Sunday, December 21, 2014


     I'm taking a very brief break from my self-imposed cross-stitching isolation booth just to share this fabulous N.Y. Times review of A.S. King's latest novel, GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE:  As anyone could easily learn by scrolling through my posts, I'm a huge A.S. King fan and I think kudos like this are long past due for her.  She is a true original, and I want to be like her when I grow up, except that I'm much older than she is and therefore, presumably, already more grown up, but I find that debatable.  Sadly, I haven't read GLORY yet, but I'm going to order it as soon as I finish this post, and maybe someday (post-baby-blanket-from-hell) actually have a chance to read it!  And if you're not cross-stitching a baby blanket, you have absolutely no excuse for not going out and buying this book for yourself right now, with extra copies for your favorite readers.  Because A.S. King just keeps getting better and better.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


     This may be some kind of new failure record for me - 17 days!  Holy shit!  But I do have reasons.  First I was absorbed in such a ferocious round of revisions to my book that I hardly did anything else except revise, go to work, revise, eat, revise, sleep, revise.  And since I finished that at the end of November, I've thrown myself into finishing a project that I barely started a year ago and left lying dormant until now.  Once of my nieces in Israel had a baby last January and I bought a baby blanket cross-stitch kit to make for her because I'm insane.  Well, now that baby is almost a year old, and I'm going to Israel on January 1st to visit my mother and to attend my other niece's wedding, and so I am absolutely determined to get this thing finished before I leave, no matter what.  So now, instead of obsessively revising, I'm obsessively cross-stitching, and I haven't even been able to think about anything else except, from time to time, about police in this country and their attitudes toward people of color.  But this isn't a subject I don't think about often anyway, because it pretty much arises on a daily basis for public defenders.  So mostly what I've been thinking about lately is: "Oh, so NOW do you people get it?"
     Anyway.  I know this is a short and lame-ass post, but I'm afraid that's the quality you're going to be getting from me until the end of the year because I'm going to be spending 95% of my non-work time cross-stitching maniacally and the other 5% trying to recover from it.  So if there's anyone out there in the blogosphere that misses my more thoughtful and informative and amusing posts, I apologize, and I'll try to make up for this shameful period once I get home in 2015.

Friday, November 28, 2014


     Among the many things at which I've failed as a parent is instilling a sense of family tradition in my children.  It wasn't that long ago that I read about a study which found that the happiest, most secure children are those who have a strong sense of their roots, including time-honored family customs and rituals.  Well, I personally suck at following customs and rituals, which obviously has made it tricky for me to pass them along to my offspring.  But then came yesterday.
     Yesterday was Thanksgiving, which we celebrated with just the four of us, and then my daughter's boyfriend joined us for dessert.  And that was when I learned that - as perhaps I should have remembered from last Thanksgiving, but didn't - we now have a wonderful new Thanksgiving tradition at our house, thanks to my ever-inventive husband.  While we eat dessert, we go around the table and take turns reading aloud from WALTER THE FARTING DOG.

     It's a fairly straightforward narrative.  Walter is adopted from the pound by an unsuspecting family.  By the time his gastrointestinal disorder makes itself known, the kids have already fallen in love with him.  Heartless Father, however, deaf to the heartrending pleas of his children, cannot tolerate the noxious fumes and is resolved to send Walter back from whence he came.  Tragedy is imminent... and then wouldn't you know it, Walter saves the day in the very nick of time.
     Naturally, this deceptively simple tale operates on many different levels.  For example, Walter's farts - despite the graphic nature of their descriptions in the book - may simply be metaphors for any form of "difference," or deviation from the norm.  And Father's desire to send Walter back to the pound may well be a euphemism for his belief in the practice of eugenics.  Father is clearly a cesspool of repressed rage whose excessive degree of repulsion with Walter hints at a dark secret in his own past.  I foresee many years of deep and meaningful family discussions as we plunge ever deeper into the postmodern symbolism of Walter and his "socially unacceptable" means of expressing his unconscious impulses.
     Best of all, though, is the fact that we now have a family tradition of which we can be proud.  Thanks to Walter, I have newfound confidence that, despite all my parental failings, my kids are going to be okay.

Monday, November 24, 2014


     I only have a couple of things to say about the grand jury's failure to return an indictment against Officer Darren Wilson; I'm too demoralized to write anything lengthy.  But what I do have to say is based on my knowledge and experience as a criminal defense attorney for the past 27 years.  Grand juries are the pawns of prosecutors, who are experts at manipulating the outcomes of grand jury proceedings.  How do I know this?  Because I've heard prosecutors boast about it, proudly repeating the aphorism that they "could indict a ham sandwich" if they so chose.  Prosecutors are obligated to leave the voting to the grand jurors, but they treat this as a mere technicality; every day, in every county of every state, prosecutors knowingly and intentionally manipulate the grand jury system to achieve their own desired results.
     You saw Prosecutor McCulloch.  You saw his disdain for his own witnesses and their credibility; his pugnacious insistence that the essence of the case against Wilson was a twisted myth perpetuated by the media.  I don't know whether he personally made the presentation to the grand jury or whether it was one of his minions, but here's something else I know from experience: prosecutors' offices are completely hierarchical in structure.  The prosecutor calls the shots, and everyone who works for him or her falls into lockstep or risks getting fired.  Can there be any doubt that the resentment McCulloch so openly communicated to the public tonight for the fact that he even had to present this case to the grand jury was unmistakably communicated to every person in his office?  And can there be any doubt that the message was then passed along subliminally to the grand jurors themselves?  The same witness can present the same testimony, but be viewed completely differently, depending on how the prosecutor presenting the case chooses to conduct the questioning: respectfully, neutrally, skeptically, or anything in between.  Grand juries return indictments on ludicrously weak charges ALL THE TIME.  Prosecutors have acknowledged to me that they routinely over-indict, submitting charges on which they know the grand jury will return indictments but which they themselves know they won't ever be able to prove at trial beyond a reasonable doubt, in order to have more bargaining chips when it comes time for plea negotiations. When grand juries do decide to no-bill cases, it's almost always because the prosecutors recommended that they do just that.
     To me, there's no doubt whatsoever about what happened with the Ferguson grand jury.  Any doubt I might have had was decimated by McCulloch's demeanor.  In probably 98% of cases presented to the grand jury, prosecutors make sure to get the result they want.  This case falls within that 98%.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


     Okay, so now this blog isn't allowing me to post my own comments in reply to other people's comments.  This is a very annoying glitch which I haven't encountered before.  I've tried my (extremely limited) array of tricks, all to no avail. Are there any tech wizards out there who can help me?  I'll just thank you in advance in case you have a suggestion to offer, because if it doesn't work I still won't be able to leave a comment to thank you, but I will nonetheless be very grateful!

Sunday, November 16, 2014


  This title has a dual meaning.  I'm still here, meaning that although I've shamefully neglected my blog over the past two weeks, I still exist.  I just haven't had time for much of anything outside of working at my Paying Job during the day and working at my Nonpaying Job - writing - in the evenings.  Because - and here is the second meaning of the title - my Muse is STILL HERE.  She has hung around for two weeks now, bless her, and she and I have accomplished a lot of revision during her visit.  There have been evenings when she's been here and willing to jump in, but I've been too tired even for her.  For the most part, though, we've been hustling, she and I.
     Amazingly, the crazy system I came up with for adding a new plotline to my book has been working, for the most part.  I haven't completely written each chunk, but I've written enough to know what happens in each episode as well as approximately when in the existing story it has to happen.  Last weekend I drew up on a big sheet of drawing paper a chapter-by-chapter, month-by-month timeline for the book as it then existed, and then I began the process of figuring out where each new partial chunk of story belongs.  And since then I've been transferring those chunks, one at a time, from Document #2 to Document #1, and then fleshing them out with the new ideas that the Muse keeps feeding me.  It's a messy process, but progress is being made.  Of course, once all the partial chunks are in place (which should occur fairly soon, I hope) I'll still have to complete them.  And even then I won't be close to done because I'll have to go through the entire book line-by-line and figure out what needs to be added, or subtracted, or woven together.  But that's all okay, because I can see the endpoint far off on the horizon.
     So that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.  The world swirls around me and I ignore it all and focus on my book, watching it come to life word by word, emotion by emotion, link by link. 
     Lord, this makes me happy. 

Monday, November 3, 2014


     I spent this weekend in Princeton at the New Jersey SCBWI fall craft conference.  I really enjoyed it.  I learned some things at the workshops, including some great sources for incorporating a new plotline into an existing novel (thank you, Yvonne Ventresca!), some other great resources for writing historical fiction (thank you, Darlene Beck Jacobson!), and what an objective correlative is. (Thank you, Meg Wiviott!)  I met some very nice people.  But here is the best part. 
     As you may know from prior posts, I'm adding a new character and a new plotline to my novel.  I know the character now, and I knew much of how (although not exactly where) she would be introduced into the story.  The problem was that although I had figured out how she would (or would not) be involved with the main character for the three months following her entrance onto the scene, the main story line continued for another seven months from that point, and I had to somehow make myself know what would happen to her for the rest of that time frame.  And I didn't have a clue.
     Until yesterday.  I spent all day Saturday attending workshops, and I'd planned to do the same all day yesterday, but at about 10:30 I looked over the list of available workshops again, and not one of them grabbed me.  So I decided that rather than attend any one of them, I could use my time more productively by actually writing.
     I walked over to the building where lunch was going to be served, found myself a comfortable chair in the entrance hall, took out a pad and pen (because I hadn't brought my laptop with me), and sat down to think about my character and what she needed to do from October to April.
     EUREKA!!  Suddenly, after weeks of fruitless scratching around  in the deep recesses of my brain for ideas, I just knew.  I knew the main thing that had to happen, and as soon as I knew that, it became obvious what had to happen in order to lead up to it, as well as what had to follow it.  I repeat: I just knew. And I started to write. And I didn't stop until people started streaming into the building for lunch.
     This has never happened to me before: a writing puzzle solving itself before my very eyes, and making it look effortless.  And so I'm chalking the experience up to my having been immersed in the magical brew of this conference, from my toes right up to and including my brain, which for that hour and a half magically swelled into a superbrain.  Exactly long enough.  And though, sadly, my brain has now reverted back to its very nonsuper self, I know with 100% certainty that all the ideas I came up with were absolutely right for the story, and that in fact they were the only ideas that could have been right.  And for the life of me, I can't understand how I could have failed to see all of it in the weeks leading up to the conference, when there were so many ENORMOUS clues already existing inside my manuscript, if I had only bothered to look.
     What's that elixir that Harry Potter swallows at some point in one of the books (I can't remember if it made it into any of the movies) that suddenly gives him perfect, almost Godlike clarity of vision, so that in an instant, he knows exactly what he has to do and exactly when he has to do it?  I seem to remember that it involved Harry's marching down immediately to Hagrid's hut, although he couldn't have said why, and its turning out (of course) to be exactly, but exactly, what he needed to do at that precise moment - I believe it was to overhear a conversation which then required him to take action in order to save Hagrid from a terrible calamity that would otherwise have befallen him.
     Well, it was like that.  And you know what else?  At this point, the magic has lasted for a day and a half.  Pretty potent stuff, wot?  Because today I was on jury duty, which is something I dread every time it happens (and it happens to me a lot) because I know full well that I will waste my time traipsing from one courtroom to another but that (as a criminal defense lawyer) I will never ever make it onto a jury panel.  But today - today - as soon as the orientation session ended, I sat myself down in the computer room with my laptop, and I wrote and wrote and wrote all day, and not once did I get summoned to a courtroom in order to sit through the tedious selection process, only to be bounced off the panel and sent back to the jury assembly room to go through the whole thing all over again an hour or two later.  Not ONCE.  I wrote and wrote and wrote, and it flowed and flowed and flowed.
     I can be a real cynic, and it's not often you'll catch me saying this, so listen up: I do believe in magic.  I do.  I do.  I do.


Sunday, October 26, 2014


     Oh, my Lord, I've gone two whole weeks without blogging, and even longer without really blogging.  I'm aware that my "canine geniuses" post doesn't actually count.  It's just that this writing life is so hard, you know?  I'm squinting into a dream through the lens of a microscope, seeing only shapes and shadows moving continuously.  Once in a while a shape swims into focus for a second, and I feel I can almost decipher it, but then it slips back into the shadows again.  Tiny snippets of this miniaturized world coalesce here and there, long enough for me to catch them in my net and dredge them up into the light.  But of course, they look so different once they're captives.  They're damaged, inert.  Maybe I can transplant life back into them, maybe not.  The only way it can possibly work is if I wield the scalpel deep into my own life and sacrifice some cells.
     It's always worth it, even if the transplant doesn't take.  But it's exhausting to perform surgery on yourself day after day.  And sometimes I don't have the energy left to talk about it, but I can't think about anything else.  And so a week or two can go by without my blogging.  I hope you understand.

p.s.  I actually have a very important public service announcement - can't believe I forgot this before.  Here goes: "rutabaga" is not just a silly made-up word.  It is the name of a real live vegetable, also known as a "waxy turnip."  It doesn't taste half bad in a vegetable soup, either.  And, because I want you to be able to recognize it in the produce section instead of having to embarrass yourself by reading the labels on anything that looks like it might be a rutabaga:

     Sort of majestic, in its own crude, aggressive way.  If Beethoven had been a vegetable, I think the odds are at least 50-50 he would have been a rutabaga.  Rutabagas don't take no shit, I can tell you that.  If you want to cut one up and eat it, you'd best sneak up behind it and make your move before it knows you're there.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


     Which of the following dogs truly meets the definition of genius?  Is it:

A.  Minnie the Rottweiler, who has better table manners than some people I know?

or, B.  My dog Murphy, who has developed the ability to take selfies?

     Only one vote per person (or dog), please.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

#amwriting #amcrazy

    Listen up, kids!  Want to know a totally dysfunctional way to add a new plot line to your book before resubmitting it to an agent?  Well, you've come to the right place!

     Now, please be aware that this method I've just discovered is a totally different dysfunctional method than the one I use to write the book in the first place.  It is, however, somewhat related.

1.  Figure out the new character and the new story line.  Blah, blah, blah, right?  That part's kind of normal, I guess.  But here's where the fun starts:

2.  Create a new document and start writing the new story line, chunk by chunk, scene by scene.  Do this without the slightest idea of where, or indeed whether, any of it will fit into the existing book.  Just write.  This is the step I'm currently on.  And when I'm done, I plan to follow it with:

3.  Map out the existing book, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, in the belief that when this process is done, the places where all the new chunks belong will magically be revealed.

4.  Insert all the new chunks in their perfectly foreordained spots.  Then read the whole book and make changes as necessary until, voila!  There are no longer two disconnected documents, but a perfectly blended whole.

Simple, right?  What could possibly go wrong?  You know the phrase, TRUST THE PROCESS?  Well, it's not "trust the sane, logical process," is it?  Nope.  It's "trust your own process."  So I take that to mean that if your own process seems, even to you, even as you're experimenting with it, insane and illogical, trust it anyway.

     Okey dokey.  I'll keep you posted.  Don't worry, it's not contagious.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


     Before I became an appellate lawyer, about 18 years ago, I was a trial lawyer for nine years.  And when I was on trial, I wore suits.  Suits with skirts, because believe it or not, not many women were wearing pantsuits to court that long ago.  I wore tasteful, classic suits, I like to think.  So tasteful and classic that a number of them were still hanging in my closet, until this past weekend.  Because who knew when I might have cause to wear them again?
     Secretly, I knew when: never.  Not because the suits were old, but because they no longer fit me.  Not, I must admit, through any fault of their own.  The suits were entirely blameless, remaining at the ready whenever I might choose to call on them.  I was the one who had gained fifteen pounds or so over the years.  But I kept the suits.  Obviously, if I really wanted to, I could shed those pounds right off, couldn't I?  It could happen miraculously, at any time, through no effort on my part.  I would just wake up one morning, and zowie!  I'd be 15 pounds lighter, and you know what?  When that day came to pass, imagine how tragic it would be if  I DIDN'T HAVE ANY SUITS TO WEAR!
     So I went on for years and years in this state of blissful denial, until about a month ago I finally opened the closet door, experienced a temporary whiff of sanity, and said to myself: What if you did miraculously lose 15 pounds?  These suits are twenty years old.  They have passed so far beyond the realm of out-of-style that they might be considered retro, if they were cute and funky items that the cool kids would wear.  But they're not cute and funky.  They're conservative business suits in muted colors and no hipster would be caught dead in one of them.  They need to go.
     But I still couldn't bring myself to put them in a bag with all the other clothes I was planning to donate to charities, because they were of such good quality!  Look!  Pure wool!  Jones New York!  Impeccable condition!
     And then I remembered the consignment store I regularly pass on my training-for-the-Avon-Walk walks, but have never entered.  The signs on the plate-glass windows read TOP QUALITY! and DESIGNER LABELS!  How perfect is that?  And so last Saturday, I put an armload of clothes in the back seat of my car and drove over.
     I approached the store empty-handed, which seemed to me like a classy way to handle this.  I'll just ask them first whether or not they might be interested, and then I'll dazzle them with the actual goods.  One tall, thin, middle-aged woman was sweeping the sidewalk outside the shop.  She smiled and directed me inside to speak with her business partner.
     The business partner, another tall, thin middle-aged woman, did not smile.  Instead, she listened, expressionless, to my proposal, eying my shorts-T-shirt-flip-flops ensemble with deep skepticism.  But, as luck would have it, there wasn't a single customer in the store and she was clearly doing nothing but tidying up the racks, so she sighed and asked me what kind of clothing I had brought.  Dresses and suits, I told her.  "Business suits?", she asked in a tone of barely concealed revulsion.  I had to admit that was, indeed, what they were.  She shook her head sharply.  "Business suits don't sell."  But she stoically permitted me to go out to my car and bring back my wares.
     When I returned, before I had even crossed the room halfway in her direction, she was already shaking her head definitively.  "Our customers only want clothes that are very current.  Everything moves fast in this business.  And we carry only high-end labels."
     "Like what?," I asked curiously.  She didn't even answer that question.  Obviously she believed that the odds of my having heard of any of the high-end labels they carried were slim to none, so why waste her breath?  Instead, she fixed me with a peculiar look and told me about a store that would be much more likely to meet my needs.  It was a combination thrift/consignment store in a nearby town.  Yes, it would be perfect for me and my poor, dead merchandise, she was sure of it.  She slowly repeated the store's name several times, as if she wasn't quite sure about the mental capacity of someone so fashion-impaired, and it was at that point that I recognized the look she was giving me.  It was one of naked pity.  I felt rather shaken.  I knew quite well that I was no fashionista, but I had always believed that I looked generally acceptable.  The clothes I wore were seldom new, but they were clean; they fit me, and matched whatever else I had on.  Was I delusional in thinking that was good enough?   Had I really let things get so far out of hand?
    When I got home,  I googled the magical place that was evidently designed specifically for me, and discovered that it accepted consignments on Tuesday mornings beginning at 10:00, and that - O joyous omen! - it was located only a few blocks away from the doctor's office where I had a 9:00 a.m. appointment that very Tuesday.  As in, yesterday.  Clearly, it was all meant to be.
     So at 9:40 yesterday morning, there I was, standing outside the store.  The website had said that once the doors opened I would need to take a number and wait, but I was second in line, ready to roll and feeling pretty jaunty.  I would be in and out of there in no time and on my way to work, with the pleasant prospect of earning several hundred dollars to speed me on my way.
     Well.  The doors opened at 10, but as I soon learned, I couldn't just walk in and consign, oh dear me no.  I had to first go to an office in the back to meet with a woman who was in no hurry at all.  At her own leisurely pace, she repeated to me everything I had read online about their organization and the consignment process, had me sign a form inducting me into the sacred society of consignors, and then finally took me to the front to get a number, at which point there were about ten people in line ahead of me, and each of them had many, many, many items to offer.
     I was in that store for an hour and a half,  and for almost all of it I was standing and waiting for my number to come up.  I could have walked around the store and looked at the items for sale, but I could see plenty just by standing right where I was.  It felt like one of the saddest places I had ever been in, not counting hospitals and rehab centers.  The housewares on the shelves were mostly items I could not conceive of anyone having owned in the first place.  I won't go into detail except to say that cute woodland creatures were heavily featured, perhaps outnumbered only by angels.  And all I kept thinking was: this is the place where I belong.  These are my people.  The woman in the other consignment store told me so.
     At 11:00 a.m. my number was called and I got to pull my clothes out of the bag I'd stuffed them into and show them to the woman whose job it was to price them for me.  I started off with a pantsuit I considered quite chic, and in excellent condition.  The woman took it from me, inspected it closely for damage, found none, and suggested, "Sixteen dollars?"
     I walked out fifteen minutes later with my list of the five items that had been accepted for consignment (yes, a few others were rejected due to minor flaws), and added up the total prices in my head.  Well, I thought philosophically as I walked to my car, I had just squandered an hour and a half of my time, but that was okay.  My dear, stalwart clothes were going to support a good cause, and at least I might end up with a grand total of $64 out of it.  (Actually it was $74, but I had to pay $10 for the privilege of being permitted to consign.)  Still, I was able to focus on the silver lining to all of this  until I got to work and glanced through the brochure I had been handed, only to be reminded that at most, if every item sold, I would receive 60% of the sales prices.  I didn't pause to figure out what 60% of $64 is because, honestly, I don't want to know. 
     So, if you've read this far, you've been wondering for at least the last dozen paragraphs why I entitled this post AND OTHER REVISIONS.  Here's why.  Because I've concluded that there's one lesson I need to take away from this entire experience, which is: do yourself a favor and buy some new clothes once in a while, would ya?  I mean, just grow up, okay? 
     The end. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


   I'm not gonna lie.  It makes me really happy when a literary agent tells me,  "I really love your writing and like this manuscript a lot."  Ditto for "I think you've created some really great characters here," and "the writing is very strong," and "I think this had great potential."  All of which means I'm getting close, right? 
     But then there's "I felt there wasn't enough of a focus on plot," and "I didn't get the sense we were building toward a larger story," and "I wanted the novel to have more of a teen focus."  And these are all fair comments, dammit.  And here's what that all means: I need to add another strong, important teen character whose story contributes to the overall arc.
     And here's the problem.  I'm the kind of person who finds it much easier to remain closed to new ideas and new people than to open myself up to them.  And adding a significant new character requires a huge amount of opening myself up.  I've been thinking about this a lot in the days since I received this agent's email, and here's the analogy I've come up with.  Creating a whole new important, but secondary, character is not equivalent in scale to having, or adopting, a child of your own.  (That would be much more like creating a protagonist.)  But I would say it's equivalent to the decision to take a foreign exchange student into your home for six months or a year.  It requires an intense but relatively short-term commitment to getting to know and understand a complete stranger well enough to be able to evaluate and accommodate his or her needs, quirks, goals, abilities and flaws.  And it requires the flexibility to expect the unexpected from them, because no matter how well you think you've come to know them, it's virtually guaranteed that they're going to say and do things that you could never have anticipated.
     So that's what I've been doing these last few days: preparing myself emotionally to open up to someone new, someone who's going to occupy my metaphorical house for weeks or months and then move on, but leave something of herself behind forever.  It's not about creation, at least not to me; it's much more about discovery.  That missing character exists in some realm, and my job is to go out and find her. 
     It's a daunting task.
     It's a task I'm capable of performing.
     Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


     but you will NEVER convince me that these aren't the two best boys in the world:


Saturday, September 20, 2014



      I'm so excited today, because the one and only YA and middle-grade author, Holly Schindler, has been gracious enough to include my blog as a stop in her blog hop promoting and celebrating (see: balloons, above) the recent release of her first psychological thriller, FERAL.  That title, of course, makes me think of images like this one:

and, in fact, FERAL is in part about wild cats, but they're the small, pet-sized kind, nothing like Leo up there.  But feral housecats can be pretty terrifying too, especially if they're possibly not just cats, but something much more sinister... and they show up in your new town everywhere you turn...

Take it away, Holly!

FERAL falls squarely into the realm of the classic psychological thriller. While the book features mystery, horror, and paranormal elements, the emphasis is on the "psychological" rather than thriller / action. The novel features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development (here, we’re exploring the inner workings of the main character, Claire Cain). Essentially, every aspect of FERAL is used to explore Claire’s inner workings—that even includes the wintry Ozarks setting. The water metaphor is employed frequently in psychological thrillers to represent the subconscious, and here is incorporated in the form of a brutal ice storm (that represents Claire’s "frozen" inner state). The attempt to untangle what is real from what is unreal (another frequently-used aspect of the psychological thriller) also begins to highlight the extent to which Claire was hurt in that Chicago alley. Even the explanation of the odd occurrences in the town of Peculiar offers an exploration into and portrait of Claire’s psyche. Ultimately, FERAL is a book about recovering from violence—that’s not just a lengthy or hard process; it’s a terrifying process, too. The classic psychological thriller allowed me to explore that frightening process in detail.

While the focus is on Claire’s inner workings, we do see other characters struggling, too. Actually, FERAL takes place in a time of town-wide crisis: Peculiar has been hit with a paralyzing ice storm. And a local teen girl is missing.

I often get asked what parts of my books have been taken from real life. In 2007 (and again in 2008), my hometown was hit with a paralyzing ice storm. And over twenty years ago, I was a high school student when two girls from my school went missing. I know how both incidents impacted my town…While there is a bit of neighborly sharing during those times of disaster, the true concern (at least, from my own observations) tends to turn inward. Toward your own family, your own home. And as time goes on, it becomes increasingly easy to overreact, to let your own worries make you edgy and strange. I remember how frazzled and easily annoyed everyone could get three days (or in some cases, three weeks) without power during the ice storms. And after the disappearance of two students, the atmosphere in my high school completely changed; teachers turned increasingly protective of their own students, hallways were locked down during lunch, cheerleaders were given pepper spray for protection, etc.

In many ways, FERAL reflects my own experiences and observations of the way a small(ish) town behaves in a time of crisis. Fear over safety and grief over the loss of a friend makes the characters in FERAL behave oddly. Those odd behaviors only feed into the overall tone of the book—force the reader to ask, "What is going on here? Who’s responsible for Serena’s disappearance—and death?" (The reader is involved in the attempt to figure out what is real, which, as I stated, is a tried-and-true element of the psychological thriller.)

In many ways, Claire walks into a perfect storm. Perhaps, if she had arrived in Peculiar three months after that ice storm, or had Serena not died, her classmates would have seen her own behavior as strange. Claire would have stood out; her problems would have been obvious from the get-go. But everything is strange in Peculiar when Claire arrives. Everyone is on edge. Everyone is grieving and caught up in the web of their own bad feelings, remorse. The moments when Claire overreacts, giving the reader a clue that she isn’t quite as okay as she insists (pointing a box cutter at Rich the first time she meets him, running into the woods upon getting an offer for a ride home) are surrounded by hardships: the desperation associated with an ice storm, the discovery of a dead girl’s body. So Claire’s behavior simply meshes into the other strange things that occur in the course of the book.

In a sense, the ice storm and the brutal death of Serena make the characters wild, crazed, too—the cats aren’t the only untamed creatures walking the streets of Peculiar in FERAL…
                           *                          *                          *

Thank you, Holly!

Weird...  Holly looks so sweet, doesn't she?

What's that they say about not judging a book by its cover?  Oh, and just in case you're not terrified enough yet,  you probably need to watch this book trailer:

And here's what some other people have to say about FERAL, in the jacket copy:

The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.

It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.

But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….

Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

                                           *                            *                                 *

     In case anyone reading this doesn't know from my umpteen previous posts about her, I am a diehard Holly Schindler groupie, constantly dazzled by her talent, range, and fearlessness.  It seems that there's no subject matter she's too afraid to tackle, and she is always testing her own limits and setting herself new challenges.  This is her official bio:

Holly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs).

Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud. Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION "...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve."

FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller. Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, "Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees."

Schindler encourages readers to get in touch. Booksellers, teen librarians, and teachers can also contact her directly regarding Skype visits. She can be reached at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com, and can also be found at,, @holly_schindler,, and
                                   *                                      *                                          *

And now, to truly make this an all-Holly Schindler day, this is what you need to do at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time:  attend this Google+ hangout chat with Holly and other authors!
Hear Holly herself tell you about FERAL!

And on the off-chance that you don't win the FERAL giveaway that accompanies that chat, here is an added bonus:
Rafflecopter form for a giveaway of a signed hardcover of FERAL (running Sept. 17-Sept. 28):    

I mean, really?  Why would you NOT want to take advantage of TWO chances to win a free copy of FERAL?  Have you not been paying attention here????


Thursday, September 18, 2014


     Mesdames et messieurs, je pense que j'ai un(e) vrai(e) ami(e) en France!!  Quelle c'est magnifique!  Maintenant, je veux seulement dire bienvenue a ce(tte) person(ne)!  Je suis tres heureuse d'apprendre que vous aimez mon blog, et de faire votre connaisance electronique.  Et s'il vous plait, me pardonnez pour tous mes erreurs de langue.  J'ai etudie francais dans l'ecole depuis 42 ans, et j'ai oublie beaucoup!
     Bonne nuit!  Vive la France! 

Saturday, September 13, 2014


     On September 20th, one week from today, I'll be hosting a guest post by Holly Schindler, part of her blog hop to celebrate the August 26th release of her YA psychological thriller, FERAL.  Holly's post will be a fascinating study of the psychological-thriller genre in general, and of how she sees FERAL as fitting into that framework.  There will be lots of other goodies too, including links to the tour banner, a book trailer, and a Rafflecopter giveaway!  So please don't forget to stop back here again next Saturday.  And in the meantime, watch some Alfred Hitchcock movies to get yourself in the mood. 

     Remember: you can run from the past, but you can't hide.

p.s....  and if you want to make this coming Saturday an All-Holly-Schindler day - and really, who wouldn't? - read my post first, obviously, and then here's where you need to be at 4:00 p.m. EST:  I bet it will be awesome.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Well.  My attempt to crowdfund my Avon Walk participation has proven to be a complete dud.  Despite my offer of fabulous prizes, I only got two donations as a result of my begging: one from my brother-in-law, and one from my son.  Neither of them has requested a critique, a funny poem, or even a batch of cookies in exchange, which probably means that it didn't even qualify as a real contest.  Lesson learned.
     Nothing went horribly wrong for me this week, but I can't say that anything went right either, and there's not a thing in the world I feel like posting about, so I'm just going to crawl off into my cave and hope that tomorrow I'll wake up and feel like smiling.  Do you ever have weeks like this?

NEWSFLASH:  Make that three donations!  And a big thank you shout-out to my very generous mother-in-law, who apparently still reads my blog!!

Sunday, September 7, 2014


   you are morally obligated to share this outtake of him from the Carol Burnett show (and if you're too young to know what the Carol Burnett Show was, at least have the decency not to tell me about it):

     Yeah.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


..... but I kind of am, actually.  Too proud to beg, that is, even though what I'm begging for is not for me.  So instead of begging, I'm going to run a contest. 
     Here's the deal.  Every autumn for ten years I participated in the New York Avon Walk for Breast Cancer (I know, it should be called the Avon Walk Against Breast Cancer, but I don't get to choose the name).  In each of those years, instead of dumping a bucket of ice water over my head (not that there's anything wrong with that!), I walked 39.3 miles over the course of two days to raise awareness about breast cancer and to raise money for prevention, treatment, and research to eventually achieve a cure.  To participate, I had to raise a minimum of $1,800 each year.
     Last year, I gave myself a sabbatical.  This year, I signed up again, but what with my getting all wrapped up with this and that, I totally neglected my fundraising efforts.  Result: as of right now, about three weeks before the date when I have to have all my donations in, I've only raised about a third of the money I need to raise.  (It's too complicated to get into the details, but although the actual deadline is several weeks later, the Walk weekend gets a LOT harder for me if I haven't gotten all my donations in by September 22nd.)
     So.  Here is my idea.  If you're reading this post, I'm asking you to consider making a donation to help me meet my fundraising goal.  All you have to do is go to, look me up on the list of walkers (Susan Brody), and make a tax-deductible online donation.  Whoever makes the largest donation between now and Wednesday, September 10th, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, will get to choose his or her prize from the following list:
     1.  I will critique 30 pages of an original, unpublished manuscript.  True, I haven't have any of my own books published yet, but honestly: I'm a hell of an editor, if I say so myself.
     2.  I will write a stupid poem for you, on any subject you choose.  I write GREAT stupid poems.
     3.  I will bake a batch of cookies - any kind you request - and send them to you, wherever you might be.  I'm not a bad cookie-baker. 
     4.  I will give you a box of awesome books from my overflowing personal library, trying to match the selections to your preferences.
     5.  I will be your best friend forever and ever.  (Desperate times call for desperate measures.)

     If you choose to participate, thank you!!  After you've made your donation, please send me an email at muranosb(at)gmail(dot)com, so that I have your contact info in case you're the lucky winner.  And if you don't choose to participate, I'm still your friend.  Just not your BEST friend.  That's fair, right?

Sunday, August 31, 2014


     I've been back from Rome about two weeks now, and what I remember most vividly (aside from the gratitude I felt for being able to be there with my family) are two things: the masterpieces of art that literally take your breath away, and the humbler but every bit as real pleasure of just walking down the streets, never knowing what you might find around the next corner.  The Romans take the ubiquity of thousands of years of history completely in stride, but it still seems in credible to me that this yellow apartment building in the background of the ruins is where I lived for a week:

     You might not be able to see it in the photo, but the building was not only right next to Trajan's Forum; it was actually attached to the ancient brickwork.  This was the front door:

     There's really no reason for me to post photos of the art, which can all be seen online or in tour books, so I thought I'd close out my Rome series with some photos of what it was like for us to just wander around the city, slurping from out water bottles (it was SO hot), stumbling over uneven cobblestones, with Amy wanting to stop and feed every stray cat she saw (and there were many stray cats).


     It was a magical week for us.  I hope my family gets to go back there someday, preferably together.  And I hope you get to go there too!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


     I've been avoiding posting about Rome.  And the real reason is that as I look through all my photos, I get intimidated.  I can't remember what all of them are, or where I saw what, and I feel compelled to get it right.  But really - if all you wanted was pinpoint accuracy, then you would be reading a guidebook instead of this blog, right?  So here goes, mistakes and all.
     Roman culture 2,000 years ago was schizophrenic.  Huge enthusiastic crowds of men, women and children, would pack the Colosseum to watch wild animals tear gladiators to shreds:

     The floor is missing now, and what you see underneath where it once stood is the elaborate system of tunnels and walkways that were used to bring the combatants into the arena.

      So violent "sport" was what passed for public entertainment.  The Roman people couldn't get enough of it.  And let's not forget the bit of history that was hammered into my head throughout my childhood: that when the Romans conquered the Jewish people, they punished them in 70 A.D. for refusing to adopt the Roman religion by destroying their sacred Temple.  And from what I hear, they were no great friends to Jesus, either.
     And yet at roughly the same time all of this was occurring, as part of the same Roman culture, the Pantheon was built:

     You know, there aren't many perfect things in this world, but the Pantheon is one of them.  The height at the center of the dome is the exact diameter of the interior, meaning that a perfect sphere would precisely fill the space.
     And then there's the sculpture:

     Bloodthirsty, cruel monsters, these ancient Romans, who also sponsored, created and revered exquisite art.  Is it any wonder we're so fascinated by them?
     More to come.

Monday, August 25, 2014


     Okay.  I realize this is sort of cheating, but given my current frame of mind, this first post about my Rome vacation is going to be all about MY KIDS in Rome.  Be patient with me.

                                         CHILLIN' AT THE VILLA BORGHESE GARDENS


                                          DINNER (AND RARE SIGHTING OF NATE
                                          WITHOUT JETS CAP)

Nathan had to go back home after our first four days there, so:

                                                   NO, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT
                                                   VIRGIN WATER IS.

                                                AMY EXPERIENCING CARAVAGGIO

                                                       AMY EXPERIENCING STEPS

                                         AMY EXPERIENCING STREET-SHOPPING

     Actual Rome photos to follow sometime soon.  Honest!!!