Sunday, April 6, 2008

Love Letters from Lil

Perhaps you too have an older relative

who has mastered the inner workings

of the Internet in a way that necessitates

forwarding every e-mail she receives

to every address on her contact list.

Mine is Cousin Lil, my mother’s cousin.

And I am blessed to count myself

among her contacts.

Some days, while on-line,

I can see them coming,

like an avalanche they fall

through the ether

straight into my inbox.

The same moniker repeating…




I’m especially mystified by those bold

messages that threaten some manner of

cosmic misfortune if they are not forwarded

to at least ten people in the next twenty seconds.

And then there is the alarmist variety,

like the one that offers instructions on

what to do if someone kidnaps you by

locking you in the trunk of a car and

driving off (punch out a taillight and wave

your arm frantically through the hole).

Cousin Lil forwards them all.

I must confess that I’ve begun to delete

these communiqués from Lillycoo,

oftentimes unread and unopened.

But yesterday was a slow a day.

Lil’s subject line read:

“the most amazing video ever.”

I double-clicked it.

A frozen frame appeared behind

the familiar right-pointing triangle,

that universal symbol for Play.


How much do you love it?

Isn’t it the greatest thing since…

Cell phones?

The telegram?

Smoke signals?

I clicked on the triangle.

In the video, a man leads an elephant

to an easel near a group of onlookers.

He places a narrow paintbrush into the grip

of the creature’s nimble trunk.

I watch as the elephant begins to paint

a most astonishing portrait

of an elephant holding a flower.

Later, over dinner, I describe all this

to my husband who says, “Elephants

are very intelligent animals. They are

even known to mourn their dead.”

I ponder this a moment, wondering

if that artful creature might have been

painting a particular elephant.

Perhaps a cousin.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mother-Daughter Book Club

Starting in the fourth grade, here's the list of books our wonderful group of six girls (and their moms) has read so far:

1) The Star Fisher
2) Ella Enchanted
3) Danny the Champion of the World
4) The Road to Home
5) Which Witch?
6) Millicent Min: Girl Genius
7) Esperanza Rising
8) Island of the Blue Dolphins
9) Out of the Dust
10) Summer of the Monkeys
11) The Witch of Blackbird Pond
12) White Star: A Dog on the Titanic
13) The Devil's Arithmetic
14) Ginger Pye
15) The Giver
16) Are you there, God? It's Me, Margaret
17) So B. It
18) Witness
19) The Truth About Forever
20) A Northern Light
21) Megan Meade's Guide to the McGowan Boys
22) The Last Safe Place
23) Hope Was Here
24) Backwater
25) Things Not Seen
26) Lush
27) Elsewhere
28) Lily Dale: Awakening
29) Turnabout
30) The Book Thief
31) Monique and the Mango Rains
32) Chicken Soup for the Soul
33) Firefly Lane
34) My Sister’s Keeper
35) The Only Alien on the Planet
36) Paternity
37) The Wednesday Sisters
38) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
39) The Burn Journals
40) The Choice
41) Greyhound
42) The Secret Life of Bees
43) A Soft Place to Land
44) Nineteen Minutes
45) Water for Elephants
46) The Help
47) One Day
48) Girl With The Pearl Earring
49) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
50) Crank

Gladbook Club Reading List

In September of 2000, our dear friend Martha Kelly asked me to be her partner in establishing a neighborhood women's book club. Sadly, Martha is no longer with us (nor Caroline) but the book club is still going strong. Here is the list of books we've read over the years. I've emboldened my own personal favorites.

1) Plain Song – Kent Haruf (Martha, Sept. 2000)
2) Girl with the Pearl Earring – Tracy Chevalier (Ann, Oct. 2000)
3) Waiting – Ha Jin (Sue, Nov. 2000)
4) Christmas Letters – Lee Smith (Ann, Dec. 2000)
5) Girl in Hyacinth Blue – Susan Vreeland (Caroline, Jan. 2001)
6) A Lesson Before Dying – Earnest Gaines (Mary Helen, Feb. 2001)
7) House of Sand and Fog – Andre Dubus (Margaret, Mar. 2001)
8) Stones from the River – Ursula Hegi (Margaret, Apr. 2001)
9) Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver (Ann, May 2001)
10) The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan (Marj, June 2001)
11) The Red Tent – Anita Diamant (Sue, Sept. 2001)
12) How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill (Margaret, Oct. 2001)
13) On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon – Kaye Gibbons (Marj, Nov. 2001)
14) Christmas in Plains – Jimmy Carter (Caroline, Dec. 2001)
15) The Waves – Virginia Woolf (Sue, Jan. 2002)
16) Jayber Crow – Wendell Berry (Martha, Feb. 2002)
17) Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner (Mary Helen, Mar. 2002)
18) A Painted House – John Grisham (Marj, Apr. 2002)
19) Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut (Margaret, May 2002)
20) Daughter of Fortune – Isabel Allende (Ann, June 2002)
21) In Sunlight, In a Beautiful Garden – Kathleen Cambor (Marcie, July 2002)
22) A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson (Martha, Sept. 2002)
23) The Man Who Was Thursday – D.K. Chesterton (Caroline, Oct. 2002)
24) Leo Africanus – Amin Maalouf (Sue, Nov. 2002)
25) The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (Edna, Dec. 2002)
26) The Samurai’s Garden – Gail Tsukiyama (Mary Helen, Jan. 2003)
27) Einstein’s Dream – Alan Lightman (Margaret, Feb. 2003)
28) Nickel and Dimed – Barbar Ehrenreich (Martha, Mar. 2003)
29) Kindred – Octavia Butler (Ann, Apr. 2003)
30) Enduring Love – Ian McEwan (Marcie, May 2003)
31) Small Wonder – Barbara Kingsolver (Sue, June 2003)
32) East of Eden – John Steinbeck (Edna, Sept. 2003)
33) The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd (Mary Helen, Oct. 2003)
34) Unless – Carol Shields (Anne B., Nov. 2003)
35) Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress – Dai Sijie (Margaret, Dec. 2003)
36) Tepper Isn’t Going Out – Calvin Trillin (Ann D., Jan. 2004)
37) Bel Canto – Ann Patchett (Julie, Feb. 2004)
38) Peace Like a River – Leif Enger (all, Mar. 2004)
39) A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (Marcie, Apr. 2004)
40) Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment (Martha, May 2004)
41) The Pickup – Nadine Gordimer (Sue, Aug. 2004)
42) The Great Fire – Shirley Hazzard (Mary Helen, Sept. 2004)
43) Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson (Edna, Oct. 2004)
44) The Transit of Venus – Shirley Hazzard (Margaret, Nov. 2004)
45) Greenwillow – B.J. Chute (Margaret, Dec. 2004)
46) Madam Secretary – Madeleine Albright (Ann, Jan. 2005)
47) The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini (Martha, Feb. 2005)
48) Metro Stop Dostoevsky – Ingrid Bengis (Marcie, Mar. 2005)
49) The Reader – Bernhard Schlink (Linda, Apr. 2005)
50) Servants of the Map – Andrea Barrett (Edna, May 2005)
51) The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri (Sue, June 2005)
52) Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe (Margaret, Oct. 2005)
53) Saturday – Ian McEwan (Ann, Nov. 2005)
54) Pomegranate Soup – Marsha Mehran (Marcie, Dec. 2005 / Jan. 2006)
55) Name All the Animals – Allison Smith (Mary Helen, Feb. 2006)
56) The Final Solution – Michael Chabon (Edna, Mar. 2006)
57) Silas Marner – George Eliot (Linda, Apr. 2006)
58) Madame Dread – Kathie Klarreich (Sue, May 2006)
59) Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See (Ann, June 2006)
60) All the King's Men – Robert Penn Warren (Margaret, Sept. 2006)
61) Emma's War – Deborah Scroggins (Nancy, Oct. 2006)
62) The News from Paraguay – Lily Tuck (Marcie, Nov. 2006)
63) Sailing Alone Around the Room - Billy Collins (Mary Helen, Dec. 2006)
64) The Music Lesson – Katherine Weber (Marj, Jan. 2007)
65) Life of Pi – Yann Martel (Debbie, Feb. 2007)
66) The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards (Edna, Mar. 2007)
67) Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen ( Sue, Apr. 2007)
68) The Buffalo Soldier - Chris Bohjalian (Ann, May, 2007)
69) Gilead – Marilynne Robinson (Margaret, June 2007)
70) The Fountain Overflows – Rebecca West (Kathleen, Sept. 2007)
71) The Echo Maker – Richard Powers (Marcie, Oct. 2007)
72) One Thousand White Women – Jim Fergus (Edna, Nov. 2007)
73) The Locket – Richard Paul Evans (Debbie, Dec. 2007)
74) Intuition – Allegra Goodman (Sue, Jan. 2008)
75) A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini (Mary Helen, Feb. 2008)
76) Devil in the White City – Erik Larson (Margaret, Mar. 2008)
77) The Glass Castle – Jeanette Walls (Louise, Apr. 2008)
78) Loving Frank – Nancy Horan (Ann, May 2008)
79) Abeng – Michelle Cliff (Kathleen, June 2008)
80) The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (Edna, Sept. 2008)
81) My Antonia – Willa Cather (Margaret, Oct. 2008)
82) The Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society - (Nancy, Nov. 2008)
83) Letter to My Daughter – Maya Angelou (Marcie, Dec. 2008)
84) Memoirs of a Geisha - Golden (Debbie, Jan. 2009)
85) The Ministry of Special Cases – Nathan Englander (Sue, Feb. 2009)
86) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (Mary Helen, Mar. 2009)
87) Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World – Vicki Myron (Ann, Apr. 2009)
88) Run – Ann Patchett (Louise, May 2009)
89) For Your Eyes Only – Ian Fleming (group, June 2009)
90) The Photograph by Penelope Lively (Sept. 21, 2009, Edna)
91) Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson and Anne Born (Oct. 19, 2009, Margaret)
92) Complications by Atul Gawande (Nov. 16, 2009, Karin)
93) Olive Kitterige by Elizabeth Strout (Dec. 21, 2009, Ann)
94) Three Cups of Tea by G. Mortenson and D. Relin (Jan. 18, 2010, Nancy)
95) The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton (Feb. 22, 2010, Lisa)
96) Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery and Alison Anderson (March 15, 2010, Marcie)
97) The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and Alison Anderson (April 19, 2010, Sue)
98) Home by Marilynne Robinson (May 17, 2010, Louise)
99) Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (June 21, 2010, Mary Helen)
100) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Sept. 20, 2010, Edna)
101) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Oct. 18, 2010, Margaret)
102) The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Nov. 15, 2010, Louise)
103) A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel (Dec. 20, 2010, Sue)
104) The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Jan. 17, 2011, Kristin)
105) Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (Feb. 28, 2011, Lisa)
106) My Reading Life by Pat Conroy (Apr. 11, 2011, Marcie)
107) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (May 16, 2011, Mary Helen)
108) A Death in the Family by James Agee (June 20, 2011, Ann)
White Noise by Don Delillo (Sept. 19, 2011, Louise)
110) Someone Knows my Name by Lawrence Hill (Oct. 17, 2011, Sue)

Haiku for Janet

Rainy summer day
Renewing girlhood friendship --
The bay refilling.


Our shadow’s roundness,
Larger than the brightness
Onto which it’s cast,
Creeps toward the rim
Till all is dim.


The brightness emerges,
As its blanket passes
Into nothingness,
And then disappears
For many years.


Even in your sleep,
What little sleep there is,
you labor to keep each aloft,
though one may feel prickly
and one weepy.
Tomorrow one will be jittery
or unpredictable.
Your singular goal is
never let them

You are weary and
sometimes terrified,
but never bored.

At times you envy
the childless woman who
dines in symphonic elegance
across from the well-dressed man,
leisurely selecting
a perfect wine. Thoughtfully
discussing world affairs.
Completing one elaborate sentence
after another. You see her
at the supermarket, spending
countless minutes, teasing out
the choicest green beans,
as you race
to beat the school bus

You are a mother, a juggler
by trade. You pray
that every ball tossed
will come back,
for you to do it again.
While she toils each day,
just to create
something to toss up.
Something to fill
her spacious sky.

Remembering in Color

but not Santa Claus red,
with a tinge of orange,
like the shade of lipstick
Caroline sometimes wore
to our book club meetings.
That's the red of the quilt
my mother is sewing,
from fabric that once belonged
to Caroline,
who, only months ago,
while describing a young and
carefree female character
in one of our books,
actually uttered the word,
with a girlish smile
on those reddish lips.

is the color
of the frog pin
that I brought her
for luck,
and for her collection
of frog things,
when I found out
about her tumor.
Emerald green
like the color of
her lush front yard
where she used to
wave to me
on her way
to the mailbox.

Reflections of a Wicked Stepmother

There’s a body on the sofa
And a book is in its hand.
It eats chips and cheesecake pudding
And wants me to understand.

It wears clothes but can’t do laundry,
Rides my bike with tires flat,
Leaves its shoes for me to trip on
‘Cause it didn’t think of that.

Frozen waffles on the counter,
Empty bags back on the shelf.
Standing water in the bathtub
It thinks only of itself.

Now and then I catch a glimmer
Of humanity inside.
Can I help? I hear a voice say.
It’s a person, I decide.

What a welcome revelation,
I am truly gratified.
After all of our frustration,
All the tears that have been cried.

There’s just one more little problem,
One more thing that I must do.
I must now somehow convince her
That I’m a person too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Interview with Susan Baruch – author of Paternity

Where are you from?
Cleveland, Ohio – and proudly so.

Tell us your latest news?
I appear in a documentary film entitled “The Muslims I Know” – made by a friend of mine, Mara Ahmed. We hope it will be accepted into Rochester’s High Falls Film Fest this spring.

When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing in my twenties simply because I had stories inside me. One was about my experiences at a beloved summer camp as an awkward twelve year old who came out of her shell, thanks to some unlikely connections made there. Another was about a young woman I met (at a macrobiotic dinner) who was dying of cancer.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not until I took a class called “Send It!” at Writers & Books of Rochester in the summer of 2004. My wonderful teacher, Kitten Howard, insisted that we start thinking of ourselves as writers, and conducted a “Send It” ceremony, complete with candles and a trip to the mailbox with our submissions on the last night of class.

What inspired you to write your first book?
I was inspired by a book that I read called “The Transit of Venus” by Shirley Hazzard. Believe it or not, it was the structure of the book that made a huge impression on me. Because of her brilliant use of foreshadowing, the actual ending of her story takes place in the readers’ minds after the last words of the book are read. That just blew me away!

Who or what has influenced your writing?
I love writers like Anne Tyler and Kate Atkinson – women who take us into the ordinary contemporary world of love and family with tenderness and humor, and make us care deeply about their flawed but lovable characters and their relationships.

How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing? Well, anyone who knows my mother will recognize aspects of her in my novel. In an essay I wrote, entitled “It’s Personal” which was published in the anthology “A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love” (Adams Media, 2005), I describe my own struggle with finding love in the face of my mother’s fierce pressure to “marry Jewishly.”

Do you have a specific writing style?
I like to keep it light, fast-paced and entertaining, with as much humor as possible. I try to refrain from sentimentality (which is sometimes a challenge for me.)

What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Contemporary literature.

How did you come up with the title?
Oh, the title was easy. It’s all about a man who wants to, and does, produce offspring before he dies. Paternity was the obvious choice.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. I want my readers to come away with the understanding that people, whether Jewish or Christian, black, white, bi-racial or Asian, gay or straight, vegetarian or omnivorous, are more the same than different; and that all are worthy of love. I hope the characters in Paternity convey that message.

How much of the book is realistic?
I believe all of it is. It’s a story that could happen. That’s what makes it compelling, I hope.Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life? Many of the characters’ back-stories are based on my own experiences or those of people I’ve known. For example, my first boyfriend will recognize himself. I’m hoping that will make him smile.

What books have most influenced your life most?
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng, The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Anne Tyler

What book are you reading now?
There are three: The Devil in the White City, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.

What are your current projects? Writing projects?
I just finished a personal essay about a childhood friend who passed away a few years back.

Other projects?
Getting ready for my son’s bar mitzvah, redecorating the walls of my house.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The women of my two book clubs (one a neighborhood book club, the other a mother-daughter book club) have been very supportive and enthusiastic.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not at this time. Ask me again in a year or two.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
As a young scientist/engineer working at Kodak, I found that even the technical writing that my job required attracted me. The leap to creative writing felt natural.

Why did you pick Rain Publishing to be your publisher?
I have always been something of a “Canadaphile” – I love Canadian films and even TV shows (such as Slings & Arrows) so it seemed like a great fit.

Rain Publishing receives over 100 submissions everyday- why did they pick your book to publish?
Hopefully because it rang true, and struck a chord.

What was the submission process?
I submitted my entire manuscript by e-mail as specified on the RAIN website.

Would you recommend writing as a career? Why or why not?
I love writing and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is so inclined. But don’t quit your day job!Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Sometimes I find it difficult to balance clarity with intrigue – deciding how much to spell out and how much to leave up to the reader to infer.Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? I can’t give a single name: Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Anita Diamant, Michael Cunningham, Amy Bloom, Nicole Krauss. All of these writers evoke strong emotions in unique ways.

Who is the target market for your books? Why did you choose that market?
Primarily women, and more sensitive males – anyone who enjoys a good page-turner about family relationships, and has an open mind. Parents of all stripes, Jewish readers, interfaith couples, people with strong ethnic family ties, liberal-minded Catholics and African-Americans, gay readers and vegetarians will especially identify with this story.

What is like working with a publisher that is not from the same country?
It’s no problem. I am fortunate to live in Rochester, NY, which is just a short drive from Canada. I actually took the opportunity to meet Tilly Rivers, Sarah Hylton, and some of the other members of the RAIN family when they held an authors’ night in Toronto last summer. It was delightful!

Today all sized publishing houses expect much more from authors, and often ask for a marketing / promotional plan as part of the submission process- what advice do you have for upcoming writers regarding the marketing aspects of writing?
It’s definitely good to think about this as you are writing, but don’t let it influence what/how you write. Writing from the heart is most important!

What disillusions do you think authors have?
There are so many new books on the market every year (every month!). It’s hard get the attention that you know your writing deserves.

Who designed the covers?
RAIN has a graphic designer, Kara Elsberry, who does that.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
I find the editing process difficult, because, unlike a painting, you can’t see the whole thing at once. You have to go through it linearly and hope that when you change something it doesn’t mess up something else later on.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? Do you have any advice for other writers?Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope you love this story as much as I do. If so, please share it with your friends and please send me feedback. I look forward to hearing from you!

Writing is a tough market, with hundreds of thousands of books; publisher’s down-sizing or going under-what is the unique selling feature your book offers readers?
The sheer pleasure of getting to know these characters and finding out how they navigate the complicated and compelling circumstances of their lives.

What is your ultimate goal as an author?
To speak to the hearts of my readers, to make them smile and enrich their lives in some small way.

What has been your greatest accomplishments?
My three beautiful, red-headed children. And this book!

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully retired from Kodak. At that point, with three children just graduated from college and hopefully on their own, I look forward to more writing and more traveling with my husband. As a movie buff, I’d love to take a film festival cruise some day – maybe with Roger Ebert (one of my heroes), if he’s still around.