The room is large. You’re amazed at just how many people have decided to attend this event. As you look around, you see that many people appear to be enjoying themselves, mixing freely with others. But yes, there are clearly some who appear lost in the crowd. That’s logical; the sheer number of people is a bit intimidating. After all, you are at this networking event with thousands, if not millions, of people from all over the world, and you want to make the most of it. You’ve just written a book. It was hard work, and you want to get the word out; the world is waiting.
You decide to start from the front of the room and work your way back. Without hesitation, you walk up to a guy and say hello. When he freely returns the greeting, you say, “Yes! It’s finally here! The paperback edition of my new novel! I hope you will consider buying it. I would also appreciate it if you read and review it on Amazon.”
You don’t notice that he looks at you strangely, because you’ve already moved on to the next person. Once again, your hello is returned. And you say, “I’ve just written a book. Please visit my website and download my free short story.”
He looks at you as if to say, “Are you effing kidding me?” but you’ve already moved on to the third person. She actually says hello to you first, so that must mean she’s really interested in your work. Despite the fact that she’s connected with 15,237 other people in the room, you are certain that your accomplishments are the only ones that will matter. You never even consider that she may have written a book (or several), recorded a CD (or several), or perhaps is a talented artist, teacher, speaker, entrepreneur, doctor, photographer, or animal welfare advocate. Why should you care about her? Hell! You’ve just written a book!
Sidling up to her, you say, “Please like my Facebook page, read and review my new book, and don’t forget to pass this message on to all of your friends. Oh, and by the way, why not check out what I’m doing on Instagram?”
(breaks from sarcasm)
Okay, so the scene I’ve just described should sound a bit silly (a lot silly), because most of us (I hope!) would not be quite this bold, thoughtless, or narcissistic at a live networking event. However, this is the way a whole lot of people behave every single day by sending self-serving Auto DMs (direct messages) on Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter since 2009, and I have never, not once, shown any interest in a person because he/she sent me an Auto DM. Why would I be interested in the work of another person who thinks I exist only to support his/her work and appears oblivious to who I am and what I do.
Depending on my mood, I will ignore the DM or unfollow the person. Once in a while I’ve sent back sarcastic responses, but these days I try to resist that temptation.
I’ve discussed the Auto DM habit with many of my fellow authors, and I’ve yet to have someone tell me, “Yes, I love being spammed and having a stranger tell me what I can do for him.”
In closing, let’s go back to the live networking event. In most cases, people strike up conversations with one another, ask about the other person, and, if it fits, exchange information. When a respectful two-way connection is made, it may lead to a casual business relationship, a working business relationship, or perhaps a friendship.
Some of you who send Auto DMs may say, “But I do care about the other person!” And to that I say, “Perception is everything. If you behave like a narcissist, I’m going to see you that way.” Other people might tell me that Auto DMs do work with some people. I’m sure they do, but do you have any idea how many people you are turning off who might be interested in your work if approached respectfully? How many potential business relationships you are nipping in the bud? Do you truly want to be perceived as being all about yourself? Is it worth it?
Remember: Even though you’re sending an electronic message, this is the real world.
What are your experiences with Auto DMs?
Blogs, guest blogs & interviews from lisettebrodey.com.
Short stories have always been elusive to me. Despite the countless number that I wrote in my late teens and early twenties, I never finished writing even one of them. Although there wasn’t a name for it back then, I was basically writing flash fiction, though purely for my own enjoyment. Apparently, though, nothing I wrote interested me enough to finish it.
At age nineteen, I had 150 pages of a novel added to my repertoire of incomplete stories. Stories, novels—it didn’t matter: I was an equal opportunity non-finisher.
As I later learned through introspection, it was a combined fear of success and failure that kept me from finishing my work, coupled with the age-old issue of having no idea where I was going with my many WIPs. Eventually, I resolved the reasons for my unproductiveness, and with those fears no longer holding me back, I began to write. In the early days, I wrote four screenplays (still collecting dust somewhere) and two plays. Years later, my deep desire to be a novelist was liberated. I began writing books—and finishing those, too.
I first wrote three standalone novels in different genres (Crooked Moon; Squalor, New Mexico, & Molly Hacker Is Too Picky!), and then began a YA paranormal trilogy, The Desert Series. Mind you, I was still a short-story virgin. I never even thought about popping the short story cherry.
Short stories were alien beings to me. They really were.
The above quote, which is attributed to Mark Twain, has been attributed to others as well. I’m not sure who said it or even if Twain did. But what I do know is that it packs a whole lot of truth.
It’s usually much easier to ramble on than it is to take an idea and express it in few words. Plus, there are still so many novels in my head waiting to be written, and I couldn’t grasp the concept of having an idea that could be … dare I say it … a short story! (Rather ironic coming from someone has tweeted every day since 2009.)
So how did I lose my short-story virginity?
It was after I finished edits for the first book in my YA paranormal trilogy, Mystical High, and was writing book 2, Desert Star, that I found myself longing to write without any language restraints. It was time to release the pent-up literary fiction writer in me. I quietly did the deed, then gave birth to my first short story, and then to another. (I’m slowly putting together a collection for some time down the road.)
When fellow author Maria Savva asked me to write two short stories for the Triptychs, the third book in The Mind’s Eye series, I was eager to join my fellow authors in being a contributor for this fascinating anthology.
In the first two books of the series, Reflections and Perspectives, each author wrote a short story inspired by a unique photograph. In Triptychs, the same photo was given to three different writers who were asked to write a short story or poem inspired by the image. Authors were neither able to choose the photos nor given any information to jumpstart their imagination.
But when I was given these two photographs, although pretty, they’re not ones that I would have chosen to inspire me to write a story. I really had to think outside of “the box.” I had to find a flicker of something in these photos that resonated with me so that I could build a story I felt passionate about telling.
This exercise fascinated me because for years, I had considered writing stories centered around famous paintings, especially some by Edward Hopper. For example, this is Edward Hopper’s, A Room in New York, one of the many paintings I thought would be a great starting point for a story or a novel.
I have been imagining stories in my head for a lifetime, but I have always done so when looking at photos, paintings, people, cities, or just about anything that inspires me. Never before had I written stories based on what someone else felt passionate about. The challenge of writing these stories for Triptychs really stretched my imagination in new and extraordinary directions.
It’s interesting, too, that while viewing one of the photographs, it took me about a minute to conceive the story “I Wish…”
(Credit: Helle Gade)
When viewing the second photograph, however, my story, “May Twenty-Fourth,” took weeks. Creativity is endlessly fascinating, don’t you think?
(Credit: Martin David Porter)
Triptychs is now available at a pre-order price of .99 until the book is published on March 16, 2015.
I’m pleased to introduce Desert Star (Book 2, The Desert Series), which is a novel about the restoration of souls juxtaposed with the restoration of an abandoned theater. How’s that for an easy description?
Desert Star is the second book in my YA paranormal trilogy, and like the first book of this series, Mystical High, it is written as a standalone novel. My lifelong fascination with unexplained phenomena and the complexities that exist within relationships compelled me to combine these two elements for The Desert Series.
As a writer, it’s important to me that readers get a sense of my characters as real people, flawed in some ways yet always striving to understand and better their lives. One of the main characters in Desert Star, Larsen Davis, is gay and is bullied for being gay. Yet this book is about so much more. It is about several bullies, past and present, who, for no other reason than their own tortured souls, wrestle with their inner demons by attempting to destroy those around them. The story is also about how those who struggle as victims encounter help from others in unexpected ways.
As in the first book, Mystical High, readers will find a story with mystery, tragedy, jealousy, and prejudice. More so, however, in Desert Star, readers can expect to encounter character-changing moments that come about due to simple acts of kindness from others.
Although there are many side stories in this novel, for the purpose of writing the synopsis, I focused on Larsen’s story:
Larsen Davis isn’t afraid to stand up to those who bully him, but in a two-against-one situation at Mystekal High, it’s never easy. When classmate River Dalworth witnesses the abuse and intervenes, the two seniors become good friends. Larsen explains that he’s fighting another battle at home: his own mother, Raylene, bullies him for being gay.
When Larsen meets River’s mother, Arielle, and learns she is overseeing the renovation of the Desert Theater, he shares his dream for a career on stage. Soon, Arielle offers Larsen a job as her assistant, but Raylene is dead set against the idea of her son doing what she considers “gay work.” After Raylene gets a new boyfriend, Reggie, the bad situation at home worsens and Larsen has no choice but to leave.
Now working at the Desert Theater, Larsen feels the unearthly presence of someone in the long-abandoned theater. Meanwhile, as the theater nears completion, a talent show is scheduled for opening night. As it becomes more evident that the theater may have a ghost, it also comes to light that someone may be sabotaging the renovation and the show. Is the ghost real or just the handiwork of someone with a grudge?
Opening night at the Desert Theater sets the stage for a crime, never-imagined reunions, long-awaited explanations, and otherworldly miracles.
Desert Staris a novel for both teens and adults. Writing it was somewhat challenging in that I don’t use all of the vocabulary that I would typically use when writing specifically for adult readers. In order to bridge this gap, the story does contain mild sexual content and non-gratuitous profanity.
I think readers will find that this story is even more intricate, more character-driven than the first book, Mystical High. There are many characters whose issues add complications to the main plot. It is the intimacy of their interactions with each other, however, that foster their individual transformations.
Below are the links for both Desert Star and book 1, Mystical High (.99 cents) on Amazon (both U.S. & U.K. stores)
In the near future, Desert Star will be available in paperback and on other ebook sites.
TweetWhen people learn I’ve written several books, one of the first things they ask me is “What genre are they?” That sounds like a pretty easy question. After all, I should know the answer to that better than anyone, right? Not always.
I finished my first-written novel, Squalor, New Mexico, in 1996. All I knew was that I had written a novel about a girl growing up in East Coast suburbia, but my focus was not solely on telling her story. I had a passion to tell a universal tale of dysfunction that is sadly prevalent in many families. I wanted to write about the lies and secrets that are endlessly perpetuated because for many people, hiding, blaming, accusing, and ignoring are easier alternatives to facing the truth.
For years, via snail mail (and snail responses), I tried to find an agent for my book. I never thought about the book’s genre until an agent told me she was charmed by the main character, found her to be a delightful narrator, but didn’t handle Young Adult.
It may sound silly, but I was floored. “Say what? But I didn’t write a Young Adult novel,” I protested to those closest to me. After a while, I realized that I’d been submitting what is technically a YA novel to agents who didn’t represent the genre. Ouch!
Today, the book is labeled as YA because the main character narrates the story of her life from the age of 9 until she is 16. And, yeah, it contains a lot of real teen angst before it gets heavy. But I’m still not completely convinced of the label. When asked that same question about genre today, I say, “General Fiction-slash-Young Adult.”
Recently, I finished reading The Catcher in the Rye. I first read it in high school and had absolutely no fond memories of it. Forget the fondness, I had no memories of it at all. I only knew I didn’t really like it. But now, I love it. I really appreciated Salinger’s work, and I laughed at Holden’s crazy, judgmental comments and his antipathy toward those he perceived to be phony. I felt empathy because I knew that the death of his brother and the suicide of a friend had traumatized him so much that he couldn’t move on. He was swathed in apathy while simultaneously being a keen observer of the human condition.
All he wanted to do was be a catcher in a field of rye. He imagined himself in this field, which was full of children and high on a cliff. As they played, he would stand there, near the precipice, to catch them should they be on the verge of falling over.
No doubt, there must be millions of teens who loved this classic book on the first read way more than I did. Would I label Catcher as YA? No, not really. Or not completely. The main character/narrator is a teenager and if that is the only criterion, then yes.
Last year, I read an article that said that 55% of YA readers are adults. That doesn’t surprise me at all. After all, if you’re reading YA, you’re going through similar situations now, have children going through similar situations, or are reminded of your own young adulthood. Or maybe you’re looking for a time machine back to your teen years, and a book is your best option.
When I began writing my most recent work, Mystical High, which is Book 1 in a YA paranormal trilogy, my mind was in a very different place than when I wrote Squalor, New Mexico all of those years ago. Yes, I was writing for a teen audience, but not exclusively for one.
In both of these novels, I write about the conflicts that the teen protagonists have with their parents. As an author, I like to tell a story. I try very hard, most of the time, to not stand in judgment or take sides. I’m not a big fan of black-and-white situations. It’s the gray area that gives the reader mental stimulus or content for discussion.
Interestingly, however, more times than not, I relate more to the pain of the teenager than that of the adults. Although as an adult, I cringe at some of the things I did when I was younger, there’s a part of me that is still screaming “Just because I’m young, doesn’t mean I’m wrong!”
This leads me into another question most authors, including me, are asked: Are you any of those characters?
No. I’ve never written any character that is wholly me. Where my teen characters are concerned, the “me” is probably the part of the characters that want their voices to be heard. But nothing is 100%, and even though I relate to the angst of the characters, it doesn’t mean I always agree with them.
When I published Squalor, New Mexico, I had many interesting comments from adult readers. Many told me they related to Darla, the main character, but a few people called her some not-so-nice names, even though they were complimenting the book. I found myself feeling very defensive, not as an author, but as a person. Those comments only reminded me that a reader’s perception of a character is really no different from a person’s perception of a flesh-and-blood human being.
Although I have always known that in large part, human beings are the product of their past experience, writing (and reading) Young Adult is a great reminder that the coming-of-age years are some of the most important of our lives. That transition from childhood to young adulthood is a road with many detours. While it may be prudent to stay on the straight-and-narrow road, diverging onto the side streets may give us life experience we wouldn’t get otherwise. But it can also give us life experience we may regret profoundly throughout our lives.
The coming-of-age years can be as frightening as they are exhilarating, and this is why I find writing Young Adult books to be emotionally satisfying and rewarding.
Five Ways to Stay Sane as a Writer – (by an author who lost her sanity a long time ago)
1. BE PATIENT: If you’ve just written a novel, you may, like others, be eager to share it with the world, even though the prospect of doing so can be as daunting as it is exciting. Unfortunately, in their excitement, many authors query agents or self-publish way before their manuscripts are ready.
Take a deep breath. Relax. Remember, it’s much better to wait to put out your best work than to rush and put out a sloppy version of what could have been really good. Take time to edit and rewrite, then have a professional editor work on it. Putting out your best work will be a great boost to your mental health. Kicking yourself for not waiting isn’t helpful. Besides, you might hurt yourself.
2. COMPETE WITH YOURSELF FIRST: It’s easy to look around to see what everyone else is doing and wonder why your books aren’t selling as well as Joe Author’s books are. While you can learn a lot from watching how successful authors do things, don’t let the success or failure of others take over your thoughts. Don’t try to outwrite other authors; instead, outwrite yourself. Remember that you are a unique product. You’re not a carbon copy of anyone else and you shouldn’t be. Compete with yourself. Be the best writer you can be.
3. FIGURE OUT HOW YOU WORK BEST: Some writers, while crafting their masterpiece, find it helpful to share with critique groups both on- and offline, as well as with family and friends. For others, the input of outsiders during the creative process can be stifling. Will the editorial critique help you more during or after the process of writing? What works best for you? Don’t make the mistake of sharing your work with ten different people and getting ten different opinions, unless you know it will galvanize you and not shut your muse down in frustration.
4. DON’T LET SOCIAL MEDIA CONSUME YOU: Building a platform on social media is very important. It’s not something that you should do when your book comes out; it’s something you should do at least six months prior to publication. That said, it can be addictive, exhausting, stressful, confusing or all of the above. Find a balance that works for you. Decide what amount of time is reasonable for each platform and try to adhere to that. Use the rest of your valuable time to create your product. Balance. Balance. Balance.
5. REMEMBER THAT NO WORK OF ART IS LIKED BY EVERYONE—EVER:There is no book, no song, no painter, no singer, no movie, no TV show, no poet, no anything that is liked by everyone. Keep this in mind as you put your work out there. In a parallel universe, we want to believe that everyone will like our work, but they won’t. Do your best, define your style, put out your best work, and your readers will come.
Tell me, what methods have you attempted to keep your sanity? Have they worked?
KEEP A TIME CHART: Even if you never mention particular dates in your novels, it’s important that you know the day and date of every scene. You may ask, “Why do I need to know that if it’s not part of my novel?” I’ll tell you why.
When you’re in the thick of writing your book, it’s very easy to lose track of how much time has elapsed between events. In some of my novels, my characters have had such long, complicated days that it’s taken me chapters to describe the action. Conversely, I may skip ahead two weeks, a month, or even years. It all depends on the story.
Every time I begin a novel, I pull out a calendar, and I choose a date. Sometimes it has everything to do with the story and what time of year it is, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s still important. Let’s say your character is an unhappy wife who is keeping tabs on her husband’s whereabouts because she is convinced he’s cheating. In Chapter 7, she’s having lunch with her best friend and telling her everything that she has just found out. Can you accurately have your character tell her friend what happened five days ago, what happened three days ago, and what happened two weeks ago if you don’t have it noted? I sure can’t.
If you keep a dated time chart with a simple synopsis of what happens when, it will save you lots of headaches down the road.
KEEP IT TIGHT: Let’s stay with our story of the woman who thinks her husband is cheating on her. There’s a twist in this story. She finds out that he’s not cheating at all but wants her to think he is because he’s being blackmailed and is actually trying to protect her by letting her assume the lesser of two evils. Ah, the plot is thickening. Let’s say that in Chapter 10, the woman makes a major discovery that changes her perspective on what is going on. Before you create a brand-new character to deliver that information to her, make sure there are no existing characters that can do the job. Don’t introduce your reader to new people if they serve no real purpose and will do nothing more than clutter or dilute your prose. When you use established characters, you may just come up with even better plot twists than you imagined. You may very well need a new character, but take the time to think about it. Keep it tight.
LISTEN TO YOUR NOVEL: Most of us know that it’s very difficult to proof your own work. Your eyes tend to see what is supposed to be there, not what is there. If you have spent an hour reworking a paragraph or speech, you may have become so immersed in getting it right that when you read it back, you don’t notice that you’ve used a particular word three times in two sentences. Unless it’s intentional, it’s not good. Most computers have text-to-speech functions. To review your work, highlight the part you want to hear, place it in a new document, and highlight it again. Then, sit back and listen to your words. If there are words missing, misspelled, or repeated, you will hear them. Listening gives you a different perspective than reading.
You may wonder why I suggested putting your text into a new document. You ask, “Why can’t I just highlight it in the document I’m using?” You can, but as you know, highlighted text can disappear instantly if a wrong button is touched on your keyboard and you can’t quickly hit Control Z (PCs) or Command Z (Macs) to undo. That’s all. It’s just a safety measure to protect what you’ve written.
USE YOUR FIND COMMAND: Do you have pet words or phrases that you tend to overuse? I know that’s always a worry for me. When I’m immersed in telling a story, my brain is focused on the action and sometimes I’m merely serving as a transcriptionist for my characters. Sometimes my editor will catch these repetitions and just as often, I’ll catch them myself. If you’re able to identify words or phrases you might overuse, use the FIND command in Word (or other software). Then, change them or rewrite sentences to avoid them. Just get ’em outta there. And remember, the more unusual the word, the more obvious the repetition.
I’m super excited about the publication of Mystical High, the first novel in my YA paranormal trilogy, The Desert Series. While I’m not exclusively a YA author, my first-written novel, Squalor, New Mexico, is a coming-of-age story, and I’ve been eager to return to the genre again—but in a very different way.
Having a lifelong interest in unexplained phenomena, I wanted to write a novel that deals with many issues that teens face in everyday life, but with a paranormal element being an integral part of the story. As my first three novels are all set in the eastern United States, where I’m originally from, I wanted to write a novel set in California, where I live now. I decided that the Southern California desert would be a great locale.
As in all of my novels, if I write about small towns or specific areas, I fictionalize them, but when I describe big cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles, the descriptions are always from firsthand experience. My descriptions of small towns are usually a hybrid of similar places but are never exact duplications. I’m a fiction writer, after all.
What I never expected to be, however, was the author of a series. I just didn’t see it in the cards. So how did I end up deciding to write a series? Well, I don’t think I did. As I was finishing the writing of Mystical High and falling in love with the characters and the story, the book itself simply told me: “Hey, you’re not quite through with me yet. Not even close. Guess what? You’re going to write a series.”
“Really? I’m going to write a series? But—”
“But nothing. Just get to work.”
And here I am, publishing the first book in a trilogy and happy to say that I’ve already written 25,000 words of number 2 and am over-the-moon excited about it.
Every novel in The Desert Series will be able to be read as a standalone novel. However, the secrets and revelations will be even juicier to those who have read the previous novels.
Now, let me tell you about Mystical High.
In Mystekal, a small, dying town in the Southern California desert, only 75 students attend the old, sometimes creepy high school dubbed “Mystical High,” where strange things have been known to happen. Jessie Dalworth and Jinxsy Patterson are juniors and lifelong best friends. At home, Jessie deals with the pain of an absentee mother who has abandoned the family for the lure of Hollywood; Jinxsy contends with a 17th “birthday present” she never wanted or expected.
Meanwhile, at school, the unexplained activity begins to escalate when Jinxsy keeps seeing a long-haired guy in the hallway checking her out. Jessie can’t see him, but her younger brother, River, can.
Then, in English class, a stapler mysteriously flies off teacher Eve Carrow’s desk, hitting a student in the face who has just mouthed off to her. The beloved teacher is in the unenviable position of having her brute of a father as principal, so she hates sending any student to his office. As Principal Ernest Carrow begins to terrorize Eve and others more openly, something or someone unseen decides that it’s payback time.
School is getting stranger, and Jinxsy and Jessie are faced with mind-boggling changes in their home lives that complicate everything. When a string of shocking events expose explosive secrets, decades-long mysteries are finally revealed.
Great to see you here. Let’s see. Where do I start?
First, I’m really excited to present the new cover for my 1970s coming-of-age novel, Squalor, New Mexico. I’d like to thank the super-talented Lisa McCallum for designing such a perfect cover. (You are the best, Lis!)
To celebrate the new cover, I will be selling the Kindle edition for only .99 on Amazon.comuntil the end of September, 2013. (While this is just the link for the US store, the book is discounted in all Amazon stores all over the world.)
Now, let’s get down to business. Why does my Young Adult novel have such a downright bizarre title, especially since it’s only peripherally about squalor and not at all about New Mexico?
The seed for the title/book began in my childhood. Every time I heard it said that someone lived in squalor, it sounded like a place to me. For years, I had the identical notion every time I heard the word: “Is Squalor a town?” “Is it a city?” “Where is it?” The word “squalor” nagged at me. The universe and the word were trying to tell me something. (“Write a novel! Write a novel!”)
It was then that I decided that I wanted to begin a novel with the sentence: “My aunt lived in Squalor.” I had no idea who the main character would be, who her aunt would be and why said aunt would live in Squalor, but it all began from there. I built a 159,000-word book (445-pages) completely around my desire to use that opening sentence. Though it is not specifically stated, the book is set in the 1970s in an east coast suburb.
The first page of the book explains the unusual title:
My aunt Rebecca lived in Squalor. I first heard my mother and my aunt Didi discussing this one day when I was nine. I was supposed to be in my bedroom doing homework, but I snuck down the back stairs into the kitchen for a McIntosh apple and an Oreo cookie. Mom and Aunt Didi were close by in the dining room, huddled together at the corner of the table, as they often were, and they were talking about Aunt Rebecca. To me, the most curious thing about Aunt Rebecca, whom I had never met, was that Mom and Aunt Didi only brought her up when they thought no one was listening.
“I’m sure she’s still living in squalor,” Aunt Didi told Mom authoritatively. “Unless she’s screwed her way out!”
I had no idea what all that meant, but it seemed like such an odd thing to say that I was willing to take the risk of letting my presence be known and ask.
“What’s squalor, Mom?” I said, walking into the dining room.
“Goodness, Darla!” Mom said putting her hand to her throat. “How long have you been listening?”
“Not long. I just came down for an apple.” (I thought it best not to mention the cookie.) “What’s squalor, Mom?” I repeated.
Aunt Didi, knowing Mom would be loath to answer my question, took hold of the reins for her. “It’s a town in New Mexico, Darla. It’s an Indian name.”
Mom looked at Aunt Didi in amazement. I figured she hadn’t known what it meant, either.
“Oh,” I said. And then I took a bite out of my apple.
“You have a book report due tomorrow,” Mom said.
“I know,” I said, taking another bite.
“Well, you’re not going to get it done standing here, are you?”
“Please dear,” Mom pleaded softly. “Go upstairs and finish your—”
“But Mom, I really want to know what—”
“Darla!” Aunt Didi screamed. “Listen to your mother. Go upstairs, now, and finish your book report!”
“All right. Forget it!” I said indignantly. “How am I supposed to learn stuff if I don’t ask?”
So, friends, now you know. Squalor, New Mexico began as a lie told to a child to quell her curiosity and ended up being the unlikely symbol for all of the lies, secrets and twisted truths that can destroy a family. It is a coming-of-age story shrouded in family mystery, and yes, I’ll admit it: it has a very strange title.
Note: In the not-too-distant future, the paperback edition of Squalor, New Mexico will be republished with a new cover, too.
I originally posted this essay on September 10, 2010, on my Goodreads blog.
On December 3, 2001, I visited Ground Zero at night time. That evening, when I got home, I quickly typed out my thoughts. Being a writer, it is my habit to try and polish my words so that they shine. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to put my impressions of Ground Zero down, immediately, because I knew that I would always want to remember what I saw…as painful as it was.
Here is what I wrote that day in 2001:
We got down to the World Trade Towers about 8 p.m. Ground Zero is blocked off for about five blocks or so with wooden fences so you can’t really see it at street level except for one break in the wall. The fences or “temporary walls” are covered with all kinds of tributes. People are still putting up fresh bouquets of flowers on a regular basis; we were both surprised at how fresh and pretty the flowers were. There were several wreaths with Teddy Bears inside, letters from children and adults, and in one spot I noticed a policeman’s badge — which really hit me in the gut.
On a telephone pole, someone had written a letter to NY saying something like, “I’m very very sorry that you are so hurt. I love you so much and I feel so bad for your pain and your loss. I know I am only one voice, but I am praying for you. I love you New York.”
There were letters from children in the windows of local stores. At one spot on the sidewalk, I noticed a grouping of about 12 small candles. Only one was still burning. There were all kinds of shrines. Photos are always the most difficult to look at because you’re seeing just one person; one person who was real and now is gone. But there’s something about that policeman’s badge that really struck me. I just expected someone would have taken it because despite all the very good people around, there are still the nuts. But nobody had.
All of this, was right at the base of where you were allowed to stand. What we did see ahead, looming down the street was horrid and grotesque — the kind of sight that forces you into deep introspection and silence. I remember feeling very much the same way when I stood alone in Anne Frank’s bedroom, looking at her movie star photos on the wall, and it was also the same kind of quiet that comes over you when visiting the Holocaust museum.
Anyway, you can see GZ from many vantage points (even in NJ) because it is SO very lit up. It IS surreal, just as you’ve heard many say. There are these huge and hideous piles of twisted wreckage that looked as if they had been there for hundreds of years. It was hard to imagine the World Trade Towers and other buildings in their place. It looked exactly like the footage you see on TV of the war torn villages in the Middle East. To look at this devastation, one couldn’t help but translate the images into thoughts of hate and ignorance that brought this to be, of the lives lost, and of the way the world will be changed forever. Everything looked chillingly quiet. The entire area was in a sepia-like color, which made it seem like you were looking at old war photos in a dusty old book that you’d just found in the attic. Only the image had come to life; but at the same time, it was dead. It was all so dead.
To the left of where the towers had stood, was a Liberty Place building that had a huge hole in it but is going to be fixed. It is draped in a black cloth with a large American flag at the top. That flag, and the large red and the large yellow cranes at the sight are the only real splashes of color. The entire scene is lit up like a movie set, but there is eerily little action that one can see from such a distance.
At one place in the makeshift walls, there is a break where you can see the ground level. I could see lights placed in different parts of the wreckage and maybe a few figures in bright yellow coats moving about. I knew there were many, many people down there working, but I could not see them. The entire site seemed to have been abandoned. The entire scene rather transfixes you. You go into another zone and just find yourself staring and staring, almost as if you’re going to keep on staring until it starts to make sense to you. Only that doesn’t happen and so eventually you have to walk away. I did take a deep breath and could smell the smoke, but luckily, I was too far away to smell that “smell of death” that so many talked about.
This is what I saw on December 2, 2001. To see this, and then imagine this same site two and a half months ago, well, that literally defies comprehension. I had not been in downtown Manhattan for 15-20 years, and incongruous to Ground Zero and in shocking contrast to the site, I was amazed by how built up lower Manhattan was. Very close to the site were so many absolutely gorgeous buildings that I’d never seen before.
When you look at it, the one thing you are amazed and grateful for is that such an amazing number of people (something like 25,000) managed to escape. There was a man there with his family who was a rescue worker of some kind. He said that all of the wreckage was supposedly to be down by January 1. Hard to imagine, esp. as they are taking it all down piece by piece. It seems as if that chore alone could take years. I also heard the man say that the mayor didn’t want people to stop working on Christmas.
As you walk away,
you can’t help but keep turning back to take one last look, to burn it all into your brain, to make it real in one sense because in another it will never be real.
Note: 9/11/2013: Every time I have driven into New York since 9/11/2001, not seeing the World Trade towers in the lower Manhattan skyline has never gotten easier. And I don’t want it to be so.
Please share your own memories of 9/11. I would love to hear them.
How many of you remember being read to by your mother or father when you were a child?
When I was a child, I remember my mother reading poetry to my brother and me, and as I grew up, I remember her writing it. During her 20s and 30s, she wrote hundreds of poems. In her late 30s, she went back to work, and her love for writing poetry was set aside.
My mother, Dr. Jean Lisette Brodey, a retired Temple University journalism professor, is now in her 80s. About a year ago, I asked her where her poems were, and she said she feared they were lost. I knew they were not, as I’d seen them in her house. During a visit back to Philadelphia in September 2012, I found the poetry and began making plans to choose 50-some poems for a small collection.
That is how the book My Way to Anywhere began. Most of the poetry, expressed through imagery, abstract concepts, and word portraits, is about people who affected my mother’s life. My favorite poem in the book is called “An Ending.” It is a poem that tells of the death of my mother’s friend’s 27-year-old husband who died of cancer.
Here is an excerpt:
Why do we rend the days with our grief?
He would not have it so
For he respected life
Too much to bewail its passing
And death was too obscure
To have a place in his philosophy.
The thing has been decreed
(he would have said)
So if you have to pause
Let it be to reason
Not to mutter or complain
Then go on to ponder things
That somehow can be explained.
Death is a void, that’s all.
He would not toy with idle questions
For reason was his god and he was twenty-seven.
On a lighter note, there is a section of the book called FOR CHILDREN. Here is one short poem:
A wondrous number is 2.
There’s so much
2 can do!
2’s less than 3
2’s more than 1.
2 is an awful lot of fun!
My Way to Anywhere is not my mother’s first book. In 1983, through Westminster Press, she published Mid-Life Careers.
JAY LENO AND THE CHICKEN WINGS
The heading above is probably the last thing you’d expect in a blog about my mother and her poetry book. Well, let me explain.
When Mid-Life Careers came out, my mother did a great deal of publicity for the book in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles.
One of her bookings was on an early morning Los Angeles talk show, and Jay Leno was one of the other guests. I have no idea why, but Jay was cooking up chicken wings on the show. My mother had five minutes to talk about her book, and while on the air, Jay came over to her and said he’d like “the doctor” to taste his chicken wings. My mother wasn’t about to give up her five minutes tasting Jay’s chicken wings and promptly declined, whereupon Jay called her a “party pooper” or something like that. After that, she was never a fan of Jay’s. I think she’s gotten over it, though. But I do remember having to rip off the cover of her TV Guide when he was on it. (And yes, it was the very same cover seen below!)
On a New York talk show, my mother was lucky enough to be a guest along with legendary singer Eartha Kitt and after the show enjoyed a wonderful lunch with her.
But the most memorable moment after the publication of Mid-Life Careers was seeing a downtown Philadelphia bookstore filled with copies of her book. What author wouldn’t love that?
Throughout her career as a tenured professor at Temple University teaching public relations, my mother won many prestigious awards, including induction into the Philadelphia Public Relations Association’s Hall of Fame.
PLEASE MEET DR. JEAN LISETTE BRODEY
Well, enough of my reminiscing. I have interviewed my mother for this blog, and I do hope you’ll enjoy meeting her.
When did your love of poetry begin?
When I was about five years old, my mother read Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses to me. It was better than hearing a story. The rhymes delighted me, and I found them to be lots of fun. Because the poems were read to me on a regular basis, they became a part of my young life. I still remember some of the poems by heart, such as “My Shadow” and “The Swing.”
Do you remember when you wrote your first poem?
I don’t remember my first poem. But when I was in the first or second grade, I wrote a poem and showed it to my father. I told him that I had written it, but he didn’t seem to believe me. He asked me again if I had written it and then asked me if I had copied it out of a poetry book. I was pleased that he thought it was that good, but I was also hurt that he didn’t think I had written it.
Did any of your grade school teachers recognize your talent for writing poetry?
I can’t recall which grade it was, but I had a teacher named Mrs. Schulke who liked my poetry so much that she had it illustrated by a talented student named George Logan and put it together in a book for me.
Did your love for poetry continue throughout junior high and high school?
Yes, as a matter of fact, under my photo yearbook in Philadelphia’s General Louis Wagner Junior High School, I stated that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. I didn’t really know what journalists did; I just knew that they wrote. And I figured that they wrote poetry.
I remember writing poems for special occasions. A poem I wrote for my aunt Nancy is still in my head. It goes like this:
On Christmas and your birthday,
Any occasion of the year,
You can always depend on stockings,
That come from Nancy dear.
You earned a degree in journalism from Penn State University. What did you hope to do with your degree?
I wanted a job that involved writing, but I had no specific expectations. At a local youth hostel, while attending a meeting for hiking and camping enthusiasts, I met a man who was a job recruiter. Through him, I was hired at the Frank H. Fleer Company in Philadelphia. The company manufactured Double Bubble gum, and I was hired to edit the company’s internal publication and to write facts and fortunes for bubble gum wrappers. During my three years at this company, I got married and then became pregnant with the person interviewing me right now.
When did you seriously begin writing poetry?
Once I stopped working outside the home, my love for writing poetry became more intense.
How did you judge your own work? Did you think you were a good poet? How does one define “good” in terms of poetry?
The answers are complex. For every poem I wrote, I had a general idea of what I wanted to say and how I hoped readers would perceive it. Even though I wrote in abstract terms, it was always my hope that my words would stir the reader. My right to use the label “poet” often changed depending on my own feelings about a poem and other people’s comments. Sometimes how I felt had nothing to do with the poetry and everything to do with what was going on in my life.
You felt very strongly about the widow of poet Edgar Lee Masters, Ellen Coyne Masters. She had a great influence on your work. Please tell us more.
I met Mrs. Masters at Penn State (Ogontz campus), where she was teaching an adult class in reading literature. When I first saw her, I had strong negative feelings. But those feelings changed very quickly into positive ones. She had a strong personality, and I suppose not knowing her at first, I perceived her differently.
Shortly after meeting her, I read her late husband’s masterpiece, Spoon River Anthology, which is a collection of fictional epitaphs about a community called Spoon River. I was inspired by the work of Edgar Lee Masters. I even wrote some fictional epitaphs of my own in the same vein. [Two of them are included in My Way to Anywhere.] I also was inspired to write poems about the poet and his wife.
Mrs. Masters was gracious enough to look at my poetry from time to time and encouraged me to write more. Positive reinforcement from her gave me an incredible joie de vivre.
Do you remember the first time one of your poems was accepted for publication?
Yes! My family and I had been away on vacation, and the post office was holding my mail. When I went to collect the mail, I saw a letter from a national poetry magazine. I opened it up and found out that it was an acceptance. I was overjoyed, thrilled, and, most importantly, felt like a poet.
Who are some of your favorite poets to read?
My favorite poet is Wallace Stevens. I also love Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, Walt Whitman, James Joyce, e. e. cummings, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Theodore Roethke, William Wordsworth, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and, of course, Edgar Lee Masters.
Your poetry is now being published some 50 to 60 years after you wrote it. How does that make you feel?
Wonderful. I had stopped writing poetry after I went back to work. Several years later, I earned my master’s and doctorate degrees in education and worked until retirement as a journalism professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, so there was no time in my life to pursue poetry. Having this collection of my poetry published now makes me realize how important poetry has always been to me.
Thanks for a great interview, Mom!
September 14, 2014: It is with a very heavy heart that I must add that my mother died on April 30, 2014. I was blessed to be with her at the very end.