follow tali on ...

the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.

Back on Campus

I was traveling last week for work, and the majority of the time was spent recruiting. I don't normally recruit, but once or twice a year the company sends me to the universities where I attended college and graduate school. Recruiting itself is a bit unsettling, mostly because it feels almost like playing God. Being the one making the decisions (sometimes on the spot) that will so significantly alter the lives of these kids is more responsibility than I'm comfortable with, not to mention no matter how many openings you have, you still have to turn oodles of wonderfully capable kids away. But I still look forward to these trips and for the chance they give me to return to my old stomping grounds and remember the experiences I had on campus years ago. An added highlight now that Schooled has been published is to remember the events included in the book. For instance, I walked by the dorm where I lived and harbored multiple cats, poked my head inside one of the restrooms I used to clean during my 4:00 AM custodial shift, and ate at the cafeteria from which I used to steal cookies.

Though this has nothing to do with my actual purpose in being there, my favorite thing to do while on campus is to get inside a few of the English classes. Seeing as how I was in their shoes a decade ago and have now somewhat surprisingly ended up with a budding business career, I like to get in front of English students and make sure they realize that business is an option for them, and one in which they can make a big difference. I had contacted my favorite professor (he's in the book) beforehand, and he had me speak to a handful of his classes. What a great experience it was to speak to these students, not just as an author, but as an established professional, even though when in their shoes I hadn't had any idea what I would do with my life. "Tali Nay!" the professor said as he initiated a round of applause after my remarks. "Success in LIFE!" he bellowed. And I know that I'm just me, that I've done nothing grand, and that my little book is hardly (read: is not) a money-maker, but hearing him say that has led me to hope that these students can indeed took to me as someone who has been successful in life. And to all the students I met last week, I wish to say this: You are lovely, talented, and poised to make it in this world, even if you have no idea yet how you'll do that. And also, if you see a cat, you should take him in. It will make a great chapter in a book someday.


Evening at Beehive Books


I meant to put this up last week, that I had such a good time at Beehive Books. As far as indie bookstores go, Beehive is a relatively new one. With a full service coffee shop in the front, it's got a very modern feel, and I was impressed with the overall look and feel of the store. A special thanks to those who stopped to chat and those who came out to see me!!






Popularity Rehash

I had a dream about high school last night, that I was back in it. The reason, no doubt, is a review of Schooled that popped up this week, one that was quite critical of my story. I'm a big girl and can handle it just fine, and really the part of her review that I should focus on is the part that said she thoroughly enjoyed my writing and would buy any book I wrote (hard to imagine asking more from a reader), and I must further state here that I am so grateful for book reviewers in general; that they are willing to read the copies I send out and post their thoughtful and honest reactions. As an author, I truly appreciate the feedback.

The writer of this review said it was hard to hear me complain about being unpopular when it seemed like I had it all. And I've been thinking about this, because she isn't the first person to throw me a "You weren't popular? It sounds like you were" kind of comment. While I might argue that valedictorian and leads in the school musicals do nothing whatsoever to make a person popular, I do see her point. I had so many advantages and opportunities in those years that I suppose I shouldn't have complained about anything, ever. But as I tried to point out in the "On Popularity" section of the book, there is a difference between being successful and being popular. Advantages and opportunities aside, I was lonely. I remember begging the front office staff to let me have my own locker in high school because I had no one to share with. So the point of the book is not to pass myself off as a tragic figure (because I never was one), but rather to examine how even in the midst of academic success, all the average girl really cares about while in school is fitting in, having friends, and being perceived as worthy of the hallways' elite.

Bottom line: I get this reviewer's beef, I do. It could be easy to read my book and end up feeling frustrated that I still had the nerve to complain about anything, given my academic success and the admittedly charmed life I led. And had I not been inflicted with a warped adolescent brain back then, I might have been able to see that at the time and just appreciated this success instead of wish for the one thing I didn't have, which was acceptance by the popular kids. Because in the end popularity makes no difference. Although if that's the case, I wonder why I had my own locker even in my dream last night. Maybe it's a sign. Maybe I haven't come very far after all. Maybe I still crave that acceptance. Maybe I always will.



I recently answered some questions for a small local paper, so I thought I'd put the link up here in case you want to check it out. And Schooled is officially available in the Cleveland Public Library System! So go put your name on the reserve list!

Here's the Q&A link on The Heights Observer Blog.


On Terrorism

When I originally wrote this for Schooled, I didn't like the way it turned out, so it didn't make it into the book. It's a hard topic to feel like you have any business writing about. Not that I've really had a chance to change it much since I wrote it, but I thought given the day that I would share it here. Well out of harm's way on the other side of the country when it happened, it's hardly significant, but for what it's worth, here's what it looked like to me:

It's the beginning of a new school year, my junior year in college, and my roommate Ashley comes barreling into our room one Tuesday morning. I'm still in bed, and she yells for me to wake up.


    "Tali! The Pentagon has been blown up and the United States has no defense right now!"


    And she runs back out of the room.


    I have no idea what she’s talking about, but it sounds serious, so I crawl out of bed and follow after her. She’s got the TV on, and it’s showing pictures of the Pentagon, although it looks intact other than a corner that’s billowing thick black smoke.


    The news coverage is scattered and chaotic, the way it always is when the world is in crisis; the kind of event that has newscasters scrambling to turn the air over to anyone who can shed any light whatsoever on what’s happening. Although for all the talking you hear when people are reporting on catastrophic events, it’s amazing how little people actually seem to know. They often look like idiots up there, volleying the screen time back and forth, getting info from people who weren’t even at the scene, turning the cameras to people to end up not even being at their posts. I suppose this morning will be no different.


    It takes a little while to make sense of everything being shown on TV, but we learn soon enough that the Pentagon is not even the half of it. The Pentagon is hardly any of it. Because it turns out a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. No, wait, a plane was crashed into the World Trade Center. At this point in my life, I’ve never been to New York City, and until today, I don’t know that I’ve ever even heard of the World Trade Center. That might make me unfortunate and horribly sheltered, but let’s table that for now. Because the images on TV are becoming increasingly more disturbing. The second plane’s impact as it goes into the south tower, the buildings on fire, the streets later filled with smoke and ash and debris.


    As the news channels piecemeal their stories, the details come together. A plane in the north tower, a second plane in the south tower. A separate crash into the Pentagon. A fourth attempt foiled by passengers and crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania. All this initiated by terrorists who hijacked these planes and orchestrated this horrific series of events. These are the facts, yet I find myself getting caught up in the details.


    Like the phone call a woman on one of the planes made to her husband. They’ve been talking about it all morning, because he’s some sort of big wig. A politician, maybe? She called to tell him what was happening, even though there was nothing that could be done, and there was no doubt some sort of goodbye exchanged between them. It is perhaps the saddest thing I’ve ever heard about. Not because a man lost his wife, because that happens every hour of every day, surely. But because this woman sat on a plane that was doomed. Her life taken from her in the most sinister and horrific of ways, and there must have been a moment when she realized she would never get off that plane. Maybe that’s the moment she called her husband.


    The plight of this woman—and all the other flight victims—is a detail I can’t get past this morning. I know a large part of this is the fact that flying already makes me uneasy. It always has. I can imagine almost nothing worse than the pandemonium that must immediately precede a plane crash. And in addition to that, this morning’s victims had to deal with the prolonged knowledge that their flights were doomed. And they were helpless.


    The footage from New York City is now showing people actually jumping from the towers to their deaths, victims who are trapped on the floors above the impact and have no way out. It strikes me as the worst possible option, the long freefall followed by skull-crushing cement. Wouldn’t they want to hang on in case a way out surfaced? Maybe the smoke would clear, maybe a path through the wreckage could be opened, maybe a helicopter could hover next to the building. Wouldn’t you wait it out for the maybe? It isn’t until years later—once I’ve had experience with a substantial burn that involves flame and flesh—that I understand why these people jumped. If the other option was burning to death, I’d jump too. Still, images of tiny figures falling alongside the tower will haunt me for a long time, I know this already.


    Our other roommate, Beth, is on the phone with her mother, who tells us that the terrorists’ next action will likely be to poison our water supply. She suggests we go get as much water as we can, and so we do. The three of us drive to the supermarket, and I’m picturing a scene from an Apocalypse movie as we pull in. Surely everyone has the same idea we do, and the place will be crawling with people grabbing whatever they can find amongst the almost-empty shelves. While some items are perhaps slightly more picked over than usual, in reality the store seems like it would on any other day, and we are the only people leaving with several gallons of distilled drinking water.


    Back at the apartment, there’s a girl in the dorm across from us who has been sitting outside her door on the cold cement walkway all morning. One hand is holding a phone and the other supports her head, which is hung low and facing the ground. Turns out her father works in one of the buildings, the Pentagon I think, and no one has been able to get a hold of him all morning. She stays there for hours, perhaps even all day, rarely taking the phone away from her ears. At one point the head resident of the dorm approaches to console her, but she will not be moved.


    It’s hard not to stare out the window at her and the anguish and uncertainty that she’s been forced to bathe in this morning, and I find myself wondering who she’s talking to. Is she simply dialing her father’s number over and over hoping he’ll pick up? Is she talking to various family members and clinging to their collective optimism and hope? Is it just a ruse so people will leave her alone?


    Whatever the answer, she is the most disturbing part of this whole day. Because here’s the thing about terrorism. While certainly scary for anyone, anywhere, it’s easy to think of it as something far away from you. Something that surely won’t directly confront you and yours as you go about your business and live your tiny little lives. I know today that my family is safe. That, in fact, everyone I know is well out of harm’s way. But seeing this girl weep for her father makes it impossible to not remember those who have been directly affected by today’s events. And maybe, in a way, we all have. Maybe if I look hard enough, I'll see myself crying with her. Maybe there’s a spot on that cement out there for me.



Afternoon in Hudson


A friend of mine took this picture, and I confess I was surprised to learn that such things were even in the paper at all. Not that I was really planning on discussing my book was just a signing. But who knew such things were even listed? I was even more surprised to find a gentleman waiting for me when I arrived. Copy in hand (he'd found and bought it at a different bookstore across town), he asked for a signature, and then we talked for probably a half hour. He's approaching retirement and wants to write a memoir of his own, and I was happy to share my experiences. And I loved hearing how much he was enjoying my book.

Hudson is a darling little town, located fairly close to me but one in which I haven't spent much time. I had forgotten that it's the home of Main Street Cupcakes as well as Heather's Heat and Flavor, and of course there's the Learned Owl Book Shop, where I spent the afternoon. As far as bookstores go, it's a pretty large one, and it was nice to watch customers mosey through the sections. I'll probably go back soon so I can do some moseying of my own. (I wouldn't mind another cupcake and jar of salsa either. Thank you, Hudson.)


My Brazilian Waxer

As a lover of memoirs, there are a few in particular that I would love to see done. I'd love a lunch lady memoir, a veterinarian memoir for the new generation that perhaps isn't familiar with James Herriot (I should really talk to my parents about this), any teacher memoir is dynamite, and I'm always a sucker for the memoirs of writers themselves (think Eudora Welty, Annie Dillard, Michael Greenberg, Larry McMurtry). While I confess that a 'tales from a brazilian waxer' memoir hadn't ever surfaced on my would-love-to-someday-read list, when I heard that someone had written one, I immediately bought a copy. Because what a fantastic idea for a book! Not only is it bizarre that we Americans want to be hairless, but it's also bizarre that we're willing to walk into a salon and drop our pants for a complete stranger. Think of all the stories, the clients, the custom requests. When it comes to topics, this one would surely be as juicy as it would be entertaining.

While at a recent waxing appointment of my own, I mentioned to my waxer, N, that this book, The Vagina Buffet, was out. Imagine my surprise when N's reaction went something like this: "Noooooooooooo!" Turns out N herself has written a manuscript about life as a brazilian waxer, and now someone has beaten her to the punch. Fortunately for N (but unfortunately for readers), The Vagina Buffet misses the mark. Completely. Instead of focusing on the stories and the clients, the author focuses on vaginas themselves. Period stories, childbirth stories, what's normal and what isn't, etc. There's actually very little focus on her life as a waxer, and the book could not hold my interest. N agreed, and at last week's appointment, we discussed her renewed determination to get her own book out there...which DOES focus on the waxing stories and clients. I gave her the contact info for the wonderful team who helped me with my own book, and I'm happy to report that my fabulous editor will begin on N's manuscript in a matter of days.

Why am I telling you all this? Beats me. I guess I just feel like the whole thing is so fortunate. I mean, what are the odds of me even knowing someone else who has also written a manuscript? And a true testament to the salesperson in me, my greatest satisfaction in life comes from helping connect people to things that they want or need; to things that make their lives easier. And so I loved being able to get N in touch with my book contacts. But perhaps best of all, the world is now one step closer to getting the brazilian waxer memoir that it really wants. The one that will make us drop our jaws in disbelief and howl with laughter at the naughtiness of it all. I just hope I'm not in it! Which, incidentally, is probably how all my friends and family feel about my own manuscripts. At any rate, good luck, N!



I was pleased to learn this week that my wonderful book designer (of VMC Art and Design) is entering Schooled into a design competition. It'll be in the book cover category, and given how much I (and everyone else) love the cover, I'm hoping she does well.

An interesting side effect of this news has been that it's whet my appetite when it comes to the idea of book competitions. Am I just competitive? (A co-worker who is currently reading my book came up to me the other day and said, "I had no idea you were so competitive!" to which I can only say, never underestimate what a kid will do for a stick of gum.) Whatever the reason, I may have to find some competitions to enter in myself. Although Victoria will have a much better shot at winning for the cover than I will at winning for the writing, but as with so many things in this world, sometimes simply putting your hat in the ring is excitement enough.


Cedar Fairmount Festival


Wanted to say a few words about the Cedar Fairmount Festival, which I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in thanks to Appletree Books. Jane (owner) invited a few authors to be in the store during the festival selling and signing their books, and the timing worked out for me to be one of them. A much more pleasant experience than the Author Alley at Loganberry Books last month, and not just because the weather was so much better. It was also nice to have the number of authors be so much smaller. We really got a chance to talk to each other and get to know each other, and being inside the store was probably a big part of this. Not to mention it made it much more difficult for people to walk off with our books. **Loganberry says only one person actually came into the store to pay for my book at Author Alley, and while I still think they owe me for the books people walked away with, they haven't paid me a dime and have been quite rude when I've called to follow-up with them.

Being so frustrated with how Loganberry is handling things, it was refreshing to work with Jane and have such a pleasant experience yesterday at Appletree. And it made me more excited for the other events I have in the works. It really is so fun to be in that environment; to be talking with customers about my book and seeing their smiles and laughs when they hear what it's about. I like that my book is so relatable, and I love that it has such a stellar cover; that people want to pick it up and ask about it. All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon, and I'd encourage anyone with access to the Cedar Fairmount area to go see Jane at Appletree Books. Thanks to everyone who came out to see me!


Divvying the Writing Time

It's a question of time. Because I don't have any. I suppose this is the plight of any writer who doesn't write full-time; who can, in fact, only fit in writing when she has the time. I'm lucky if I get a couple of hours a week. So the question then becomes, how do I spend the time I actually get to devote to writing? Um, you should write, stupid. Except it's not that simple. Because in addition to working on book two (I'm about 1/3 of the way done with it), I also have to use my "writing" time to market book one. Marketing a book is a full time job in itself, so I'm really falling short in that area. But I can only do what I can do.

Because Schooled is still in its first few months and there's a lot I'd still like to do to get the word out, I spend the bulk of my "writing" time on marketing. What this means though is that I hardly ever get to actually write anymore. This is sad for me, because it's my favorite part about this whole book business...the writing. And I miss it. My options as I see them are to 1) forget about marketing and just write, 2) un-busy my life so that I have more time, or 3) marry an independently wealthy man so I can quit my job and do nothing but write. Here's hoping for option 3.


The Paradox of the Book Review

I learned recently (when they sent me the advanced review) that the San Francisco Review has given Schooled a 4 out of 5 stars. Which I'm very pleased with. Delighted even. I love that a real review company loved my book. But the sole benefit/goal of a positive review is to sell more books, and the question I'm suddenly having a hard time answering is who even reads The San Francisco Review? I, in fact, have no idea who reads publications consisting entirely of book reviews. I myself have never read one, nor am I entirely sure how to even obtain one. And it's funny, because even though there may then be no point at all to me and my 4 stars (ie. no one who is brought to my book because of it), the review still delights me.


Word on the Street

When you are a no-name author, word of mouth is one of the only things you have to work with. You hope that everyone who reads your book tells several other people who then read it and tell several more people about it. In my head I always thought of it as a snowball/domino effect that would blossom quite naturally. In reality though, getting people to buy your book is not that easy.

Look at it this way. You start with the pool of everyone who knows you. Family, friends, co-workers, etc. Based on numbers alone, this will seem like a pretty big pool. But in order for any given person to actually buy your book, he/she must: 1) enjoy reading books to begin with, 2) enjoy reading memoirs, and 3) not be "too busy" right now (even though they seem to have no trouble getting through the Shades of Grey series). And while everyone in this pool will praise you for your accomplishment, tell a few people about you, and maybe even post a link to your book on their facebook page, everyone who sees/hears about it from them will also have to pass the three criteria I've listed above. What this all boils down to is a relatively low percentage of potential readers who actually read your book.

Not that I have anything to complain about. On the contrary, I continue to be amazed at the positive response from those who have read Schooled. There were so many times during the publishing process that I had temporary freak-out moments when I wondered why in the hell I was doing this, sure no one would care about my measly collection of classroom lessons. But people do care. They remember their own educations and laugh and cry along with me as I grow up over the course of 245 pages. So I couldn't really ask for anything more. Except maybe MORE people to laugh and cry with me as I grow up over the course of 245 pages. Bring on the snowball.


Selling Books: Indie Stores vs. Online Distributors

It's an interesting thing, selling a book. Especially when you 1) have never sold one before and 2) are a relative nobody. Actually, there's nothing relative about it. To anyone but my friends and family (who have for the most part already bought copies), I am a nobody. And when was the last time you bought a book just because someone told you their friend/sister/cousin/former roommate wrote it? For that matter, when was the last time you went into a bookstore and bought a book by an author you've never heard of just because the book looked interesting? I pretty much never do this. Case in point: This past weekend I was at a darling indie store and went to my favorite section, the biographies. I honed in on a very buzzed-about memoir that I've been meaning to buy and went ahead and bought it. And seeing my little book sitting next to all the buzz books made me both delighted and depressed. I mean, it's amazing to see your own book on the shelves. But next to all those buzzed-about books, who would ever buy mine?

When it comes to getting my book into stores, I've definitely made a few blunders. Part of this is my own newness to the world of publishing, and part of it is the divide that has been created because of mammoths like Amazon. It has been off-putting to some independent bookstores that so much (read: all) of my book marketing directs people to Amazon and B&N. I got an email from a bookstore just this week asking why I was directing independent stores to a website (mine) with links to Amazon and B&N on it. I will tell you that the email brought me to tears just because I felt so foolish. But I will also tell you that there is not a book in her store that isn't also available on Amazon and B&N. This is just the world we live in. And especially as a nobody whose book is not available in many stores yet, I simply have to have a presence among online distributors. That said, I never want it to appear like I'm insensitive to the negative impact that Amazon has had on the world of independent bookstores. Because I am a hard-core independent bookstore fan. I always prefer purchasing from a brick and mortar store, supporting local business, and holding a physical book in my hands. Always. So in recognition of indies everywhere, I'd like to give a shout out to a few of the stores who added my book to their shelves this week: Fireside Books in Chagrin Falls, Ohio; Sunflower Books in La Grande, Oregon; and St. Johns Booksellers in Portland, Oregon. Many thanks for all you do.


The Basketball Work Party

I recently switched departments at the office, and my new crew had just completed a project when I joined them. Based on selling a particular product line, the whole project was basketball themed, including weekly "MVPs" and "free throws" awarded to those individuals and teams who sold the most. I was immensely glad I hadn't actually been around to participate in the project when it was announced at the celebration/report-out (an afternoon and evening of games and food at a local park) that the teams would be shooting literal free-throws as a way to determine the ultimate project champions. Thank goodness I don't have to shoot is what I was thinking as we headed over to the basketball courts.

But one of the annoying things about Corporate America is this blasted emphasis on teamwork and team-building activities. I'm not saying we should be sequestered loners at work, but as an introverted person, I have it on good authority (so does Susan Cain) that you can get a lot more accomplished on your own than you can by participating in a mass brainstorming session. Yet, I digress. What this meant to my work posse that day on the court was that it was simply not OK that I was not on a team for this final shoot-out. How awful for Tali to be left out! Get Tali shooting the ball! Let Tali warm up!

I tried to gently explain to these people not only that I was perfectly fine not shooting and didn't feel left out at all, but also that me and basketball didn't have the greatest of relationships. "Have you read my book?" I asked the group, and those that had immediately began laughing at being reminded of my rather disastrous junior high try-outs. Let me emphasize that in this moment, about to shoot a slew of free-throws in front of tons of people, I had no amount of confidence that even one shot would be close enough to hit the rim. And the narration from one of my co-workers didn't help either, although it was in hindsight rather amusing. "Here she is, after a 17-year absence," the co-worker said quietly, sportscaster style, as I stepped up to the line. "For the first time since seventh grade. Tali Nay at the line." Or maybe I heard this all in my head.

Either way, I made a shot. Then I made another one. I managed to get our team tied with the team who was at that point in first place. "One more and your team takes the lead," the man keeping score said. My next shot went in, and everyone cheered. It's silly how glorious this moment was for me, although I did have to deal with several co-workers who wondered why I had initially protested when clearly my shooting abilities seemed intact. Of course, shooting was never my problem, so I could only repeat, "Have you read my book?" It should probably be required reading for anyone who knows me.


June 2, 1997

Today is the 15th anniversary of the day I wrecked my parents' new car. It's all in the book, so skip to about page 60 if you haven't gotten there yet, and sometimes I wonder why I even put it in there. It remains the most traumatic thing I've ever been through. Not because of the event itself, I mean, people wreck cars every day, but because of my status in life at that point in time. I was fifteen, was just finishing my first year of high school, and (as always) I was very aware of anything that could affect the way my peers perceived me. So showing up at school with a disgustingly bashed-in face and armed merely with the explanation that I had driven my car into a ditch didn't exactly help improve my image among the in-crowd.

But the good thing about growing up and becoming an adult is that perspective kicks in and things that used to mean everything to you eventually come to mean almost nothing. In short, you get over it. You get over the failures and humiliations and horribly misguided outfits. You get over the friends you never had, the opportunities you never got, and the boys that never liked you. You don't forget, mind you, but you get over it. You get so over it that you may even turn all these experiences into a book and let the whole world in on just how unglamorous your early years were. So, yeah, you get over it. It just might take 15 years.


The Annual Blubbering

This happens to me every year. I become exponentially more sentimental than I already am. I cry at such things as the Glee season finale. I frantically call to mind any memory of times when it was me making life-changing decisions while balancing the excitement and fear that in my case was pretty much just fear. I'm talking about graduation.

While writing Schooled I worried that it might be a downer. Specifically because my graduations were never things I was particularly excited about. The accomplishment, certainly. The cash from relatives, absolutely. But I'm the type of person who becomes comfortable in my environment, particularly when I've really enjoyed the environment and/or thrived there. The thought of post-graduation life always worried me, and graduations were consequently just about the most bittersweet events of my life.

Now that I'm through with my own graduations and have joined the ranks of Real People, I can appreciate them in a way I never did before, and perhaps to make up for that, they tend to make me weep. Which is why I've been in a bit of a tender mood over the past week or two as the universities here in town have held their graduation ceremonies. I love seeing students proud of themselves, I love seeing parents proud of their students, and I love seeing an auditorium full of people who are all momentarily united by this same source of pride. See what I mean? I can't believe I'm even saying this kind of crap, but this is what happens to me. It's kids moving over their tassels. It's teachers wishing their pupils well. It's Rachel Berry on her own in New York City. It's life, and it's changing. Whether you want it to or not. So pardon me if I cry a little. 'Tis the season.


Memoirs I Love

It occurred to me recently that 9 of the last 10 books I've read have been memoirs. Figures. While I can certainly appreciate a well-written novel (I'm just as into things like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter as everyone else), my favorite things to read are memoirs. I just love real life, because if the book is good, there's an extra sense of satisfaction in knowing that it really happened. The author really did accomplish this great thing, conquer this pesky demon, learn this poignant lesson, make it through this unimaginable trial, etc. And if the memoir is more entertaining than serious, that's even better. Because that means the author really did make this big a fool of themselves, say this ballsy thing to that other person, get themselves into this hilarious shenanigan, etc.

One of the first memoirs I ever read was 'Tis. This is of course book 2 in the Angela's Ashes series, but I didn't know that at the time. I simply became engrossed in the story of a penniless Irish boy making his way in America. Some time later I read Teacher Man, book 3 in the series, and loved it too. As a sidenote, the teacher memoir is a dynamite idea. Think of all those lessons learned from students. Such a wealth of experiences to draw from there. To any of you teachers out there, please write memoirs so I can read them! Even though Angela's Ashes is actually the first book in the series, I read it last, and actually enjoyed it the least.

Still one of my all-time favorites in the world of memoirs is The Secret Life of Cowboys. Partly because I've always wanted to be a cowboy, or at least marry one, but mostly because it was about boy studying English who decided to scrap it all and become a cowboy. Not because he knew anything about it, but because he wanted to. And if that isn't the most ballsy move to make in life, then I don't know what is. The truth is, I'm jealous. And reading about horses and cattle and land as he learned about life on a ranch (and eventually bought one himself), was as informative as it was wistful.

And even though I only read this one recently, A Girl Named Zippy is one of the most delightfully hilarious memoirs I've read in a long time. Just a collection of stories from her life growing up in a small town, this is the kind of memoir that has you not only laughing out loud at the situations she got herself into, but also secretly wishing your own younger self had been as clever, stubborn, and interesting. A little reminiscent of Ramona Quimby, I could have kept reading several hundred pages more. And isn't that the point? For an author, I think yes. Yes, it is.


For Dad: It's back to Billy

No, I don't have a Father's Day poem from Billy Collins for this post. But I do find it funny that he's making his way into the conversation again. Because today being Father's Day and all, I was reminded of the first thing my dad said to me after he read Schooled. He told me that he wanted to lodge a complaint, or at least go down on the record as saying that I had mis-stated something in the book. I asked what it was, and he brought up the "On Billy Collins" section that directly proceeds my graduation from college. In that section I mention that my parents don't consider his work to be poetry, but that since he was at that time our poet laureate, they lose the argument every time. Dad then insisted (in a surprisingly emphatic manner) that it is I who loses the argument every time, and that his work really isn't poetry unless the very definition of poetry has changed. I do think the definition has morphed over time, but I suppose what I really mean in the book is that I think they lose the argument, just as they are sure that I lose the argument.

No matter, the point of this post is simply that it's Father's Day, and my dad never ceases to crack me up. Why just today I was complaining to him about how much my vet will surely charge for the analysis of my cat's stool sample that he (my vet) is insisting be a part of my cat's check-up next weekend. My dad, himself a vet, said I could always bring some of her poop home with me when I fly out there in a couple of weeks and he would do the analysis for free. We were then in stitches at the thought of cat poop getting through security. Not to mention my neighbors on the plane who would no doubt smell it. What he doesn't realize is I may just be crazy enough to do it. What a story that would make.



One of the first pieces of feedback I got on this book came from a friend who said something that surprised me. "My favorite character in the book was your Mom," he said. This baffled me. Not because my mom isn't the most angelic person on the planet, but because she's not exactly a main player in the book. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I seemed to remember that she was only even mentioned a handful of times. "Really?" I pushed back. "Yeah, she just comes across as so honest and real," he assured me. And he's not the only person who has commented to me about how well my mom comes out in the book. I guess it's impossible to conceal just how wonderful my mom is.

And on this Mother's Day, I find myself feeling weepy. Not only because my own mother is such a great example to me of goodness, but also because they keep playing that Johnson's Baby commercial ("You're doing okay, Mom") which if you have two X chromosomes is physically impossible to stay dry-eyed through. So in order to get an emotional hold on myself this evening, I'm leaving you with this rather entertaining gem. Not a Mother's Day poem by any means, but one of my BC favorites. Dedicated to my Mom...along with countless lanyards.


Feeding Back

Amusing things that I've heard so far:

"I have four sisters, and I feel after reading your book like I know you better."

"I feel like I've been inside your head for the last 25 years."

"I feel like I'm reading your diary. I'm impressed that you are THAT gutsy. Gutsy enough to publish your diary."

"It feels almost voyeuristic. Like I'm witnessing all these intimate moments. OK, voyeuristic is probably not the right word."

"I can't wait to see who plays me in the movie."

"Are you the next James Joyce or does all that lowercase mean that Amazon screwed up?"

"You bitch. I can't believe you said that about me."

I'm just kidding about that last one, although some of you might be thinking it. I will say that it has been rather eye-opening to put a book out there that talks about real people, many of whom I love and care about. Because while it was important to me to say exactly what I was thinking and feeling and witnessing at the time, it has literally crushed me to learn of a few people's feelings who were hurt by the book. Discussing this topic--the seemingly dark side of being totally honest--with a former college English professor of mine, he reminded me of a passage from Betsy Lerner's A Forest for the Trees:

"Let’s face it, if in your writing you lift the veil on your family, your community, or even just yourself, someone will take offense. . . . If you write what is most pressing, you are revealing thoughts, secrets, wishes, and fantasies that you (and we as readers) would never otherwise confess to. Most writers, like most children, need to tell. The problem is that much of what they need to tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who are determined to tell writer-children what they can and cannot say. Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story, you will be stymied in your effort to create. You think you can’t write, but the truth is you can’t tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch."

As a sidenote, if anyone is looking for a great book about writing, this one is my favorite. I marked this passage (along with many others) the first time I read through it, which was ten years ago. But as to the passage itself, to me it so perfectly captures the dilemma in which I now find myself, and will probably continue to find myself as I write more memoirs. "Maybe you should stick to fiction," someone told me while discussing this very topic. Which would perhaps be the safer thing to do, and I totally would if my brain could think up a story half as entertaining as real life. Until then, I can only stick to what I know. Hey, it's either this or poetry. So consider yourselves lucky.