Sunday, March 31, 2019

Saying good bye

I am saying good-bye to the Flanagans and the Kellys and it is both a happy and sad moment. They have existed in my imagination and computer database since 2004 when I created them as I wrote Triple Decker.

When I write, my characters become real to me. I can feel when dressmaker Peggy pricks her finger on a pin and worries about blood on a fabric.

I want to slap Katie when her unbending and old-fashioned morality makes life difficult for her daughter Jess to develop her relationship with Globe reporter Aidan, the way the young woman feels is best.

I can cry with Peggy when her son is killed. If I couldn’t go to Fort Bragg to protest the war, I could send Peggy. I did enough research to see the flag-draped cardboard cartons and hear the bagpipes playing for Peggy to experience.

I understand Peggy’s frustration working in an uncaring corporate environment.

The Mission Hill neighborhood is not a creation, but a recounting of a world changing through gentrification.

If the Flanagans and Kellys are figments of my imagination, they are composites of the many families that lived in Mission Hill.

I have a friend with a six-year old son, who is a great story teller. But as he told his grandfather, a story has to have a problem. The Flanagans and Kellys have their problems. In one way, the Flanagans and Kellys remind me of my two French-Canadian aunts who were still fighting about a prom dress in their seventies. However, let any outsider be a threat to the other, and that sister would come out swinging.

Marriages survive but husbands and wives grate on another. The Flanagans and the Kellys are no different. Peggy’s “Old Goat” frustrated her, but she protected him with the ferocity of the clichéd mother lion protecting her cubs.

As they go through the transitions in their lives, the transitions I put them through, I almost want to apologize to them for making them suffer.

I put the novel aside for well over a decade, although from time-to-time I thought of my imaginary friends. Their stories remained buried in my computer but rose to my mind’s surface by miscellaneous triggers.

After writing Coat Hangers and Knitting Needles, I was drained. It was my first non-fiction book about abortion before Roe v. Wade and it was painful. In fiction, it is possible to make things better for characters, but in non-fiction, suffering cannot be sugar-coated if you are looking for reality.

For the first time in my life, I could not write, with the exception of blogs.

The way back to writing happened in two steps. I found a publisher for Murder in Edinburgh and brought out Triple Decker from the depths of my database.

It was like a homecoming. As I walked through the rooms of the Triple Decker, it was as if Peggy greeted me and said, “I’ll put the kettle on.” I’d forgotten things like the claw-foot tub in Peggy’s bathroom which she’d painted blue and stenciled with flowers. I wanted some of the goodies the families has prepared for the Super Bowl despite how the day changed their lives forever.

So, after several months of getting reacquainted and polishing and after my husband put the book through his own severe and welcomed critiqued, I will send it off to be readied for its publication later this year.

The cover is done. For the first time, there will be art work within the book, something this publisher is willing to do.

In a few moments, I will hit the send button and it will arrive at the publishers.

I have the same feeling I had when I took my then 18-year old daughter to Logan Airport for her gap year at a German Gymnasium both sadness to see them go and a combination of relief and pride to see them go.

Friday, March 29, 2019


I always admired Teddy Roosevelt. I've visited his home twice and read biographies.

He wrote about his ideas on immigrants and being an AMERICAN in 1907 that were posted on Facebook.

I had mixed feelings. The first part I agree with whole-heartedly.

In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin."

The second part I have more trouble with. One cannot eliminate part of their life, their early cultural heritage, nor should they be asked to do so.

"But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American … There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag …

The analogy that comes to mind is a parent who has a second child. They should not be made to give up the first child. To ask someone to give up part of their life, is like taking a plant and replanting it.
New roots grow. If someone came along and cut off the roots nearest the plant, the plant would die.

On the other hand if the new roots that grew were cut off, the plant also could die because there is not enough to tie them to the soil.

In this global world the roots from both places can make the plant more beautiful.

We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language … and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

I agree that people should speak the language of the country where they hold citizenship, but to limit oneself to a single language shuts out knowledge of literature, news and information about the rest of the world. Studies since Roosevelt's time show that being multi-lingual is good for the brain.

People change countries for many reasons and times. It can be the bad ones, bombs, natural disasters, a dictator, uncontrolled crime, The good ones can be adventure, a better job, falling in love with a person from another country, studying, research or anything the human mind can imagine.

When I had to chose between a bank account and my birth country, I gave up being a dual, but that does not stop me caring about my birth country. Nor does caring about my birth country make me care any less about the country that has taken me in.

I sometimes think about myself as an international with deep, deep ties to two places that have been so part of what makes me who I am.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A forced no grid day

This is a dueling blog with my husband.

For almost a year Saturdays were off the grid days: no email, no internet, no news. It didn’t really matter what Trump did or the latest Brexit flumdiddle (that is not a real word, but Brexit seems like an equally made up event).

What peace we felt, not dealing with the insanity of the world. Some projects which had been postponed for far too long, miraculously got done.

But since we went back to Geneva for the winter, work and other projects seemed to override the no grid day.

Today, Rick was beginning a new week, his first without being in an intensive French class several hours daily. I was doing a final glance through of Triple Deckers ready to send off to the publisher.

As I was heading for the shower and he was looking at Facebook before starting his next client project, he said, “Internet’s down.”

It happens and it usually comes back quickly. 

Forget usually. It is now suppertime and it still isn’t up.

We don’t know if the telecoms truck out on the street spied when Sherlock was being walked was responsible or not. Or it could be a problem with the landlord’s system. We are tied together.

The TV is also out of commission.

We wrote around the internet, walked the dog. Rick had a phone call and made it out in the car where he could get a signal. I even got back to my novel Daycare and wrote about 500 words.

I did some chores too, made lunch, played with the dog and read.

It wasn’t that long ago when I never had the internet although it was rare to be without the television. 

The publisher will not have a heart attack if the manuscript comes in tomorrow.

I did have one horrible thought. How bad would it have been had I not had enough to read.


Sunday, March 24, 2019


Violets are my favorite flower and today, I spotted two tiny patches, one in the garden outside the door and one on a country walk. 

That's all--two patches less than a few inches across in an area that covers kilometers.

As a child I grew up on 14 acres of land. In the spring if we left by the back door, past the two maple trees with our swing hanging between them, past the circle of purple irises, past the apple tree with the pink blossoms, we were at the top of a small hill.

That hill was covered with violets, yards and yards and yards. I always wanted to eat a grape Popsicle ever time I looked at the lawn of purple violets. 

My mother and I would pick a bouquet each year. We'd pick and pick and pick. Sometimes the bouquet was eight to ten inches.

We'd take the flowers home and put them in a pewter pitcher, that was usually used for water at meals, but was relinquished for flower-duty in the spring. When it was first filled, water would condense on the surface making trails and patterns.

I still have the pitcher in my Nest in the South of France. After more than a century and a half of use (it was my great grandmother's in the 1880s) it leaks. I use it for ladles, spoons and spatulas, not as pretty as the violets, but efficient as a holder of kitchen utensils and happy memories.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Breakfast and chocolate serendippity

Rick and I were meeting the chocolate tour we planned to take at the Starbucks, Quai des Bergues, in Geneva.

It was a perfect weather day, unusual in Switzerland. We walked hand-in-hand along the quai, admiring the swans and the water so clear, we could see bumps on the rocks under the surface.We noted the sky was almost as blue as in the South of France, a special treat for Geneva at this time of year.

The goal was to grab a quick bite at Starbucks, not a big one, for we anticipated the chocolate to come.

Peeking in the window of the Ambassador hotel, we saw the diners at tables with Clorox-white cloths eating breakfast. So often, I wish I had the courage to go up to a dinner and using my own fork, say, "Can I sample this?" and then do. I never have and probably never will unless they bring back Candid Camera and hire me as one of the presenters.

"Do you want to get a special breakfast?" My beloved asked.

"If we can," I said.

The wait staff said it wasn't a problem. One of the servers, a man in his 40s with the most beautiful blue eyes, took our coats and directed us to the buffet for the perfect eggs, beans, cheeses, salmon, juices, sausage and an assortment of breads, jams and honey.

I ordered a hot chocolate, half in preparation for the tour, half just because. The waiter brought a pitcher of steaming milk and a packet of cocoa powder.

I love watching the powder dissolve into the milk. Like pretending clouds have special shapes, I can pretend the chocolate is something more than melting chocolate, although today, the word amoeba was the first thing that came to mind.

We had well over an hour to savor our surprise breakfast. As always, we had lots to chat about, before paying and walking across the street to the tour.

We still had room to sample the chocolate and we di d.

Rick did a dueling blog
aabout our chocolatey morning. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Eating books

People have said I eat books. I do read a lot and for fun and information.

One of the disadvantages of living outside a mother-tongue area is feeding my habit. Even though I can get books, they aren't always the ones I would buy at the moment, if my selection choices are larger.
  • There are limited stores with English books, usually marked up
  • Ordering by mail ups the cost. 
  • Kindle is a good alternative especially if I run out of reading material late at night. 
  • The English library in Geneva is a perfect solution for the latest books but we aren't always in Geneva.
  • People share
  • When we're in the UK or Scotland the charity shops 
  • Book exchanges, formal and informal,
However, none of it matches eating Friday night dinner in Harvard Square, listening to the street musicians and then going to any or all of the bookstores to load up for the week.

This month I found a new source.

Crossing the border into France to grocery shop, the supermarket B1 has a book exchange with selections in French, German and English. Between the English Library book sale and B1 I will be able to recirculate most of my books as well as have a new source. A few I keep.

The other day I found a memoir, Life Class, which I began this morning. What a delight.

Out of curiosity, I started listing books I've read and the pages.

It isn't as much as I thought. More of an apèro than a full-course dinner. Still books are delicious.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

International Happiness Day

On Facebook I regularly publish a list of things that make me happy. I don't need a special day.

Most of the things aren't exceptional. Flowers in winter or those that pop up as spring is about to arrive.

My dog finding a sunbeam to sleep in.

A cup of tea, or the tea my husband brings me each morning.

What I never quite lose track of is how incredibly lucky I am. Not that I haven't had my downs. My divorce was definitely not a happy time, but it opened the world to the life I was meant to lead.

There was worry about my daughter's childhood illness that now is just a memory. And being a two-time cancer survivor had memories that were more full of fear than happiness. Even around those more difficult time, there were moments of joy.

I have everything in life that I want and more. The rest is detail.

Monday, March 18, 2019


What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

As a writer I name a lot of people. I am having a major problem with one character, that turned up as a surprise to me in the novel Day Care that is about 40,000 words done.

First, she wasn't supposed to be a character at all, but was part of an exercise I was doing where a writer was interviewing my main characters: Anne-Marie, Maura, Sally and Ashley. Those four women's names fell in place from the first touch of my finger to the keyboard.

Then Character X took over the novel, shifting the focus. I started with the name Susan Ainsworth. It didn't fit so I switch to Lauren. The problem with using Lauren, I keep picturing a writer friend Lauren, and Ms Ainsworth doesn't look anything like the real Lauren.

Names need to reflect place: geographically and in time. I know romantic novels often do exotic names. I have forgotten the book, but I remember a male character from Louisiana named Cash Boudreau. Boudreau is a good Cajun name and also my maiden name. But Cash?

The character was also known for his exceptional blue eyes, another trick in romantic novels but frowned upon in other genera.  

Where do I get names?

Often from lists of popular names for the year the character was born. Susan was number 11 in 1969. Lauren wasn't on the list. I new Jessica and Jennifer were popular from the number of Jessicas and Jennifers in my daughter's (born 1969) classes throughout school.

When was writing Murder in Argelès, I walked through the cemetery with a notebook taking down names and birth years. For Murder on Insel Poel, I went through the telephone book on the island. Murder in Geneva I read history books about the city from the period of Calvin.  

Murder in Edinburgh? A variation of the method although not all male characters could be named Duncan or Malcolm.

Now I'm thinking of the name Cynthia, not Cindy and definitely not Cindi for my new character.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


Saturday was a magic day and not just because of the perfect, almost-spring weather and blue skies that had to be created by some artist's pallet.

The marché at Ferney with its colored umbrellas and a bit of every merchandise imaginable as well as all the fruits, veggies, breads, meats, cheeses, flowers. We gave into temptation and bought white asparagus, vintage tomato, raspberry tea cake and mimosa.

Chats were exchanged with different vendors all who had perfected the radiant smile.

A trip to the library provided another meaningful conversation with the volunteer library staff, one whom I've known for years, the other new.

Then the bank in Collogny to make some payments. I stayed outside with Sherlock, who met a couple of other pooches, sniffed around the grass. His tail kept wagging.

We then completed another step in our on-going quest to find where the Shelleys along with Lord Byron lived in 1816. No trace of Frankenstein, however. I think our next stop will be to ask at the mairie.

Photo by my writing friend Jay Käy Ëss

After a really lovely day, we headed for home, but instead of staying on the straight road, he veered left and stopped at our favorite view of the Jura.

We used the benches at the top of the Knoll where Sherlock played.

A tourist boat and a few sail boats were on the lake and we could see planes coming in to land.

The Jura were covered in snow, but I was warm enough to shed my coat.

Such a sense of peace.

Such a sense of having everything in the world that I could possible want.

Man has been in the area since the beginning of time. Julius Caesar walked along the shore of the lake. I am sure Byron and the Shelleys looked at the same lake, mountains and sky. A writing friend had taken a photo from the exact spot. For a brief moment in time I shared an experience with people who lived eons ago and throughout the ages.

Another car pulled up and three teenage boys popped out and sat on the knoll's grass.

We stood up to go. I told them the bench was free.

The events may be over, but the magic of the day, is embossed in my memory.