April 5th, 2011. Today it has been twenty years since Julie and Robin Kerry were murdered. There’s nothing poignant to be said about it, nothing romantic about that round number. They should still be alive. Last week when I visited my family in St. Louis, I should have gone to their homes instead of their grave. Our children should have played together.
Today is a day that weighs heavily on so many people. For me, I sit at my desk, sad and distracted. I’m not getting much work done this afternoon. Tonight, when I tuck my two daughters into their beds, I will cling to them. I will try not to worry them with tears. My brother will spend his day on false bravado, and then, when no one is looking, he will drink a beer and he will weep. He’ll deny it. He’ll act like he’s fine, because his life is full of blessings and he has healed. But there are certain overwhelming days when you can’t stop the memories from swarming, no matter how brave or healthy or macho you might be. He quit smoking a while ago. I hope he makes it through today.
I focus on me, on my family, because that is what I know. But the truth is, so many people are grieving today, for the two decades we have all lost with Julie and Robin. Murder doesn’t just happen to the people who die. It happens to everyone who knew and loved them. All of our aunts and uncles and cousins, Julie’s and Robin’s many beloved friends - they are all remembering, today. For the Kerry family, Julie’s and Robin’s sisters and parents… well I can’t even imagine the absence, the wound that exists in their daily life, like losing a limb, two limbs. When I look at my daughters and I think of my Aunt Ginna, who lost her beautiful girls, I simply cannot breathe.
I usually try to be sort of “public persona” about these blog posts. I try to be funny and distant and writerly. But today it’s all shit. I cry, writing this. There is still a rage that exists, a tremendous sense of injustice, of fury. But mostly it’s just grief. It’s a MISSING. There is a sense of loss that has shaped and directed my life since I was sixteen years old, even though this violence didn’t happen to me. It happened to my cousins. It happened to my brother. My proximity to that trauma was enough. I wish that, in those formative years of my life, I could have been defined in some other way. I wish we all could have been. I’d like to know who my brother might have been, who Julie and Robin might have been, if that night had never happened. But Jesus, there’s no use wishing.
Last week I had an event at Left Bank Books for The Outside Boy, and these kids came to the reading:
They are from Parkway South High School in St. Louis, and that’s their teacher Michelle Dempsey with us, in the back row on the far right. They recently read A Rip in Heaven in her class. They were so inspired by Julie and Robin that they decided to petition the city of Madison, Illinois (which owns the Chain of Rocks Bridge), to have a memorial installed at the bridge. I tried to do something similar a few years ago, and got nowhere with it. But these kids would not take “no” for an answer. They harrassed the city until they agreed to the memorial.
I like to think I’m sort of hardened now, that I have something of a thick skin. But I was moved to tears by these kids, by their dedication to my cousins, by their committment to do something GOOD in their memory. So this is the feeling that I want to win the day: that Julie and Robin were so extraordinary, that twenty years later, people who didn’t even know them are paying homage to the goodness of their souls. No one can take that away.
Kisses & Revolution.
Posted: April 5th, 2011
Categories: RIP Stuff
Comments: 22 Comments
I’ve been neglecting my blog lately in favor of slightly-better-paid writing, but I will return in triumph one day soon! Meanwhile, please head over to The Bookclub Cheerleader to check out the guest-post I wrote about sexy Irish stuff, for St. Patrick’s Day. Evidence:
Posted: March 16th, 2011
Comments: No Comments
I’m happy to report that Carolyn Turgeon and I both survived three nights in the haunted Pride House in Jefferson, Texas. Carolyn heard whispering in her room, and I smelled weird, brief, occasional perfumes in my room, but we didn’t see any ghosts, so I’m going to go ahead and pretend like there were none. And the proprietor, Jenny, cooked us such GORGEOUS and amazing breakfasts that a little haunting would have been totally worth the price of admission anyway.
The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend was quite the experience. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Kathy Patrick put together a downright shindig. That woman is a force of nature. I met so many wonderful, book-lovin’ people, and also got to dress up in a costume. I’m pretty sure those are the components of a perfect weekend.
Here is my new best friend, book blogger extraordinaire Marsha Toy Engstrom, who I’ve met before, but who I really got to know this weekend. She is so smart and lovely and awesome. You should read her blog.
And here are Carolyn and I with my other new best friend, David Valdes-Greenwood whom, after one meal, I felt like I had known all my life. I haven’t read David’s books yet, but I can tell you that he is one of the most natural and delightful storytellers I’ve ever met. Just sitting and listening to him talk was a treat. I imagine that reading his books must be akin to eating a tray of brownies.
And here I am attempting to woo a roomful of awesome, southern ladies with my yankee charms:
And here I am very glamorously signing books, after my attempted wooing:
And then was the COSTUME PARTY, where everyone had to come dressed as a character from a favorite book. David was late for a very important date:
I was A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle, which is one of my all-time favorite books, but which reference was apparently too obscure. Nobody knew who I was. And I mean, not for nothing, but my costume even says Henry. And is a star. I thought it was sort of obvious, but NO.
Jamie Ford and Kathi Kamen Goldmark were right out of the pages of Alice in Wonderland, and the very beautiful and talented River Jordan was War and Peace.
I didn’t have the nerve to ask her, but I presume Susan Vreeland came as the world-famous author Susan Vreeland. Or some very glamorous chick from a Fitzgerald novel.
After the party, we descended on the town’s only bar, where we danced the night away and frightened the locals.
Posted: January 19th, 2011
Comments: 3 Comments
Well I’m about to deck the halls with my babies. And by “deck the halls,” of course, I mean hang toddler-weapons and infant choking hazards all over my house. Ah, the festive sounds and aromas of the holiday season! Maybe we’ll light some pinecones on fire, too. Did you know that if you suck on the end of a candy cane long enough, it becomes as sharp as an ice pick? For real.
It’s been a really exciting couple of weeks, and I’m not just talking about the fact that A Golden Christmas is on television right now. What?? You haven’t seen it? A special dog helps a woman reunite with a friend that she met years earlier as a child. But also, THE OUTSIDE BOY was selected as an ALA Editor’s Choice for 2010 - as an outstanding adult book for young readers. This makes me VERY HAPPY. I already had a big YA-crossover audience for my first book, and receiving this kind of an award from the American Library Association is just incredibly gratifying. Plus, it comes with a shiny, shiny SEAL.
Also, this week I got a job teaching Fiction I at Gotham Writers Workshop starting this winter. It should be tons of fun and very interesting. When you think about it, most writers are a little bit crazy. So a bunch of writers in the New York City? It’s going to be AWESOME crazy. I can’t wait. Meanwhile, if you’ll excuse me, I have some halls to deck.
Posted: December 4th, 2010
Categories: New York
Comments: 6 Comments
Yesterday, I booked my flight for the Pulpwood Queens 11th Anniversary Girlfriend Weekend. It is billed as an “author extravaganza” (! how awesome is that? an EXTRAVAGANZA of authors!) and book club convention, that will take place in the adorable town of Jefferson, Texas in January. My friend and fellow world-famous authoress, Carolyn Turgeon will also be in attendance. Together, we will lend further credence to the rumors that we are a lesbian married couple, by bringing my baby to the convention, but not my husband.
Finding a hotel room in Jefferson for the weekend was a much more difficult prospect than I anticipated. The Girlfriend Weekend is a big event in the town, and most of the accommodations were already booked out. I spent several hours yesterday phoning around to the various inns and B&Bs looking for a baby-friendly place that still had a room available. There was almost NO ROOM AT THE INN. So I was delighted when Shirley, from the Pride House returned my call and told me that she still had a couple of rooms available. While we were on the phone, I typed “Pride House Jefferson” into my google toolbar, to see where her inn was located. Imagine my horror and excitement when google self-populated my query with the words: “Pride House Jefferson HAUNTED.” Yes, apparently the Pride House, and MANY OTHER PROPERTIES in Jefferson, Texas, are haunted. I guess I should have known that Pride House was haunted. I mean, just look at it - I think a ghost actually took this picture:
In fact, it turns out that Jefferson is the MOST HAUNTED CITY IN TEXAS. When I asked Shirley if this was true, she replied, “Do you want it to be?” Um, NO, Shirley! I WANT TO LIVE! Shirley reassured me by telling me that she’s sure that the inn will be full that weekend, and we’ll have no trouble finding plenty of other explanations for all of the spooky noises and disembodied voices I am likely to hear during my stay.
I immediately called Carolyn Turgeon and insisted that she switch to my hotel as well, so that my baby and I can leap into bed with her when we hear things that go BUMP in the night, thus lending even FURTHER credence to the lesbian-married-couple rumors. I’m happy to report that most of the ghosts in Jefferson appear to be friendly. I hope they like babies and midlist authors. But not too much. Hold me.
Posted: November 11th, 2010
Comments: 1 Comment
This weekend I had the truly surreal experience of participating in a signing with the one-and-only Ms. Nora Roberts.
My good friend Carolyn Turgeon took many lovely photographs of the event, which was held at the very adorable and charming Turn the Page Bookstore in scenic Boonsboro, Maryland,
located directly to the north of Crawfords Restaurant Guns & Ammo.
Inside, the bookshop had one whole room devoted entirely to Nora Roberts’ books, of which, I learned there are OVER TWO HUNDRED. Here I am, glamorously posing with one of them:
We stocked up on caffeine before the event began, but in truth, I did not understand what we were in for.
Nora had very graciously invited several other authors to participate in the event, even though most of the hundreds of people who came, from FAR AND WIDE (Tallahassee, Toledo, Connecticut, even Sacramento!) were there just to see her. She was so generous to share her readers with us. One such authoress was Ms. Camille DeAngelis, who wrote the gorgeous book PETTY MAGIC, which I just started reading last night, and which has one of the best subtitles I’ve heard in a long time: Being the Memoirs and Confessions of Miss Evelyn Harbinger, Temptress and Troublemaker. She looks like a bit of a temptress and troublemaker herself, if you ask me.
Also present were the awesome NYT Bestseller Lisa Scottoline and her equally awesome daughter, Francesca Scottoline Serritella, who are the modern day mother-daughter tag-team version of Erma Bombeck. In addition to being gorgeous and well-coiffed and extremely stylish, they were also VERY FUNNY and fun. I sort of wanted to go home with them. I mean, just look:
For some reason, I didn’t manage to get a good picture of NYT Bestseller Mariah Stewart, who was nearest to me, at the next table, but you can see her profile here, in the foreground. She was an extremely calming influence on the day, a consummate professional, and I heard fan after fan approach her table, beseeching her to WRITE FASTER because they could not possibly wait for her next book. Of course, I wasted no time foisting THE OUTSIDE BOY on them, a novel to fill the gap while they await her next masterpiece.
I know that the queue in the above picture does not appear overwhelming, but DO NOT BE FOOLED. It was only orderly because of the highly-organized system employed by the staff at Turn the Page Bookstore. That line of people continued, non-stop, for five hours. They just kept coming. And some of them came loaded with HANDTRUCKS FULL OF BOOKS for Nora to sign.
Please take note of my expression, here, as I catch sight of a fan who has brought over a hundred books for Nora to sign:
I’ve always had difficulty hiding my feelings from my face. Please also note how completely smiley and unfazed Nora and her adorable son Jason are. Oh, and while we’re talking about Jason, let me just tell you, he should have a fan club all his own. He is very funny and interesting, and did I mention funny? In between signings, I tried to help Nora convince him to have a baby. With his wife, not with me. After a couple hours of signing, Nora’s other son, who owns the pizzeria in Boonsboro, provided our VERY DELICIOUS pizza lunch. And it’s not often you’ll hear a New Yorker singing the praises of pizza from Maryland, but believe me when I say: YUM.
So, I’m aware this blog-post has taken on sort of a school-project tone, and perhaps that happened because I was so in awe of Nora and her career. She is incredibly prolific (she is also J.D. Robb), and has no hint of complacency in her writing. Even with her enormous success, she maintains a staggering work ethic, and a really delightful rapport with her fans. She was incredibly generous and gracious and kind, and she never complained once, all day. She outlasted about half a dozen pens, and she was unfrazzled by even the most earnest of fans. I suspect that she might actually be a superhero.
Posted: November 9th, 2010
Comments: 8 Comments
When I arrived home this evening after a few days on the road, I found a huge envelope in my mailbox, stuffed with thank you notes from some high school kids I spoke to last month. I would like to share my favorite note with you here. If you pay CLOSE ATTENTION and have EXCEPTIONAL POWERS OF PERCEPTION, you might be able to figure out why, out of the several dozen notes, this one was my favorite:
Dear Jeanine Cummings, <– Sorry for all the errors.
Thank you so much for telling your story to us. I know it was hard, but you’ve inspired me alot! I can’t imagine how your family felt. I want you to know that I support you 100%! I’m going to purchase your books :D You have worked so hard to be where you are now! I think you deserved all of the amazing tours and compliments. Oh, and I think you’re really pretty. Again, thanks for your amazing speech (: I wish you well.
I think we can all agree that Sandra has an extremely bright future.
Posted: November 8th, 2010
Categories: New York
Comments: 3 Comments
Last week I packed my two babies and my dog (aka my third baby) into my CR-V, and we hotfooted it down the turnpike to DC. Yes, we hotfoot, what of it?
Thursday, I guest-lectured at the University of Maryland. Their criminal justice program is progressive (and smart) enough to require a Victimology class, and they read A Rip in Heaven every semester as part of their curriculum. It’s always an interesting experience, and the students tend to be bright and engaging. However. My daughters apparently thought Wednesday was Funtacular Fun-night Extravaganzomething because they seriously had my butt up about eight times. I knew when I woke up that Thursday’s early morning class would not be my finest hour. Writers tend to pride themselves on being marginally articulate. It’s sort of a job requirement. So I knew I was in trouble when, on my way to College Park in the pelting rain, my brother called and asked how I was doing with traffic. “Where are you?” he asked. “I’m at the. Um, the. You know, the Mormon… tabernacle choir,” I said. “The Mormon Temple?” Yeah. Those are two very different nouns.
Thankfully, I had a better night sleep that night, because Friday, I had to speak at my old high school in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It was, and let me be careful not to overstate this, TERRIFYING. It might even have been death-defying. I don’t know why - I do plenty of public speaking and I really never get nervous. But something about being invited back to your alma mater puts extra pressure on you. Or maybe it’s just the fact that sometimes, on rare ocassions, when the planets align just so, teenagers can behave like assholes. I remember because, once, I was an asshole teenager. I used to roll my eyes and yawn LOUDLY at guest-speakers. Thank God, most teenagers are MUCH NICER than I was. Especially most teenagers at Gaithersburg High School. They were 99% awesome. And one exceptionally adorable young man named Kevin even presented me with some beautiful roses. I responded very appropriately by asking him if this meant we were boyfriend and girlfriend now. I think he was frightened.
Anyway, I’m back home now. Wrote and op-ed about gypsies this morning, and tonight I’m going to speak to a book club in Astoria about The Outside Boy. So I have a few hours to kill between now and then. Whatever shall a writer do with all that spare time? Dammit. I guess I have to write.
Posted: October 6th, 2010
Comments: 12 Comments
I’ve been quite lazy about blogging this summer, what with my book tour and my giving-birth, and all the various other lazy summer activities I’ve been engaging in. But maternity leave is officially finished this week, and I am back to work. By which I mean I am back to checking my amazon sales ranks hourly, tweeting and facebooking constantly, and blogging weekly. Oh, and “writing” or something. We’ll see how that goes.
In the meanwhile, I have a few very exciting ventures in the next few months. I will be signing with the one and only Ms. NORA ROBERTS, romance author extraordinaire, at her bookstore in Boonsboro, Maryland on Saturday, November 6th. I expect it to be a strange and wonderful experience. Nora Roberts has a rabid fan base of readers and romance writers alike, who track and emulate her every breath. I plan to seduce them all with my charm and winning smile. And failing that, I hope to seduce them with my beautiful book cover, for The Outside Boy. If you live in Boonsboro, or anywhere near Boonsboro, or anywhere within a six-hour drive of Boonsboro, PLEASE COME to the signing, so that Nora Roberts will not think me a nerdly, friendless loser. It is paramount that I seduce Ms. Roberts with the attractiveness of my readership, so that she invites me back for future signings.
AND! In January (13th - 16th), I will be attending the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. I have only been to Texas one other time, when my cousin, Rob, married Miss USA a few years ago in a Texas Weddding Extravaganza. I dare the Girlfriend Weekend to top that experience, and I believe IT JUST MIGHT. If you would like to WIN a girlfriends’ prize-package (and let’s face it; WHO DOESN’T WANT TO WIN A GIRLFRIENDS’ PRIZE PACKAGE), including a two-night stay at the beautiful Delta Street Inn, admission to the weekend’s events, and a meal with bestselling, cute-as-a-button author Lisa Wingate, please click here.
I think that is QUITE ENOUGH capital-letter excitement and information for one prodigal blog post. I have sales ranks to check and tweets to, um, tweet.
Posted: September 14th, 2010
Comments: 2 Comments
Today’s blog post is the unveiling of a spankin-new Pronunciation Guide (alphabetized! and with definitions!) to help readers who might be unfamiliar with some of the Irish words, names, and place-names in The Outside Boy. Please comment if there are any tricky ones I’ve failed to include. I hope you find this useful!
- an Taoiseach (awn THEE-shuk) - the prime minister of Ireland
- Ballycinneide (BAL-ee-kin-EY-juh) - an invented Irish place-name, combining the Irish word “bally” for “town” with the Irish for the surname “Kennedy”
- bansidhe (ban-SHEE) - from ancient Irish myth, the bansidhe is a fairy woman (usually characterized as a hag) whose appearance and blood-curdling cry portend a death
- bodhrán (BOWH-ron) - a flat frame drum
- ciúnas (KYOO-niss) - silence
- craic (krak) - there’s no literal translation for this word in English, but it’s roughly translated to mean “fun.”
- Croagh Patrick (kroh PA-trik) - a mountain in County Mayo famous for its affiliation with Saint Patrick. Barefoot pilgrims climb the mountain annually, as a remembrance.
- Cullohill (kuhl-uh-HIL) - a village in County Laois
- Dia duit (JEE-uh gwitch) - traditional greeting. Literally “God bless you.”
- Di is Muire dhuit (JEE-uhs MuR-a gwitch) - response to traditional greeting above. Literally “God and Mary bless you.”
- Donaskeagh (duh-nuh-SKEE) - a village in County Tipperary
- doolally (doo-LAH-lee) - loopy or crazy
- Eamonn (EY-min) - a traditional boy’s name, usually anglicized as Edward or Edmund
- eegit (EE-jit) - slang for idiot
- Finnuala (fin-NOO-lah) - a traditional Irish girl’s name
- garda (GAHR-duh) - a police officer (singular)
- gardaí (garh-DEE) - police officers (plural)
- greeshuk (GREE-shuk) - a Pavee word for a small, handheld oven that cooks bread directly in the coals of a campfire.
- Ha’penny Bridge (HEY-pen-ee brij) - one of Dublin’s most famous landmarks, the pedestrian bridge was the first to span the River Liffey in the city centre.
- Luimneach (LEM-uh-nuhkh) - Limerick, both a county and a city in southwestern Ireland
- Malachy (MAL-uh-kee) - traditional Irish boy’s name, pronounced with the long “ee” sound at the end, which distinguishes it from other cultural pronunciations.
- Nenagh (NEE-nuh) - a town in County Tipperary
- Pavee (pa-VEE) - a traveller
- poitín (PUH-cheen) - moonshine
- Rathnaveen (RATH-nuh-VEEN) - a small village in County Tipperary
- Roscrea (ros-KREY) - a town in County Tipperary
- Seamus (SHAY-muhs) - traditional Irish boy’s name, anglicized as James
- seanchaí (shawn-uh-KHEE) - storyteller
- siopa leabhar (SHUP-uh LOU-er) - book shop
- slán abhaile (slawn oh-WAHL-yuh) - goodbye. Literally “safe home.”
- slán leat (slawn lath) - goodbye. Literally “health with you.”
- Thurles (THUR-lis) - a town in County Tipperary
- tober (TOH-bur) - Pavee word for “road”
- whisht (wisht) - an exclamation meaning “be quiet!” or “shhh!”
Posted: June 16th, 2010
Comments: 5 Comments