Thursday, January 31, 2008


valentines day, originally uploaded by omnia.

The day before my first surgery I took a walk on the beach where I found a red stone like the one in the photo, and knew I had to have it. Stones, shells, I'm always bringing something home--to the chagrin of my family--who often ask, "What's so special about THIS one?" and "Can't you leave a few on the beach?"

Of course, they're right. The house is cluttered enough with my natural collectibles. And as any child with a pail or adult with pocket can tell you, the wet stone glittering in the sun often turns into something quite ordinary when you try to bring it home.

Not all of them though. Some grow even more extraordinary the longer you look at them. "The Liar's Diary Blog Day" which was planned and organized by a few amazing writer friends--and participated in by literally hundreds of others--including some of my very first blog friends, and others, who had never heard of me, my book or my blog, but who jumped in and said "I want to help'" is like the latter. The longer I look on it and the more I think about it, the more it shines.

Among the wonderful souls were authors who are like gods to me, and those who never aspire to publish beyond their blogs, many people I've met, but far more who I will never know. There were also agents and editors and publishers who defied the cynics by proving it's not all about the bottom line. The real reason they got into this business is because they love books and people, and because they really believe in their heart of hearts that stories can change the world.

I spent the day wandering from blog to blog, but still haven't hit half of them. (I will though!) I cried a lot, but I smiled far more. I had been told not to attempt to comment, and for the most part I didn't. I let friends like the wonderful Robin Slick, who visited so many on my behalf, say my thank yous for me. Know that I realize it's a debt that I can't possibly repay--but hopefully, karma can.

I also know that this goes far beyond me and my illness, and the book you all promoted for me when I couldn't do it myself. Once again, it all goes back to defying the cynicsim that has become so much a part of our world. A cynicism I've frequently indulged in myself.

Others have said it better, but the very best part of blog day has been the amazing show of goodwill. It's out there. If it can send a just-released novel shooting up in the Amazon numbers, and can make writers and cancer survivors and bloggers everywhere feel just a little bit closer, a little bit more united than we were before, imagine what else it can do?

And so back to that red shiny rock I found on the beach the day before my surgery. I didn't know why I was picking it up and bringing it home, but now I do. It's for YOU. For all of you.


I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a few of the people who worked incredibly hard, and dreamed incredibly large to make this happen: Laura Benedict, who started all this with an idea and worked hard to carry it though, Susan Henderson of Litpark and Karen Dionne of Backspace both of whom have an amazing gift for bringing people together, and who frequently put their own work aside to promote others, Jessica Keener and Tish Cohen who shared their knowledge and ability to get the word out, also sacrificing hours of precious writerly time, my fabulous literary agent and even more fabulous friend, Alice Tasman, who cried with me when we first learned of this effort, and has done more behind the scenes to help than I'll ever know, Dan Conaway, who is NOT my agent, but still put valuable hours and enthusiasm and heart into getting this off the ground, all my good friends at Gather, Huntington Sharpe from Red Room, who designed a terrifc author page for me, and who mobilized the site to get dozen of authors involved, Sheila English and Victoria Fraasa at Circle of Seven Productions who made a Liar's Diary book trailer that made it to #7 on Google Videos last night, the delightful Eileen Hutton at Brilliance Audio who offered audio clips, MJ Rose who got out the troops at ITW, my fellow writers from Killer Year, several of whom were out promoting our anthology of the same name, but who took time to get involved in blog day, and two outstanding and generous bestselling authors, who took the time to read and support THE LIAR'S DIARY from the start. Both Jackie Mitchard and Tess Gerritsen once again, stepped up, and shared their thoughts on the novel. And I can't forget my wonderfully supportive editor, Julie Doughty at Dutton, my publicist, Laurie Connors, and all the people at Plume/Penguin, without whom there wouldn't be a book to promote.

A huge thank you--and much bliss to them--and to all of YOU--who made this day a small miracle.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I promise to stop wriitng about "my trip to the hospital" soon. Very soon! But apparently, I'm a classic case of a writer who doesn't get out much. It's not that I don't see lots of people every day. Family, friends, and friends of the kids flow in and out in a wonderful stream. They bless my life--all of them--even when I bellow, (most often internally) "Hey, I'm trying to get some work done here!"

But what I've missed from my waitressing days, and what the hospital provided was interaction with the wider world. People I didn't know. Stories I hadn't heard. Catalysts to insights and thoughts that stretched far beyond myself and my beloved few. The stream that becomes a vast, transformative river. In the hospital, I walked into that river again.

For my second surgery, I only had one request: I wanted to go back to the same floor, White 7, where I already knew the nurses and the aides, the dietary and housekeeping staff. I loved them all. But it was probably the intimacy of sharing a room with various strangers, all enduring their own crises, that affected me most.

I've written before about the Chinese roommate who had been hit by a car while crossing a street. I've written about how we banished our night terrors and pain by speaking them out loud in the dark. What I haven't written about is the other kind of pain we discussed late in the night. The pain of injustice and invisibility.

Though she had several broken bones, a badly shattered ankle and a dislocated shoulder, what seemed to bother my roommate most was that other kind of pain. After we'd gone through the list of our physical suffering, she would re-tell the story of the woman who'd hit her with a BMW. The woman whose only concern seemed to have been spinning the story to avoid responsibity...

"I was in the crosswalk, but she told the police I walked in front of her car..She never looked at me....I was lying in the street, my whole life changed, and she never even asked if I was all right..."

It seemed incredible to me that anyone could be so callous, so blind. But of course, every day in our world, people make decisions about who we will look at deeply and who we will refuse to see. Every day, we turn away and deny responsibility just like the woman in the BMW did.

"They won't believe her," I said in the dark.

But my roommate's experience caused her to doubt. "She was rich, and I'm an office English, it's not so good...maybe they believe me and maybe they don't."

As our week together went on, our families got to know each other, and a genuine bond formed. One of her nephews wanted to become a writer, but the family worried that it wasn't a practical choice. (I couldn't disagree, but I also couldn't help telling him to keep writing!) A niece was a talented artist. I admired the caring and closeness of her extended family, and envied the wonderfully fragrant home cooked dinners they brought to her every evening.

One of the more baffling (and entirely subjective) questions a hospital patient is asked regularly is to rate your pain from one to ten. In my reference point, ten was childbirth, and seven was a throbbing tooth in need of a root canal. I wondered where the pain of invisibility fell on the scale.

No one ever asked me to rate my bliss, but I did anyway. Bliss was the gorgeous, concerned faces of my roommate's nieces and nephews and my children as they entered our room in the evening, their coats glistening with snow, cheeks bright with the cold. Bliss was seeing and being seen by the people in front of us, and by each other.

Though we talked about our suffering in the night, during the day, we joked with the aides, and told stories about our very different childhoods. In a cramped hospital room, looking out on the snow, I traveled far. We sipped our tea together, and talked about how good, how very good, it tasted. My roommate had a wonderful, tinkling laugh, which I'd heard--amazingly--on the first night when they brought her in on a stretcher.

That laughter is still with me. On the bliss scale, it's a ten.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Rev Martin Luther King Jr, originally uploaded by Buddy Stone.

I've never really had the urge to write a special post commemorating a federal holiday, but today (which by some mysterious process turned into yesterday about forty-five minutes ago) I did.

It's probably because recently I've been thinking a lot about Martin Luther King. In fact, I've thought about him so much I couldn't fit all the things I wanted to say about him into one post. I've thought about him in a personal way; and I've thought about him for the work that consumed his life. His life long war against invisibility--not for himself, because he was likely to be seen no matter what--but for others.

But as I just proved, a day can turn into a yesterday so quickly that you never get a chance to write the things you want to write, or say the things you intend to say--or damn, even do the laundry.

It was a good day though--so good that when I went to the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions, I decided to saunter around the mall a little. I was just going to go to one store, but before I knew it, I had walked through the entire marketplace.

I bought myself some new underwear in rainbow colors, and a pair of fake Uggs for twenty-five dollars. I ran into some people I knew and stopped to talk.

They seemed surprised to see me out walking around, but they were too polite to say so, and I was too polite to tell them to stop looking at me like a ghost. After a while, we all forgot how wondrous it was to be alive and walking around the mall shopping for underwear on a federal holiday, and just talked.

Then, as I used to do when going to the mall was not a noteworthy accomplishment, I stopped at B & N for a mocha latte. I got tired before I finished it, but it still tasted good.

At the front of the store was a whole table of books about longevity. Foods to eat. Exercises to do. Thoughts to think. I used to love books like that, and I don't doubt they're full of marvelous advice. But today I walked past them, feeling kind of wistful for my old self. The self that believed those books could somehow save me.

The trouble is I ate the secret foods, did the work-outs, thought the thoughts, took the cleansing breaths, and I still got sick.

Maybe I put too much faith in those things before. Maybe I saw those books as talismans. Maybe I believed that if I just found the right one, I could live forever--or for a hundred years, which felt like forever when I first started reading about eating seeds and breathing deeply and living with gratitude.

Don't get me wrong; I'm still for healthy living and yoga and running for miles along the beach, and saying thank you whenever you get the chance. I just don't think of longevity as something I can buy at B & N anymore. Nor is it quite such a preoccupation.

Even though I have every longing--and these days, every hope--of writing more books and celebrating more anniversaries and seeing my grandchildren grow to be sturdy adults, I see things differently now.

Now, like MLK, I just want to do the work I have in me to do, and give whatever I have in me to give, however small and humble it might be.

More tomorrow...or is it today?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


The Writer's View, originally uploaded by Flemming Gade.

For most of my life, my view as a writer was similar to the one from Hans Christian Anderson's window--not without its magic, but distinctly lacking in human warmth.

As a professional waitress and mom living in a small seaside town, I didn't know a single novelist or poet, published or un. I was strictly a closet writer No one but my family and a few close friends knew about my crazy dream to write a novel, and through some mysterious process that involved query letters and agents and secret meetings in New York, to actually get it published. I lived for the slow season when I could upplug the phone, shut the door to my room, and lose myself in my private passion: words and the world I created from them. If the winter months spent in that room were lonely, I accepted that as an occupational hazard.

That hasn't changed. As a full time writer (though I don't feel much like one lately) I still spend way too much time alone, fighting my simultaneous fear of failure and success, battling characters who won't cooperate with my plans, and those who force me to wade (or sometimes jump headlong) into the kind of experiences and emotions I try to avoid in real life.

But in spite of my isolation, through the internet, I now have what writers had to move to Paris to find in the twenties, or enter a costly MFA program in the nineties to encounter--friends! Real ones! In fact, I'd be willing to bet this solitary writer now has more friends than Hemingway did!

A whole community of writers and bloggers who believe that stories can change the world, a community who believe that the fate of fictional characters, or the meticulous or messy arrangement of words and motion, and feeling into a poem or an essay is worth whatever sacrifice it takes.

The other night I was listening to Philip Pullman being interviewed by Charlie Rose. I found myself nodding when he said (and I'm paraphrasing badly here; he was far more eloquent) that he wrote because we live in such a fabulous, miraculous world and he wanted to remind his readers how precious it is.

In other words, he writes not because he's a mad ego-maniac, as we writers are often reputed to be, but because he feels he has something to give and he wants to give it.

When you come right down to it, is there another reason to begin this epic struggle with self, with words, with blank pages and empty screens? If we truly wrote "for ourselves" as so many writers say with understandable defensiveness, why move beyond the safety of our private journals? Why post on a blog, or god forbid, seek publication--subjecting ourselves to the crazy-making mix of rejection, elation, despair, intoxicating praise and bitter criticism ? Why invest so much time and hope if we didn't believe we had a story to tell that someone--maybe just one person--really needed to hear? Why do it, if not to share, as Pullman said, our love for this startling and wondrous world we find ourselves in, and the even more startling goodness that the people in it often rise to exhibit?

Though my novel deals with murder, betrayal, and the even more lethal crimes of the heart, the real subjects of THE LIAR'S DIARY are music, love, friendship, self-sacrifice and courage. The darkness is only there for contrast; it's only there to make us realize how bright the light can be. I'm sure that most writers whose work does not flinch from the exploration of evil feel the same.

When I worked conventions and conferences as a waitress, we used to say that all the professional group, clubs and religious organizations we served had a character. In fact, I was so convinced that invisible servers like my co-workers and me had a unique insight into the identity of "the best people on earth" that I once wrote a blog post revealing our secret.

Since my illness, however, I've begun to change my mind. The kindness, generosity, and yes, the love, that's been shown to me my fellow writers, bloggers, Gather members and others from the literary community has been overwhelming, healing, and incredibly inspiring. To learn more about what a group of writers with the hearts of lions have planned for me, visit Susan Henderson's Litpark, or Laura Benedict's blog. Then tell me, honestly tell me, that these aren't the best people on earth.

***After my last post, the wonderful Amy McKinnon of The Writer's Group Blog asked me to post a photo of Hank. It's a request no grandmother has ever been known to refuse.

hank in the laundry basket

Friday, January 04, 2008


Inutili preghiere, originally uploaded by Gianni D..

Yesterday, for the first time in weeks, I got dressed in real clothes: my too-big jeans and a sweater. I put on boots and make-up. I found out what the weather was like by feeling it against my skin, instead of asking my family as they swept in from their busy lives. (It was COLD, wonderfully, slap in the face cold.)

I was out in the world and life was good--even if my only destination was the doctor's office in Boston.

I enjoyed traveling through the snow squalls on the Cape. Even when my daughter-in-law, Nicola, took the wrong exit, we celebrated being lost--pointing out the architecture, and imagining how exciting it would be to live in some of the neighborhoods we passed.

"Someday, when everyone's on their own, I'd like to move to the city," I said, daring to imagine the future.

When we passed the river, Nicola said she particularly loved Boston because the Charles reminded her of the river that cut through her native Melbourne.

We also acknowledged that if we'd been with our spouses, we would have been enjoying the scenery less and blaming each other for screwing up the directions more...

We got there on time, but even if we hadn't, it would have been okay. Some days, I've sat in the waiting room for more than two hours before I heard my name called. It turned out yesterday was one of those days.

"Simply waiting" in the Cancer Center wasn't easy. The fifteen or twenty people who sat in chairs along the periphery all looked scared and tense. No one spoke. Furtively, I checked out them out, wondering what form of the disease they had, what their prognoses might be. Were they among the statistical numbers who would beat the disease? Was I?

The first day I visited, most of the patients were a generation older than I was. What was I doing there? I wondered. It wasn't fair. Then I spotted a woman who appeared to be about the age of my oldest son. Damn. Cancer WASN'T fair. It wasn't democratic. It just was.
I looked down and pretended to read People magazine.

This time, however, Nicola and I had eight month old Hank with us. How would an active, squirmy baby ever endure the kind of wait that drove adults to distraction? But it turned out that Hank found the spacious waiting room perfect for exploring on hands and knees, the coffee tables just the right height to walk around, and the seats filled with people he was eager to meet.

He started with those closest to us, and then, slowly (followed by his mum, of course) he extended his reach to everyone in the waiting room, transforming the atmosphere as he crawled around, babbling and smiling.

Strangers smiled back and called to him, "Over here, buddy." When he toppled over, people leaped up to make sure he was all right. Suddenly, Nicola and I weren't the only ones watching to make sure he didn't put anything in his mouth. Everyone in the room had his back.

Soon people were sharing stories about their children and grandchildren. When someone said that babies who don't crawl before they walk often have developmental delays later, a vigorous debate broke out.

Eventually, the conversation expanded. People discussed how far they'd traveled to get there, and worried that they'd get on the road before rush hour. A couple of men started to talk about sports.

We stopped being a bunch of solitary, anxious cancer patients, and became a room full of human beings. I forgot to think about how many paients had come in after me and heard their names called before me, or to look at my watch. What remained was the goodwill in that room, the outstretched hands, and the encouraging words to Hank when he took a couple of tentative steps between table and chair.

"Look! You're doing great. You can do it!"

On the way home, exhausted, but strangely elated, I wondered why it took a baby to release us from our fear and reveal our common humanity....

And why it took a life-threatening illness to make me realize that nothing is promised to me or to anyone else--not a single breath--that it's all a gift and I'd better savor every bit of it--even the missed exits, and the unexpected detours.

Two more things:

1. To all those who have sent healing vibes, prayers and good thoughts, many thanks. All my recent pathology reports have been clean, and my current prognosis is GOOD. Alleluia.

And 2. Some amazingly generous writers and bloggers have done something so incredible for me that it could restore the faith of the most hardened cynic. I will write more about that soon. But for now, I just want to say to Laura Benedict, Susan Henderson, Jessica Keener, Backspace's inexhaustible Karen Dionne, and my good friend, Tish Cohen who have spearheaded the effort, and to the many people who've agreed to help: I thank you and I love you.