02.26.2015

Gather Your Hellfire Crowns

I love these “Gather Your Hellfire” crowns made by Sandra Drake, Linda French, and Carol McClure of Portland, Oregon.

The term “Gather Your Hellfire” comes from my book The First Day Of The Rest of My Life.  I love the crafts and projects that women – together – make. What a wonderful bonding experience.  Girlfriends are the best. What would we do without them?

Here’s the passage from The First Day Of  The Rest Of My Life

My momma made the best of her time in jail. 


This is not to say that she liked it but, as she told us, “I gathered my hellfire, don’t forget that line, Madeline and Annie, sometimes you gotta gather your hellfire, and I made the most of a difficult situation. Did you know they don’t allow high heels in prison?” She winked at us. “No pink, either! I broke my own cardinal rule: Don’t be frumpy! Let yourself shine!”


Gather Your Hellfire 2The warden of the women’s jail had a sister who was a customer of momma’s, and she raved about momma’s Marie Elise’s Excellent Cuts and Cuticles. The warden asked Momma to cut the hair of the inmates and do their nails. You had to earn the haircuts and the manicures, though.

You couldn’t get one automatically, like a standing appointment on Thursday at 4:00 after mopping or laundry duty. So, using that bribery, the ruckus at the jail went way, way down. It’s amazing what a cut and style can do!


“Those girls,” my momma told us one day when we were visiting, “At least most of them, have been led astray by the men in their lives. They had terrible childhoods and they were led into drugs or alcohol and made messes of their lives. I tell them, when you get out of jail, practice the I Am Me, Stay Out Of My Way program.

“I tell them, you go to college and get a degree, you get training, you stay away from those gutter – minded idiots. Keep your hair and nails trimmed and styled all the time, proper and pretty. If you’re broke, buy one crisp white blouse and one pink blouse. One pair of beige pants, one pair of black pants, and never be without a black skirt and black heels. Put your chin up, your shoulders back, and walk like you’re worth it. That’s the Shake Your Confidence and Strut talk I give.”


She led hair-do and make-up classes at the jail, which she called, “Being A Lady,” classes. It was a, “How to look like a respectable lady and attract respectable people to you, not bad people, not slutty people, not criminals, but respectable people, because you ladies, are respectable!”


She told me later, when she was out of jail, “Honey, I had to do something in there, had to help those other ladies, or I’d lose my mind, I missed you and Annie so much, my stomach almost ate me alive. Now let me give you an up-do with those curls of yours, and we’ll play dress up with Annie, go and get your sister.”

 

02.18.2015

Where Would You Go For A Year And What Would You Do?

I recently posted this question on my facebook pages:

I’m daydreaming because I don’t want to work. If I told you that you had to leave for ONE YEAR and go live in a foreign country and learn something (anything!!) new, where would you go and what would you do? I’m thinking I’d go to Paris – and here’s a huge cliche coming up – I’d learn how to paint.

 

Here are the answers:

 

 

02.03.2015

Cooking, Cancer, and Chicken Cacciatore

The other day I burned pumpkin bread.

My mother never burned anything she baked.

My pumpkin bread was made from a mix. I virtuously added the eggs.

My mother made her bread by hand, rhythmically kneading it, letting it rise, kneading again.

My kitchen smelled like smoke, black clouds swirling around and about.

My mother’s kitchen smelled like the best bread in the world, like nothing I have ever tasted or will taste again.

My mother was a full time English teacher and had four kids. She cooked our dinners, from scratch, every night. Cauliflower marinara. Chicken cacciatore. Enchilada pie. Vegetarian Lasagna.

She made breakfast every morning. Oatmeal. Scrambled eggs. Toast.  Homemade plum jam. No jam has ever matched my mother’s plum jam.

I’m an author and spend a lot of time writing and editing, daydreaming, drinking coffee,  and taking care of kids. Our dinners are often from a bag, and I heat them up on the stove, or they come in a silver tin and it cooks on high at 350 degrees.

January 18 2015 044I do not make breakfast. As a writer, even when my kids were young, I was  up until two in the morning working, and from a very young age, my kids were scrambling on top of the counter and pulling down bowls and cereals themselves.

Call me a bad mother, I’ll live with it.

My mother ate healthily, I like chocolate.

She ate fruit and yogurt for lunch every day. Hand me a burrito with guac and salsa and I’m good to go.

She had a southern belle type personality, gentle and polite, with steel beneath the softness. My personality is more like a hurricane, with a temper on the side.

The southern belle and the hurricane got along great. We believed in laughing and chatting. We believed in her delicious cooking.

When my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, though she’d never smoked a day in her life, it had already crept into her spine, brain, and lung.

January 24 2015 030We were at a natural foods store when the descent began.  Everything she bought was organic and delicious.  She picked up a small bag of groceries, fruits and vegetables, and a vertebrae in her spine snapped.

That’s how we knew. That’s how it started.

The southern belle never faltered.

She did quit her beloved job teaching English to high schoolers, as the chemo and radiation would take too much time and energy, but she continued on with her life. Family. Friends. Reading. Travel. Cooking.

Marinated pasta salad. Carrot cake with extra cream cheese frosting. Pies. Thrice stuffed potatoes.

In fact, she made Christmas dinner for all of us, her insistence, two weeks before she died. The turkey was perfect.

When the smoke billowed through my house after I burned the pumpkin bread, I had to laugh as I thought of my sweet, steely mother.

She never burned anything, but I swear I could hear that southern belle laughing, right along with me.

01.26.2015

Author To Author Interview: Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child. Now just sit in that image for a second…

What a title, what a vision.  The. Snow. Child.

 Snow Child (2)And, most importantly, what a book. I meant to read this book years ago when people were raving about it, and then…well, you know how it is.  (Kids. Work. Disasters. That sort of thing.)

I am so glad I did.  I loved it.  The Snow Child is magical and harsh at the same time, history and fantasy blended, and the sentences are so beautifully constructed it made me tear up.

I contacted the author, Eowyn Ivey, up in Alaska, and she said she would be delighted to talk with us about her book, and her life in Alaska, which is far different from mine, locked here in the Oregon suburbs with only a few coyotes running around.

Cathy Lamb: Eowyn, your book, The Snow Child, is set in Alaska. Can you please tell us where you live in Alaska, and what your life there is like? I hear you used to haul your own water and you hunt for moose.

Eowyn Ivey: My family and I live northeast of Anchorage in the Matanuska River valley. It’s not as rugged or as remote as much of Alaska – we are on the road system and can drive to Anchorage – but it is rural by many people’s standards.

We live on a dirt road, and until The Snow Child was published and we could afford a well, we used to haul our own water. We keep chickens and turkeys, grow a vegetable garden, hunt for moose and caribou, and harvest salmon and wild berries every year. Unlike my characters, Jack and Mabel, we can go to the grocery store whenever we need to, but like a lot of Alaskans we admire a certain amount of self-sufficiency.

You are now my outdoor idol.  I have just envisioned you on a caribou hunt, catching salmon, and ice skating on your homemade ice rink.  When can I visit?

One element I loved about The Snow Child was the mix of magical realism and historical reality. What made you decide to blend the two?

That was what really excited me about this idea from the beginning — the friction between a sort of ethereal fairy tale and the more grounded struggles of a homestead in Alaska. Fairy tales by nature leave out much of the details, and I wanted to fill those in with my own knowledge and love of this place. But I also didn’t want the polished and romanticized ideas of Alaska. I wanted my characters to live and struggle in a very real landscape.

I felt that “real” landscape. You painted such a clear portrait it was like watching a movie. I loved learning about living in Alaska, in 1920, the dangerous weather and ragged landscape, and the sheer will and courage people had to have in order to survive.

What about those pioneers’ lives stuck out to you most while doing your research for this book?

The truth is I didn’t do a lot of research for the book – much of Jack and Mabel’s lifestyle was drawn from my own life here. Both my husband and I grew up here, around gardening and farming and hunting.

However, I was interested in particular in the 1920s. Before, there was the Gold Rush, and later, in the 1930s, there was a government-sponsored effort to bring farmers to this part of Alaska. But people like Jack and Mable and the Bensons would have been driven purely by their own desire to live in Alaska. They would have needed brave and adventurous spirits.

What character did you most relate to and why? Was there a bit of you in each character? If so, what?

This is a great question, and I think maybe because you are a writer as well, you really nailed it – there is a bit of me in every character. I find this enables me to step into the minds of characters, even if they are very different than me. If I can find one trait that I can strongly relate to – Mabel’s over-thinking, Jack’s desire to get things done, Esther’s ability to laugh and have fun – then I can more fully empathize with the character and they become more real to me.

I had to stop and think while reading the stunning, poignant language you used. Every sentence was so well crafted. For example, “It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all. She turned her back to the river and walked home.”

Eowyn Ivey 1And, “Even as a boy Jack had loved the smell of the ground softening in the thaw and coming back to life. Not this spring. A damp, moldy dreariness, something like loneliness, had settled over the homestead.”

So what’s my question? I don’t know, Eowyn, I just wanted to write these passages out for the readers so they could get a taste of your talent…moving right along here…

Thank you for that, Cathy. It’s always strange to see my own words in print, but I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

How does living in Alaska help you to write? How much snow do you get? How long are your winters? What animals come and visit you at home?

For me, the quiet, off-the-beaten-path lifestyle we have here in Alaska is conducive to writing. I enjoy solitude and quiet, so it suits me well. And the long darkness of winter is a perfect time to spend reading and writing, although we also like to get outdoors to sled and ski and ice skate even on cold days.

In our area of Alaska, winter isn’t exceptionally snowy or cold compared to some parts of the US (my grandparents live in Buffalo, NY) but it is long and it is dark. Winter for us usually starts by the end of October and lasts through March, even early April. In January, the sun rises around 10 a.m. and goes down about 3:30 p.m. And for about three weeks at our house, we lose direct daylight completely because the sun doesn’t rise above the mountains. But it is nothing compared to places even farther north like Barrow!

Eowyn Ivey 2I definitely want to come and visit Alaska, but perhaps I will come when the sun is up all day…Speaking of days, take us through a usual day. What do you do? When do you write?

I struggle with the fact that the schedule is always changing. I get the most done when every day is boringly similar to the one before it. But life isn’t often that way. We have two school-age daughters, so when they are home on breaks, I try to write early in the morning before they get up. But I’m not much of a morning person, so when they’re in school, I write during the middle of the day. And then there are orthodontist appointment, school concerts, book events etc. It’s a lesson to me to try to be flexible and to write whenever I can.

I am a mother, too, Eowyn, so I totally understand blending career and writing. It can be hard, especially when the kids are young.  Speaking of challenges, what is your greatest challenge as a writer?

I want to push myself to be more daring with my writing. Maybe because of my journalism background and my own personality, I can be kind of linear in my thinking, but I really admire writers who stretch the idea of what a story can be, of what a sentence can be. So that is my challenge to myself, to dare to try new things as a writer.

And your name? Can you tell us about it? It’s rather prophetic, isn’t it?

My mom named me after the character Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings. Of course this was long before the movies came out, so people never used to recognize it except die-hard Tolkien fans. The terrible confession I have to make is that I have never actually been able to make it through the books. I adore The Hobbit, but I find the Lord of the Rings overwhelming.

What’s up next? What are your goals for 2015?

I’m working with my US and UK editors on my new novel, which I’m really excited about. It’s set in 1885 and follows a military expedition into the heart of Alaska. Along the way, the men encounter mythological occurrences. I’m telling it through letters, journals and other documents, so I’m having a lot of fun with it. And my husband and I are finishing our library – at last I will have shelves for all my books that currently live in boxes.

Eowyn, you let me know when your new book is out and I will be the first to buy it. Thanks so much for chatting with me and if I ever get to Alaska to visit, lunch is on me, but the caribou hunt and salmon catching is on you. 

Visit with Eowyn here:

www.eowynivey.com

 

01.22.2015

Join My Read Like Crazy Book Club

Anyone want to join my online book club, The Read Like Crazy Book Club, Part II?

Our goal: Read one book a week for six weeks.

Our motto: Life is short, read more books and eat chocolate.

Go to my fan facebook page at this link to sign up. https://www.facebook.com/cathy.lamb.9?ref=hl

The Read Like Crazy Book Club starts this Sunday. 

I did this before, with about 100 women, and it was fun for all of us rabid book addicts. On Sunday I’ll post a review of the last book I read, then tell which book I’m reading next. You do the same. Read any book you want on the planet, or read along with me.

Chat with others in the group about books, life, other interests, exactly as you would any other book group, minus the gossip.

If you agree to join and you DON’T read a book a week, we will have you arrested. Nah, just kidding. That would be overly punitive. Like last time, if you don’t read one book a week, you will be locked up for the weekend with Keanu Reeves. (Thank you, Keanu, for agreeing again to being part of our book group!)

Here is my list of books, in order: Week One: All The Light We Cannot See. Week Two: Yellow Crocus. Week Three: The Rosie Effect. Week Four: Liar, Temptress, Soldier Spy (This is NOT a bodice ripper, ladies, it’s a true story about women spies during the Civil War), Week Five: The Thornbirds, Week Six: I Am Nujood, Age Ten and Divorced.

If you’re ready to, you can list the books you’re going to read below, even if you only know one or two, so others can get some good ideas.

Please join up, this will be fun and there are no rules against drinking wine while reading or eating chocolate.

01.19.2015

Author To Author Interview: Mary Kubica

Hello everyone,

Today I am interviewing Mary Kubica, who wrote the utterly thrilling and suspenseful national bestseller, The Good Girl. Yes, THAT book.  As in, we have a kidnapped woman, a kidnapper who does something he’s not supposed to do, and a twist at the ending that will have you muttering, “Daaaang. I did not see that coming.” I highly recommend it.

Cathy Lamb: Mary, I could hardly breathe through The Good Girl. I sat upstairs, in bed, robe on, kindle gripped in my hands. I could not put that book down at night, even when I’d conquered my insomnia. But tell us about you, first. Where do you live, with who, any interests or hobbies?

Mary Kubica: First off, thank you so much for having me, Cathy. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I’ve been truly thrilled by your enthusiasm for The Good Girl. It really means the world to me. Thank you!

I live in the suburbs of Chicago with my husband and our two children, my nine-year-old daughter and my seven-year-old son. Now that the kids are getting a bit older and more independent, I’m finally getting to that part in my life where I can have hobbies again!

Reading and writing consume most of my free time, though I love to travel with the family as well. I also volunteer at a local animal shelter, so if I’m not at the computer or with my family, you can bet that’s where I’ll be!

I’ll just be blunt: You sound so normal, a mother, kids running around, a love of animals and then…THIS.

Tell everyone what this novel that I could hardly breathe through is about.

The Good Girl is the story of the abduction of a young Chicago woman, Mia Dennett. The story is told from three points of view – her mother, her captor, and a police detective investigating the case. It jumps back and forth in time so the reader gets a glimpse of life during Mia’s absence, but also many months later when she’s returned home safe but with no memory of her time in captivity, as we discover what happened to Mia while she was gone.

Where were you when the idea for The Good Girl came to you? What was the spark?

In all honesty, I have no idea. I’d left my teaching career to stay at home and raise my daughter. She was just a year old when an idea for The Good Girl came to me, this notion of a kidnapping that wasn’t all it seemed to be. It was only a smidgen of the story it would one day become, but I started working on it diligently, fulfilling a lifelong dream I’d had to write a novel.

I was a teacher, too, and left when I was pregnant with twins with a three year old home, and I, too, had a lifelong, hell – bent dream to become a writer. We have much in common.

Did you always know there would be a twist at the end?

No! I had no idea where I was going to go with this book. It took quite awhile to get to know my characters and to understand their motives.

I’m not someone who outlines before I write, nor do I do much in the way of brainstorming. On any given day that I sit down to write, I have no idea what might happen in the lives of my characters. I was just as surprised by that ending as many readers are when they read it. This is actually one of the parts I look most forward to as a suspense author: figuring out that surprise twist that will hopefully shock the reader.

How long did it take you to write the book and how many edits/revisions did you make?

I worked on my first draft of The Good Girl for many years. As I said before, my daughter was about a year old when I began writing, and then a year later my son was born. It was a very busy time in my life! I squeezed in some writing time when the kids were napping, but many days the most I could manage was an hour of work, if that.

After I finished the manuscript and acquired an agent, she and I worked together for a few months to make sure it was in the best shape to submit to publishers. And then, of course, I went through a few rounds of revisions with my editor. All in all, it was a long road – about eight years from the time I started the novel until it reached publication day.

This is your first book, and it has been a huge hit. How has the ride been so far? Was finding a publisher easy?

The experience has been amazing. Just a thrill! No part of it was easy, and it required a strong backbone and plenty of persistence, but in the end, it paid off! There was quite a bit of rejection initially to The Good Girl – both from agents and from publishers. But this is to be expected. In the end, I found the best agent and publishing house I could have ever asked for, and feel extremely fortunate for the way everything has worked out. Dream come true!

Rejection is very hard. I went through it myself  years ago (Endlessly, until I wanted to go and live in Antarctica and study penguins)  and I am so glad you persevered.

I read your blog and I understand you have two young children. For the mothers out there who are trying to balance writing and kids, give them some advice.

My life has taken a turn recently in that my kids are in school full time, and I have plenty of time to write. But there were many, many years that this was not the case. My best advice: write as much as you can, whenever you can. If you can only manage fifteen minutes a day, that’s fine! It all adds up over time.

My biggest challenge now is traveling to conferences or speaking events. I absolutely love attending these, but as the primary caregiver, this can be extremely hard to manage. I am very thankful to family and friends who have stepped up to help.

What is your daily life like? Your writing schedule?

I’m an early bird, so I’m up and at ‘em by 5am. I spend much of my day writing, but spend much of my day being a mother, too: volunteering in my kids’ classrooms, laundry and other chores inside and outside of the home.

I also volunteer at the local animal shelter a couple of times a week. I try to stay far ahead of writing deadlines, so I don’t feel stressed for time or ever feel like I have to compromise family time for my career. My kids always come first.

Did you train, or go to school, to become a writer? 

No, I didn’t. I took one class in creative writing, which I didn’t particularly like. Beyond that, I like to say that I’m self taught. I can guarantee there are a lot of bad stories I’ve worked on over the years that have helped me see what works and what doesn’t work in my writing. They’ve also helped me find my voice and develop my own style over time. I have loved writing since I was a little girl, but always knew becoming an author would be no easy task. After college, I pursed a career as a high school history teacher (also no easy task!), and only focused on writing after my kids were born. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to live my dream.

Three favorite classics?

A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens), A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway), The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien)

Three places you want to see before you turn 100?

You’re being very optimistic here, assuming I’ll live to see 100! I like that. Lake Louise, Canada; Provence, France; Tuscany, Italy

Three things you would do if you had an entire weekend by yourself?

What I’d want to do: take a nap, get a massage and watch all the moves I’ve wanted to see since my kids were born but never had the chance. What I’d probably do: read, write and clean

What’s up next?

My second novel, Pretty Baby, is releasing in July. Pretty Baby is another suspense story set in the Midwest, about a Chicago woman’s fateful encounter with a young homeless girl and her baby. I can’t wait to share this story with you this summer!

Thank you so much for having me, Cathy!

Visit with Mary…

http://www.marykubica.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mary-Kubica-Author/529093127112073

https://twitter.com/MaryKubica

 

01.16.2015

Frisky, Castration, and Adventures

When I was a kid, we had two dogs.

One bit people. One bit dogs.

Made for an exciting canine life.

Our brown dog, Frisky, who was probably part Rottweiler, was the people – biter. He was barrel chested and had sharp teeth. He didn’t like anyone in the family that much, and now and then he’d take a nip at us. His favorite person was my mother.

(Everyone’s favorite person was my mother.)

I distinctly remember my mother, in a pretty, flowered dress, desperately sticking her leg between the front door and the door jam to keep Frisky inside.  He was very strong, and she was often very pregnant.

He would squish and push and out he’d dart, like a dog out of hell.  He would take off after kids on bikes (his specialty), howling like the devil going crazy, or he would sprint across the street, through the park, and off to his girlfriend’s. (A poor choice, will tell you more later.)

Frisky would chase kids who didn’t realize they could run that fast until Frisky was gnashing his teeth behind them.

That dog loved adventures.  He liked freedom, liberty, and feeling the wind blow between his hairy ears.

When Frisky took off, my mother would often call her best friend, Bonnie, who lived down the street. Bonnie would then let loose her huge St. Bernard and yell, “Go get Frisky.” I don’t remember the St. Bernard’s name but we’ll call him The Enforcer. The Enforcer would chase Frisky home. He was shaggy, lumbering, and way bigger than Frisky. Upon sight of The Enforcer, Frisky would stop barking, gulp, and sprint for home.

Frisky often escaped for romantic escapades.  He had a girlfriend. We’ll call her Jezebel. This affair was apparently hot and steamy, but only for a little while. Jezebel had another boyfriend. We’ll call the other boyfriend, Bully.

Bully did not appreciate seeing Jezebel take up with another dog, so one time he tried to eat Frisky. Frisky limped home, bitten and bleeding, and did not leave his home in my parents’ closet, or his fluffy orange blanket, for days.

It was shortly after this love triangle that my mother decided he had to be neutered. Poor dog. He had no idea his manhood was about to be removed as my mother led him, panting, to the vet. (Frisky was panting, not my mother. My mother was a southern belle. Southern belles do not pant.)

The removal resulted in another long stay in his closet, cuddled up to his orange blanket, but Frisky calmed down after that, some would say, like any other man.

He stopped running around with taken women. In fact, his womanizing days appeared to come to an end. He didn’t try to escape so often. He obeyed my mother more.  He wasn’t as interested in chasing down kids on bikes to bite or stalking innocent children.

The Enforcer would only now and then have to be brought out, his tongue flopping about with unbridled joy at the hunt.

Frisky got fat after being neutered, some would say like any other man, and my mother put him on a strict diet in his later years. He slimmed way down.  He was grumpier, but the weight came off and stayed off. He would emerge from the closet to eagerly eat, pee, then head back into his closet. He loved his brother dog, Alphy, an ex – stray, but didn’t much like people, preferred his own company, and was an old curmudgeon.

The curmudgeon lived to be twenty one years old.  He had a growth on his leg by then, was at least half  blind, couldn’t hear too well, bit the air when he saw shadows, and had white hair on his collar and nose.

I remember the day he died. My sister carried him in from outside where he’d collapsed, and placed him on his fluffy orange blanket in the closet. He snuggled in, we covered his head, as he liked, and he closed his eyes for the last time.

We missed Frisky. He was a well loved, very bad biting dog.

What did I learn from him? Get skinny when you get old and you’ll probably live longer. Try not to be grumpy.  Don’t bite people. Be yourself. Favorite orange blankets are good. Don’t have affairs with taken people/dogs or you might get eaten.

And run, run fast. You never know what kind of adventure is out there waiting for you.

 

01.12.2015

Author to Author Interview: Ann Garvin

Hello, everyone. Today I am interviewing Ann Garvin, writer of The Dog Year. I read it, loved it. The main character is sincere, troubled, incredibly smart, funnier than heck, making poor choices, introspective, and stealing things.  She is also quite talented at telling people off. Lucy re-builds her entire life  after it shatters apart.  This book is especially appealing to those women who have experienced the same sort of collapse…and haven’t we all, at one point or another?

Ann Garvin 3Cathy Lamb: Ann, tell us about yourself before we jump into The Dog Year.

I’m a single mother with two teen girls who are more adorable than irritating (which I think is how they also feel about me). I have two poodle-mix dogs, lots of people in my life who are patient and funny, and a job outside of writing, that I love. I teach at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater teaching all content that health educators and promoters need to do their jobs. I’m an exercise physiologist/psychologist who tells a lot of stories to get my jobs done.

I also teach creative writing in the Southern New Hampshire University Low Residency MFA, which is the best job in the universe.

I live in a 100 year old Victorian home that feels like a loyal friend. Big windows, cracked plaster, wood floors, and handymen in and out. It makes for a great place to write about characters.

All of your jobs make me tired. Hold on. I will eat some chocolate FOR you, as we are such good pals.

While I’m eating, tell us all about The Dog Year. What’s it about, what inspired you?

The Dog Year was released this past June (2014) and it’s the story of a woman, her dog, and two secrets that both make her and break her. After Lucy loses everything dear to her, she is caught red-handed in a senseless act that kept her grief at bay. Now, Lucy must share her deepest secrets with a group of misfits, each with secrets and something to offer. Think Juno meets Must Love Dogs, for funny and sad characters, who work hard to get it right.

I wrote it to promote understanding and empathy. I saw a woman shoplift. She was not a young kid, was well dressed, and looked like anyone who might be my friend. I got to thinking what would drive a woman to shoplift and how could I come to know and understand that person, so I invented Lucy Peterman in The Dog Year.

I loved when I first met Dr. Lucy Peterman, a gifted surgeon.  She reprimanded a smug, sanctimonious medical resident. “Here’s a news flash, pal: Reconstructing a woman’s breast after surgery for cancer takes a little sensitivity. We’re not doing celebrity makeovers here. It’s not about swimsuit fittings or new breasts as high school graduation gifts. These women have cancer. Cancer in a very intimate place. A place that helped them to feel beautiful for the proms, sexy on their honeymoons, and more than a little ready for infants…Tomorrow you can quit with the fashion show. Women in this clinic just want good medicine, not medicine doled out by someone so concerned with his appearance that he can’t even walk into a cancer unit without using an entire tube of hair gel.”

Whoa. What was, or who was, the spark that created Dr. Lucy?

It’s quite possible that that paragraph you quote from the book is a whole lot of my own righteous indignation at the insensitivities that happens in hospitals, especially with regards to the marginalization of women. I was a Registered Nurse for long enough to have seen quite a lot of what is the best and the worst in hospitals. I often felt angry about the way that people were treated by some (not all) medical professionals. I guess I got to say some of what I would have liked to say to them in The Dog Year

Dr. Lucy Peterman is a gifted surgeon, but she is a kleptomaniac.  What a comboHere’s an excerpt for our readers of everything that Dr. Lucy stole: Scattered across the room were teetering piles of white and blue – green hospital supplies. Bloated IV bags and neatly sealed packages holding items made of plastic or stainless steel syringes, tweezers, scissors, and sterile sutures. As she says, “An unorganized collection, but a big one: all good soldiers awaiting orders.”

Tell us more about the kleptomaniac element.

I spent some time thinking about Lucy Peterman; a woman who always followed the rules from kindergarten to med school. She had nothing handed to her and always felt if you worked hard your life could be a happy one. She was lucky, in a sense, that she made it to her thirties before she had to confront the folly of that thinking. So, I thought, what would a rule follower do when she realized that life doesn’t follow the rules? I thought she would break some really big rules and, like a brat, she acted out. Like someone filled with grief, she tried to fill that grief with something, and that was stealing.

Ann Garvin 4There are a lot of heavy elements in this book: Lucy loses her husband and unborn baby in a car accident, she’s stealing, Clare dies of cancer. And yet, there’s insight and humor, too. Was it hard to balance this as a writer?

So, here’s a central truth about Ann Garvin. I am uncomfortable with pain. I don’t like my friends feeling pain and I don’t like it myself. I’m only okay with just enough, and I always make a joke before things get too serious. Sometimes I wonder if it is a flaw in my own ability to feel fully. As a nurse, you see so much suffering, it helps to have a sense of humor and that helped me to not get too down when a favorite patient took a turn for the worse or something undignified happened in the unit. Funny and sad and funny again.

The love of a dog helps to change Lucy’s life. Without the dog, how do you think her life, at that time period, would have turned out? What did the dog offer her?

I think she would have found her way, but it would have taken a lot longer. Lucy needed someone to care for besides herself and to be reminded that the world exists outside of her grief. The dogs helped her see that there is joy watching dogs interact with the world, and that means there is joy in the world.

Be Lucy for a minute for us. How do you picture Lucy’s life in the future, both professionally and personally?

I think she’s going to be challenged again and again with the unruliness of children and will also feel challenged by the unfairness of the world. Watching your child navigate the world is both wonderful and painful. Lucy is going to be a force for schools and parents to reckon with. She’s going to be a better physician than ever, and she is going to love Mark like she loved Richard and he deserves it.

The doctor has hit rock bottom when the story opens and yet we watch her yank herself out. I thought it was a realistic portrayal of a woman who won’t quit. She may be down, but she’s not out. When you were writing this book, what was the theme (s) that you were working with in your own head?

I’m so interested in the endurance of life, what it takes to soldier on in the face of adversity. I am floored by how people carry on and often in the most creative of ways. I also am fascinated with how we judge others lives without truly understanding. If we met Lucy at a Christmas party and then learned she shoplifted, I think we might feel smug or judge her. I like to think that if we truly understand people we can care for them instead of putting them in a box. That can only help the universe.

Tall PoppiesWhat do you think of this changing book publishing environment? What are the challenges in the future for writers? (Hear me scream!)

It’s the best of times and the worst of times for writers. There are so many things that pull the attention of readers and so much to read. I think publishing is a rugged landscape and hasn’t found the place where it will settle yet. I’m fascinated by the changes and just hope to change enough with it so that I can continue to write.

Now that the champagne has been guzzled, or put away, what are your goals for 2015?

I want to sell my next fiction book and keep working on my Health book and another fiction book. So, lots and lots of writing. Also, I’m working on getting Tall Poppies on the literary map.

As you are the founder and fearless leader of Tall Poppies, a writers’ group I’m happy to be a part of, tell us about it.

We are a group of writers devoted to helping each other find readers. We are not the first writing co-op, there are many, many others, but we are enthusiastic, gentle, hard working women who find community is a really nice thing to have. We are aligned with helping each other and in the future helping girls in third word countries through charitable giving. The idea of the group is to move forward and reach back. To introduce readers to our group so all of our voices can continue to be heard.

You are quite splendid at marketing and publicity. Tell all the writers out there which social media devices you think are most worthwhile in terms of marketing books. Facebook? Newsletters? Twittter?

Am I good at it? I feel scattered most of the time and could probably do with some major organization, but you named my top three for social media purposes. I know there are others, and you cannot beat big glossy media, but you can’t always get into those pages. I’m not sure there is a best social media way, but I know this. It’s a slow growth business that requires persistence, patience and change. My motto in life has always been Slow and Steady Wins the Race. I don’t know if I’m winning yet but I sure am slow and steady.

Visit with Ann… www.anngarvin.net

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjvNa0-ETns

Twitter:anngarvin_ https://twitter.com/AnnGarvin_

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/AnnWertzGarvin

Pinterest The Dog Yearhttp://www.pinterest.com/garvinann/the-dog-year-may-2014-berkley-penguin-anngarvinnet/

Bio: Ann Garvin is an Easterner who lives in the Midwest and a fiction writer who makes a living as a scientist and educator. While working as a nurse she completed her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in exercise psychology publishing extensively in the area of exercise, mental health and media and later became a prize winning short story writer.

Decades of teaching health and studying what makes people tick proved a perfect backdrop for her novels ON MAGGIE’S WATCH & THE DOG YEAR (June 2014/Berkley Penguin). Her teaching position as an adjunct in the Masters of Fine Arts position at Southern New Hampshire University allows her to marry her love of people, story and writing and help others do the same.

She is a featured writer for www.Unreasonable.is where she writes for entrepreneurs, health, and how to save the world. Ann is devoted to helping people find health, tell their stories and fund raise for wwwgirleffect.org and animal rescues.

Ann, a natural storyteller, is a sought after speaker and educator at conferences where writing, health and human nature is discussed.

01.05.2015

Author to Author Interview: Sonja Yoerg

Hello everyone,

Today I am interviewing writer Sonja Yoerg whose wonderful novel, House Broken, is out in January.

Cathy Lamb: Sonja, before we talk about your new book, I am most curious about, and love, your personal story.  You were working in the San Francisco Bay area, then you and your husband decided to pack it all up, hit the road, and move to the tranquil Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Why?

Sonja Yoerg: I first came to California for graduate school at UC Berkeley in 1982, and lived there, with a few breaks, until last year. Our daughters were raised in both the Bay Area and near San Diego, but when they left for college, we knew we wanted a change.

Both girls’ colleges are on the East Coast (Tufts U and Middlebury) and my family is mostly there. I imported my husband from England, so by moving east we’re closer to his tribe as well. Also, California is expensive! We wanted space and mountains and clean air and a reasonable climate.

After a detailed study of climate and geography (science geeks that my husband and I are), and visiting many wonderful places, we settled on Virginia. We hit the jackpot: it’s beautiful, each season lovelier than the next, and the people are incredibly welcoming.

So, city girl to country girl. What is different between life there and life now?

Gosh, what’s the same? The biggest difference isn’t geographical, but where we are in our lives. The fledglings have left the nest. It’s quiet, and there are, it seems, many more hours in the day. There are certainly many fewer sporting events! I cried when I packed my younger daughter’s last school lunch, but I can’t say I miss doing it.

We live at the end of a gravel road where, at the moment, all I hear, quite literally, is crickets. It’s heaven.

And amidst the crickets you wrote House Broken. Can you tell us about it?

The main character is Geneva, a hard-headed veterinarian, who reluctantly allows her injured, alcoholic mother to recuperate in her home. Geneva is determined to use the opportunity to poke into the dark corners of their family history, and her mother fights her all the way. I added two slippery teenagers and a husband at cross-purposes, and stirred the pot.

Aha, pot stirring! I am familiar with that.  I imagine a black cauldron with smoke billowing out and me, the witch in a black hat, leaning over it, cackling crazily.

But back to you and your pot stirring. Tell us about your writing process with Housebroken.  Where did the idea come from? How long did it take to write? What were the struggles you faced with it?

I started with Geneva, a woman who relishes control and believes in good training—for people as well as animals. She’s hard-working, smart and, like so many working mothers, one disaster away from coming unglued. After I understood Geneva, I set about making trouble for her. The story flowed organically. A few chapters in, I changed to Geneva’s mother’s point-of-view, then to her daughter’s. It ended up being a three-generation story.

Many writers will hate me for this but it took only four months to write the draft, which is very close to the final version. Don’t ask me how I did it, because I couldn’t repeat it! I got my comeuppance with my second novel, Middle of Somewhere (September 2015). It was a bear to write and went through many revisions.

Four months? Wow.  It takes me eight to nine torturous months, at least, and I’m muttering to myself at the end of it.   I’m impressed with your speed.

You have a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Massashusetts at Amherst, and a Ph.D. in Biological Psychology from Berkeley. How did those degrees help you in terms of writing Housebroken?

Geneva is a veterinarian with special training in animal behavior, and there are many scenes in the book where I relied heavily on my training in the field. It was also easy for me to get inside her head because we look at animals and people similarly.

My science career also shaped my writing. In science, clarity and brevity are prized. My style is fairly sparse and direct, and I push hard to express myself as clearly as possible. That said, I’m also a dreamer and a smart-aleck, and have a wild imagination. I try to use all of it.

Sonja 6I have to put a plug in for your blog. I love it.  It allows me to live vicariously through you and your life in the country, vs. my life in suburbia.  http://www.sonjayoerg.com/blog/.  Did you ever think you would be writing a blog about your new life away from the city?

Thanks, Cathy. I enjoy creating the blog, except when it’s hard to find time for yet more writing. As for anticipating writing a blog, I’m surprised I didn’t start one sooner. I’ve always loved essays and short stories. That’s what a good blog is, plus photos.

Most writers, I’m guessing, naturally tell stories about their lives in short essay form, whether they write them down or not. “Remember that field we needed mowed? Well, an old guy showed up…”and off they go. It’s the long story—the novel—that is such a monumental challenge.

Blogs are also a perfect venue for exercising voice and getting to the point without a lot of falderal.

(I just had to look up the word ‘falderal.’ For those of you who don’t know what it means, it’s ‘nonsense.’ Falderal is now my new word of the year.)

I love your new kitchen in your country home, by the way. That is exactly what I want. Yes, I am tired of my pink accent tiles. 

You are the guru on Twitter and social media for writers. Can you give all of us writers a few pieces of advice on what we absolutely should be doing to promote our books?

Make friends! Be nice!

I’m not joking. Look. No one likes a sales pitch. Most people are on social media to be social. Yes, there are strategies for gaining followers and for tweeting effectively and for driving traffic from one form of social media to the next, but at the end of the day, none of it matters if you are not connecting with people in a meaningful way. Treat people on social media as if they are in front of you. If they talk to you, talk back. If they do something nice, say thanks, and do something nice for them. I have met the most wonderful people on social media, including you, Cathy, and am grateful—and I haven’t sold anything yet!

And I am delighted to have met you, too, Sonja. You have taught me so much about social media, not my forte at all, and I am so grateful for your help.

Three things you’re looking forward to in 2015….

The release of House Broken. I never expected to become a novelist because the odds against it were so high. My agent picked House Broken out of the slush pile. It still feels like a dream.

New dogs. Our last dog died shortly before we left California. My husband and I will each pick one, probably rescues, like all our dogs have been. New furry friends!

Grandchildren. My daughters are 19 and 21, so I must be patient, but I think children are hilarious.

A snippet of Housebroken is right here, friends….

Dr. Geneva Novak stared at the X-ray clipped to the light box on the wall. She tilted her head sideways and squinted at the contents of the dog’s stomach. The iPod was obvious—it faced her—but the object protruding from the large blurry mass stumped her. Rectangular, with two bright white bars. Only metal lit up like that.

She clenched her jaw. This would be the third time she would have to operate on Zeke to remove things he’d swallowed, things his owner shouldn’t have left lying around. After the second incident, she had talked to the owner at length about how to protect his dog. She recommended he walk Zeke daily, so the dog wouldn’t turn to mischief out of boredom, and suggested he either keep his apartment orderly or confine the dog when he left the house. Nearly all dogs come to love their crates, she reassured him. Geneva had written down the instructions and told him he could call her anytime for help. But when Zeke’s owner brought him in this morning, he confessed he hadn’t followed through on anything. And the outcome was illuminated in black and white on the wall.

Eyes still on the X-ray, she pulled a hair band from the pocket of her lab coat and secured her dark hair into a tidy bun that would fit under her scrubs cap. Her cell phone, abandoned on the desk behind her, warbled. She touched the icon. A message from Dublin. It’s Mom, it read. Call me.

Geneva sighed. “It’s always Mom.”

Visit with Sonja…

www.sonjayoerg.com

www.facebook.com/SonjaYoerg

www.twitter.com/SonjaYoerg

 

 

12.29.2014

Pie Eating Is Healthy Eating

As you can see, I am eating a vegetable with a smile. This coincides with my goal of Healthy, Holistic, Holiday Eating. I feel almost virtuous, nutritionally speaking. I’m sure all of you are also eating healthily.

 

December 2014 2 060


Cathy Lamb
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