Friday, December 19, 2014

my neighbor, ned

In the many, many years before this one - when I would sneak into bookstores and libraries stealthily with the sole purpose of spying the exact spot on the shelf my books would live if any of them ever got published - I often lamented my near-the-end-of-the-alphabet name. Vitello. Fat chance of an impulse buy, there, right? Was it too late to rename myself Suzy Aaron?

Back when I thought my eventual books would be housed in the literature section (hoity-toity, I know) I imagined myself wedged between Jules Verne and Kurt Vonnegut. That's right, my dark prose would rub elbows with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea on one side, Cat's Cradle on the other.

But when I started writing YA, I shifted my surveillance, and began nosing around the end of the alphabet in kid lit. And that's when I discovered Ned Vizzini. Vizzini! A YA paisan, I thought. The Italian last name. The teen angst themes. I brought It's Kind of a Funny Story home for Carson. And the Teen Angst book, too. He particularly took to Teen Angst, because he was doing an autobiography unit at school. Turned out, though, I had to go to bat in my son's behalf when his 7th grade language arts teacher declared he couldn't read it for credit.

I had to tamper down my Bea Arthuresque indignation, whipping into the school in my cape and  wine-color lip liner. "This is exactly what middle school boys should be reading," I argued.

"It looks like a cartoon book," she said. "It's not serious autobiography."

Oh, but I was prepared. I had the list of accolades from esteemed sources claiming the book's merit. In the end, she reluctantly agreed to let him read it, but she wasn't happy about it.

Carson was devastated by my pushiness. And embarrassed. But he loved the book, and read, rather than skimmed it - which was a supreme accomplishment.

So when I got my book deals, I began thinking of Ned Vizzini as my soon-to-be neighbor.This guy who shared my sense of snark and disdain for asshole teachers. Who wrote his truth directly to his audience - and was known as a sensitive, kind soul who spent hours chatting with his fans in bookstore lines. A neighbor anyone would be thrilled to have.

In various bookstores, I stalked the  P - Z young adult shelves, my eyes grazing along until they landed on the (always face out) white and black map head cover of Funny Story. There, I thought. That's where my books will live next year. Next to Ned. My little ramble-shack cottages next to this architectural masterpiece!

And you probably know this, but a month before I officially moved in next door to Ned, one year ago today, in fact, he committed suicide. He jumped off a roof within view of the Brooklyn Public Library - a place he publicly supported and revered. I saw the tweets, one after another and I was bowled over in disbelief. This guy who had saved teenagers' lives - an outspoken advocate for mental health intervention - had been suffering more than anyone guessed. Somehow I felt that since he wrote about his darkest fears - offered up his journey through depression and pointed toward hope and salvation - that he was immune from a devastating outcome.

Today I ran across this lovely tribute by an author-friend of his, and it gave me further insight into my bookstore neighbor, Edison "Ned" Vizzini, and all day I've been thinking more about the separate lives of books - and how they're lived apart from their creators. The life inside of a book is often a hopeful construct. An imagining that ends in triumph. I think of Ned and me. Our side-by-side stories on the pine shelf - our characters' heartbreaks and salvations - I like to think that the worlds we built, Ned and me, and all those lucky authors with first-half-of-the-alphabet names, are transcendent of our failures. That they connect readers with their humanity regardless of the fragile nature of the artist.

And that's why I'm hoisting a glass to Ned tonight instead of feeling sad. Ned Vizzini left us at the young age of 32, but he left us rich and fat as fuck. I love that his books are squeezed up against my books. That the heartbeat of story continues, no matter what. Thank God, Ned. Thank God people still write.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

just say naNOwrimo

Yep, it's that time of year again. Leaves are damp, dying bits of organic compost, we're all diabetic from Halloween, and we're putting our compensatory ass-sitting gadgets in place for a month of marathon writing.

Except, I'm not.

I've done the NaNo. I think, for generative purposes, it's terrific, but at my age, the cons outweigh the pros. The tiny repetitive-motion injuries to obscure, but necessary, muscles and fascia. The headaches. The bleary vision. For me, to write 50K words in a month is physically dangerous. It just is. My eyes, my head, my shoulders.

Better for me is a modified 800 words/five days a week plan. With yoga, walks, and non-screen tasks built in. That's 16K words, folks. Not even a novella. But, it can be just as generous and generative to the idea behind NaNoWriMo, which is, wrapping your mind around a sustainable project, and falling in love with it - seeing it through the long game. Because writing a novel is a long game.

There's the first draft, the second draft, the sixth draft. There's the getting readers excited about it draft. The being able to boil down the idea to a two-sentence conceit draft.

That's why, I'm proposing something different here on this blog post. A sustainable alternative to the life-fast that happens when you're pumping out the pages. Here's how it works:

Choose one project. Doesn't have to be a first draft, either. Commit to visiting it five days a week. Set either a word count or a minute count (e.g. 1K or 90 minutes), and write your last sentence of the day, each day, in the comments section below.

Who's in?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

halloween fun - plus chocolate

You guys, I've got a little promotion going on this week to celebrate the blog tour for The Empress Chronicles, and to add to my collection of memorabilia.

You don't HAVE to have a copy of my book (though, I'd love it if you did). Only an imagination and the spirit of whimsy. Whimsy's good, right?

So here's the deal: take a halloweenish type of picture that is YOUR interpretation of #EmpressHalloween. If you're on any of the sites: Instragram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, tag me , or just use the hashtag #EmpressHalloween, or send me the pic to post socially.

I'm going to randomly choose a photo at 4:00 pm Friday, Oct. 31st, and the owner of that picture will win a spicy array of confections from Alma Chocolates. (I have to keep this contest to U.S., unfortunately, because of the shipping regulations.)

Love to you all, and get me your pics! Any and all!
p.s. - I'm also checking the blog post comments sections every day, as well, so if you leave an exceptional comment on one of the blogs, I'll see that too and put it in the running.

Monday, October 20, 2014



I read this yesterday, mulled it over, and I feel a correlative coming on. Ready? So.

Once upon a time, I moved into a heat-less, two-bedroom, barely one-bathroom farmhouse with my partner and two small children even though I’m a comfort-loving hedonist. Maybe it was (probably, it was) due to a lowly guilty feeling I’d carried around since childhood – my Oma’s voice in my ear screeching “Duty! Duty! Duty!”

In any case, the interment lasted just shy of three years. We moved out during a record cold-snap, a week before the epic Oregon floods of ’96. Yes, friends, it was the Gulag. 

But the first several months of that experiment were accompanied by a sort of runner’s high brought on by continual Aegean tasks and extreme discomfort. Scrubbing 60 years of bacon grease off the kitchen walls, for instance. And scraping inches of black, asbestos-laden adhesive from the vertical-grain fir flooring so we could grind it further with rented machinery. Oh, and the chopping of wood! The carrying of septic water! Chickens and kittens and farm dogs, all with their pratfalls and mange! Not to mention a jungle-sized garden dug into the soil above an ancient cesspool. All of this under alien power lines that scored the horizon, buzzing, hissing, begging us to play in the clover.

Bliss, I tell you.

filtered reality
But here’s the thing. On balance, the ever-diminishing percentage of my life spent toiling out there has given more than taken (until one of us gets diagnosed with some sort of cancer that we can trace back to the myriad carcinogen-laden activities from that time). For now, I can honestly say that not a week goes by when I don’t draw from the bare aesthetic of those years. The way my senses were heightened living closer to the bone, the earth, the peril. Half of my latest novel is set there, in fact. If a novelist’s (or memoirist’s) job is first and foremost to absorb experience, then ’93 – ’96 were the spongiest years of my whole life, and I continue to wring the nectar, drop-by-drop, onto the page.

Okay, so this whole preamble is the preface for an explanation as to what in the ever-living-fuck possessed me to sign up for an iPhone 6 +. I mean, the size and shape and fragility of it renders it useless as a carry-it-everywhere tool that you can slip into pretty much any pocket, any time. Which is the way I used my 4. On paper, I bought it for its supposedly superior photo/video stability feature (I make videos on my phone! For my books!). But after a weekend of reflection (and, after reading the afore-mentioned NYT article), I amend my impetus. My new theory is, I bought the cumbersome device as punishment. As a self-styled 12-step Program, if you will. Returning to those soft-salad days where I chose to subvert my centrally-heated luxury dwelling in a tony NW Portland neighborhood in favor of back-to-the-land endurance, I’ve tricked myself into giving up my vestigial-organ-made-by-Apple.

For instance. Yesterday afternoon, under a delightful Indian summer sky, I hiked up to a neighborhood high spot naked. And by naked, I mean, phoneless. Which, if you know me, is unheard of because I’ve become one of those constant recorders of quotidian insight. You know: getting just the right filter on a spectacular flower and posting it on social media: #OctoberRose. Which is followed by a preoccupation with how many likes it corrals and the ensuing conversations therein. A prompt for community discussion!

So, sans phone, I had to take the fucker in. Its color, its smell. Its particular juxtaposition to the light. Yup, I had to stop and smell the roses. I did! And other things, too. The sensual reality of a sunny Sunday afternoon. The two girls on their front lawn in shorts unfolding a vintage Twister game. The ruckus of a Cocker spaniel and a boxer, their dual noses sniffing the fence crack as I walked by. The disappointment of some tourists at not being able to see Mt. Hood at the top of Council Crest because clouds were forming there. 

My senses were alive in a way they are not when I’m preoccupied with capturing a snapshot and living life for the soundbite. Oh, sure, I’m blogging about this, so, clearly, I was still mining my adventure for its artistic merit. But, my tool is language. It’s always been language. I am not a visual artist, and I think my pocket-handy device had me believing otherwise.

Right now, I’m in the development phase of the next Empress book, which requires me to exercise my muscle for voice and observation. Which means, I should eschew the multi-tasking in favor of more sustained and quiet being. The sexy, model-thin phone, like all divas, is useless in the pocket. The curious device has announced that it may be employed for specific tasks, but it will not be, will never be, an extension of my body the way its predecessor was. I am forced to do the heavy lifting the old-fashioned way. While I still have use of my internal hard drive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

making it up

In case you missed it on the Manifestation Blog yesterday, here's my Empress "origin" story. Plus, more pictures from my initial Sisi research trip. #Homesick

Monday, August 18, 2014

once upon a time

I’m in a lovely place, writing-wise. Two weeks before book launch. Finished with a serviceable draft with my Moment sequel. About to undertake the next Empress book.

However. Times like these (pauses in the process) are historically fraught with upheaval for yours truly.

And by upheaval, I mean, leaps. Mostly, that’s served me well. Case in point: 25 years ago this month I encountered Portland for the first time. Me, my Subaru, my one-year-old daughter and two-and-a-half year old son.

We had been temporarily living in North County San Diego after my first husband died (how we got there from upstate New York is a whole other blog post). Anyway, I’d been renting this tiny cottage in Solana Beach. Every morning I’d plop the kids in the jogger, and off we’d go – into the surf.

Sounds dreamy, right?

For most people, it would be, but I was restless. I wanted to find a permanent home – a city where I could afford to raise my kids. I longed for green. Much as I love the bustle and energy of city life, I need down time. Quiet. Regroup space.

I belonged to a support group back then – for young people who had lost spouses. I met all these wild widows (we’d go on widows-gone-wild trips to Mexico… again, I’ll leave that for another post). While in this group, I met a young woman who’d been raised in Oregon, and she piqued my interest. 

One morning, instead of plunking the kids in the jogger, I strapped them into car seats and drove north. The Pacific Northwest felt like home the minute the first log truck passed me on the I-5. Seriously, all of it: the natural beauty, the go-your-own-way spirit of the people, the various shades and interpretations of green.

Twenty-five years later, here I am, happier than ever with my adopted city. 

So, where am I going with this metaphor? I’m ripe for a writing practice version of Portland. A way to approach writing and putting my work out there that honors the pioneer spirit inside of me. A set of practices and participation that stokes the fire. That feels authentic to every cell in my body.

I think I’ll start by throwing a party. Something in October. Stay tuned – I’m heading north again.

What makes you feel reawakened? 

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Hey there folks! I'm pleased to present my VERY FIRST RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY!

I'll be giving away a signed copy of THE MOMENT BEFORE as a way to thank you all for the tweeting and viral shenanigans you're all going to help me with in service to spreading the word about the new book. Which is out in less than a month. How crazy is that?!

So, signed free copy of a paperback edition of MOMENT to the automated winner of this game. It's like going to Vegas without leaving your desk, right?

USA residents only because, postage! And all those other forms you have to fill out at the PO for overseas mailing. But to my international friends, worry not!

There will be an e-copy giveaway of the new book next month. Ready, set, go!


 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, August 03, 2014


THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES is all set to launch one month from today, and if you’ve been
following this blog lo these many years, you know what a long-in-coming milestone this is for me.

TEC isn’t officially my debut, but it sort of is. I wrote the novel (many times!) a couple of years before THE MOMENT BEFORE – which came gushing out of me like a flood. In contrast, TEC feels like a pregnancy that went on way past term – coming into the world as a toddler rather than an infant. It walks, talks, and drags me around behind it, offering bold suggestions and defying my attempts to shape it.

Even though MOMENT rushed out of me, during its launch it wasn’t very demanding. I was feeling out this whole debut author thing step-by-step, and I puttered, and muttered, and scratched my head. That first book, I could leave it alone in its high chair, and it would just smile and wait for me to offer the next thing. (Come to think of it, my first child, Sam, was sort of that way too.)

This child? Not so much. (Ah! A theme here, Maggie, my second child, was much more, whoa Nelly!)

So. Today begins the official launch-before-the-launch known as the Cover Reveal (here’s a link to the hoopla party). I didn’t get a CR for MOMENT (another way in which that book was less of a diva), so this’ll be new territory. I feel a little like a movie-of-the-week character. You know, like those undercover muckrakers who set out to write scathing articles about beauty pageants, and while gathering data, fall in love with the process? Well, I’m smitten. My cover is drop dead gorgeous, don’t you think? (I can say that, because I had nothing to do with its creation.) But even better, the cover truly, truly reflects the tone, themes and energy of the book.

Whereas MOMENT came out at the beginning of the year, TEC is launching at the “real” beginning of the year – when school starts up again. And not only that, but it’s conveniently making its way into the world at the dawn of Oktoberfest, and since you already know how precocious the book is, you won’t be surprised if its swilling the beers in a couple of months and I'm already planning the party!

So, speaking of party, you want to help an author out and keep TEC the sassy little thing she is? Click on this e-book pre-order page. But if you want to wait for the physical book links, I hear ya! Especially if you live in Warwick, NY or Portland. OR, because I’ll be doing readings in those towns and I will totally keep y’all in the loop.

Thursday, July 03, 2014


Tomorrow my grandmother would have celebrated her 102nd birthday. She missed it by three days, having passed away in her sleep on July 1st.

Even though “Oma” has been subdued and sweet these past few years, I will always think of her as our psychically powerful matriarch – able to bend strong wills with a slight glance, or a sharp word.

And she did have more than a few sharp words in her lifetime. And opinions.

She was an artist, Erna was. In every sense. She demanded aesthetic compliance – once I brought her a geranium in a garish hue and she made me return it for a subtler shade, one more muted and deserving of her carefully tended wine barrel planter.

When a person brought her a gift, she’d carefully unwrap it, salvaging the paper and storing it in a pile in her attic where, the following year, she would wrap a new gift for the person in the very paper. She didn’t need to label it. She knew who gave her what.

Erna Freisinger was known locally for her paintings. Palette-knife oils, originally. Landscapes, still lifes. She moved onto acrylics in her sixties. Watercolors in her seventies. One of her painting hung in a bank. Another was the cover of the Warwick phone book. The one pictured below is one of my faves – it hangs just outside my office. If she’d ever seen my display of her paintings, she’d have had a word or two. Once, I remember her bustling into our house, hammer in hand, to adjust the display of her work throughout our rooms and hallways.

My Oma was Viennese through and through. I think she never got over having to abruptly leave her homeland in 1939, my one-year-old father in tow. The Anschluss – the Nazis. My grandfather and his partially Jewish blood. Opa had managed to flee to America right after my father was born, and when Nazi occupation became inevitable, Oma and my dad slipped out on the very last boat from Italy. Oma never liked being unsettled. Her life revolved around family, duty, loyalty, pride. Art.

And yet, she had a whimsical side.

Once, we convinced her to scale the chain link fence of the country club pool for an illegal midnight swim. She often escaped to open fields and forests to collect things that she would later weave into wreaths. She was a “lefty,” busying herself with handwork projects involving yarn, fabric, textures. She made hundreds and hundreds of cookies every Christmas, and Opa would grab my sister and me to deliver tins of them to nurses and patients.

The one time she hit me, it was because I spilled milk in her kitchen. A moment of clumsiness, and boom, broken glass. A mess. She slapped me across the face. And then lamented it the rest of the day. Apologizing over and over for her loss of temper. 

To say that my Oma was a role model would be overstating it. Would sound like an elegiac move: she’s dead, let’s praise her. She wasn’t who I aspired to be, but she demonstrated a unique will – fierce, enormous. And for that, I am grateful. For the shining example of spending half her life – the last half – the 50+ half – being known for her art. Being known as an artist. 

Especially with my second book coming out in September. A book that draws a lot from the life of a misunderstood Austrian figure. Imagining Empress Elisabeth as a carefree girl before circumstance and duty morphed her into a legendary mad woman has expanded my consciousness, along with my understanding of proud women generally.

So, Oma, happy 102nd birthday. Born on the 4th of July was a legacy you never wanted, but endured for more than a century.