellion, but also of faith. In one beautiful leap I would escape my family, my past, and the insufferable person I’d been living with for the past few years—my teenage self. This person was quite obviously screwed up. She had way too many problems. No one wanted any part of them, especially me. In Portland I could reinvent myself and leave the past behind. My brother agreed to drive me to the airport on the condition that I stop to say goodbye to my parents. So on a gray November morning, I found myself driving down the flat Midwestern streets where the silent, respectable houses stared impassively out of the dawn. We turned a corner, and my brother slowed down. There it was—the familiar red brick bungalow with my writing alcove overlooking the maple tree. My brother pulled over and turned off … Read on

5 Tips on Hiring a Memoir Coach

jumpers

If universities offered degrees in the art of finding and evaluating writing coaches, I would have earned a PhD by now. Maybe two. In the many years I’ve worked on writing my memoir, in-between publishing over twenty children’s books, I’ve hired several dozen writing coaches, from famous writers to obscure professors. I’ve worked with some outstanding coaches, such as Tristine Rainer (Your Life as Story), Karen Propp (In Sickness and in Health: A Love Story) and Eric Maisel (The Art of the Book Deal and Mastering Creative Anxiety). Hiring a writing coach can be expensive, although I was able to pay for much of my coaching with my own earnings. Still, I haven’t been on many vacations in recent years, my family-room furniture is really funky, and my fantasy of adding an addition to our house remains just that – a fantasy. But for me, working with all those coaches was worth it. As I’m writing this, I ask myself … Read on

No One Feels Sorry for You When You’re Living in Tuscany!

Village in Tuscany

When my family moved to Florence for a year, I had my new Italian life all planned – long afternoons gazing at masterpieces of Italian art at the famous Uffizi, leisurely evenings at a trattoria, sipping wine. In the mornings, I would work on the memoir I was writing (no distractions like back home!) while my husband taught at NYU’s Florence Campus, and our four-year old, Annelise, attended an Italian preschool. This was going to be so great! Walking with Annelise to school that first morning, the gold Italian light shone softly on the ancient, shuttered buildings. We passed a man in a leather apron standing outside a shoe repair shop, a fragrant panneteria, and a pint-sized piazza that gave the neighborhood a charming small-town feeling. My spirits soared. What a great experience for all of us! At home, I settled down in the breezy, light-filled living room to write. But suddenly noises exploded in the apartment overhead – pounding, … Read on

Gradually, Naturally, Gracefully

From the moment my husband, John, and I adopted our daughter, Annelise, I worried about how we would tell her that she was adopted. I wanted the realization to come gradually, naturally, gracefully. Of course, in the world of parenting, things rarely happen gradually, naturally, or gracefully. But reality has its own mysterious grace and rhythms, as I discovered one summer in Brittany, when Annelise was four. The three of us had spent the year in Italy where John taught at NYU’s Florence campus, and Annelise attended an Italian preschool. (The kids spent most of their time racing around in little cars at dangerously high speeds–good practice for whizzing around Florence in their Vespas when they got to be teenagers.) In May, when the school year was over, the university stopped paying rent on our Florence apartment. Since our house in Pennsylvania was rented through June, we needed someplace to go until then. Miraculously, we found a beach house to … Read on

I can’t have a baby because I have a 12:30 lunch meeting!*

When I married my husband, John, I was thirty-three and he was fifty. He was teaching at NYU at the time, and I moved into his five-floor walk-up in Chelsea. This was not my dream home. The creaky wooden stairs were worn from a hundred years of use, the street outside was noisy, and the tiny bathtub was squeezed into a corner of the kitchen. During my workday as an administrative assistant, I indulged in my lifelong fantasy of moving to the country and writing full-time, even though quitting my job would mean cutting our income in half. It would also mean extricating my husband from our Chelsea apartment, along with his library of 5,000 books. Then a miracle happened: our building went co-op. We managed to scrape together enough money for a down payment, lease out our apartment, and rent a small a farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. We were both happy to be out of the city, and … Read on

9 Funniest Rejections of All Time

Rejection ahead

You know what they say about comedy coming from deep pain. That’s I why I laugh at rejections. Below are my seven top funny rejections. Be on the look out for these standbys; they may show up in your “in box”! The rejection used to repair furniture “When my office was moved yesterday, your enclosed manuscript emerged from underneath my desk. I am sorry.” Hey, it’s okay to use my manuscript to prop up your desk! The rejection for something you did not even write “Thanks so much for being kind enough to return the errant manuscript you received from us. We’re thinking perhaps one of your envelopes attached itself to the wrong manuscript.” The rejection for a fan letter sent to a favorite author A friend of mine wrote a fan letter to author E.L. Konigsburg, and got it back from the publisher – rejected. The one-minute-per-book rejection I once had ten picture book manuscripts rejected in ten minutes … Read on

Color-Coding Story Elements to Weave a Narrative

There are several ways to weave together various elements of your narrative, whether fiction or non-fiction. Begin by asking yourself the following two questions (it may help to write down the answers). Question #1. What is the main story you want to tell? In other words, what is the most important element of your story, what drives you to want to write this particular book? Once you have answered this, ask yourself: Question #2. Is there a secondary narrative, or a subplot that you would like to include. This might be a love story, a parenting or a childhood story that relates to the main narrative. Let’s say, for instance, your mom was a doctor or health worker in the hospital where you are visiting a family member; you could contrast your current story with memories of a young child in the same setting. Alternatively, you may simply pause in the narrative periodically to reflect on what you went through, or outline strategies that helped you … Read on

7 Things that Make me Really Mad – Beginning with the Bass Clef

Originally published in The Huffington Post. 1. The bass clef For a long time, I was mad at the bass clef. As a beginning piano player, I could see no reason for the bass clef other than to confuse me, which it did brilliantly, since the bass notes don’t look like their treble counterparts. Because the bass clef had been invented by cruel musicians in a distant past to confound me and thousands of other innocent people, I refused to memorize it. Snubbing the bass clef made learning the piano difficult until my piano teacher explained that the bass clef was not a separate from the treble clef; it was, in fact, a continuum! 2. Nonconsensual operating system updates I get pissed off at nonconsensual operating system updates on “smart” phones and computers. For months I studiously avoided updating the operating system on my cell phone, then I accidentally sat on it and bingo! It updated itself. Since then I’ve … Read on