The Fine Line Between Grief and Guilt

It’s been a year . . . 365 days . . . a whole bunch of hours and thousands of minutes, since my mom died. In some ways, it’s gotten easier, moments in which the intensity of loss dissipates, like a drop of black ink in a bowl of water. But in other ways, it’s gotten harder. When I revisit the last few months of her life, I question the many decisions I made on her behalf, and the “what-if” scenarios play out in my mind. I don’t know why I do this, why I create such angst —  why I torment myself with what might have been.   Continue reading “The Fine Line Between Grief and Guilt”

Too (not two) Frequently Asked Questions

When people find out a person is a writer, they’re intrigued. They ask questions. What do you write? Where do your ideas come from? Are you published? Do you have an MFA? Where can I read your work? Are you rich and famous?    Continue reading “Too (not two) Frequently Asked Questions”

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

A few months ago I attended a writers conference in San Francisco. Prior to my leaving, I did some research on how to prepare. With workshops and speakers scheduled from early morning to well into the night, I figured a little planning would go a long way . . . Continue reading “Confessions of a Conference Junkie”

The Totally True Story of Julie and Jack

Real Writers Write Every Day . . . except for those who don’t

Writers are often asked: “What is your writing routine?” It’s a good question. After all, people want to know how it’s done. How do writers find time to write between jobs, kids, pets, chores, distractions, and the endless list of things that must be done before we allow ourselves the luxury of indulging in our creative passion. Continue reading “Real Writers Write Every Day . . . except for those who don’t”

The Art of Forgiveness

I submitted this essay in application for the Dr. Ellen Taliaferro Scholarship to the San Francisco Writers Conference 2017. The prompt was this: “Write 500 words or less on the power of forgiveness.” So I did. And I won! The conference took place at the Mark Hopkins Hotel this past weekend. It was fabulous. Thank you Dr. Taliaferro. 

 

The Art of Forgiveness

“It took a long time, but as soon as I let go of my anger and resentment, I was free. I dropped the chains I’d been carrying around like Ebenezer Scrooge and felt as if a single balloon could lift me off the ground and carry me to the sky.”

I wrote those words some time ago while working on a story in which my main character had been betrayed. She was suffocating under the weight of her own hostility and venom. As the writer who created this character, I understood her refusal to forgive. In fact, I was quite sure I didn’t want her to . . .  Continue reading “The Art of Forgiveness”

Should I Stay or Should I go?

I’ve gone in and out of several writing groups over the years. For the most part, I’ve gotten at least something out of each one — encouragement, sympathy, advice . . . and oh yeah, homegrown vegetables – writers have all kinds of interesting hobbies! For many of us, however, there comes a time when a critique group fails to serve its purpose.  Here are FOUR situations that indicate it might be time for you to move on.

Continue reading “Should I Stay or Should I go?”

In Defense of Prejudice

And what’s that got to do with writing anyway?

One of my writing colleagues recently published an article about prejudice against beauty. What? Who doesn’t like beauty? We all enjoy seeing beautiful things, places, faces. But what we don’t usually consider is how that pretty face makes us feel. Envious? Intimidated? Intrigued? Superior? Before that gorgeous gal utters a single word, have we judged her based on appearance?

Drawing conclusions, positive or negative, and making assumptions about people according to how they look is human nature. If I see a good looking guy driving a fancy-schmancy car, I think he’s rich. But he could be the chauffeur, the son of a rich guy, the boy-toy of an heiress, a car thief . . . who knows? From a young age, we are taught not to judge a book by its cover (or a man by his car), but we can’t help it.

From Science Daily: “Contrary to what most people believe, the tendency to be prejudiced is a form of common sense, hard-wired into the human brain through evolution as an adaptive response to protect our prehistoric ancestors from danger.” Okay then, it’s all about survival. While we’ve come a long way since the caveman days, we cannot ignore our instinct to be wary of those who might harm us, thwart our plans, or get in our way. Stereotypes help us make sense of the world, and we want to be able to look at people and think we know what they’re about.

So what do stereotypes have to do with writing? For starters, it’s one way writers create surprises, twists, and tension. We take preconceived notions and turn them on their heads. The drunk, depressed girl with no life becomes the one who solves the mystery (The Girl on the Train); the nerdy newspaper reporter turns out to be the super-hero (Superman); the ambulance chasing, low-life lawyer is at his core a noble advocate for the truth (The Night Of); the outcast, scrawny dog/wolf steps up to be the leader of the pack (Balto).

As writers, we often give a protagonist prejudices as a way of showing character arc and creating tension. The protagonist must evolve, have a change of heart, or experience a revelation in her quest for whatever it is she desires. And it’s the “will she or won’t she” question that keeps the reader in suspense.

So the next time you draw a conclusion based on nothing more than appearance, don’t feel bad. It’s your inner caveman at work. Just know, you might be wrong . . .  then again, you might be right.

Read Mark Fine’s insightful article here: http://www.thefinemaxim.com/are-searchyou-prejudiced-against-beauty/

Would love to know what you think . . . And please follow my blog by entering your email in the box on the main page. Thanks!

A Point in Time

I’m sitting in a dark room sandwiched between two old women in wheelchairs. The one on my right is my mom. We are watching An American in Paris. I don’t think I’ve seen it before. Over the last month, my mother’s health and well-being have preoccupied my life. As a writer, I’m not happy to have my writing schedule thrown off track, to miss deadlines, to feel my creativity stifled. However, as a daughter, I am far more distressed to see my mom decline.

As I adjust to my new normal, I find time to write, as I’m doing now, in odd places and situations. In a strange and sweet way, Mom has become my muse. I’m spending more time with her now than I have since I was a child and she was the one who tended me – keeping me safe and fulfilling my needs. The ultimate role-reversal.

Hanging out in a senior home, surrounded by elderly, is both heartbreaking and humorous. If you think kids say the darndest things, try talking to old people. In general, they have no filters – they say whatever comes to mind without regard to appropriateness. The other day at lunch (yes, I eat lunch here on occasion), an old lady said to her friend, “Don’t order dessert, you’re getting fat.” I nearly choked on my orange jello. As it turned out, her friend didn’t hear her, or she pretended not to, or she just didn’t care. She ordered pie a-la-mode and a cookie.

As writers, we are keen observers – every person is a story. I’ve seen countless interactions here  – a loving moment between husband and wife; an adult child holding her mother’s hand; a family bringing a new baby to meet Great-Grandpa. I imagine the pasts of these old people, who and what they used to be. The man who worked for the CIA, the woman who raised eight children on her own, the military couple who lived all over the world. vintage-1319058__180I think about the lives they were living decades ago, when they could run and drive and use power tools. The lives they lived before their bodies aged, their minds faded, or illness robbed them of independence.

I’m trying to remember my own mom as the woman she used to be – my mommy, my advocate, my champion. Right now, I  can’t, it’s just too hard. But someday I will. She would want that.

Note: I wrote this on August 24, 2016. My beautiful mom passed away six days later. I will be eternally grateful that, almost on a whim, I decided to spend that afternoon with her, watching a movie and holding her hand.

 

To Read Me is to Know Me

cropped-Untitled.jpgWriters must be brave. When we write, we reveal stuff – what we think, believe, imagine. It took me a long time to get over feeling vulnerable and exposed. Actually, I’m not over it – I’ve just learned to live with it. Continue reading “To Read Me is to Know Me”

A TASTE OF HOME ~ short story

“A Taste of Home” is based on my short play, “Traveling With Chicken Soup,” which was performed at the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture in April 2016. It won second place! 

Nicki rolled over, sweaty and thirsty. She sat up and sneezed, smacking her head on the top bunk. Again. “Ow, shit. The door opened, and Nicki’s roommate, Jessica, walked in wearing only a towel. “Are you sick?”
“I think so. Can you get me a bottle of water?”
Jessica turned and grabbed a bottle of water from the top shelf of the closet they shared. She tossed it onto Nicki’s bed from across the room. “Sorry, but I cannot get sick. I have a physics midterm in two days.”
“It’s okay.” Nicki took a drink and fell back onto her pillow.
“Maybe you should go to student health,” Jessica said, putting on jeans, boots, and a Berkeley sweatshirt.
Nicki sneezed into her sleeve. “I don’t want to.”
“Okay, well, I’d better get to class. See you later.” Jessica scurried out the door as if heading to a decontamination shower.
Class, midterms, studying . . . Nicki couldn’t think about anything except the bump on her head and her burning throat. Just as she was dozing off, the ping of a face-time call disturbed her. Who would be trying to face-time so early in the morning?
Nicki got out of bed and opened the laptop on her desk. “Oh, crap.”
It was her mother, and she had ignored three calls from her yesterday. She tapped Accept.
“Hi, Mom.”
“Nicki! I’ve been trying to . . . Oh my God, you look awful!”
“It’s just a cold, Mom. I’m okay.”
“You most certainly are not okay.” Her mother leaned closer to the screen “Your eyes are all bloodshot and glassy. Have you taken your temperature?”
“No.”
“I can tell you’re running a fever, probably over a hundred and one.”
“I don’t have . . .” Nicki’s voice was swallowed by a fit of uncontrollable coughing.
“Good lord! Just listen to that cough! You’ve been at school for barely two months and already you’re at death’s door.”
Nicki wished she had ignored the ping. “I’m not at death’s door, Mom.”
“I know when my baby’s at death’s door. Open your mouth so I can see into your throat.”
Nicki rolled her eyes and opened her mouth wide.
“Lean in closer to the camera and say aaaah.”
Nicki put her open mouth near the camera lens on the computer. “Aaaaaaaah.”
“Hmm,” said her mother. “I think I see pus on your tonsils. Get your flashlight.”
“I don’t have a flashlight.”
“Yes, you do. I put one in your emergency kit”
“What emergency kit?”
“The one under your bed. Don’t you read your emails? I sent one last month with instructions for every item in the kit – the kit I put under your bed the day you moved in!”
“Oh, yeah, I remember now,” Nicki fibbed. “Lemme look.” She dragged herself to her bunk and got down on hands and knees. Her head was so heavy it almost hit the floor. Peering under the mattress, Nicki saw the large Rubbermaid bin. She pulled it out and lifted it onto her desk.
“The flashlight is on the left next to the antibacterial wipes and extra batteries.”
Nicki removed the lid. “Jesus, Mom, I could live for a month with all the crap you put in here.”
“That is the purpose of an emergency kit. Did you find the flashlight?”
“You mean this monster?” Nicki picked up the waterproof, ultra-bright, titanium, 17000 lumen torch. She turned on the light and shined it into her throat.
“Just as I thought,” her mother said. “You have tonsillitis.”
“You can’t diagnose tonsillitis through a computer screen.”
“I just did.”
“You’re not a doctor, Mom.”
“Jewish mother, doctor, what’s the difference?”
“About ten years of school,” Nicki said, turning off the flashlight.
“Don’t get sarcastic with me, young lady. I was the one who told the pediatrician your brother’s mosquito bites were actually chicken pox.”
“Okay, Mom.”
“And your Aunt Sheila told your cousin Adam his girlfriend had herpes and that he’d better not let her . . .”
“Oh God, please stop. You want me to throw up now, too?”
“No, but Aunt Sheila was right, and she’s a Jewish mother.”
“She’s also a dermatologist.” Nicki rifled through the emergency supplies and found five dozen pocket packs of tissues.
“Don’t get snippy with me, young lady. I want you to start a course of antibiotics. There’s a few z-packs in that brown paper bag.”
“What a surprise.” Nicki turned over a brown lunch bag, littering her desk with a colorful assortment of medications. “What are you? A drug dealer?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. A friend of mine knows somebody who knows somebody with a pharmaceutical connection.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.”
“I really don’t care, Miss pre-law know-it-all. Now eat one of those granola bars and take a pill before you end up in the hospital with pneumonia.”
“I really think you’re overreacting.” Nicki swallowed the antibiotic with a sip of water.
“That’s what your father said when I forced him to go to the urologist, and it turned out his prostate was the size of a grapefruit.”
“Eww. I knew I shouldn’t have answered.”
“Too late for that, isn’t it?” Nicki’s mother stepped away from the computer.
Nicki watched her open the refrigerator and pull out a bag of carrots, a bunch of celery, an onion, and a whole chicken.
“What are you doing now?”
Her mother leaned toward the camera and smiled, her face filling the screen. “I’m making you chicken soup.”
“How’s it gonna get here? Fed Ex?”
“Don’t be silly. I’ll bring it to you.”
“No no no! You are not coming up here, Mom.”
“I most certainly am. Let me see,” said her mother, looking at he watch. “Soup will be done in a couple of hours. Probably won’t be my best, but it’ll do. I’ll pack it up and get on the road and be at your door by dinnertime.”
“That’s insane! Don’t do it, Mom. I don’t want chicken soup.”
“I don’t care if you want it or not. You need it. And once I’m there with it, you will want it. And you will eat it, even if I have to feed it to you myself.”
Nicki groaned. “This is unbelievable! I’m in college. I can take care of myself.”
“If that were true,” her mother shook her finger at the camera, “you wouldn’t have gotten sick. Too much partying and not enough sleep. I should never have let you skip the third grade. One more year at home with me wouldn’t have hurt.”
Nicki knew she had been defeated. She pouted and blew her nose and watched her mother slice the onion.
“Mom?”
“Yes?” Her mother stopped slicing and looked at the screen.
“Are you gonna make matzo balls, too?
“What’s chicken soup without matzo balls? Of course I am.”
“Do you have any of those skinny noodles I like?”
“I’m sure I do. And I’ll chop the carrots and celery into bite-sized pieces and put in some shredded chicken.” Mom's Best
“Just a little.”
“Just a little. Now, you get yourself back into bed and take a nice long nap, okay?”
“Okay,” Nicki said. “Keep your laptop open so I can watch you cook.”
Nicki’s mother gave her the look. The look that said: you’ll always be my baby-girl.  “See you in a few hours, honey.”
“Thanks, Mommy.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” Nicki crawled into bed with her laptop and watched the familiar sight of her mother bustling about. She took a deep breath and dozed off to the sounds of her mother’s kitchen. She slept, dreaming of chicken soup, a taste of home.

WRONG TIME ~ RIGHT DOG

The day started out like any other day. Ordinary and uneventful – just the way I like it. I’d been running errands when, as if pulled by an invisible force, I stumbled onto an animal adoption event in full swing. I picked up my pace, but a girl wearing a blue apron stepped in front of me.

“Hello!“ she said, her voice a bit too cheery. “Would you like to see one of our dogs? All of them are vaccinated and neutered.”

“Oh, thanks, but no. I just . . .”

Continue reading “WRONG TIME ~ RIGHT DOG”

My Literary Agent Soulmate

Unknown-4There’s no magic . . .
I’m in the midst of querying literary agents. It’s hard work, painstaking actually.
To do it right, authors spend countless hours researching, investigating, and tracking. Landing an agent can take months. Or longer . . . Continue reading “My Literary Agent Soulmate”

GIVING – A Holiday Tradition

In the spirit of giving during the holiday season, 100 percent of my royalties from The Long Dance Home will be donated to The Mar Vista Gardens Steppers, a non-profit dance program located in a public housing development in Los Angeles. In addition to dance instruction, Steppers provides at risk children and teens with the inspiration, mentoring, and support they need to help break the family cycle of poverty.

Every royalty penny I earn during December will go to this wonderful program. Please help me support The MVG Steppers and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica.

Soft Lips JulieAbout the book: The Long Dance Home is a sweet, funny, romantic holiday story. Cece Camden, a cautious, organized planner, has her life all figured out. That is until she doesn’t. At the time of her twenty-ninth birthday, nothing goes according to plan, and the disciplined, level-headed, former ballerina is thrown into turmoil. With financial woes and boyfriend trouble, Cece makes an impulsive decision that sets into motion the unraveling of her meticulous life plan. Set in a small town at Christmastime, The Long Dance Home is about choices that alter life’s path and dreams that come true when they are least expected.

By the way, I love bookclubs, and it’s great fun to Skype with groups who have read the book. Let me know if your bookclub is interested! If you would like a signed copy for yourself or for gifting, please email me at juliemayersonbrown@gmail.com.

Thank you so much for helping me support The Mar Vista Gardens Steppers, and I hope you enjoy reading  The Long Dance Home. 

Available on Kindle for $2.99 and in hardcopy wherever books are sold. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ET55U0M

THE SPRINT TOWARD 50,000

As NANOWRI winds down, it’s time for you to amp it up! With only a few days left in November, planning, time-management, and motivation are what will get you to the finish line. Here are three things you must AVOID! Continue reading “THE SPRINT TOWARD 50,000”

Where have all the Readers Gone?

We hear endless reports about the drought in California, the potential extinction of the Northern White Rhino, and the disappearing rain forests. But does anyone care about a certain type of human being whose numbers are dwindling at such a rate they should be added to the endangered species list? 19650368_ad5e5c496e_oThis creature is disappearing faster than pay-phones and pop-tarts (for anyone who has never heard of a pop-tart, it is a toaster pastry that is delicious but not particularly healthful that we ate in the car on the way to school when I was a kid). What kind of human is this, you may ask?
Continue reading “Where have all the Readers Gone?”

Peek into a Writer’s Life

A PEEK INTO A WRITER’S LIFE

When readers read a wonderful story or book, the words flow seamlessly. The plot unfolds, the characters come to life, and the sequence of events makes perfect sense. Readers should never stop and think “Wait, this makes no sense,” or “Hold on, why am I just finding this out now?” or “Geez! I’m completely lost!”Unknown It’s the kiss of death when readers get frustrated – that’s when they put down the book and move on to something else. So, in a quest to please, thrill, and delight readers, good writers go to painstaking effort to write well, to captivate, to give their readers an experience that takes them into another world, place, or time. It’s daunting, to say the least, and sometimes leads the writer on the fast track to a severe case of WRITER’S BLOCK.

Nothing freaks writers out more than the inability to write. Panic sets in upon the realization that their story or novel has lost direction and is sinking into an abyss of confusion faster than my dogs eat treats. There are countless reasons why writers stumble, lose focus, and end up suffering the paralyzing effects of writer’s block. Here are three ways to get past it – if you are writer, take note. If you are reader – enjoy this little peek into “A Writer’s Life.”

GET MORE INFORMATION: You’re trying to write a disaster scene but don’t know what disaster to choose. Earthquake? Fire? Disease? You need your character to murder somebody and hide the body, but you know nothing about murder and body-disposal (at least I hope not). Your character is about to embark upon a journey into the rainforest but you don’t know how to describe the environment. Don’t panic! Do some research. Go online and study natural disasters; read books about real life murders; watch a documentary about (or take a trip to) the rainforest. Information gathering revives inspiration, increases creativity, and helps you put your characters in believable settings, situations, and predicaments.

GET TO KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS: One of my favorite exercises is interviewing. Ask your characters questions such as: “What’s really troubling you? Why do you hate your sister? Why do you always have to be in charge? What do you hope to achieve by confronting your enemy?” YOU (the creator of your characters) must know their wants and needs and, more importantly, understand the difference.

GET BACK ON TRACK: “To be (an outliner) or not to be . . .” If you don’t have an outline, there’s a good chance you’ll go off track. Even with an outline you may wander into the netherworld of tangents and storylines that take you nowhere and end up in the “deleted material file.” Regardless of how you lost direction, you must figure out where you made a wrong turn. It might be a quick fix or a complete rewrite. Either way, the earlier you cure it the better, because the problem will not fix itself and in all likelihood will only get worse. If you have an outline, go back to it. If you don’t have one, try writing one or, at the very least, make a list of plot points: first this happened then that happened then something else happened.

Bottom line: Writing is hard work. Reading shouldn’t have to be.

(previously published on ShelfPleasure.com)

 

When Tables Turn

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I am four years old. My mother has taken me grocery shopping, one of my favorite outings. As we roam the aisles, I traipse behind her, watching her read labels, check prices, and place items in the cart. I ask for cookies and treats, but she says no. I am distracted and don’t notice her rounding the corner. When I look up, she’s gone.
Continue reading “When Tables Turn”

Sex? I Can Do That

“More sex,” he said.

I was having coffee with an old friend, a publicist, who had offered advice on book promotion. I hadn’t expected “sex” to be on the agenda, but he was the expert, so I went with it. And he was, after all, doing me a favor. He even paid for my double-shot, low-fat, half-caff latte.3645aa8d1b7aefecdbdef82a1376f370

I took a sip and licked some foam off my upper lip. “Go on.” Continue reading “Sex? I Can Do That”

FIRST KISS

A short short story that will take you back to those awkward teen years:

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“Come on, it’ll be fun. Besides, you’ve had a crush on Patrick since third grade.”

“No I haven’t.”

“It’s not a big deal, everyone knows.”

“He doesn’t,” I argued.

“Oh, I think he does.”

And with that, Ally convinced me to go to the new James Bond movie with Patrick and Steve, two boys from school. It was 1973. We were thirteen, and Ally desperately wanted a boyfriend. Continue reading “FIRST KISS”

Why Writing from Home Won’t Work

You would think that working from home is a writer’s dream. Going into the “office” any time of day, wearing pajamas or sweats (or whatever), sipping coffee or tea (or whatever), locating your workspace anywhere you want, ideally in front of a picture window that looks out over a forest thick with trees and birds and romping deer, as the IMG_0065sun rises (or sets) and one’s imagination runs free and stories spring forth and flow like a river of melting snow . . .

Yeah, right . . . Continue reading “Why Writing from Home Won’t Work”

Favorite Books

Whenever I speak to a book club or at an event, somebody usually asks me about my favorite books and authors. Here are a few:

First book that comes to mind is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Luis Zafon. I almost never read a book more than once, because there are so many great books to read. This one – three times!

Anything by Philippa Gregory – I love historical fiction and the British Royals. Gregory does it like nobody else.

The Girl with Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier – her words flow like beautiful music.

Sara’s Key and The Book Thief – both captivating stories written for YA but crossed over into the adult market because they are compelling and well-written.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – I just loved this book.

 

When I was a kid:

Nancy Drew – could not get enough of those great mysteries!

One of my favorite series was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. And I LOVED the TV series with Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert based on Wilder’s life.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I’ve never stopped dreaming about secret doors in the backs of closets . . .