Book Endings and Old Orchards


Please accept my apologies for the sporadic blogging. I’ve already used the birth of two grandchildren and my son’s heart attack as excuses for not writing, although I did try from time to time. Everything I put to paper sounded too whiney and self-absorbed, so I used the time to write fiction instead, permitting murderers and adulterers and Pam Smith’s badly behaved children to take over my thoughts.

Getting down to business, I have problems ending a story. A novelist builds tension throughout the body of a piece, and should try to end it with some pizzazz. All too often though, it falls flat. I’ll use Someone Like You as an example. In this story, two sisters raised in an atmosphere of violence, long to lead normal lives but end up exposing their own children to very similar environments. I felt they had somewhat resolved their issues toward the end, but what then? They were going to live happily ever after, sort of. I wanted to expand the story and show them having a happy time with mom and dad, everything forgiven but it felt like a fairy tale; not usually the way life is. So I left the reader dangling a little. The sisters were going to have supportive men in their lives, but the issues they struggled with would still be there.

In The Savant of Chelsea, the ending came to me suddenly, like a gift. A reviewer who hated the book, said about me; “I could just sense how f*+king proud she was of herself.” Lol! I love that ending! And believe me, it came from some universal energy…I can’t take credit for it. Also, the end of Pam of Babylon; when she tells Andy Andretti, “Call me Pam,” I burst into tears. Family Dynamics and The Tao of Pam, those are powerful endings too, I think. But it’s not necessary to end every book with a bang. In The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, I was left scratching my head at the ending. But it didn’t make any difference to the Pulitzer committee when they gave her the prize for literature! And Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Huh? What kind of ending was that? Yet the book remains on the NYT Best Sellers list because it is a compelling story that was difficult to put down. It had to end the way it ended.
Sometimes I end the books the way I do because there is just nothing more to say about the story.

In Alice’s Summertime Adventure, my editor asked that I add at least another paragraph, but I just couldn’t. For me, the story was over when the action that happened… happened. (Don’t want to give away any spoilers.) Other times, I end the way I end because I’ll start the next chapter in a new book. I’m doing that with A Greektown Wedding; the action picks up where Christmas in Greektown ended, with Liz, John’s wife and Jim, Maria’s husband leaving the apartment above the grocery store together. In the next book, they stop at a hotel on the way home from Greektown after the holiday meal. Anyway, enough about that. I wanted to address it because it keeps coming up and I’m sure will continue to do so. Here’s a great article from Huffington Post about endings.

Last but not least….the grove. Jim and I bought a small piece of land in southern California and we didn’t realize it had a grove of dying fruit and nut trees; avocados, figs, citrus and macadamia. I think I must have an arborist gene; I know I’ve inherited a love of trees from my father. These trees are driving me crazy. I have spent part of every day for the past month pruning, watering, raking, and haven’t touched half the trees. Jim got into the act, bless him and he makes it much easier. A gift from him this week; another hundred feet of hose so I no longer have to carry five gallon buckets of water. We are in a water emergency here in the west, but I’m very careful about watering. My only fear is that I’ll kill something that is doing fine in dormancy, although my Aunt Lil just confirmed I should be watering. Here’s an Indian Prayer for trees.

Earth Prayer
Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice.
You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer.
All things belong to you — the two-legged, the four-legged, the wings of the air, and all green things that live.
You have set the powers of the four quarters of the earth to cross each other.
You have made me cross the good road and road of difficulties, and where they cross, the place is holy.
Day in, day out, forevermore, you are the life of things.
Hey! Lean to hear my feeble voice.
At the center of the sacred hoop
You have said that I should make the tree to bloom.
With tears running, O Great Spirit, my Grandfather,
With running eyes I must say
The tree has never bloomed
Here I stand, and the tree is withered.
Again, I recall the great vision you gave me.
It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives.
Nourish it then
That it may leaf
And bloom
And fill with singing birds!
Hear me, that the people may once again
Find the good road
And the shielding tree.
– Black Elk 3

This Makes Me Uncomfortable

The following is a preview of a guest post which will appear on a book bloggers blog  next week during my book tour.

As I began writing in earnest two years ago, the inspiration to tell a story about an older woman who discovered her beloved husband’s infidelity after he died came from out of nowhere.  Pam of Babylon simply appeared in my consciousness and I wrote it as I thought of it.  Later, a quote by E.L. Doctorow would confirm my writing style was not unusual.  He said, “Writing is like driving a car in the dark.  You only see as far as the headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  Those words validated me. An encounter with an editor who did not like my story line made me doubt the wisdom of spending another second writing.  She asked me to do an outline before I began to write, which I found nearly impossible to do because of the way the book was coming to me as I went along. She referred to the story as triple-x rated because it contained a depiction of child abuse.  Child abuse transcends the rating system.

Later, I learned from a fellow author that sometimes a writer/editor relationship may not be a good fit and it is acceptable to move elsewhere. Once I found the courage to move on, I found a new editor.  She was a barracuda who demanded revisions and rewrites, but she also loved the story and wanted it to be the best I could make it. I felt totally comfortable deferring to all of her suggestions and to this day wish I had used her from the onset.  However, once the story was published, I would encounter readers who felt the same way my former editor did.  My books are not for everyone. I can’t say I enjoy writing about topics that many people find repugnant and some that are downright disgusting like the child abuse and marital infidelity.  But it’s something that I find compelling for whatever reason and the stories wind through the tragedy and horror that normal people sometimes encounter.

After a book is finished, I suffer from insomnia for months.  I’m in that mode right now. The Greeks of Beaubien Street will be released this summer, and although I love the story, there is a portion of the book that worries me because it depicts the seamier side of life in a most grotesque way. Even the perpetrator is disgusted with the crime. I know there will be those readers who will buy the book and will be offended by it in spite of a warning. [At the suggestion of the people who oversee Goodreads and Amazon, I have plastered warning and caution signs at the beginning of every book description.]  I almost didn’t write the book until my son, a filmmaker and writer told me not to censor myself. I have tried censoring in the past and once I began, I found I was putting up so many parameters I could no longer write.  The question I had to ask myself over and over confirmed that the story line was important.  What is my purpose in writing about this topic? It isn’t to titillate, or to be sensational.  In The Greeks, the horror story is in contrast to the gentle Greek father who prepares his homicide detective daughter’s breakfast every morning.

Regarding Pam of Babylon’s adult content, I tried to write so that it would be the least offensive as possible.  If a writer is going to have child abuse as a topic, there is little that can be done to clean it up. It’s deplorable, and the consequences are usually tragic. The Kirkus Review said about the third book in the series, Dream Lover; “A gritty, realistic portrait of the aftermath of deceit.”  In order for the resolutions to take place, I must first describe the conflict.

My friend Dan Georgakas, author of My Detroit, Growing up Greek and American in Motor City (Pella Publishing Company, NY, NY, 2006) wrote when I confided my concerns, “….people are embarrassed by this [content] and want to project a perfect family image: a stereotype no one is going to believe anyway. I have always believed in showing warts whenever possible.”  Some of the character’s warts are painful to look at, but they exist in real life.
The final book in the series may be finished this fall and has some of the characters achieving positive resolutions. Fans of Pam will be relieved that she is triumphant in the end.

Come to My Window

I love the lyrics to Melissa Ethridge’s ballad, probably because my daughter sang it with the band my husband used to play with when we lived in New Jersey. The only reason I bring it up is because it popped into my head when I got a Skype account so I could Skype with a book club in Oklahoma who read Pam of Babylon. As a confessed computer idiot, the word window will never mean a computer screen.  It’s a clear, glass hole in the wall to look out of. Anyway….

The Bartlesville Book Lovers in Oklahoma. invited me to join their meeting, both to answer questions and to discuss some topics that came up as they were reading Pam of Babylon.  One of the members is a lovely woman I went to elementary school with back in good old Dearborn, Michigan. Linda and I reunited on Facebook, when a mutual friend, Marilynn suggested she read my book.  She liked it and offered it to her book club. Having friends read my work is very intimidating. They either love it, like Marilynn and Linda did and talk it up all over the nation, or they don’t mention it, either because they hated it or aren’t interested enough to read it. That makes life very uncomfortable, because all I do is write anymore and I hate to bring it up, like the pink elephant in the room. Sorry about the cliche’. It was validating to have Linda like Pam because she’s spent her adult life working as a professional writer.  I was certain her group would not have fluff questions, and I was right. Afterward, my husband asked me how the meeting went, and except for Skype not working, it was difficult! These women asked me the tough questions.  I was glad that just that morning I did two interviews with bloggers and some of the obvious issues were discussed so my thoughts were somewhat organized. It has been a few days since the chat with the ladies from Oklahoma and since then I had a few traumas with family members seriously ill and in the hospital, so I have forgotten some of what we talked about.  But I think when we were finished, I felt like it was okay to keep writing. I do owe readers honesty, and most of all, reason.  If I set out to write something I want it to have a purpose, not just a bunch of words meant to titillate, which I’ve said before.  I talked to my aunt about it, (she loves my books), and she said Pam needs ‘time to have a relationship with herself’ before I have her get involved with another man. In this last book, she is at the cusp of having a fling with someone younger than she is who is a Native American living on Long Island and I have to try really hard not to have that visualization of the cover of Mandingo when you are reading it.  But almost. She can have a relationship with herself when the series is finally completed.

People want to know why I would write about topics that are so despicable. Child sexual abuse and all the rest of the garbage that Pam contends with is there because it’s part of the story and that’s really all it is.  I can’t defend it. Someone who received the book in a Goodreads Giveaway was so upset by it that she said she was throwing it in the trash. She didn’t realize that in the subsequent books, the situations get worse. It’s really just life. Even people from the best families have awful things happen to them, and sometimes it perpetuates more awfulness.

But the women in the Bartlettsville group were right on. I know some of them weren’t thrilled with Jack, and that is as it should be! He was awful. How could a person move on in their life after discovering what Pam did about Jack?

This is a completely different kind of situation, but I want to talk about Rielle Hunter and John Edwards.   A few weeks ago, during his trial, pictures of the illicit couple were shown on the news and I told my husband that if you look at the way he smiled at Hunter, and then at pictures of him with his wife, he always looked at Elizabeth Edwards in a solemn,unhappy way.  Today I read that Elizabeth Edwards said Edwards never looked at her the way he looked at Rielle Hunter and supposedly, she took a photo of her husband looking at his mistress in such a joyful way and put it on her computer as a screen saver.  Do you think that had anything to do with her untimely death? Who would be able to think positively about life with that as a reminder daily of what a complete !@#$%^&* John Edwards was? Just my opinion.

So to get back to the book club, I realized after talking to the gracious members who were kind to me and allowed me to explain my purpose in writing the series, that there are going to be more readers out there who are angry about the book, like my Giveaway winner.  And she didn’t even have to buy it.