Category Archives: Book Reviews

First Creative Writer’s Conference…with Kids in Tow!

keys

I’m writing this post from my hotel room in San Diego at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference. What an amazing two days so far! At first I almost cancelled coming, as I didn’t have a sitter Friday and Sunday I’m throwing a birthday party for my youngest munchkin..So, not only would I need to bring my children along Friday and part of Saturday, I wouldn’t have the extra time and attention needed to throw a perfect birthday party back in LA on Sunday. You dads out there might not get this…but man, don’t you moms know that need to throw a perfect party? 🙂 I could spend hours arranging flowers, cleaning house, making cupcakes etc. even for 6-year-olds. It must be a southern thing…I’m trying to recover from this.

So, it’s clear that I need to let go of that perfect parenting bug I’ve been bitten by. AND, I’ve realized that it was a wise decision to go to my first creative writer’s conference and let my kiddos tag along. Why? Because how often does my life revolve around them?  From soccer games and practices, to violin lessons, homework, concerts, doctor visits, etc.—I’m at their beckon call. And it struck me, as a single mom writing a novel, that it’s okay to ask my boys to come along and sacrifice some of their agenda in order to support me and my work. So that’s what we did. It was no problem.  My 12-year-old babysat my just-turned 6-year-old while I attended two lectures Friday. They watched a movie and I garnered amazing advice. It was a win-win. Instead of going to the networking event Friday evening, the three of us hit the pool, had a yummy dinner, rented a good movie and snuggled. Saturday morning started at 6 a.m. for me and I raced from lecture to events all day with a lunch break at the pool with my boys. My nanny picked them up this afternoon and took them back to LA for me, so luckily, I was able to participate in all the afternoon lectures and even my own terrifying pitch session, where I described my novel to two agents and a filmmaker and screenwriter—talk about frightening! I’m still speechless at their responses, encouragement and requests to read my work. I’m so filled with gratitude and excitement for next steps. 🙂

So, I have a few things to say about this experience:

First, my years interviewing experts as a parenting editor suggested this —but I now know without a doubt—that it’s good for children to see and support their parents working toward goals. This is especially true of single parents. If all children see are moms sacrificing their identities, dreams and goals for their children, these children may grow up with a sense of self importance, a false sense of entitlement and little patience for cooperation or compromise—not to mention out-dated views on spousal roles.

Secondly: WOW the writers, film makers, poets, agents, publicists, attorneys at this conference have been amazing!  Their willingness to give their time, insights and support have been invaluable to me. I haven’t been to one lecture that didn’t provide incredible information and inspiration. I have a lot of advice to digest from the business of publishing and negotiating contracts, to writing the perfect query and synopsis, to marketing strategies.

It’s a lot to cover. And that’s not even touching on the part that I love most: creating and how to keep those negative voices at bay that can stall the writing process. I’ve gotten a lot of support at this conference. I love the writers that I’ve met. I’m inspired by their honesty and their bravery. Each one is an artist who is baring his/her soul to some degree. In order to write well, a person must “find those tender places,” as Patti Callahan Henry,  a New York Times best-selling author, eloquently explained today. It requires cutting off the fear of being good enough and being able to close the door on that negative critic inside that worries about what others will think. And in doing so, we can keep working and getting better at our craft, while finding our unique voice as writers. I loved what Callahan Henry said today: “Our voice is buried in that compost pile from our youth.” The best writers bravely go there. And clearly, Henry does this. I picked up many books by this southern writer, and am excited to read all of them. I’m half-way through her latest: The Stories We Tell, and know I won’t go to bed until I’m done. I’m immersed in this Savannah-based tale and want to learn the truth lingering between the couple who seem to have it all…Her characters are compelling and believable, who live in a world that invites me in to sit a while and marinate in their truth—which may just resonate with my own. And that’s all a writer can hope for isn’t it?

If you’re a creative writer or artist, please chime in. What helps you find your voice? What helps you stay on track? How do you keep negative voices at bay and continue creating when the world—or your world—might be telling you to do “better” things with your time? I look forward to hearing from you. x

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NV’s Book Choices for the Holidays

Woman reading a book on the sofa

The gift of a good book just can’t be underestimated! Here are some of my favorite reads, and tops on my must-read list. (And, don’t worry, NV’s children and young adult picks are coming out soon.) But isn’t it important to treat ourselves during the holidays, too? I think of it like oxygen on the airplane. You have to first breathe into your own emergency oxygen container before securing one onto your child, right? Similarly, don’t forget to put yourself on your holiday list with one of these inexpensive splurges. So, while you’re  buying Santa’s gifts for your cherubs, pick up one of these for yourself! Think of it as momma’s indulgence: put the kiddos in bed, snuggle with a blanket, drink some coco (or other beverage) and drift far, far away.

1. Heft, a novel, by Liz Moore

Why I love this book: It’s remarkable when an author can make you feel compassion for extremely flawed characters. We come to see the morbidly obese ex-professor as the beautiful person that he is. Tragically caged by his mind and his habits in his house—we begin to see that he is one of the thoughtful, kind, compassionate souls the world needs more of. The depressed, alcoholic mother and her baseball fanatic son become people of worth. The co-dependent son is wise before his years. He doesn’t realize his true strength and courage may be off the baseball field. His mother, fighting lupus and addictions, has a kindness tangled beneath her depression, pain and booze. The young pregnant maid without a college degree, we come to see as courageous and street-smart. They all have gifts that would be rarely recognized in the real world or through our lens coated with societal constraints and judgements. Any book that can open our hearts and make us re-evaluate quick, stereotypical thinking, is high on my list. It’s a great read for teens and adults.

2. Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler

I have read every book by Anne Tyler, and could easily recommend her latest or one of my other favorites by the Baltimore-based author—such as Back When We Were Grownups and Breathing Lessons. But this particular book is a great one for single moms, or any of us who have stayed the course in our lives and with our families, but sometimes fantasize catapulting a way out—even if just for a brief period.

Married with three almost-grown children, Delia Grinstead leaves her family’s beach house for an errand. Her bags aren’t packed, her next move not pre-meditated, but she just keeps going. It’s as if her feeling of liberation moves her forward and her mind must catch up later. She settles into a new life, that most would not find that exciting, but it is her own. She is in control of her life, her decisions and her time—and she is no longer reminded daily of how she is taken for granted. Oddly, even though most of us would never make this choice, it’s hard not to like this character and feel some understanding for her bizarre, steadfast “crack” that pushed her forward and onward—leaving her older children with her husband.

3. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
This remarkable example of the healing power of forgiveness tops my ‘must read list.’ I first saw an interview with Louis Zamperini, the champion of Unbroken, on CBS Sunday Morning Memorial Day weekend. (Watch the clip here, it’s worth it!) I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since, as I  know that holding on to your pain, grudges and toxic memories only hurts you. Forgiving those who have hurt you, frees you to live a joyous life. It’s easy to say, very hard to do. So hopefully, Unbroken will be in Santa’s bag for me!

If you haven’t heard about this book, it’s about the life of Louis Zamperini, a young Olympian runner who was shot down in  the Pacific near Japan during WWII. Imprisoned in a brutal camp for two years, Zamperini endured horrific torture and starvation. His story, written by Hillenbrand, shows how he managed to turn away from abusing alcohol to numb his post-traumatic stress and nightmares—to a lifetime of forgiveness—even forgiving the sadistic camp director. Just amazing.

4. Super Brain, by Deepak Chopra, M.D. & Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.

I got inspired to read my first Chopra book after doing his 21 Day Meditation Challenge. During the challenge, I had a few ‘aha moments’. One, is that hearing “you are a transplendent being” or “worthy of love” every day—makes you believe it. And, finally, focussing on your inner beauty, strength and kindness helps you realize that you deserve health, love and abundance in your life.

Intellectually, you may think that you deserve these things, but emotionally, you may hold different beliefs—even those not spoken. Perhaps neglect or abuse from childhood, abuse during marriage, or other toxic memories have made you feel lesser than. This book explains how to harness your mind to overcome these issues, control your thoughts, and lessen anxiety to live a more joyful life.

As a good friend said to me: “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

5. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

This is on my “must-read list” and I’m happy to report that one of my son’s “bought” this for my Christmas present today! I can’t wait to read J.K.’s latest just for pure escapism during the holidays. As a former London resident, I’ve developed a fondness for quaint English villages and the quirky, gossipy residents who typically live there. I can’t wait to indulge in this book that follows the aftermath of a young man’s death and how the families in this idyllic village don’t lead such idyllic lives.

So tell me, what’s on your list?