Monday, September 27, 2010


“Tick tock, the door is locked.”

That is what the founding member of our book club was told twelve years ago when she tried to join a club that had already formed. Not to be deterred, she (we’ll call her The Reader) picked up the phone, dialed twelve or so friends, and a new book club was formed. Every forth Monday of the month—or is it the last Monday…I can never remember—we gather to discuss a book, drink wine and eat. Tonight, the book club will gather at my house, which will explain why this blog is brief.

I suppose most book clubs are basically the same. One night a month, all across the country, women—and men, too, I am sure—rush home from delivering kids to soccer practice or a piano lesson, drop takeout on the dining room table, spend ten minutes running a brush through their hair and strapping on a pair of open-toed sandals and rush out the door. At the hostess’s house, they pour a glass of wine, pull extra chairs into the living room and spend a few moments catching up. The younger book clubs might notice the member who isn’t drinking and congratulate her on her pregnancy. The middle-aged clubs might talk about slipping back into the workforce or the sad news of a divorce. The older book clubs might mourn a husband or celebrate a grandchild. And then they discuss a book.

This month, my book club is reading THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper. Having given the group a few books to choose from, they voted on this one and within a few days of that vote, the Facebook comments started flying. The Reader commented that she was loving the book. Then came another comment. I’m loving it, too. Another. I can’t wait to get started. Sounds like a great book. Still another. Just bought it. Going to start reading it in car-line today. More days followed and a few straggler comments came in. Thanks for recommending this book. It’s laugh out loud funny. And then, a mere two weeks after choosing THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, came the comment that illustrates why writers love book clubs. From The Reader…Just finished all five of Jonathan Tropper’s books.

Yes…this is why writers love book clubs. They read books, love books, share books and read more and more books.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Love Triangle

Conflict is an important part of any novel. It comes in many forms and usually includes a protagonist and an antagonist. Protagonist wants something. Antagonist gets in her way. In some cases, the conflict springs up between a triangle. Jealousies sprout, feelings are hurt, territories are marked. And hopefully, by the novel’s end, protagonist emerges victorious and realizes her greatest desire. Such was the case at our house this past week.

I walk up the stairs, my computer bag slung over my shoulder, hungry and tired because my day is nearly at an end. Ben, our Jack Russell in case you’re new to my blog, greets me at the landing. His stubby tail wags and he jumps on my shins. After a quick pat on his head, a gentle ruffle of his ears, I drop my bag, and there, across the room, nestled against the far wall, I see it. The newest addition to our family. RUMBA.

I walk across the dark wooden floors, peppered as they always are with white dog hair, and stand before RUMBA. Ben trails me, jumping on my calves, darting between my feet. I turn to Husband who has followed me. He is responsible for this surprise. Son and Daughter join in. Huddling around RUMBA, we gaze down upon the green lights that mean he is fully charge. “Go ahead,” Husband says.

I press the power button on top of RUMBA’s head. He leaps from his cradle. We four break our huddle and jump out of his way. RUMBA beeps three times, spins 180 degrees and rolls across the floor, leaving a clean path in his wake. Six feet away, he nudges the bottom of the couch, spins and takes off in the other direction. We marvel as he finds himself under the dining room table and manages to navigate the four chairs and emerge unscathed. He rolls along the baseboards, hugs the cabinets in the kitchen, even avoids certain doom when, at the last possible moment, he turns away from the top stair. Whereas it used to take only one of us to sweep the floors—generally me—it now takes the entire family. We follow him from room to room, shouting, “Good RUMBA. Left. No right. Good boy, RUMBA.” I think I even coo.

Because RUMBA isn’t fully charged, he lasts only a half hour. Spent from all the cheering, we empty his filter, and I feel the weight of four years of dog hair lift instantly from my shoulders. Husband returns RUMBA to his cradle where he can charge for another day. And there, as if waiting for the pack leader to return, lays Ben. Daughter rushes to sweep him into her arms. His normally perky ears droop. I give his head another ruffle and say, “No more talking to RUMBA,” because a nasty love triangle has sprung up in the family. Ben is jealous RUMBA.

RUMBA continues to run every morning, but no longer do we cheer him on or pat his round flat head. We press his power button without a single word of encouragement, empty his filter with a cool hand, and leave him to find his own way back to his cradle, which he usually does if he doesn’t run out of power first. This conflict has come to a satisfactory conclusion. Ben is once again the pack leader and I have clean floors.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Fact or Fantasy...

I have talked before about the questions a writer gets when she sells her first book. How did you get an agent? How long did it take you to write the book? What will the cover look like? One of the questions I most often get is…what kind of book is it? This raises the issue of genre. Let’s use this picture to discuss genre and literary fiction.

Perhaps this picture represents YA—young adult—fiction. Obviously Protagonist is a “young adult.” Simple enough. She is playing her arch rival for top spot on the Riverdale Middle School tennis team.

Maybe, based on this picture, we are going to read fantasy. The young female protagonist, living in an imaginary realm where elves and fairies frolic in magical forests, has been pitted against an unlikely opponent—6’9” John Isner—and her very life depends on the match’s outcome.

Consider instead, that we are looking at the beginning of a horror novel. Protagonist is trapped inside a never-ending match with no tiebreakers. No one can break serve and the match lasts well into the night and into the next day and maybe blood and guts and other gore seep onto the court with every passing game. Okay…that’s not a good plot. I don’t write horror.

There is mystery—in this flashback, Protagonist is sparing against the very person she will investigate for murder some twenty years later. If this were chick lit, we might again be seeing a flashback, but this time, Protagonist is sparing with the girl who will grow up to be a New York city mayoral candidate and steal Protagonist's fiancĂ© two days before the wedding. Science Fiction—every time Protagonist hits the ball it disappears as it crosses the net, lost in a black hole. When the ball returns hours later, it has lost all of its yellow fuzz and is dripping green slime. (Again, I’m no good with sci-fi either.)

And then there’s literary fiction. Protagonist isn’t playing an opponent, but is instead hitting the ball against a wall. Effectively, she is playing herself, battling her inner demons, struggling to realize her own true identity.

So when people ask me what kind of book I have written, I always start my explanation with… “It’s a story about the Scott family.” First and foremost, it’s a story. No green slimy goo, no mayoral candidates, no brick walls or never-ending sets. A story. And I hope a good one.

And as for Protagonist, what may have seemed like fantasy or science fiction, is in fact a young girl on the receiving end of a serve delivered by the great John Isner. All in fun, of course.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Dog With A Nose For Books

Ben, our four-year-old Jack Russell, is barking hysterically. I know that bark. It means he has spotted a squirrel in our back yard. I let him outside, and very soon, the hysterical bark will be followed by a rather girly yap when he eventually and inevitably chases the squirrel up a white-bird tree. He’ll spend the rest of the afternoon circling the tree and shredding its large green fronds. He never captures the squirrel.

Ben has many barks. I can read them better than I could ever read my children’s cries when they were babies. There is the staccato bark that means, “Let me inside.” There is the patient and measured bark that if left to his own desires, he could maintain all day for the pelicans and egrets who land on our dock. There is “help me on the bed” whimper, the “fill my bowl” chirp, the snort that passes for a bark when we ask him to speak in exchange for a cookie, and the squeak that follows an especially large yawn.

Because I can read these barks, I knew the delivery man had arrived the other day when Ben, while sitting on the back of the couch and looking out the front window, began to growl. The growl grew steadily louder, and as the delivery man made his way up our driveway, carrying a large brown box with both hands, the growl turned into a high-pitched yap. Ben raced off the couch, sprinted down the steps and exploded into a hysterical snarling fit when the delivery man deposited the box on our front porch.

We have had many such fits lately as my kids recently started school and various delivery men have been delivering textbooks to our house. But school had been underway for several days, and all books had been accounted for. I opened the front door, hugging a squirming Ben under my arm, and rescued the box from the path of a sprinkler. I thought perhaps the box contained something important, because all important deliveries to our house end up in the path of a sprinkler head. The box was, in fact, an important delivery—the advanced reader copies of BENT ROAD. As you can see in the picture below, in addition to announcing the box’s arrival, Ben helped me open it.