June 5, 2009

This is for Alan who was kind enough to ask

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 2:49 pm

Arugula’s Mother is about a child who kills.

I was pursuing my doctorate in clinical psychology and at the same time working at a rural community mental health center. One day, I got a call from a mother whose child had gotten violent with a pet. Can’t say much more than that, but this was an overwhelming case for me. I really wanted to help this child. There were many barriers to doing so.

When I spied the book at the gym and had a few minutes before I could get a good look at it–because I was stuck on that damn pretend set of stairs–the character that leapt into my mind was a little girl who believed she was dark and bitter, a tough pill to swallow. “Like arugula,” she said in my head…Just the kind of precocious, sophisticated comment that made her endearing as well as, well, terrifying.

As the story unwound further, her mother appeared to me as well, a well meaning but completely unequipped parent, with dark shadows of her own.

These were the two people who filled out the title I conjured up that day at the gym.

I should probably explain why I was studying psychology at the graduate level when clearly a novel was bubbling away like lava. But that will be tomorrow’s post.

Till then…That was funny, Alan. Lettuce. Took me a second. (Not till now or anything :)

June 4, 2009

I was at the gym

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 7:20 pm

No, not recently. This was many years ago, before we had kids, and before I realized that, well, I don’t like the gym. Don’t like my prowess (or lack thereof) being on display. Don’t enjoy the monotony of the machines. And really hate the virtually inaudible televisions playing through all of it. Anyway, even if I did like the gym, I can’t afford it any longer.

But back then I could, and my husband and I made it a point for about, oh, three weeks to go each morning, shower, and head off to work from there. Sometimes we even had time for a dip in the Jacuzzi together. All right, there were some cool things about the gym.

Anyway, there I was, climbing up the stairs in an endless flight to nowhere, and looking around vacantly. A book on the floor caught my eye, as I have always preferred books to TV, and I squinted to see it. What a great title! I thought.

Arugula’s Mother.

What could a book called that be about?

After a while–a very, very, very long while it seemed–my workout was done and I stepped down and ambled sweatily over to that book. (Oh, OK, I probably wasn’t sweaty. Rare was the day that I worked up a real sweat.)

The book belonged to someone who unlike me had achieved the mantle of sweatiness, one of those workout people I wished I could be. She was running so hard she didn’t even notice me glancing down at her book.

Which wasn’t called Arugula’s Mother, or anything like it. I actually don’t remember the title, only that it began with an A, which was all my workout-numbed eyes had picked out at a distance. It didn’t matter what the real title was. I had already come up with a story to go with Arugula’s Mother.

And so my first novel was born.

What was the story about? I’ll be back to tell you tomorrow.

June 3, 2009

Once Upon A Time

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 7:58 pm

A few people who’ve read the short story have written to ask what it means that my novel is on sub, why I call it “the throes of submission.” Thank you, first of all, to those who have asked.

You started me thinking that maybe it’d be interesting for me to go back to the beginning and catch people up, reflect a little on how I got from there to here. Not that here is anywhere big–but that, I suppose, is the interesting part. How very long it can take to wind up not anywhere big. All the things you do to progress even that far.

So I’m going to begin writing about my road to publication, but this won’t be a one post sort of deal. The story is too long, I’ve had to do way too much already. (I know, poor me; I’m LUCKY I get to do this even if not yet for a living!)

Anyway, I’ll just start out, breaking it up as I run out of time or tire (no joke–the process is EXHAUSTING–writers out there, care to weigh in?) and then pick up again the next day. If this real life story is anything like the stories I like to read, then it will end as all good stories do, with a good ole happy ending.

It will end with news of a sale.

Have to digress for a moment–before I’ve even started–because I see I just wrote something many could argue with. As all good stories do, I said. I can already hear all the advocates of unhappy–call ‘em realistic–endings in books. I know one such reader myself; he just expressed that preference in a writers board of which I’m lucky enough to be a member.

Let me first of all point you to a great blog post on this subject, written by my dear friend and the best editor I know (after my agent), Lauren Sweet. She says it better than I will, but briefly, here’s the kind of story I like to read (and write). It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And that ending tends to be just. Perhaps not completely happy–but everyone, good, bad and in between, has gotten his or her due.

You see, I like fiction to order the world. To make it make sense, rather than to make sense of it. I know this isn’t realistic, and it certainly isn’t literary. Literary fiction, I think, seeks to capture the world, not impose order on it. Most commercial fiction–and certainly mine–poses a retreat from the world, which is so often senseless.

When I read a novel, I don’t want the plane to disappear off the radar, losing everyone on board. I can’t stand what happened to those people. I cry about it whenever the headline appears, which these days means I’m tearing up all the time. And who am I to cry? I want to do something for the victims’ families, and I can’t think of a damned thing to do, because there isn’t anything.

From this kind of pain, I find an escape in fiction. In fiction, the plane vanishes, but survivors wind up on a tropical island paradise, and seek to triumph over the mysteries there.

This is surely a to each his or her own. A braver woman than I will appreciate literary fiction. I know my limits, and the biggest is my brute fury over how random life can be.

I guess I wrote a lot here already. Tomorrow, I promise, will begin to describe my road to discovery. Not necessarily my own discovery–the fact of which still remains to be seen. But for sure I discovered a lot as I set out to publish a novel.

The Mysterious Bookshop

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 8:44 am

Last night I went to hear Lisa Unger speak on the release of her book, DIE FOR YOU. Rather than do the usual reading format, one of the bookstore staff interviewed her. It led to a very interesting conversation on many things writing. Incidentally, the book looks great, and I can’t wait to dive in!

I’ve mentioned my love of Lisa’s work before, so today I just wanted to say that the Mysterious Bookshop is worth a trip for anyone within the Tri-State area (or planning a trip to NYC or willing to drive…) Both the new releases and the older stock contained some fascinating finds. The walls are positively crawling with mysteries and suspense like jewels in a treasure chest. Amazon’s well ordered website just can’t accomplish the same thing. It’s great for a certain kind of book buying–Mysterious is great when you want to dive and come up with gold. The skeletons dangling from the ceiling are a nice touch, too, and the staff was warm, informed, and welcoming.

You could sit on one of the comfy leather couches for a few hours and get lost in a whole new world.

June 2, 2009

My daughter’s last day of pre-K

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 12:46 pm

Oh, was it bittersweet. Both my kids attend a co-op, and I had the blind luck to be working today, her last in the classroom. (Tomorrow is kindergarten orientation and Thursday a class picnic.) She’s had the same fantastic teacher for two years, and over that time I’ve heard this Laurie Berkner song “Goodnight” played, and it always makes me tear up. I asked the teacher for it today during circle time. Sophie was sitting in my lap as the roomful of kids sung (and me too). I was thinking, Until she has kids of her own, she will never experience this sort of bittersweetness. The sense of finitude, the beauty of what we’ve had, and knowing that it just can’t continue forever.  But then Sophie looked up at me and said, “I think I’m going to cry.” She buried her face in my neck, and I felt it grow damp, although she hid her tears away as big kids learn to do–a mixed accomplishment if ever there was one. I think she did know on some level. Maybe no more than thinking about how much fun she’s had at this school, and that she won’t be back, but then the “ever” sort of snuck in. What does “not ever again” mean to a five year old? What does it mean to us?

“That’s my Daughter” by Loudon Wainwright came on WFUV as we drove home and that about did me in.

But I didn’t hide my tears.

Just turned around (at a red light) and let my eyes shine as I reached for her hand.

I want to thank the Academy

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 7:14 am

Actually, I want to thank my family, friends, and the many amazingly talented writers I’ve met lo these many years, which I’ve spent trying to learn the craft myself. I know that a short story pub is one small step in the writing world, but it’s a significant one for me. So thank you very much to everyone who went to the site, read so fast, and took time to send me your thoughts.

At the same time, I sort of feel like a fraud. Actually, I feel a little like I used to when I was nineteen or twenty and pretending that so and so was a Real True Boyfriend just because he asked if I’d mind dropping off my study notes in his dorm room. This wasn’t a relationship by any stretch, but by sort of tweaking things in my mind, I could pretend–even to myself–that I was on my way to something.

So now I’ve had people in my circle kind enough to take time out and read my work, and I’m fortunate to have a wide-ish circle. But it’s not anything like those writers I admire who get complete and utter strangers from Outer Mongolia writing to say, I read your novel and loved it! Telling people to come read my work and having them do it isn’t the same as having someone find you and say, This really spoke to me for such and such reason.

It’s like wrenching the dude from the dorm into some mental place he didn’t ask to hold in my life.

Or is it?

Maybe you have to start here to get there. Maybe all those writers whose names appear in my mind on movie marquis surrounded by glowing bulbs–Jacquelyn Mitchard, Craig Holden, Lisa Tucker, Maryann McFadden, Jennifer Egan, Debbie Galant, Harlan Coben, Lisa Unger, Cornelia Read, Jodi Picoult, Cammie McGovern, Laura Lippman, Tana French, John Searles, Jean Hegland, Lee Child, Stephen King, Kate Morgenroth, Linwood Barclay, Joy Fielding, Greg Iles, Thomas H. Cook, Peter Abrahams–all began a long way from Outer Mongolia.

Maybe it always takes some wrenching to get there.

June 1, 2009

DIE FOR YOU, by Lisa Unger

Filed under: Great Reads — admin @ 9:58 pm

I’m extremely psyched for the latest from Lisa Unger, DIE FOR YOU, out tomorrow. I’ve read all three of Lisa’s previous thrillers and each is better than its predecessor. She is writing “family thrillers” (Oline Cogdill’s term) at their best!


Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 3:12 pm

My most recent exciting find is a novel of international intrigue and suspense, A WORLD I NEVER MADE by James LePore. In addition to being fabulously written, this novel was particularly interesting to me because it’s put out by a new publisher, called The Story Plant. If everything The Story Plant publishes is as good as Mr. LePore’s thriller, we are in for some exciting reads.

Here’s a review of the book that I wrote on Amazon.

Big Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 12:22 am

This is a big day for me. Actually, this is a big moment. I’ve waited to do this in the way you might wait to buy a pair of jeans – or a slinky top – or even a flowered bikini – until you’ve lost those nagging five or ten or however many pounds. Except, since I am the type who refuses to diet and knows I’ll never look like those gals who wear bikinis anyway, that wasn’t what I was waiting for. I already bought the jeans and the slinky top, five pounds be damned. No, what I was waiting for was to start this blog.

A really, scarily long number of years ago, I began to write seriously and signed with my first agent. (OK, it was…No, I can’t say how many. Not yet. Maybe once I get used to this.) At that point it wasn’t essential to have a website and I wasn’t reading any blogs. But not longer after, when I began to get the sense that writing a novel, finding an agent who liked that novel, and selling the aforementioned novel might all be separate things, I made a vow. I vowed not to have a website built until I was published.

You’re thinking I just sold my “first” novel, right? Alas, no, not yet. My latest, a psychological mystery, is actually out on sub right now as we speak. I am with a new agent – not that my first wasn’t wonderful – and oh, how I adore this woman. She is smart, passionate, and inspired. So perhaps one day I’ll be writing in these pages news of a sale.

But something did happen for me that is enough of a milestone that I decided, what the hey, time to jump on the ole bandwagon. I mean, it’s not like I’m an early adopter. Not having a blog today is kind of like when your grandmother says, And you can really make a call on one of those tiny things?

So the other day a writer named Libby Malin – whose teen mystery I just ordered and am chomping at the bit to read – sent a post around saying she was starting a blog that would feature short stories. Not short stories of the sort that you may be used to (or not used to). Those are the kind of short stories that stopped me from ever submitting the ones I wrote. I like to tell stories with a beginning, a middle, and a – usually in some way justified – end. And somehow those seem to have trouble appearing in the short story publications.

Don’t get me wrong. I greatly admire the writers of those kinds of stories. They are inevitably deep, exquisite, and meaningful pieces of life or truth or consequences. I just can’t write them.

Anyway, Libby wanted to do something different. Something more in line with kind of writer I hope to be. She wanted to publish shorts that drew in the sort of readers who sit down with a book, get drawn away, and look up sometime after dinner was supposed to have been started, eaten, and cleaned up. Since that’s the kind of story I aim to write, I sent her one of mine. And Libby graciously decided to publish it.

She may not know it, but after – no, still can’t bring myself to say – however many years writing and crafting and trying to learn this crazy biz, Libby has given me my first legitimate publication cred.

Thanks, Libby.

And thank you, for reading. Please come back soon!

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