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



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