Holiday Heartache & Gifts: A Farewell to My Father

Saturday, December 5, 2015

My father passed away the end of October. As I navigate this first holiday season without him -- my first as an "orphan" now that all of my immediate family, brother, mother, father, are gone -- I often feel lost, empty and overwhelmed by emotion. I try to remind myself every day how loved I was, how blessed I am, and that I am who I am because of the influence of my father and my family. 

The relationship between my dad and I was not always easy -- we were often polar opposites in our views of the world, politics, life -- but we found common ground in the most important place: Each other's hearts and souls. My dad drove me crazy, and I drove him nuts as well, but we respected and loved one another deeply. 

The older I get, the more I realize what a beautiful gift it is to live without regret. I may have disagreed with my dad, but I told him every day I loved him, and he said, "I love you, too, son." That transparency was hard-fought and hard-earned, but it's allowed me to live without regret and in a place of peace. That is the gift I will receive from him this holiday season, even though he is no longer beside me. And that is the gift from both of us that I share with you and those you love this holiday season: Peace, happiness and relationships without regret. Tell those you love this year just that: I love you. You mean the world to me. I am blessed to have you in my life. You will never regret it. 
I wrote the following about my father, which was read by the minister at my father's funeral. I share his gifts with you this holiday season. 

This is a photo of my father as a child that sums him up perfectly. xoxo

I am heartbroken but remembering how blessed I have been and that he is now out of pain. I have been blessed to have many larger-than-life characters in my life. Perhaps that is why I’m a writer. My father was one of the largest. This photo of my dad as a child truly sums him up: Dimples, curls, a perpetual, "Life is sweet, let's get this party started" attitude. My dad loved life. He loved God. He loved his friends. He loved his family. He loved golf. He loved the St. Louis Cardinals. He loved the community in which he was born and raised. He was a chemical engineer, a logical man, and seemed the polar opposite of me. But he wasn't.
My father was a teacher. That’s what fathers do. And what my dad taught me influenced me greatly: He taught me to respect my elders. He taught me to relish the natural beauty of the area in which I was raised. He taught the value and importance of education. He taught me how to invest and save, and the value of a dollar.
But more than anything my father taught me never to quit. “You will never know what you’re capable of accomplishing if you stop,” he always told me. In my career, that has been of the utmost importance. My father was the stubbornest man I’ve ever known. People say the same thing of me. And I take it as a complement, for it is strength, toughness, resilience and a grand love of life that sets us apart, makes us strive to achieve something of importance in this short journey we’re given.
I loved my father. He and my mom were great characters in life and in my life. Now, they are together again. Fred and Ethel forever united. Prepare to be dipped, mom. And have the ice cream ready.

Where Writers Write

Monday, August 3, 2015

Most readers seem to have a fascination (if not semi-obsession) with where writers write. 

I think it's more of an interest in seeing and understanding the intimate space in which writers create, that world where writers go to leave this one behind. 

I have long held that fascination, too. As many of you know, Erma Bombeck remains an idol of mine, and I loved to read about how she locked herself away from her family to write undisturbed (save for the notes under the door). 

I have a plaque on the wall next to my desk of Margaret Mitchell which reads, "In a weak moment, I wrote a book." I love the saying, but I also love the photo on the plaque of her in her office sitting at her desk -- hands fluttering over her typewriter. 

I often love to sneak a peek into authors' writing spaces, both personally and electronically.  

One of the first things I wanted to see when Rita Mae Brown -- the legendary author of RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE and The Sneaky Pie Brown Series -- invited me to stay at her beautiful Virginia farm was her office. It was a bright room, with big windows, and a beautiful, old desk. On top? A typewriter. Rita Mae had nothing else in there: No lap top, no phone, no cell, no internet. She said she rose at dawn with the sun, and got her writing done, so she had most of the morning and all day to tend to her many animals. I think my agent and editor would murder me if I sent in a typewritten manuscript, but it is RMB after all. But, I did learn something: I rise early, too, like she does, and write. And I have learned to turn off social media when writing (and leave my cell behind, too). 

Though I have not visited their homes, I know many author-friends, like New York Times bestsellers Adriana Trigiani and Caroline Leavitt write from urban spaces while Nancy Thayer writes from her cottage in Nantucket (in an office with views of the water). I know authors that prefer to make their offices in a local coffeehouse or library.

My space is very important to as both a writer and a person: Our home is a knotty-pine cottage we call "Turkey Run," for all the wild turkeys who treat our paths and yard as their personal woodland interstate. I love my cottage, its history and its feel. It grounds me, as does Gary's gorgeous gardens, from which I pick fresh flowers for my office two or three times a week. 

My writing studio is a carriage house attached to our house. It is private, quiet, and -- the nice thing is -- I can leave it when I'm done for the day: I can return to this world. 

A peek at our carriage house in the winter

One wall leading up the stairs to the office is filled with the framed covers of my five books. This is -- and isn't -- done from pure ego. A friend sent me the first two, and when I hung them, I realized they were an important and visceral reminder of all that I had accomplished and -- now -- all that I have to accomplish. (I mean, an entire wall is still EMPTY!)

My desk sits facing two giant windows overlooking our woods and -- in the distance -- our neighbor's blueberry fields. The view is constantly inspiring and ever-changing: Summer screams green, and the windows are constantly wide open. Fall is a wonder of color, the sugar maples and sassafras visual overload. Winter is quiet and white (before we leave for the desert). And spring is nothing to everything all at once, an unfurling of Mother Nature. 

A huge sugar maple sits outside the windows, and a squirrel I call Dorothy Parker visits me nearly every day, eating acorns, staring at me, squawking at me to keep going. 

On my desk, I have my Mac, fresh flowers, all of my published books on one side of a lamp and a collection of beloved Bombeck on the other. There are meaningful photos of family, friends and pets, an assortment of bobble head dolls and raccoons (from fans of AT LEAST IN THE CITY SOMEONE WOULD HEAR ME SCREAM), a calendar filled with deadlines, glass vases filled with rocks and shells collected from nearby Lake Michigan and our coastal vacations (as well as a turkey feather or two). Usually, there are a stack of galleys on a pullout drawer that authors and publishers have asked me to read and blurb. A plaque that my artist aunt gave my parents after they built our family home titled "The House that Rouse Built" sits nearby, too. I rotate two favorite coasters for my coffee and water (and, OK, wine on occasion): One that says, "Mama loves her some boxed wine" from a dear friend (and in reference to IT'S ALL RELATIVE) 
LOVE coffee! (literally!)
and one from Oscar Wilde that reads, "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."


I have bookshelves filled with books, family heirlooms and photos, and my expansive Pez collection. A lamp with that looks like burnished wood sits by my desk. I have a couch behind my desk that serves as a comfy place for writers who take my writing workshops to sit (and sweat ... just joking) when they come to my retreats. (btw, I NEVER nap, so it's of no use to me). 

The walls around my desk are filled with framed accomplishments (my bachelor's and master's degrees, my first marathon medal with official time and photo at the finish line), some of my first published magazine articles, as well as a number of framed quotes.

The first quote is from Dr. Seuss and states: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

The next is: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail," from Emerson. It was a quote given to me by Gary that helped to inspire, both humorously and poignantly, my Michigan memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream.

The next up is from Dorothy Parker, which reads: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can give them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

And, finally, from Erma Bombeck: "Great dreams... never even get out of the box. It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say to the world, 'How good or how bad am I?' That's where courage comes in."

Always flowers!

At the top of the stairway are two leather chairs I call my Hemingway chairs and a leather ottoman that flank a fireplace (which gets a lot of use in the fall and winter). There is a pouf for our smaller mutt, Doris, that sits under my desk, and larger pouf for her sister, Mabel, right next to my chair. 

I have a stereo that I occasionally turn on to classical, jazz or Pink Martini (but I am noise-obsessed when I write, and must have complete quiet ... which is why Gary leaves every morning to go to yoga and coffee). 

I love my office. I love going to work. My commute is short -- a stop for coffee, a stroll in our walkway past our woods and then up 14 stairs -- but I love every step. 

Fab Fall!

A writer's space -- any artist's creative lair -- is a special place. I encourage aspiring and emerging writers to give themselves not only permission to call themselves writers but also to carve out a space that belongs to them -- be it at the dining room table, a desk in the laundry room, or in the sunroom (the place I first started in St. Louis). Claim it! Call it yours! Even over the shouts of your husbands, wives, children. Over time, it will call to you. Over time, you will return, and you will create. 

And, over time, your dream space and dream book will become reality. 



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I was a weeping, snotty, emotional mess on Friday when the Supreme Court's ruling was announced. It was a day -- like so many of those I know and love -- never dreamed would happen in our lifetimes. The ruling was an exclamation point to all that I've written about for so many years in my books and essays, and to my life -- our lives -- in general.

There is so much to say. And I am writing about it in longer form. But, in brief:

On Friday, when a friend texted us the news, I ran down from my writing studio, weeping, uncontrollably, yelling for Gary. I grabbed him and held him, and we moved as one heap toward the TV to turn on the breaking news. I couldn't comprehend it at first. Had I hoped this would happen? Yes. Did I feel it would happen? Yes? But did it seem real? After all these years? No.

We fell as a ball onto the couch, and I grabbed Gary's face.

"I don't know what to do when you cry like this?" Gary said.

See, I'm supposed to be the strong one, the logical one. But he's really the rock.

I stared at him, seeing our 20 years together flash before my eyes, our lives now defined as Before 6/26 and Post 6/26. How manny battles had we waged to get to this point?

"Stop crying," Gary begged. "Please."

I couldn't.

Gary and I on our wedding day, 2014

I wept for the many friends who didn't make it to see this day, too many of whom took their own lives because they had been rejected.

I thought of my mom, the strongest person of faith I've ever known, who told me how proud she was of me and Gary every day, and how -- before she died -- said my faith shined through in every way and every day since I had "come into love and the light."

Yes, this is about love, but it's also about equality. Next year, Gary and I will celebrate our 20th anniversary. We were married one year ago in California. And we will renew our vows in Michigan. For years, we paid separate taxes. For years, we paid tremendous legal bills to ensure that we were each other's "family" and "guardian." What would happen, an attorney asked us years back when I was traveling on book tours, should you be injured and hospitalized? Gary likely would not be allowed to visit.

Equal? How is this right?

We fought. For years. No, our whole lives. We were bullied. We were taunted. We were rejected. Sometimes in terms of ignorance, often in terms of faith.

I no longer care what people think, because they do not speak for me, or know me. I knew from the earliest of ages I was born gay. I hurt and lied to more people than I can ever apologize to in my attempt to be "normal". Gary and I both attempted suicide.

The importance of Friday's ruling cannot be overstated. Now, no child will be born without knowing that he or she has equal rights, can grow to marry who they love and choose, without being isolated, hated, scared. Will discrimination still occur? Of course. Will hatred still rear its head? Yes.

But now everything has changed.

I have heard rumblings of all the hate chatter after the ruling, but it's on my periphery, buzzing as softly as a mosquito in my ear.

I no longer pay attention to what people say or think if they are not willing to talk, change, learn, grow, evolve.

I have been ostracized too many years from life, from faith. How would you feel if you had to hide who you are, or who you loved? How would you feel if you couldn't hold hands, or sit too close to someone at a restaurant, or invite them to a work function, or put his or her picture on your desk? Much less live through the dark years of state laws being passed "defining" what a "real" marriage is? Would you have survived?

My LGBT brothers and sisters are among the strongest people I know. When you are beaten down, and are still able to succeed, find happiness, thrive in careers, believe in God, find love, then you are heroic. You know true faith. You know true happiness.

So, talk all you want. I've heard it before. I am not to be tolerated, like a rainy day, or a cold sore. I am to be celebrated. We all are, gay or straight, black or white, married or single. We are all survivors. We are all one. We are all more alike than different.

And together we can change the world. And we have. And we will. One day, one word, at a time.

A Blink of An Eye

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Blink of An Eye

My husband, Gary, wants to live to be 114. That's the age, for some reason, that he has chosen and is working hard to reach. 

"I want to live well past 100," Gary always says, very seriously. "I want to be a centaurian."

"So you want to be live until you become half-man, half-horse?" I ask.
"It's centenarian. Not centaurian."

To read the full blog visit :

Our Favorite Things

Monday, February 9, 2015

Every New Year brings a fresh start: A time to reflect, put bad habits behind us and focus on our goals for 2015. It is also a time when we all want to refresh, recharge and refocus on taking care of ourselves.

In keeping with this "re" theme, Gary and I wanted to share a few of our "really" favorite things regarding health and beauty. May this year bring all of our readers health, happiness and success.

Click below to read more in our  Chick Lit Central blog:

Red Carpet Dreams

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I have dreamed of appearing on a red carpet much of my life.

Every awards season – from the Golden Globes to the Oscars to the Emmys – I have curled up on the couch with Rotel dip, chips and chili to watch the stars walk the red carpet.

"Who are you wearing?" Joan Rivers would ask, as cheese dripped from my mouth.

Even in college, I watched the red carpet, much to the horror of my fraternity brothers.

"Why would Cher wear that?" I would wonder aloud, although I secretly admired her screw-you attitude. "Dear God, please let Shirley Maclaine win!" I would scream.

In those youthful days, I dreamed of being a writer. It seemed so far-fetched. Who makes a living as an author? Who writes books for a job?

But I never stopped believing. Or working toward that goal.

And then it happened.

An author always dreams that one of his or her books will be turned into a TV show or movie. We dream that we will get to write the pilot or screenplay, and that work will be nominated for an Emmy or Oscar.

We shouldn't, I know – my focus is always squarely on my current manuscript – but we do. It's human nature to dream.

When I started writing for PEOPLE, I never dreamed I would work a red carpet, as most of my work for them – like nearly all of my writing, book or magazine – is done in coffee-stained sweats or a pilled robe that is from the Carter years that I refuse to part ways with.

Gary and I escape the harsh Michigan winters to Palm Springs for a couple months each year. While one would think I would be more prolific in the winter – what else is there to do when it's a nonstop blizzard? – I do better in the sun. I need the light as inspiration. I need to be outside, running, hiking, getting some vitamin D.

Each year, Palm Springs hosts its international film festival: It's quite a huge event now, along the lines of Sundance, and it draws thousands and thousands of film lovers along with A-list celebrities.

"You should cover it for PEOPLE," Gary said last year. "You're already out here."

He made the dream sound so simple, and yet I never even considered the possibility.

So, I asked my editors, who supported the idea. And then I applied for media credentials, not only for the festival, but for the red carpet and gala event.

I was approved.

"Black tie," the checklist stated. "HIGHLY suggested."

I had never owned a tux. I had rented quite a few in my day – for weddings, mostly – but had never owned one.

When Gary – who had signed up to volunteer for the event once I'd been approved – inquired about tuxes, a stylish friend ( Bella da Ball, hostess with the mostest, social ambassador & fashionista), told him where to find the best buy. 

So who did we wear?

Jacques Penney.

Wade Rouse

Believe it or not, the tip was great: JC Penney not only had the best deals and nice styles, but also it turns out that the J Ferrar slim fit brand fit like a dream and was a steal (I got a gorgeous tux jacket with a very subtle glen plaid for added pop, and Gary looked very handsome in his black tux and purple-and-black bow tie).

I was very nervous as the red carpet approached, stomach-clenching nervous, in fact: What would it be like? Would I get to ask questions I had spent hours preparing? Would the stars be nice? Would I be eaten alive by the other reporters?

That's when reality settled into the dream: Media had to arrive for check-in hours before the red carpet arrivals. Hours.

I found my few inches of space on the red carpet – between PopSugar and US Weekly, and only one down from the wonderful PEOPLE magazine reporter who I met for the first time – and waited. And waited. And waited.

All at once, I heard the crowd scream in the distance, and I knew the stars were on their way. Suddenly, publicists came rushing down the line: Who would like to talk to J. K. Simmons? Does anyone want the cast from Gone Girl? How about Robert Duvall?

Umm, yes, please.

I was able to talk, largely working alongside and with a larger group of reporters, to Julianne Moore, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Laura Dern. Reese Witherspoon and Rosamund Pike rushed by late on the red carpet, after spending most of their time talking to fans. And, sadly, Brad Pitt didn't walk the red carpet.
 Laura Dern

Impressions? Because I know that's what everyone wants to know:

Julianne Moore: Whip smart, sensitive, beautiful, lovely, kind, funny.
Julianne Moore

Laura Dern: Stunning and radiates an inner peace and beauty. (Photo Far Right)

Benedict Cumberbatch & Eddie Redmayne: Intelligent, soft-spoken, sweet, youthful but grounded, piercing eyes and thin.

 Benedict Cumberbatch

Shirley Maclaine: Everything and more I could have imagined.

Mary Hart: Looks good. Real good in person.
 Mary Hart

I was able to chat with the cast of Gone Girl (Go and Detective Boney) about their spot-on Missouri accents, and Eddie Redmayne shared what it was like to be a newlywed.

And the one question we got to shout at Reese? "Who are you wearing?"

"Michael Kors," she smiled, waving.

The gala was long (speeches by Duvall, Pitt, Maclaine went on to their hearts' content), but entertaining. I learned a lot from the other PEOPLE reporter about nuancing questions and then going in for the one thing everyone wanted to know.

I had one glass of wine only over four hours, because at the end I had to file my notes to the editors.
And then? Gary and I got to go the after-party at the Parker. Where I had many glasses of wine.

It was fabulous, over-the-top and star-studded: Though we couldn't get close to Reese and Rosamund, who stayed only briefly, we did get our pictures taken with JK Simmons and the Gone Girl cast (who were a hoot).
        Selfie with "Gone Girl" cast members Carrie Coon (Go) & Kim Dickens (Detective Boney)

 Selfie with J.K. Simmons from, Juno, OZ and Oscar favorite for his newest movie "Whiplash"

And we met lots of new people.

What did I learn the most? People are people, be it celebrities, publicists, media or fans. We all have a job to do, and do our very best every day. 

I also learned that it's good to be nervous. It keeps you excited, on your toes, learning, ready for more exciting adventures.

And we all dream: Dream our movies will be blockbusters, our clients will get get a feature in PEOPLE, our writing will touch people and that we will meet our favorite celebrities.

And now? Now, I dream of something even bigger. Not covering the red carpet, but actually walking the red carpet. As a nominee.

Because who knows?

Isn't that why we dream? Because we must?

And because, every now and then, dreams do come true.

Putting the "Thanks" in Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The following is an essay I wrote for Metrosource Magazine, and it got such an amazing reaction, I wanted to share it with you. No matter where you are for Thanksgiving, or who you are with (or without), I wish you much love, happiness and -- of course -- marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes! 

The cutout of my hand was waving back at me, and I couldn't contain my tears.

It was the first Thanksgiving after my mother's death, and I had reluctantly gone to the basement to look through the orange storage containers that held our family's fall holiday dishes, mementos and decorations.
I had come as a test: Yes, or no to celebrating Thanksgiving this year.
There, on top, sat the childish art project my mother had helped me make decades earlier. I remembered her tracing my little hand onto a sheet of construction paper, before we cut it out and colored it to create a Thanksgiving turkey.
"Wade," my mother's looping handwriting stated on the turkey's belly.
The beautiful thing about my childish art project was that my mother had let me fashion pearls around the turkey's neck. I had also given the gobbler heels. It was more Carol Channing than Tom Turkey.
And it perfectly summed up my relationship with my mother. We celebrated each other's quirks and uniqueness without judgment.
I couldn't stop crying in the basement. I had failed my test.
"No Thanksgiving," I said to Gary, when he greeted me at the top of the stairs. "I can't do it."
He held me.
I just couldn't bear celebrating Thanksgiving without my mother. It was the first major holiday since her death, which still felt so raw.

My mother adored Thanksgiving.
She happily rose at dawn to start cooking. She loved to drink coffee and watch the Macy's Day Parade after fixing a big country breakfast.
She relished her Riesling.
And yet – like the turkey she helped me make as a kid – my mother was a juxtaposition of the traditional and non-traditional.
Yes, we did a green bean casserole with Durkee's French onions. Yes, we had stuffing. Yes, the sweet potatoes were topped with marshmallows.
But, my mom loved experimenting with one new dish each year: Fresh cranberries with dates, walnuts and orange. Or, a caramel-apple tart instead of a pumpkin pie.
Celebrating Thanksgiving without my mom would be like celebrating without the turkey. The thing I looked most forward to, the person for whom I was most thankful, was gone. I couldn't imagine simply enduring this holiday. It would never be the same.
As the weeks passed and Thanksgiving neared, Gary said to me one morning, before I'd had the chance to fully caffeinate, "We're hosting Thanksgiving, and all of your family is coming."
I spat my latte.
"No!" I insisted.
"Yes!" he persisted. "Your mother would want you to celebrate."
"I hate platitudes!" I yelled.
"It's the truth."
I Zombie-walked through the early morning prep for Thanksgiving and greeted my family in similar fashion.
When it came time to set the table mid-morning, I headed to the basement to retrieve the décor and my turkey cutout was still waving at me.
I lost it yet again.
"Think of how much your mother loved this holiday," Gary whispered to me, out of earshot of the family. "Why are you trying so hard to forget about her? Why don't you treat her like she's still here? Because she is. And she always will be."
His words resonated, changed me, almost instantly.
So, I went upstairs and sat a place at the table for my mom.
I put out my hand turkey as a centerpiece.
I ran to the store, where I picked up the ingredients to make fresh cranberries with dates, walnuts and orange, as well as a parsnips recipe she'd wanted to make for years but that the family had pooh-pooh'ed.
I watched the Macy's Parade.
I drank too much coffee and then too much wine.
I cried like a baby, and I laughed like a mad man.
Mostly, my family and I celebrated my mother, and when I gave thanks, I thanked my mom for being such a wonderful, loving, beautiful, quirky presence in my life.
And then I cleaned the dishes and put up the decorations, the little turkey cutout of my hand waving goodbye as I placed it on the top of the storage bin.
"Never goodbye," I said, returning its wave. "Until next year."