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4 posts from April 2014

Alice's EmbraceApril 27, 2014

Hi, friends. 

I've been a little quiet 'round here because I'm finishing the book that will be out next year from Penguin. I love it. (Yep, writers say that even though it's embarrassing. It's like a mom with a kid who's been playing in the mud. We don't want to admit we love our scraggly little unkempt beasts out loud, but then it just comes out. No take backs. This is after, of course, we've spent months hating it. That's probably less motherlike.) 

So this next book, Splinters of Light, is about a 44-year-old woman with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. It's also about twins and sisters and motherhood and love and death and all the good stuff, but my focus of research has been on EOAD and how really badly it sucks

So when I got an email out of the blue from Diane Lewis about the project she was starting, it felt like fate. (I truly wish I could participate in all the emails I get asking for help. I can't. I'm sorry. But I can do this.) 

Mom in SF - the look

Alice, saying, "Well, are you coming or not?!" 

From Diane's site: 

Not everyone can say that their mom was their best friend, but I can. I think back to how incredibly lucky I was to have her as my mom and it makes me smile. We spoke on the phone or saw each other every day. Being with my mom was like being in the most comfortable place one can imagine. She was HOME for me. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in November of 2005. I (and my three siblings) kind of became her mom as the disease progressed. We made sure she was healthy and happy. Making her smile was always a highlight of our visits.

Alice Figueira, my beautiful mom, passed away on May 29, 2011 from Alzheimer's Disease.

While my mom was in the midst of her disease I knit her a beautiful sage green blanket. Throughout the years that blanket provided her with warmth and comfort. Countless times I would visit her and she had the blanket on her and her fingers were intertwined in the stitches. It not only provided comfort in it giving her warmth, but also keeping her hands busy. Over the years it moved from her recliner to her lap when she was in a wheelchair and then ultimately to her bed.

After Mom passed away I wanted to help others who suffer from this dreadful disease. I knew that I wanted to start an organization to gather people who knit and crochet and ask them to create lap blankets and prayer shawls.

Isn't that so heart-breakingly lovely? My mom was also my best friend (she was only lost in dementia for less than a week and I will never forget how helpless and hopeless we felt), and I want to put out the call for this. 

Diane is collecting shawls and lap blankets and distributing them to others with Alzheimer's who could use something cozy and loving to hold. Not only that, but she's put out free patterns (all with their own sweet stories -- go look! I love Birds on a Wire) that are just awesome. 

And darling Diane would like for us to use her free patterns (rather than a shawl pattern that was your grandmother's favorite--although that is so CUTE) because: "When I deliver them, each and every person in the memory care unit will get one so we don't want to cause hurt feelings because someone else's is lacy or more fancy." Great idea, I think. 

See her site for lots of great details and patterns and yarn suggestions (wash and driable, not nubby in texture, etc). 

I'm committing to knitting one, right here. I love the idea that as I bring this book to a close, I'll be helping someone now, today, struggling with an awful disease. 

How about you? You in? 

OH HELL, I JUST LOST MY DAMN MIND. If you knit/crochet something for this and send it to Diane, I'll enter you in a drawing for a light yellow shawl I knitted that is currently hanging on my dressmaker's dummy, never worn (or blocked, for that matter, lazybones that I am). It takes a while to do this, I know, so I'll extend the contest till the end of August. Email me with a pic when you send it (I'll trust you if you say you did it--I just greedily want to see your gorgeous shawls/lap blankets) and you'll be entered. 

Mwah, lovelies. Thank you. 


Money, Honey. April 16, 2014

Howdy! My head is full of odds and ends--I've been up since 1:45am so I'm punchy, so please forgive me in advance. 

First, the winner of Dan Berne's The Gods of Second Chances is Renee the First (you've been emailed!). Thanks, all, for your awesome book recommendations, and for saying that you like my taste in books. I like yours.

Second, this morning I  did some math and my mind is REELING. We finally paid off an old tax bill this weekend, our last debt that wasn't a mortgage or student loan (which were acceptable debts, I thought). We're in the process of refinancing our house (yay! Fixed rate, finally!). 

So our last debt, besides the house, is my student loan. 

Let's talk numbers Because you know what? I'm still of the mind we don't talk about debt enough. So many of us are crippled by it, and we're not talking about it because of shame.

Screw that. Screw shame. We're all in the same rapidly leaking boat. Have I mentioned that on top of the tax bill ($25k, now paid off), we were $47,000 in credit card debt? It's all paid off, as are our cars (my goal of paying off the SmartCar in six months was met). We have three incomes and no kids, so it's a lot easier than some have it, but we weren't employed that whole time and we live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, so that's harder. We work really hard at paying off debt. And we've been doing great. 

I didn't worry too much about my student loan even though it didn't really seem to be going down because everyone says, "Oh, student loans are at such a low rate and they're for a good reason." Yeah. Well. Truth? 

* A low rate at a high amount is still a damn lot of interest.

* Student loans let you defer payment when you graduate, which most people do, because they're not making enough to pay them. There's a penalty, of course, and there's interest added on top of that, but that's okay, because it's a low rate and for a good reason, right? 

* They make it SUPER hard to know what you're paying and what you've paid. Today I decided to figure out once and for all, why, after borrowing $40,000 for grad school and after deferring for five years and paying for seven, I still owed $50,000. 

True: $40k + 5 years deferral + interest = $56,000. 

True: Seven years of making payments every month= $26,000 paid toward the debt, TWENTY THOUSAND OF WHICH WAS INTEREST. 

Biggest, most awful truth:  Seven years and $26,000 later, I've taken $6,000 off my student loan, and I'm at $50,000. TEN THOUSAND MORE THAN WHEN I GRADUATED thirteen (fourteen?) years ago.

You know how I figured this out? You'd think I went to my loan's website and just pulled up the facts. No, I had to poke around on that site and press buttons and caress and cajole until I found a list of numbers with no totals and no information. I had to create an Excel spreadsheet and run the numbers to figure out this horrifying truth. 

Seriously. I'm gobsmacked. We'd always paid the minimum because we were concentrating on the credit cards and the tax bill. And because the student loan was "acceptable" debt. 

My student loans are not acceptable debt. There's nothing acceptable about a system put in place that cripples people trying to do the right thing. (And we get paid well! Don't even start me on the teachers I know who have the same debt and no way to throw money at it! Augh!) 

So: This is our focus now. Get rid of that student debt. 

But you know what? Today Katelyn, our dog walker who takes our dogs up into the hills to ramble for hours once a week came and picked up the dogs while I was working on these numbers. Also, Alex fixed our back deck, pressure-washing it, getting it ready to stain tomorrow. The handyman, Carlyle, came to give us a quote on getting a dishwasher because I've never lived with a real live dishwasher in my whole life. All of this, cash. We're not rich. We live frugally and we don't have piles of money in savings (if we did, I'd pay off that damn loan). But we've gotten to a place where we can do the things we want and not lose sleep over the bills. There were many, many years when I didn't sleep, and I truly think You Need A Budget, my budgeting software that I love so much, has helped us SO much in this. (Get $6 off with that link.) 

Talk. Talk to me, your friends, your loved ones. They've all been there, or ARE there and are too scared to admit it. If they haven't ever been there, then tie the laces of their Kenneth Coles together and we'll all laugh as they trip gracefully to their beautifully and expensively tiled floors.

Throw money at the debt. Make coffee at home. Eat at home. Move. Sell your yarn, sell your books. Let's change the way we live. Let's talk.  

The Gods of Second ChancesApril 9, 2014

You know how I love to bring you a book I love. As an author, I get asked to blurb other books. Sometimes, I can't do it (I don't love the book enough or I just don't have the time to read it). Other times, I'm quite happy to put my name on a book. 

And sometimes I'm lucky enough to be thrilled to be one of the first few to read something amazing, something I can tell you about. The Gods of Second Chances is one of  those.

I love the way Dan Berne writes. His voice, while matter-of-fact and succinct, is unique. For example: When you live on an island as small as Yatki, it doesn’t take long for folks to hear about the latest chapter in your life. Part of that is natural gossip and part is because we look out for each other. We have this natural contradiction of believing that people should mind their own business, but as soon as the winds shift, it seems like everyone is giving you the fish eye. 

From the back of the book: 

Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter with help from a multitude of gods and goddesses--not to mention rituals ad-libbed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend. But statues and otter bone ceremonies aren't enough when Ray's estranged daughter returns from prison, her search for a safe harbor threatening everything he holds sacred.

Amazon* | Indiebound | B&N | Kobo

 I got a chance to interview Dan Berne, and Forest Avenue Press will give away a copy to someone who comments! 

TGOSC by Dan Berne cover 2014So happy to have you here, Dan! What I love about your book are the characters. They're real, vital, alive, and absolutely as flawed and vulnerable as real people. Even months later, I remember small details about them. 

What was your favorite scene while writing the book?

Early on in the novel, after receiving a letter from his wayward daughter, Ray goes to his local tavern and, uncharacteristically for him, gets drunk. He wakes up in the middle of the night and wanders outside his house. Still feeling the effects of the alcohol, he falls onto his back and looks up into the night sky. He imagines one of the constellations looks like his deceased wife. He pours out his longing and desire, fueled by the pain of loss. The raw emotion of that scene still gets to me every time I read it.

What was the hardest part of writing it?

The ending was the toughest. I had lost my wife to breast cancer when I was writing the first draft. I couldn't see my way through to an ending at that point and had to put the manuscript away for about six months. I think that is also what fueled the raw emotion in the scene above, which somehow was more cathartic to write.

Holy cow, I'm sorry to hear that. That explains the raw intensity, for sure. Can you tell us about your writing process?

I start with a pretty good idea of my main characters: what's motivating them, what’s getting in their way, and how I can make them human. Actually, I like to torture my characters a bit, bringing out their foibles even when their intentions are good. That being said, I am often surprised at where a character will take me. I don't outline but I do ask myself, "What ten things need to happen in this story?" Then I try to turn at least some of those upside down. For example, if I think two characters must get together romantically, I will ask myself, "Well, what if they don't?"

As I go along, I always ask myself what needs to change in the particular chapter I am working on.

I love to read other novels when I am writing. It keeps me inspired. Last, but not least, I love language. I love the sound of words. This can make me a slow writer. I will worry over a sentence and revise it several times, even during a first draft.

About Dan: 
DB__web3Dan Berne grew up in a working-class family in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked in his way through college, with jobs in drugstores, warehouses, U-bolt factories, and cement plants. He moved to the west coast in 1979, settling in the Portland area in 1990. He has been an active member of a select writing workshop led by author Karen Karbo for ten years. His short stories and poetry have been published in literary magazines and he has won a literary award from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Dan owns a market strategy consultancy and is currently writing a book on market transformation. He lives with his wife Aliza in Portland, Oregon. The Gods of Second Chances is his debut novel. More can be found at his website danberne.com.
For a chance to win a copy of this gorgeous book, please leave a comment. I'll draw on 4/15. Any comment will do, but if you want to tell us the last book you loved, that would be swelligent, as well. 

 *Amazon associate link

Things I LikeApril 3, 2014

about being on book tour: 

1. You can stay in New Jersey with your amazing agent (and her darling kidlets!) and then take the train to Manhattan in the morning and write in a cafe just off 6th Ave, and then take an Uber to go to fancy lunch with your wicked smart editor. (There are many awesome things about that sentence, including the part during which I realized New Jersey is a state and not just a large city. If asked, I would have told you that. But I didn't really know it till this trip. I liked what I saw of you, NJ.) 


(Oh! I just remembered the first time I was ever in New York as a Real Writer. I had no book deal, no agent, but I did have a book being read by S&S as a result of that contest some of you remember me entering. I just reread that entry and it made me SO happy. This is why I write this blog, y'all. For that kind of memory.) 

2. Another thing I like about being on book tour is that you can stay the next night at the Jane, which is a pod hotel made from the bones of an old mariner's hotel (it's where the Titanic survivors stayed, and I've blogged about it before). It's under a hundred bucks, and you get a wee room barely bigger than the twin bed it holds

Photo-6 copy 4

(this is the whole room. The mirror helps.)

and the size of the room doesn't matter because...

3. ...because that night you're down the street having a drink with a friend and that drink turns into WAY too many drinks, and then you're tromping through the West Village (was there singing? There might have been singing!) and you're feeling so alive and you're in New York, and then you get back to the Jane and realize that you have to get up in five hours and there's no way you're going to live through the cab ride to the airport...


4. ...but it's not so bad because by all accounts, you should be dead of both a migraine and the shame, but instead your wife has brought all your migraine medicine to meet you at the airport (because you tend to get a migraine after even one glass of wine lately; this is going to be bad, so bad) and instead, you jump off the plane with a cheery wave and say, "Let's get In'n'Out! I want animal fries!" 

Book Tour Wrap Up

Honestly, there was very little not to love about Book Tour, including the fact that it's over and I can go back to being a 911-answering word slinger. I like my life as is. It doesn't need to be fancy. It often IS fancy, and I'm grateful for that. But mostly I'm glad for health, and happiness, and early (sober, headache-free) bedtimes and pile ups that happen on the couch that look like this:


(Yes, the pit bull is hiding under the chihuahua and the cat -- the thunder scared darlin' Clementine)

I'm grateful for all of it, including the fact that Lala and I just celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary (can you believe it?). We're going up the coast for a couple of days and we're going to do a lot of nothing. I'm looking forward to it.  And to what comes after it, too.