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."

Summer!


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. 

KEEP WRITING & DREAMING! xo 


EQUALITY!

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.
"What?"
"It's centenarian. Not centaurian."
"Whatever."

To read the full blog visit :

http://www.chicklitcentral.com/2015/03/go-to-gay-with-blink-and-smile.html



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."

Libraries Change Lives

Thursday, October 23, 2014


"As a child, my number one best friend was the librarian in my grade school. I actually believed all those books belonged to her."-Erma Bomeck



I was honored to be the kickoff keynote speaker for the Michigan Library Association's 2014 annual conference in October. The event was held in Grand Rapids at the Amway Grand, and the entire experience matched the hotel's name and beauty: It was a grand day.

I received such an overwhelmingly positive response to my keynote, on which I talked about my enduring love for libraries and my gratitude for their influence on my life, that I was asked to share some of my thoughts. A few excerpts follow.

My suggestion? Visit your local library. Our libraries are not only worlds of information and enchantment for children and adults, they remain the centers of our communities.


***************

This morning is particularly special to me because one of my earliest and fondest memories is going to the library, hand in hand with my grandmother, who used to volunteer there. Walking inside our local library, to me, was akin to entering heaven. It smelled like another world, a magical world, a world filled with secrets that I needed to know.

My grandmother was a voracious reader, and she and my mother helped make me one as well. My grandmother's two favorite books were The Bible and Walden, and she jokingly said that in the Ozarks, where I grew up, it was heresy to read much else than the Bible or to put any book on a similar level. But she felt reading wasn't just great entertainment but a key to understanding the world and those who were different than she was.

I spent hours in that library, reading, talking to the librarians about their favorite books. It was there that I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys (Nancy Drew, of course, came first for me!). I read Where the Red Fern Grows and Call of the Wild. I read newspapers. I read magazines. I even read Erma Bombeck.

My grandmother's refrain was always: " How many books do you think you can read this week?"



Every summer was spent with my grandma and grampa at their log cabin on Sugar Creek. We had nothing but each other and books: No microwave, no TV, no phone. When my grandma would head up for groceries, she would also return with a truckload of books. She would read to me as we rocked on a glider that sat on a bluff overlooking the water, I would read in tree swings and on innertubes as I floated in circles. I would read on our rocky beach and by candlelight before I went to bed.

I read, and I read, and I read. And that's when I started to write.

I often felt as if I didn't fit in, and the local library served as my refuge. I was encouraged not only to read, but to be smart, to think critically, to think beyond the small world in which I lived. More than anything, I was encouraged to dream, and let me tell you this, once that seed is planted, it immediately takes root in a child's soul. There is nothing bigger, or more special, than a dream.


Even in college and graduate school, libraries remained the center of my – and my friends' – world. That is where we studied, we researched, we gathered, we read.

And despite the stunning sea change in our library system today – as well as in publishing, believe me, I understand – that core has remain unchanged. Reading changes lives. Books change lives. Libraries change lives. And they remain the centers of our communities and our lives. I'm here to restate the obvious: What you do changes lives.

It changed mine.

And it continues to do so:  I have traveled the US speaking at libraries – from Michigan, to Chicago, to California and the Carolinas – and I have been stunned at their enduring power. I have spoken to children in grade school and to women in their 90s. You have made me feel – more than anywhere else save for our nation's independent booksellers – that what I do is vitally important. And if you don't think that fuels a writer's soul – you are very mistaken.

So, I simply want to say, upfront, what I'm sure too few people say to you on any given day: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.