Victorian Mailbox from iStock.jpgDear Ms. Richards,

Recently I found your Shenandoah Album books and read them all.  Sure I had found an author I could admire and trust, I went back and read some of your other novels. I found several words that I don’t even want to “think.”  I am now ashamed to be seen with your novels. I hope you are happy.

Disgruntled Reader

Dear Disgruntled,

After a rough calculation, I’ve determined that I’ve written and published more than 6 million, three hundred thousand words in my career.  If you have found only a few words that offend you, I am truly flabbergasted.

PS: While I , too, get tired of an abundance of profanity, I make no promises that the occasional profane word will not slip from a character’s lips when it’s really needed.  Rare, but there.  I do understand and appreciate what offends you and try not to do so.

Emilie, who wonders how you “bought” the novels that offended you, since right now they are out of print.

Dear Ms. Richards,

I read your novel Endless Chain, and I want to say it’s a left wing propaganda piece favoring illegal immigration.  Furthermore, I KNOW you wrote it so that “those” people will start reading your novels. 

Perceptive Reader

Dear . . . Reader,

Had you really read the novel, you would have noted that both Elisa and her brother were US citizens.  However, far more important?  I wrote the novel to explore what happens as communities change when people of a nationality new to an area begin to settle there–as we have done in this country for centuries and as your own ancestors probably did.  If I garnered new readers, I am delighted.  All people of good will are welcome to read my novels, and we don’t need to agree about everything or anything my characters proclaim.  This is fiction, topical, yes, but fiction, a chance to visit new worlds and think new thoughts.  Sometimes new thoughts are worth having.

Emilie, who feels enriched by the contributions and talents of all nationalities and requires no litmus tests for readers

Dear Emilie,

I have read and loved all your novels, and I am so glad I found them to keep me company.  I hope you plan to write many more.  Write faster.

Grateful Reader

Dear Grateful Reader,

I am the one who is grateful.  Sometimes you call me on mistakes.  Sometimes you take me to task for a character’s actions, but you continue reading my novels.  Where would I be without you?  I’ve watched from my side of this computer as some of you have dealt with frightening and life-threatening illnesses.  I’ve given permission to have my work read at funerals of your loved ones or even your own.  I’ve been teary-eyed when you’ve told me what my books have meant to you in times of personal darkness, or how a character helped you understand someone and make peace.

There are few jobs better than this one.  Thank you for allowing me this privilege.  I promise you, no matter what I write, I always take you seriously.

Emilie

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I was seven the first time I visited New York City with my family.  This was the only trip out of state that we ever took together, and perhaps an unlikely destination, except that both my parents had been born there, my mother in the Bronx and my father in Brooklyn.  I remember very little.  A red bedspread at the hotel.  The view from the Empire State Building.  A sandwich from the Automat. 

And the people.

Growing up in segregated Florida, everybody I knew, everybody I’d ever had a conversation with, looked a lot like me.  The people who didn’t lived in another part of town, as mysterious and out of reach as beings from another planet.  Our lives did not intersect.  Any questions I had about them were answered by people as clueless as I was– and even more determined to stay that way.

That first trip to New York was like a time bomb planted in my young brain.  I remember being afraid of everyone, not just the sheer numbers–which can intimidate me even today–but the diversity.  The exotic blend of colors.  The languages I didn’t understand.  Babushkas and dashikis, although those words, too, were foreign to me.  People who didn’t look like me, talk like me, think like me.  A world in which I was just a tiny sample of a tiny sample of humanity.  A lesson to be learned, and one too many people still resist.

I visited New York City again this weekend.  There have been a number of intervening trips, of course. I go to New York any time I’m given the opportunity, connected by umbilical cord, perhaps, to stories of life in an apartment in the Bronx in the 1920s and 30s.  I feel at home, even though I rarely know where I’m going or how to get there.  I wander, and people are helpful, destroying all notions that New Yorkers are a breed apart.  I leave my purse in a Broadway theater, and the next day it’s still there, intact, waiting for me.  My suitcase catches on a subway escalator, and the man behind me grabs it and brings it up without so much as a murmur.  I stop on a street corner with a map, and a stranger asks where I’m going and proceeds to tell me how to get there.

But it’s the diversity that excites me most.  The same diversity that enriched my life when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, or in New Orleans, or these days on my own street in Northern Virginia, where half the houses have someone from another country, sometimes two, in residence. I am no longer a worried seven-year-old.  I am an adult, thrilled to be among people who aren’t exactly like me, people who have different experiences to bring to our common table, people whose lives and cultures have led them to a greater understanding that they are willing to share.

Poverty is our challenge.  Hatred is our challenge.  Ignorance is our challenge.  But diversity?  Never.  Walk the streets of Manhattan for a weekend, and appreciate the miracle of so many different kinds of people going about their lives within arm’s reach of each other.

Oh, and please don’t forget to take your children.  The experience might change them forever.  

Marsy's Jars from Stock.xchng smaller.jpgThose of you who have “fanned” my page on Facebook know I like to cook.  In fact you’ve probably figured out that I like to cook from the Internet.  And it’s true. 

The Yahoo homepage I stare at every morning, is a one of a kind original, with feeds and “widgets” chosen by me. My page has nine news sites with several headlines apiece, ranging from the New York Times to BBC New World Edition.  I have several non-news magazine feeds, some standards like weather forecasts for places that are important to me, the night’s TV listings, my horoscope so I can see how wildly inappropriate it is or be stunned when it’s not, a couple of review sites–books and restaurants–and then, my favorites.

Recipe blogs.  Five of them, plus several more bookmarked as feeds.

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Free books are a treat we all enjoy.  Books given as gifts.  Books won in contests, like the ones I frequently offer here and on my website.  Books loaned to us by good friends.  Even books checked out at the library, although, of course, your taxes support that fabulous institution, so technically those books aren’t free.

But what do all those books have in common?  It’s very simple.  Someone bought them before they were presented to you.  Somewhere along the way, someone paid money they themselves had earned at a job, to purchase them.  The publisher, who shadowed the progress of the book, who hired an artist to design and create the cover, who paid editors to be certain the book was the best it could be, who maintained a sales force to market it, who paid bookstores incentives to place it where it could be found?  That publisher received a payment when the book was sold.  That publisher was paid, so more books could find their way to bookstores and the cycle could continue.

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Broken Ice.jpgThis week the news networks were filled with stories of the “mother” who sent her adopted son back to Russia, unaccompanied by anybody except flight attendants and the child’s own distress and sense of failure.  Her action was wrong, plain and simple.  No child deserves that treatment.  No flight attendant deserves or should accept that kind of responsibility.  And yet, what do we really know, other than what the news media has told us?

I am the mother of an adopted child, adopted from an orphanage in another country when she was six.  Now my daughter is a well-adjusted, happy, and beautiful adult with a daughter of her own.  My daughter and her family hold such special places in my heart, that there aren’t words to express them, and clearly we have the happy ending all parents, adopted or not, pray for.  But as I watched this latest news story unfold, I wondered about the unhappy ending in Tennessee.  I’m still wondering.

It’s so easy to place blame.  Even when we only have a few of the facts. As an adoptive parent, I was furious.  Then, I sobered.  Because so many questions are unanswered.

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Roaring Tiger.jpgThere I was on the telephone with my county treasurer’s office, holding in my hand the threatening letter they’d sent because my annual application for a business license had been two days late, and, according to their records, my 10% fine had not yet been paid.

I had paid it, of course, immediately after receiving the notice.  In fact, by the time I made the call, I’d paid the county a whale of a lot of money, which my bank had verified in a phone call.  Every person I spoke to had admitted that checks took days and sometimes weeks to post, and mine could well be somewhere between the vendor who collects them and county accounts. Still, the letter had gone out, regardless. 

I don’t want to rail about being forced to buy a license to sit in my pajamas and stare out the window–all too often a day’s work for a writer.  I won’t even shout that I pay the same percentage rate for my license to daydream as hotels and real estate agencies pay to do business, and more than shopping centers and restaurants.  Or even to point out that when they “threatened” to seize my property, I invited them to help themselves to all my pencil stubs, half-used legal pads, even my dog-eared thesaurus.  (My imagination?  No, I’m keeping that, thanks.)

The license snafu has ended for the year.  During phone call number six I was told my check had arrived at last, dated just as I’d told them, and all was forgiven.

Except, apparently it hasn’t been forgiven, since the episode is still on my mind.

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Kenmore Cherry Blossoms.jpgThis morning we finally found time to visit the rebirth of cherry blossoms on the tidal basin near the Jefferson Memorial.  My husband and I took care of all the morning’s business, planning as we cleared kitchen counters and put away the homemade muesli and sourdough bread.  We debated taking the dog.  We debated taking the Metro or trying to find parking.  By the time we got in the car at last, rush hour (for which this area is justifiably famous) had ended.  Michael even knew which bridge to take over the Potomac.  We were set.

Except, as it turned out, we weren’t.  We weren’t set at all.  Because this past week, while we luxuriated in clear, sunny weather, the cherry blossoms shriveled.  They were briefly glorious, then they were gone.  We only caught the epitaph.

Not that it really mattered.  Because after a harrowing drive through traffic to see them, we couldn’t find parking, and after several turns around the basin we headed home.  Sadder and wiser.

Spring in Virginia is stunningly beautiful.  Flowers open like a well organized Easter parade.  First the Japanese magnolias, then the Bradford pears, then the cherries, followed by redbuds and dogwoods.  Only, not this year.  Due to our unseasonably warm weather, the parade was on steriods.  The butterfly magnolia in our front yard was spectacular for one day before soft gold petals began to drop. A hundred daffodils are now paper thin and wrinkled.  The tulips were buds, and a minute later–or so it seemed–they were flat as saucers, turning up to the sun which will wilt them by week’s end.  Time lapse photography in real time.

So the photo above?  Last year’s blossoms, when our timing was better. And lesson learned?  Never wait to enjoy spring.  Like so many wonderful things, it passes, sometimes quickly.

In March, I lost my sister-in-law.  Lee was the bride in my blog “Love at the Dollar General.”  She passed surrounded by people she loved most, peacefully, thanks to hospice care.  Her death was not unexpected, but it is lamented.  Lee, like spring, burst into bloom then passed before some of us really had time to know her well.  But she left part of herself with those who took time to pay attention.

I may have missed the cherry blossoms, but I have taken long walks every day to feel the spring breeze.  I’ve weeded my gardens to falling petals and the music of bird song.  And in November, for the first time, I took time to listen to Lee and share her life. 

Every time we stop and pay attention, the rewards are immeasurable.

Compton bike for web.jpgOne of the real joys of my job is meeting other writers.  Several years ago I had the opportunity to speak at a book festival in St. Louis, and Julie Compton, was on the same panel to promote Tell No Lies, her first novel.  I liked her immediately.  Beautiful, intelligent, witty and warm.  Really, all in one package.  She was delightful.

Julie and I have stayed in touch ever since.  With Rescuing Olivia, her brand new book on the shelves, I thought you would enjoy getting to know her, too.  Julie graciously agreed to this interview.  Stay tuned for what else she agreed to, as well.

1–Lawyer to novelist, why and how did you make it happen?


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It’s a toss-up which came first, my love of writing or my love of arguing. I do know I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had stories bouncing around in my head. But I’ve always loved to argue, too (and still do). Especially when I feel like I’m championing the underdog. So even though I earned an undergraduate degree in English literature, law school seemed like a natural progression.   Interestingly enough, what I loved most about both law school and the practice of law was the writing.

 

I didn’t stop practicing law with the goal of becoming a writer, though. After I had my second daughter, I decided to become a stay-at-home mom. After a few months, I realized I needed to be involved in something more cerebral than changing diapers and watching Barney.  It dawned on me that if I was ever going to try to write seriously, that was the perfect time. I signed up for an evening creative writing workshop at the local YMCA (taught by a then struggling writer, John Dalton, who went on to publish the award-winning novel Heaven Lake – I highly recommend it!). I haven’t stopped writing since, even during the few years I went back to work.

 

But no answer to this question would be complete without mentioning my husband. I give him the most credit because he has willingly taken on the role of the sole provider for our family so that I could pursue a dream.

 

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