Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hello from Sodden New England

Which is slightly better than Snowy New England, which we were just three days ago. Five inches of snow on April 4?! Seriously, we've had more snow since the official first day of spring than in the whole of winter. Today, at least, is rain. And rain melts snow. So sodden it is.

Besides, good practice for my upcoming trip to Ireland :)

I keep drafting elegant, witty posts in my head and never manage to get them out my fingers. Random it is.

What Irritates Me These Days

1. Memes that say things like "The best way to stay happy is to let go of what makes you sad." What if what's making you sad is that your oldest child, your firstborn little blonde boy who loved cookies and Star Wars and aliens has been doing hard drugs for several years? What if you're traumatized from an intervention day on which you could see your child's death as clearly as if he were lying in his coffin? What if he screams at you and walks out and lives on the streets for a week rather than go to treatment? What if he believes that drugs are not the problem--the problem is you and dad? How do I let go of my child?

(Edited: no need to give me advice. Really. I know that the answer is to let go of my fears and hopes and blah, blah, blah . . . and believe me, I have done that as much as any human mother is capable of. I let my son stay on the streets even while he texted that the needed me, that he had nothing to eat, that he was scared . . . I didn't break because he had an option, the option of treatment, and because I knew without a doubt that if we gave in short of treatment, he would die. Sooner rather than later. And I absolutely refused to let him die while using my money to kill himself.)

(Also, he is safe now. In a year-long residential program just two hours from us designed for young men his age. He is safe, he is clean, and he is in the best possible place and with the best possible people to get healthy. He might still be mad at us, but I can live with that. But if I see one more image of letting go of a balloon or curlicued script urging me to be happy by walking away from whatever is bad . . . I might punch something.)

2. Snow in spring. See first paragraph.

3. Meds that make me gain weight, and make it incredibly hard to lose it again.


5. Car accidents. In the midst of the parental trauma of the winter, I managed to total my car. My pretty little Kia Soul that was the first personal thing I bought with book money. Hit a car in front of me when it stopped suddenly and next thing you know I'm on a stretcher going to the ER (I'm fine) and my car is being towed off never to be driven again. It was really just an awful winter. I think I aged ten years in two months.

What Makes Me Happy These Days

1. A new car. Another pretty little Kia Soul, this one in Alien Green that my kids hate. But they're not invited to drive it, so there.

2. Being able to sleep at night without fear a ringing phone will tell me my son is dead.

3. Spring. Even sodden. Crocuses, daffodils, and tulips are the best flowers in the world. I get giddy when I see them coming up through the winter dirt.

4. Travel. After seeing our son safely into treatment, my husband and I took a week-long trip to Orlando. Stayed on property at Universal, went to the parks, ate really good food, spent several days in a rented pool cabana doing nothing but eating and sleeping . . . it was perfect. And for spring break, my daughter and I are going to Ireland for a week. Mostly Dublin, though we'll take a couple trips outside the city. The primary reason is for her to visit Trinity College and take a tour--it's among her top choices for university.

And . . . let's just say my husband is planning to write off the expenses of this trip as research. Which is all I can say at the moment. But perhaps by the time I return I can elaborate :)

5. BOOKS MAKE ME HAPPY! AND BOOK PEOPLE! AND THE KINDNESS OF READERS EMAILING ME!!!! I have so much to make up for these last months of absence. I can only say that my neglect of my readers is no more than my neglect of every person in my daily life. I have been an awful daughter, an awful friend--we won't even get started on how long and deeply I've dwelt in guilt about my mothering--and an awful author. Writing has been . . . tolerable. Which is to say some of it happened. But the other parts of authoring? Not so much.

I can't promise to be who I'm not. But I can promise that I'm tired of living in the exhaustion of hour to hour fear. I'm tired of thinking about nothing but keeping myself and my family alive. It's time to love things again. To participate in the world again. To remind myself that isolation can become permanent and crippling if allowed.

I like the world. Thanks for still being here :)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Top Book Boyfriend

Look, this game could go on for quite some time. I am 47, and I have been reading since I was 4. I have been falling in love with boys in books as far back as Frank and Joe Hardy solving crimes and Almanzo Wilder wooing Laura Ingalls with his gorgeous horses. If I had unlimited time and energy, here are some of the men I could write about at length if pressed. (If we ever meet in person, feel free to ask me to expand.) 

Ramses Emerson: The Peabody Egyptology series by Elizabeth Peters
Hugh of Harrowfield: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Will Herondale: The Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare
Locke Lamora: Gentleman Bastard books by Scott Lynch
Thomas Lynley: Elizabeth George's Lynley mysteries
Levi: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

And that's leaving out fictionalized accounts of historical figures, like Sharon Kay Penman's Llewellyn the Great in Here be Dragons or Richard of Gloucester in The Sunne in Splendour.

But back to the manner at hand, that of naming my number one, best of the best, favorite book boyfriend of all time: 

Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter, Comte de Sevigny, and Marshal of France

In Dorothy Dunnett's six book series The Lymond Chronicles, she wanted to create a genius fit for the turbulent world of the mid-16th century. In an overall story covering the years 1547-1558, enter the slender, blue-eyed, golden-haired Scotsman known most familiarly as Lymond. 

I think I might love him for his titles alone--there aren't a lot of great titles in today's world. The first time I read The Lymond Chronicles, it took me to the end of the third book to fall for Francis Crawford. He's the epitome of a riddle wrapped in an enigma, something the author perpetuates by only very rarely using his point of view. He's a Renaissance man in the Tudor era, who can fight and love and deceive in multiple languages and across continents. He's charming, clever, athletic, cruel, loyal, dangerous, and vulnerable. And he recognizes a good woman when he meets one--even though it takes years for him to understand. 

On this Valentine Day, allow me to quote what I think is one of the most romantic declarations in literature--from Checkmate, the sixth and final book. When the woman he loves dares him to make her believe that he is "more amorous of her body than curious of her soul," Francis answers: 

"Gold bydeth ever bright. That is one blasphemy I cannot bring myself to commit. I love you . . . in every way known to man."

May your life--and books--be full of people to love this day and always :)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Fictional Crush Number Whatever . . .

How far back in time can I find honorable, damaged, too moody for their own good men?

How about Athos, Comte de la Fer, in 1620s France? I've long known the story of the Musketeers--it's one of those woven into our culture, especially if one is a lover of stories. And I've seen various filmed versions, but I had (shamefully) never read Dumas's book. Not until I stumbled across the BBC's current version of The Musketeers just over a year ago. Once I'd devoured the first season, off to Dumas it was for a binge reading of Porthos, Aramis, d'Artagnan, and . . . be still my heart . . . Athos.

Honorable? Check. Damaged? Check. Moody? Ha, ha, ha, ha, triple check. And a brilliant swordsman? What's not to adore?

Okay, I'm cheating a little bit with this one, because it's as much Tom Burke's interpretation that I'm in love with as the written version. But it's my blog, so I'll pick the fictional men I want to crush on according to my own terms, thank you very much. I mean, just watch him. It's like the character was created exactly for me:

Also, lest you think my husband likely to resent these posts, I have only to mention that, for my birthday, Chris gave me a photo of Athos signed by Tom Burke. My husband is the best, your argument is invalid.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Fictional Men 2 and 3

Faramir, Captain of Gondor (THE LORD OF THE RINGS/J.R.R. Tolkien)

In the film versions of Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is far and away my man, but before the films were the books and in the books, first read when I was 17, Faramir has my heart. What to make of a man who can resist the One Ring? Who fights for a father who torments him? Who lets Frodo go? Who falls in love with Eowyn . . . (I'll get to her in another post--Fictional Women I Wish I Could Be). So Faramir it is.

Peter Wimsey (The Wimsey Novels/Dorothy L. Sayers)

Younger son of a Duke, army captain in WWI who "had a bad war", collector of rare books and solver of mysteries in 1920s and 30s England. He babbles about anything and everything, sings like a professional, and has beautiful hands. He also has the good taste to fall head over heels for a mystery novelist the first time he sees her, as she's standing trial for her life. It's Harriet Vane who makes Peter human and crushable--I re-read the Peter/Harriet stories more often than the Peter stand-alones, just for the sheer pleasure of their interactions.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Men I Love on Valentine's Week . . .

Fictional men, that is.

Look, it's been a long and traumatic and incredibly stressful six months for me. In the last eight weeks, I have walked through the level of hell reserved for parents whose adult children are throwing themselves into a world of pain and madness and fight kicking and screaming every attempt to help them.

So that's very Valentine-y, isn't it? But perhaps a teensy bit of explanation for my longggggg silences online even when The Virgin's Spy released in November. And rest assured--I have not stayed in hell. Though it's there, threatening, living in a constant state of panic and despair accomplishes precisely nothing. So I'm clawing my way back into a world beyond my own home and family, and look! There are so many wonderful book people out here! Just what I need to remember who I am :)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. It is Valentine's Week. In honor of love, I'm going to post each day about a fictional crush. Not necessarily in any sort of order--although I am leaving my Number One Crush for the last day.

For today, let's take a look at JOHN TREGARTH from the Vicky Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. Better known for her Amelia Peabody Egyptology series, Peters wrote six books about art historian Vicky Bliss and the mysteries she more or less falls into investigating. I fell in love with John the first time he ran away from a gun in THE STREET OF THE FIVE MOONS. Art thief and avowed coward, John is apt to break into bad jokes at the most inopportune moments. He is not averse to defrauding the rich, but he has zero interest in risking his life. He also has a bad habit of leaving Vicky to pay the bills and, although she never knows when he'll show up, she does know that he'll bring trouble with him. (When John is presumed drowned at the end of one book, Vicky proposes as his epitaph: "He hath no drowning mark upon him; his face is perfect gallows.")

But she can't resist his insane sense of humor and his esoteric knowledge of English poetry--until he shows up with a pretty little wife and in the company of dangerous men in NIGHT TRAIN TO MEMPHIS. I defy anyone to read that book and not fall for John.

As a bonus, for fans of the Amelia Peabody series, the last book in the Vicky/John cycle links these two series in a hugely satisfying manner. Elizabeth Peters knew how to write clever, witty, stubborn men and John Tregarth is a great example. 

Tomorrow . . .

I haven't the faintest idea. Tune back in to find out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Just 13 days until THE VIRGIN'S SPY joins THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTER in the wild!! For all my very kind readers who have made these last few months bright in times of trouble, enjoy this teaser scene between Anabel and Kit :)

     Anne Isabella, Princess of Wales, had learned from her earliest years that she could nearly always get her way. Not many people had the power to say no to the daughter of two reigning monarchs, and so nineteen-year-old Anabel, when she was being particularly honest with herself, admitted that she was a bit spoiled.
     The trouble was, one only tended to realize that when one didn’t get one’s way. As now, with Kit Courtenay staring her down in refusal.
     “What do you mean ‘no’?” she demanded. “I have appointed you my Master of Horse. It wasn’t a request.”
     “Unless you mean me to operate in chains, than I am telling you that I very kindly decline the appointment.”
     “What is wrong with you, Kit? You’ve been irritable and difficult for months.”
     “Because I have a mind of my own and a wish to do more with my life than follow you around and offer you compliments? ‘How lovely you are today, Your Highness,”” he said in deadly mimicry of court sycophants. “‘The very image of your royal mother, but is that a touch of Spanish flair in your dress?’”
     Anabel’s temper went from raging to white-hot in a moment. In a chilly tone reminiscent of her father’s Spanish hauteur, she said, “Long acquaintance does not give you the right to insult me to my face.”
     Most unusually, Kit did not immediately respond. Anabel was used to his ready tongue and the quick wits that could spin any conversation a dozen dizzying directions without warning. But in the last months, his irritability had been accompanied by these bouts of reflection before speech.
     Kit did not apologize; she had not expected him to. But he offered something of an explanation. “I am growing older, just as you are. I do not have a throne waiting for me, nor even a title. Stephen inherits my father’s riches. I must make my own path. And I would prefer to do it without undue favoritism.”
     “And what of due favoritism? Do you expect me to appoint strangers to serve in my household?”
     “I am not insensible of the great honour, Your Highness. But I have made other plans. The Earl of Leicester is bound for Dublin and has appointed me his secretary. I leave for Ireland in two weeks.”
     “You’re going to Ireland with Brandon Dudley? To be a secretary?” Anabel laughed in disbelief. “Why not at least go as part of Stephen’s forces?”
     “If I’m not going to accept your favours, Anabel, I’m hardly likely to go begging to my brother.”
     That at least sounded like the Kit she had always known—irreverent and occasionally insolent. Although Anabel was as close to the Courtenay children as anyone, the princess occasionally studied relationships as an outsider and wondered if the pleasures of siblings outweighed the resentments.
     “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you would reconsider?” There was a wistfulness to her plea she had not expected.
      His quick, rueful grin was answer in itself. “You’ll be happier with someone more biddable, Your Highness. You and I should only spend our days arguing.”
But those are the best parts of my days, Anabel thought forlornly. Arguing with you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September is Gold.

Gold for Children with Cancer. Those in treatment, those in remission, those who have survived and the too many who have not.

Childhood Cancer is not the only significant affliction of our family past and present, but it is--perhaps ironically--the simplest to talk about. Or, in my case, write about.

Seven years ago, I had four children between the ages of seven and fifteen. Three of those children lost a great deal of my time and attention that year of 2008. All four of my children lost a bit of their innocence. And what was gained?

Jake's life. Compassion. Empathy. An awareness of how the sweet and the bitter of life are much too entangled to ever separate.


     Monday, January 21, 2008 was a holiday, Martin Luther King Day. It was also the day I’d been dreading since the moment I heard the word cancer. (Did I ever hear the word cancer? Interesting, now that I think about it. Did any doctor use that generic word? I don’t think so. It was always specific. Always Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma.)
     I get the feeling I’m going to be digressing a lot while I write this.
     Hair should not have been one of my biggest concerns at this point. It had only been nineteen days since Jake’s diagnosis, nineteen days in which we’d been bombarded with information and emotions and experiences we’d never expected to have. What’s the big deal with hair?
     I’ll never forget the first bald child I saw in ICS at Primary Children’s. It was the day of Jake’s diagnosis, January 2nd. A Wednesday. I hadn’t slept since Monday night. Tuesday night was spent in two ERs and driving and waiting. We began Wednesday in the surgical unit expecting a biopsy later that day. By Wednesday afternoon we were officially part of the Immune-Compromised Service on the 4th floor. My husband drove up. I was, apparently, functioning enough that I still had to do things like drink and pee.
     I walked out of Jake’s room in the B-pod to get a drink and at the charge nurse’s desk there was a father with a little girl, maybe four or five, with a bright pink fabric headband on her bald head.
     I wept. Because no little girl should be bald. Because no child should lose their hair from toxic drugs. Because my son was a cancer child and someday soon, everyone would know it just by looking at him.
     I played it brave. We suggested to Jake that he preemptively shave, that he get a mohawk, that he choose a pattern to shave into the side of his head while he still could. He wouldn’t talk about it. He just said he’d wait.
     He didn’t have to wait long. By January 21st, he’d had one complete round of VAC in the hospital and two clinic visits for vincristine and d-actinomycin. How much damage could three treatments of chemo drugs do? I thought we’d have longer.
     Jake came to church on Sunday, January 20th, the first time since his diagnosis. His friends were delighted. They sat on the back row, all these brave, smart, handsome 11-year-old boys. As I finished music time, I walked to the back of the room. And then I heard voices: “Sister Andersen, look!”
     Jake had pulled out a clump of his hair.
     You know what I remember about those boys? That they thought it was cool. And I loved that. They weren’t afraid, or freaked out, or disgusted. They thought it was cool. So I swallowed and smiled and my heart broke one little bit more.
     Which brings us to January 21st. Thank goodness it was a holiday, because my husband was home. I couldn’t have done it alone. I didn’t want to do it at all. Jake’s friends wanted to shave their heads, too. I suggested we get everyone together for a party. When he said no, I suggested I take him to a salon. He said he wanted to be alone and he wanted me to do it.
     So I shaved my son’s head. His head of beautiful, straight, exceptionally thick hair. The only one of my children who had my dark hair. On the floor. Caught on towels. Drifting through the kitchen so that for the next week I’d see bits of it wafting in a draft.
     I don’t know how Jake felt. I can guess, in his desire for solitude, in his devout wish not to anticipate the moment, a hope that maybe it wouldn’t happen. Maybe time would turn back. Maybe none of this was really happening.
     His friends did shave their heads several weeks later during a scout activity. Jake was there and I think (thought it’s only a guess) that he felt a little more in control because he’d done it already and he was still functioning. Heaven knows he had precious little control of anything much; I couldn’t begrudge him what he did have.
     When I looked at that row of brave, smart, handsome, bald 11-year-old boys, I wept again. Because they saw Jake, and they didn’t flinch. He was a cancer child—but he was their friend first. I told them: “Someday you will have children, and when you do you will know how I feel about you today.”
     On the Friday of Jake’s first stay in the hospital, a little boy checked into the room across the hall. He was there for a follow-up stay, as Jake would be fourteen times in the coming months. As little as this boy was, he knew the drill. He’d already grabbed a tricycle and he walked around the halls without fear.
     On top of his bald head was a beautiful blue arrow edged in red, painted there by his mother.

     Did I think cancer child when I saw him? Yes. But only for a moment, and then I saw the child himself and knew that cancer wasn’t who he was, it was something he was doing. And he was doing it great. And I hoped, someday, we could say the same.