Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Notes from Italy, 11/15/11

I'm at Spannocchia (a 900-year-old farmhouse near Siena), sitting outside on a cool, sunny day at a rickety round table, about the size of a large pizza, on the lawn overlooking the hills of Tuscany.

They took the lemon trees inside yesterday.  Winter is coming.  The two cypress trees and bench that I woodblock printed with Sabra Field five years ago are to my left.  I have such fondness for that time in my life.  The last time I came to this magical place, I'd just finished STILL ALICE.  And here I am again, this time in the middle of writing my third book.

I can smell lunch cooking.  Onions and garlic.  And fennel?  Not sure.  It smells delicious.  People are chatting behind me on the terrace where we drank wine every evening five years ago.  We don't drink there now because it's November and too cold (last time I was here, it was June).

A man is picking something from a tree and dropping it into a ceramic bowl.  Something for dinner maybe.  I love how connected Italians are to their land, the earth, their food.  Back at home, my yard is a place where my kids play or ground that I walk over to get to the car.  Here, it is tended to and touched daily.  It is eaten.  I like that.  It's what we should be doing.  Connection to the earth and what we eat, nourishing our environment and ourselves.  At home, we go to the grocery store.  We're disconnected from this process.

Connection and disconnection.  LOVE ANTHONY is about this.  Faith and loss of faith.  Communication and silence.  Connection and isolation.  How do we love?  What do we need in order to experience love?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Notes from My LOVE ANTHONY Writing Journal, 11/30/11

Just realized I'm on chapter 20.  Sounds substantial, doesn't it?  I'm at about 46,000 words and 200 pages, so it's getting there, baby.  I go back and forth lately between thinking it's brilliant to thinking it's an absolute mess.  I'm worried that Beth's story doesn't tie in strongly enough to Olivia's, that it's like--SO WHAT?  Why not just tell Olivia's and Anthony's story?

I think because their story is too internal.  Beth's story provides the movement, the action and immediacy.  But why not tell Olivia's story in that way--tell the story of this mother who has a son with autism, how she first suspects it, then the diagnosis, living with it, etc--and make it linear?  Because that's too predictable.  It's been done.  Mother has a child, expects a "normal" life, then there is a diagnosis and a deviated development, a deviated life. This mother's point of view has been told.

I'm hoping that this story offers something new and unexpected, that readers will learn about the experience of autism from the more severely affected end of the spectrum without feeling like they're reading a clinical manual, without being hit directly over the head with it.  I want to tell a great story and give a voice to this voiceless child.  How does he experience the world, emotions, relationships?  How does his life matter?  I want readers to experience what it might feel like to have this kind of autism.  I think a straightforward, linear story of only Olivia and Anthony without Beth doesn't hold as much power somehow.

So finish the first draft, Lisa, and if there are ways that you can tighten Beth's ties to autism in metaphor, do it then.  You've planted the seeds.  Make sure that elements from each Anthony and Olivia chapter tie in to elements of Beths' chapters--illustrate that the spectrum is long and wide, and we're all on it.  And then it will be brilliant, my dear.  And when the first draft is done, have Tracey read it, and listen with an open heart to her feedback.

For now though, you are writing chapter 20.  So what happens next?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Still Alice--Deleted Scene

My husband and I love watching the Deleted Scenes from the movies we rent.  I love these bonus scenes because they give us a private peek into the creative process of that film.  Those scenes were written, the actors memorized their lines. Time and money were spent on costume, lighting, makeup, direction.  But some honest and brave editing minds decided that these scenes didn't serve the film as a whole, and they were cut.  Out they went!

Manuscripts go through a similar editing process.  If there are words, sentences, or scenes in the draft of my novel (and there always are) that don't serve the story as a whole, it's my responsibility to take them out.  William Faulkner called it "killing your darlings."

I wish books, like rented movies, included a Deleted Scenes section at the back.  Here's a deleted scene from STILL ALICE for you.  It includes a character you don't know, Alice's friend Susanna.  You don't know her because I deleted her entire character from the story.  It didn't need her.

Sorry, Susanna darling, nothing personal.  Just doing my job.  Editing isn't for soft-hearted sissies.

            “We’re going to go take a walk down to the beach.”
            “Alright, call me when you want me to come pick you up.  You have your cell?”
            She smiled and patted her baby blue Anna Williams bag.  Satisfied with that answer, he kissed her, squeezed her hand, got in their car and pulled away.
            Susanna arrived in Chatham five hours ago, and Alice was running out of time.  John insisted that Susanna know about her Alzheimer’s before he left for Philadelphia in the morning.  He was anxious to detail for her the rules and regulations surrounding Alice’s medication, her running routine, her cell phone, the Safe Return program, and to give Susanna her neurologist’s and his phone numbers, just in case.  When she played this instructional speech in her head, it sounded very much like the ones she and John had delivered to their teenaged babysitters before leaving their children for weekends away in Maine or Vermont.  She remembered feeling so excited to get away on those weekends, but also nervous about leaving their children behind with someone else to watch them.  Anxiously pulled in opposite directions.  Now she needed to be watched.  This is how I want you to look after Alice while I’m out.  She imagined that he might’ve actually composed a list that he planned to magnetize to the refrigerator.  He was nervous about leaving her behind.  Was he also excited to get away?  Anxiously pulled in opposite directions.
            She asked him if he would let her tell Susanna herself, and she promised that she would, but they’d just finished eating dinner at the Squire, and she hadn’t yet mustered up the courage to reveal her sad secret to her dearest friend.  She felt completely clear-headed today.  She’d come to recognize the difference between days that would be fraught with difficulties finding memories and words and bathrooms and days that her Alzheimer’s would lay silent and not interfere.  On those quiescent days, she was her normal self, the self she understood and had confidence in.  On those days, she could almost convince herself that Dr. Davis and the genetic screening had been wrong, or that the last six months had been a horrible dream.  Only a nightmare, the monster under her bed and clawing at her covers not real.  She was having one of those days today, and she wanted to hold on to being normal with Susanna for as long as possible.
            They walked down Main Street without talking.  The line of luxury cars and SUVs parked along the curb, outfitted with bike racks and kayaks bungeed on roofs, crammed with baby strollers, beach chairs and umbrellas, and sporting license plates from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey in addition to Massachusetts was an indisputable indication that the summer season was officially in full swing.  Families walked along the sidewalk without regard for lanes of pedestrian traffic, unhurried and without specific destinations, strolling, stopping, backtracking and window-shopping.  Like they had all the time in the world.
            An easy, ten-minute stroll removed them completely from the bustling evening of downtown, early-July Chatham.  As it always did, the spectacular view of Lighthouse Beach from the road filled her with awe and gratitude.  They walked the thirty steps down to the sand.  A modest row of sandals and flip-flops were waiting at the bottom where they’d been kicked off earlier in the day.  It was nearing sunset, and there weren’t many people left on the beach.  The sign in front of them read:

            Warning: Strong Current.  Surf subject to unexpected life-threatening waves and currents.  No lifeguard.  Hazardous area for:  Swimming and wading, diving and water skiing, sailboards and small boats, rafts and canoes.
            Aside from sand, water and sky, Lighthouse Beach shared little or nothing else in common with Hardings.  At Hardings earlier that day, the water was pleasant and welcoming, and Nantucket Island could be seen in the distance.  At Lighthouse Beach on the same day, the water was choppy and wild, and Alice knew from brief experience and reputation that is was always painfully cold.  And, there was nothing to see in the distance but more ocean, nothing else between here and Europe.  It was vast, impersonal, a little scary.
            The breaking waves were relentless, powerful and loud, rumbling and churning, pounding at its shore.  If it weren’t for the colossal seawall constructed at the edges of the properties of the million-dollar homes along Shore Drive, the ocean would’ve taken each house in, devouring them all without sympathy or apology.  Alzheimer’s was like this ocean at Lighthouse Beach, unstoppable, ferocious, destructive.  Only, there were no seawalls in her brain to protect her memories and thoughts from the onslaught.
            Susanna hadn’t yet mentioned Greg.  She probably wanted him to be here, but Alice requested in an email, without explanation or excuse, that she come to Chatham alone.  Susanna replied with the word “fine”.  It was equally vague without knowing the tone, but Alice guessed she was pissed.  But, if she’d hinted that there was something important that she needed to tell her, Susanna would’ve dragged it out of her that day, over the phone, and Alice didn’t want to tell her like that.  She wanted to tell her friend face-to-face, and she wanted to spend the week alone with her, without John and without Greg.  It’s not that she didn’t want to meet Greg, but she didn’t want the week made superficial with good manners and appropriate guest considerations and entertaining.  Even if they had another opportunity to spend a week together in the near future, this disease only got worse.  She may not understand what her friend meant to her in the future.  It was time to be a little selfish.
            “I know you probably wanted to bring Greg.”
            “I absolutely wanted to bring Greg.”
            Well, now she knew.  She was pissed.
            “I know.”
            “No, you don’t know.  If he were my husband, you wouldn’t even think of not inviting him.  I’d never tell you not to bring John or the kids.  I accept your life and everything and everyone in it, but you don’t accept mine.”
            “I do, Suz.  This isn’t about him.”
            “Then what, what is it about?”
            “I have something to tell you, and it really can’t wait, and I couldn’t imagine combining what I have to tell you and the week I want to have with you with meeting Greg.”
            “Well?  What is it?”
            Here it was, the moment she had to cross over.  No more normal.
            “I have Alzheimer’s Disease.”
            She saw Susanna’s defensive anger leave her muscles and posture and drift away.  She saw the fight in her pickle green eyes dissolve into fearful questioning.  She waited a long time for Susanna to speak the questions her eyes asked.  But they just stayed there.
            “I was diagnosed in January, we told the kids over Easter.  I couldn’t tell you over the phone, I have a really hard time on the phone now.  And I couldn’t email this.”
            The questions in Susanna’s eyes, now blurry with tears, begged for some other answer.
            “I’m forgetting things, I’m getting confused and lost, I’m making all sorts of bizarre mistakes.”
            It was news neither of them wanted to hold, but they’d been burdened with this kind of load before, and they were strong enough to carry it together.  Susanna finally spoke.
            “What’s going to happen to you?”
            “It’s Alzheimer’s.  You know what’s going to happen.”
            “But there’s got to be something that can at least stop it from progressing?”
            Alice watched the tide coming in, erasing footprints, demolishing an elaborate sandcastle decorated with shells, filling in a hole dug earlier that day with plastic shovels, ridding the shore of its daily history.  She envied the beautiful homes behind the seawall.
            “No, there’s nothing.”
            “But we’re too young for you to have Alzheimer’s.  It’s just wrong.  It has to be something else.”
            This was, predictably now, everyone’s rebuttal, including her own, what seemed like so very long ago.  It just wasn’t valid.  In fact, the first patient ever diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a woman named Auguste D, was fifty-one when she was first admitted to a hospital in Frankfurt with symptoms of abrupt personality changes and profound memory loss.  She died at the age of fifty-six.
            “No, it’s definitely Alzheimer’s.  You can be this young.  I’m positive for a mutated gene that causes it.”           
            “How long before--?”
            “I don’t know.  They don’t know.  Two years, twenty years.  Hopefully, long enough for me to meet Greg.”
            Susanna smiled, but her eyes didn’t agree.
            “Do the people at Harvard know?”
            “No, but I probably won’t be able to keep it hidden too much longer.”
            “What are you going to do?”
            “About Harvard?”
            “About everything.”
            “I don’t know.  I thought about trying to write one last paper.  But, it would really be so hard for me now.  I could do it, but it wouldn’t be my best work, not even close.  Not what I want to be remembered by.”
            Alice Howland, is best remembered for ‘Molecules to Mind’, a ground-breaking text coauthored with her husband, John.  It was her proudest written achievement, her words and ideas blended with John’s, creating something together that was unique in this universe, informing and influencing the words and ideas of others.  She’d assumed they’d write another.
            “Right now, I’m just living in my life, continuing the best I can at Harvard, trying to contribute for as long as I can and trying to really notice and enjoy all of the details in everything while I still can.  I don’t know what else to do.  What would you do?”
            “I don’t know.  If I could bring myself to leave my bed, probably the same thing.  It’s what we should all be doing, actually.  What are you going to do when you have to leave Harvard?”
            “No idea.  I’ve been terrified to think about it.”
            “How long have you known about this?”
            “For sure, since January.”
            “I can’t believe you’ve been going through all this without me.  I hate living so far away from you.  How’s Johnny handling this?”
            “Really well in some ways and not so well in others.  I don’t think he’s entirely accepted that this is happening.  I think he actually thinks he’s going to come home from this conference with a cure for me.  And there just isn’t one.  I’m worried about what it’ll do to him when he realizes that.  And I’m worried about what this is going to do to him as I get worse.”
            “Have you thought about taking some time off and traveling together?”
            “We’ve both already traveled everywhere.  There’s nowhere that I’m really dying to see.”
            “Still, it might be nice to get away, go somewhere beautiful and relax without a conference or symposium lecture hanging over your heads.”
            It wouldn’t matter where they went, her Alzheimer’s was coming with her.  There was nowhere to run, no vacation from dementia.
            “True, but that’s what this place is for us.  I love it here.  And being here on the Cape, the kids can come and visit.”
            “How are the kids?”
            She was trying to say that Anna was positive for the same mutation, but her voice became unexpectedly flooded with emotion, and her breath was involuntarily redirected from the task of speaking to crying.  She hadn’t spoken of Anna’s genetic testing results to anyone other than Anna since Easter.  They were hugging each other now, both crying.  It felt so good.  Susanna’s arms had always been a safe place for her to cry.  It was several minutes before Alice was able to finish her sentence.
            “Anna and Tom underwent the same genetic testing I did.  Anna has what I have.”
            “Oh my God.  What about Tom and Lydia?”
            “Tom’s fine, and Lydia won’t get tested.”
            “Of course.”
            They both laughed a little.
            “Anna’s okay though.  She’s not looking at this like a death sentence. The best thing to come of this, I guess, is that she’d been trying to get pregnant and couldn’t.  So now she’s doing in vitro, and because they know she has the mutation, they can actually test the embryos as well and only implant the ones that are mutation-free.  So we’ve all been focusing on the fact that Anna is going to have a baby that won’t get Alzheimer’s.  It’s truly amazing what they can do.”
            “But what about something truly amazing for you?  There’s got to be something.  What about clinical trials?”
            “I’m in one.  But, I don’t even know if I’m getting the drug or a sugar pill.  I’ve read everything about this disease and everything about this drug.  They may be on the right track with this one, but I don’t think it’s the magic bullet.”
            “So maybe your progression will be really slow.  You caught this really early, and your progression will be slow, and they’ll discover the magic bullet in time for you.”
            “Alice, you’re going to be okay.  You can hold on for the magic bullet and get through this.”
            Susanna had told her that she was going to be okay before.  She’d said it with the same tenderness and conviction that was in her voice now.  Alice believed her whole-heartedly thirty-two years ago, and that magical belief helped move her through the morning of her mother’s and sister’s funeral, their birthdays, holidays, her graduation, her wedding day.  And Susanna had been right.  Eventually, Alice was okay.  But Alice didn’t believe her now.  She wished that she did.
            “And you’re too smart anyway.  You can afford to lose a few brain cells.  This is just God’s way of showing you what it’s like to be the rest of us.”
            They both smiled.  The sun, low and impossibly big in the pink and blue sky, was readying to plunge into the Altantic.  This wild and dangerous ocean before her was as beautiful as anything she’d ever seen.  She wondered if Auguste D had ever seen something this beautiful before being admitted to that asylum in Frankfurt.
            “What should we do?” asked Susanna.
            “About my Alzheimer’s?”
            “No, together, tonight, right now.”
            “Want me to call John to come get us?”
            “No, not yet.  Let’s go enjoy the view and a big fat glass of wine from the Chatham Bars Inn.”
            “Perfect.  Oh, you’ll love this.  The antioxidants in red wine and dark chocolate are thought to be as effective at treating this as any drug.”
            “Alright then, my love, let’s go get you some medicine.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oh Canada!

2011 will be remembered by me as the Year I Went to Canada.  Before 2011, I'd never been.  I wasn't allowed to go on my high school class trip to Montreal, and I believe my brother's hockey team traveled north at least once to play a Canadian team, but I stayed warm and snug at home.

That all changed this year.  I went to Toronto twice in February, both times to promote LEFT NEGLECTED (note to Simon & Schuster--how about promoting my books in Hawaii in February?  Just a thought).  The second February trip was for an Indigo Book Event with Jeannette Walls (author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses) and Elena Gorokova (author of Mountain of Crumbs) hosted by Heather Reisman.  An amazing event!

The next time I traveled to Canada was in October, also known as The Month I Was in Canada.  I went to Toronto, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Montreal (finally!), Ottawa, and Halifax on a speaking tour---the Coping with Care series sponsored by Dundeewealth.  I spoke to audiences about the emotional effects of living with Alzheimer's and then tax expert, Evelyn Jacks, spoke about financial planning for aging and ailing parents.  We fielded questions, and I signed books.  And then we went to the next airport and hotel.  We (along with the wonderful people from Dundeewealth) were a great team, and it actually feels strange now to travel anywhere without them.

To wrap up my tour of Canada, I then went to Saint John to give a similar talk about STILL ALICE and Alzheimer's for the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation.

Although I was in Canada for much of October, I unfortunately didn't get to see much of it.  I went from airport to hotel to hotel grand ballroom to sleep to the next airport.  It looked beautiful from the sky.  But I did get to see so many friendly, warmhearted, and beautiful Canadians, including my friend Lynn from Vancouver and my friends Mike, Sue, and Karyn from New Brunswick.  I met Lynn originally online in 2004 through DASNI when I was doing research for STILL ALICE, and we finally got to meet in person in Vancouver.  What a thrill!

And I originally met Mike, his wife Sue, and his sister Karyn online when doing research for LEFT NEGLECTED.  Mike has Left Neglect.  We've been in touch quite a bit since and have become good friends, and it was so much fun to spend a little time with them in Saint John.

It's November 1, and so The Month I Was in Canada is officially over.  I made it through, and more impressively, my husband and three children made it through.  It feels good to be home.  Home, husband, kids, Starbucks, writing LOVE ANTHONY.  Sounds relaxing, eh?

No more travel...until I go to Italy in 9 days...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Notes from My Writing Journal, August 29, 2011

I was in London last month because LEFT NEGLECTED was chosen by Richard and Judy for their autumn 2011 book club.  For those in the US who haven't heard of Richard and Judy, their Book Club "has as powerful an influence on the UK book-buying public as the Oprah Winfrey book club had in America."  So this was a huge and an exciting trip!  I did the Richard and Judy interview, recorded a podcast for WH Smith, signed books, went sightseeing, and had a lovely time meeting the Simon & Schuster UK team in person.  AND I wrote some of LOVE ANTHONY every morning.  Good author.  Here's a snippet from my writing journal:

I'm in London, baby!  I'm at a Starbucks (I know this is lame, but I can't resist; it calls me like home) near the Charlotte Street hotel, drinking chai, and facing the street while I write this.  London looks a lot like Boston but much GRANDER in scale.  Love the red double decker buses that go by every minute, the funny little black cars.  Lots of walkers, all in sensible flats.  So far the people here are super friendly and cheery--I expected more reserved, abrupt, aloof, but not the case.  Just saw the first smoker.  I expected more smokers, too.

But I've barely been here yet.  It's 9:30 am, and I'm meeting my editor and publicist here at 10:30 for a day of sightseeing.  YAY!  How crazy lucky am I?

I've seen four street sweepers go by in less than 15 minutes  (Ethan would be in heaven here!)--this place is CLEAN.  Seriously, the streets and sidewalks are spotless.

I'm on chapter 8, back with Olivia before we go to LoLa with Beth.  Okay, so what the hell happens in chapter 8 with Olivia?  I have no freakin idea.  Okay, don't panic.  Let's find it.  So she just read her journal for the first time, is facing/confronting her past.  Huh!  Just like Beth is confronting her past, looking for pieces of herself, looking for answers.  And in facing the past, both women will make room for the possibility of a new future...

And today is September 8.  I'm home from London, sitting at my local Starbucks, and I just finished chapter 8.  On to chapter 9!  Now what happens in chapter 9?  Don't panic...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Top 5 Reasons Ellen Should Have Me On Her Show

1.     I mention Ellen and her show 13 times in my novel, LEFT NEGLECTED.  Having me on her show would be a great way to thank me in person.

2.     Portia would be amazing as Sarah Nickerson in the movie.

3.     Oprah’s not the only one who reads.

4.     Like Ellen, my mission is to not only entertain, but to also educate and connect people through gained understanding, sensitivity, and empathy.

5.     If she doesn’t want to talk about my book, we could always discuss my three-year-old son’s youtube video, Dog Poopy in My Pocket.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tantrums in Sacred Spaces

I've listened to a lot of writers talk about having "sacred spaces" for writing.  Places that are pristine, quiet, beautiful.  I always listen, nod, and smile.

If you've been to one of my talks or follow me on Facebook, you know I write at Starbucks.  It's noisy and busy, and people know I write here now, so there's usually a distraction or two or four.  The table I'm at now is wobbly, and the chair isn't ergonomically designed to protect my lumbar spine.  But I love it here.  It's my sacred space.

I write at Starbucks instead of in my beautiful home office because if I write at home, I end up not writing.  Ethan (3) will ask me to fix the wheel on one of his trucks, Stella (10 months) will press her pudgy face up against the glass of the French doors and cry for me, Alena (11) will come in and want to chat about jump rope or school or the funny thing she just thought about.  And I can't resist any of it.  Or I'll think, "I really should throw in a load of laundry," or "I have bills to pay," or "I wonder if we have any chocolate?"

So I write at Starbucks.

And the Starbucks nearest me is tucked inside a Stop & Shop.  With a book deadline, three kids, two in diapers, and one drinking formula, this basically means I'm here ALL THE TIME.  Seriously, how many of you hug and kiss the woman who checks out your groceries?  I do because I feel like I know her that well.

I was here this weekend with all three kids because I needed to pick up food for dinner.  To make the chore more fun for Alena and Ethan, I told them I'd get them a treat at Starbucks.  I knew Alena would want an iced chai (like her mom), and Ethan would want an apple fritter.  He's obsessed with them.

So we're in line, and for no reason whatsoever, Ethan winds up and slaps Alena.  We still don't know why he committed this crime.  I'm blaming systemic testosterone.  Toxic stuff.

I said, "Ethan, you can't hit Alena.  Tell her you're sorry."

He stared at me.  No way.  Not happening.

"Okay, Ethan, that's not a good choice.  You hit her, and you won't say sorry.  You're not getting a fritter.  You sure about this?"

No apology.

Alena gets her iced chai, Ethan gets nothing.  Ethan then throws the biggest tantrum Starbucks and Stop & Shop have ever seen.  As he was losing his mind on the floor of Starbucks, I actually laughed to myself, thinking, "There's no screaming in my sacred space!"

I snapped this photo of him in the produce aisle:

I'm in Starbucks now, writing in my imperfect yet sacred space.  And everyone here is still talking about the tantrum...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Still Alice, still going!

My books feel in some ways like my children (so far, I've given birth to 3 babies and 2 books).  Each one is unique, I love them all, and you'd better watch out if you have anything bad to say about any of them (well, I understand that not all reviewers and readers are going to love all of my books, but they're not allowed to say anything mean about my kids!).

And even though I have no favorites, there's a special place in my heart for the first one, both child and book.  I didn't know what the heck I was doing with either one (as a mother or an author), and I'm eternally grateful to both of them for bumping their way into this world and into my life, however ungraceful and ignorant I was in guiding them here.

This week I received phenomenal news about STILL ALICE, my firstborn book.  STILL ALICE won the Bexley 2011 Book of the Year award!  More than two years after its publication date, I couldn't be more proud!

Because this distinction is awarded from England, I thought I'd share with you some of the UK STILL ALICE covers (the different covers are like showing people pictures of your baby dressed in different outfits).

Here's the original UK cover concept that was rejected:

And the original UK paperback that was released in March 2009:

And the STILL ALICE paperback released in the UK a year later, the copy on the stands there now:

Cute, huh?

Thank you so much for choosing STILL ALICE as the 2011 Bexley Book of the Year.  I'm truly honored and thrilled! Thank you for reading STILL ALICE and for using the book as a vehicle to discuss Alzheimer's.  So many people are afraid to talk about Alzheimer's.  It's incredibly rewarding to know that readers are braving this scary topic and coming away with a better understanding of this disease, the people who live with it, and that we are more than what we can remember.

Again, so proud.  Now off to pay some attention to my third "baby,"  LOVE ANTHONY....

Monday, May 16, 2011

Australia Book Tour 2011: Most Memorable Moments

Meeting Christine and Paul Bryden in Brisbane (see previous post).

Fireworks over the river during dinner in Brisbane, arranged just for me by my publicist (not really, but we had front row seats and no knowledge that this would be happening--we were delighted!).

The complete, circular rainbow my husband and I saw at the top of the Harbor Bridge.  It was huge and breathtaking, and it encircled the Opera House. I don't have a photo for you because Bridge Climb Sydney doesn't allow anyone to carry cameras on the climb (my poor photographer husband was beside himself--missing the best photo opportunity of his life!).

The many times I was stumped by the accent.  And I grew up with a THICK Boston accent, so this surprises me a bit.  Let me give you an example:  At a book signing in Perth, a reader told me her name and handed me her copy of LEFT NEGLECTED.  I looked up at her, stumped.  She said her name again.  I asked her to repeat it.  I still couldn't make out what she was saying.  I finally asked her to spell it:  "Sue."  (She's from New Zealand.)

Koalas, caramel and real.

Fish and chips on Watson's Bay.

My beautiful publicist, Anabel.  Thank you for a most memorable and amazing tour and for taking such good care of us!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Christine Bryden

I had a book event in Sydney last week and was talking about STILL ALICE and the Dementia Advocacy & Support Network International (DASNI).  And because I was in Sydney, I mentioned Christine Bryden.  Christine was one of the founding members of DASNI and one of the amazingly generous people who shared with me what it's like to live with dementia while I was writing STILL ALICE.  Christine was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when she was 46 years old.  She wrote two incredible books, WHO WILL I BE WHEN I DIE?  and DANCING WITH DEMENTIA. She is also an Australian, which is what made me think of and mention her aloud to the audience.

I met Christine online through DASNI in 2004.  I think it was around 2006 when the group at DASNI received an email from her husband, Paul, saying that she wasn't doing so well and would be taking a step back from things.  She would no longer be active on DASNI email or chat.  I remember wondering and worrying about her many times since, but fearing the worst, I never had the courage to send a personal email to ask, "How are you doing?"

So during this book event in Sydney, I remained preoccupied with thoughts of Christine.  When I returned to my hotel room, I turned on my computer, logged on to my email, and there, in my inbox, was an email from CHRISTINE BRYDEN.


She was just back from a vacation and wanted to let me know that she'd read STILL ALICE.  She loved it and thanked me for thanking her in the acknowledgments.  And she ended the email with, "if you're ever in Brisbane, let us know!"

Again, !!!

I was dumbstruck and thrilled, staring at an email from Christine after at least five years of not receiving an email from Christine on the very day I mentioned her name aloud after five years of not saying her name aloud while I'm in Australia and heading to, of all places, Brisbane!

I love coincidences like this because I don't believe in coincidences.  I believe in magic and God and the spirituality of the Universe.

A few days later, I was in Brisbane, and Christine and her lovely husband, Paul, came to my book event at Dymock's.  We had coffee outside after the event, then walked along the river, then shared stories over beers.  I feel so grateful for having had the chance to meet her in person, to hug her and thank her again for all she's given to me, to get to know her and Paul better.  And I feel peace in my heart, knowing that she is doing well.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Confession and Apology

So first, the obvious.  I'm a terrible blogger.  I have no stamina.  I started out with the best of intentions, all gung-ho.  And then...I haven't been here since February.  Which brings me to the apology.  I'm so very sorry for bringing you here with the promise of a blog, and then leaving you here, awkwardly wondering if I'm ever coming back.  Actually, I can't imagine that anyone's still here, so maybe I'm apologizing to cyber air.  Is anybody still here?

In any case, I'm back!  Let me catch everyone (if anyone's reading) up on the last few months.  The US book tour was amazing.  It brought me to Toronto twice, NYC twice, Boston, New Hampshire, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, South Carolina, Colorado, Arizona, Georgia, and Florida.  I was up in the air A LOT this winter (and didn't see George Clooney once--so disappointed!).  It was a stormy winter with TONS of snow in New England, and I faced flight delays and event cancellations (RJ Julia was postponed due to snow twice!).  In fact, all of Boston Logan airport shut down once, and I had to regroup and take an Amtrak train. Dear Simon & Schuster, please consider releasing my next book in the spring.

Some highlights of the US tour:

Meeting Diane Rehm.

Meeting authors Jeannette Walls and Elena Gorokhova in Toronto.

Meeting authors Jamie Ford (and wife Leesha), Helen Simonson, Luis Alberto Urrea (and wife Cindy), Ann Hood, and Julia Glass at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Meeting my friend Kris just before giving the keynote at the Savannah Book Festival.  Kris and I have known each other for years, but only online and over the phone.  Kris has early onset Alzheimer's.  It was so moving for both of us to finally meet in person.

Seeing so many volunteers from NEHSA, including Tom Kersey, at Gibson's Bookstore in New Hampshire.  Remembering Tom presenting me with the signed snowboard and official NEHSA jacket still moves me to tears.

Getting to spend time with my Aunt Mary in South Carolina and my Aunt Anne in Florida.

Okay, now that you're caught up, I can start from where I am---SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA!  I'll be touring here (Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane) for the next ten days.  And since I left my darling husband home with three kids all winter for the US tour, it was only fair that I bring him to Australia, so he's here with me (a HUGE thank you to our parents and Sue for watching our children while we're on the other side of the world!).

I'm off to Circular Queue to write a little of LOVE ANTHONY by the Opera House before my book events today--sure to be a highlight of this tour! And I'll keep you posted on what happens while I'm down under--I promise!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gibson's and New England Handicapped Sports Association

Last week I attended one of my all-time favorite book events.  It was at Gibson's Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire.  The bookseller was gracious, the crowd was huge, standing room only, and the Q&A part of the event was lively and fun.  But the best part of this event for me, and the reason why I'm sure I'll tell my grandchildren about it someday, were the people who came from New England Handicapped Sports Association (NEHSA).

For those of you who've already read LEFT NEGLECTED, you know a little about NEHSA.  You know that this is an organization of mostly volunteers, people who make it their mission to "bear witness to the triumph of the human spirit by helping people with disabilities and their families enrich their lives through adaptive sports."  They help people who have traumatic brain injuries (like Sarah), who have amputations or MS or autism learn to ski or snowboard.  They give people a sense of freedom, independence, confidence, and joy that transcends the experience on the mountain.

When I was doing research for LEFT NEGLECTED, I visited NEHSA at Mount Sunapee in NH.  I met with Tom Kersey, the executive director there, and within a few minutes of talking with him, I knew I wanted to include NEHSA in my book.  I knew I wanted them to help Sarah get back on the mountain and that NEHSA would help her imagine a new dream for her life.  A new normal.  And because of all the positive, life-changing gifts they give to people, I hoped my book would give them some great exposure---some readers would be people or know people who might benefit from the NEHSA experience.  And maybe it would create opportunities for donations and raising funds.

Never did I imagine that NEHSA would be giving anything to me.  So imagine my surprise when Tom Kersey and the volunteers and members of NEHSA presented me with an official NEHSA jacket and a snowboard!  Sarah's snowboard--signed by everyone at NEHSA.  I was so truly moved!

I now wear my jacket with great pride (and with great appreciation given all the snow we've been getting this winter!)--I'm so honored to be an official member of the NEHSA team.

Now to see if I'll ever get up the nerve to snowboard!

Monday, January 24, 2011

South Carolina

Last weekend my book tour took me to South Carolina.  When my publicist originally told me I'd be going to South Carolina for a weekend in January, I thought, "Fantastic!  It'll be WARM!"  My Aunt Mary moved from Massachusetts to South Carolina ten years ago, and she's always bragging about 70 degree days while we're up here shoveling snow.

I arrived at Myrtle Beach last Thursday evening, and it was 36 degrees.  So not warm.  Ah well.  I wasn't there to sun bathe or play golf anyway.

On Friday, I was the Moveable Feast author at Pawleys Plantation.  It was a great event, attended by about 150 people (mostly women, a few brave men).  I talked for about 40 minutes and then opened the floor to a lively and fun Q&A (always my favorite part of book events).  Thank you to Litchfield Books for sponsoring and promoting the Feast (they have a great lineup of authors this winter, including one of my favorites, Elizabeth Gilbert)!

On Saturday, I had the honor and pleasure of being one of the panel authors at the Wild Dunes Author Luncheon.  This event was also very well attended (about 150).  The best part of the event for me was meeting and learning a bit about the other authors. Mary Alice Monroe, a passionate environmentalist and bestselling author, was our dynamic and gracious moderator. My fellow panelists were:  Jeffrey Stepakoff, author of Fireworks Over Toccoa, Ann Ross, author of the Miss Julia novles, Tamar Myers, author of The Headhunter's Daughter (among many others), and Diane Chamberlain, author of The Shadow Wife (among 20 others!).  It was especially fascinating and reassuring to hear about each author's writing process.  Mine seems to be as methodical, mysterious, magical, and terrifying as everyone else's.

On Sunday, I sat a small table with my Aunt Mary at the front of Barnes & Noble for an hour and a half.  My friend, Doug, from college and a lovely woman from Facebook stopped by to chat and buy a book.  Not exactly the crowd of 150 that I'd been spoiled with during the previous two South Carolina events.  Ah well.  I didn't mind. Events like that keep you humble.  And it was 60 degrees outside.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Top Ten Best Things About My Trip to NYC

I went to NYC on Tuesday with the plan to travel to Madison, CT that night with my publicist to attend a book event at RJ Julia's. But alas, Mother Nature had other plans and threw a huge snow storm at us. The event has been moved to February 2, 7 pm. So, no book event in CT or NYC, but I had a great time! Here are the top ten highlights:

10. The FOOD. Oh my, the FOOD. Especially memorable--the lobster sandwich at Oceans.

9. NYC Firemen. On my first night, when I should've been at RJ Julia's, there was an electrical fire and people were trapped in an elevator in my hotel. I was "trapped" in the lobby for about two hours, watching the firemen. They were all in full gear, looking larger than life, wielding hatchets and long metal poles (I assume for extracting the people from the elevator; I was so grateful to be trapped only in the lobby!). It was quite an exciting, if inconvenient, scene. My 3 year old son would've loved it.

8. Hearing my name and Snooky mentioned in the same sentence. It turns out Snooky has a book out now, too, and we're both published by Gallery at Simon & Schuster. So my publicist kept talking about us, in the same breath. I'm still cracking up thinking about it. Who knew we had anything in common? (Although, my hair in the 80's was something to see...)

7. Seeing this display in the lobby of 1230 Avenue of the Americas:

(sorry, can't get photo to download onto my ipad--need tech support, aka husband. Check back on Monday)

6. The Champagne Toast. The many people at Gallery who helped bring LEFT NEGLECTED into the world gathered together yesterday with me and toasted to the book! I'm so lucky to have such a talented and devoted team behind this novel.

5. Watching the emotional response to my description of the next book, LOVE ANTHONY, after the toast. I'm on the right track!

4. Hearing that LEFT NEGLECTED debuted at #23 on the New York Times Bestseller list for hardcover fiction!

3. Hearing that LEFT NEGLECTED debuted at #5 in Canada!

2. A lovely dinner with my even lovelier agent.

1. No diapers.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Launch Party!

On Thursday, Where the Sidewalk Ends (one of the two independent bookstores in my small town--we're so lucky here!) hosted a most fabulous launch party for LEFT NEGLECTED.  The store was all decked out in lights, red apples, and more copies of my book than I could count!  Here's a photo of the wonderful women from Where the Sidewalk Ends who made it all happen.

A special and heartfelt thank you to Joanne and Caitlin Doggart, the store's owners (the two lovely ladies to my left).  I had a blast sharing this night with so many close friends, family, and enthusiastic readers from the Cape and beyond.

And when I say beyond, I'm not kidding.  The highlight of the night for me was meeting Mike and his family who drove 10 hours from Canada to come to this event!

It was almost two years ago.  I had only written about 50 pages of LEFT NEGLECTED when I received my first email from Mike.  His sister Karyn had come across my website--and my request for help in better understanding what it's like to experience Left side Neglect.  In January 2007, Mike suffered a stroke on the right side of his brain. He now lives with Left Neglect.

We talked on the phone and emailed many times.  In these conversations, Mike candidly shared his Left Neglect stories with me---the challenges, his goals, his strategies for adapting, what he's lost, what he's gained, and the humor he often finds in living with this condition.  I also spoke and emailed with his wife, Sue, about all the same things but from her perspective.  They taught me so much about Left Neglect--far more than I could ever have learned from any of the text books.

So it was an extraordinary gift to meet Mike and his wife and sister in person on Thursday.  I can't thank them enough for making the long journey to Chatham from Canada (and then back!).  At one point during the evening, Mike said to me, "It's been so difficult trying to explain what I have to people.  Now I can give them a copy of your book, and they'll understand."

Thank you again, Mike.  It doesn't get any more rewarding that that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Belated Happy Pub Day!

I had planned to enter my first LEFT NEGLECTED blog post yesterday, on Publication Day, but it was such a whirlwind day, I didn't have time.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I had plenty of time to be on Facebook--to spread the word and thank friends and family and fans for their support.  And the embarrassingly compulsive/addictive behavior of checking my amazon.com rank began again, so I had time for that.  But I spent most of the day going to book stores, signing stock, saying Hi and Thanks and jumping up and down with some of my favorite booksellers.  I actually screamed when I saw this display at Where the Sidewalk Ends here in Chatham.

Oh, and I bought three copies of USA Today at Stop & Shop because Craig Wilson (Oh, how I love Craig Wilson!) wrote a PHENOMENAL review of LEFT NEGLECTED.

It was definitely a whirlwind day--hopefully the kickoff to a whirlwind tour!  I have lots of hopes for this book.  I hope it gives readers an opportunity to think about their own lives, to maybe slow down and pay more attention to what really matters to them.  I hope it teaches readers a little bit about traumatic brain injury and Left Neglect.  I hope it helps certain readers find NEHSA (New England Handicapped Sports Association), and I hope it changes their lives.  I hope the story helps everyone to learn to ignore our cell phones in our cars.  And mostly, I hope you all like it!

I did have a little time last night before bed to enter this post.  But instead I drank a glass of wine with my husband and played Connect Four with my 10-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.  I think Sarah Nickerson would approve!