Monday, July 26, 2010

Oh Well. I Have Other Plans Myself For That Night

I am starting to think I'm not invited to Chelsea Clinton's wedding.

For the past few weeks, I've simply assumed Chelsea misplaced my address, or the post office misplaced the invitation, or Bill and Hillary didn't remember which email address to send the invite to (although they could have googled me and found pretty darn easily). I'm not on Facebook, I reminded myself, so they couldn't have left the invitation on the wall there, as they probably did with Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.

I figured it was a given I'd be invited, since I voted for Bill and Hillary every chance I got. But this isn't the only time they've scorned me. When Bill first ran for President, I made a $50.00 donation to his campaign. I was certain fifty bucks would buy me an ambassadorship, and I had hand selected my country-The Sudan-to ambassador at. I figured what with my being called Sue most of the time The Sudan was a natural fit. And having played The Maid in my high school senior class production of Call Me Madam, I already had plenty of training for the part.

I had the perfect gift selected for Chelsea and whoever the guy is she's marrying. A copy of MENS VI ENDNU ER HER. That's the Danish version of Life As We Knew It, and I would have inscribed it To Chelsea And The Guy She's Marrying- Always Have Hope- Susan Beth Pfeffer July 31, 2010. You know no one else would have given them one, and if they decided to exchange or return it, well what a wonderful excuse to go to Denmark.

Rhinebeck is a very pretty town, but it's kind of small for such a big event, so I was even willing to put up a couple of the guests at my apartment. Oprah could have had my bedroom, and Steven could have slept on the expensive air mattress in the den. If they kept their doors open, Scooter would have been happy to play Purr On The Neck with either of them.

What a kick Steven would have gotten, seeing his autographed picture in Scooter's room. And what fun Oprah and I would have had watching youtubes of Adam Lambert performing on her show.

I know we wouldn't have lacked for conversation as we carpooled to the wedding. Rhinebeck is about an hour's drive from here, just enough time to discuss whether Life As We Knew It or the dead & the gone should go first in the Oprah Book Club, and who would be best cast as Miranda and Alex in Steven's Oscar winning production of This World We Live In. On the drive back, we could have had a fine time making bitchy conversation about what everyone wore and just who wasn't invited.

Alas. Apparently I'm one of the uninviteds myself. Instead, along with three good friends and thousands of other uninvited people, I'll be at Bethel Woods for an outdoor Boston Pops With Idina Menzel concert. I just hope it doesn't rain on the bride and groom. Because if it does, it'll probably rain on us as well!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Son Of Return To The End Of The World (Disc 2)

I was spending a quiet afternoon paying an enormous amount of bills and letting the government know how my Keogh plan is doing (better than last year, thank goodness) when the doorbell rang.

Scooter jumped in the other direction, which was a help, and I went downstairs and opened the door. There was a package waiting for me, and a UPS truck driving in the opposite direction.

I expected nothing. I even checked the name and address on the box to make sure it was intended for me.

Rapt with curiosity, I opened the box. And in it, what should I find (now that is genuinely crappy writing)but a DVD of Irwin Allen's Production of The Night The Bridge Fell Down! (! mine to substitute for the actual cover design which has the words Fell Down in a falling down position).

For those of you unfamiliar with the saga, or who have simply chosen to forget, I was the excited owner of a DVD of Irwin Allen's Production of The Night The Bridge Fell Down, all 2 discs of it, and had watched disc 1close to the ecstasy St. Teresa of Avila used to experience (I've started reading her biography) and put Disc 2 in only to discover it was unwatchable. I posted about that particular heartbreak and Mr. Cavin suggested trying to watch it on my computer, so I tried, and I got to almost the ending when it stopped showing, so I still didn't know who lived and who died and if Barbara Rush was ever going to stop whining and screeching about being on a bridge that was falling down in giant chunks all around her.

Then I contacted the Warner Bros. Shop, told them my sad story, and they said, "Send it back and we'll send you a new one." So I did and they did and the instant it arrived, I put it in my DVD player and watched sort of from the point I'd stopped so tragically before, and I found out who lived and who died and if Barbara Rush ever stopped whining and screeching. Life was good.

But I never anticipated getting another copy. I'm more than willing to believe the Warner Bros. Shop loves me, because I'm a pretty lovable person on my better days, but I didn't think they loved me quite so much that they'd keep sending me copies of Irwin Allen's Production of The Night The Bridge Fell Down (Discs 1 and 2).

Well, they don't just love me. They love everybody. There was a letter, which I will now quote in its entirety:

Dear Warner Archive Customer,

We recently sent replacement discs out to address a playability issue on Disc 2 of "The Night the Bridge Fell Down." It's come to our attention that some customers may have experienced playback issues with the replacement disc. Because we want to make sure all of our customers have the best playback possible, we've created a new disc for you at no charge.

Again, we appreciate your support of the Warner Archive Collection.


Warner Archive Collection

I don't know what amuses me most about all this. There's the having 2 sets of The Night the Bridge Fell Down (discs 1 and 2). There's the possibility that the Warner Archive Collection simply sent out the original bad set to people who needed replacements. There's the absurd concept that I wasn't the only person to watch The Night the Bridge Fell Down (discs 1 and 2). Then there's their recognition of my support for the Warner Archive Collection, which indeed, I have supported, both financially and emotionally. And finally, there's that warm yet austere signature. Warner Archive Collection. It reminds me of the actor, Warner Baxter, and trust me, nothing ever reminds me of Warner Baxter. Warner Oland, sure. Warner Baxter, never.

I could remove Discs 1 and 2 from the shrink wrap and watch them all over again. Or I could keep them in their pristine condition. I don't have to decide right away.

But no matter what I decide, it's good to know that I'm not the only one to suffer through Barbara Rush's whining and screeching!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Get To Visit Writer Unboxed

I was fortunate enough to be asked to guest blog at Writer Unboxed, which is a terrific blog for writers and people interested in writing and writers.

If you're not familiar with Writer Unboxed, you're in for a treat. Follow the link to read my heart wrenching story of rejection after rejection (okay, the only heart wrenched was mine, but I never said multiheart wrenching story), and then keep on reading.

Just remember to come back here on occasion. Otherwise my heart will be wrenched even more!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The First Two Chapters

Blood Wounds isn't going to come out until fall 2011, which feels like a very long time from now, and the first two chapters only set things up. The Big Bad Thing that propels the story happens in Chapter 3, and I'm not telling anyone about it.

So on a what the hey basis, I figured I'd put the first two chapters here. At some point, my publisher will tell me to take them down, and I will. And people who don't want to know anything more than the title, certainly don't have to read it.

But if you're curious, here they come:


I think even if nothing had happened the next day, even if my life had stayed just as it was that night at supper, I’d still remember what Jack said. He has that way of startling me, saying something totally unexpected, but then, when I think about it, something that makes perfect sense, something I should have known all along.

We were all at the supper table. It was Wednesday night, and Wednesday nights we eat together. Jack has Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, but we could never manage two nights in a row. Mom’s committed to completing her bachelor’s degree, so she takes a couple of classes during the day and one or two at night. Brooke always has something, lacrosse, dressage, violin, not to mention her dozens of friends. Alyssa has tennis plus the swimming and yoga she uses for cross training. And I keep busy enough too, with choir and the occasional school play.

But Wednesday nights we eat together. Jack does the shopping and the cooking, while whoever is around pitches in to help. Alyssa made the salad and Brooke set the table. I had a choir rehearsal, and got home only a few minutes before suppertime.

I wouldn’t remember any of that if everything hadn’t changed the next day. But I’m sure I would remember what Jack said.

Mom was telling us about her Nineteenth Century Literature class. Mom wants to be a fourth grade teacher, and fourth grade teachers don’t need to know much about nineteenth century literature, but it’s always bothered her that Jack’s so well read and she isn’t. And Val, Brooke and Alyssa’s mother who lives in Orlando, sends them lots of books, current best sellers mostly, but sometimes a classic she thinks they should read.

“Have you decided what you’re going to do your paper on, Terri?” Brooke asked Mom.

Mom took a bite of the tilapia and shook her head. “I’d like to do it on Jane Eyre,” she said. “But my professor said she’s read too many papers on Jane Eyre and we have to pick something else. She said not enough students write papers on War And Peace, but I’m not even sure I’ll finish it before the final. War And Peace is awfully long.”

“I don’t like long books,” Alyssa said. “I think there should be a rule that books can’t be more than 200 pages.”

“There’d be a lot fewer good books with that rule,” Brooke said.

“Yeah,” I said. “But there’d be a lot more trees.”

“You know something,” Jack said, as we sat at the table, eating and laughing, “Tolstoy was wrong.”

“About what?” Brooke asked, helping herself to the string beans.

“Who’s Tolstoy?” Alyssa asked.

“He wrote War And Peace,” Mom said. “And a lot of other very long books. What was Tolstoy wrong about, darling?”

“He said all happy families are alike,” Jack replied. “Unhappy families are all different.”

“What’s wrong about that?” I asked.

“Well, look at us,” Jack said. “We’re a happy family. But we’re not identical to other happy families. Happy families come in their own shapes and varieties, same as the unhappy ones.”

“Are we going to stay a happy family if I go to USC?” Brooke asked.

“I thought you were going to North Carolina,” I said “And take that lacrosse scholarship.”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Brooke said. “So Dad, how happy will we be if I pick USC instead?”

“North Carolina’s kind of equidistant, between us and Orlando,” I persisted. “If you go to USC, none of us will ever see you.”

“Brooke said she hasn’t decided yet,” Mom said to me.

“I know,” I said. “I heard her.”

Jack looked straight at Brooke. “Have you talked to your mother about it?” he asked.

“Not yet,” Brooke said. “We’ve both been too busy to talk.”

“Speaking of your mother, she called today,” Jack said. “There are some changes in plans for your spring vacation.”

“What changes?” Alyssa asked. “She’s taking me to Brussels, right? For the tournament?”
“Dad, it was all set,” Brooke said. “Terri and I were meeting Mom in Maryland for my dressage test. Then she was coming back here to take Lyss to Brussels. What happened this time?”

“First of all, I would appreciate it if you didn’t use that tone of voice when you’re talking about your mother,” Jack said.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” Brooke said. “But I know I’m not going to like what’s coming.”

“No, it isn’t that bad,” Jack said. “Your mother’s trip to Munich was postponed, so she won’t be able to come here.”

“But I can still go to Brussels,” Alyssa said, and I could hear the panic in her voice. “Daddy, it’s my first international tournament. I’ve got to go.”

“Your mother understands that,” Jack said. “So she asked her parents to fly here. Gram will go with you and Terri to the dressage test, Brooke, and Grandy will take Alyssa to Brussels.” He smiled at his daughters. “Monday, Gram and Brooke will fly to Switzerland for a few days of skiing, then go onto Brussels, and you’ll fly back together.”

“Mom was going to see me play,” Alyssa said. “I want her to see how good I’ve gotten.”

“She wants to see it too,” Jack said. “She’s hoping to get to Brussels for the quarterfinals.”

None of us asked what would happen if Alyssa didn’t make it to the quarters. She always did.

“Lauren’s in Europe, isn’t she?” Alyssa asked me.

Lauren is my best friend, my only real friend outside of the kids in choir. She’s spending her junior year abroad.

“Spain,” I said. “Madrid.”

“I was looking forward to being home for the week,” Brooke said. “Have a do-nothing vacation, like Willa.”

“Willa’s going to keep busy enough,” Mom said. “She’ll be working on turning her ‘B’s into ‘A’s.”

“Willa’s grades are fine,” Jack said. He smiled at me. “Maybe we’ll take an overnight trip to Washington,” he said. “Go to the Smithsonian. Tour the White House. What do you say, Terri? Think we could swing that?”

Mom nodded. “That sounds nice,” she said.

“Good,” Jack said. “It’s settled. Brooke and Alyssa with their mom and grandparents. You and Willa and me with the President.”

Once, when I was eleven, before we moved so Brooke and Alyssa could live with us, Jack found me sitting on the kitchen floor, crying. He asked me what was the matter, and I told him that all the girls in sixth grade were prettier than me.

“Oh, pumpkin,” Jack said. “You don’t want to waste your pretty years in middle school. Not on middle school boys. Wait until they’re ready to see how beautiful you are. High school, or even college. You can hold off until then, can’t you?”

“Will I really be pretty then?” I asked him.

Jack helped me up off the floor and hugged me. “You’ll be as pretty as you want to be,” he said. “And all the boys will notice.”

I’m sixteen now, and a long way from beautiful, but I’ve noticed on days when I feel pretty, the boys in my school do seem to notice. And I’m glad I didn’t waste my pretty years on middle school.

That night, at supper, I knew we really were a happy family. Happy didn’t mean all singing and dancing. Brooke and Alyssa weren’t shy about letting Mom or Jack know when they were unhappy about something. There were battles of will, flashes of temper.

But I knew enough about stepfathers and stepsisters to understand how lucky we were, how hard Jack and Mom worked to make sure we knew we were part of the same family, equally loved by both of them.

It couldn’t have been easy for either of them. Jack already shared custody with Val when Mom met him. The first few years after they got married, the three of us lived in a house about an hour away from Val’s. Brooke and Alyssa spent practically every weekend with us, and Christmas vacation, and summer when they weren’t at camp or visiting their grandparents. Jack was a sports reporter for the Union Gazette, so he worked on weekends, but that didn’t matter. Brooke was busy with dressage, and Alyssa with tennis lessons, so Mom did the chauffeuring, and either I’d tag along with her, or I’d go to football or basketball games with Jack. I liked it best when Brooke came with us. She’s a year older than me, and I worshipped her. Alyssa is two years younger than me, but she only worships other tennis players.

We were a happy family then too. We even stayed a happy family when Val got transferred for three years to Shanghai. Alyssa refused to go with her, and Brooke admitted she didn’t want to.

Jack and Mom had a lot of discussions about the situation, none of which I was supposed to hear, but I did anyway. Val came over a few times when Alyssa was at tennis practice and Brooke was taking her violin lesson. I made sure to eavesdrop then.

But even with all my spying, I was still shocked when Jack and Mom and Val sat us down together and explained what was going to happen. Jack and Mom were going to sell our house and buy one in Westbridge, where Brooke and Alyssa lived. That way they could continue to go to Fairhaven Academy, and Alyssa could keep her tennis coach, and Brooke her violin teacher and riding academy. Mom would quit her job, so that she’d be available to take Brooke and Alyssa where they needed to go (Val’s housekeeper used to do that). Jack’s commute would be a little longer, and I’d transfer to the middle school in Westbridge. It was easier for us to move than for Brooke and Alyssa’s lives to be disrupted.

I’d grown up with Brooke and Alyssa, and they were as close as sisters to me, but that didn’t keep me from crying that night. Mom came into my room, sat on my bed, and held my hand.

“I know this isn’t easy for you, Willa,” she said. “But it would break Jack’s heart if Brooke and Alyssa went with Val to Shanghai.”

“But why can’t they move here?” I cried. “Why do we have to give up everything?”

“We’re not giving up everything,” Mom said. “We’re moving from one nice house to another one, and you’re changing schools. I’ll get to be a stay-at-home mom, for you and Brooke and Alyssa. Think of what the girls are giving up. They’ll only get to see Val once or twice a year for the next three years. You’ll still have Jack and me and our home together.”

“But I don’t want to start a new school in February,” I said. “It’s not fair.”

Mom kissed me on my cheek. “Shush,” she said. “You don’t want Jack to hear you, honey. He has to do what’s best for the girls. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

I wanted to ask Mom if Jack would still love me, but even though I knew her answer would be yes, of course he would, I was too frightened to ask. Instead I did everything I could to make the move easier, and even when we all settled in together, and Mom told us that Brooke would have her own room, since she was the oldest, and Alyssa and I would share, I didn’t complain. Alyssa did, loud and long, but she didn’t have to worry about losing Jack, and she didn’t seem to care if she lost Mom.

But Jack and Mom made it work. Jack flew with Brooke and Alyssa to Shanghai every Christmas, and Val stopped by each summer and took her daughters on vacation trips to London and Paris and Rome. Brooke left Fairhaven Academy for Westbridge High, and added lacrosse to her activities. Alyssa stayed on at Fairhaven, continued with her tennis, and was ranked 16th nationally in her age group.

Because Jack had never adopted me, my name hadn’t been changed to McDougal. Everyone at school knew Brooke McDougal, but only those kids who knew her or me well knew we were stepsisters. To everyone else, I was just Willa Coffey, reasonably pretty, with a nice voice, good grades, and a handful of friends.

I remember something else that happened that night, something I might not have remembered if things had stayed the same.

It was after supper. Alyssa and I were in our room. I was studying for my French test. Alyssa, who should have been studying, was on her laptop. Brooke knocked on the door and came in carrying three red sweaters. Two were bright red and one was burgundy, but they were all red sweaters.

“Mom’s been going crazy since she came back,” Brooke said. “I didn’t even know they sold sweaters in Orlando.”

Val had been transferred to Orlando in August. Brooke didn’t want to start a new high school senior year, and although Alyssa had been willing to move to Florida, it was only to go to a tennis academy and Jack had said she was too young. Val had taken to sending the girls packages two or three times a week, clothes mostly, but also books and jewelry and whatever was newest in electronics.

“What are you going to do with all those sweaters?” Alyssa asked.

“There’s no point keeping them,” Brooke said. “There’re another three in my bedroom. Willa, would you like a red sweater? Or two? Or five?”

This was a ritual we had. Brooke always asked me first if I wanted what she was discarding. And I always said no, since I was uncomfortable taking things that her mother had paid for.

“How about you, Lyss?” Brooke asked. “Could I interest you in a red sweater or two? Or five?”

“No thanks,” Alyssa said. “Mom’s sent me a half dozen too.”

“I’ll give mine to the St. James rummage sale then,” Brooke said. “Someone might as well get use out of them.”

The St. James rummage sale has made a fortune from Brooke’s donations over the years. I’ve bought a few things there myself, but never anything Brooke donated.

“Do you really think you’ll go to USC?” I asked.

“If I can convince Mom,” Brooke replied. “She’s the one who’ll be paying.”

“Would you take Sweetbriar with you?” Alyssa asked.

“She’s not worth transporting,” Brooke said. “I’ve wanted a better horse for a while now anyway. Someone will buy her.”

Val had given Brooke Sweetbriar for her ninth birthday. I still remembered how astounded I’d been that someone could actually own a horse.

Brooke looked thoughtful. “Maybe this vacation thing will work out,” she said. “If Gram sees me on Sweetbriar, she’ll see why I need a new horse. And if I’m at USC, she and Grandy can come over from Palm Springs to see me ride. I’ll ask them for a horse for my birthday, and Mom can give me a car, and Daddy won’t be able to say a thing.”

Brooke had been complaining since she got her license that all her friends had cars and she didn’t. But this was the first time I’d heard her say she wanted a new horse. “I’ll miss Sweetbriar,” I said.

“That’s because you don’t have to ride her,” Brooke said. “Okay, it’s set. Dressage in Maryland, a nice long flight to talk about horses, then a few days skiing.”

“How about coming with us, Willa?” Alyssa asked.

“With you where?” I asked.

“To Brussels,” Alyssa said. “I’ve been looking it up and there are plenty of flights from Brussels to Madrid. You could fly with us, and visit Lauren and then come back and see me in the quarters. You have a passport, don’t you?”

I did. Mom had gotten me one a few years ago, just so I’d have one, like Brooke and Alyssa. Only they used theirs.

“I can’t afford a trip to Europe,” I said, which was something Alyssa knew perfectly well.

“Gram and Grandy would pay if we asked them,” Alyssa said. “They like you, Willa. They’re always telling me you’re a good influence, because you’re so quiet and well behaved. You’d only have to pay for roundtrip between Brussels to Madrid. You have money saved up from your job last summer. Spend it on plane fare.”

There were so many reasons why Alyssa’s plan wouldn’t work that I couldn’t figure out where to begin. Asking Val’s parents for an expensive present. Spending money I’d saved for college on a trip to Europe.

But what held me back from even fantasizing was my doubts that Lauren wanted to see me. When she first got to Spain, we emailed all the time. But I hadn’t heard from her in over a month, and that was after I’d emailed her three times, telling her what was going on in school. And all she wrote back was she loved Madrid, and her host family had asked if she could stay on with them through the summer and her parents had said yes. None of which sounded to me like she was in the mood for a drop in visit from me.

“I’d better not,” I said. “Mom’ll be mad if I don’t study during vacation.”

“You could study on the plane,” Alyssa said. “I do all the time.”

“You don’t study anywhere,” Brooke said. “Besides, I have a better idea. Come with me to Maryland, Willa, for the dressage test. Alyssa’s right about one thing. Gram’s always saying what a nice girl you are. She’ll listen if you tell her how I’m longing for a new horse.”

“Longing?” I said.

Brooke laughed. “Gram likes a little drama,” she replied. “Come on, Willa. Say yes. You and Terri and Gram and me for the weekend. It won’t be Madrid, but it’ll still be fun.”

Brooke, I knew, would be having fun, since she’d be hanging out with her riding friends. But Mom would probably appreciate having me along, since it was hard for her to socialize with Val’s parents.

“I’ll ask Mom,” I said.

Brooke hugged me. “Remember,” she said. “I’m longing for that new horse. I won’t survive freshman year without one.”

“I’ll remember,” I said. “But I’ll still miss Sweetbriar.”

“Well, I’m not going to miss these sweaters,” Brooke said. “I’ll take them downstairs now. See you in the morning. Lyss, you be nice to Willa. I need her!”

Brooke left the room, waving the sweaters over her head. Alyssa went back to her laptop, and I tried to concentrate on my French.

Alyssa fell asleep first. She always did, exhausted from her tennis practices, her workouts, and her running. She didn’t set the alarm, but I knew she’d wake up around 5. She liked to jog for an hour before school. Maybe she’d get her homework done, and maybe not.

I laid in bed. I usually had trouble falling asleep. That night, like most others, I tried to synchronize my breathing with Alyssa‘s. Sometimes that worked. That night it didn’t.

I was still awake when Jack and Mom came upstairs. I heard them knock softly on Brooke’s door and whisper goodnight to her. They peeked in on Alyssa and me. I pretended, as I always did, to be asleep, so they wouldn’t worry.

The lights went out, first in Mom and Jack’s bedroom, then in Brooke’s. I was alone, as I was so many nights, surrounded by my family, but alone in my thoughts.

My family. My happy family.

We were happy. I knew how happy we were, how hard we all worked at being happy. Mon famile heureuse.

Everyone was asleep. I was alone. I could get out of bed, leave my bedroom, walk quietly downstairs to the kitchen, then down to the basement, and go to my spot, my private spot by the furnace, where I kept my razor blades and peroxide and bandages, all hidden where no one could find them.

Only a little cut, I told myself. A quick one on my left calf. A half inch long. Just enough to get me through the night.

Sometimes when I cut, I can’t explain to myself why I need to. But that last time, five day ago, I understood exactly what was going on.

I’d come home from choir practice to find the house was empty. Mom had left a note saying Alyssa was at tennis practice, and Brooke had needed a lift to the riding academy.

I was glad to be alone. I had known as soon as I entered the house, that I wasn’t going to make it through the rest of the day without cutting.

Mrs. Chen, the choirmaster, had assigned solos for the spring concert. To my astonishment and delight, I’d been given one.

I thought about how excited Mom would be when I told her, and then I decided not to, to keep it secret until the concert itself. Jack loves surprises, and Mom would be thrilled, and Brooke and Alyssa would get a big kick out of it too.

Just picturing it, the solo and how my family would react, made me happier than I could ever remember being.

But after practice ended, Mrs. Chen drew me aside. “You know I reserve the big solos for seniors at the spring concert,” she said. “But you have a very special gift, Willa. I don’t think you understand how good you could be.”

“I love singing,” I said. “Just being in the choir is wonderful.”

“I don’t want you to think I’m pushing you,” Mrs. Chen said, with a laugh. “All right. Maybe I am pushing a little. But I hate to see a talent like yours go to waste. Have you thought about getting a voice coach?”

I shook my head.

“There are so many excellent ones in Philadelphia,” she said. “Where does Brooke get her violin lessons? Locally or in Philly?”

Brooke is first violinist for the school orchestra, so there was no way Mrs. Chen was unfamiliar with her. Still, her question surprised me.

“Locally,” I said. “She’s had the same teacher for years.”

“I’m sure there are good local voice coaches,” Mrs. Chen said. “But I really think you’d be in better hands with one in Philly. I can come up with a few recommendations if you’d like. How about if I talk to your parents about it?”

Westbridge High may not be a private school, but the kids here are rich. Their parents, like Val, earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the kids, like Brooke and Alyssa, take tennis and golf and dressage and music lessons.

But Jack earns maybe ten percent of that, and Mom doesn’t get paid for looking after us. The money I’d earned last summer as an au pair was going to help pay for college.

I could understand why Mrs. Chen figured if there was money for Brooke’s lessons, there would be money for mine, but she was wrong, and I certainly didn’t want to put Mom in the position of having to explain that.

“I’ll ask my mother,” I said, knowing I wouldn’t. I’d learned a long time ago not to ask for the things I couldn’t have.

I had never thought about voice lessons before Mrs. Chen suggested them. I should have been happy Mrs. Chen complimented me, excited to have the solo. I was lucky to go to a school with such a great choir.

I knew all of that, but I’d run to my private space in the basement anyway, and cut my right thigh. I’d cut deeper than I’d intended, so it was a relief no one was home to hear when I cried out in pain. The kind of pain I needed to keep me from thinking about all the things I wanted and could never have.

Five days. My rule was never cut more than once a week, and better still to wait ten days or even two weeks. Last year there’d been a stretch when I’d gone seventeen days without cutting. I hadn’t told myself I couldn’t. I just hadn’t felt the need.

I felt the need then though, as I lay on my bed, listening to Alyssa’s steady breathing. I felt the need as I thought about my happy family. But it had only been five days.

I closed my hands into the tightest fists possible, my fingernails pressing into my palms. It wasn’t as good as cutting, but it was all I allowed myself.

That’s what I remember from that night. The sweaters, the planning, the laughter, the invitations, the need.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reading And Writing

Because of the very high stress level of the past couple of weeks, I've waved goodbye to quite a number of my brain cells. I'm cautiously optimistic that they've only gone away for vacation, and will return at some point, but it's probably not a good sign that they slipped away in the middle of the night, taking all their belongings with them.

My major accomplishment is I tidied my bedroom closet. I've been trying to convince myself to start going through drawers, but I don't seem to be able to get the energy up to start. You'd think the closet would be inspiration enough, but so far it isn't.

It's a good thing I finished the rewrites on Blood Wounds when I did (June 30), because I doubt I could have gotten them done in July. I usually like July, but this one has consistently felt like August, hot and muggy, and I never liked August. I'm one of those people who does better in winter than summer, although the older I get, the less well I do with winter also. Soon I'll be good only on two days in October and one in May.

Anyway, as soon as I finished the rewrites, I wrote a story for consideration for an anthology. I did some rewrites on it, but since then I've thought of some changes I should make. If I sat down and concentrated, the final draft should take about an hour. I know exactly what I want to do, and it's more a question of taking stuff out than putting stuff in, but I haven't been able to make myself do it. Sort of like cleaning out the drawers.

I also have had trouble getting the energy to read anything that requires thought. So I've been rereading favorite old suspense novels. They take, at most, 2 days to read (and that's if I start them in the evening). First I reread The Intimate Journal Of Warren Winslow by Jean Leslie (1952). Warren Winslow is a novelist whose publisher is taking a very long time to reject his latest novel, so that wasn't the cheeriest selection I could have made. Then I reread She Fell Among Thieves by Gretchen Travis (1963), which is probably the sweetest, jolliest suspense novel ever written. A Midwestern school teacher wins a national sewing contest and goes to New York, where she stumbles upon a group of old acquaintances who are planning a heist.

Now I'm rereading the best of the bunch- The End Is Known by Geoffrey Holiday Hall (1949). It's a wonderful noir, which I've only read once, but I remember the twists of the ending so I can now see how the clues are carefully placed. It's about a middle aged businessman, who takes it upon himself to investigate the suicide of a stranger (the stranger jumped out of his window after asking for him, so he has cause to be curious).

It occurred to me that this could make an excellent setup for a YA suspense novel. A teen girl (it feels more like a girl to me) becomes involved in another girl's suicide. She doesn't know the other girl (or just barely knows her), and tries to determine why Girl B has drawn her into this. It could be very Facebookish or message boardish, neither of which were options in 1949.

Since I seriously doubt I'll ever have the energy to write it, I hereby give this idea to you. Maybe by the time you write it, I'll have started reading that biography of Teresa Of Avila that I bought years ago, knowing it was just what I wanted to read next!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Past Ten Days

The past ten days have been very difficult. As you know, my mother was diagnosed with a mild case of pneumonia. I brought her home from the hospital on Tuesday, and she's getting stronger, but I made three trips to her apartment yesterday, and it's been tiring for both of us (for my brother too, since he's been in regular contact).

While my mother was in the hospital, her youngest sister died. My aunt was one of those rare people who was beautiful both inside and out, and this loss is very hard on all of us. My mother had to be told in the hospital because the funeral was Monday, and we had reason to believe my mother would be released from the hospital on Monday. Marci (who my mother now refers to as a doll) would have taken my mother back to her apartment, but there was no lie I could come up with to explain why I wasn't there to do it. So Sunday, my brother told my mother what had happened. Then Monday he and I went to the funeral in New York City and Marci visited with my mother, who was kept the extra day as a precaution.

Tuesday after I'd brought our mother home, my brother called to say he'd just been informed that a member of our father's side of the family was seriously ill. So that's been weighing on us as well.

My hope for today is not to visit my mother, and have some time to catch up with things. I have emails to answer, phone calls to make, even newspapers to read. But, of course, that will depend on how well my mother does without my help. Which is kind of unpredictable right now.

My mother and I want to thank everybody for their prayers and thoughts and wishes. And we want all of you who have family members fighting their own illnesses to know that we're thinking of you as well, and wishing for the best.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dates And Updates

I'll start with the updates.

My mother's in the hospital. I haven't gotten over to see her yet, but my understanding is from my brother (who came over yesterday to see what was going on, and got stuck with the emergency room duty)that she has pneumonia, which seems to have been caught nice and early. We practically had to convince the paramedics to take her to the hospital in the first place, and the general feeling seems to be that my mother is strong and healthy and will make a complete recovery.

I can't say the past few days have been harrowing, but they have been difficult. And now that my brother has spent hours and hours and hours in the emergency room, I can't even play Martyr Martyr I'm The Biggest Martyr with him, which is kind of a shame, since that's practically my favorite game in the world.

Today is (I think) the last day the book trailer will be playing in the movie theaters, so it will go unseen by me (Yonkers never did move closer to me). I'll restate a request I made in a comment. If anyone here knows how to burn a DVD from the book trailer, either on youtube or AOL or Amazon or anyplace else for that matter, could you let me know how? I figure if I watch the book trailer on my gigantic TV set, it'll be almost as exciting as seeing it in a movie theater (I'll even make popcorn).

I heard from my editor yesterday morning about the rewrites on Blood Wounds.She had a handful of small questions and one really good catch. Somewhere in her email, the word "wonderful" was used. I forget in what context, but I don't think it was in reference to the weather. She said the manuscript would come back from copy editing in about a month, so I have a month not to think about it.

I also heard from Harcourt Houghton Mifflin that the paperback of This World We Live In is scheduled for publication in Spring 2011. I find this somewhat interesting, since the paperbacks for both Life As We Knew It and The Dead And The Gone were 18 months after hardcover publication, and TWWLI will be one year after instead. I have no problem with this.

I asked my editor if there was an official pub date for Blood Wounds, but she hasn't gotten back to me about that. The last I heard it was set for Fall 2011 and it probably still is. When I know for sure, I'll let you know.

Okay. I'd better eat an early lunch so I can get my hair cut and pop in on my mother.

Life is nothing if not complex!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Mother And The Temperature Are Both 98

A long time ago, I accused my then agent of wanting me to work hard (something I've always been opposed to).

"I want you to work hard and to play hard," she replied.

The past few days would have satisfied her. I have worked hard (at least by my low standards). I was invited to submit a short story for possible inclusion in an anthology, and I spent most of Sunday and a certain amount of Monday writing and rewriting it. Since the deadline is in April, it's going to be a long time before I know if the story will be accepted, but at least my part of the job is done (or will be when I actually send it off).

As far as the playing hard goes, on Thursday I went to a New York Yankee game with Todd Strasser (the Yankees played harder than I did, and won 4-2). Saturday night I went with several friends to a concert of the New York Philharmonic at Bethel Woods (the concert was great; the fireworks that followed were equally great). Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend, who had the day off for the 4th of July extended weekend. When you throw in a family party a week ago Sunday and completing the rewrites on Blood Wounds by Tuesday (or was it Wednesday), it's been a very busy stretch for me.

Marci and I had planned on going to the movie theater in Yonkers today (with a stop at the Hideous Mall In Nyack for lunch) to see the Life As We Knew It book trailer. The Yonkers theater is the one closest to us, and we were going to overlook the fact that none of its six theaters were showing any movie we had any desire to see. But in the midst of all my social and professional obligations, I've been a little bit worried about my mother, and while I think she's okay, I don't want to be out of reach today, just in case.

If I'm desperate with desire to see the book trailer, I'll go to Yonkers by myself tomorrow (Wednesday is Marci's day to do volunteer work for the Friends Of Middletown Thrall Library, which is how we met and became friends in the first place). Thursday, assuming my mother is up to it, she and I are getting our hairs cut. She'd better be up to it, because my hair really needs cutting (my hair, like my body, doesn't get longer, just wider). By Friday, the book trailer will be gone, at least from movie theaters.

My life would be much easier if the temperature and my mother were both 85, and Yonkers were 20 miles closer!