Monday, November 30, 2009

Review this book, if you dare. Hernia prevention and weight-loss program advised.

In the past, I've written reviews of memoirs and novels, writing craft books, and even a history of Olympic equestrian sports. Not, however, of cookbooks. But this past July, when an editor asked if I was interested in reviewing a "major new Italian cookbook," I said yes faster than I do to most assignments. Hey, I love to cook, and I cook pretty well. I have shelves of cookbooks and know more about Top Chef than is entirely appropriate. I cook a lot of Italian food. Heck, I am Italian. How hard could it be?

I had no idea the book would turn out to be a 980-page, five-pound, 50-years in the making tome from the high lords of Italian cuisine. My review of La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy is in the current issue of Foreword magazine. It begins like this:

In New Jersey, where the Turnpike vertically dissects the state, one asks “Which exit?” to pinpoint where someone lives; in Italy, knowing if one puts raisins or pignoli nuts in meatballs will do the same. In Italy, it’s all about the regions—and no two cook alike...
You can read the rest here. Mangia!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Everything But the Turkey

► A really wonderful collection of essays on the craft of nonfiction resides over at Narrative Digest, from the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

Interesting piece at Salon about Ben Yagoda's new book, Memoir: A History, and how and why memoir has apparently taken over the literary world.

►Nancy Rawlinson had a recent post listing a bunch of useful links for those contemplating, enrolled in, or just curious about the value of, an MFA program.

The Poetry of Food is a new place on the web to read and write about food, and don't let the name fool you; there's plenty of prose there too.

► At Stacked Up, successful writers show off and talk about their personal bookshelves.

► And finally, if you like Twitter and the avatars that live there, try this quiz.

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Can your writing be seen? As in "scene"?

I'll likely never write a screenplay, but lately I find myself thinking more about visual matters when I write. Thinking visually, challenging myself to be sure that the prose is not just polished, but that it has legs – that it can leap off the page and play out across the little screens readers carry around in their heads. After all, this is the place where we hope our stories live, at least for a little while.

I didn't used to think about this so much until a few years ago at a conference, when I heard an author talk about the need for writers to think more about scenes – not just that we need to write more scenes when appropriate, but that the thinking process we use when we sit to write -- especially when we are having a little trouble figuring out where to start – should hew closer to where the screenwriter (or maybe even the playwright) begins. That is, with a visual scene in mind, that it's both helpful and vital to think about what we want the reader to visualize first, and then what should that reader "see" next and next, and so on, one visually relevant scene after another. Scenes in which something happens, the story moves along.

He talked about the need to think in terms of how we'd write it if in fact it were going to be an actual film scene. How does it open? Where is the camera? Which character moves where and when? Who will say what and what's the reaction? What does the setting look like, sound like? What colors are involved? How will the characters show what they are thinking and feeling? When does the scene end and how? Does the new scene grow out of this one, or will it take place somewhere else -- physically, emotionally, chronologically?

At another gathering of writers, I heard a different writer say that before he writes, he thinks about what the movie trailer of his story might look like, and this gives him the rough outline of his narrative arc.

At first I thought this was a lot more applicable to fiction than nonfiction, but now I'm convinced that it's just as important. Sure, some forms aren't as responsive to this technique – the meditative or lyric essay, maybe – and certainly we want to allow for reflection and the narrator's interior landscape to act as bridges between actual scenes. Still, there is probably a lot of value in thinking about how a reader will (or won't) be able to translate our words into a mental picture.

Lately, when I revise my writing, I find myself scribbling "scene?" in the margins more and more frequently. Also, "need visual details" and "what's it look like?" And in other margin notes to myself I am noticing missing elements that might be prohibiting a reader from getting that vision in their head, and I note things like: Add weather! Describe her dress! Show how big the park is! Talk about the color of the horse! How does this new character arrive?

The reward seems to be when a reader says, "Oh, I can really picture that."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Local NJ Writers: Your 2010 Procrastination Meds are In

The other day I posted information about my online memoir and personal essay class offered in early 2010. Now, here are details about the in-person class for local northern NJ folks who want (need?) a firm push to get a writing project(s) and/or routine in gear in 2010.

Filling the Blank Page: Creative Writing Boot Camp
for Procrastinators and Busy People

Does a procrastinating writer live at your desk? Someone who promised to start, revise, edit, or finish a writing project (or two)...when you have time, on Monday, in the new year? I'll help you find ways to create the time, develop and maintain a regular writing habit, find confidence, deal with mental clutter and stumbling blocks, enhance craft -- and enjoy the process, too. Class combines instruction, discussion, examples, in-class exercises, weekly assignments, and opportunities for feedback on your writing. This one is open to fiction and nonfiction writers.

Four Monday mornings, 9:30 - 11:30; Jan. 11, 25, Feb. 1, 15. $110. We meet in Cedar Grove.
For more information and/or to register, email me using the link on the left column, or: LisaRomeoWrites (at) gmail (dot) com.

For NJ nonfiction writers who want a more intense class focusing on craft, check out my Memoir & Creative Nonfiction class in the Rutgers continuing education program. Designed as a hybrid, you only need to be on the New Brunswick campus three Saturday mornings over 8 weeks, and we do the rest online. Begins Jan. 9.

Tomorrow, I'll get back to regular posts. Thanks for putting up with the promotion of my teaching activities.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Story Behind the Essay

So where did that essay come from, what craft decisions were made along the way, and how did its eventual form evolve? These were the questions I attempted to answer yesterday in a guest post on Erika Dreifus's writing blog. The essay I wrote was "42 Lies About My Child," which was a winner recently in the 31 Hours Contest. The essay's form is unusual, and begins like this:

But he's such a good baby. But he's floppy and never comfortable.
He's developing at his own pace. He's lagging behind.
Stop reading books. Books are often right.
So what if he doesn't point? Pointing is a developmental milestone.

To read the rest of the piece on the contest site, click here. And to get my take on the story behind the essay, click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Guest Blogger: Susan Kushner Resnick on Putting Procrastination in its Place

Ten years ago, emerging from a second round of postpartum depression, I stumbled across Susan Kushner Resnick's memoir, Sleepless Days: One Woman's Journey Through Postpartum Depression. When I closed the book, I has one of those moments of realization that are incredibly clear and also painful -- I had to dramatically revamp my writing life.

The author's note said Susan was a fellow alumna of the journalism program at Syracuse University, so I emailed her, and in the course of a few exchanges (though I really had no right to do so) I unloaded my anxiety and frustration about not doing the kind of writing I really wanted to do. Susan wrote me back with a bunch of really good advice, but for me it all boiled down to one sentence: look into a
low-residency MFA in creative nonfiction, and do it right away. I had never heard these terms before, but I printed out her email and kept it on my desk -- for another two years. But finally, I leaped.

A final requirement for my MFA was to write an Artist's Statement, which contains this important line: "As with everything in my life, it began with a book." Susan's book. We recently reconnected. I can't remember exactly why or how, but it doesn't really matter because all of that time I never really felt disconnected.

Please welcome Susan Kushner Resnick.

Here’s what I’ve learned about working on more than one book project at a time: it enhances the craft of procrastination. Even if you thought you were impressively skilled at putting your writing last, as I did – you should see my clear kitchen counters, my every washed and folded towel, my tidy car interior – this talent can be honed by adding additional writing projects.

I figured this out as I began to corral hundreds of tiny yellow airsoft gun pellets from far under my couch. My son’s obsession of the month involved assaulting empty soda cans in our yard, then trailing the ammunition throughout the house. For a long time, I thought the sunny little balls were candy so I threw them away. But when my son requested a ride to the creepy hunting store to restock, I realized that I’d been tossing the arsenal. I decided to collect the strays instead. After all, a trip to buy new ones would take a lot of time away from my writing!

I flattened myself onto my belly and lifted the couch skirt. This was supposed to be the last of many “straightening up” tasks I’d been at that morning, despite having free time and the word WORK written in my datebook. As I reached under the couch and through the dust, I saw that I had reached the pinnacle of avoidance. Pathetic.

How had I fallen so far? I have rules and strategies designed to prevent time burning. I’ve followed them for years and they’ve allowed me to maintain a writing career while raising two relatively sane teenagers (the gun is a phase!), staying married, and occasionally seeing friends.
How could I have forgotten?

In this case, I blame paralyzation. Somehow, I’d gotten myself involved in three book projects at the same time. This was a very good thing for my identity (I guess I really am a writer if I’m straddling projects), but not so good for time management. When I wrote WORK in my datebook, I didn’t specify which work.

Do I plunge into Project Past, getting my 10-year-old book on postpartum depression reprinted to coincide with my testimony to the state legislature about the need for mandated postpartum care?

Do I stick with Project Present, a marketing plan I’ve created for my second book, which comes out in January?

Or do I take notes for/organize research for/manage translators for Project Future, my third book, which really isn’t a book at all yet, but just a big box of notes?

Or, do I clean up airsoft pellets?

We all know the default answer. We know that it’s easier to clean or shop or cook or rake than it is to open the proverbial vein and write. Writing is complex and fraught. Housework is simple and straightforward, not to mention immediately rewarding. With housework you aren’t digging into yourself. It’s literally a surface activity. And if it gets interrupted by an actual crisis – big or small – who cares? When writing gets interrupted, when we have to cauterize that vein that took so much effort to open, it hurts.

Still. We aren’t in this business to avoid pain. We writers woo pain. It’s part of the fun and most of the challenge. So I will forgive myself for getting daunted by multiple projects. And I will remind myself of the rules.

*Set Deadlines: As a freelance writer, I struggled when I didn’t have a professor or editor waiting for my work. Then I realized I could fill that disciplinary role myself. Since I was trained to never miss a deadline, it works. I usually set my goals according to season: I’ll have this chapter done by the end of summer, I’ll begin that outline before Thanksgiving break, etc.

*Remember Your Long Term Goal: Everyone’s long term goal is different. I’m committed to being a role model for both of my kids, but especially for my daughter. I don’t want her to remember me as a woman who sacrificed her passion to take care of others, or to think that’s her fate.

*Think About Your Deathbed: I know, it’s a cliché. But do you want to lie there and realize you didn’t reach your writing goals because you wasted time cleaning? Or do you want to die knowing that you really tried your hardest, no matter how it turned out?

*Don’t Look Under the Couch: Just don’t. Look into your stubborn writer’s heart instead.

Susan's forthcoming book is Goodbye Wifes and Daughters, an account of the 1943 Smith Coal Mine disaster in Bearcreek, Montana. It's available for pre-order from University of Nebraska Press.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Writing Prompts on Special Today. Help Yourself.

Writing prompts – what do you think of them? Useful? A helpful way to stretch the writing muscle and bust through a writing obstruction (notice how I didn't say block?). Fun diversion? Annoying distraction? All of the above?

The thing I like about a writing prompt is that I can interpret it any darn way I want to, depending on my mood, interests, and levels of ambition or curiosity that day. For the past seven weeks, I've been sending out a daily writing prompt to those enrolled in two of my writing classes. Except for an occasional mini-assignment based on one prompt per week, for the most part, they are free to ignore the prompt or to use it, to post the results or not, to email it to me or to keep it to themselves.

It's been great fun to see in how many different ways the same prompt can be interpreted and where some of the prompts have taken the writing. The same prompts also seem to work equally well for nonfiction and fiction writers.

Of course any writer can provide their own prompts, a dozen or more a day, by simply looking out the window, in a magazine, across the room. But let's face it, we usually never get around to it for ourselves. So, here is a sampling of those I've used lately. Help yourself.

Waking up.
What we leave behind, what we keep.
Arriving late to the party.
The calendar.
The big game.
A letter to my younger self.
Food for thoughts.
Tick tock.
The way life should be.
Change of heart.
Bank on it.

Another interesting, counterintuitive thing I've noticed. While cloying clichés and tired, overused expressions are verboten in good prose, sometimes that same old worn-out phrase makes a pretty terrific writing prompt. Yep, wonders never cease to amaze me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: The Back-on-Schedule Edition

►The FreshYarn site is back up, featuring a new personal essay each week.

► The Literary Writers Conference is being held in Manhattan next weekend.

► Those who write opinion pieces might want to know about this development at AOL (This links to a note intended for PR folks, but the editorial contact information is still helpful for writers wanting to market their op-ed essays.)

► It looks as if this hybrid online/print-on-demand literary journal project has potential.

►And finally, for anyone who finds themselves dealing with, shall we say, uninspired academic writing, this fun little site makes a handy comic diversion.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writing and Kids: Not so mutually exclusive

Just the other day I was passing along tips to some writing class students who have school-age children and were explaining (that is, complaining) how little time this leaves them to write. Then today I came across this tough-love guest post, by Louise DeSalvo, over on my friend Christina Baker Kline’s excellent writing-advice blog. If you write and have kids, please go read DeSalvo’s post. To her advice, I’ll just add a few of my own tips; some are different, and some amplify what she advises:

NO (more) volunteering for school activities that take more than an hour or two a month. Or how about just: NO.

Accept that you will have a dirtier (or at least a messier) house than you probably would like – OR hire someone to clean it.

Write anywhere. A lot of my stuff has been rough-drafted on the bleachers at baseball games, in the car waiting for kids to finish up at an activity, on the patio while the kids (when little) were playing nearby, even in the ladies room at insufferably long school and family functions!

Decide what you can slice out of your mom life in order to get a writing life. Five years ago, when my youngest was in first grade, I decided I could do without the daily chats with other moms while waiting for our kids at pick-up time after school. I still had to arrive 15 minutes before the bell rang to get a parking space, but I decided to sit in my car and write – bingo, an extra hour or so a week.

As DeSalvo says, ALWAYS call it "work." I realized this important distinction when asking a non-writing relative to watch the kids; and get the kids used to that terminology too. Mom’s working. Period.

Break free of the idea that you always have to the keyboard, in your office, seated in that great armchair, with your favorite pen.

Get a writing accountability buddy – another parent writer who will exchange daily emails consisting of just one line about how many words or pages you each wrote that day; no venting allowed.

Now - what are you still doing here?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: No, it's not late. No, it's not. It's not.

In 30-plus years of writing, I have never missed a deadline, not a real deadline anyway, not one set by an editor, a contract, a publisher. But the thing is, Friday Fridge Clean-Out does not actually have a deadline, not really. So if I feel like it's still (or finally) Friday, when in fact it's already Saturday, well that's okay because you know what, in this case I'm the publisher. (Gee I've always wanted to say that.)

Please enjoy these links for your weekend reading.

►Oh, so that’s how you write a huge novel. Literally, how novelists write, that is, physically.

►Library Journal, would you please stop with the excellent lists of memoirs to be published soon? Don’t you know I already have an overflowing shelf of to-be-reads?

►You can read this in case you were wondering what effect the recession is having on the literary culture of New York City (in case you've run out of other things to wonder about).

Mira's List is a terrific resource for grants, residencies, fellowships and similar opportunities. The list's keeper is also interviewed here.

►And finally, this one is strictly for fun, for those among us who can laugh at our own bad writing, or for those of us who never write anything bad. I mean write badly. I mean….

Have a great weekend.

Mimi Schwartz to read locally on Monday

Mimi Schwartz, of Princeton, will be reading from and talking about her memoir, Good Neighbors, Bad Times--Echoes of My Father's German Village, in Short Hills on Monday, November 9.

The focus will be on her "quest for small stories of decency often lost in the larger narratives of history, and how I found them in one tiny Black Forest village before, during and after Nazi times."

Her book won both a 2008 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in memoir and the NHLW Outstanding Nonfiction Award and will be out in paperback this December. Mimi is also the author of the memoir Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed, and Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction.

Location for the talk is Temple B'nai Jeshurum, 1025 South Orange Ave, Short Hills, at 7:00 p.m., free.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Author Interview: Leslea Newman

One particular group of writers has always especially interested me: Those with full time careers revolving around a constantly changing combination of writing, teaching, and editing projects. In other words, those who make a living with words, but are not on staff full time at a university or media enterprise. The ultimate freelancer, if you will. It is the writers who write and publish, teach and give seminars, edit and consult with other writers, whose careers I study and try to learn from.

An excellent example is Leslea Newman, who has published nearly 60 books -- children's books, poetry, personal essay, short stories, novels, young adult fiction, middle grade novels, and books on writing craft. During my MFA program, I was fortunate enough to participate in a writing workshop under Leslea's direction, and to attend many of her presentations on writing craft and publishing. I'm so pleased that she agreed to a rather lengthy question-and-answer interview.

Lisa Romeo: When you wrote Heather Has Two Mommies in 1988, you co-published it with a friend who owned a small desktop publishing business. Now here you are on the eve of the 20th anniversary edition. Can you talk about your original decision and the journey you've been on with that book ever since?

Leslea Newman: Heather Has Two Mommies started as a grass roots project. I was asked by a woman to write a children’s book that showed a family like hers (two moms and their daughter). No established publisher would touch the book, so a friend of mine, Tzivia Gover, who at the time was a lesbian mom with a small desktop publishing business, and I decided to publish the book together. We raised $4,000 in $10 donations, found an illustrator, and printed the book. Six months later, Alyson Books took over. And the rest is history! I’m very proud of the fact that the book is still in print 20 years later (and the new edition has wonderful illustrations in full color). It’s been challenged many times, but the message of the book remains the same: the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.

LR: You work in many genres and forms. How do your varied endeavors nurture one another?

LN: Each genre informs the others. For example, I believe that being a poet has made my fiction more lyrical; being a fiction writer has helped me write narrative poems. I always encourage writers to think of themselves expansively—there’s no limit to one’s imagination!

LR: How do you approach your work time and make decisions about what to work on next? Do you make long-range plans, or do you tend to respond more or less organically to the material which is calling out to you most strongly?

LN: I try to write every morning, though sometimes that is not possible because of travel plans, deadlines, and other responsibilities. I never plan ahead; when I sit down to write, I stare at a blank page and pray some words will come along to fill it. If I see a trend develop, for example, if I seem to be working on poems over a period of time, I’ll consciously say, “Oh, I’m working on a new poetry collection.” But the work is the boss; it tells me what to do, not the other way around.

LR: What about saleability and concerns of the literary marketplace?

LN: I never write to sell. Well, I take that back. Once I wrote a romance novel with the intent of selling it and perhaps making some money. It is the only book I have never been able to sell (though it did come close at several presses). Oh well. You can’t blame a girl for trying.

LR: I know you are a big believer in writing every day. Can you explain why you feel that way, how it fits in to your own writing regimen, and make suggestions for others who may be finding it challenging to find either the time or the mental commitment to write every single day?

LN: I do think one gets better the more one writes. It’s like anything else, playing an instrument, playing a sport. And you never know what you’re going to write on any given day. The only thing that’s a guarantee is that if you don’t pick up your pen (or turn on your computer) nothing will happen on the page that day. Often—more often than I’d care to admit—I scribble and scribble and nothing interesting happens on the page. This can go on for days, sometimes weeks. Then one day something interesting will emerge. If that happens on day #42, I know the 41 days that preceded that writing were absolutely necessary. It’s all part of the process.

LR: You are one of the most hard-working writers I've ever met, and yet I don't think I'd call you a workaholic; it's more that I get the feeling you both treat writing as a job, and yet also retain all the joy and love of writing that occasionally gets lost over a long writing career. What do you think helps you achieve this kind of love/work relationship with your writing career?

LN: All I know is that I’m happier writing than not writing (even when the work isn’t going well). I think the reason I still love writing and being a writer is that I’m really in love with language. Nothing pleases me more than coming up with a phrase or image that moves me in some way, whether it makes me laugh, cry, or just impresses me with its rhyme, meter, or originality. This is what I live for, the joy of discovery, or what a writer friend of mine calls the daily miracle.

LR: In one memorable seminar, you brought in a stack of manila envelopes which contained the 17 drafts of Jailbait, the young adult novel you published in 2005. You went on to trace the changes, share your reactions to the editorial suggestions of your agent and publishing house editor, and emphasize the importance of being willing to try new things on the page. You even agreed to refocus the original novel manuscript into a young adult novel – a huge shift. I was so impressed with your professionalism (and willingness to let others inside the process). What do you want not-yet-published writers to take from your experience?

LN: It’s important to realize that more often than not you are not the best judge of your own work. You have a whole head full of other information about your book—information about the characters, the setting, the plot—that is not on the page. Your reader does not have that. Your reader only has the words that appear on the page. That’s important to remember. Also, you have to realize that you and your editor want the same thing: to make your book the best it can be, both for artistic merit and for success in the marketplace. Editors edit—that’s their job. Your relationship with your editor is like any other relationship; it demands mutual respect, an open mind, the ability to listen, and the willingness to compromise. When an editor makes a suggestion, I’m always willing to try it. I may not always do what my editor says, but I am always willing to consider her or his suggestions and see what happens.

LR: When writing across genres, writers often wonder how and when to best showcase the material. Do you ever rewrite a published poem as a piece of nonfiction or use it as a basis for a short story or novel – or vice versa? For example, the poem, “When My Father Stopped Tucking Me” In, from your latest poetry book, Nobody's Mother, has all the markings of morphing into a compelling personal essay or short memoir piece. (And there are so many other examples.) How do you know if that is do-able? Is it a matter of forging ahead and seeing what eventually works out? Or do you try to always begin fresh with each new project?

LN: It is sometimes said that writers really only have two or three stories to tell. I’m not sure if that’s true, but there are definitely themes that come up in my work over and over again. For example, I’ve written so much about mothers and daughters, and do so again in a forthcoming children’s book called Just Like Mama (Abrams, spring 2010), in many poems in both Signs of Love and Nobody's Mother, and in my latest novel, The Reluctant Daughter. When I had various friends dying of AIDS, I wrote the poetry book, Still Live with Buddy, the children’s book, Too Far Away to Touch, and the short story, “What Ever Happened to Baby Fane?” (in Girls Will be Girls) etc. I write whatever compels me, whatever I care passionately about, in whatever form it takes.

LR: Your middle grade novel, Hachiko Waits, based on the legendary dog who waited 10 years for the return of his deceased Japanese owner – will likely get new attention once the Richard Gere film of the story is released. Are you doing anything to prepare for that?

LN: You bet! I have been contacted by several bookstores and organizations, including the Animal Cancer Foundation to do booksignings once the movie is released. I’m very eager to see this new reinterpretation of Hachiko’s story. The new movie is based on the Japanese film which was made in the 1980’s and was very beautiful.

LR: As a writing teacher, what big mistakes do you see not-yet-published writers making, not in terms of technical writing issues, but in terms of the trajectory of their writing careers and development?

LN: Many beginning writers don’t understand that writing is a business, as well as an art, and one has to treat it like any other business. One has to be professional. One has to network. One has to be willing to take risks. One has to give one’s all, 100% of the time. One has to accept failure as well as success. One has to be in it for the long haul. One must be humble. And of course, one has to do one’s best writing. One has to, as Jerry Garcia famously said, “Accept every assignment. Build your fan base one person at a time.” At least that is my philosophy.

I find, much to my surprise, that many writers who have yet to publish have an attitude of arrogance, and only want to be published in the most prestigious publications around. For example, I know a poet who will not send his work anywhere except The New Yorker. And he has yet to be published. I have made a career of publishing with small presses, many of whom published my work when they were just starting out. And it has not hurt me. I still publish with small, as well as large presses. A friend of mine who is a folk singer has a motto: Go where you’re wanted. I think that’s solid advice.

LR: I've used your craft book, Write From the Heart, when teaching, especially the writing exercises. Are there other books on writing craft do you recommend?

LN: To tell you the truth, I find reading beautifully written books of fiction and poetry a lot more useful than reading books on writing. One learns about craft by reading well-crafted books and absorbing technique on a cellular level. However there is one book I absolutely love: The Art of Writing by Lu Chi, translated by Sam Hamill. It was written in the third century, and it is still relevant today. I also like If You Want to Write by Barbara Ueland. And On Writer's Block by Victoria Nelson.

LR: Tell us a little about your newest novel, The Reluctant Daughter.

LN: The Reluctant Daughter is a novel about a woman who can’t decide whether or not she wants to be a mother until she decides whether or not she wants to be a daughter. Lydia Pinkowitz seemingly has it all: a successful career as a Professor of Women’s Studies, a loving spouse named Ali, and many friends. What she doesn’t have is a close relationship with her mother, which is what she yearns for. Lydia and her mother are at constant odds with one another; after a particularly painful encounter, Lydia decides to cut off communication with her family of origin. Then she gets a call from her father: her mother is in intensive care. Will Lydia fly 3,000 miles cross country to try and make peace with her mother, or simply let the woman go? I’ve gotten many letters from women who say the book has moved them enormously and that has been very gratifying. I haven’t met a woman yet who doesn’t have a complicated relationship with her mother!

LR: What's on tap for you next?

LN: I am very excited to have four children’s books coming out in the next two years. Just Like Mama is a sweet book about the special relationship between a mother daughter, which is being released for Mother’s Day 2010. Miss Tutu's Star is a book about a clumsy little girl who wants to be a ballerina, and will be published in fall 2010.

I will be the keynote speaker at the Write Angles Conference in Amherst, Massachusetts on November 21st, and teaching at The Frost Place in June 2010. I’m also participating in the 30 poems in 30 days project that I initiated as poet laureate in Northampton, Mass., to raise money for the Family Literacy Project of the Center for New Americans. And I continue to work as a mentor with private students in all genres -- fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s books.