Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Swim Back to Me: a quiet blogging experiment

I'm in between books (manuscripts) and doing a social (media) experiment... Before writing young adult fiction, I first started writing women's fiction, and although I was successful in getting three (count em, three!) reputable NYC literary agents to fall in love with my manuscript(s) as well as several editors at major publishing houses, we were never successful in actually getting the elusive book deal, so they remain unpublished in my computer.

In some ways, it makes me sad not to have at least one of the two manuscripts out in the world, as I do believe that Swim Back to Me contains some of my best writing, as well as lots of raw, relatable, universal truth and emotion. It's a simple story of a woman on a precipice, and though much of the emotion contained therein is, of course, autobiographically rooted, I assure you the story is "blown up" and fictionalized and none of the events contained therein are true. Well, not most of themm anyway. . .

At any rate, I'm going to post the first few sections of the story up here (without any other fanfare or flagging on facebook, twitter or other social media). If you are reading and would like to continue to read, please post a comment saying so, so I know whether I should continue to post sections. I will remove each prior section when a new one goes up, and leave each section for a week or two.

Here we go,

- gae

The Swimming Season

By Gae Polisner

Part I

We never know the worth of water
until the well is dry.

-French Proverb



I signal and turn into lot. My foot trembles uncontrollably on the gas pedal. It’s any wonder I’ve managed to drive myself here.
It’s barely evening, yet already dark, the lot lit dimly by a few ill-placed sodium lamps that spill their melancholy yellow into the center of the damp pavement leaving the corners in deep shadows.
This time of year is soul crushing.
If it were summer, I wouldn’t be here.
My car rolls toward the back of the lot, deserted save for his black sedan. My pulse bangs in my ears. I need to breathe, to slow down.
I maneuver into the spot near his in the darkest corner, leaving a space between us.
A mist has begun to fall again, dusts my windshield, dappling the hazy aura from his headlights across my lap. He turns off his car and leaves me in darkness.
Am I here? Did he really believe I would come?
I keep my car idling, my eyes down, still I feel him turn and take me in expectantly.
He waits, and I breathe. When I manage to lift my gaze, it is only forward, glued to the outline of manicured hedges that line the back of the lot.
I mustn't turn. I know this.
If I do, I will see that look, the one that seeks to devour me, to drink me in like liquid.
If I do, there is no chance I will ever drive away. 


But wait. If I start there, you’ll never understand. If I start there, everything will seem black and white, and you'll condemn me.
Instead, drift back with me a few weeks, to the beginning of September, when fall is but a vague threat, the full force of summer still in the air.
Come back to the kitchen, where the phone is ringing, and Richard is in the shower, and I have mayonnaise on my hands.
I can’t ask Cazzie to answer it because she’s already running late, which is ridiculous since it’s the first day of school. Of course, I’m not ready either, am still pressing fake turkey slices between bread, a sport-top water bottle squeezed under my arm, a veggie chip snack bag gripped in my teeth. I let it ring.
            “Cazzie,” I yell, dropping the chips to the counter and shoving the whole mess into her lunch bag, “Let’s go!”
            She appears flying down the hall in a Little Miss Grumpy t-shirt, a pair of frayed jeans, and her new clunky Steve Maddens adorning her sleek, 5-foot-6-inch frame. She has make-up on, a new privilege permitted by us now that she’s in tenth grade. She’s done a good job – a hint of green eye shadow, some smoky eyeliner, and a pale blush gloss on her lips. Her corn-silk straight hair is just-brushed so that errant, static-charged strands lit by filtering sunshine, rise around her head, angelically. She’s a lovely girl, my daughter.
As always, the moment I see her my morning’s anger and frustration melt away, and I want to hug her and tell her how beautiful she is, but of course, I wouldn’t dare.
“No meat, right?”
“Great!” She snatches the bag from my hand along with the moment, but at least kisses my cheek which I take as a ‘thank you.’ She’s reminded me a hundred times in the last two weeks of her new, non-carnivorous state. Does she think I wouldn’t remember? “I’m likely staying after. I’ll text you,” she adds, and is gone.
            As the front door slams and reverberates, a memory. Her first day of kindergarten, how she clutches my hand on our way to the bus stop and, when the bus arrives, buries her head so forcefully between my thighs that Richard jokes (captured on video forever) how she’d crawl back into my womb if she could. The recollection fills me with a momentary, overwhelming sense of loss.
I reel, but blink away the feeling, yank open the refrigerator, and search the white-lit space trying to recall where I put the snack bag of baby carrots for Henry. Veggie bin?  Deli drawer? Fruit drawer!  I retrieve them triumphantly, and sigh. This is the first of nearly 300 bag lunches I will make for the kids this year. And, God forbid they’re willing to eat the same thing. But, for Henry, it will be peanut butter and jelly instead of tofurkey (can I blame him?) which means twice the stuff to take out, assemble, and put away.
            By the time Richard has left for the office and Henry is showering, the phone is ringing again. My heart skips a beat. Maybe it’s Ellis from the DEC. I prickle with sweat just thinking about the rambling, desperate message I left him last week. That’s presuming he got it and even remembers my name.
            I snatch up the receiver, but it’s from a local number I don’t recognize.
            “Hi! Good morning.” The voice is perky and female. “This is Emily Dutton, is this Henry’s mom?”
            “Oh, yes, hi, this is Norah. I’m sorry, who did you say this is?” I tuck the receiver under my chin and head back to the fridge for the jelly. As I do, it slips to the floor with a bang. I pick it up and explain apologetically.
            “No problem. Emily Dutton. Did I catch you at a bad time?”         
            “No, no, it’s fine. Just trying to get the kids out the door, you know. What can I do for you?”
“Actually, I’m calling for my husband, John. He’ll be Henry’s Little League coach for the fall. John is out of town, so I’m making calls for him.” She laughs, uncomfortably. I feel for her stuck with the job. “The games start this weekend. Sorry for the short notice, but that’s all the League gave us, too.”
I try to stay focused, but now that the fear of hearing Ellis’ voice after all these years has dissipated, the actual import of the call has settled in and rattled me and I’ve worked myself into a different sort of panic: Despite his promise, Bruce Madigan, Henry’s son-of-a-bitch coach from last season, didn’t draft the kid. He’s going to be heartbroken.
 “Since the first game is this Saturday,” the woman – Emily – is saying on the other end, “John is hoping to sneak a practice in Friday, after school. Get the kids warmed up and acquainted. He knows it’s short notice, so no big deal if you can’t make it, if Henry can’t, but it will be up at the elementary fields in case you can. Do you know them? Just let us know if he can’t make it.” 
            “Uh huh, no he can.” I scrawl the information on the back of an envelope, my brain fighting tears, my mind searching for how I’m going to break the news to my son. “He’ll be there,” I say, again, punting.
            “Oh, great! That’s terrific! We’ll see you then.”
I can tell she’s about to hang up and I should let her hang up, but instead I blabber. “Shoot, look Emily, I hope you don’t mind me asking this, and I’m sure John’s a great guy and all, so please don’t take it personally, but I’m a little upset they’ve got Henry with a whole new team again. His coach from last season swore he’d draft him. So, is it possible there’s been a mistake? It’s just that Henry has been bounced from team to team for the past three seasons. He’s only ten. It seems a little unfair.” My whining is met with an uncomfortable silence on the other end. “I’m just saying that maybe John drafted him before Madigan got the chance?” Even as I form the words, I know it’s not the case. Madigan was a total prick last season. Why would I expect any different?
            “Hmmm. I really don’t know,” Emily finally says. “You’d have to speak to John. Who did he play for again?”
            “Madigan. Bruce Madigan?” I spit the name with antipathy. “Honestly, he’s a jerk, the last person on earth I’d actually want coaching my kid – any kid – do you know him? But Henry was counting on it. He spent the whole season trying to prove himself. He’ll be crushed. It’s going to totally undermine his self confidence. . .”
            More silence, then, “I’m truly sorry, Norah. Norah, right? I’m just making these calls for him, until he gets back. I wish I knew what to say.”
I’m a fool. This poor woman. I simply wasn’t prepared for this on the first day of school. Not when I’ve got so much else on my mind.
“No, no, of course. I’m the one who is sorry. This isn’t your problem. Bad enough you’ve been stuck making the calls.” I offer a stiff laugh in commiseration, but she doesn’t join in.  I should just let the woman off the phone. “We’ll deal with it. I’m sorry I brought it up. Sorry to have bugged you with it in the first place.”
“I understand, believe me. We have our own issues with the league, which is why John coaches now. Even still, as I’m sure you know, they’re pretty stringent about this stuff. They don’t really entertain special requests. They’d have a thousand parents clamoring –”  She pauses, and I can practically hear her roll her eyes. “Still, I’ll tell you what. I’ll talk to John when he gets back and tell him how upset you are. But, I’m sure Henry’s going to like the team. John’s very fair and it’s a great group of boys. Our older son, Nicky, is in Henry’s grade, so they probably know each other. I’m sure he’ll have a great time.” 
I nod. I just want to get off the phone. “Thanks, Emily, I’m sure you’re right. I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all.”
            “No problem,” she says. “I’ll talk to John. It can’t hurt. He’ll call you back if there’s anything he can do. Otherwise, he’ll see you Friday. Four sharp, at the fields.”
            “Right,” I say, hanging up as Henry walks into the kitchen. “Hey, Bucko, I say.  It breaks my heart how carefully he’s dressed and combed his hair with all his usual ‘first-day-of-school’ enthusiasm. He takes the bowl of cereal I have waiting, pours milk, and heads to the living room to eat.
“Good news!” I call down. “I just got a call from your new coach. He has a son in your grade. Nicky Dutton. Do you know him? Anyway, it sounds like an awesome team! Practice this Friday already, at four!”
He’s not dumb. It takes all of two seconds for him to register my false bravado, to stop chewing and look up at me, his face contorted. “Are you kidding? I’m not with Madigan again?” I close my eyes for a second and breathe, then give him one of those pathetic smiles and shake my head. “But he promised!” He pushes his bowl away, tears filling his eyes. Milk sloshes over onto the coffee table. “Forget it. I’m not playing then.”
“Henry --!” He storms past me to his bedroom and slams the door. A second later, it opens again. “See, you say I’m good, Mom, but I’m not! Nobody thinks so but you. I’m not playing baseball anymore! Not now! Not ever again!”
If only, I’ll think to myself a thousand times over by the time November comes and goes.  If only.
∞ ∞ ∞

            Body arched, toes balanced on the edge of the coping, I push off and wait for the first shock of cold to hit, the layers of buttery cool to slip aside and let me in, to envelop me and wash it all away.  
            I surface, breathe, and go under again, the sun warming my face momentarily with each rising. After several laps, I center myself over the deep end and let my body fall.
            Like a smooth stone I sink, weighted yet weightless, my dark hair rising up in serpentine strands. Small, oxygenated bubbles collect on my skin as I descend. At bottom, the silent depths surround me. I am an anemone planted. My tendrils drift and sway.
            After nearly a minute I push off and resurface, and begin my aerobic swim. I’ll do twenty-five laps of each stroke – crawl, breaststroke, backstroke, maybe even few laps of crummy butterfly – then follow that with ten laps of sheer leg work using a kickboard. When I’m done, my chest will heave and my thighs will burn, but I won’t be tired. I’ll feel invigorated, restored, and the return to my routine will feel lighter and more bearable.
            After twenty laps, I stop at the diving board to readjust my goggles. On the stone bench is the telephone. Did I hear it ring?  Maybe I missed Ellis or one of the kids. Or maybe Richard, wanting to apologize.
            The thought of Ellis makes my stomach spiral. The thought of Richard, not so much. We had argued earlier, in our non-yelling, but still-cutting sort of way. I had called Richard at work, after I finally got Henry calmed down and off to school, to vent about Madigan. When his secretary transferred and he picked up, I had blurted a recap of the whole ugly conversation with Emily, of Henry’s tears, and his declaration that it was the end of baseball for him. I was anxious for support and commiseration, and maybe praise for how I had finally brought Henry around.
Instead, Richard was annoyed. “You’re making a big deal,” he had said. “Like always.”
            “I’m not. I didn’t, Richard. I know it’s not the end of the world, but I’m worried about him. He holds on to this stuff. And, he’s going to think that none of the coaches want him. You didn’t see him. You should have seen his face.”
            “You shouldn’t have said anything to her, Norah. It’s not their doing. Now, she’ll tell her husband we’re nuts, a pair of those crazy sports parents. I know you mean well, but you can be overzealous. You just make it harder for him.” 
            The word overzealous had infuriated me, as did his concern for what some jackass coach might think of us. Let him get off his ass and coach Henry’s team himself then, and we wouldn’t have these problems. I had begged him to coach. After all, he spends half his life watching baseball. It had been a point of contention between us.
            “Watching isn’t the same as coaching, Norah. It’s not my thing. I won’t be good at it.”
            “They’re seven (eight) (nine) years old. How good do you have to be? They can barely hit the ball. You help them hit it. You help them to run the bases.”
            His look. “You don’t play sports. You don’t understand.”
Whatever. This time, I had stayed quiet, kept the thoughts in my head. Right or wrong, my anger was misplaced and I knew it. It wasn’t Richard’s fault that the League – no, Bruce Madigan – was a piece of crap. Yet, now, staring at the phone, I feel the resentment and hurt rise up again, course through my veins. Why can’t he just take my side?  
I listen again to hear the ring, but the phone is silent. I haul myself out, dripping, and scroll down caller I.D. to make sure. Nothing.
It doesn’t matter anyway.  
            I dive back in, and start my laps again.

Ellis Ratner was the sexiest man I’d laid eyes on in my twenty-two years when I’d met him.
Late forties then, tall, prematurely thick silver hair, chiseled features and magnificent midnight blue eyes. I was a sophomore when I took his Environmental Law class at NYU Law.
He was also very married, very flirtatious, and due to his chiseled magnificence and great wardrobe, perhaps, rumored by a few amongst the student body to be gay. My lips, however, (not to mention my hips, thighs, breasts) caressed by him behind the lectern late one night way after my last evening class had ended, suggested those few might be wrong.
            Ellis was as successful as he was smart and good-looking, and, despite his infidelity, his professional aspirations remained altruistic and pure. In addition to his adjunct position at the law school, he was Counsel to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and worked on some of the biggest hot-button issues in the state. He was always in the paper, often on the news, and always waging war against corporate greed before that in and of itself was fashionable. And, for a while, between sophomore year and graduation, he dragged me around everywhere with him, touting me as his protege.
            Of course, I shouldn’t have let myself get involved with him. I was young and foolish, and Ellis was incredibly persuasive. Plus, if I thought he looked good in suit and tie behind a lectern, I was wholly unprepared for how he’d fare in jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers, his silver hair rushing back, his windbreaker billowing out behind him, as he leaned in to kiss me against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Ellis wasn’t made for the classroom, but for the outdoors, for standing windblown, yet stoic and firm, against a backdrop of roiling, crashing waves.
It was during what we affectionately referred to as the Great Piping Plover Takeover of 1991 that he officially took me on to intern under him at the DEC. And, by under him, well, never mind. The whole thing was fleeting. I barely remember it now.
I must swim another twenty laps before I realize that my anger toward Richard has morphed into this odd, swirling reverie for Ellis. Why Ellis, from whom Richard thankfully stole me away more than 20 years ago, should suddenly be on my brain, is beyond me. I haven’t spoken to the man in nearly that many years, and I’ve never, ever looked back. For God’s sake, he must be closing in on seventy.
I do another twenty laps then stand in the shallow end surveying our yard. The sky is a perfect crisp blue, the landscape in full bloom against it. Towering sprays of Miscanthus grasses offset more delicate hydrangea trees swollen with blossoms of blush, white, and lavender. Wisps of butterfly bush bob above the fence on tall stems, alternating with Joe Pye Weed, sappy and covered in bees.
The weather is glorious! Richard is right. I shouldn’t get so worked up. It’s not the end of the world if Henry has to struggle a bit. He has a loving home and family. Some silly fiasco with a baseball coach isn’t going to make or break things.
I step from the pool, wrap myself in a towel, and lie back on a chaise lounge, enjoying the chance to bask in the early afternoon sun. Goodness knows, I’ve earned the reward. In addition to taking care of the kids and the house, I’ve spent countless hours this summer gardening on hands and knees, installing bed upon bed of ballet-slipper pink, double-rose impatiens. They look lovely against the backdrop of hydrangea, all of it still blooming in profusion like a gift. Sure, the yard guys did the big parts, but I did the beds, the pruning and weeding, the keeping up.
This yard – this pool – is my sanctuary.
At the very least, I feel vindicated about the pool. Richard had teased me for two years about the wasted investment. But, not this summer. Not anymore.
The initial argument was that we didn’t need it, and that the cost-benefit ratio was too small.  ‘No one will use it,’ he had argued, ‘our property is too small.’ Still, I had pushed for it. I had grown up with a pool, spent hours with my siblings splashing around, playing Marco Polo, trying out new dives each summer. I thought it would be good for our kids in the same way. It’s not like Cazzie and Henry have all that much in common. A pool would bring them together. Plus, I had argued, hadn’t Richard spent four times the cost on himself over the past years, for tennis club dues, Yankees games, and concert tickets? Certainly we’d spent ten times the cost on the kids for their lessons and coaches and equipment. Why was there never the money for what I wanted? 
I held my ground and happily proffered my own meager savings to the pot, even if it only amounted to a few thousand dollars. Eventually, Richard gave in, all the while warning it would go to waste. And, for the first two seasons he was right. The kids and I went in now and again but not nearly as much as I’d imagined. It became a point of contention between us, a stressor. Another failure on my part.
            But, this spring, a new resolve had come over me. In addition to finding my way back into something resembling the workforce, I vowed I was going to swim. In early April, I called the pool company and asked them to open us up.
            “It’s a bit early, Mrs. Merrill. Give it a few weeks, and you’ll be past the danger of the last frost.” 
            But, I didn’t care. I knew instinctively that I needed the water, the submersion, something new in my routine to buoy me. I knew that I needed to get in.
            During the first weeks, Richard alternated between mild amusement as I shivered and toed my way in, and disgruntlement about the costs to heat it so early in the season. But soon he did an about-face, watching with noticeable interest as I plunged in daily as April came and went. 
            “Good for you!” he’d exclaim, watching poolside as I repeated my series of laps, connected by passable flip turns, or “Wow, look at you!” when I inadvertently showed off my new, streamlined figure. His enthusiasm was sincere. He meant it. Yet, by mid-July, something else had crept in, too. Jealousy, maybe, or else, concern. My thighs were firm, my arms toned, and something in Richard’s compliments held more than just praise. I could hear the hesitation, some small, niggling fear, maybe, that the good effects might not go appreciated by him alone.

∞ ∞ ∞

Monday, August 25, 2014

Longing, falling, rambling, striving. . . routine...

a recent photo of me...

I'm on a lot of social media these days for my writing "career," and I feel this constant need to update my photos.

You might think it's vanity, but it's not exactly.

Rather, it's this odd combination of social media ennui and the fear that someone will see me at a book signing who has just seen a stale photo of me online and say, MY GOD, I barely recognized you.

This is me. Sort of. Almost. 

This is me, aging. I can picmonkey and photoshop it out all I want, but we know the truth: the computer, my cellphone camera, and me.

I see it everywhere: in the skin around my eyes, on my legs, on the looser paunch around my middle. I feel it everywhere, in my constantly-corrected posture, in my shoulders and my hips. Sure I can photo shop it out for you, but I am stuck with the crueler truth.

This blog post is a ramble. I haven't been here -- to this blog -- in a long time. I'm afraid to look to see how long, for fear it will remind me just how fast time flies.

Of just how little I accomplish compared to what I mean to.

I don't need reminders.
Two good boys. I love them at this age, but it's all loss
and leaving... so crazy hard to bear.

Dropped my son off to college again two days ago. He's a lovely young man.

But, how did the boy go? 

How did this round of goodbyes come so soon again? 

The other one starts his junior year in less than two weeks. Another amazing boy who keeps leaving.

I don't want comfort or platitudes. I just need to purge.

I know how to navigate it for now.

I'll do the routine. Write. Swim. Do laundry.

Some of it pleasure, some necessity, all of it staving things off.

Things that cannot be staved off.

It's nearly September. The month of longing, before the months of cold and hard-to-bear. In it daily, I promise I'm not this morbid and scared. But sitting here, quietly, for a moment, staring it down...

I feel like I'm falling, and I'm so very afraid of the fall.

Me, this summer, about to swim...
oh thank god for the swimming.

Last month I turned fifty.


I swam two 10K's this summer, one actually at least a mile longer than a 10K. 

I turned in my next manuscript to my agent, and am waiting to hear news from my editor.

I did things. I made almost the most of it.

And yet, the questions pound frantic in my chest, the answers almost never really enough:

What next? 

What do I want to still do?

How do I accept it all with grace?

How do I plow forward with bravado, when the days will grow shorter and darker and colder, and each step is just a step closer to leaving,
longing, and
letting go.

- gae

Sunday, June 8, 2014

In loving memory of my extraordinary editor, Frances Foster

Last night, the world lost an extraordinary editor and human being, the loving and beautiful Frances Foster.

I was only lucky enough to work with Frances on one book, THE PULL OF GRAVITY (though as Frances and I discussed, I am equally and incredibly lucky to be in the hands of my new editor, Elise Howard). But, Frances was the first person, after years of rejection, to take one of my manuscripts on and champion it, and believe in me. We had a few lunches, many phone calls, and, I like to think, an immediate and extraordinary connection. I will never forget getting out of the elevator in the flatiron building on my first visit to discuss my new book deal, to find her greeting me in the hall.

Frances teased that I won the award for her authors who most clearly labeled
their manuscript versions submitted, this one "The Last Best Version."

To me, Frances was the epitome of warmth, wisdom, humility and grace. I can hear her voice on my answering machine, the way she said my name, and from that, whether she was calling with good news, or to comfort me about some silly snag with the book.

This note came after she asked if I might take a stab at writing jacket copy

I will always strive to write stories that might make Frances proud of me. I'm sad, in our many in-person moments to not have taken a single "selfie" with Frances - she always seemed too regal and important to bother with such a trifle. Lord, I miss having that trifle now.

The tribute I wrote for Frances when she was honored by the Eric Carle Museum shortly before her stroke.

Frances has suffered greatly in the past 18 months. I hope she is at well-earned peace. A bunch of her authors lit candles for her Saturday night, all around the country, and she went peacefully, I think, guided surely by that light. 

Seems fitting since she guided us by such sure light.

With love to, and kinship with, her friends, family, and extraordinary authors. In that regard, I still marvel at the company I keep.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Stuff: Promotion, Reading and Reviews (and please don't be sick of me...)

Book jacket author photo,
credit: Rick Kopstein

This book business is a funny thing.

When I thought of writing a book, only dreamed of getting it published, I never thought about the business side of things.

By trade, I'm a lawyer. While I was doing all of that writing and dreaming on the side, it was purely creative. My outlet. When I was thinking business, it was my current day to day work.

Oh, the things I know now. . . if only I'd known them then. . .

But this isn't about that, I'm not telling you those things here today (sorry), but suffice it to say, some of it has been way harder and lonelier than you would think, and some of it has been way more wonderful and inclusive than I could ever imagine.

But, I will tell you this: if you're not JK Rowling or Stephen King, there's a LOT self-promotion required. It's just how it is, and it's a delicate art, one many of us fail at on a daily basis.

For example, today is the one-month mark till the official publication release date of THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO, yet I feel many of my most loyal readers must be sick of hearing about it already, that I've been talking about it for years (I have!). It took me years (again!) to get the book deal after THE PULL OF GRAVITY, and another two years (!) for the book to be coming out. And, because of my involvement at last year's NCTE (I have a lot of wonderful teacher/librarian followers of my fist book), we got the ARCs(fn 1) out early and far and wide. So, hard not to be a little sick of it, right?(fn2)

At any rate, as the book comes out, and I (try to) steel myself for the reviews, I've been thinking a lot about myself as a reader, and trying to remind myself of the many different ways which we -- I -- read a book. The individuality and subjectivity of it all (fn3), if you will.

What I mean is this: There are books I love, that others don't feel the same connection to. Conversely, there are books people love, absolutely rave about, and I do not love them. Can't (or won't) even bring myself to finish them.

As my reviews roll in, this is (or, ahem, should be) helpful to me, especially when I see a reader voice that they haven't connected to my book.(fn4)

So, I was thinking today what it means to be a reader. How many different kinds of readers there are, and, maybe moreso, how many different ways there are to read (and love) a book.

This was one of those MUST books for me
in the past two years... 
so much so that I sought the author out
personally via email and we are now friendly.

For example, there are about five or six books I am either actively reading or still in the middle of (or, let's face it, personally done with (did not finish)), and it occurs to me that even though some of these books are taking me forever, it's not because they're not (IMHO) worthy (that goes for the "dnf"s as well!), but rather due to other circumstances (everything from time constraints and distractions to actual physical placement [I left it in the car and forgot about it for weeks, or, it's in the other bathroom ;)). I will say, however, that there is, of course, the rare book that none of those tangents or interferences will stop me from reading, the MUST books, and, I suppose, as writers we strive to be that MUST book for at least a few of our readers.

But this morning, I was thinking about some of those "not MUST" books, and how, in their own way, they really are MUSTs.

For example, I have been reading, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (fn5) for well over a year now. There are a few reasons why it's been taking me so long. One is easily "technical" or logistical (is that word? It seems to be...): the print is dense and small. These days I often need reading glasses, but I forget I need reading glasses or don't know where they are. So, when I first started reading it, I often had to put it back down. Thus, I had no traction in it. Yet, every time (EVERY time) I pick it up, I am completely engrossed in it, and marvel that it's truly one of the most staggeringly well-written books I've ever read. And when I put it down (most often because there are other books I "need" to read or get to in the YA realm to feel like I am keeping up with the business side of my work as a YA writer), I can't wait to get back to it. All of this is reminding me that a really good book, one that holds your attention, can still take one forever to read.

There are the books where the writing is absolutely brilliant, but I don't personally connect to the characters, or where the characters and the writing are brilliant, but the story is too (insert whatever here: political, supernatural, dystopian, gory, etc.) for what I love to read. Whatever the case, the truth is, reading is such a subjective and personal thing.

So, as I head into my release and the inevitable less-than-glowing or "dnf" reviews, I remind myself of this. It's one reader. Good or bad, it's only one person's view. 

Charlie prefers to eat a book slowly, rather than read it.

Would love you to share in the comments what kind of reader you are and your MUST books.

And, stay tuned over the next few days for the special launch feature for THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO.

xox gae


1. Advance Reader Copies a/k/a Galley copies

2. please don't be sick of it, and if you read the ARC, please do consider buying the hard copy. It has been twice edited from the ARC and has beautiful shiny perks that the softcover ARC didn't have...

3. FYI, for example, those all-important (or at least very important) critical reviews from places like Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly, most of us don't realize that is just ONE
reader, often merely contracted out by the publication (ie, not even a staff writer) who reads the book and voices his/her opinion. That ONE opinion then carries a heck of a lot of weight, if not always with readers, then at least with gatekeepers, to wit: booksellers and librarians.

4. People often ask me how I deal with bad reviews, and my quick answer is that, for me, the bad reviews validate the good ones. If all I ever received were 5-star reviews, my mind would quickly discount them as people "just being nice." But when I am forced to see that people will, in fact, be readily (*coughs*) less than nice about their feelings, it allows me to accept the positives better, and, to some extent, to remind myself not to "own" either. Does that make sense? It is, however, always hard to deal with really mean reviews. Those are another story altogether. Luckily, there's a really fun series by authorMarc T. Nobleman where we authors get a chance to read our mean reviews loud and proudly (I'm somewhere in episodes 4 -6) which helps us to blow off some steam. ;)

5. I hear it was made into not-such-a-great movie. Don't let this sway you! The writing is simply brilliant!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Year-End Round Up, plus Sorry I've Been MIA

Kissing goodbye another year.

I know, I know, I've been MIA from this blog.

The loudest complainer? My mother.

Okay, fine. The only complainer. But still. Nice to know someone is reading.

Something happened to me around September of this year: I ran out of words. Okay, fine. Not exactly ran out, but they weren't coming, here, there anywhere, and I wasn't about to force them.

Sure, I've written some, and done writing-related stuff (first and second pass pages for THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO were in there, I think, and I'm muddling through a new manuscript, still). But the words felt stuck. They still do.

I blame the confluence of a few things for taking my words away, both physically and emotionally:

1. My oldest son leaving for college;

2. my younger son having escalating heart issues which have gratefully been resolved (thank you Dr. Levchuch, Dr. Hoch and St. Francis Heart Hospital);

3. my editor rejecting not one but two manuscripts (I'm not gonna lie, sometimes the No's do get hard) and,

4. first and foremost, this:

This is Charlie. He's a jackapoo. And a handful.
We got that for my younger son at eight weeks. See #1 and #2 above.

At any rate, I've felt totally bereft of both time and words, or at least good, descriptive, evocative words that are worth sharing, and I figured no one here would really miss me.

That's my dad, sister and mom with me a few nights
ago. My cheeks are pink from martini. Oh well.
Alas, my mother does, and to tell you the truth, that's enough for me.

The words still don't feel "here," but I'm going to force them, and in doing so, this is going to end up feeling like one of those rambling Christmas chain letters (sorry, people who send them, you know who you are. . .)

Anyway, with blame (and thanks) to my mom, here's a year-end round up since last I posted:

My older son is doing well up at college. He's a talented musician and, most importantly to me, he's coming out of his shell -- this boy who wouldn't play his music for anyone in the comfort of his own home, let alone get up on stage, is actually playing open mic nights and singing in his quaint little college town.

a favorite shot of Son One.
Here's the thing, though: I don't know how he already got to be a college kid. I know, I know, this is a refrain from mothers everywhere, and until it happens to you, there is simply no way to explain how it feels. How your home both feels remarkably empty, and yet, somehow, almost cruelly, the air and space fill in. We adjust, I guess. But there's a price. Tiny holes in our heart, that never exactly repair. The years we have our children at home are way too fleeting. But then, so are, just, all the years.

Speaking of holes in one's heart, Son Two, as I mentioned, had some heart issues. To be specific, he had a super ventricular tachycardia (SVT) that required an ablation to fix it.

He's amazingly all better now, but scariest few days of my life. Let those be the worst of them. From your lips to blah, blah, blah. . .

Son Two with the dog, the week he came home with us.
Does a picture speak a thousand words? I dunno.
The crazy thing is, my next book -- THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO -- that comes out in March, has a boy with a heart issue in it. Son Two did NOT have a known heart issue when I wrote it. Second time I've written a manuscript where something has come true soon after. Life imitating art or coincidence? Don't know, but I'm not giving my teen characters any more health issues. I'll leave those to someone else.

As for the rest of us? My husband, David, sang a lot this year. He and his friend/guitarist David, performed their first paid gigs as David & David. These were some of the very best nights I had this year:

This right here is the number one thing that keeps me
drawn to him. The guy can sing. Note to marrieds:
pursue the things that bring you joy. Don't stop striving.


And me?

With my friend Annmarie, and the few stragglers of the West Neck Pod we've dubbed the Polar Pod, we swam in the open water through mid-November when the plummeting air and water temps and my son's medical stuff derailed us long enough to lose acclimation. With water temps down in the low thirties, fear we are totally done for the season.

Last year, the coldest I swam was around 37 degrees, this year did 35 degrees, so at least there was that.

Now, I'm back in the pool for the winter, anxiously waiting for spring.

As for writing stuff, as mentioned, am mid-way through a YA manuscript. Trudging is the best word I can find for that.

THE PULL OF GRAVITY movie continues to be both Pie-In-the Sky and in motion. A few things have made the pie seem more reachable, the fork extended, if you will. A week ago, I had lunch in the city with the director. If anyone can make this happen, he will. Crossing my fingers for the New Year.

And, THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO is out in advance copy and getting some really amazing early reader reviews.

It comes out in March. If you're local to Long Island, I'll be doing a launch party and reading here, at Book Revue in Huntington on the evening of March 25th. It's hard to compete with the likes of Cameron Diaz and Snookie (both appearing at Book Revue soon), so, if you're around, I'd love for you to come.

** forgot to add that the audio rights to SUMMER sold to Highbridge Audio, and it will be released in that format in March, too. So excited!

And that's it, Mom. There you have it. What I've been up to since I posted last.

What's that you say? Tell you something you don't already know?

Meh. Make up something new and interesting yourself. Feel free to come post it here. As between the two of us, you are the far better storyteller. My books would be lost without you.

But truly, thanks for reading, and thanks for wanting to read more.

To anyone else who is reading -- to all of you: have a very happy, peaceful, healthy New Year.

I leave you with this link which is, IMHO, this week's imperative reading.


The world is a'changing. Some good, some bad. Never stop using your voice.

See you all in 2014.

- gae

Monday, November 11, 2013

To my father and all who have served, on Veterans Day

I am not a religious person, but a spiritual one. . . and yet, I pray. . .
I pray to the human spirit that one day, in the not too distant future,
compassion will always win out over fists, bombs and guns.

This is my father. . .

returning home from service in a MASH unit
Vietnam, Chu Lai, 1966 - 967. . .
how lucky we are that he came home.

This is the note that I wrote to him today, and the plaque for his bronze star that hangs on my son's wall here at my house:

This is an incredibly moving piece written by Laurie Halse Anderson today in the Huffington Post:

Read it and share it, then do more. Click on the links. Share the information. And donate, even $5 or $10 -- heck, even $1 -- to help a veteran who has done so very much for you.

With deepest gratitude to all who have served and continue to serve.

- gae

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Riff Redux

Still love this one from 2011... resharing. Happy (safe) Halloween. :) 

Halloween Riff (Sugar Rush)

Me, last night, with the treat my sweet hubby delivered
Reeling from a sugar high (after weeks of not eating any) and inspired by a copy of Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven (reprinted way below) that serendipitously arrived in my email box this morning, I penned my own version of some early Halloween terror.

I invite you to join me in the comments and create a little Halloween homage of your own.

Definitely treat over trick.

- gae

Once upon a Tuesday, teeming, with the thought that I was dreaming,
when consuming pounds of creamy, malted chocolate balls galore,
should my sugar-coated teeth, my growing thighs felt underneath,
this memory, now, so vague and brief, it barely lingers at my core. . .
“Tis only fair, you see,” I muttered, “to mix some sweet amidst the bore,”
only this: a sugar fix, and nothing more.
Ah, distinctly (I was sober), it was in the bleak October,
sent my husband like a gopher, to the aisle in the store. . .

Eagerly, no, not a Spartan, sent him for the whole damned carton
Tried to cease, but played my part on, part on asking, yes, for more --
Now, the fear of scale uncertain, holes in teeth will soon be hurtin’,
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating, of my heart, I stand repeating,
"'Tis some minor weakness leaving, exiting through every pore,
Calories to soon be leaving, through my every pore.
Twas only candy, nothing more.”

The Raven
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
-Edgar Allen Poe