Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Win a Picnic for your Book Club



Today is the day The Underside of Joy begins its new life as a paperback. Paperbacks are great. They're inexpensive. They fit perfectly in Christmas stockings. (Sing it with me...The Underside of Joyyy to the Woooorld!) They fit in purses. They fit in picnic baskets. Book clubs love paperbacks. And I love book clubs.

Hanging out with Les Girls book club.

Book clubs are smart, and funny, and they often serve delicious food. They have passionate discussions about people who existed only in my head for six years. These readers have actually taught me things about my own book, which is pretty cool. Many of the groups I've visited have had a picnic theme to tie in with the Life's a Picnic Store in Elbow. How cool is that?

Towne Centre Books hosted this lovely picnic for their book club.


Yum!

I'm truly grateful to all the book clubs that have read The Underside of Joy. It's been such a privilege to talk with you.

As all of this rolled around in my head, an idea struck me, as they occasionally do. I thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be fun to deliver a Sonoma County picnic to a book club so it arrives in time for our skype visit?" And then I thought, "Yes, that would be fun."

So that's what we're doing. Contact me to schedule a skype or phone visit to discuss The Underside of Joy in January, February, or March and I'll enter you to win a picnic--chock full of goodies and wine from the region--delivered right to your doorstep. You'll eat, drink and be merry, and we'll chat about Ella and Annie and Zach and the whole Elbow gang, along with step-parenthood, grief, joy, Italian-American Internment, food, vineyards, postpartum depression, childhood secrets, family, nature, and how every once in a while, life really is a picnic. Check out my website for more details.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pretty in Paperback

I took yet another break from blogging over the summer so I could focus on writing my new novel. Some people can do more than one thing at once. This is called multi-tasking, and I've heard that it's quite useful. Unfortunately, this skill doesn't come naturally to me. I am a one-track kind of woman. Oh, sure, life forces me to at least attempt the octopus approach on a daily basis (I did somehow help to raise four children) but it's never pretty. So if you ever see me with toothpaste on my eyelashes and mascara on my teeth, you'll understand.

And now that the kids are living out in the world and feeding themselves, when I'm deep into my work I become sort of useless. I avoid cooking, cleaning, shopping, and errands. (My husband might divulge that I avoid many of these things even when I'm not in the thick of writing, but this is my blog and I'm not giving him the password. He'd have to start his own blog, and that's not happening. The dear man is too busy shopping and cooking.)

So this summer, while much of the population took to the beach, lost in reading a juicy novel, I was trying my best to write one.

My new novel was relentless. It would not let me go. Every morning as I stretched, sipped my coffee, and pondered the possibility of say, planting flowers or heading out to the beach to enjoy the incredible weather, my novel would say, "Like hell you are. You're staying right here in Alaska, freezing your keester off with Kache and Aunt Snag and Nadia." And I obeyed. A writer never wants to tick off her novel-in-progress.

On particularly hot days, this had its benefits. I remember when it was over 100 degrees and I happened to be writing a snow scene and had actual goosebumps. See? I may not be able to multi-task, but there are times when a focused imagination comes in handy.

While I was trekking through Alaska in my head, the hardworking, multi-tasking folks at Plume transformed The Underside of Joy into this wonderful paperback edition, which hits stores November 27th and is now available for pre-order here.



I am in love with this cover. I love the vertical treatment of the horizontal photograph, the reflection of the sky and the little girl. And I'm extremely grateful for the stamp of approval from the talented Jennifer Weiner.

I may not have spent much time playing on the beach this summer, but whenever I look at this cover, I'm right there...with Annie and Zach and Ella. I missed them while I was gone.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

UK launch for The Underside of Joy

Beginning May 10th, this little girl will be perched on bookshelves in stores throughout the UK. And as if she's not sweet enough, here's a really sweet deal to add to the pot: For a limited time the publisher is offering the e-book here for a special promotional rate of a mere £1.99. Yep. Sweet.

My UK publisher, HarperCollins UK, has done such an amazing job. I was able to meet my editor, Sarah Ritherdon and my publicist, Liz Dawson, for lunch when I visited London last summer, and they were both so kind and gracious and fun that when we hugged good-bye, I felt like I'd known them for years instead of hours.

I'm extremely grateful for Sarah's and Liz's hard work and enthusiasm--along with that of the entire Harper team. Special thanks to: Heike Schuessler, who designed the beautiful cover; Harriet Sands, Laura Fletcher, Oli Malcolm, Sarah Collett, and Tom Dunstan, who've been doing a terrific job with sales; likewise Catherine Friis, who made great things happen with international sales, marketing guru Liz Lambert; and publisher extraordinaire Kate Elton. Everyone has gone to great lengths to see that The Underside of Joy finds its across-the-Atlantic audience.

So far, so good. Early readers have chimed in with truly lovely reviews, some of which are listed here and here.

So I'm excited to see how my book baby does on its first trip abroad. In the meantime, I'm heading up to Alaska as I write this (gotta love inflight wifi) to see my oldest son, Daniel, graduate from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. So proud of him for a million reasons. After graduation, we'll be traveling with Daniel on the Kenai Peninsula, where my novel-in-progress is set. If you've read this blog in the past, you know how much Alaska inspires me. Maybe I'll even have a blog post for you when I return that isn't about The Underside of Joy. Now wouldn't that be something?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ode of Thanks to Book Bloggers Everywhere

When you shade your eyes and look out across that great abyss between my last post and this one, it doesn't seem like I've blogged in a long, long while. But the truth is, I've been blogging my little fingers to the bone. I feel like the blogosphere's own Johnny Cash...minus the genius musical talent. First, let's enjoy the classic:



Okay, you've got that catchy, boot-stompin' tune in your head now, yes? So here's my very corny attempt to send a heartfelt message of gratitude and a big shout out to all the bloggers who have read The Underside of Joy and featured it on their blogs, as well as those who organized the blog tour and BlogHer bookclub. Your support means the world to me. As an unknown debut author, I'm hoping that my novel finds its audience through word of mouth. And book bloggers play a key role in getting that word out. I don't expect you to read all of these at once, but do check out the blogs when you can. There are a lot of talented writers out there.

So sing along with me...(I apologize ahead of time. I'm better at writing novels than I am at writing songs.)

I've been everywhere, man.
I've been everywhere, man.
Sitting in my chair, man
Been from here to there, man
Of blogging I've had my share, man
I've been everywhere.

I've been to:
Leavittville and Laramie's and back again
BlogHer, Book'd Out, and the Bermuda Onion
Mommy's Memorandum, Charlotte's Web of Books
Fresh Ink, Fresh Fiction, She is Too Fond of Books
As I Turn the Pages, and Girls Just Reading,
A Novel Review... "Enough!" I hear you pleading.

But I've been to:
A Bookworm's World and Literary Mama
Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf, Mariana
Breaking the Spine and onto What Women Write
Chicklit Review and News, check out all these sites!
Chicklit Central, and finally Chicklit Bee,
I know, I know... you've heard more than enough from me.

I've been everywhere, man
I've been everywhere, man
Had to rely on the muse, man
And bloggers who wrote reviews, man
without giving too many clues, man
Joy's been in the news.

Joy's been reviewed by:

Diary of a Mad Hatter, Call Her Happy
Zelda Lily, Cameron D. Garriepy
Snarky Momma and A Magical Mommy
Maroc Mama and Notorious M-L-E
Isabelle & David and Comfortably Crazy
Bookworm with a View, and look! BookPage's top twenty!

The Book Chick, The Book Fetish, and Beth's Book Nook
Steph the Bookworm, Lou Graham's Blog, and Poof Books
Suz's Treats, My Reading Room, and Tracy's Nook
Kimba, Blueshelled, Random Musings About Life
Life After BagelsThe Literate Housewife
Books in the City and City Wife City Life

Joy's been everywhere, man
Joy's been everywhere, man
Bloggers do their fair share, man
About books they truly care, man
With a passion that's surely rare, man
Joy's been everywhere, like...

Boomer Wizdom and Reading 'Riting Randomness
Chicklit PlusAsha's AspectsAt Home in the Bluegrass
Cindy Roesel, Mom to the Screaming Masses
Woman Wife MomHonesty and Truly, Joanna Does it All
Alise Writes, but Luann's Writing on the Wall
I'm so full of gratitude, it means a lot, ya'll.

Wait, not so fast:

A Design So Vast, The Provident Woman
Mama's Manuscripts, Trees and Ink, Jen's Book Den
A Pile of Style, Whole Iron Woman
Stephanie at RMG, My 3 Little Birds
Have to say, what a way they all have with words.
Don't forget: That's What She Read and The Mama Bird's

Shire Bacon, Sarah's Cucina Bella
I Still Hate Pickles (But she still loves Ella.
Lovingly Thrown Together, Joe was Ella's fella.)
Tzer Island, Confessions, Home Between the Pages
Purple Sage and Scorpions, Turning the Pages
Texas Word Tangle, Pardon the Dog Hair, man, But I've been everywhere.

I've been everywhere, man
I've been everywhere, man
KMSPR ran the blog tour, man
Their hearts are gold that's pure, man
Penguin and BlogHer chose it for their club, man
I'll buy rounds at the virtual pub, man
Let's all meet there, man.
'Cause thanks to everyone, I've been everywhere.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Over-the-Top of Joy

Well, hello there, book.

Today is my official publication day.

So this is me. At our perfect local bookstore, Copperfield's, in Sebastopol, California. Yep. This is me, seeing my novel, The Underside of Joy, on a bookshelf in a bookstore for the very first time. I look pretty calm, but don't let that fool you. I felt like hugging and dancing with every customer and staff person in the store, and then running out to the sidewalk and doing the same with all the pedestrians -- and their dogs -- before leaping from hood to hood on the cars waiting for the light to change.

I'm a little excited.

What's even more overwhelming, though, is the gratitude I feel. You would not believe how supportive my family and friends have been. Friends I've known for years and years, and friends I've just recently met on the internet. I've never published a book before, but by the way they've all been shouting from the rooftops, you'd think that no one had ever published a book before. They have been ordering The Underside of Joy as if it were a survival kit and we had sudden proof that the Mayans were right after all.  (For many reasons, besides the fact that this is the year I'm finally getting published, I do so hope they were wrong.)

There is an amazing team of professionals, who have also become friends, working extremely hard to see that this novel finds its way into the world. My agent, Elisabeth Weed and her associate, Stephanie Sun. My foreign rights agent, Jenny Meyer. My editor, Denise Roy, my publicist, Amanda Walker, and all the people at Dutton. Kathleen Schmidt at KMSPR. And then there's all the foreign publishing houses that also took a chance and bought The Underside of Joy from an unknown author.

This was going to be short, but I'm on a roll. There have been many thoughtful reviewers, who really get the book and are able to describe it so much better than I can. Some of them are quoted here on my website. A great review just appeared on The Associated Press wire, which goes out to a ton of newspapers and websites. Lindsey Mead, a writer whose work I so admire, wrote a lovely, insightful review on her blog, A Design So Vast. More reviews are beginning to appear on blogs, which I'll post links to soon.

And my family! My relatives and in-laws have cheered me on for decades. My sister, Suzanne, and my sister-in-law Julie have been competing for chief volunteer publicist. I have an incredibly supportive husband, Stan, and four great kids, Daniel, Michael, Karli, and Taylor, who've lived so closely with my writing, it was like having another sibling they had to put up with.

There will be a book launch party on Saturday, January 14, at Copperfield's at 1:00. At the exact same time the 49ers will be in the playoffs. Have I mentioned that we have a Joe Montana Christmas tree ornament? My husband, smart man that he is, will be taping the game. If you're in the area, and you're not a football fan, come by. There will be picnic food in honor of the store called Life's a Picnic that's in the novel.

I could go on and on. I know. I already have. But the thing is? This doesn't even scratch the surface. My acknowledgement pages go a little deeper. But I would need to write another novel-length manuscript in order to thank everyone who has had a hand in this day. My heart is full, and so are my eyes. Thank you all.

My son Michael outside of Copperfield's.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fear Not


Merry Christmas. Our family is celebrating Christmas on the 28th because that's the day we can all be together, and so this morning it is probably more quiet at my house than it is at yours. And the quiet gets me thinking about the many, many Christmases behind me. The Ghost of Christmas Past is paying me a visit, but this is a good ghost I enjoy having around. A lot of the memories blur together, but there are some that are so distinct -- clear and round and whole -- like the favorite ornaments on the tree that I unwrap every year and think, There you are. Hello, Christmas.

There's one Christmas I think back to every year. Back to before I had kids; way, way back to when I was a kid around ten, when we drove from Hamden, Connecticut to Ottawa, Illinois in a blizzard. The car held a trunkful of wrapped presents and my dad and mom; my sister, Suzanne; me; and our black miniature poodle, Babette, who would later help herself to the leftovers of our 25-pound turkey, narrowly escaping death -- both from the effects of the turkey and from the threat of my grandmother's barely contained wrath.

But before all that, we had to get to my grandparents' house, and things were not going smoothly. We crept along with the snow barreling down and the windshield wipers frantically ineffective, my dad hunched forward in his seat, my mom tense, both smoking. Even Suzanne and I had stopped fighting about whom Babette liked better. A temporary peace, a ceasefire if you will, erased the imaginary line that had served as the border between our two hostile countries in the backseat.

My parents were much younger than I am now, in their early thirties, attractive, successful professionals,  who usually kept life interesting and fun for their young daughters. Before the blizzard took over, we'd been singing road songs, eating salami sandwiches my mom had passed back to us, playing the alphabet game. Five years later, they would divorce, but as much as things would change for our family, all four of us always remembered and talked about this road trip. As I write this now, I want to call my father to help me fill in the details, because he had that kind of memory. But my dad died seven years ago. He was a risk taker, a man who had to turn around and repay the toll many times in his life, a man who was raised in Buffalo Center, Iowa, and who swore he'd still be there if it hadn't been for hitchhiking.

Which brings me to the next scene in our story. My father was paying at a toll booth when he spotted a hitchhiker up ahead. He was covered in snow, but as my dad drove slowly past him, the hitchhiker smiled and waved, and something in his smile reminded me of Jim Croce, a singer I'd recently seen on television singing "Time in a Bottle."

"That's the same guy," my dad said.

Jim Croce? I thought.

"What same guy?" my mom said.

"The guy I saw back at the Whatchyamacallit toll booth." (My father didn't say Whatchyamacallit here; if he were alive, he would tell me the exact name of the toll booth and its exact location. Forgive me, Dad, I'm doing my best here without you.) "We could have given that poor kid a ride the whole way. I'm turning around."

"Donald! WAIT!"

But my father slowed the car down even more, looking for an exit he could take. He drove back and repaid the toll booth operator.

My father picked up hitchhikers. If they were young women, he would lecture them on the dangers of hitchhiking. He would only pick up men if my mother, Suzanne and I weren't in the car. But my father was also a man who was not above breaking his own rules. This drove my mother understandably crazy.

"Jesus, Janice," my dad said. "He's obviously trying to get somewhere. He didn't strangle the kind people who gave him a ride this far."

"How do you know it's even him? He's covered in SNOW."

"Exactly. That's why we're giving him a ride."

As my dad pulled over to pick up what Suzanne called The Abominable Snowman, Babette barked like a Doberman Pinscher in attack mode, and my mom  yelled, "Donald! It's not him! Just GO! Don't stop!"

But my dad ignored us all, and leaned over my pissed-off mother to roll down the window for the Jim-Croce-Abominable-Snowman-Family-Poodle-Killer.

"Where are you coming from?" my dad shouted over Babette.

"Well, Sir, Vietnam. But more recently, Connecticut."

"Yep. I thought I saw you back at the Whatchyamacallit toll booth."

"Yes, Sir, That was me. On my way home, Sir." He told my dad the name of his hometown.

"We can give you a ride to your front door. Hop in."

My mother got out of the car. I waited for her to fling open the backdoor and yank Suzanne, Babette, and me out, but she didn't. She let the snow-covered soldier in to sit between them, and then got back in the car. She offered him a salami sandwich, and hot coffee from the thermos and then a cigarette.

Babette settled down and fell asleep while Suzanne and I, who usually happily ignored most adult conversations, strained to hear the three adults murmuring in the front seat. I traced the name of the soldier etched on my POW bracelet. I wanted to lean forward and show him the name and ask if they were friends, but I was too shy.

While he spoke, I watched the snow melt off his hat and jacket and slip down the back of the seat like teardrops. My parents shook their heads, fell silent. The three of them smoked more cigarettes, said more things I couldn't quite hear.

And then, a shift, a rise in the soldier's voice as he leaned to look out the window. In the far distance, he said, he could see his parents' farmhouse. My father again offered to drive him to the door, but he declined. "No thank you, Sir. I've been dreaming about walking up and over that hill for a long time now."

My dad nodded, pulled to the side of the highway. It was snowing still, but in big soft flakes that lollygagged their way down. The soldier turned and patted Suzanne and me on our heads. "I hope Santa's good to you girls."

Both my parents got out of the car. He shook my father's hand and then they embraced. My mother wrapped her arms around the soldier, too, and said, "Merry Christmas."

Back in the car, my dad didn't shift into drive right away. The car idled, filling with Christmas. My mother scooted closer to my father and laid her head on his shoulder and he reached his arm around her. I heard her sniffle and sigh as we all watched the soldier make his way through the snow, toward his waiting home, white with lights.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Let it Rain

Ellen Newmark in the Himalayas, 2009


My friend and writing sister, Ellen, died last month. I got home from Europe and took a flight down to San Diego so we could say good-bye. She taught me so much about living life -- really living it -- and then she taught me about dying -- bravely, and with gratitude. She was my friend but so much more...too much, I've decided after many failed attempts, to convey in a blog post. 

We have all lost people we love. We have all felt the spreading void of their absence filling the rooms, the streets, the fields, the very sky, until we find ourselves pressed out on the ground underneath the weight of all that emptiness, wondering how? How can this be? And how will we possibly get up and face a world that feels so different now?

But we do get up, eventually, and we go on living -- really living -- because that is the best way to honor the dead, and ourselves. It is what Ellen insisted on.

She is gone, but still I feel her here. I feel her like I feel the scarf she gave me -- light, warmth, comfort, a hint of her perfume. How can this be? And yet it is.

Back in March, I wrote the following post, but I didn't publish it. There were a lot of scary things going on in the world, as there always is, and I was trying to wrap my head and heart around the fact that Ellen was not going to recover as we had so fervently hoped.

                                                  ***

There's a storm hitting us, and it's ferocious. The rain and wind batter away at our Barngalow, so loud now that our dog, Stuart, and our cat, Bob, keep looking up from their naps to the ceiling, then planting their eyes on me, asking What the hell? 

Through the window, the tree branches have transformed into a crowd of rioters, going at each other in a panic, throwing the weakest to the ground.

But it's only a storm, not a tsunami, not an earthquake, not escaping steam from a nuclear power plant, not a war-zone. We are warm and snug and safe in the moment, something I wish were true for everyone in this world.

My friend Diana and I had plans to drive an hour south and hike Mount Tamalpais today, but you know what they say about plans. Instead I'm still in my pjs, nursing an extra cup of coffee, thinking about all that's happened this past month. As Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

My own dream in my own little corner of the world, finally realized. And yet, as more good news from my agent came in emails and phone calls, I watched the nightmare unfolding in Japan and then Libya, watched unfathomable devastation wreaking its havoc on people who had woken that morning much like I had woken, thinking about whatever it is we think about in those first moments when we're on autopilot. I'd like to say I always wake with gratitude, but sometimes my mind is bent on the need to get the coffee going, take the dog out to pee, pay this or that bill, and get this done or that done. We wake as if it's just another day, ho hum, la-tee-dah, as if we have all the time in the world. But the truth is, none of us have that kind of time. We're all going to die, but most of us don't know when or how. Most of us, myself included, would rather not think about it.

Someone I love very much is teaching me about dying. It's a privilege to talk with her. She knows things the rest of us can't know until we're willing to sit face to face with our own mortality. I am learning how to listen. I am trying to learn to quiet the NO that keeps shouting through my head so I can truly hear her. I am trying to learn how to someday say good-bye to her with acceptance instead of fear or denial or a clutching heart.

Today's storm will move on, leaving the sun to do its thing. The trees will rest in peace again, raindrops like crystals on a chandelier will sparkle from their calmed, harmonious branches as Mother Nature takes a deep breath, decides to return to civility. Yes, the sun will shine again, gloriously, but as always, keep casting its shadows, too.

It's such a mixed bag, this life. The sorrow -- we all know it wouldn't be so hard if the joy wasn't so damn sweet. And good-byes wouldn't be so difficult if the love wasn't woven through our core, connecting every part of us. But what can we do? Go ahead, I say. Love with utter abandon, drink up the joy with lip-smacking gusto. And when it's time to cry, let it rain. Let the raging storm have its way.