Tuesday, December 18, 2018

How Match.Com and Realtor.Com are essentially the same thing

I’ve been a realtor for almost five years now, but it wasn’t until I began internet dating and put my own house on the market at the same time that I realized how very similar shopping for a new house online was to finding a new mate via Match.com or OKCupid. The internet should make these things easier; instead, it leads to exponentially more choices, more confusion, and more heartbreak…

Step One: The Pictures. You’re scrolling on Zillow or Match and you stop short when you see them. A white picket fence around the lawn. A smile that goes all the way to the ears. Your heart beats faster. This could be the one!

Step Two: The Contact. Excited texts and phone calls are exchanged. Everyone seems eager to meet! The first meeting is scheduled right away. You stress about what to wear, how early to arrive. Even though it’s early, you can’t help but plan ahead…. Commitments, time line, change of address… is it too soon to tell all your friends?

Step Three: The meeting. To be honest, it’s not exactly what you hoped for. You knew the pictures online were staged, but you weren’t expecting this. Still, nothing and no one’s perfect and you can’t be that picky. And everyone’s saying the right things… the master bedroom is amazing. We both love Star Wars! We’ll be in touch real soon!

Step Four. No one gets in touch. Should you text something casual… “just checking in?” Should you be more direct… “Will you be submitting an offer? Do you want to go to the new Spiderman movie?” No. You won’t. Because if they were really interested, you’d be hearing from them. Sigh… Thank you, next…

Step Five. Someone liked the pictures! They’re texting to set up a meeting! It’s so exciting!

Step Six. Repeat steps one through four as necessary.

Step Seven. After much trial and error, now you know the difference between what you can change/what will change (the tile in the kitchen; kids who live at home) and what you cannot change/what will not change (too close to a busy highway; he’s a Scientologist). You’ve made your choice. It’s not perfect, but what is? Congratulations as you move into a lovely future!

Check out my listing on Zillow!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Dispatches from Heartbreak Hotel

“Call me if you need anything.”

“I’m here for you.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

We’ve all said those words at one time or another to a friend or family member who was in pain. I’ve said them myself, many times. But it wasn’t until my husband of nearly 30 years walked out on me, telling me he wanted a divorce as soon as possible because “women don’t date separated men” and to sell the house right away, that I realized firsthand how inadequate those words actually are.

In many ways, I’m very lucky. My son is healthy; I’m healthy, there’s money in the bank and eventually I’ll be okay. But this is the most painful thing that has ever happened to me. It left me crying in a ball on the floor. The day it happened, I was able to call one friend who dropped everything to come over. After I sent a hysterical text later that night, another friend arranged an evening out with a few others. A third friend, whom texted wanting a dinner date with my husband and me, dragged me out of the house a few days later and watched when I could only eat a few spoonfuls of soup. Another friend, who was supposed to watch our dog on the vacation my husband canceled behind my back, spent that weekend with me instead. (I am extremely lucky that I have so many friends.)

I announced the news on Facebook a few days after he left, after it took a few days to track down my mother to tell her directly. I got a lot of replies like the ones above.

I ignored all of them. I concentrated on the folks who called, who sent gifts, who texted at the start of the day and then at the end. And now that I’m coming through it, this is what I’ve learned:

 People in enormous pain are too broken to reach out to you to ask for help, or tell you what you can do. It’s the people who call us, who stop by and make plans and don’t take no for an answer that fill that need. If you don’t contact us, we won’t contact you.

 On the other hand, too much contact is overwhelming. Don’t feel bad if you’re not one of those who can stop by and sit with a hysterical person. Most people have enough friends and family that having to constantly answer texts, phone calls, etc. with the same story just makes the pain all that worse. Of course, if you know that your friend only has a small circle to rely on, be one of the people who comes over.

 Do not call to offer support and then make the conversation all about your problems. Listen, offer words of comfort, bring dinner, let her cry. But complaining about your own marriage or job situation to someone in enormous pain is worse than not calling at all. Don’t do it.

 Don’t expect your friend to have the energy for normal activities that you might have enjoyed engaging in together. Pain is physically exhausting. If all she wants to do is sit on the couch, sit with her.

 Don’t ask her for any favors. Some days getting up in the morning takes everything she has.

 Don’t expect her to hold her tongue if you act like a jerk. Her nerves are frayed raw and she’s not able to maintain a polite fiction if you minimize her situation.

 Make sure your friend has plans on weekend nights. Those evenings are the hardest of the week to be home alone.

My life is like living inside a tornado. Less than a month ago, I thought I’d be with this man for the rest of my life. Now I’m closing on a new house in two weeks, moving the first day of September, and will probably be divorced by my 51st birthday. It’s incredibly painful, so exhausting, but it’s also like ripping off a Band-Aid. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Again, I know I’m so much luckier than so many others who’ve gone through this, or worse. I have friends who came out of the woodwork to stand by me who’ll be an important part of my life forever. I’ll do anything for them. And there are friends I barely heard from. No hard feelings there, but it’s good to know who you can count on and who you can’t.

There are a lot of people in a lot of pain in this world. If you can be the kind of friend they need, they’ll never forget it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

If She Were Your Child

Jewish kids learn about the Holocaust really early. Not in school, Hebrew or otherwise, but at first by eavesdropping on whispers of elderly relatives at Passover seders. In shul, during Kaddish. We are brought up to know both the horror of what happened to others like us, and the appreciation that we were born in a time and in a country where we were free from fear that we would be targeted, even killed, over our religion. Still, I don’t know of any Jewish kids who didn’t play the “what if” game, who didn’t imagine themselves in 1930s Berlin.

I learned about the St. Louis late enough that I can still feel the tingle of horror that went down my spine when I read that the USA—my country! The good guys!—sent a shipload of Jews back to Europe to die. And that we had quotas forbidding them to emigrate here. That Otto Frank was denied safe passage to the U.S. for his family. That the U.S. government was infested—I use this word deliberately—with anti-Semites; that heroic FDR himself disdained Jews. That we knew about the concentrate camps and still decided not to bomb the railroad tracks leading to them. Knowing this, it became easier and easier to imagine myself as a girl, trapped on that ship, no way out, sent to die.

Today, there are many countries in turmoil. Their people are poor, their governments can’t meet their needs, and some of their citizens have turned to heinous crimes to support themselves or because growing up in such cruelty breeds cruelty. Others are doing everything they can to escape these countries; to give themselves and their children a chance of a better life in the U.S. This has been going on for years, and it’s getting worse.

Yes, parents have sent their children unaccompanied to the U.S., hoping they would reach the country safely. Jewish parents in Europe in the 1930s did this as well. These kids have been detained at the border. It’s a horrible mess, but what waited for those kids in their home countries was even worse.

What would you do if she were your child? What would you do if your country was burning down around you, and you only had enough money to get your child to the relative safety of the neighboring country up north, the land of the free and the home of the brave? Would you be brave enough to send her alone?

Or maybe you’re “lucky” enough to have enough money, enough resources, that you can make the trip together. You know if you can just make it to the border, you can tell the border guard that in your home town, your brother was killed by gang members, and they said they would kill you and your daughter if you didn’t sell drugs for them. You made it this far, barely surviving, so you can claim asylum and try to start over in a country where you have nothing, know no one and barely know the language. (Yes, I know that some folks claiming asylum are members of these same gangs. We are supposed to have a process to sort them out.)

Sadly, while you were on your perilous journey, you didn’t get the memo that the Justice Department had declared “zero tolerance” for asylum seekers; that you would be assumed to be a criminal, jailed, and your daughter would be taken away from you to live in a “tender ages” shelter, where there is no system for insuring you’d ever be reunited again. Oh, and the Justice Department has unilaterally decided that gang persecution and domestic violence are no longer reasons to be granted asylum, so you’ll probably be sent back home to die. And maybe you’re even at peace with that, because you did what you came here to do, got your daughter to safety, and maybe she’ll be adopted by an American family. In any case, you’ll never know what happened to her. You won’t know that the months she waited in a place that some have described as a “summer camp,” where adults were forbidden to comfort her cries and teenagers taught themselves how to change her diaper, have damaged her forever. She’ll never be able to trust anyone again, never be able to form a healthy attachment, because in her young mind, her mother abandoned her.

There are two types of people in this world: There are the people who see that mom from Honduras and say, there, but for the grace of God, go I. I don’t know if it’s because I’m Jewish and was raised on the stories of Anne Frank and others, or because God made me a writer with the unquenchable thirst to know and feel the stories of every person I came in contact with. But I read about these people and I wonder if I could be strong enough to make this journey.

There are also people in this world who don’t see themselves in other people; who see them as literally “other.” The worst of them call them “cockroaches;” say that they “infest” America, that laugh at the cries of these children. The better of them argue logically that these kids were jailed during the Obama Administration, that there is enough going on in our country that we need to take care of our own first, that there just isn’t enough money to help, that their countries are hopeless and we need to keep their crime from our borders.

I’m not going to pretend I have any answers. There are no easy ones, and I’m not informed enough to make policy proposals. All I’m left with are feelings—that our country is broken, owned completely by those who value their own bottom line above everything else. That our world is broken, as too many live in poverty and violence and too few want to spend the time and money to help them. That our souls are broken, as too many see what’s happening and say it’s not their problem because it’s not their children.

I’m so ashamed of what our country has become. I’m so terrified that the worst is yet to come.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Then suddenly…

The popular television show M*A*S*H had an episode in one of its later seasons where everyone in camp was reading the same murder mystery – The Rooster Crowed at Midnight—passing around chapters and getting into it… only to discover that the last page was missing. No one knew who did it and everyone was going nuts. Finally they managed to track down the author via telephone call back to the U.S.

I don’t remember who did it. But that’s not the point. The point is, readers are desperate for an ending. They want to know what happened; they made it through the beginning and middle; now give us an ending, dammit.

Just this past week, I read two separate books in completely different genres where the author stopped rather than ended it. In both instances, right in the middle of the scene, leaving the reader dangling, wondering yes or no.

Why on God’s green earth would anyone do this?

This is not fun for the reader. This doesn’t make us lean back and imagine the ending the author declined to provide. This pisses us off.

I currently write domestic thrillers. Suppose I just end my latest one, leaving my protagonist on the floor staring into the killer eyes of the person who did it, realizing with her last gasp of consciousness that it was—

The end. Roll credits.

No. This is sadistic. This is mean. This is a good one to encourage readers not to read your next book.

Perhaps the yes ending is too happy and the no ending too depressing. Too bad. Craft a yes ending with an ominous caveat; give us a no ending with a note of hope. You’re a writer. It can be done.

Next week’s winning Powerball number are

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Bias and the fictional character

My book House Divided has been out since November. A romantic comedy about a Democrat married to a Republican, it’s garnered 25 reviews, most of them good. Naturally, though, I tend to concentrate on the bad ones. Two of them said the same thing: This would have been a good book if the author hadn’t been so biased.

“Bias” is a word that’s being thrown around a lot these days, along with “fake news,” “deep state,” “propaganda,” and a bunch of other terms that imply that folks who should be non-partial are letting their own personal views of the world color their reporting. And when you’re looking to understand what really happened in Trumpland today, you don’t want those events filtered by someone who thinks Trump is the second coming, or that Trump is the devil incarnate. While it’s absolutely true that reporters all have their own personal biases, viewpoints, and moral values, the best reporters are aware of these biases and actively try to keep them out of their reporting.

Fiction writers are not reporters, and we have no such requirements. Our job is to create worlds and characters that draw in readers and spark emotion. And characters—especially characters written in first-person point-of-view—have biases. They believe the moon landing was faked, or that children should only be born in marriage, or that pets are an important member of the family. Characters who don’t have views of the world come across as one-dimensional and flat; people who only react to events, never acting.

Characters need bias. They need to have a point of view—not the point of view of first, second, or third, but the point of view of, “The world is a good place.” “Other women want my boyfriend.” “If I don’t have children, I will die alone with thirty cats and no one will find my body for six months.”

In House Divided, my protagonist, Erin, is a Democrat. She believes in taking care of the planet, that a woman’s career means just as much to her as a man’s does to him, and that institutions such as her children’s school should do more to recognize that. While she is not me (in some cases, she is the me I wanted to be), we share many of the same beliefs. She is a first-person protagonist.

My book is filled with Democrats and Republicans; it is a real “Inside the Beltway” novel. But I took care—I tried, anyway—to have some Democrat characters be assholes and some Republicans be really great people. Having everyone be good or bad because of their political beliefs would have been biased on my part. (Although, let’s face it, we all know that…. Oh, never mind…)

Your characters might not live in D.C. They might have nothing to do with politics. But they have opinions about things that have nothing to do with the plot in which they currently find themselves enmeshed. Make sure you know what those views are.

Make sure your characters are biased.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Me Write Pretty Someday?

My latest novel has been on submission for about a month; ten editors have requested it and one (as far as I know) has already passed. I know that publishing is an industry in which things happen at a glacial pace, but I have no idea how other writers concentrate on their next project while waiting to hear back. I’m about forty pages into a first draft of a new thriller, and people are making coffee and making jokes like they don’t have a care in the world. Please be creeped out, characters!

The editor who passed said she was intrigued by the premise, but the writing didn’t make her want to keep turning pages. I don’t know if this is every writer’s worst nightmare, but it’s definitely mine. “Your idea is great, but you can’t write for shit!” Please let me crawl into a hole and die.

I’m aware of the phenomenon called “imposter syndrome.” I’m also aware that nothing I write could ever be described as lyrical, literary, or any of those adjectives used to describe writers who come up with phrases such as “Her eyelashes curled onto her lids like upside-down question marks in a six-point serif font.” I wasn’t poetic even when I wrote poetry.

I like thrillers and comedy; I write thrillers and sometimes people are funny in them. I think in terms of plot and twists and character motivation. My people don’t live under big starry skies; their victims bleed until the carpet squeaks red. My protagonists tell their tales in first person and they don’t get distracted by pelicans diving kamikaze-style into the water. (I sometimes do, though.) When I read thrillers, sometimes I notice fancy turns-of-phrase, but more often I’m trying to figure out fancy turns of plot.

Does this mean I’m doomed? When editors read my thriller, will they roll their eyes when my characters roll theirs?

I don’t have an MFA. I’ve heard mixed things about the programs. On the pro side, there’s nothing like spending a year or two fully immersed in your project, with other writers and faculty members figuratively by your side. By focusing on small, specific chunks of pages, scrutinizing every word, the words get better. They have to. On the con side, though, that laser-like focus on pages sometimes means the forest gets lost for the trees. And I’ve heard that MFA programs sometimes produce novels that are more literary than commercial, with writers who focus on description over character feelings. An agent I used to edit for complained to me, “How can I sell something that leaves readers cold?”

But I’d like to write pretty someday. Perhaps, if this round of editors all agree that my writing is lacking, I’ll start looking into MFA programs. I can’t ever see myself writing a literary novel about love and grief and pain. But it would be nice to think up a few more ways to describe how blood saturates a carpet.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Love from the Other Side of the Aisle

For Valentine's Day, the New York Times ran an article about couples who were on the opposite sides of the political spectrum. I'd heard they were looking for folks to interview, but their application asked for a video, so I decided not to participate.

After reading the article, though, I wish I had! It would have been great publicity if they'd let me mention House Divided. If you haven't bought your copy yet, click on the link above!