Monday, January 6, 2014

What Erich Fromm Would Think of Please Love Me

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”
Erich Fromm

Guest blogger, Lisa Bonet, whose focus is mental health, compares the psychological aspects of my book, Please Love Me, with Erich Fromm's classic, international bestseller, The Art of Loving. The Art of Loving launched a movement with its powerful insight. Per Lisa, "If you are begging for reality in reading, read these two together for balancing opinions."

A Combination to Shatter Your Heart

“Please Love Me” by Penelope Przekop is a tale of overcoming child abuse to continue into rocky relationships. It is not a happy tale, rather, it is realistic in its message; not every victim comes out happy and fulfilled. It’s simply a fact of life that most victims don’t find their happiness, and remain somehow broken, as Peyton is in her inability to form substantial relationships. This story can be hailed as raw, honest, and completely straightforward. It is refreshing to hold a piece of work which reflects the true end to a path of abuse, rather than the flowery happy endings which aren’t always believable.

The book could walk hand in hand with Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, written in 1956. Dr. Fromm was a psychologist who believed love can be a learned behavior, developed as one would develop a skill for writing or mathematical equations. He threw out the magic associated with love and chalked it up to something that must be practiced to be sustained. Much like riding a bike, once it’s learned it cannot be unlearned, but it does need consistent practice if it is to stay relevant. Dr. Fromm believes that the most important element of love is self-love. He discusses how people cannot love another if they do not first love themselves. Different types of love are explored, including love for parents and a deity. He does not claim that he is going to teach anyone to love themselves or someone else; he only aims to discuss the fact that, for love to exist, it must be practiced first on the self and second as a skill.

Peyton Should Read It

Dr. Fromm’s book begins comparing to Ms. Przekop’s story as a parallel tale of love and how it can go wrong when practiced incorrectly. Dr. Fromm would most likely assume that Peyton’s mother did not actually love Peyton because she could not love herself. Mother was searching consistently for love outside of herself, which led her to the church and the extreme exorcism group. The group was an addiction for Peyton's mother, similar to drugs or alcoholism. Pulling away from this church group was akin to recovery from alcoholism; Peyton's mother would have suffered withdrawal symptoms and probably would not have been able to love Peyton anyway. A love of God, lack of love of self and non-existing love for her daughter are all points brought up in Dr. Fromm’s book. The extreme need to force love and caring onto others forced Mother to exorcise even those who didn’t need it. She was trying to cling to some sort of love, but she was using the wrong methods to practice. Mother was a classic example of what Dr. Fromm was talking about when he said that love needed to be practiced with ourselves first, then it could be given to others. Mother never loved Peyton’s father, she never loved Peyton and she never truly loved the church to which she clung so tight because she never loved herself.

Is it any wonder Peyton never holds a relationship? She can’t begin to love herself because the practice of love was never demonstrated to her. Dr. Fromm would agree that Peyton needs to expose herself to those who truly love to learn how the craft works. She needs to practice love and perhaps return love from those who give it to her to learn how it’s done. As Dr. Fromm’s book is self-proclaimed to not be a how-to on this, however, Peyton would need to learn how to complete these steps on her own. Dr. Fromm’s work would help her realize the beginning of love comes from within herself; practicing to love means letting go of things that you hate about yourself and appreciating the things that work for you.

Healing Begins At Home

After Peyton were to realize she needs to love herself through Dr. Fromm’s book, she would need to begin cleaning out the negative energy from her life. She would need to appreciate her strengths and even seek out those who would support her best efforts. She needs to turn off her inner voice and realize she is worthy of love, even if her mother never believed it. She will have to find friends before she finds other types of love, because the steps to a full relationship need to be small for her. She needs to build her fortress from the outside in, starting with a pass through of Dr. Fromm’s book.

Dr. Fromm’s book parallels Ms. Przekop’s book because they both discuss love in different perspectives – one from a lack of love and one discussing from where love comes. Dr. Fromm reviews the fact that love must be practiced while Ms. Przekop reviews what happens when it’s not practiced. Reading these books together is almost heartbreaking because the reader realizes what Peyton should do and what she is not doing. This reader almost wants to throw Dr. Fromm’s book at Peyton in a desperate attempt to force the poor girl to make a change for her life. If you are begging for reality in reading, read these two together for balancing opinions.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Please Love Me: A Review

"The best part of PLEASE LOVE ME is its honesty."

Freelance writer, Lisa Bonet, recently read my novel, PLEASE LOVE ME, and kindly sent me the following review. Lisa's professional focus is on creativity and mental health.

Lisa states at the end of this review that the book does not have a happy ending. While that may be correct in many ways, the ending portrays a more mature and empowered Peyton leaving behind the people, emotions, and life that have not worked for her. This is, in fact, the start of a new beginning, although one suspects the journey may be a long one. That is an honest ending for a honest book.

Overcoming childhood abuse of any kind often requires taking a long road; anyone who tells you otherwise, is skirting the issue of how deeply childhood experience weave themselves into who we are and how we reflect upon ourselves throughout life. With that said, hope is eternal. I hope PLEASE LOVE ME will encourage and inspire someone else to take the first step toward a new attitude and stronger resolve in themselves moving forward. No matter what ills life has thrown your way, there is love and joy ahead. You just have to be determined to find it within yourself first. It's not easy but it's possible!

I know this.

PLEASE LOVE ME, written by Penelope Przekop, author of ABERRATIONS, is a reflection of the author’s early experiences with love and lust. While these things need not go hand in hand, sometimes, when parental love is lacking, they weave themselves into a confusing trap where one cannot possibly exist without the other. As the protagonist moves through her life, she searches desperately for the love of her mother in every boy she meets, and this leads to strange and controlling patterns from which she cannot break free.

The story begins with Peyton, our heroine, at a frat party at only seventeen years old. She isn’t in a sorority or even involved with Greek college society, but she does know how to flirt. She picks up a boy who already seems to know a great deal about her, so the deeper question becomes, who picks up whom? An element of suspense lays under the surface of this first meeting as Matt, the object of Peyton’s flirtatious gestures, has been stalking Peyton already. Desperate for love, Peyton dismisses this, ignoring that such actions often lead to a controlling relationship.

As the story progresses, the author jumps seamlessly from flashback to present day. The reader is introduced to people who come and go in Peyton’s life, especially Peyton’s mother. It is revealed that many of Peyton’s inabilities to find the right type of love stem from her relationship with her mother, who had psychological problems undiagnosed in the late seventies and early eighties.

Mother Knows Best

Peyton’s mother was deeply religious, seeking love through the church. She participates in exorcisms, which aren’t always practiced on people with real demons. She also beats Peyton with belts and sticks for strange reasons, such as when Peyton gets an abortion. Peyton isn’t beaten for the act itself, or out of misplaced anger through concern for her daughter's health, but for taking away her mother’s grandchild. This scene serves to prove the selfishness of her mother, and how far removed she is from everything except her own personal needs. Further, it proves that Peyton and her mother are intellectually and emotionally disconnected - Peyton never felt comfortable enough to approach her mother concerning the topic. This scene portrays the all-too-real situation of a mother and daughter who do not have the necessary trust or communication for a healthy relationship. It also proves to foreshadow how Peyton will handle adult relationships with both men and women.

Another disturbing mother/daughter scene happens when Peyton is very young. The mother comes out of a bedroom and falls all over Peyton, begging for love. She claims that Peyton’s father is killing her and she doesn’t know what to do about it. Peyton takes in her mother’s pain and internalizes it. She fails to understand why her mother is crying, she just knows that it’s happening. The marriage ends when Peyton’s mother falls in love with a man from the church.

As the story progresses, Peyton moves through a number of different relationships. The only relationship consistent in Peyton’s life is that of Becca, her best friend. Peyton has a hard time attaching herself to anyone else. She dates Matt until he breaks up with her and she barely makes it through the break up. She proceeds through a number of different relationships, never getting too deep into any of them and always moving on to the next one quickly.

Future Relationships Don't Get Better

The relationship with Matt is hectic at best, and when he comes back, the pattern doesn’t end. He goes back to playing with her emotions and she follows along, not understanding how love is supposed to happen. She does not possess the self-respect necessary to ask for respect from others.

When Matt and Peyton first meet, he tells her she is a loner, never staying with the same friends for very long. This could be why he seeks her out, but it’s also foreshadowing for the story overall. Peyton needs to pull herself up and away from her mother, which she never does. As we all are in real life, she feels tied to the woman who brought her here, though that same woman has been poisoning her throughout life. Peyton's relationship with her mother serves as the base for all of her relationships.

The story could have been changed to have a happy ending for Peyton, but then it would not be real. It would not reflect what happens every day in our actual lives – we sometimes fall and cannot get back up in our real lives. The best part of PLEASE LOVE ME is its honesty. Readers are warned from the very first page that this book is based on the truth, so if you’re looking for a happy ending or a turnaround for Peyton and her mother, you’re not going to get it. You’re going to get an honest account of what happens when a mother depends too much on her young daughter for emotional support.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finding Natural Audience: Marc Zegans

I love art. I love words. I do not love marketing. If my passion were to be the world's greatest marketing strategist, I would have majored in marketing. Or perhaps I would have gone into sales. It's probably a Captain Obvious statement, but these days the question of 'who's got talent' has gone by the wayside in favor of 'who's got marketing skills'.

Well, that feels like crap to me, and I'm tired of it. 

A lot of creatives agree. We seem to be labeled dumb by some of those who embrace the conundrum. I know I’m not dumb. I can’t speak for everyone else. I just don't enjoy marketing; it feels like a chore. I could list specific reasons why, but I won’t bore you. Let’s just say it’s not what I signed up for. Maybe I’m just stubborn. Sure, if I could afford a million dollar marketing plan, I’d sign on the dotted line. Maybe when I hit the lottery …

I've tried to do my best for years, out here on my own. Now I'm pushing 50 and it seems that every day I ask myself what's really important. What do I want and need to spend my time on and why?

Some days I wonder how much time I actually have left.

Interestingly, earlier this month I had an epiphany as I finished listening to the audio version of Please Love Me, the first novel I wrote. As I listened to my own words reaching out to me through the wonderful voice of Rebecca Roberts, the concept of audience hit me in a clear, new way. 

Although I do not love marketing, I love my audience. And to be specific, I deeply love the audience for Please Love Me. I know they're out there; I just have to find them.

And I will.

Given this sort of earth-shaking realization, reading Marc Zegans' interview answers felt like fate. This guy actually wrote an ebook about finding your Natural Audience, regardless of size. Marc is a poet but he's also a creative development advisor. Sounds like something I need! 

As a start, I will be reading his ebook this week.  

What’s your story (in a nutshell)? 

Inside the walnut: I started out mixing sound in San Francisco, then found myself in the public policy world, working first for the Mayor of Boston, and then running the Innovations Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. At Harvard, I loved helping people complete their research, and guiding public managers through knotty innovation challenges. Along the way, I became a poet, saw a play of mine produced, and found my creative life thriving. About fourteen years ago, I was diagnosed with Cancer. As I found my way back to health, it became clear to me that I wanted to use the skills I’d developed to help artists thrive. I’ve been doing this work ever since. 

What’s your current focus, and how did it evolve? 

For  several years I concentrated on spoken word projects, and released two albums, “Night Work” (Philistine Records), and “Marker and Parker” (Tiny Mind Records), the latter with Jazz pianist Don Parker.  Now I’m giving attention to publishing.  My latest piece appeared this week in Ibbetson Street 34 (Fall 2013). 

As a creative development advisor, though I continue to work with arts organizations and creatively driven firms, I’ve been giving more time to working with individual artists. I’ve developed a way of working with people across the stages of their creative lives, and through the crises that punctuate them; that’s not been done before. Working with artists one-on-one touches the heart of creativity, and that’s different for every person.

What have been your greatest creative setbacks in your current work or in the past, and how did you overcome them? 

In the past couple of years I’ve faced some significant health challenges that have limited the time I can bring to my creative work, and have made the degree of physical energy I have on a given day somewhat unpredictable. In that context, I’ve had to learn to sharpen my priorities, to use my energy judiciously, and to meet the moment very well. This has helped deepen my capacity to understand the struggles of the artists I work with. I’m going to be writing in the near future about tools any artist can use to grapple fruitfully with challenging circumstances. 

How do you describe creative success? 

I think creative success varies in its meaning and in its particulars over the course of a lifetime. It varies also from person to person.  Beneath this variation, the strong current that drives creative success lies in finding ways to do work that is meaningful; to share this work with audiences that will genuinely appreciate it; to attract the resources one needs to do projects that are personally important, and to discover where to most wisely and happily focus one’s attention. 

With regard to achieving success as described above, have you ever felt like giving up on your creative dreams or projects? If so, how did you manage to keep going? 

I think there’s a difference between giving up on creative projects and larger creative dreams. Some projects simply don’t work, and you discover this yourself, or because the world tells you. I think it’s fine to abandon a project that’s truly not working, or when it represents a place from which your heart has moved on. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to drop quickly things that are not working as soon as I see it, and to persist with passion on the projects that make sense to me. I’ve also learned that sometimes projects best evolve when you put them away until they’ve developed depth and texture. This is no different than making good wine. Some things need bottle age before they’re poured.

The question of creative dreams writ large is more complex. I’ve spent much of my life fighting to preserve and to live out my creative dreams in the face of difficulty. I’ve managed to keep going by asking each moment, what can I best do here? Sometimes it’s as simple as getting some sleep, or writing a letter to a dear friend. Other times, it’s about looking into the work and seeing what needs to move, or boldly starting a new project simply because your heart tells you to. The work I do with artists enables them them to find and cultivate practical and emotional resources for moving ahead in the face of fear and adversity. 

In case you need to look this up ... as I did.
Do you ever question the value of spending so much of your time on creative endeavors? If so, how do you justify the value, and keep going? 

When I was younger I did, and I regret that. Part of the reason I became a creative development advisor was because I came to see how short life is, and how important it is for each of us as human beings to do in this world what we truly find meaningful. When working with artists questions about the meaning and value of the work necessarily arise: we face challenges, setbacks, indifference from the world, and the anomie of knowing that we have worked a vein well past the time it went dry. These questions become opportunities to explore how we can restore meaning to our work in ways that are fresh, self-loving and honest. When we’re connected to our deepest expressive desires, we feel no need to justify what we’re doing because we know it’s true, and because we know it’s right. If we find ourselves struggling to justify what we’re doing, we probably should explore what it is about the work, or our fears and vulnerabilities that make us feel insecure.  Then we can act constructively to remedy the source of our insecurity, rather than losing ourselves in a typically misplaced need to justify our work.

How do you deal with the challenge of feeling or being viewed as unique in a world that is overcrowded with people pushing their creative projects and outputs? 

I view this as a false challenge. Every living thing is unique and expresses itself in unique ways. If we direct our attention to doing things that resonate with our hearts, we’re most likely to be able to make a unique and satisfying contribution. That’s what my book, Finding Natural Audience is about. The book starts with the premise that every painting, every song, every book, every installation, has a natural audience, by which I mean a group of people that would want to engage the work if they knew about it. In some cases the audience is no one but us; in others it could be a few friends, a random stranger, a wealthy collector or millions of people. The critical issue is to accept the premise that there’s a natural audience out there, and to engage in deliberate practices to find that audience, while emotionally letting go of how large or small that audience may be. 

In today’s world, where the ability to market one’s self seems to be more important than actual talent or giftedness, do you believe it’s still possible for someone’s talent to be fully recognized?

Talent and giftedness are traps. Worrying about whether we have talent or a gift when we’re young diverts us from doing the work. Seeing ourselves as talented or gifted when we’re more seasoned sets us up to be victims, “Why isn’t the world coming to me if I’m so talented?” 

Better to ask:
“Who might be interested in this work that was so meaningful for me to make?"

“How can I find these people?” 

“Who would like to buy this work or sponsor the exhibition?" 

“Where will I meet them?” 

“How can I get them on board?” 

Posing and answering these sorts of practical questions makes us robust and helps lead us to our natural audience, whatever its size and purchasing power. 

If you could give your creative colleagues only a few points of advice, what would they be?

Love yourself, your world and the people in it.

Do what matters to you, even if it’s controversial, opaque to others, or easily attacked. 

Share your work.

Find champions who get your work and believe in you.


Learn more about Marc Zegans' and his work here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Teen Suicide: A Raw and Honest Glimpse into the Darkness

Introducing PLEASE LOVE ME ...

Over the last few weeks I've listened to narrator Rebecca Robert's draft audio version of my first book, Truck Bodies. Listening to the word of my younger self reminded me how painfully close to my heart the book is, and how far I've come. As I listened, I had an epiphany about the value of the story, and what I needed to do to get the book in front of its natural audience (Intentional Practice & The Art of Finding Natural Audience).

I realized that the title needed to change, and so the book has been reborn as PLEASE LOVE ME. I also changed the cover, using my own art work. The piece selected is called "My Skin is Just a Suit I Wear" (2013). 

When I set out to put my story on paper nearly 25 years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I only knew that it felt extremely important, and I painstakingly chipped away at it. Now, five books later, I realize that there was no way I could have seen the value in that raw honesty that way I do now. Back then, I desperately wanted it to have value. I was searching for meaning in the troubled years I'd finally managed to leave behind ... or so I thought. Some things never fully leave; I'm sure that can be seen in my art work.

At Seventeen (2011)
Now I realize that if anyone wants or needs to get a raw and real glimpse into the issue of teen suicide, it's an important book. Based on my background (read the book), I'm still somewhat terrified of my own honesty, of admitting even now the things that I did and felt, and not call it "fiction," but my younger self has led the way. 

My brother also leads the way. He committed suicide in July 2012. How can I walk away from his pain and not speak the truth? When someone says, "Someone's got to love me soon or I'm not going to make it," (whether they are 18 or 45), what does that really mean, and what can we do about it? What can I do to make a difference? Knowing that my brother found himself in that dark place years after I did, with no help from me, breaks my heart over and over again ...

Perhaps PLEASE LOVE ME can help someone else.

Perhaps it can help a lost teenager understand that there is hope. Perhaps it can help a parent understand what's going on with their child, or gain insight into what is needed. Perhaps it can help a culture or person who still breeds secrets to open up, to see that indoctrinating kids into too tight a frame can backfire when what they truly crave is unconditional love.

What is Happening Here? (detail, 2013)
I applaud all the phenomenal efforts to end bullying in our schools. Of course, no one should ever be bullied. But the truth is, throughout life we all run into people and situations that can potentially strip away our self-worth. There will always be a bully. And there are real bullies and perceived bullies. Life's bullying takes the greatest toll on those of us who grow up without a shaky sense of self (which can occur for a multitude of reasons). By limiting the issue of teen suicide to eradication of bullying alone will not wipe out teen suicide. Suicide ultimately results from feelings of profound hopelessness, and some of us are much more vulnerable to that; the most savvy bully's know how to find us, even the one's in our own heads.

I've been on a journey toward honesty for some time. And as hard as I try to get there, I still resist. I beat around the bush. I hint. It makes me wonder how many of us put up facades and stand together, alone in a crowd, because we're so afraid to be the one who drops the mask and says, "Look at me, the real me, and see that you're not alone? Help me and let me help you." My fear is that my mask will drop and instead of being brave enough to also be honest, the crowd will turn on me or simply ignore me standing there exposed. That the crowd will become another bully in my life. I suspect a lot of us feel that way? Meanwhile those coming up behind us suffer, thinking we're as solid and together as the masks we wear ... that we couldn't possibly understand any pain they may be working through.

How can we better instill in teenagers how valuable and full of promise they are, how bright the future truly is, and the personal power they have to forge the way? That's the problem.

I'd like to be part of the solution.


For as long as she can remember, 17-year-old Peyton Bound has struggled to remain strong despite being lost in the whirlwind of her emotionally disturbed mother’s life … then she finds Matthew Adler at a frat party. He’s the first boy who kisses her with open eyes; Peyton finally sees herself in their sparkling reflection. She’s confident that her fairytale moment has finally arrived, the day when everything will magically fall into place, and the burdens of her disturbing childhood will begin to lift. But when everything goes wrong, Peyton can no longer run from the truth about herself. Something is missing, and no one can save her.

Artist and writer Penelope Przekop grew up in Louisiana during the 1970s and 80s. Despite fictional elements, PLEASE LOVE ME is her memoir; she is Peyton Bound, a character she created as a young adult to understand how she fell into a destructive relationship that led to a suicide attempt, and violent public cry for help. As she wrote the book, she realized it was about much more than first love gone wrong. It was about her dysfunctional childhood, her mentally ill mother, and her desperation to break free.

PLEASE LOVE ME gives a raw voice to some of the deepest issues contributing to teenage suicide. It is an honest look into the human spirit's need for love and truth in a world full of craziness, and just how far some will go to find it.

Please share information about PLEASE LOVE ME with anyone in your life who may have interest. The book is available in print and Kindle formats. The audio version is coming soon.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Quick Writing Update

This is the latest draft cover of my upcoming book utilizing Aberration Nation content.  The book, 57 Souls: The Creative Journey, will be the first in a series of three books.  Watch for them to be launched by Hallway Press over the next month or so.

I've narrowed the content down to a focus of 57 diverse creatives, including bestselling authors, Pulitzer winners, filmmakers, artists, photographers and more.

Go here to read more about the project.

Also, if you've not read my novels, Centerpieces and Dust, they are available as FREE Kindle downloads until midnight tonight!

I also plan to dive back into the Aberration Nation interview format!  Watch for a new interview in the next week or so.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Apologies to my Blog Followers!

Apologies to my blog followers! 

You may have just received a million Aberration Nation emails!

I had taken down the majority of my blog posts because I'm working on a book utilizing the blog content. Now that I'm almost finished, I realize that the posts should continue to be available on the blog. The book content is formatted vastly different from the blog posts so the book and the blog will compliment one another well.

I have re-published all the posts so you may have received a million emails!  This was unavoidable, and I do apologize.

Once the book is published, I hope you will check it out!  I'll keep you posted! Meanwhile, please check out my other books here.  They are now all available as print and Kindle formats.  Aberrations will be available in audio format very soon, followed by the others.

As always, your support means the world to me!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Evolution of Aberration Nation: Creatives Speak


I'm working on a series of books about creatives and creativity utilizing over five years of Aberration Nation interview material, which includes nearly 1 million words. The books will be available in print, ebook, and audible formats.

Over 80 creatives including Pulitzer Prize winners, bestselling authors, award winning musicians, highly successful artists, and more will share their thoughts on topics such as:

  • process
  • style
  • the difference between being creative and being gifted
  • motto
  • success
  • how their creativity has caused them issues or helped them in life
  • dealing with others
  • whether they create for expression or creation
  • who and what inspires their work
  • ah-ha moments
  • overcoming aberrations in life
  • and much more!
As I'm publishing these books myself (see post below), I expect to have the first one available by November, if not sooner.

The book cover shown above is a very, very early draft. I'm sure it will change but it makes for a good visual for now. The title is also a working title so it may change as well.

I'm extremely excited about this project! I'm 100% confident that no one has the data I have, and I can't wait to slice and dice it!

I know these books will be a great contribution to the creative community and provide wonderful insight for individuals, young and old, who seek to understand the creative spirit.

Full speed ahead!

All is Write With the World

These books represent twenty-five years of effort, sometimes writing in short 20 minutes segments, during lunch breaks, late at night when babies were sleeping and I had to get up at six for work the next morning, etc. For these books, I have dug floppy disks out of corporate trash dumpsters (long story); re-typed nearly 100,000 words due to computer crashes; spent hours and hours on research; endured rejection after rejection; cried; and labored, driven by my unflinching belief that it was important. That I had the soul of a writer, of a creative person who could never stop. That I would be forever emerged in what sometimes felt like a sick simultaneous trap and release scenario, and therefore, I had to show something for it.

Over the years, I've had four great literary agents and have received praise from editors, agents, and established authors such as Lisa See, Antwone Fisher, Anneli Rufus, Marya Hornbacher, Terri Cheney, and Joshilyn Jackson. The top fiction editors in the business have read my work. In more recent years, most accepted my work for review directly from me (rather than the usual requirement of having an agent) because they knew the quality of my work and wanted to read more. They knew me. Even an editor at The New Yorker said that I had a gift.

Yet, through it all, my work never found an established publisher for reasons such as ... "too similar to another book I already have on my list", "too character driven for our list, "due to the economy", "can't take on any more titles at the moment" ... all prefaced by comments such as "you are a truly talented writer."  For years and years, my spirits rose and fell like your guts on a roller coaster. Although I struggled to stay positive, it took a toll; it broke my heart.

I needed a break, and I'd been having an odd urge to paint.

So in 2008, I picked up a paintbrush. I kept writing at that time, but by 2010, I set the writing aside to focus on art. Writing was my first love, the one that got away, that didn't work out and left a scar. Art was my new love, the one that seemed to rescue and revive me. The one that made me see that what drove me creatively was still there. It was still alive and real and worth something. As Frida Kahlo said, "Art completed my life." It matured me creatively and as a person.

While I was busy painting, the world changed. The publishing industry shifted in astonishing ways. The acceptance of electronic media skyrocketed despite economic downward trends left and right. Publishing houses collapsed, rebuilt, merged, etc. and today self-publishing doesn't smack so much of giving-up-and-doing-it-yourself-because-it's-crap-that-only-your-mom-will-love. Sure, I do want my mom to read my books, as well as my children and their children and their children, but I also want to let the world in, to share what I've spent years of my life laboring over. And now is the time; the stars have aligned.

For a while I felt that I was likely a better artist than writer, and perhaps that's true. But for me, it no longer matters. Finally, I believe in what I've created enough to stand behind it and just say, "Here it is, accept it or not."  I'm ready to give it to the universe, to God, to whatever 'powers that be' you ascribe to. Sure, I'd like to benefit financially from my creative work. Sure, I'd love for one of the editors I know to call me, right now, and say they're finally prepared to offer me a six-figure advance. But that's not likely to happen and it's okay for a variety of reasons. Now I know the missing phone call is not a reflection on the quality of my work, or of me as an individual.

Interestingly, although I'm not in it for riches, I've noted that for every book I sell myself, I make about 6 bucks, whereas if a publisher sells on my behalf (such as with my McGraw-Hill title) I make about a dollar. They can also choose their own title for my book if they feel like it (happened with McGraw-Hill), and do just about anything they want with it. Hummm .... enough said. Now, I have plans to get more of my existing writing into print (including ebook and audible format) while I continue painting, and yes, eventually, write a new novel when I'm ready.

I still have a lot to say.

In conclusion, I'll admit that I do hope that if you're reading this, you'll take the time to read one or more of my books. I'd love for you to write an Amazon review and tell your friends about my work.

I wrote these books for you.

Chick Lit vs. Wit Lit: The Road to Literary Revolution (full article)

Last week I had the opportunity to take a 12-hour road trip across Texas with my 66-year-old mother. She talked a lot about the way things used to be when she was growing up in the 1950s. She enjoyed going on about how everyone was so much more polite, well-groomed, and decent. I was surprised to hear that my grandmother required my mom and her siblings to make their beds when they stayed in hotels.


My mother graduated from high school in 1960. Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road was published in 1961. Ironically, I was getting this earful about life in the '50s just as I was finishing Yates' novel. Flying back to Philly from Dallas, I thought about the perfect picture of domestication my mother grew up with, and how she still wishes life could be that way. Truth be told, she wishes I could be that way. (Confession: I rarely make the beds in my own home much less hotels.) I also considered what I'd like to say about Revolutionary Road.

Another detail swirling in my head was the fact that I finally read a
novel officially categorized as Chick Lit just prior to reading Revolutionary Road. It was Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess. One word to describe my reaction: disappointed. Of course, lots of folks buy Kinsella's novels, and I admit that her work, along with the rest of successful Chick Lit, has its place on the shelf, and probably on sandy beaches everywhere. But I take the word literature seriously ... maybe too seriously.

Before my first Chick Lit experience, I assumed these books were for hip, intelligent women who love literature. Isn't literature supposed to mean something more than hot embraces, palatial homes, awesome shoes, and perfect endings filled with train station embraces? If not, than I was an official chick at eleven. That was the fateful year I discovered the thrill of the harlequin romance. My love lasted about four months—the amount of time it took me to figure out the formula and lose interest.

Now that I'm a woman who can bring home some sort of bacon, I want what I've decided to call, Wit Lit. And yes, Wit Lit can appeal to men as well because although we’re apparently from different planets, we share good ole' human nature in all its simple and fascinating complexity—the very element Yates tapped into when he wrote Revolutionary Road in 1961. Yates’ novel qualifies as Wit Lit because it's 20-21th century literature that brilliantly provokes relevant, close-to-home thought in the reader. The fact that it was written in 1961 is significant in that the particular questions Yates poses were unexpected and bold within the context of my mother's graduating class. These American kids were poised to waltz out into the world and set up houses with nice white picket fences, swing sets, and husbands who wore suits to work while the girls stayed home and baked to ensure the home smelled yummy for hubby's return. Yates gave them something to think about, and he gives us something to think about today. Thus another criterion for Wit Lit: timeless.

In Revolutionary Road, Yates masterfully uses the one certifiably crazy character, John Givings, to deliver truth to a bunch of neighborhood chicks and dudes who, despite their wonderful, intelligent qualities, find themselves caught in the cultural quagmire of the 1950's my mother so misses. This crazy guy, John, seems to have much to give, however lacking the acceptable 1950's social skills, he’s been wheeled out of town to an institution. His parents define him as unstable and ill, yet Yates never provides facts to support why he's been classified this way. John actually seems to know what he's talking about in a room full of people struggling to put up all the kinds of fronts that maintain the perfect picture John has escaped.

The Wheelers and main characters, Frank and April, have much to offer to each other, their children, and themselves, but they can't seem to pull past bitter disappointment as they fail to physically escape the Norman Rockwell life they’ve been pressured to emulate. Yates brilliantly casts an inner pallor over the white picket fences, swing sets, yummy smells, and pressed suits of that stifling world. Frank and April aptly recognize that pallor yet fail to grasp the magnitude of choices within their reach. Frank describes the culture he longs to escape like this:

"Christ's sake, when it comes to any kind of a showdown we're still in the Middle Ages. It's as if everyone'd made this tacit agreement to live in a state of total self-deception. The hell with reality! Let's have a whole bunch of cute little winding and cute little houses painted white and pink and baby blue; let's all be good consumers and have a lot of Togetherness and bring our children up in a bath of sentimentality--Daddy's a great man because he makes a living, Mummy's a great woman because she's stuck by Daddy all these years--and if old reality ever does pop out and say Boo we'll all get busy and pretend it never happened."

However, reality is all around Frank. He falls prey to the sad unreality he longs to escape through his inability to honestly express himself in nearly all his relationships.

He describes his work like this: "I mean the great advantage of a place like Knox is that you can sort of turn off your mind every morning at nine and leave it off all day, and nobody knows the difference," yet he misses opportunities to tap into his intellect at Knox because he's blinded by his own ideas of escape.

The fate of those on Yates' Revolutionary Road shows that revolution comes from within. It doesn't matter what town, road, or home you live in. Yates deftly relays how revolutionary moments, decisions, and actions can be missed if we fail to look inward rather than outward. Interestingly, another character, the Wheeler's neighbor, Shep Campbell, grew up in the sort of high-brow intellectual, arty world to which the Wheelers long to escape. Ironically, Shep spent his younger adult years desperate to break out of that particular mold by settling himself into the cookie cutter world of Revolutionary Road. He comes to realize that he doesn't want to live on the street either—thus we see another character searching outward rather than inward.

In one cool Chick versus Wit moment of the novel, John Givings says to Frank, "I like your girl, Wheeler ... I get the feeling she's female. You know what the difference between female and feminine is? Huh? Well, here's a hint: a feminine woman never laughs out loud and always shaves her armpits. Old Helen (his mom) is feminine as hell. I've only met about half a dozen females in my life, and I think you got one of them here. Course, come to think of it, that figures. I get the feeling you're male. There aren't too many males around, either."

If she existed in 2009, John Giving's mom, Helen, would probably enjoy Sophie Kinsella's work. If, like Helen, you prefer to escape the real world, whether through the purchase of a nice white fence, a corporate job that keeps you too busy to feel, or religious services that don't require real contemplation, stick to reading Chick Lit. In The Undomestic Goddess, Kinsella's characters always say exactly what they're thinking and feeling. Her conflicts are vastly situational rather than internal. The characters may have been quite comfortable on Revolutionary Road back in the ‘50s. I suspect Kinsella could have nicely resolved Frank and April's issues with a lot of superb communication, and a nice summer trip to the EU. We'd all be smiling with stars in our eyes but somehow less enlightened about the true nature of humanity.

So, if you prefer to open an eye or two to the complexity, inconsistency, creativity, and hidden beauty of reality, pick up Revolutionary Road, and hope that today's emerging writers can perpetuate truth the way Yates did in 1961. Demand more Wit Lit! Walk past the chicks and dudes, and take the train toward being real females and males who search inward for answers rather than grasping at all the turn of the century machinations our society imposes. There are still a heck of a lot of streets like Revolutionary Road in our towns and cities. Just because we may live there, doesn't mean we’re trapped.

NOTE TO ... The New Yorker

I've been traveling quite a bit lately. A few months ago I achieved US Airways Silver status and began receiving automatic upgrades. Yahoo! During my recent domestic flights, I’ve noticed that I’m often the only woman in first class. Although lacking scientific considerations, surely this says something about our culture and the equality of women in 2009. Interestingly, as I sat representing my kind on a flight last week from San Juan to Philadelphia, I read your article on Helen Gurley Brown (11 May 09 issue). This is a woman who (no doubt) has spent plenty of time in first class.

Ahead of her time, Ms. Brown challenged the rock hard notion that woman and men inherently differ. Growing up in Louisiana (just beneath Mrs. Brown’s self professed hillbilly Arkansas hometown), those crater-sized differences were brainwashed into my psyche with all the cultural fuel power of Southern-style Bible-thumping and debutant ball hopping the state could muster. Those insidiously distorted beliefs became a key factor in separating me from the men in my life in ways that were detrimental to both my self esteem and my ability to form healthy relationships.

Ms. Brown was busy celebrating female libido, intelligence, and earning power at just about the same time my hometown culture was needling me to stuff it all up into one gigantic closet and run in the opposite direction. If I failed to squelch what was on their list, heaven forbid that in a fit of rage, or simply to teach me a valuable lesson or two, God might strike me down with all kinds of punishments. Cosmo was certainly not welcome in my childhood home; no evil materials allowed. The messages I grew up with caused me to view my body as an object men would exploit, tarnish, use, and devalue if I allowed it to happen. Men were my enemy and I was to assume the worst in them as this would be the best way to protect myself. Seeing a beautiful, busty woman in a sexy red cocktail dress on the cover of Cosmo at the local Piggly Wiggly (a grocery store) didn't have a "thang" to do with it.

So, as Ms. Brown was climbing her way hand over fist to the top, I was struggling to understand how I could possibly be cherished by the very monsters I longed to know, touch, and love. My instinctive feeling that they were actually beautiful creatures full of mind-bending mystery seemed to reflect upon my own bad nature. "God forgive me for doing that, or loving this one, etc," I used to pray, assuming that any kind or loving words, gestures, or interest from men was part of the plot to bring me down. I was failing miserably! And being the sensitive, creative young "thang" I was, the sincerity I saw in the best of them confused the hell out of me. Was I to believe or not believe I was worthy of any kind of genuine love and caring? Now I realize that this distorted view of men subtlety shaped all my interactions. Even the greatest men look bad when you peer at them through a scum-covered lens. Men may behave like they're from Mars, but when all the masks, thick skin, and cultural influences are stripped away, they're only human after all.

In a culture promising salvation, I was damned to become an adolescence filled with shame, guilt, sadness, powerlessness, and grief. The issue at play was not only the objectification of women, but its sly underbelly of pigeonholing men, and the inherent danger of viewing all human interactions through a sexual eye. We all have bodies (duh!) that serve crucial multidimensional purpose, but to focus on the flesh as the overarching specification of who we are is a dire mistake. The human body and its machinations are one aspect of who I am regardless of my gender. Of course, it all works together but putting gender at the top of the attribute list has become one of the most devastating cultural messages of all time.

I finally realized that men and women actually share the same internal emotions when, as an adult, I watched my six nephews grow up. As these cute little guys cried, giggled, and grew angry over some of the same things I did at three, seven, eleven, and thirteen, I finally saw the shared emotions of humanity. The youngest will be thirteen this summer, and the oldest now plays college football. The football player is 6’3’--strong and bright--the kind of guy I could have dated as a young woman. The same kind of young man I mistakenly viewed as inhuman and out to get me. Now I know that men cry, feel, and are capable of loving long and deep. The only craters between us and them are those carved out by our own insecurities, our lack of understanding, and the cultural messages we allow ourselves to accept. Jerks come in all shapes, sizes, and sexes. The key is seeking out those who aren't based on the stuff inside.

I applaud Ms. Brown for stepping to the front of the cultural stage and screaming, "This is who and what I am!" at the top of her lungs. The message she has consistently provided addresses the flip side of the unjust stereotyping of men. If men can cry, feel and love, then women can seek power, crave sex, and control a destiny that is both positive and filled with fascinating adventures, including great men. Her strong will and accomplishments are all the more impressive knowing she was a child of Arkansas. She’s practically from my neighborhood! Whether or not you or I agree with every point she's made over the years, her lifetime achievement supports induction into the Aberration Nation. She has celebrated her womanhood while also viewing herself inherently the same as her male counterparts, deserving of every accomplishment she could heap upon herself whether it was a top notch career, a fascinating man, or a seat in first class.

All hail to the quintessential guilt-free woman!

To read more about the life of Helen Gurley Brown, pick up Jennifer Scanlon's book, Bad Girls Go Everywhere. To read The New York Times review, go here.