Is Reality That Interesting?

They say write what you know but should you write what you live? People ask me why I wrote my book as a memoir and not as a novel. “Why,” they inquire mostly politely, “did you tell the truth and not tell it as a story?” They go on to add it would have been a really compelling novel and then it wouldn’t have hurt anyone’s feelings.

For inquiring minds, here’s why. I think what makes a good true-life story is that it’s reality. Yes, I could have written my tale as a fairy tale of sorts with ugly sisters and wicked mothers but I don’t see that as nearly as gripping or as valuable as reading a fascinating story you know to be true. If I had made up the characters in my story, similar to August: Osage County, for example, they might be compelling to read about but then the reader could dismiss  them as unbelievable simply because they were fictional characters.

Reality well-written is and should be the most fascinating of all genres. Our true stories are what make us who we are and as humans many of us are on a perpetual journey to understand that. Reading about the journeys others are on helps each of us to process our own trip.

So, that’s why I chose reality. I wrote what I knew, what I lived and what I believed to be story worth reading and worth sharing. What do you think? Reality or fiction for your life story?

Why This Should Be Your Book Club’s Next Great Choice

Here are five reasons why I highly (and yet modestly) recommend and respectfully suggest you consider Tales From The Family Crypt for your book club:

1. It’s a good read. I suspect the number one question you consider when choosing a book club book is, “Is it good?” Yes, I promise you this is a good story. You don’t have to take my word for it. Check out my 5-star reviews on Amazon.

2. It’s easy to read. You know how there’s always at least one club member who has to explain why he/she didn’t quite finish the book in time because she/he ran out of time?  And sometimes those people even have to skip the meeting because they’re embarrassed to say they didn’t have time to finish? (Admit it, sometimes it’s you.) That won’t happen. Tales From The Family Crypt is an extremely fast read. It can be read cover to cover in a few hours. I’ve been told it’s very hard to put down, though, so maybe don’t start it late at night.

3. Discussion everyone can relate to. Some books lend themselves to lively discussion. Family issues? Who can’t relate to those? Your book club members will enjoy debating and discussing the actions of the characters in the book (Yes, they’re real people but believe me, they are characters more bizarre than any in fiction.). But allow lots of time because those chats will lead to sharing of stories about members’ families. You may need to schedule more than one great session to take it all in.

4. Cost is very low. This week I’m being featured on a popular blog as a writer who has received 5-star reviews. To show my appreciation, I’ve lowered the price of the ebook to $1.99 for the next few weeks. The paperback is also affordable @ $9.99 (which Amazon sometimes inexplicably lowers to $8.99, just fine by me. I don’t set the paperback price.) Plus, if you are the person who chooses my book for your group, I’ll be happy to gift the ebook to you or to mail you a paperback so your copy will be free! And, it’s available free through Kindle Unlimited and as part of the Kindle Lending Library.

5. Author visit? Yes please. I’m happy to attend your book club meeting via Skype if you think that might be fun. You know how when you’re reading a book you just want to embrace or perhaps yell at the author? Now you can. So, I hope you’ll check out the book and speak to your book club about it. If you have any questions or comments about why you think this would or would not be a good choice for your club, I’d love it if you’d let me know in the comments here.

I Don’t Recognize My Sister, Nor Do I Think I Want To

My sister hasn’t spoken to me for about 25 years. As I described in detail in my book, I don’t really know why she’s so angry. She has never been willing to tell me beyond the time she and her husband (who, I believe is really the abusive control freak responsible for my sister cutting me and my entire family out of her life) took me to court over something completely nonsensical and lost. If I passed her on the street I’m not sure I’d know who she was and I doubt she’d recognize me. People tend to change a bit in that many years and besides that, I’m pretty sure she’d walk right past me if she did know it was me.

But yesterday I saw her online and I didn’t recognize her. It wasn’t her face, it was her words that were foreign to me. Once upon a time when we had a relationship. We had things in common, we liked shopping together, we we were of similar minds politically. Among other things we agreed on, we were pretty much both pacifists. Okay it was during the Vietnam War era and a lot of people were pacifists but we were and I thought it was for real in both of us.

So yesterday when I happened upon an Op-Ed piece she wrote in a newspaper I was shocked. My pacifist sister was not only no longer a pacifist, she was pretty much strongly advocating going into regions of the world and scorching and burning people, places, and things. Agree or disagreeing politically is one thing but this was a complete reversal of her belief system. She really had become a different person altogether than the one I grew up next to. I wondered, what if she hadn’t cut me out of her life? Would I even want to know this person? Yes, I know we all  have people in our families with whom we may not agree on every point. We hear myriad stories of family holiday celebrations rife with discord as the family members loudly and verociously argue their respective points of view. But the person who wrote this Op-Ed piece sounded nothing like my sister. (Yes, I know it was her; she has a very unique name.) I wasn’t at all sure I could like or embrace this person. I didn’t even know if I could have a meal with her, let alone embrace her!

So what happens if you have a family member with whom you really cannot have a relationship because you are diametrically opposed in belief systems? How do you handle such things? For me, it’s easy (I use the term loosely, nothing about losing my sister was easy) in that she won’t talk to me anyway, but in my musing, I wonder what I’d do if she  suddenly offered to come back into my life?

Raise Adult Children With Integrity When They’re… Children

Since my book about my dysfunctional family debuted I’ve had many people ask me why I think our siblings turned out the way they did. In writing the book I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours pondering that. I reached the same conclusion every time. It all comes back to childhood. It dawned on me we raise kids not to be good kids but to be stellar adults.

What makes a stellar adult? I believe it’s all about integrity. I love the word, I love the definition; I think it sums up all we need to see in each other. Integrity. Definition: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness

If parents raise children who understand, and more importantly value being honest and having strong moral principles, those children are going to take those values into adulthood. They’ll take those values into their personal lives and into their work lives and are likely to live much happier lives as a result.

So,  how do we do raise kids with integrity? Back in the 90s I had a parenting book (Teaching Your Children Life Skills: While Having a Life of Your Own) published by Berkley Books. The premise was we raise kids not by turning our lives upside down to accommodate them but by integrating our children into the fabric of our lives. We invite our children to take part in life very much the same way we do. By sharing everyday activities, by letting kids learn who we are and how we manage in the world, we raise them to understand how life works. By sharing our day-t0-day tasks and challenges with our children, we teach them valuable life lessons while showing that love comes with responsibility. We make our world and the world around us our child’s classroom of life. Plus, and not at all unimportant, we make the incredibly hard job of parenting just a bit easier. By incorporating our children into our lives we get help with chores, with shopping, with meal preparation, with laundry, with all the parts of life no one loves but everyone does. And our children learn how to live an independent and responsible life. It’s a win-win.

It was while I was writing Tales From the Family Crypt that I realized much of the extreme family dysfunction among the adult siblings could have been avoided if only better parenting had been employed when these adults were children. So I revisited my previous work on parenting. I rewrote and updated my book and just published it with the title “Raising Amazing Children: While Having a Life of Your Own.” I priced it at $.99, making it affordable for all. It’s an easy read and I believe it can help parents raise great adults.

It’s my hope if people read and put into practice some of the easy suggestions in Raising Amazing Children, they will never have to live the horror of Tales From the Family Crypt!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my theory that our relationship with our adult children is formed when they are  young and what we can do then to make sure we all live happily ever after.

My daughters are amazing adults, all teachers today. We enjoy each other’s company and have tons of fun together. I can’t take all the credit, I know some of it’s luck, some of it’s genetic, some of it’s upbringing, and some of it is magic, but I enjoy believing my husband and I had something to do with it.

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Walking on Sunshine Blog Hop Party

I’m new at this spreading blog love thing but it seems well-intentioned so I’m in. I read a blog this morning on Hugh’s Views and News encouraging bloggers to help promote others by writing a short post about them. Consider this such a post. Joe Writes His Wrongs is a highly unusual blog. Or at least it’s written by a highly unusual blogger. Joe is a guy in prison serving a sentence of several years for a non-violent drug crime. Since being in prison he appears to be working on developing his talents, mostly in cartooning and also as a writer. I don’t know him other than to read his blog but I’m intrigued. Reading about a life so foreign to my own (thankfully!) is fascinating. Plus, his desire to “right his wrongs” and to have a better future while also setting a great example for others who have made mistakes and want to do better, to be better is uplifting. So, check Joe out. I think you’ll be happy you did.

Breaking Bread With Buddhists

The other night we had dinner with friends, one of whom we didn’t know very well. The conversation was engaging, particularly when two of the people began discussing their mutual interest in Buddhism. Both had been practicing for many years. I have a rudimentary (putting it mildly) understanding of Buddhism, which is to say I know almost nothing but find it intriguing. So, I asked for the basic tenets. Carl said it starts with some “rules.” Keep in mind these are my words paraphrasing his explanations and most likely not doing them justice but you’ll get the idea.

First is impermanence, which is to say, nothing lasts forever and/or everything changes. Everything dies, that’s another rule. So, if you get those concepts, everything else in life falls into a category of, in a way, not really important. When my daughter was 3 she referred to unimportant things as “nevermind.” “That’s ‘nevermind’,” she’d reply if you brought up a topic she considered too inconsequential to even discuss. So, Lisa, the other Buddhist breaking bread, said, for example, the  issues my family has been dealing with for the last year and a half as my mother–in-law was dying and my siblings-in-law were scheming to grab all of her assets for their own , in the view of the average enlightened Buddhist would be “nevermind.” (Or as I might less politely put it, bullshit.) In other words, we should have been able to put it all in perspective and let it go without allowing it to pierce our hearts, our souls or our minds, as we did.

That was an epiphany of sorts. Of course I knew the drama the despicable siblings had generated was somewhat insane but I was sorely lacking in the ability to see it for what it was — “nevermind.” Rather, I took it to heart, I suffered great angst, I worried, I schemed ways to stop them, hell I even wrote an entire book as I processed all they had done.

If I were an enlightened Buddhist, would I have done none of those things? While that looks pretty good to me in hindsight, I wonder. If the only thing that matters is that which might actually kill me and come to think of it not even that because as an enlightened person I’d have accepted my death because I know for sure it’s coming, then what would I write about? If everything but death takes on less importance wouldn’t that also make it less interesting to process?

If I could no longer muse on human drama because none of it mattered, would I be happier? Practicing Buddhists appear to be calmer, more peaceful, and more accepting of drama. They don’t seem to need to process in the endless (some might say annoying) way I do. Maybe I wouldn’t be happier but would I be more at peace?

I’m planning to read more about Buddhism. Yesterday Kindle offered a free download of a book called something like “Buddhism for Beginners.” I’m going to read it but I’m not sure I’m going to be more peaceful as a result. In the meantime, I’ll continue breaking bread with interesting people and I’ll probably follow up by processing what they said.

I may not be cut out for Buddhism. If you’d like to comment and explain the many ways I’m wrong about this, go for it. I’ll probably process what you say as well.

Running, Mediation and Writing

This morning I ran a few miles outside for the first time in many months. Running time has often been meditational for me and today was no different. While I try to quiet my mind what usually happens is thoughts that must push their way through the quiet do so and interrupt my meditation. When that happens, I’ve learned to go with it and investigate the thoughts in order to let go of them.

That’s when I had the epiphany. Writing is a meditational process and much the same way as in meditating, you may be writing or attempting to write one thing but other thoughts keep pushing through. There’s a reason they push through; they demand to be investigated.

Years ago I set out to write a piece about my dad who had just died. I meant to write a loving tribute to a wonderful man with a beautiful soul. But here I am, many years later and that same piece of writing morphed into a full memoir about family. I didn’t mean for it to do so, I just couldn’t keep those thoughts, the concept of a family’s big picture dysfunction, from creeping in. I had to investigate them. So I did and before I knew it, it was a book.

And now I can let it go. And pick up where I left off. Back to meditating and musing on love.

If you find yourself writing and thoughts keep crashing in, maybe you are writing about something which needs to be tabled so that you can focus on what keeps bubbling up to the top of your mind. Then, let it go.

Amazon Reviews Are Monitored! Is that Good or Bad?

So reviews started coming in for my book and they were fascinating. The positive reviewers were “Verified Purchasers,” meaning Amazon determined the writers had bought the book. Not one of the negative reviewers had purchased the book. It was clear they were disgruntled family members or their friends. I totally understand their anger. This book tells all, albeit from my point of view, but these folks did things they really wouldn’t want the world to know and now, as they see it, the world does know, thanks to me.

Their reviews and comments on other reviews, while at first upsetting, became amusing to me at some level. Plus, I think they sold books as the days when these reviews showed up were my highest sellers. Here’s just a taste of how these went.

Christ 1 star
Hitler 5 stars

And…this one from my brother-in-law who writes under the screen name MISC (yes, he chose miscellaneous but I think he meant anonymous.)

“BTW “readers”, Debby’s book of lies is entitled “when aging parents die”, however Debby and Ned Carroll have behaved badly for 30 years prior to the death of the parents Debby eludes to. I am privy to inside info (the info that Debby and Ned Carroll don’t want revealed about themselves), and I can assure you that the death or aging of parents had nothing to do with who they are or what they did…to be continued.”

Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up. I’m not that good a writer! But his comment saying he’s going to reveal “Inside info” got me interested. I was eagerly awaiting the “info.” I’ve lived a pretty boring life. If he’s got something juicy about me, I’d love to know what it is!

But on Amazon people can indicate whether reviews and or comments constitute abuse. If Amazon deems them abusive, they’ll remove said material. So they did. Now my reviews are rife with this message “Amazon deleted this comment 3 hours ago.”

I don’t know if our family members will continue to post commentary now that Amazon deleted their previous work. I kind of hope so, though. I’m anxious to see what they’ve got planned.

So is my family as crazy as I think they are or has anyone else seen this kind of material on reviews? I must say, their personal attacks are not like anything I’ve ever seen on a book review. But they are pretty funny and may lead to a necessary sequel to my story.

Are You Holding Back Your Stories?

This morning I was speaking with a friend about my book, Tales From the Family Crypt: When Aging Parents Die, Sibling Rivalry Lives. He had read the first few chapters and noted it was quite compelling. “You can really tell a good story,” he offered graciously. But, he said he thought I had left out an important point. My story is deeply personal about how our dysfunctional siblings disrupted our lives. It’s also about how our parents, my husband’s and mine, added to the dysfunction by being really poor communicators. While I’ve waited until all four parents died to put this story out there, the siblings are all still alive. So, the story is likely quite painful for them to have out there in the world. My friend thought it important for me to state emphatically why I “needed” to write this book while those siblings are still living.

He knew the answer but he thought readers should know too. So, he asked me “Why did you want to write this now?” I explained I had lived this heartache for 30 years and in all of that time, as a result of the way our parents dealt with conflict, I had been unable to speak my piece. My husband never wanted me to confront his parents or his siblings and I never wanted to upset my father about what my sister was doing. When they did despicable things to us, to my husband and my daughters, I held my tongue. I held back this story for half of my life. I think it’s a good story, one that may help others to deal with their difficult family situations. More than that, though, I think I was simply unable to hold back my story any longer.

It had to come out. Was it selfish of me? Yes, I have to admit it was because I am benefiting from the release in the relief I feel now. Letting this story see the light of day after years of being shrouded in the darkness was cathartic. I didn’t have much to lose, none of the siblings involved speak to us or to my kids. Was I worried about embarrassing them? No. I just told the truth about what happened. If they find it embarrassing, I can’t help that. Some of it is embarrassing to me too but overall, it just feels like a burden has been lifted.

So, writers, I ask you to consider — Are you holding in stories you need to let go of? What’s holding you back from being freed of the burden you carry?

Hello From the Afterlife!

My memoir about extreme family dysfunction taking place as aging parents die has been out for a week. Sales are brisk (thanks very much first readers!) and reviews are in. The good reviews are gratifying; some people have even expressed gratitude for helping them deal with similar situations. The bad reviews are astounding. So far every one of those has been written by a family member described in the book. They’ve called me Hitler and that’s one of the nicer things they’ve said. Interestingly, every one of the good reviews is an Amazon “verified purchase,” while not one of the negative reviews is. Makes sense, it’s pretty obvious from the content of those reviews, none of the writers have read the book.

It all got me to thinking about what makes writers need/want to tell their stories? I’ve studied memoir writing. One of the first lessons is to be sure you’re not writing to hurt, or to punish, or for revenge. So, I did have to wait until enough time had passed after events that I could feel certain those were not my motivation. My motivation was twofold. First and maybe foremost, it’s a good and compelling story. Yes, it’s my story and from my point of view but I can’t imagine anyone not finding it at least a little bit interesting. Secondly, it might give aid and comfort to others dealing with similar situations because, alas, there are way too many people out there who are. (A future blog post or 100 will deal with that issue.)

If you want to share stories about dealing with your dysfunctional family, this might be the perfect place. Your story may top mine and that’s okay (but a shame for you!). Keep your eye on this space; it should provide some interesting reading. In the meaning, look on Amazon for my reviews and be sure to click on the comments. They highly entertaining. (Not for the faint of heart, though.) Tales From the Family Crypt: When Aging Parents Die, Sibling Rivalry Lives.