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How Squash Powers my Writing

I’ve been touched by the way my squash community has supported the launch of  EDEN: A Novel (and my new writing life, for that matter).  I’m also extremely grateful for the thoughtful review James Zug wrote in June’s Squash Magazine and the support of Ivy Pochoda and Louisa Hall, world class squashers who played for the Crimson in the 00’s, for reading advance copies of EDEN and writing its first endorsements.

Besides that demonstration of support, and the fact that I’ve approached this publishing journey with the determination of an athlete, I thought I’d use this blog to describe the other ways my new writing life has been shaped by the sport I love.

Squash and writing can both be solitary pursuits, but to approach them as such is a shame. Both are done better with the support and encouragement of community. My experience with US Squash taught me to seek out a writing community and to get involved. Thank goodness for the comradeship of Grub Street, or I’d still be puttering away at a draft of EDEN, alone in my house, wondering if it would ever be good enough. And without the feedback and challenges of fellow GrubStreet work-shoppers, it wouldn’t have been!

Excellence in athletics requires a consistent practice and desire to improve. Not that every time I go out and play, I play my best, but it’s knowing the potential exists, that my talent can be summoned, that keeps me going. Same with writing, sometimes I feel like a day’s output is no good, but it’s the knowing that cleverness and insight can be summoned in future drafts that pushes me along.

When it comes to squash, I’ve lost way more matches than I’ve won. Nevertheless, I am a highly ranked player and have won two National Championships. Still, it is the knowing that, in the arenas in which I choose compete, I will face very tough competition, which drives me to practice.

I’ll equate all those squash defeats with the multitude of rejection I faced trying to get my book published. Thankfully, squash made me relatively immune to taking set backs personally. I treat rejection like feedback which can dictate what my next course of action should be. Rejection is not a judgment on my worth as a person, but makes me rethink and improve my writing.

In squash you learn to never give up, because it only takes a couple of smart, well-executed shots to win a series of points. Those points can result in the momentum of a entire match swinging, and maybe an unexpected win. And it only takes a couple of great wins, strung together, to win a tournament.  Similarly for all the rejections I experienced during the publishing process, it only took a few well timed “wins” to change everything, shift momentum, and create some buzz around my book.

Even though I am a good squash player, I enter most tournaments as a huge underdog. As the great Canadian player, Jonathan Power, likes to say, “There are lots of levels of good.” In other words, you can be good and there will still be somebody better, and then somebody better still. Sometimes I’ll be reading one of my favorite authors before bed time and the writing can be so moving, so spot on, I’ll close the book and start to think, “What right do I have to even try?” I gather up my courage again by remembering there are a lot of levels of good, and just because I’m not going to “win” a Pulitzer prize doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be part of the field which colors the landscape.

Squash has taught me courage and how to be a positive inner coach. I guess this is why the sport has been such a powerful tool for teaching our SquashBusters students life lessons, and why junior squash is a great training ground for mental toughness. Its lessons are transferrable in myriad ways – a satisfying writing life is really just the least of them.

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Audiobook Faves

I spilled the beans in my last blog post that
I’m a huge fan of the audiobook and that with the diminishing time I find to sit down, I’m devouring books through my ears instead.  I especially enjoy listening to books that have a lot of dialogue and/or accents (even when reading with my eyes is an option).  One such example of a great “listen” is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Another  I recently enjoyed with a myriad of voices from three generations of a family was Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I also loved listening to Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale because it was narrated masterfully by Claire Dane of “Homeland” fame.

Tomorrow morning I begin my roadshow!  Driving to the New York area for three days of EDEN book events.  I’m already excited to wake up and start the drive because I just downloaded Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi…

Here’s a screen shot of the last 6 books I’ve listened to …   Let me know in the comment box below what your favorite audiobooks are.

Eden Audible

EDEN: The Audiobook

Having a book in my hands is a luxury.  That is, sitting upright in a chair and reading an actual book is a luxury. Reading by daylight is almost a holy enterprise, the things vacations are made of.  Even so, my consumption of literature has never been greater.  When I’m driving, walking my dog, or doing housework I’m usually taking in an audiobook.  Yes, it’s efficient, and who doesn’t love being read to?

The selection on Audible has become outstanding over the past seven or eight years, and I’ve been known to buy a book in multiple formats (i.e. Kindle with audio) so that I can finish up before a book club meeting. I confess I’ve even (I might sound totally crazy now) gotten used listening to books at 1.5x speed. It’s still possible to linger over the language… I’ll rewind in order to listen to favorite chapters over again.

So, is it any wonder producing EDEN as an audiobook was a high priority?  My followers requested audio early on, and I could relate.  I just hadn’t prepared myself for how FUN it would be.  A fellow She Writes Press author, Anjali Mitter Duva,  spent a lunch explaining her experience with the Audio Creation Exchange (ACX) platform.  Sometimes that’s all it takes – a demystification of the process – and somebody else’s positive report, to get you going.  ACX is an Audible platform that matches up authors and audiobook producers.  It provides a standard contract with several transactional options, and simplifies the process to give authors access to hundreds of actors who do voice work for a living.  I indicated whether I wanted a male or female, the age, and type of voice.  I had about a dozen options such as: intellectual, serious, comedic, sexy, versatile, sarcastic and so on. (My wise guy husband suggested EDEN in a sexy voice.) After uploading a five minute script onto ACX (I chose scenes with several characters and a lot of dialogue), the project was out for  audition.

That’s when the fun began. Within hours I was receiving emails, asking more information about the characters’ relationships in order to do the best possible audition. It was like being in the theatre giving direction. Within 24 hours, I received about 25 auditions. Listening to the auditions was amazing. Hearing my words come to life was powerful. The transition from the written word to the spoken word (and not in my own voice) expands the imagination. Scenes took on color, accompanied by a voice, a baby step toward a visual medium.

It took about five days for me to listen to all the auditions and narrow them down to a final 4 or 5. ACX  provides the opportunity to check out an actor’s past work. So I spent time with some of the other books that my finalists had narrated. This was helpful. After pulling the trigger with a narrator, they have a day or so to read the first chapter for approval, then commit to a deadline for the entire project. I designated 6 weeks out for the completion of EDEN. My book is about 100,000 words and the final audiobook was estimated to be approximately 10 hours. I paid my narrator a rate per produced hour upon satisfactory completion of the recording. The other contractual option is to share future royalties.

I had a great time working with Marnye Young, EDEN’s narrator. We immediately started an email exchange and followed each other on social media.  Is was fun to see her enthusiasm for EDEN through her posts.  Once she provided the completed audiobook on ACX, I listened intently in order to give final approval. Listening to my book in its entirety was amazing. An avid audio customer myself, I’d be walking down the street listening on my iPhone, and know the next line that was going to be spoken a funky combination of hearing mixed with memory… because oh yeah… it’s my book!

After ACX completes quality control, EDEN: A Novel will be available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Voila!

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The Westerly Memoir Project

The Westerly Memoir Project (WMP) embarks on its second summer  July 11, 2017.  The project blends top-notch instruction in the art of memoir with the long-term goal of creating an anthology of personal essays, all set in the treasured seaside community of Westerly, RI.  Grub Street, a creative writing center in Boston, has completed two such projects.  The Boston Memoir Project spanned over a decade and culminated in the publication of 5 anthologies representing various neighborhoods within the city.  Then there was the Nantucket Memoir Project, which more closely mirrors the scope of the WMP.

With the pull of the ocean, both summer residents and a vibrant year-round community share a special setting.  As such, there are a myriad of view points and diverse experiences that will make up the finished work of essays to be published as the Westerly Memoir Project.

I initiated this project last year with the help of the Westerly Public Library, the Watch Hill Memorial Library and Improvement Society, and Grub Street because I truly love this place.  My co-chair, Katie Porter, and I are excited to bring the best instructing Boston’s Grub Street has to offer to our summer home.  We are also excited about where this project might lead.  The hope is that this project ignites writing well beyond that first personal narrative.  Last summer’s sessions felt like the nascent beginnings of  Westerly’s own writing community.  Let’s keep it going ! Imagine where we can go from here.

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Goodreads Giveaway!

Between March 21 and April 21, 2017 click Goodreads Giveaway! to enter.  There are ten chances to win a copy of Eden: A Novel.

 

Dedications

February 13 is Dedications day for #Authorlifemonth on Instagram.

Ventures take on greater meaning when dedicated to others, such as cooking a nurturing meal for loved ones, setting an intention before a yoga practice, or when my son, Charlie, and I ran the Boston Marathon for Stepping Strong trauma research last April. Similarly, as Eden started to take shape, I found added motivation in the lives of women I love. My characters, Sadie, Becca, Rachel and Sarah, were inspired by women who carried their pasts heavily, rarely or hesitatingly speaking of their experiences, women who were silenced, quieted, told to move on. Sometimes I felt myself writing with the urgency of unburdening them as well as challenging the world to listen.

The dedication of Eden was in no way an afterthought. The voices of Anne, Mary, Betty and Jeanne were with me from the very beginning.

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A Musical Setting for Eden

My son created this playlist on Spotify to get you in the mood.  Enjoy!!

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Patagonia: Stay Open to the Possibilities

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On a recent vacation to Patagonia, I took a day off from hiking with the friends I’d traveled with to go horseback riding. Who could resist the beauty of the animals, the gaucho culture, or the wide open, expansive landscape?  I’m not an experienced rider, but talked my way into a group that included a marvelous horsewoman from Seattle and a charming Brazilian couple.

This experience was a reminder that you never know when you are going to meet somebody who inspires you, and that role models are everywhere if you just stay open to new possibilities. Carol is in her late fifties and  traveled down to Chile in order to help her son (ex- Facebook) and his wife and their new baby move there.  After settling them in, she started traveling alone – first spending 7 days camping and hiking “The W” in Torres el Paine. Then she came to the lodge where I met her where she’d been on riding excursions for 6 days.  She told me stories of her and a friend riding her three horses 500 miles through the Cascades and into Canada. She told me about her future travel plans in Chile and Argentina.

She also talked about her other grandchildren back in Washington who she’d taught to ride and built tree houses for. After a morning of her wild stories and infectious laughter, I commented “You must have the coolest kids.” A big grin spread across her face and she said, “Well, my grandkids tell me I’m the coolest grandma ever.”

When the gauchos gave the signal, we’d go from a walk to a trot and then to a gallop. I stayed behind Carol and tried to do what she did. Her only words of advice as the horses picked up speed were, “Just don’t fall!!”  It was exhilarating, thrilling, and downright frightening. I loved every minute of that day.  I was grateful to meet Carol, whose sense of adventure and wanderlust inspired me, not to mention her moniker of “coolest grandma ever”.

I love meeting strong, independent women, especially strong women who travel to far off places alone.  Carol is the type of woman who says, “YES!” to life.  I’m smiling right now just thinking about her.  Sadie, a character in my novel, Edenwas an accomplished horsewoman as well.  Maybe if she lived in 2016, she would have been more like Carol….  instead of… well I don’t want to spoil it for you.

As Eden approaches its publication date and gallies are now in hand…  Jeannie is exhilarated, thrilled, and also a little bit frightened…  but she’s holding on tight!

hurricane

Rhode Island Research: The Great Hurricane

Over the course of writing my book, which took many, many years, it would always be sort of cool and sort of weird when the events in the story came into confluence with reality.  For example, working on the Fourth of July scene when it actually was the Fourth of July, or writing about Becca’s journey to the Willows when I myself was traveling by train.  Fiction and reality could get mixed up in a crazy and fun way inside my head and the writing and editing process would take on a special clarity, a certain obviousness (of, course this is the way it happened!)

I write this blog post, having just experienced a spectacular weekend under the glow of the full harvest moon.  On Saturday night we watched the yellow/orange orb rise slowly in the sky.  For the past three days, the high tides have been extremely high and the low tides have been extremely low.  The yellow jackets buzzed around the garden frantically knowing their time was almost up. This morning, the rains came.  The wind might not be blowing, but it is coming down hard and the skies are grey.  I can’t help thinking about Bunny and Becca (characters in my book you will just have to wait for!!), on that afternoon, seventy-eight years ago, this week, when the great Hurricane of 1938 took them by surprise.  The full moon, high tides, and high winds all converged to create tidal waves that destroyed whole towns across the northeast, hitting southern Rhode Island possibly the worst.

Last night as my husband flipped through the channels, waiting for the Red Sox to come on, he accidentally came across a special on Rhode Island PBS about survivors of the hurricane.  It included surprisingly vivid film footage of the storm as well as the destruction in its aftermath.  I was transfixed by how frightening it must have been.  The loss from the storm was tragic, but what I couldn’t help thinking as I watched the black and white film of  waves, bending trees, and homes disappearing into the surf was how scary. How scary to experience what have must felt like the end of the world in 1938 without help on its way and without immediate communication with the outside world. The hurricane scene in my book could have been even more frightening and still would never have been an exaggeration.

And then as if I needed another poke from the universe, when turning to Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart this morning I read:

September 19 – Weather the Storm…. Just as nature plays out her storms, sometimes with violence, sometimes with gray days, sometimes with a gentle cleansing rain, we have storms in our lives, storms in our soul.  Storms are a part of life, part of growth, part of the journey….

Does Melody know what hurricane season is like on the east coast? If not, she certainly knows about scary.  Storms are part of the journey and so is overcoming them.  The most important thing to remember is that storms don’t last forever; they come into our lives and eventually leave.  They are usually tumultuous, but relatively short, and the human spirit has, time and again,  just as it did in the months and years after the ’38 Hurricane,  found the fortitude to rebuild.

 

 

 

Matriarchy

Matriarchy

During my lifetime, the closest thing my family has had to a matriarch was my grandmother, not in the fact that she “ruled” our family but she lived until she was 96, was elegant and stately and was greatly admired by the generations that came after. She was my father’s mother, and come to think of it, she probably was the only one who could influence his thinking with a subtle nod of approval or disapproval.

The first matriarch of the Meister family in my novel, EDEN, is Sadie (Sarah). In the book of Genesis, Sarah, wife of Abraham, was also the first matriarch. Sarah was venerable and beautiful, and it is from her that all Israel is descended. But in true Old Testament fashion, Sarah is also depicted as an imperfect human. It is said that Sarah was a prophetess and knew the way things should play out, but when she insisted Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael to the wilderness, it probably wasn’t her finest hour. One can just imagine her in a jealous snit, putting her foot down with Abraham. The subsequent matriarchs in the book of Genesis are Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah who go on to birth a nation despite their human frailties.

It has always been comforting to me to study Genesis in that it emphasizes that the holiest figures in the Jewish religion are just regular, imperfect, people. And although the book is not without its patriarchs, it is first and foremost a book of matriarchs. The insights of its wives, mothers, and midwives, who often made things happen behind the scenes are responsible for the flourishing of the Jewish people. In addition, the book’s themes of familial struggle, including sibling rivalry, jealousy, and rebelliousness are those that we recognize in our own families today. And although, it is sort of discouraging to think that humans have had the same weaknesses and relationship issues for ages, I find it a consolation.

Patterns in families repeat themselves, in Genesis as well as in real life. The pattern of unplanned pregnancy repeats itself for three generations in the Meister family of my novel. A wise matriarch once said that one shouldn’t be defined by the surprises in her life, but by the way she responds to those surprises. So, possibly, as we evolve as people and as mothers of a people, may we learn from history and try to do a little bit better in our lifetime.