Tag Archives: The Divorce Girl

Riding in a Convertible With Books: Everyday Magic, Day 654

1202121400Planning a book tour is a mysterious process that leads to great mystery when reality hits the pavement. Sometimes there are hours of exhausting travel only to arrive at a bookstore where no one bothered to post a flyer you sent them. Or there are occasional landings in vast places (such as a lovely chapel that seats 800) to discover the audience consists of three. Even the best divination tools doesn’t mean a writer won’t find herself reading to someone falling asleep while a baby screams like Ella Fitzgerald nearby.

I’ve adopted an attitude of trying to love whatever the readings might bring, even if it’s mostly the sound of my own voice reading a passage in my book that I enjoy. If I can connect with one person in the audience, even if that’s the whole audience, I figure there’s some value. Maybe afterwards, I thrash around and complain, but eventually, I come back to how doing readings is about leading with the heart. Sometimes, the wind hits you head-on and sometimes the wind is at your back.

2012_chrysler_200-convertible_actf34_ns_12811_717Like today. But that was, in part, because of the convertible. It turns out that  my inner administrative assistant, months ago when I wasn’t paying attention, snagged a convertible for me to drive around Florida (yes, the same one in this photo!). Finding a coupon for a cheap car with removable lid was far easier than removing that lid. Flash forward to this morning when my lovely sister and brother-in-law helped me figure out how to get the top off. It’s not as easy as you’d think, but thankfully, my sister’s past-life experience working in the car rental universe taught her a few tricks (including where rental cars hide their manuals), and we discovered the secret to  making the top of the car fold itself into the back trunk.

Next thing I know, I’m on a lidless road trip on a perfect Florida day, heading to the panhandle for a reading in Tallahassee. Alternating between E. Street radio, showtunes, spa music, coffee house folk tunes and occasional songs by Sinatra, Yes and Tanya Tucker (Sirius radio — who knew!), I drove close to 300 miles. Ample breezes abounded until sometime in Gainesville, getting too wind-blown to remember my middle name, I converted the car back to its lid-on state.

In the end, I found the beginning: the first reading for Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor & Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other with the book in hand, and what’s more, happening in the home of that Polish resistance fighter’s daughter. Ellen and Marek were outrageously wonderful, turning their home into a perfect venue for such a reading. Between wine and cheese, the reading (which also included an excerpt from The Divorce Girl), and chili dinner afterwards brought people together to really visit, talk about the book and catch up with each other, ask me questions about the process, and enjoy astonishing chocolate peppermint pie and carrot cake. We ended with a small group of us warming ourselves outside around the primordial (and literal) fire in the outdoor fireplace Marek built. I was especially moved by a Polish woman telling me how important it was to share stories of Poles who saved Jews (“Every Polish family has a story,” she told me), and a young Polish man telling how his grandfather’s family saved a large Jewish family by feeding and housing them for five years.

In the quiet that follows, I sit before a large arch-shaped window, my heart full, the luggage lighter, and the green world around us alive with weather, change and motion. Tomorrow, the car, books and I go east to the ocean for another reading. I’ll push that magic button before I go, let the car fold up its top so that I can feel the sun and wind, blessings upon blessings.


Back to the Source in New Jersey: Everyday Magic, Day 639

Reunited after 30 years with Phil Brater, my mentor and dear friend who modeled for me what true witnessing, support and daring to love and create really look like

Today I gave readings at Brookdale Community College, my first and best college, and Temple Shaari Emeth, the synagogue that saved my life when I was a teenager. Although I’m tempted to say I was back at the scene of the crime, it was really back in the scenes of the anti-crime. At Shaari Emeth, I found a youth group that gave me community, meaning, and extensive nurturing of my talents and strengths while I was living through the hardest time in my life. At Brookdale, I found my legs and ability to move forward toward my life as a writer and people of community.

So here I am, 33 years later visiting the college where I began as a deeply

Reading at Brookdale Community College, one of the best colleges I know

insecure 17-year-old and the synagogue where I found a refuge as a freaking-out 14-year-old. Not only am I back, but I’m reading from my love song to New Jersey, The Divorce Girl, which traces my main characters journey from fragmentation, isolation, fear and grief to art, community and beauty. As if this isn’t enough, the blessings pile upon blessings: my family is with me — my mother at all the readings, and at the Shaari Emeth one, my aunts and uncles

Cantor Wayne, and we look EXACTLY the same we did back in ’77

and brother too; my main mentor and lifeline as a teen, old friend and guide Phil Brater, who I haven’t seen in over 30 years; and even Cantor Wayne, who led me and my peers in singing our hearts out.

Life has a way of returning to itself full-circle, going back to the roots of breakdowns and breakthroughs to spiral into what matters and why before taking us to the

Mom at Manalapan Dinner, another source for a different kind of nourishment

next discovery. I love the places that showed me love and possibility, and although everything was different, everything was still familiar and welcoming. But mostly, I’m grateful for the people who helped me through the dark: Cantor Wayne, who kissed me and called out, “Welcome Home”; my mom, aunt and uncle who talked fast and vibrantly with me in the car of what survived and how we love each other; my old friend Phil who sounds exactly the same — reassuring and like he truly sees me for who I am — as always. These voices and faces travel my heart and soul, returning me to the source that always is.


Six Events, Six Cities, Six Days: Everyday Magic, Day 625

Julie (third from right); her daughters Rebecca (left) with Dina’s baby, and Dina (right); Dina’s other mom Louise (to left of Julie), and Julie’s third husband, Bill. Still confused? All you need to know is that they all love each other.

Just back from the whirlwind readings in Kansas City, Topeka, Mission, Marysville, Lincoln and Omaha, and more notably, all that happened in between. Here’s the surrealistic tally of what I can remember at the moment:

  • My name in cookies at a Topeka coffeehouse, the best lobster bisque in Kansas City, peach-jalapeno-asiago foccacia on the street thanks to a stranger, lavender short bread in the kitchen of a haunted house, crab cakes in a fine dining establishment, and cold french fries in the car.
  • A lost map of Kansas dovetailing with the end of the book of tape (making it IMPOSSIBLE to stop and call Ken for directions), which left me edging south and east until I found a highway I had heard of, all the time hoping the overcast sky (no sun to navigate by) wasn’t confusing me.
  • Jules, my fabulous-o traveling companion, and her stories of 13 houses, three husbands, and the legless Nazi who moved in with her so she could help him heal and die.
  • Re-uniting with my former very witty and wise student Anna
    With Anna between THE DIVORCE GIRL and Chinese food

    almost 20 years after she was in my creative writing class at KU.

  • Driving on I-80 (my least-favorite, and always most-crowded highway in America) in a blinding thunderstorm, at night, through long narrows of construction while passing by various accident scenes.
  • For the most part, posters, flyers, radio spots and even balloons to
    The Nebraska State Capitol. Wouldn’t it be cool if Planned Parenthood could hire a helicopter to drop a giant condom over it? (brilliant idea, and not mine).

    promote the readings (and thank you so much to Jennifer, Melissa, Wayne, Sharon, Jennifer, Julie, Jaine, Anna and others).

  • My first reading in a creperie after eating a glorious chicken-pesto-marinara-sauce crepe and trying the smoked salmon crepe. Crepes make better writers (and readers) of us all.
  • Long walks across downtown Lincoln for hours, alone or with Carolyn and Hubble the wonder dog; around an area of Kansas City, more like Brooklyn’s hipper neighborhoods, with Wyatt, Roderick and Ken; around a strip mall in the Omaha ‘burbs to find cello rosin; and up and down streets in Marysville, looking for the illusive and handsome black squirrel.
  • Watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the haunted hotel and discovering just how crass Marilyn Monroe’s character could be juxtaposed with Jane Russell’s fistful of awesome.
  • Swinging on a hammock in an old neighborhood in Lincoln while having a phone conference with Goddard faculty in Vermont, Montreal, Georgia, Virginia, and other locales.
  • Arriving home to the most ecstatic dog in the world who could not stop leaning his big head into my leg as if to say, “Heavens! The master has returned!” while the rain began to gather itself in earnest.

Loving My Book Tour & the Open Road: Everyday Magic, Day 621

Hanging out with Warren Farha, owner of Eighth Day Books in Wichita, and mutually admiring Katherine Towler’s great anthology GOD IN THE HOUSE: POETS TALK ABOUT FAITH

I drove through Matisse-type rain last night, waves of manna from heaven, thanks to Hurricane Isaac, happy and refreshed although it was late, I have a cold, and it was hard at times to see the road. There’s something so freeing and exhilarating about touring with a book 16 years in the writing and so central to my life that every nuance of this book tour is a gift. The rain, of course, is a gift on steroids for our drought land.

First bands of Hurricane Isaac

Since I’m enthralled by interesting skies, this trip was an especially auspicious time to drive: the bands of the hurricane reached the southeast edge of Wichita Friday morning, and I following them to Emporia, just on the western outskirts of slow-moving rain. All day, I saw vivid and panoramic layers of colors not local to these parts  (stranger clouds, stopping in town on their way back across the continent to the ocean).

The readings — Thursday night in Wichita’s Bookmark Bookstore, and Friday

Pretty clouds in Emporia

night in Emporia in the heart of ESU’s campus — were also multi-layered and vivid. In Wichita, I stumbled into so many new and ancient connections that I could barely stop laughing. Gathering with Victoria, one of my best friends for 30 years; my/Ken’s cousins Dennis and Joy, who I love dearly; new friends and old acquaintances, there was a lot to talk about. I also met David, who went to P.S. 253 in Brooklyn, close to where I attended P.S. 252, and who is linked by one degree to me multiple directions (Goddard, Brooklyn, my yoga teacher training and the Lawrence Hari Krishna community, literature and more). In Emporia, I got to see some of my favorite poets in Kansas, Kevin and Bill, meet an exquisive group of Kevin’s creative writing students (who asked me some of the best questions I’ve been asked about writing), and eat seriously good Mexican food with much-admired writer Cheryl and her awesomely talented photographer husband Dave. I even bought new sandals at a great price, and as I do whenever I travel, I foraged through various thrift stores for treasure.

Of course, there’s also the reading itself. I get to share out loud words I’ve been crafting in the basement, porch, bedroom, and in over a dozen coffee shops over many years of writing, revision, doubt, despair about the publishing world, joy

The audience members in Emporia were much sharper than they appear in this photo

at how my characters were making themselves visible, and hope that I would one day get to read this book to audiences.

I tell audiences that yes, writing this book based on my own difficulty childhood was healing, but seriously complemented by years of therapy too. Reading it is a way to give back some of what I was given, and even get good views of the sky, shrimp fajitas and applause in return. What’s not to love?

“So What Actually Happened?”: Confusing Confluences of Truth & Fiction in The Divorce Girl: Everyday Magic, Day 615

One of my mother’s friends apologized to her for how I treated her as a teenager after reading The Divorce Girl. “It’s fiction,” my mother says, adding, “And she was only 14 at the time.” This, in a nutshell, is the confusing confluence of truth and fiction in my novel and my life. The mother in The Divorce Girl is totally fictitious, but some of the words and deeds of her teenager daughter are taken from real life.

The novel blurs what happened, what we in my family think happened or happen to remember, and many made-up events, people and perceptions. Some of the real people ask when my father dated Fatima, and then I tell them: Fatima is completely fictional. Some note that Boy in the Englishtown Auction is the perfect Ben, and actually, he is. Some see the fictional elements of the dad but many take the dad as lock, stock and barrel for the real thing (he’s a mixture actually). Mostly, though, just reading this nudges us all to sort out together a little more of the mega-explosive busting apart of our extended family in the mid-70s, a time even distant cousins still refer to it as “the divorce.”

Meanwhile, many of my friends and relatives tell me, “I loved the book, but I hated it too because of what he did to you.” Yet because I don’t feel any animosity toward the abusive fictional (or real) father, I have no old anger or hurt left. Chalk that up to years of therapy, great friends and community, and most of all, decades of writing this book in my mind and on the page (it also helped that my father, before he died, told me to “write you want,” giving this book his blessing).

So what’s real and what’s made-up? Although I have a pretty good sense of the answer to this, on a page-by-page basis, it’s not something I’ll talk about except in small bits. But I will say that almost all of the characters are fictional while the pain, loss and fear are real. Writing a novel instead of a memoir allowed me to cozy up with hard stuff I lived. It brought me far away from the actual details to come home to what I wanted to say most about this story: healing is not the way we think, people are far more complex than we can grasp, family comes from unlikely places, and making something is a powerful way to make a life freer of fear and fuller of love.

P.S. I was never a teenage photographer. I chose another art (guess which one).

P.P. S. For a great review of the novel, check out Hubert O’Hearn’s fabulous review in The Paris Herald


A Day in the Life of the Book Biz: Everyday Magic, Day 605

People outside the book biz often have a notion that once the book comes out, your big work is done, but for most of us who write or publish — whether you’re published by a teeny tiny press that puts out one book every three years, or by a mega-publishers that puts out one book every three hours — the reality is unrecognizable from the reputation.

For the last three months, to help get The Divorce Girl out into the world, I’ve sent out hundreds of emails and called dozens and dozens of phone numbers, as had my publisher at Ice Cube Press, to set up readings, blog tour stops, reviews and the like. Sometimes people respond. Sometimes they don’t. Often, success takes multiple attempts and catching someone at the perfect conjunction of venus and the moon, political poll reports in the paper juxtaposed with jazz music in the background, and the humidity dropping three percentage points within the hour. Or just a lot of work.

At the same time, this lot of work can devour every iota of time, energy and common sense, and there have been days when I look up from the computer, put down my phone that’s almost out of juice, and stare outside, thinking, “Where the heck am I?” A moment later, it comes to me, “Planet earth. Oh, yeah, I remember this.”

A typical day in the life of promoting a book might include:

  • Four emails before breakfast to possible venues for readings in a city I’ll only drive to (on my own dime) if more than zero people would turn out for a reading and I can bundle this trip with another that I’m still waiting to hear final date information on.
  • A warm phone call from a friend with a daughter in Lincoln, Nebraska about a phone from another friend setting up a reading.
  • Sipping coffee while researching synagogues, art centers and libraries in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
  • Two messages sent to leads on Facebook.
  • Six phone messages left at various places that might be interested in hosting a reading, or at least that I think could possibly and maybe be interested.
  • A phone call returned from a place I figured didn’t want me after weeks of no response, and now, O Happy Day, they do!
  • An inordinate amount of time, while eating a banana, trying to find who to contact at a big library, only to discover there is only one phone number with three options (all about checking out or returning books, or library hours) and no information on who plans events.
  • Is it time for lunch yet? No, but the dogs want out.
  • Over two hours writing a proposal for a writing workshop while trying to figure out the workshop’s “outcomes.”
  • Writing to my publisher to see what he’s found out about places he’s researching while the cat keeps walking across my keyboard.
  • My cat and me checking what my kids have posted on Facebook lately. Letting dogs back in.
  • Puzzling over my calendar at regular intervals, and returning frequently to mapquest (I like the classic.mapquest.com) to figure distances. Is it feasible to drive from Des Moines, IA to Salina, KS one morning in time to give a workshop and talk without getting wiped out? I’m afraid not, so onto Plan B, C, D and eventually Plan S.
  • Letting the dogs out.
  • Hearing back from my publisher who is still waiting on W, X, Y & Z while I wait on F, G H and I.
  • Checking Facebook to see what my peeps are up to. Oh, look, a kitten!
  • Letting the dog back in. Oh my god, it’s 100 degrees already.
  • Composing two other emails about potential readings while my dog pants loudly at my side.
  • Researching a new site for a blog tour stop by reading through the blog’s book reviews, “About Me” page and review policy, then composing an email to the blogger only to discover now I can’t find his/her/their email address.
  • Lunch! Did I forget lunch? It’s 2:30 p.m., and I’m going to die if I don’t eat now, so it’s off to the kitchen, only to discover Daniel ate the leftover stir-fry and finished off the tortillas. I end up toasting the last piece of bread (after finding out the dog ate most of the loaf) with peanut butter and jelly. I find half a cup of coffee and almond milk from breakfast that I forgot to finish too.
  • Letting the dogs out.
  • Answering two emails, getting various responses to other emails that so-and-so is on vacation and won’t be back until mid-August, and reaching out to yet another potential venue.
  • Letting the dogs back in.
  • Making inquiries for a reading in January. Winter. What will that be like?
  • Finding a cartoon on Facebook about how dogs and cats play spin-the-bottle: the cat thinks furiously as she spins, “Not the dog, not the dog.” I find this so funny that I laugh until I cry.
  • Opening the front door, wondering why I feel like I’m in front of a blast furnace, and looking at the thermometer: 106.
  • Getting in the car, driving to town, signing a box of my books at The Raven, then wandering through the grocery store with no idea what foods I need to replenish until I see them on the shelves.

By the end of the day, when Ken comes home and asks what I did today, all I can say is, “I found this great cartoon about dogs, cats and spin-the-bottle.” I can’t remember much else by this point, only that whatever I did, I’ll do some of it again tomorrow.


Finally Married My Book and Now On Honeymoon, or Thank-You, Lawrence, for the Best Book Launch of My Life: Everyday Magic, Day 598

All day yesterday, I kept humming, “I’m getting married in the morning,” in anticipation of the book launch of The Divorce Girl. No wonder, considering that I’ve shacked up with this book for 16 years, and now, it’s the big event. We had a ceremony (a short Havdalah service, a Jewish ritual to welcome the next week), some singing, some prayers, a little wine, a braided candle and my friend Reva presenting the bride (or am I the groom?). It even ended with a receiving line, only instead of people wishing us happiness together, I was wishing them happiness with the new book (guess this is an open marriage).

I know it’s ludicrous to experience a book launch as a marriage, but I couldn’t help the strange overflow from my subconscious, and besides, it was a joyous occasion for me, and hopefully for others too. Over 80 people, our wonderful local bookstore The Raven was on hand to sell many books, and we had a lovely ceremony and reading, punctuated by John Gorka’s recording of his appropriate song, “I’m From New Jersey” (with the lyrics, “I don’t expect much/ If the world ended today/ I would adjust”). We laughed, we cried, we ate rugalech (plus black and white cookies Ken slaved over into the wee hours of the night, Judy’s great coconut cake — Emily Dickinson’s recipe! — and amazing Russian black bread Reva made), and we sang along with Jack Winerock and Susan Elkin’s leading us in “li-li-li’s.”

Afterwards, in true post-big-event fashion, Ken and I picked up burritos at Taco Bell before I drove him to the airport to fly to D.C. with his sisters for their siblings’ vacation. Driving back to Lawrence, I sang along with Sarah Vaughn, and once back in town, stopped at the Bastille Day party to fetch Daniel, hug more friends, and listen to some French ballads steaming across the dark lawn before coming home to my post-launch life.

So far, that life is luscious (still have some of the Russian bread left) and refreshing (thanks to iced coffee, cantaloupe and a morning spent on the front porch with sleeping dogs). While there are many readings, blog tour stops and workshops related to novel ahead, right now, I’m just reveling in the reality that after 16 years of writing, the book is done, and a new chapter opens, not one about how I will write this book and get it published, but about what happens after arriving in the heart of the dream.

Thank-you: I’m so grateful to Reva Friedman for the most beautiful introduction to my work and life, to Susan Elkins and Jack Winerock for leading the Havdalah service so harmoniously and helping beforehand/afterwards, to Daniel and Forest Lassman for all their help, to all those who brought astonished baked books (Judy Roitman, Reva Friedman, Marilyn Naron, Denise Low), to The Raven (and Heidi Raak and Lisa Stockton, visionary and generous owners of the Raven), to Steve Semken and Ice Cube Press for EVERYTHING!, and to Ken Lassman for all the baking, shlepping, cleaning and chair-piling in the last day and decades of support and faith in my writing.