Monday, October 26, 2009

Ghost Reader

The following is an excerpt from my manuscript The Cemetery Garden, my first brush with a ghost. One day, I plan on revising and sending it out on submission, because for some reason, the story won't let me go. Ghosts are like that.

I huddled between my mother and sister on a cold metal folding chair lining the grave’s edge. A billowy and familiar form drifted toward the mound of earth that would soon blanket my father's casket. Aunt Florence was draped in a flowery, tent-like shift she’d typically reserved for Friday night dinners. Certain I’d imagined her, I blinked, hoping the puffy shape was a circle of leaves blown up from the ground. But her red curls gave her away. She caught my eye and tapped two fingers to her heart, our private signal of affection.

My dead aunt.

I gulped and covered my shock with a cough. Then I inhaled cool air and slowly blinked again. Still there. Aunt Florence had been dead for over twenty years and, until that moment, had never appeared.

She showed up frequently after that. But why? Oh, I asked, but she never answered. Sometimes when I tossed questions at her, she’d fade away, as though my words were a strong wind and she, a pile of leaves.

Aunt Florence had a heart attack and died the summer I was at sleep-away camp. When I returned, tanned and over-s'mored, I stared at my father as he cautiously told me. I ignored his words, and ran to the cemetery near our house. They'd buried her at a cemetery across town, but I didn’t want to ask him to drive me there. So I pretended St. Patrick’s was her cemetery and zigzagged through the myriad tombstones searching for a lady named Florence. I found Florence Fitzgerald, picked up some dirt, and spread it across the last name. Now she was my Florence.

When I do revise, I'll likely use my new favorite self-editing tool, GhostReader. Read more about a ghost reader named Rachel on What Women Write.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mass Blog--WOW and Family Relationships

Today I’m participating in a mass blogging! WOW! Women on Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about family relationships. Why family relationships? We’re celebrating the release of Therese Walsh’s debut novel today. The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Random House, October 13, 2009) is about a mysterious journey that helps a woman learn more about herself and her twin, whom she lost they were teenagers. Visit the Muffin (on the 13th) to read what Therese has to say about family relationships and view the list of all my blogging buddies. And make sure you visit to find out more about the author.

I can’t wait to read Therese's novel. Mostly because my favorite books evoke haunting feelings, narratives in which characters unravel family secrets, where the present is woven inextricably from the past, where adversity is mirrored through generations of women. Novels don’t need happy endings or big fat bows, in fact, I prefer tragic family tales with unrequited or forbidden love stories and endings that satisfy but are never expected. Not only do I like to read about these themes, but also they inhabit my writing.

I grew up in a middle-class household with middle-class values, which translated to me as unremarkable. I often imagined I’d find out I was adopted or that my mother was descended from royalty, like the Russian duchess Anastasia. Or, perhaps my father had a Swiss bank account hidden away. But sadly, no, just four girls going to public school in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

We’re all so different, yet I connect with each one in a different way. My oldest sister is a book-a-holic and, while we don’t always share the same favorites, we have a few elements on which we’ll always agree: Anglophilia, nuns, and anything written by Adriana Trigiani or Maeve Binchy. While those two authors write very different books, they have some similar qualities: humor, charm, and family relationships. We also share an aversion to butter and mayonnaise (ick, she’d say) and both adore coffee and chocolate.

My next sister is a bit of a rebel, needs a GPS to navigate a city in which she’s lived all her life, but she never misses a birthday or anniversary, and thoughtfully sends me author readings from Politics and Prose. She makes the best pizza south of New York and would happily live in that big city to give them some competition.

My younger sister is a travel goddess, knows all the best hotels and restaurants in the United States. She tells it like it is (remind you of someone?) and has a caustic wit. Her house and kitchen are always open, and we delivered our only children the same year, ensuring we'd always have plenty of experiences to share.

For years we all agreed on one thing: we led a vanilla life. It wasn’t until later that we learned of a well-buried family secret, a great uncle who was found in his bathtub murdered, rumored to be by a business associate in the Jewish mafia. But since most of the people who might have known the story are either dead or unknown to me, and my mother’s memory is slipping fast, it’s not likely I’ll ever find out. (Truthfully, there are one or two people I could ask, but I’m a little afraid of the repercussions.)

This is the seed I used for my first manuscript, The Cemetery Garden, in which a woman learns her grandfather had mafia connections, affecting her mother irrevocably in a fate worthy of a Greek tragedy. My second manuscript has similar themes, a woman haunted by her grandmother's past in the Bodleian Library.

Where families dwell, secrets follow, and plenty of people to read about them. Here's hoping Therese has a spectacular debut.

What Women Write

I am a loner. Or was, before I joined my own little writing village at What Women Write.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Query Letter Perfection

This is how you write a query letter.

As you know from my interview, Jamie Ford is as nice as he is talented.