Food & Worry

This charming narrative about the road to self-realization (and maybe even true love) stars smart, funny, and unemployed Moira Shapiro.

Moira grew up as the daughter of restaurant owners in the privileged world of Washington D.C. Her intelligence got her into a top college but her increasingly disabling OCD has left her unemployed. When Moira reads the updates of more successful college acquaintances in the alumni magazine, she pens a far shinier version of herself and sends it off.

She meets Caitlin and Geoff, alums she’s always admired from afar, and explains away the piece as a spoof, a send up of glossy self-aggrandizing entries. Caitlin, as a performance artist, loves Moira’s gutsy take on alumni bragging, but she hates that Geoff seems smitten with Moira. Other issues test the tentative friendship of Moira and Caitlin. While Moira makes daily progress in regulating the complex world of OCD, Caitlin takes shocking advantage of Moira’s struggles.

Will Moira find love and the job of her dreams or will forces beyond her control wreck even more havoc than her OCD? Debut author Becky Wolsk’s empathy, insights, and humor make Moira’s plight, and the book’s ultimate resolution, sweet, sassy, and satisfying.

How to be an Overnight Success

First you have to work for 20 years and write 14 novels that get rejected. You have to also write magazine pieces and face rejection, but sometimes, an editor will choose your piece and you’ll have a paycheck and a clip for your next pitch. Then another, and so on. This takes a long time, and it takes time away from your novel-writing, but it also can, if you’re lucky, land you a high profile gig like say, the New York Times.

After Laura Munson’s piece ran in The Times, many many people read it. It was reprinted on websites and the overload of comments on the paper’s own site caused a crash. This is what is referred to as creating a buzz.

Because Munson worked tirelessly at her writing, because she was going through a crisis in her marriage that she wrote about daily as a way to manage her panic, that she practiced an unusual but deeply spiritual method of marriage repair, and she dared to write about it, because her husband said “okay” when she noticed she had 300 pages of memoir and she thought she might send it to her agent, all of these circumstances led to Munson getting a book deal in 48 hours.

A 20 year habit of writing, a lucky break with a huge newspaper, zealous reader response, a marriage in crisis: all of these things contributed to Munson’s overnight success.

Her willingness to try to live by the books she read that told her over and over again that she alone was responsible for her own happiness. That happiness is a choice, that it occurs in the moment. Nobody, not even a husband who wants to walk away, can make you unhappy if you stay centered in the small moments of your life. If you continue to notice sunsets and flowers in bloom and the beauty of your children’s smiles.

Munson wanted to know if she could stay centered in a storm. Mostly, she found, she could. But she had to give up her idea of what the outcome would be. She had to surrender, over and over again, to her husband’s hurtful actions as he took time off from the marriage to go deeply into his own dark night of the soul.

She knew it was his journey, she couldn’t control him. She set limits on what she would allow, but there was freedom for him there within those limits. He could for example walk away forever. Or he could take time off for travel. She gave him a lot of space, even when she wanted to scream at him and even when she could tell her kids were hurting. She felt he was going through something only he could work out, that she couldn’t control the outcome.

She could only be strong, choose happiness where she could find it: on her horse in the wilds of Montana, or in making tomato sauce with her children, or in writing. It wasn’t that Munson didn’t want to engage in the normal dramas. It wasn’t that she didn’t want her husband to come to his senses. It’s that she sensed her desire for the family they once were would overwhelm her if she let it get the upper hand. Wanting creates suffering if we let it. If you just let desire be…if you surrender to it, but also to life exactly as it is, then desire is just another fleeting feeling.

Munson had a lot of experience with thwarted desire. She’d been practicing surrenderring outcomes for a while. But this was different than her writing rejections. This was a deeply personal rejection by her life partner. And yet, she found the strength to surrender outcomes, stay strong, and hope for the best without giving away her dignity or, indeed, her own happiness.

That’s why her memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is is subtitled A Season of Unlikely Happiness.  As she said in an interview, the book really isn’t about how to fix a marriage. It’s about how to get through the tough times in life, whatever they are, without losing your joy.

78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published

Read Pat Walsh’s entertaining writing book this week and would recommend it to anyone serious about wanting to be published. The second part of the long title is “and 14 Reasons Why it Just Might” so it’s not as depressing as it sounds.

I agreed with almost everything Walsh said (#3: “You do not revise your book or will not revise it again) and picked up a few valuable tips (#12: “You do not realize that nobody cares”) but had one little question mark after #58 (“You Did Not Go to Published Authors”).

Okay I’ll just say I think he’s wrong on this one. Walsh claims that most published authors, except the top tier of Roberts/King/Rowling types, would be happy to read a few pages by a writer unknown to them and even happier to recommend them to their agent if the author likes the pages. I just don’t think so, Pat.

Maybe it’s just me, but I would bet most writers would not like unpublished strangers asking them for favors. Or even unpublished acquaintances. We have quite a few published authors in my local writer’s group, and I would never ever ask them to read my work. I would consider it an imposition. I would feel so rude. I would call it pushy. And I KNOW them.

Someone I don’t know? Never.

Perhaps I am just shy. But I don’t think that’s it. I did have one experience where my friend knew a published author. She lived in Michigan, she’d had two historical romances published, she was a newish midlist author. And my friend swore she was the sweetest, nicest woman in the world and would LOVE to look at my pages. I demurred. My friend persisted. I finally forked over the pages.

I soon received an email from the author along the lines of “Thank you for trusting me with your work, but I have not read it and will be returning it to Friend unopened. My agent advises me not to read any unpublished work because of lawsuits brought against published authors who read unpublished work and then are accused of stealing ideas. Not that you would do that! Good luck with your work.”

My non-writer friend was embarrassed and amazed, but I wasn’t. I got it. In fact, I decided right then that when I was published, I’d pursue the same policy. I read student writing for a living, and I must tell you that it is a JOB. I am paid well for it, so I do it with pleasure. Or, more often, grim determination. But just to go to work for free? No. In my free time, I want to write. As do, I’m sure, published authors.

Sorry Pat. Loved your book but had to take exception to that one tiny little part of it…

Story Sisters

How in the world did I manage to leave off my most anticipated summer read, by Alice Hoffman, one of my all-time favorite writers, from my one-line reviews post? Could be because I’m still processing my complicated reaction to Story Sisters. 

My usual feeling after completing a new Alice Hoffman novel is rapture, pure and simple. This time it was a little more complex. Hoffman has a trademark combination of the domestic and the magical going for her and usually it charms me and lifts me up out of my ordinary humdrum life. It’s like, no matter how dark the story, there is a ribbon of beauty and magic running through the air, away from harm and dirt, up in the blue, blue sky. And that magic saves the characters from dirty realism.

Not so much with Story Sisters.

Hoffman is too skilled a storyteller for me to simply dismiss anything she writes. Her language alone is worth the read. This plot was also engrossing, following three sisters growing up in a small New England town who image their own fairy kingdom, just out of their human reach, complete with a language only they understand. The sisters long to return to their fairy kingdom, where they believe they will be happy and at peace. But with adolescence comes darker days for the once pretty place in their imaginations.

This is where the book takes a turn and has me asking “Is this about magic or mental illness?” Not that Hoffman’s books always focus on the light, exclusively. Plenty of darkness befalls Hoffman characters. It’s just that always before, the magic somehow remained intact, and pure. Above it all. This time, whether she did it purposely or unconsciously, for me anyway, the magic got corrupted. It felt like an illusion of childhood. 

It is as if Hoffman signals her readers with this book that magic is for children, and dangerous at that. Which was, after twenty novels celebrating the incandescence of daily life, kind of a letdown.