Retirement Diaries

Day 13 of Al’s retirement. Was not sure I’d ever write that sentence. But it happened and I finished my book, too. Sent to my editor and she replied that I can expect her notes end of March. So six weeks to relax and feel good. If the first two weeks are anything to go by, it will be a walk on the beach. Literally.

I didn’t know what to expect when Al retired. He’d been driving to the same building, stuck in the same rush hour, working for the same company, clocking seven days a week much of the time, for 47 years. I don’t know how he did it, but then, he had me to take care of everything else, so he could focus on one goal: work hard to retire in comfort. Job done!

So far, things have been really good. Friends warned me that it would be an adjustment. So far, it means adjusting to having a companion on beach walks and a special someone to talk to at coffee every morning. It means Al helps around the house. He made dinner last night and did the dishes! It’s all good. I expect the retirement road won’t always be smooth, but for now, it’s super nice.

Al is happy and relaxed. There are lots of things he wants to do, like finish the basement in Michigan, and some things I want him to do, like paint our Florida galley kitchen a very light blush pink. But these projects can wait while he just enjoys and adjusts to his new life. He keeps busy following the stock market, hitting the gym, and golfing. Plus walks on the beach with me. He even goes grocery shopping with me! Our house in Florida is a second floor condo, so it’s nice to have him haul the groceries upstairs.

This is the guy I married in 1985. Laid back, mellow, happy just to be alive in the moment. It’s a wonderful thing to see him relax again. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to, he’s been working so hard for so long, but turns out he’s really good at it.

As for me, I met with my Florida writing group last Friday. This group is very different from my Michigan groups. We don’t critique. We support. And we write a page or so from a weekly prompt to share at next meeting. Simple. Easy. Relaxed. I’m also thinking about a new design for the blog. Something that feels like Florida, since that’s where the upcoming book is set. I’ll keep you posted.

Her Name in Lights

I am writing from Florida where I shall begin my mission to read real books again. I brought a few with me, although I did have one final full priced Kindle book I traveled with, a memoir I really liked.

Cassandra King was married to a preacher and lived the life of a parish wife and mom to two sons when she met famous author Pat Conroy at a literary event. King was a teacher who had just written her first novel, about to published by a small press. Her marriage was falling apart. She lived in the same house with her husband but they had separate quarters.

Conroy’s situation was a bit different. He’d just published The Prince of Tides to great acclaim. He was a friendly guy who loved talking about writing and books. He also told and heard many a tall tale. He drank to excess and ate the same way at fancy restaurants. He’d already divorced two wives. He had a serious lover, but was trying to extricate himself from that relationship.

Then King met Conroy and the rest is literary history. Conroy was a megastar, his books had been turned into movies with top actors, the biggest novel of his already stellar career was taking off. And he asked to read her book and loved Cassandra’s writing. He offered to blurb her debut. And that’s about all I knew of this later in life marriage. (They were in their 50s). At the time, I thought wow good for her. She’ll be fast-tracked up the author ranks. And I never thought of her again. I continued to read Conroy’s novels. But I never picked up any of King’s fiction.

Until this one. A favorite genre is memoir. Memoir by a fiction writer is icing on the cake. Especially a memoir written by the wife of an author I’d long admired. I knew Conroy’s history: his brutal childhood, his drinking, his fame. His novels drew heavily from his tormented early life. Now I’d learn the whole story. And wow.

King and Conroy remained phone friends for a number of years before they started seeing each other IRL. By this time they were both free of the relationships that had been in trouble when they met and the very romantic Conroy proposed. I can’t say more without spoilers except that they had twenty years together, full of drama and fueled by their twin creative spirits. Cassandra met all Pat’s famous writer friends, wrote many more books, went on author tours and became a bestselling novelist herself.

She did well and judging by the blurbs on her book covers, she was a wonderful writer. Certainly in Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy (the title puts the word CONROY in extra large letters on the front cover) she tells a good story herself. She brings the writing process alive and includes all the fine trappings of a fortunate writing life from an almost bygone era. The agents, publishers, book parties, contracts, book tours. There’s conflict, too. Conroy had a temper.

I really liked this memoir of the high-style writing life. Pat Conroy was quite a character and he seems to have met his ideal match in Cassandra King.

Top Ten Books of 2019

The Testaments was my favorite book in 2019

Goodreads says I read 158 books on my Kindle in 2019. I also read some print books, two I can think of right now: Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, my #1 pick. So I read at least 160 books in 2019. I know, it’s an addiction. Here’s the list, starting with a tie for #10.

~ 10 ~ Daisy Jones & the Six was great fun fiction, but TRAVELING WILBURYS, the biography, was equally endearing, with the added benefit of being true. If you love music, musicians, and Behind the Music type hijinks, these books are asking you to pick them up.

~ 9 ~ Sunset Beach MARY KAY ANDREWS. A fun novel by one of my favorite authors of escapist fiction. Set in a place I know and love well, this humorous caper has a good mix of mystery and romance.

~ 8 ~ This Messy Magnificent Life GENEEN ROTH. Roth’s latest memoir veers away from her “catastrophe and how she handles it” pattern. I really liked those, too. Among other things she has survived the San Francisco earthquake and being taken for every last dime by Bernie Madoff. But those were earlier books. This one sees Roth determined to write a book not of misfortune, but joy. She does it so well.

~ 7 ~ Americanah CHIMANANDA NGOZI ADICHIE. This novel was a book club pick or I never would have tackled it. Which is why I love my book club. I loved the autofiction feel of this novel about an adventurous Nigerian woman who comes to the US for college and discovers she is black. She knew her skin color, of course, but it wasn’t an issue until she encountered the racism around every corner in America. It’s not as simplistic as it sounds. I’m white, and I found myself learning about Nigeria and an America white folks may not detect. Unconscious (as well as deliberate) white prejudices and ignorance about the daily lives of black people were lessons I needed to read. Oh, and the main character is sassy. Also smart and struggling with love.

~ 6 ~ I Remember Nothing NORA EPHRON. This is a book of personal essays that will make you laugh at your old self, boomer. I was worrying about death, googled “books to make me feel better about death” and this popped up first in my search! Fresh air and typical Ephron wit.

~ 5 ~ Witch Elm TANA FRENCH. My favorite crime writer. Every one of her books is superior in every way: language, plot, character. I’ll be rereading all her novels in 2020!

~ 4 ~ Three Women LISA TADDEO. Non-fiction about three very different women and how they handle sexual trauma. Like a husband who is unapologetically without a sex drive! Get used to it, he kind of tells his wife. And she’s got a kid. She feels trapped in this loveless marriage. Whaddaya think happens when high school boyfriend suddenly comes around? Sad and so good. Women break my heart. Especially young women like the girl who has an affair with her teacher. Oh I was so angry with him and I just wanted to hug her after what the trial and her town did to her!!

~ 3 ~ Florida LAUREN GROFF. Well, she’s an amazing writer. I suffer from sincere sentence envy when I read her. These are short stories about the weird and wonderful land I call my second home.

~ 2 ~ Maybe You Should Talk to Someone LORI GOTTLIEB. Author is a psychologist but this is not self-help in the traditional sense. Lori’s long-time boyfriend abruptly leaves her and her son. She’d been thinking wedding and he was thinking…I don’t know. FUCK him. She falls apart but keeps seeing patients and folds their stories into her own. Everybody hurts. But somehow by the end of the book, better moods rise. I’m making it sound trite but it’s not. I cried more than once. And the Hollywood super agent who was so rude and withholding during therapy…well…honestly, you should read this.

~ 1 ~ The Testaments MARGARET ATWOOD. I never saw the Hulu show of the Handmaid’s Tale. I did read the book when published in 1985 and watched the film with Natasha Richardson and heart-stopping handsome Aidan Quinn in 1989. I never thought Atwood would do a sequel but I’m so happy she did. I read all her novels and story collections and poetry. I buy them in hardcover the day they are published. And this did not disappoint. Really, really great. I am going to reread Stone Mattress next. I think that’s the name of the book. It’s the name of one of my favorite stories in that collection anyway. The other one I have read over and over is “Torch the Dusties.” I could rave on but needless to say I love this author. She can do no wrong.

Happy Writing Holidays

Stephen King does it every single day, sometimes including Christmas day. So does Nora Roberts. What is “it”? Writing. Some of us can’t go even a day without pen and paper or a keyboard. Unless we get our writing fix, things just don’t feel right.

That’s true for me, too, but I am not wealthy and I don’t have assistants to help me get ready for the holidays. Al is working more hours than God, saving up for the big retirement…so I alone must clean and shop and wrap and cook. And also bake cookies with Ben!

Since my own retirement from teaching, I’ve started most days with morning pages, and if I can’t work on my novel, those tide me over, like a snack before dinner. Or photos of my grandchildren until the next visit. But yesterday I had the whole day and I used it. Tucking laundry duty into yoga stretch breaks, I read and revised my entire manuscript.

It took about ten hours. I cut about ten thousand more words and didn’t add nearly as many back. But this morning I noted in my morning pages the holes in the plot that I need to fill. I have already filled Ben’s stocking and wrapped all the gifts. I just got back from grocery shopping for cookie ingredients and Christmas dinner.

I’ve got some final organizing to do tomorrow. Like get the guest room ready! I’m not sure when I will write those last few scenes, but I’m not worried because I know where I need to go and I’m almost ready for Christmas. I keep checking my calendar…can it be true?

Will Al really be home forever in one week? We have waited a long time for this. Even though friends think we’re in for a bumpy ride, I cannot wait to begin the next part of our life together!

And to all my friends, I wish you a heart full of love this holiday season. ❤

Improv for Writers

Writers have much in common with actors. We mine our own emotional experiences for words on the page and actors do the same with faces on the screen. Recently, I received “Improv for Writers” as a holiday gift, and the book goes even further than my analogy does.

Still slogging away deepening my character’s arc, I wanted to know more about her son. He lives in New York, he’s just married, he’s 31. But why is he living in New York? Because I wanted two adult children living on opposite coasts away from their mother. That serves my main character well.

But. Isn’t it expensive? What kind of job does he have? Oh, he works on Wall Street. Oh, he is one of those guys who writes computer programs that work so much better than humans in picking out winning stocks. Okay!

What these brilliant math coders figured out is that taking OUT the emotion is what makes an algorithm so much more accurate than a human at choosing winning stocks. Because humans have emotion. Computers don’t.

So now I have a way for Jane to interact with her son as they seek to find resolution to a complicated family tragedy. He is all about taking the emotion from the equation. Her daughter (his sister) is nothing BUT emotion. That took me maybe a half hour of improve on Saturday morning to figure out.

On Sunday I got the book, Improv for Writers, that claims to help me “generate infinite ideas” by “letting go of control as a creative person and trusting your imagination to create.” I already knew to trust my imagination, but I am not always so great at the initial letting go of control.

But. Work needs to be done. Original and creative work on Jane’s arc. And Jorjeana Marie promises that the “real power behind letting go of control as a creative person is trusting your imagination and ability to create.” Yes, please, I’ll try some of that.

The book is full of prompts both light and dark, both funny and tragic. And Chapter 14 is all about character. I didn’t count the number of prompts just for digging deeper into character, but there are many. Simply turning to that chapter made my writing juices start to flow.

It’s that kind of book. You can skip to what you need right away if you seek a specific kind of help for your story (like I do) or if you are totally blank for ideas, let’s say for a blog post (like I often am on Monday morning) you can start at the beginning or anywhere else that grabs you and says YES. THIS.

I’m beginning to suspect there is no writing occasion or situation that cannot be improved with improv. And particularly at this busy time of year, when writing hours are in short supply, I love the timed writing suggestions for freeing up creativity around character, plot and setting ~ and so much more. Even blogging. 🙂