“The Address,” “10 Days in a Madhouse,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”

9780525501527I just finished reading Fiona Davis’ wonderful new historic novel The Address. It’s about the Dakota, New York City’s most famous apartment house, built in the 1880s. Since I recently blogged about Authors’ Notes, I was interested to read Davis’ note, in which she explains that the book is “a blend of historical fact and fiction,” and then she went on to share some of the liberties she took, as I did with my Author’s Note in Cherry Bomb.


11212929_oriI noticed that one of the books that she used as a reference was Nellie Bly’s Ten Days in a Mad-House. Since Bly and the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum where she went undercover as a journalist in 1887 figured prominently in the book, I watched the movie on Amazon yesterday. Wow. Just wow, what those women endured!


And this might sound like I’m a glutton for punishment, but last week I binge-watched Season 1 of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” More wow. It was so dark, but I couldn’t quit watching it. I see why it won 8 Emmy awards. I haven’t read the book by Margaret Atwood, which was this summer’s most-read fiction book on Kindle, and now I’m not sure if I want to. I’m sure it’s excellent, but those images of abuse and patriarchal dominance are hard to get out of my head.

 Handmaid's Tale

So why am I reading and watching such dark stories? I’m drawn to the dark. To stories of abuse, addiction, dysfunction. And  I’ve always been attracted to historic fiction, especially when there are strong female protagonists/heroines. Of course The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t historic fiction… more like futuristic/dystopian fiction, which is scarier in many ways. My novel CHERRY BOMB has three strong female characters and several pretty strong minor characters who are also women. And the two novels I’m considering writing will continue to focus on strong women who endure suffering and either find healing or make a difference in their life and the lives of others. I hope I’m up to the task. These writers have set the bar high.

The Glass Castle

Sunday night my husband and I went to see “The Glass Castle.” What a terrific movie! Here’s a wonderful interview with Jeanette Walls, who wrote the memoir on which the movie is based.



Jeanette Walls reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2011

Jeanette Walls reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2011

I read the book when it came out back in 2005, and I met Jeanette Walls in 2011 at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. She was there for a reading/signing of her next book, Half Broke Horses.


Since I went to the movie with my husband, who had not read the book, I was eager to ask another reader what they thought. I found one while standing in line in the ladies’ room, where she and another woman agreed that both the book AND the movie were excellent. I would have loved to chat longer with this like-minded soul!


So, I give it 5 STARS. Walls doesn’t have a victim mentality, and doesn’t hate her parents. The best part of the movie—and this stood out more than it did in the book—was seeing Walls come to understand that the abuse her father suffered from his mother was probably responsible for much of his dysfunctional behavior. I was writing memoir at the time I read the book, and I was struggling with writing from a place of forgiveness and not from anger. Walls (and the movie) achieved this brilliantly.

Fill the World With Love

R-9024878-1473472613-3710.jpegTurner Classic Movie channel is playing old Oscar-winning movies leading up to this year’s Academy Awards. I’ve been recording some of them to watch, and this weekend I watched “Goodbye Mr. Chips” with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark. I had never seen it and really enjoyed it. And I haven’t been able to get the theme song out of my head… I keep humming it and singing it over and over. Here’s a video showing the boys at the school where “Mr. Chips” teaches singing it in assembly, when Mr. Chip’s wife bursts forth enthusiastically to join them. And here are the lyrics:

Fill the World With Love

Petula Clark

In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.

And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love my whole life through

In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine,
At a moment in my life when the sky is blue.
And the blessing I shall ask shall remain unchanging.
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through


In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
At a moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only God can answer.
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?


It’s not just the music that has captivated me; it’s the words. They reflect thoughts that have guided me for the past year or more as I put together the anthology, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, which releases on March 1. The essays in this collection reflect on the various stages of life—not only the “first and second halves” but all the in-betweens. Kind of like this song:

In the morning of my life… when the world is new, I ask God to help me be brave and strong and true, and to fill the world with love.

In the noontime of my life… I ask God for the same blessings.

And finally, in the evening of my life… I ask God if I have been those things—have I been brave and strong and true? Have I filled the world with love my whole life through? I think I may be somewhere between the noontime and the evening of my life. Maybe I’m in the afternoon?

This song from 1969—the year I graduated from high school—is a wonderful anthem for people of all ages and in all stages of life. If only we would all have it as our goal to fill the world with love. Or at least our marriages, families, neighbors, and communities.

Writing on Wednesday: Back to the Future… and the Past

Back to the Future hoverboard

Back to the Future hoverboard

Today—October 21, 2015—is the date the writers of “Back to the Future II” chose as the day their characters would land in their futuristic travels. Journalists are reporting on how well those writers did in predicting state of the art gadgets and gizmos for 2015. It’s fun to see the things they got right—like giant TV screens and video conferencing. And it’s funny to see the things they predicted that either haven’t been invented (yet) or just don’t need to be—like hoverboards and double neckties.

Since the Back to the Future writers were writing in the late 1980s, no one expected them to be completely accurate with their predictions. But those expectations go up incrementally when the writers are writing about the past. Especially in historic fiction, of course, but even when a novel like Cherry Bomb—my fiction story set mostly in the 1980s—takes the reader to places like a night club in New York City, it’s important to research whether or not a “Cosmopolitan” martini had been made yet. And when Mare, the graffiti writer, wears a “hoodie”…. Were they actually called hoodies back then?

Why does it matter so much in a novel? Because you want to “keep the reader safe,” which means to keep them safely into the story line, believing in the setting, the characters, and their adventures. When the details jump out at the reader—seeming to contradict the setting or the time period—they disrupt the flow of the story.

I’m thankful to have writing buddies who critique my work from time to time, and also excellent editors recommended by the literary agent who is now reading the fourth revision of Cherry Bomb. (Fingers crossed that I’ve finally got it right!) It’s hard to recognize these mistakes in our work sometimes because we are so close to the story and the characters that we can’t see that so-and-so couldn’t have made a call on her cell phone in 1985, for example. When I see those kinds of mistakes in books or movies, they pull me away from the enjoyment of the plot.

I have no plans for writing anything futuristic, but my hands are full trying to get the details right in my fiction, and of course in (nonfiction) essays, where getting them right is essential. I’d love to hear from other writers about how they deal with this important issue. Thanks for reading!

Mental Health Monday: Becoming a Generative Hero

ow_facebook_cover1This time last year I wrote an end of year 2013 post: “The Semantics of New Year’s Resolutions.”  Shortly after that post I decided to choose my “One Word” for 2014: mindfulness. Of the 9 people from all over the world who chose mindfulness (and registered it at the site) three of us are from Tennessee. Not sure what that says, but I thought it was interesting. Looking back on 2014, I realize that I completely forgot about mindfulness much of the time. But the days I did remember it were times of peace and inner growth, whether I was applying mindfulness to eating, to relationships with others, or to spiritual things.

Karissa Sorrell introduced me to #oneword365 in her post one year ago today: “The Year of Presence.”  Her One Word for 2014 was “present.” I’m anxious to see what she writes about this week as we enter 2015.

Joseph-and-Jesus-IMG_0999-adjusted-small-detailI’m choosing “generative” as my One Word for 2015. One source gives this definition for generative:

having the power or function of generating, originating, producing, or reproducing

I wasn’t able to reproduce (hence all the wonderful adopted kids!) but I can generate. I love this detail from a fresco at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas, showing Joseph teaching Jesus carpentry. The abbey calls itself a “generative community.”

Originally I heard the term in Ricahrd Rohr’s wonderful book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Generative is a characteristic of a hero—the level I’m aspiring to in this second half of my life. As Rohr says:

The hero’s journey is always an experience of an excess of life, a surplus of energy, with plenty left over for others. The hero or heroine has found eros or life energy, and it is more than enough to undo thanatos the energy of death. If it is an authentic life energy, it is always experienced as a surplus of an abundance of life. The hero or heroine is by definition a “generative” person to use Erik Erikson’s fine term, concerned about the next generation and not just himself or herself. The hero lives in deep time and not just in his or her own small time. In fact, I would wonder if you could be a hero or heroine if you did not live in what many call deep time—that is, past, present and future all at once.

Deep time. I like that. So I guess if I’ve got a New Year’s resolution it’s to live in deep time. And to become a generative hero.

Anna BaymaxMy number two granddaughter, Anna Susan, loved the movie, “Big Hero 6,” and especially loves Baymax, the helpful robot character. Here’s a short video showing Hiro meeting Baymax for the first time. I like him, too. He gets his generative power from water, a life source I need to make better use of myself. (So I guess one of my New Year’s resolutions might be to drink more water.) Baymax was created to be a healthcare companion. Co-director Don Hall said:

Baymax views the world from one perspective—he just wants to help people.

baymax-4x4-hugThat’s what a generative hero does, right? Here’s to Anna Susan, Baymax, Richard Rohr, and living in deep time in 2015.

Mental Health Monday: Hair, Hats, and Droopy Eyelids

back cover "Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty" by Diane Keaton

back cover “Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty” by Diane Keaton

One doesn’t usually consider movie stars to be mental health professionals. But when one’s screen idol writes two wonderfully candid books about so many universal issues (especially for women) I pay attention. Two years ago I did a short post here about Diane Keaton’s first memoir, Then Again. Keaton is still my favorite screen actress, and her writing reveals so much more than her acting. In Then Again, she wrote about serious issues (that we share) such as adoption, Alzheimer’s, eating disorders, depression, body image distortion and mother-daughter relationships. I couldn’t believe how much we had in common.


9780812994261_custom-a5630e805c2ddba27c837c28ab02f59179f3b727-s6-c30In her second memoir, Let’ Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, she keeps a lighter tone, addressing her insecurities about some surprising things—some of the things I love most about her—like her hair! She hates her hair. I tried to copy her hairstyle on and off for years. And I love hats, so I assumed she loved them, too, and she does. But she mainly wears them to hide her hair! Who knew?

A couple of years ago I started noticing my right eyelid was drooping. It has continued to fall, giving me a somewhat sad appearance. Of course I Googled it and talked with my eye doctor about it. It’s not bothering my eyesight, so I won’t have surgery on it, but I hate the way it looks. Well guess, what? Both of Keaton’s eyelids droop, which is another reason she wears glasses and hats! But at age 68, she hasn’t had any plastic surgery.

Keaton polka dots

I love her hair!


Diane Keaton wannabe

Diane Keaton wannabe










The book is wonderful. Here’s an excerpt from her chapter, “What Is Beauty?”

photo-7We all long to feel confident, look great, and do well. We all want to be remembered. Sometimes we’re lost. Sometimes we’re found. But one thing’s for sure: no matter how much control we have over our appearance, we’re all awkward, laughable, ugly, and beautiful at the same time.

I’m looking forward to seeing her new movie with Michael Douglas, “And So It Goes.” You know I’ll be looking at her hair, her hats, and her eyes the whole time. But I’ll mostly be thinking, “What a beautiful woman, actress and writer!”

Mental Health Monday: The Anatomy of a Binge

My essay, “Eat, Drink, Repeat,” which was published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul, last November, chronicles a three-day binge. But it was a food-and-drink binge, which is what most people think about when they hear the word, “binge,” right?



But last night there was a piece on the news about binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, and how much less pleasurable that is than watching the episodes over a period of time. After the news I Googled the topic and found this post by Melissa Dahl in New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog, “Why You Shouldn’t Binge-Watch ‘Orange is the New Black.’” Dahl points to studies that show the added value of waiting—anticipating—the pleasure of the next show. (Check out her article to read more about her research, which included sources like The Journal of Consumer Research, and a book by psychologist Sonja Lyubormisky called The How of Happiness.)



This was never an issue before I recently purchased a Samsung tablet, because I’m not going to watch old episodes of a TV series in our living room (where my husband watches sports) and I don’t know how to move the Apple TV gadget to my office TV. And I don’t like to sit at my desk chair and watch Netflix on my computer screen. But oh how easy and fun to watch on my new tablet while the NBA finals are on in the living room. My first TV series to watch on Netflix is “Breaking Bad.” And not just because it won “Best Dramatic Series” at the 2013 Emmys. I decided to watch it because Julie Cantrell, author of two best-selling books, told me the writing is incredible. I agree. And also the acting. But watching the show is addictive! It’s sooooo hard to only watch one episode, when the next one is waiting at my fingertips. And since I’m starting with Season 1, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

If you haven’t seen the show—or if you watched it and loved it—you might be interested in this in-depth article by Notre Dame Doctoral candidate, Leonard DeLorenzo. A brief teaser from the article:

The complexity of “Breaking Bad” comes from the depth of its exploration of the human psyche, the moral fabric of communities, and the relationships that bind people together, for better or worse.  This multi-layered, unified drama opens up in three major, interlocking themes, which will guide our analysis: pride, responsibility, and the social nature of humanity.

51jZQYoFhfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_But back to the binge-watching issues. I’m limiting myself to no more than 2-3 episodes in any single day/evening. The show is so intense that I need time to recover after watching a couple of episodes. It feels good to let the plot simmer a bit before jumping into the next episode—kind of like putting down a good book at the end of an exciting chapter, which leaves me wanting more and having that to look forward to the next day. Maybe that’s some of what Lyubormisky says about anticipation, that it

generates positive emotions and helps us savor future positive experiences.

Delayed gratification. That’s my plan for today. I’m only going to watch two more episodes, and only after I do several hours work on novel revisions. I’ll let you know on Wednesday if I was able to stick with my plan!

Do you binge-watch TV episodes? Do you enjoy watching that way? What’s the longest binge-watching you’ve ever done (how many hours at one sitting)? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Mental Health Monday: Keeping Our Legitimate Messes Beneath the Surface

gallery3“It’s not cut and dried, black and white, good and bad. It lives where everything lives: somewhere in the middle.”

—Karen Weston (played by Juliette Lewis, far right) in the movie version of Osage: August County.


9781559366090-frontcover.340x340-75Those words, spoken by Karen—one of the three daughters of Violet Weston (played by Meryl Streep) in the movie, “August: Osage County,”—stayed with me after watching it recently. I’d been wanting to see the movie, but got just the push I needed this weekend. It came in a text message from a first cousin who had recently seen it. The message said:

I watched August Osage County tonight and Julia Roberts’ character reminds me so much of me and you, in different ways, but our individual struggles.

Of course I was intrigued. This cousin and I have different struggles, but like a sad but huge number of people in the world, we’re from the same extended dysfunctional family. If you think your family is a mess, you might feel better (or not) after watching Osage County. If you’ve had a more Ozzie and Harriett-type family experience, you probably won’t be able to relate.

Uncle Charles and Little Charles, played by Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch

Uncle Charles and Little Charles, played by Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch

In the end, the only character who didn’t check out (emotionally or physically) or lash out was Charles Aiken, played sensitively by Chris Cooper. “Uncle Charles” reminded us of our high calling as broken human beings. His compassion for his son, “Little Charles” (also well played by Benedict Cumberbatch) was one of the few redemptive elements of the story.


Back to the line delivered by Karen in the movie. She and one of her sisters, Barbara (played by Julia Roberts) were arguing in the aftermath of their father’s suicide, their mother’s breakdown, and a devastating family secret that was just revealed. Barbara is the character who wants to fix everything—the one who sees everything in black and white and expects everyone to play their roles in life as scripted. Karen is the one who deals with life’s ugliness by finding whatever happiness she can, usually with men. I could relate to both of them, actually. But Karen’s embrace of life’s messiness and acceptance of the “middle” is the take-home message for me.

As Steve Drum said in his excellent review at Cine-Files:

This line offers the clearest assessment of playwright Tracy Letts’ skill with dialogue and characterization…. Every character is fighting each other to keep their own legitimate messes beneath the surface. It’s a beautiful study in cruelty as a defense mechanism.

August-Osage-County-large.ashxOuch. I know I’ve used cruelty as a defense mechanism in dealing with my own “legitimate messes,” but hopefully not to the degree of any of the Weston women of Osage County. Maybe the hurtful explosions happen when those messes aren’t dealt with openly, but are kept beneath the surface until they eventually explode into the lives of everyone in the family. My cousin was right that I’m a lot like Barbara Weston, but I’d sure rather emulate Uncle Charles.

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