Saturday, August 6, 2011


In just three days, my second novel The Girl Behind The Glass will be published by Random House.  A few days after that, my daughter’s play 22 Stories will have its opening night in the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival.  This is an exciting coincidence.  Especially since we have both written about twins.

Here are my twins.  This image is a section of my book’s cover (illustration by Jaime Zollars). 

The hands in this photo (taken by Keith Weber) tell the story of my daughter’s play.  Her twins embody the conflict between wild creativity and discipline.  I know I have that struggle in me.  If I don’t get both sides to work together, I’ll never write a book. 

My disciplined part likes to have a plan.  It decided my second novel would be about a girl who pretends a house is haunted and is shocked to discover it really is.  Then my wilder part whispered, let the girl be twins.  Naturally the wilder part didn’t say why.  Wilder parts don’t need reasons for what they do. 

The disciplined part believed there was no justification.  Two sisters would just be a distraction from the scary fun stuff.  The howling wind, the bats in the attic, the glowing eyes.

Then my husband, who is often wiser than I am about what I’m writing, pointed out that twins are experts at wordless communication.  Since they understand each other so well, they might be able to understand whatever that haunting presence is desperately saying.

So many human sorrows stem from this.  Are you listening?  Are you there?

Disaster strikes my daughter’s twins when one sister fears that she has lost her connection with her sister.  Mine are led to a similar brink. 

But in the end, they do listen.  They do understand.  And they are understood.

Monday, May 9, 2011


“What was the book that made you love reading?”  a high school student asked me. 

I had no answer.  I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t.  But he could.  He named The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. 

I was surprised by his choice.  It’s an excellent book about following your dream, but it isn’t for young children.  He must have read other books for school.  Hadn't he loved any of them?  He seemed so bright and articulate.  How could he have spent all these years locked out from books? 

There’s a moment in the movie The Miracle Worker when Anne Sullivan finds the key for her pupil Helen Keller.  Anne has been unable to teach any language to Helen who is deaf and blind.  As Anne vigorously pumps, water gushes over their hands while Anne’s fingers spell the word over and over again.  W- A- T- E- R.  And then, at long last, Helen understands.   W- A- T- E- R is that wet, cold liquid so absolutely necessary for life.  Helen drags her teacher around, demanding to know the word for each object.  Helen had been aware of her surroundings.  But now language enables her to grasp them.

We are isolated in our individual worlds.  We think no one understands us.  We think we suffer alone.  And then one day a teacher or a friend says, “Have you read this?”  Or maybe we find the book completely by chance.  Somehow we discover that the words inside that garish or tattered cover are naming something necessary for our existence. 

From that point on, our lives are different.  Even if we read a hundred other books that we can’t “get into” as the saying goes, we still know that there will be ones that we can inhabit.  Someone has put words to our sensations.  Once that door has been unlocked,  we can find our way into whole new worlds.

So -- what was the book that made you love reading? 

Thursday, March 31, 2011



It’s officially spring.  Daffodils are blooming.  Seeds are sprouting.  I’m writing a new book.  All these growing things make me think about fertile ground.  If you don’t have it, whatever you plant won’t thrive––whether it’s an idea or an actual tomato.  You don’t need to envy those who live where the grass is greener.  And you don’t have to spend a lot of money on chemically enhanced dirt.  You can compost. 

Wait, what?  Isn’t compost another word for garbage?  What does that have to do with writing?  Actually a lot.

The principles are the same whether you’re making literal or figurative dirt.  Your compost depends on what you don’t eat.  Rich compost starts with a balance of fruit and vegetable scraps.  So try new things.  Expand your diet.  Mix those coffee grounds with mutsu cores and beet peels.

Your compost is also what you read.  Good old newspapers are a great addition to your pile.  But those glossy magazines with pretty pictures can be poison for growing things.  So don’t put them in.

And don’t put in anything really stinky.  Those old chicken bones and cheese rinds really are garbage.  So is the cat poop.  You might think you can get some use out of that crap, but you can’t.  Get rid of it.  And get rid of anything infested with diseases like greed or envy or cruelty.  It takes a tremendous amount of effort to keep those poisonous feelings from infecting whatever good things you’re trying to grow.

Okay now you’ve got a lovely pile of whatever you’ve half-eaten, experienced and read.  But your work isn’t done yet.  You’ve got to turn the pile over and over, again and again.  You need to air it out or your ideas will rot.  Some moisture is necessary, but if you drown the pile with too many tears, you’ll get slime. 

Finally, you need heat to speed up the magic of decomposition.  And what is heat?  Passion.  Get excited about whatever you’re doing.  Love your work.  Love your family.  Love your garden.  Love your life.  

And then, when you’ve got a dark, rich pile of compost, plant your best seeds and watch them grow.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Judging a book by its cover

Here it is -- the cover for my second novel.

I’m really happy with it.  It’s creepy.  The girl’s eyes follow you no matter where you go.  The colors are rich.  The lettering suggests someone wrote the words with his finger.  It’s great.

There’s just one problem.   When I was a kid, I was taught NOT to judge a book by its cover.   I’m having trouble reconciling that lesson with my excitement.

To be honest, I had nothing to do with this cover.  Jaime Zollars drew the illustration.  The art director Heather Palisi, my editor Shana Corey and other people at Random House all worked on the design.  I can’t even really claim that I came up with the title.  THE GIRL BEHIND THE GLASS  was pulled from a line in the book.  The original title -- the one I thought of -- was kind of ordinary.  It would never have inspired such a great cover. 

So should you judge MY book by its cover? 

Yes!  And no. 

I do hope the cover makes you curious about who that girl is.  I think she looks scary and sad.  I have no idea how the artist accomplished that.  The expression is exactly right for the girl in my book.  The green eyes are important too.  I hope the cover makes you wonder why they glow. 

But I don’t want you to judge my book by this cover. 

In fact, the more I think about it (and for me, thinking is what blogging is about) the more I think that the saying means we shouldn't judge.  Not books.  Not ideas.  Not people.

I’m not saying we should like everything or everybody.  I’m not saying we have to agree.  Certainly I don’t.  In fact, some members of my family believe I enjoy arguing for the sake of arguing. 

However I really try not to judge.  I can disagree without name calling.  So can we all.

You can also NOT like my book.  Or its cover.  (But hopefully you’ll read it first before you decide.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Writer's Eyes

The other day I met a girl who had read my novel, Nature Girl.  She wanted to know all kinds of things.  How long did it take me to write the book?  Why did I name the dog Arp?  Is Trail Blaze Betty really a person?  Then she asked me a question I had never thought about.  What's it like to look at the world with a writer's eyes?

At the time, my answer wasn't very interesting.  I think I said writers observe whatever they need to describe.  For example, I spent a lot of time watching how little white dogs trot along a path.  But I kept thinking about her question.

How does Jane the writer look at the world? 

I never let things go.  I remember all the remarks any sensible person would ignore.  If something bad happens to me, I dwell on it.  I bear grudges.  I'm moody because I have to think about things until somehow or other I make sense of them.

Actually I don't make sense.  I make a story.   Even when I was a child, no matter what terrible thing happened to me, I would always say, well at least that will make a good story.  

When I was 9, my enemy shot spit balls at me on the school bus until I finally flung one back at her.  Naturally the bus driver punished me for shooting a spit ball.  I was humiliated and miserable, but after I thought about it enough, I knew this irony could make an amusing story.

An oyster protects itself from a bit of dirt by covering it with layers of nacre.   Without that irritation and without those layers, there would never be a pearl.

So that's how I view the world -- as a source of both the irritating bits and the beauty.