Blog Tag

It’s Blogger Tag, and I’m it, thanks to my hero Mary Glickman, author of three terrific novels set in the south: Home in the Morning, One More River, and Marching to Zion.

  1. What are you working on? Somewhere in my laptop there’s a folder with notes for a third memoir, a deeper exploration of recurring themes from the first two. But because I have a new book out right now, the only writing I’m actually doing these days is a lot of pleading and bragging on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: profound insights like “Please come see me at Fountain Books in Richmond!” and “Wow, the book’s in the New York Times!”
  2. How does your work differ from others in its genre? I write honest but playful memoirs about serious issues. I like to dig in just enough to hit the tender spots and then have some fun, usually at my own expense.
  3. Why do you write what you do? My first book was conceived when emails to my sister/confidante became particularly frantic during our elderly mother’s health crisis. People seemed to want more of my venting and musing after The Habit, so I just keep on going.
  4. What is your writing process? I wish I had a daily routine, but I’m not the type. I’m always trolling for material – I make quick notes whenever I think of something and stash them places. I lie around fretting and despairing about how to start something. I research – talk to people (friends and family have learned to choose their words carefully), watch movies, read articles and listen to music on the topic I’m exploring. I read books, but I have to exercise caution because good writing in my genre both inspires and intimidates me. I stay away from anything by Joan Didion or Nora Ephron while I’m in the zone. I particularly shunned books like Marley and Me when I was writing The Dog Stays in the Picture. At a certain point I sort everything into an outline, and as soon as something makes me cry or laugh out loud or pisses me off enough, I let myself start writing. This is where things get particularly dangerous. When I’m finally happy with a section, I tend to celebrate by gallumphing around the house. I was so delighted with myself when I finished Chapter 3 of Dog Stays, I lunged up from the sofa, kicked a chair and broke my toe in three places. (Who knew one puny toe had three places to break?) Then I broke a thumb joint tripping over my laptop cord while celebrating the end of a long revision last spring. Now, when friends see me wearing a new cast, they know the writing’s probably going well.

Tagging Lise Anderson, author The Lost Chapters – I highly recommend this book, part memoir part detective story, set in Mad Men-land during the 60s and 70s.

Also tagging blogger Lainey Moseley. Lainey writes touching, funny essays about raising her spirited sixteen-year-old daughter Leta, who’s developmentally delayed due to a rare syndrome. You can read Lainey’s blog tag piece here.

Book’s out!

Lots of trips coming up. I’m in Dewey Beach, Delaware this Saturday signing and reading at Browseabout Books during a big greyhound gathering. Check Events on the menu above for all times and places. Yesterday’s interview on NPR with Marty Moss-Coane was fun – listen by clicking right here!

How The Dog Stayed in the Picture

Last time I posted, having just finished about a third of the new book, I think I was in Stage Five of a Creative Process list that sporadically pops up on the Facebook feed, never failing to comfort. Most of us have probably seen this list:

1. This is Amazing
2. This is Tricky
3. This is Crap
4. I am Crap
5. This might be Okay
6. This is Amazing

The second book’s trouble started early on. I’d reached Creative Stage One (This is Amazing!) a little early in the game with this second book, in fact before I’d even written one sentence. Open Road had just accepted my first memoir, The Habit, and we were beginning the editorial process. I decided to tell my brilliant publisher (brilliant for many reasons, but for my purposes brilliant because he liked The Habit) what the plan was for the second book. I write about what’s in front of my nose mostly, and the main thing in front of my nose at the time (every second of every day, everywhere I went; falling to pieces whenever I left the house) was Lilly, our greyhound, newly rescued from a Florida racetrack. Lilly and I were in the early stages of a mutually satisfying but extremely dysfunctional relationship at the time, each for our own reasons—Lilly because she was in complete shock at the change in her living circumstances, and me because I needed a project to distract me when my last two children left for college—so there was plenty of material.

The second book will be Amazing. It’s about this crazy adorable dog and—

—No. Please don’t write a dog book, Susan. I don’t want dog books. Write something else.

The Creative Process is all about how you look at things. This rejection was definitely not a setback, because in reality my publisher’s thumbs-down helped me move with lightning speed to Creative Stage Two (This is Tricky!). And then, I totally amazed myself by bypassing Creative Stage Three (This is Crap!) altogether, forging straight ahead into Creative Stage Four (I AM Crap!) with absolute conviction. I couldn’t believe how much I progress I was making. I may not have written any actual words yet, but Wow! There were only a couple of creative stages left to conquer, which meant just one day after pitching to my publisher I was more than halfway through the second book!

It seemed appropriate to regroup for a few days. The boys were writing college applications and needed some snacks, and I had figure out a way to get out to the grocery store and back without triggering one of Lilly’s panic attacks. I’d been noticing the irony of my situation lately: Somehow, I’d backtracked twenty-odd years to early days when the timing of an errand was dictated by naps and infant feeding schedules. By the time I reached the checkout line it dawned on me that I didn’t really get that pitch quite right. If I’d known my publisher didn’t want dog books, I could just as easily have pitched him the other angle of our story: the looming empty nest, about which my brain cells were firing with all kinds of insights, which is how I came to think This might be Okay—as in Creative Stage Five.

Friends suggested it might be a good idea to start writing an actual book before I ran out of stages. Which I did, promising myself I’d only write about the dog as she applied to our particular empty nest transition (sort of tricky because Lilly had begun trying to follow me into the shower; it was hard to concentrate with all four of her long skinny legs wrapped around my ankles whenever I sat down to write) and by the time I (Lilly and I) surfaced, the kids were gone, I had ten chapters in the can and only five more to go. So I decided to go back and see if Open Road was interested in publishing my empty nest book which was not about a dog.

By then, the brilliant fellow who’d birthed The Habit but nixed the dog book had left the company. I was directed to Open Road’s new publisher, a woman, who called three weeks later to say she was having this terrible problem because she didn’t want to upset me and she really liked the book but she wasn’t sure what she could do with it because there are so many empty nest books out there now, BUT: there’s this one character in the book, this dog, Lilly, who is so interesting, and could I put more about Lilly in the book? Because if this were more of a dog book, she definitely knew she could find our readers.

This is Amazing! And hello there, Creative Stage Six! The Dog Stays in the Picture comes out September 29. Pre-order at the usual online outlets, or click here for the Amazon page

dog stays in the picture cover




I am busy with the next book, catching up on what’s been going on lately Chez Morse. Isn’t that sort of what I’m supposed to be blogging about? I write memoirs, dag nabbit. Between the book and this blog, it’s like I’m constantly fighting the urge to plagiarize myself.

Last night at dinner I told my husband what I have planned for Chapter Six. It’s about cleaning out our closets, basically—which is why I’m cool with the fact that it’s unlikely I’ll ever convince a publisher to give me an advance. They’d have to read the thing to understand. I tried writing out a list of chapter summaries and it was just plain stupid:

  • Chapter One: Susan worries unnecessarily about her marriage.
  • Chapter Two: Susan goes to a Broadway show and becomes unnecessarily worried about her children.
  • Chapter Three: Susan finds a few more things to worry about.
  • Chapter Four: Susan gets a new dog to distract herself. The plan backfires horribly.
  • Chapter Five: It’s all very stressful.
  • Chapter Six: Cleaning the closets helps a little.

So now we are caught up on the Morses and there is no need to read the first third of this next book. Is it clear we’re approaching a cliffhanger?

I knew this blog was a bad idea.

I had sort of the same problem with The Habit. I’d tell people I was writing a book about my mother and their eyes would glaze. I completely understood, but I couldn’t seem to help it. I am fascinated by the absurdities of the everyday, and I often feel a strong impulse to document them in a way that moves, entertains and comforts me (and, hopefully, others). Besides, I really can’t be bothered with making things up. I don’t mind about the publishing advance problem—I’m having too much fun writing to give it much thought.

Any way my husband was crying when I got to the end of my summary of the closet-cleaning chapter. I am pretty sure that’s a good thing. You kind of had to be there. Hopefully you’ll see.

Okay the dog's not so bad.

Okay the dog’s not so bad.

What I Can’t Write Without

Famous last words: Time to print!!!

Finished, right? Maybe, but I ought to run the spellchecker, just in case.

Tools>Spelling and Grammar…

IGNORE. IGNORE. ACCEPT. IGNORE, darn it! IGNORE. This is art. I need that one long twenty-line sentence with no commas. It’s not a run-on sentence; it’s my creative signature!

Finally: Nirvana, all is right with the world, yes, this is it, this is exactly what I wanted to say—there is not one single thing I can do to improve this.

Time to print!


And the printer rouses with a groan, coughing and wheezing, making anxious little paper-crumply noises. Ink cartridges flexing back and forth: Batter’s on deck.

(This printer knows what it’s in for. This printer is no dummy.)

Out they come, page after page of gorgeous black-on-white perfection—my best ever!  I snatch them off the tray, take a victory lap around the house, and plunk them in the center of the kitchen table. Ha!

Light the gas under the kettle, teabag in the cup, a dash of sugar and 2% milk. Whistling, I settle my mug at the table to gloat over my masterpiece.

Darn. Where’d I put the pen?

Okay just a little tweak here. And there. Oh, and there, that’s much funnier—done.

Back to the office, type in the changes. Voila! Time to print!!!!


Printer: Back so soon?

Me: Mind your own business.  Continue reading

The Next Big Thing

My savvy novelist friend Mary Glickman has offered to tag me on her blog. I’m supposed to post answers to questions about whatever I’m working on at the moment, and then tag a new author friend’s blog at the end, where they will have posted something about their Next Big Thing.

My instinctive reaction was to lose Mary’s email and blame it on Christmas.

That worked fine for a while, but Mary’s a lovely person and eventually my conscience got the better of me. So I emailed to thank her and explain that I did not have a blog.

(Okay. I do have a blog, but until now it hasn’t been public. The only person I’ve shown it to is my sister. There has been a lot of dysfunctional dithering – partly because is not available and I’m not sure if is an accurate way to describe myself. These things can take on such significance and weight that I end up completely frozen. Besides, I’m working on my next book, and it’s a memoir. If I start blogging about what’s on my mind, what’s left for the book? A puzzlement.)

Mary’s been writing a long time and I think she must have sniffed a classic case of writer’s block, because she hit me right back:

No problem. If you don’t have a blog you can post on your Facebook author page instead. Totally acceptable.

This is not what I needed Mary to say. So I lost that email too, and blamed it on New Year’s until I could come up with another excuse:

Thank you so much Mary, but I can’t write about my Next Big Thing. It’s another memoir and it’s a surprise.

Still no problem, Mary shot back. Write about your first book instead.


I’d run out of holidays to blame, so I sucked it up and finally wrote a bunch of answers, and the process turned out to be kind of fun. But when I previewed the post in the Notes section of my Facebook fan page, it just didn’t look right. So thank you Mary for finally coaxing out into the world.  Continue reading