On the Reality of Magic

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sunset Sunset Magic – photo credit Jan C. Wood

Give me a story where a woman walks out of a cookie-cutter suburban home, steps too forcefully on a cement paver, and bounces onto a sturdy branch of her neighbor’s mulberry tree.

Tell me about a boy who falls asleep in English class and gets in trouble in school because he stays up all night drawing creatures that crawl out of the pages of his sketch pads to steal his socks.

Let me see an insurance adjuster, worried about being laid off, who misdials his business phone and has a tearful conversation with his teenage self.

I want stories about things that shouldn’t happen but do. They happen not because it’s a fantasy world, but because someone right here, right now is so happy or sad or angry that the very laws of physics no longer apply.

Why does Magical Realism appeal…

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Don’t be a Dick

This resonates so deeply with me. But, really, it’s not about book reviews. It’s about not losing our humanity.

Whitney Dineen

#dontbeadick

I’ve recently stumbled into a bit of controversy in my career as a romantic comedy author. A couple of months ago I released an much anticipated sequel to a bestselling book. As a result, some of my fans are infuriated with me, as in spitting, hock-a-loogie mad. As in, “I’m never reading your books again, you horrible woman…” irate.

Every author receives negative views, it’s expected. It’s almost a rite of passage to get your first 1-star review on a new release. Yet I’ve noticed a trend lately. There’s a new nastiness to reviews that didn’t seem to exist before social media became our “go-to” avenue of communication. It’s been a human characteristic since Aesop– familiarity breeds contempt.

Once upon a time, when the only way to communicate with an author, was to write them a letter and send it to their publisher, people didn’t unleash their vitriol so freely…

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Letting it Go

Recently, a friend of mine drew my attention to this piece: Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid. Here’s a very small excerpt from a very lengthy, thought-provoking piece. And this is what provoked me into writing this blog entry.

 “In fact, I have been far, far too able. The older I get, the more I recognize the leveraging power of ineptitude. My husband can’t cook well; I do the cooking. My husband accidentally shrinks a few sweaters; I do the laundry. My husband can’t lactate; the baby comes to New York. In his inability to do things, he is excused from labor. In my rush to excel, to shine, to be a good wife and mother, I have done nothing but ensure my labor will be lengthy and unpaid.”

I’ve read a lot of articles on the double-bind that mothers-who-work-outside-the-home (WOHM) face. Or, for that matter, those faced by mothers-who-work-at-a-profession-inside-the-home (WAHM). I am a mother and, for a couple of years, I stayed home. For many more years since then, I’ve supported our family with work outside the home. She’s right. Many women fall into the trap laid by their “rush to excel, to shine, to be a good wife and mother.” But there are exceptions, and, sadly, we often have to make ourselves into those exceptions.

Roughly 19 years ago, I chose to accept my husband’s ineptitude, instead of fighting it with my own “eptness.” Due to myriad factors, I had to re-enter the workforce earlier than I expected or wanted to after the birth of my daughter. I started out part-time, and she learned to acclimate to days without full-time mommy in a wonderful, warm and caring environment —to this day, she bewails how it ended too soon and sings its praises because it was so nurturing compared to the (gasp) public schools she went to next. I thought that would last for a year or two before I went back to full-time work. I didn’t really even know what kind of work I’d go back to, since I’d left one industry behind and hadn’t really settled on another since her birth.

Six months later, my husband unexpectedly left his job. The job that supported our family. So I did the only reasonable thing I could do. I convinced my boss at the part-time job to take me on full-time. Since that day, I have supported our family on my income, turning a transitional job into a career.

Even after returning to full-time work, I could have chosen to continue cooking for us. I could have chosen to continue doing laundry for us. I could have chosen to continue all of the homemaking that I’d done during the nearly two years I was home full-time. God knows, my husband was inept at all of those things. Rather than deal with that ineptitude, it might have been easier to swoop in, after a day at work, or get up early on the weekends, and cook for the week, throw in three (or four) loads of laundry and then try to have some “mommy” time. As hard as that would have been (and I know many working mothers who do just that and are exhausted), I chose a different and, in some ways, harder road. I chose to let my husband be inept.

Granted, he was willing, and a lot of husbands aren’t. But as any of you readers who have stayed home with a toddler know, it’s not easy to do all those things your child needs AND all the upkeep involved in running the home. Especially when you’re just learning how to do all those things yourself.

He was a lousy cook. He didn’t LIKE cooking. So, for a few years, we ate mostly pasta, except in the summers, when we ate mostly grilled meat (which he found he was good at making). He didn’t know much about laundry, either. There were plenty of mishaps, including miniature sweaters and pink men’s underwear, that came out of the laundry room. But slowly, he learned. There were lots of nights when dinner was simply fuel, needed to keep the body going, but not very enjoyable. Letting him be inept gave me the opportunity—the freedom from chores—to be as involved a working parent as any full-time, professional, management job, with a minimum one-hour commute each way, could possibly let me be. (I sense there’s still some anger and resentment there, do you?)

I kept the responsibility for grocery shopping, dry cleaning and most weekend meals. The joyous “Mom’s cooking yummy dinner tonight!” was a regular Saturday and Sunday exultation. But, as I said earlier, that all began nearly 19 years ago, when I came home and told my husband that if I was to be in charge of the income-producing, he’d have to be in charge of all the home stuff. Mostly, I said this for selfish reasons. I didn’t want to miss any more moments of my daughter’s childhood than I absolutely had to. I wanted, more than anything, not to be burdened with double-duty; not to be too tired and frazzled to really mother her. Ultimately, the simple (and difficult) truth is that I didn’t step in when my husband wasn’t competent at housework.

Today, he’s not a very inventive chef, and sauces and seasonings are a challenge if he’s not working from a published recipe. But he has a small, tasty and well-executed repertoire of winter and summer dinners. There is almost never a laundry mishap (and those are almost always caused by an error in identifying if something needs dry-cleaning.) We no longer get pink clothing at all. And he’s much better about vacuuming than I ever was. The joyous cries of “Mom’s cooking yummy dinner!” still echo through the house, but less often than they once did. Generally, I cook less often, and my cooking is less drastically better than his. He even (sometimes) does grocery shopping.

Throughout these nineteen years, my husband went back to full-time work outside the house for several years, and took on some freelance work for several more. Still, weekday household chores have remained his responsibility, simply because even when he worked full-time outside the home, his job took fewer hours and had more flexibility than mine.

So, to all the women who are far too able, please try to let your husbands be inept. The only way they’ll learn that parenting and family AND homemaking are a partnership is if we let them learn how to participate fully. Pink bras and socks, pasta dinners and bounced checks (hopefully very few of those) were part of the learning curve for us. They might be for you, too. But letting go of our need to have these chores done our way, and to our standards (even if those standards are pretty low), is a critical step for us to take. As a woman working outside the home, or as an independent entrepreneur, our priorities are divided, constantly. Ultimately, I think we can “have it all” only if we have half of all there is.

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Dear Parent of a Perfect Child

Dear Parent of a Perfect Child

My smile was genuine today when you told me how your son scored the best of all his class on his math exam. I was happy for him, and for you. My child forgot that today was the test, and wasn’t prepared. She got a C, even though she can do the problems in her head.

My congratulations were heartfelt today, when you stopped by my office to brag that your daughter had made Honor Roll for the fourth academic year and was on track to be awarded Student of the Year. My child has a locker filled with half-completed homework, a school bag filled with uneaten lunches because there wasn’t enough time, and a desk filled with beautiful drawings that have absolutely nothing to do with the assigned work.

I smiled a little less broadly today, when, in the course of catching up on our workload status, you casually mentioned the unprecedented internship with a major-name politico that your daughter landed, because your husband contributed heavily to his campaign. My daughter will be working at an entry level retail job this summer—I hope. If she remembers to submit her applications. And if not, I hope she cleans her room.

I forced my mouth upwards when I heard, yet again, about your prodigy, who has gotten a full-ride to a prestigious private school, made varsity letters on three sports teams, volunteers at a homeless shelter and fosters kittens and puppies while cooking gourmet meals for the family most evenings, because you are so busy at work.  My child is disorganized, insecure, depressed and crippled by anxiety because she is not your child.

On the other hand, my child can create music, or dance, or art, or poetry at the drop of a hat. She can soothe an agitated animal with a kind word, and she can argue her intellectual position with the eloquence of a trained barrister.

So, please. Stop telling me how perfect your child is. You don’t see that your child is a binge-drinker because it’s the only way she can get your voice out of her head, telling her she has to do better. You don’t see that the sports injuries he got, playing too hard, so he wins a tiny bit of your approval have gotten him hooked on oxycodone and that heroin isn’t far behind because it’s cheaper and that paid internship didn’t come through like he told you it did. You don’t see that my child is sober, and thoughtful and kind, creative and smart, but a little lost, trying to find her way in a world where your perfect child fits in and my perfect child doesn’t.

Or, please. Continue. Tell me how many job offers your child has gotten or that they passed their Series 7 on their first attempt. And then look in their medicine cabinet, or their liquor cabinet. Or wait 10 years. But please don’t look at me with pity when I tell you something that my child did that isn’t your idea of perfect. Because perfection comes at a price.

 

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Red on the Run by K.M. Hodge

Red on the Run is the first of three books in a series by K.M. Hodge, all of which involve a shady organization called The Syndicate. They seek power and influence through violence, intimidation, blackmail and other nefarious means. They are NOT. NICE. PEOPLE. Not so unusual, so far.

But then, we meet Alex and Katherine, our protagonists in this volume. K.M. could have stuck more closely to the trope, but instead, she gives us damaged people. And damaged people are always more interesting.

Katherine is married to Charles, an abusive and violent man who, it turns out, is involved in The Syndicate. She’s also a recovering alcoholic. Alex is a recovering sex addict with PTSD, in part stemming from his failure to protect a young woman he loved while on deployment in the Middle East. Katherine is an FBI agent, assigned to crack the case on The Syndicate, and she has explosive information. Alex is a CIA agent, working undercover as an FBI agent, and has been assigned as her partner, and to protect the information she has. Their first meeting is in a bar, and sparks fly. These characters, and a cast of supporting members, put us on a roller coaster that take the reader on a ride of a story involving life, death, love, loss and family bonds.

Ms. Hodge starts the pace of the suspense story a little slowly, gradually speeding up to the point (around 30% on my Kindle) where the story hooked me in solidly. The relationship between Alex and Kate builds in intensity, encounters hurdles and obstacles, and begins to resolve, only to take us around a turn once more and start the slow and inevitable climb to another breakneck loop around the track of this story. The effort to unravel The Syndicate follows a similar track, with both story lines intersecting and weaving, then splitting apart, then coming back together.

I always have a few thoughts after reading a book about how the story could have been strengthened, or a character rounded. In the case of this book, there are two places where I think some subtle changes could have been made.

The first is in Katherine’s alcoholism. Although it’s mentioned in the beginning of the story that she goes to meetings with Charles, I think that a few more mentions could have helped strengthen the readers’ understanding of her empathy when Alex reveals his own addiction. As it reads now, the disclosure of her own substance problems has happened so far before there’s a second discussion of them, that it almost seems “out of the blue.”

Second, Ms. Hodge is highly skilled at creating tension and expectation in her story. But I think that often, there are “mini” arcs of that tension and expectation that don’t result in a BIG EVENT (or even a kind of small event). It’s the writing style. But, as above, a slightly lighter hand with this could make a big impact when the several major twists, turns and events really DO explode on the page.

I will absolutely be reading the next two books in this series, and adding the author’s Texas Wife series to my reading list, as well. This is an author to watch.

The Kindle edition is available now. Print is due out soon.

Red on the Run, on Amazon.com

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The Writer, Unleashed

At what point do you become a writer? Is it when you first put pencil to paper or hands to keys and write a story? Or does your writing have to be published somewhere that people, and especially yo…

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The Writer, Unleashed

The woman who writes my thoughts more eloquently than I can has spurred me to contemplate a companion piece to this, her most recent blog. Because, while Rachel always aspired to write and lost her way, I never had that aspiration. Thus, I had to find my way back to my soul via a s similar, but less well marked path.

challaandhaggis

Writer UnleashedAt what point do you become a writer? Is it when you first put pencil to paper or hands to keys and write a story? Or does your writing have to be published somewhere that people, and especially your friends and family, can tangibly see and touch it? Or is it when you start getting paid for the words you write? It’s something every writer ponders, and it’s been written about by nearly all of them.

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An Interview with K M Hodge

An interview of a writer colleague, by a writer colleague. Emmanuelle asks some excellent questions and Kelly’s answers are engaging and informative.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant

 

Before we begin our ‘serious writing talk’ Kelly, tell us some of the things you love.

As a mother of two and a prolific writer, I don’t have a lot of time for pastimes. When I Orange Coworking-1248 (1)have a spare moment, I usually watch something on Netflix. I am, however, a die hard X-files fan. I have followed and obsessed over the show for the last twenty-three years. My husband is a board game designer so we sometimes play games, though not as often as we used to.

Share with us five books you consider to be absolute favourites, and what aspects of their telling intrigued/entertained you.

1) Stephen King’s The Stand: I loved the characterization and suspenseful storytelling.

2) Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: for its strong female characters.

3) Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible: I loved its varying points of view, and each distinct voice.

4)…

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In Another Life, by Julie Christine Johnson

Let me start by saying that I love historical fiction, stories that take place in Languedoc, Cathar history and a good time slip/paranormal element. Since In Another Life has all those elements,  I had to read it. I promised myself I wouldn’t have unrealistically high expectations – after all, it’s the author’s first published novel and it’s very ambitious in scope. I didn’t need to manage my expectations. This book is as good, if not better, than many other historical fiction works I’ve read by more experienced authors.

We meet Lia as an emotionally bereft woman, still reeling from her beloved husband’s tragic death 18 months earlier. The impact her grief has had on her career has only makes matters worse. She’s been denied tenure and has been unable to complete her dissertation on Cathar history and religious beliefs. She comes to Languedoc to try to heal, in the kind of perfect guest house we ALL wish we had available for as long as she needs it, so she can regroup. Almost immediately, Lia is swept into a  story that transcends time, stirs mysteries of a centuries-old assassination, political machinations, and promises a chance at love.

The writer takes us on a journey that starts in 1208 and ends in the present day. Ms. Johnson tells the tale so deftly, and with such a sure command of her narrative that this reader simply felt pulled along in the currents of time and place that she crafted. It’s obvious from the language that the writer knows and deeply loves the Languedoc region. That love is writ large in her elegant and evocative descriptions of place.

On reflection, was left thinking that Lia could be just a touch rounder; her struggles to let herself love again are some of the best character exploration in the book. Moments that we see her friendship with Rose are bright points that could have been exploited a tiny bit more. I found, too, that I wanted to see Father Bonafe more overtly torn, or Lia less accepting of the priest at face value. But these minor issues in no way dilute the pure enjoyment of reading this book.

There are rich descriptions of landscape and the physical places in story. As I read, I wished for a map. There is a map! Unfortunately, I missed it, but will now go back and check the map to answer some of the questions I had about where parts of the story occurred. Paperback buyers who get the Kindle preview be wary — the map seems to be in pages that are skipped when the Kindle file is opened. I think that’s how I missed it.

This writer is one to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed In Another Life and look forward to reading Ms. Johnson’s future books.

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Lemongrass Hope by Amy Impellizzeri: A Review

Amy Impellizzeri’s Tall Poppy Writers Page

Amazon Blurb: Set in the past, and present, LEMONGRASS HOPE is a captivating and unpredictable love story, with a dose of magical realism and time travel, that fans of authors such as Audrey Niffenegger, Alice Hoffman, and Toni Morrison will appreciate and embrace. Like Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret this novel weaves together ordinary lives and events to tell an extraordinary tale of connection, loss, renewal, and of course, hope. As Kate Sutton’s decade-long marriage to Rob erodes and unravels, Kate fears that the secrets she guards from the world, including Rob’s emergency room proposal, and a whirlwind love affair from her past, have always doomed her fate. When she unwittingly receives a glimpse at what her life could have been like had she made different choices all those years ago, it is indeed all she could have ever wanted. A confirmation of her greatest hope, and her greatest fears. LEMONGRASS HOPE will draw you in with characters so relatable and real, you will cheer for them one moment and flinch the next. A tale that invites you to suspend disbelief-or perhaps decide to believe once and for all-in the potent power of love and connection over time and choice. Oh, and the dress. There’s this lemongrass dress . . .

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REVIEW: This book has been on my TBR (To Be Read) list since it came out over a year ago. The author is a participating member of a large international online writers group I belong to (Women Writers, Women’s Books, or http://www.booksbywomen.org). Ms. Impellizzeri is a former corporate lawyer, turned fiction and non-fiction writer. She puts her knowledge of the practice of law to good use in exploring the character of Rob, Kate’s husband.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Lemongrass Hope is first and foremost a compelling and relatable piece of contemporary fiction. A twist of plot late in the book provides an unexpected bit of magical realism to the story that makes Lemongrass Hope just that little bit different from other books exploiting themes of “what might have been.” Above all, Kate Sutton is a woman with whom many readers will be able to empathize.

Kate has a deep and passionate affair with Ian, but she takes a safe route into the long term, more practical relationship with Rob. The marriage progresses through many familiar phases: establishing their career(s), kids and moving to the suburbs. With exceptional clarity, Amy captures the duality with which so many women with careers and young children struggle, and zeros in with pinpoint accuracy on the discomfort that often exists between stay-at-home moms and moms that work outside the home. Amy clearly describes Kate’s transition from an academic and intellectual 20-something, enjoying life in Manhattan, to a woman strained to her limits by the demands of her career, being a supportive wife to a partner-track attorney, and being the mother of two young children. Seeing that transition, we are set up beautifully when Kate is confronted with several life altering events, one on top of the next, and she embarks on a Heartbreak Cruise to try to get her thoughts together.

Amy writes Kate’s character in such a way that I was alternatively sympathetic and yelling at her. Kate’s evolution from young adulthood, believing she can control her life, to a wiser woman who knows how to control the things she can, and let go of what she can’t is a commonly told story. In Lemongrass Hope, it becomes remarkable in how simply and beautifully the story unfolded for me. Much of the story arc is predictable with one VERY notable exception. But it doesn’t matter, because the story is so elegantly told.

Lemongrass Hope explores old themes in a new way, offering a fresh view of the question “What if I’d done things differently?” This book was enjoyable, optimistic and fast-moving. I recommend it.

Among the places you can buy this book is
Amazon. Here’s the link.

http://www.amazon.com/Lemongrass-Hope-Amy-Impellizzeri/dp/1939288533/ref=la_B00N3WBOO8_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453088733&sr=1-1

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