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Category: Books

Relax Your What?!

Sometimes I’m startled that I am as old as I am. Because despite the maturity that comes with age, I can’t help but occasionally revert back to juvenile middle-school behavior that I’d thought I’d outgrown.

In my attempt to be mature and worldly, I enrolled a few years ago in my first yoga class. I needed to learn how to chill out a little bit, and figured being in touch with my inner Zen would help to center my balance, achieve yin-yang, and maybe I’d get a little feng-shui thrown in for good measure.

It was great. First class, I learned my sun salutation, stretched limbs so tight from lack of use that they deserved to snap like tree branches. My instructor, a former type-A New Yorker-turned-Yogaville devotee whose chosen Yoga name, Suraya, more closely resembled that of an Indian guru than someone from the Bronx, was very serene. His soothing voice tranquilized even the tensest of class members: me. In his calm coaxing tone, he encouraged us to rid our minds of any pollutants, to focus on our center, and be at peace within. Fine, I was on the same page at this point. I’d really started feeling that I could change, become a woman unfettered by the stresses of life.

The final fifteen minutes of class were devoted to complete relaxation. Cool, I thought. That is right up my Type-A alley. We all lay on the floor, eyes closed, focused on our own inner universe. The mesmerizing music on the boom box washed over me as Suraya talked us through letting go of whatever tensions remained. He began with the toes, worked his way up ever so gradually to calves, knees, thighs.

And then came the clincher.

“Relax your anal sphincter,” he said, as serious as an executioner, not even remotely cracking a smile.

What? That’s impossible. First of all, It defies the laws of nature. And secondly, even if we could, just think how nasty that would be! We can’t do that, I thought. Like a naughty kindergartener whose head is supposed to be face down on the desk during naptime, I snuck glances all around me. No one but me thought that was the funniest line ever uttered.

I could feel my laughter erupting, and from my unrelaxed belly it rose. I tried desperately to suppress it, but it was of no use. I cackled so loudly that the entire class opened their once-relaxed eyelids and glared directly at me. Even Suraya looked a bit uptight.

As the class drew to a close, the peaceful silence destroyed, I slunk from the room, somewhat embarrassed at my level of immaturity. But I actually felt more relaxed, having belted out a good chuckle.

Yes, I realize I have gone from middle school to middle age, but isn’t it nice to know that you don’t always have to totally grow up?

I read recently about a new yoga craze: hot nude yoga. Please, dear Lord, let’s hope Suraya’s not teaching that one.

A Little Aside...

I know I’ve been pretty slack about keeping my blog updated. Excuses, excuses, I know, but really, life’s been crazy busy.

So rather than toiling away at a new post today, instead I’m going to just throw some names out there. Writers I enjoy. This is a random off-the-top-of-my-head selection, so if I’ve forgotten someone, I’m sorry! It’s early and I’ve been sick all week so have slept like a snake with one eye open. Bear with me.

So I’ll start out with my friend Kim Stagliano, whose memoir, ALL I CAN HANDLE: I’M NOT MOTHER THERESA: A LIFE RAISING THREE DAUGHTERS WITH AUTISM comes out this fall. I’ve known Kim for several years now and am so delighted that her amazing story is soon to appear on the pages of a no-doubt bestseller (it”ll be out this fall). She is one of the smartest, funniest women I know and I have admired for years how she handles with such grace, aplomb and humor what would drag many other people under. You’ll just have to read her memoir (or “Kimoir” as she likes to call it) to understand what I mean, but truly, she is about as close to a diminutive Albanian (with Indian citizenship) nun as you’re gonna get without having to have taken vows of chastity (she has, after all, had three children).

I can’t wait to read the entire book and I hope that you’ll run out and put it on your pre-order list right now.

Another author I’ve been thinking about is Lisa Dale, who is so delightful and whose writing is evocative and thought-provoking. I’ve been promising Lisa all summer that I would do a book giveaway with one of her books and I really have meant to but you know my excuses about being overwhelmed  (see above, crazy overloaded schedules). Lisa—if you’re reading this, let me know and I’ll add it in here!!! Lisa is a lovely writer and a lovely person and just a very thoughtful one as well. She is on the fast track to becoming a big name in women’s fiction so do check her out.

Okay, so some other writers I’d like to mention. I often cite Danielle Younge-Ullman when I discuss the inequities with the book business. Danielle is one of the most talented writers I know. Her book Falling Under is one of the most kick-ass books I read the year it came out (the same year my novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver was released). In fact it’s about the kick-assiest of kick-ass books. But as you will note when you link to it on Amazon, it is no longer available from the publisher, because it was left to wither on the vine. Which is a shame, because the book is awesome. So while Danielle won’t even see a penny for the sale of the remaining used books, you should buy them anyhow, because you’ll be amazed at her writing and the passion therein.

Eileen Cook is another friend whose writing I love. She’s funny, smart, clever. While she started out writing humorous women’s fiction, that genre is for some bizarre reason not in favor with the reading public, and so she took a turn to YA and mid-grade fiction, and is starting to burn up the charts there. I LOVE the cover for her YA novel Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood. I love that Eileen didn’t let that little detail about no one buying humorous women’s fiction get in the way of her forging onward in her writing career, and instead her little flower is pushing through the sidewalk cracks in another neighborhood. Check her out.

JoAnn Ross is a lovely writer as well. Despite being a hugely successful New York Times bestseller (The Homecoming is kicking butt on the Times list), she is always willing to take the time to talk with readers and other writers. She’s toiled in this business for many years and has seen a lot of ups and downs and many, many changes. Talking with JoAnn is often simply reassuring, which is a good thing in this business.

Malena Lott, well, she’s another of my writer homegirls. I love her savvy business sense when it comes to marketing and publicity, and am charmed by her writing style. She needs to have had about ten books out by now, but that women’s fiction market is prickly at best, so she treads water while deciding what her next course of action is, but whatever it is, you should check her out. I really enjoyed Dating DaVinci and think you will too. I have a feeling she’ll be doing what many authors are doing now–putting her next book up digitally, as she has a fan base anxiously awaiting her next novel.Throwing a few other names into the pot: Jamie Ford—adore him, his writing, and absolutely love that he hasn’t let success go to his head. He’s a talent to be reckoned with. Beth Hoffman, ditto. She’s sweet, clever, smart, fabulously talented writer. Check her out. Sarah Pekkanen—she’s hilarious and charming and much fun, love her writing. Eve Brown-Waite—her fish-out-of-water memoir First Comes Love Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life about contending with life in a sometimes confounding difficult African nation is fabulous and hilarious. Ad Hudler—such fun, terrific writer, very truthful in his writing, which I love. Hilarious. Oh, in the better-late-than-never category, I just got around to reading Mary Kay Andrew’s Savannah Blues. Charming, fun, intelligent. She has a keen reporters eye for details that I appreciated, and she is great fun to hang out with (and has such a lovely agent and publicist, to boot!).

Ooooh, there are soooo many writers I’d like to shout out to right now but my middle-aged brain is only coming up with a handful. I’ll add more as they come to me. But in the meantime, check out the aforementioned and I hope you find you love them too!

In the Trenches (preferably sans Charles Manson)...

Pity the man who looks like Charles Manson. Because no matter if he’s a perfectly sane accountant from Dubuque with 2.5 children, a wife and a home in the suburbs, most everyone will snap to judgment that he’s a crazed maniac with murder on his mind.

Perhaps the thing about Manson that set him apart was that maniacal glint in his eye, the very anti-twinkle that translated into the suggestion of the evil of which he was capable.

Thus was my thinking at my very first book signing. I was already apprehensive about the event, feeling an enormous sense of pressure to perform well, to sell enough books to justify the efforts the booksellers had gone to on my behalf. To not be a complete loser.

So when I ended up at a bookstore that was located in the sketchier part of the unfamiliar city in which I was signing, I was a little dismayed. Most of those entering the doors of this bookstore had more piercings on their faces than the sum total of pierced anythings on my entire street back home. These customers didn’t strike me as the type willing to pony up a moment of attention (let alone seven bucks) to learn about a book titled Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Nary a happy (or unhappy, for that matter) housewife meandered into the store for the first 15 minutes of my signing. That’s who I was on the lookout for: a wife, a mom, the type of person who would most definitely get the humor behind Sleeping with Ward Cleaver because let’s face it, there’s an experiential element to the novel. If you’ve been there, done that, with my protagonist Claire, you’re going to be far more receptive to randomly picking up a book you’ve never heard of and spending money on it at the behest of a newbie author, especially when you only went into the store to purchase a book for someone else in the first place.

Now, I’d heard warnings from authors about book signings:

Prepare yourself for everyone coming up to you, looking enthusiastic and ready purchase your book at first sight, only to instead ask you directions to the nearest bathroom.

Expect people to come up to your table just to grab a handful of the free candy you’ve got on display.

And expect the nut jobs, the ones who show up at your table with no intention of leaving, prepared to regale you with endless tales of their public transportation experiences and parents who don’t love them, all the while helping themselves to half your candy stash.

So when the Charles Manson look-alike ventured into the store about 30 seconds after I’d sat down at the signing table, I wasn’t surprised. It was fate, I knew it. As soon as our eyes met, I immediately averted my gaze—I couldn’t not. I mean come on. Who wants to encourage a mass murderer over your way? But the eye contact had been made, and I knew, I just knew, sooner or later Charlie boy would wend his way over to my table.

Now I should mention that yes, this guy had the grizzled, unwashed look of Charles Manson. He had the creepy glint of madness in his eyes. He also was lugging a small watermelon beneath his armpit. Don’t ask me why.

Charlie didn’t come immediately to my table. Perhaps because the bookstore employee was nearby, who knows? But within ten minutes he’d made his way back to my lone desk. He looked at me. He looked at my candy. He looked at me. He looked at my candy. He then proceeded to pick up a copy of my novel from the pyramid of them stacked in front of me, and feigned interest. In case you haven’t seen my cover, I’ll describe it. It’s a campy 1960’s-style green, pink and aqua cover that triggers the tune of “I Dream of Jeannie” whenever I look at it, what with the Judy Jetson-lookalike woman perched atop the bed, her striped pink hair pulled back in a headband a la Marlo Thomas in “That Girl.”

Trust me, this is not the cover that normally lures 40-something men (and certainly not those who look like they’ve just been sprung from court-mandated rehab. Again.). I have yet to have a man pick it up and leaf through it out of interest, unless their wife is along or unless it’s someone I know.

So I was onto Charlie. I knew he wanted something from me, and it wasn’t a humorous 300-page novel about a housewife in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

I tried to make small-talk. But Charlie didn’t talk beyond a few indecipherable mutterings. It was like being in the presence of Sherry and Lambchop, or a ventriloquist from the Ed Sullivan show. Or Charles Manson.

Instead, Charlie plunked his watermelon onto my miniscule tabletop, knocking over books in the process, picked up my signing pen (and his dirt-encrusted fingers did sort of bum me out, since I knew I’d soon have to touch that very pen myself), took one of my business cards, flipped it over, and started to draw.

Now the first thing Charlie inked for me looked suspiciously like a puerile attempt at a set of naked breasts. I forced a weak smile, unwilling to ask exactly what he was illustrating. But he finished it off with what I soon realized was a mouth and eyebrows, and it dawned on me that he’d drawn a rudimentary smiley face. Okay, I was hoping Charlie was done at this point. I thanked him for his lovely illustration. But he continued. His palsied hand trembling in classic heroin-withdrawal fashion, he then sketched out a Keith Haring-like stick figure that had a hint of Mr. Bill to it. And topped off his masterpiece with his illegible signature. What do you think of it?


For all I know I am in possession of a work of art by a famed contemporary pen-and-ink master who took a wrong turn in life. Who once knew of fame and fortune and now wanders aimlessly, unwashed and odoriferous, with a watermelon tucked in his arm like a pigskin cradled by a running back. As much as I was oddly charmed by my newfound artwork, I wasn’t particularly interested in having Charlie block my signing perch from the few mom-like individuals who ventured into the store that night. So I immediately offered him some kisses (the kind from Hershey’s, not my lips), which mercifully satisfied his need. Grateful, he wandered off, peeling the silver wrapping and discarding it in his wake.

And leaving me well aware that I’d experienced one of my first rites of passage as a published author. Armed and ready for the next one to come along.

Excuse me, can you tell me where the bathroom is?

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((¸¸. ·´ .. ·Jenny-:¦:-
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