Creaking Open That Old Shed Door…

Creaking Open That Old Shed Door…

Why – hello everyone. Are you still here? Are you all really STILL here? Wow! Thank you for sticking around. It’s so wonderful to be able to engage with you again!

If you’ve forgotten, it’s me, Francine LaSala. You may remember me / my words from such quirky novels as Rita Hayworth’s Shoes and The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything and as the publisher and co-editor of the anthology A Kind of Mad Courage. (You may also remember me as the author whose book somehow had the same cover as one by Margaret Atwood – my biggest post to date.)

Margaret Atwood's "ripoff" cover.
Margaret Atwood’s “ripoff” cover. (Click on image to read post.)

Actually, you may not remember me at all – or that you even subscribed to this blog – as it’s been so long since I published anything. Since I’ve written anything of my own. Somehow in the madness of the past two years, I have abandoned my poor “Shed” and somehow managed to lose track of my identity as a writer. Very Mina-esque for anyone who gets the reference.

Before…?

Well, no more or that. The past couple of weeks, I’ve been working to whack away the weeds that have grown over the “Shed” (otherwise known as my creativity). I’ve WD-40’d the hinges of the rickety old door and finally pushed it open. It’s a little musty in here, and there are some cobwebs and spiders hanging around, but give me a few weeks and I’ll have it all spic-and-span again.

I’ve already started to redecorate aesthetically – giving the blog a new look. (What do you think?) Now I’m working on “redecorating” content. I don’t think I’ll be able to commit to regular features, like Wassup Wednesday and Five for Friday anymore, but I will try and post regularly.

I still want to hear from you guys as well. While I haven’t been around all that much, I’ve really missed the sense of community having a regular blog gives a gal.

In the time that I’ve been away, I lost my mother. I became estranged from my father, and made my peace with him.

I became a dog person.

The three "musketeers" (or "stooges" - depending on the day/hour).)
The three “musketeers” (or “stooges” – depending on the day/hour).)

I took a couple of winter trips to a California beach house with writer pals Eileen Goudge, Samantha Stroh Bailey, Julie Valerie, Jen Tucker, Meredith Schorr, and Josie Brown and enriched my soul.

I went to France with my ten-year-old daughter and left here there with her grandparents – to fly home on her own. The most terrifying experience of my life, but she was awesome!

Yep, I’ve done a lot of growing these past months. How about you? Please leave me a comment about the biggest thing that’s happened to you in the past two years. (And if you’re not subscribed, do it now – it’s so easy!)

I look forward to welcoming you all back into the Shed again – maybe when it looks like more this…?

The Goal!
The Goal!

Till next time,

Francine

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162762_2662032389151_5076510_nLet’s connect! Find me on Twitter and Facebook, and email me: francine@francinelasala.com.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I’m excited and honored to have been asked by my good friend and editing partner, Samantha Stroh Bailey, to participate in this blog tour. I have been spending so much time AWAY from my writing in recent months, I’m delighted to get back in the swing of things and focus on my stack of WIPs (works-in-progress) again by answering four questions about my writing process.

Thanks, Sam!

1. What am I working on?

So many projects, so little time… I have a few new novels in the hopper. One is a multi-generational fractured romance about people who do insane (not always funny) things in the name of love. One is a quasi-paranormal about maenads (Dionysian party nymphs living in the present). Another is about a group of forty-ish former colleges roommates down on their luck who decide they’ll rent a giant house and all live together again (with spouses, kids, pets, and plenty of baggage!). Then there’s an erotic novel; then a fractured fairytale trilogy I’m doing with my husband…. I think I may need Ritalin!

The WIP that’s in the forefront right now though is a collection of short stories I’m putting together for Mother’s Day – and for charity. A KIND OF MAD COURAGE features many stories in different genres and should be released by May. Lots of great authors have already submitted, including Samantha, plus Carey Heywood, Wendy Janes, Louise Wise, and Laura Chapman, and I’m looking forward to seeing more, from Elke Feuer, Karen E. Martin, Jen Tucker, Julie Valerie (see below!), and more! My mother passed away last fall from an auto-immune disease, and all proceeds for the book will go to the Guthy-Jackson Foundation, which does a lot of AI research, as a tribute to my mom. More about that as we get closer to the release!

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I don’t have a neat, cut-and-dry genre I write in. I wish I did–marketing would be much easier! I have been told my books are “original” and “fresh” when people like them. And “stupid” and “implausible” when they don’t. I try and take the standard three-act structure as a base, but my stories seem to spin the way they want to. They’re like unruly children who are kind of sassy and cute and with whom you put up anyway because they’re kind of cute… Right?

3. Why do I write what I write?

Characters speak to each other in my head and I listen to what they say. Sometimes they’re silly (like Rita Hayworth’s Shoes) and sometimes they’re wacky and dark (like The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything). They spout their insane ramblings at me and I try and “box” them into a story. Not really that far off from what I do as a ghostwriter, actually… (Ha! I’m kidding! [No, no I’m not.])

4. How does my writing process work?

I write when I can. I try to escape to Panera, but sometimes I’m writing “in the fray.” I’ve gotten very good at blocking distractions. With a family, a job, freelance clients, etc. to juggle, you kind of have to do it that way. I spend about 80 percent of my writing time thinking about writing and 20 percent typing. I’m a really fast typist!

JulieValeriePressPhoto

To continue the writing process blog tour, I will now hand the “mic” over to the amazingly funny Julie Valerie, who will answer these questions on her blog next week.

Thanks again, Sam!!

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162762_2662032389151_5076510_nLet’s connect! Find me on Twitter and Facebook, and email me: francine@francinelasala.com.

Harriet’s Helpful Hints – For Mothers Everywhere!

Harriet’s Helpful Hints – For Mothers Everywhere!

My "dream" Harriet, should GIRL ever become a movie. (Are you listening, Hollywood?)
My “dream” Harriet, should GIRL ever become a movie. (Are you listening, Hollywood?)

To wrap my “Month of Mothers,” here’s some great advice from one of my favorite characters. Learn something useful–and enjoy!

How to be a domestic goddess! Or at least pretend to be one.

by Harriet Saunders

**First published by Louise Wise, Wise Words – Book Blogger January 18, 2013**

Squalor is the new black.
Who says that? I say that! In this day and age, it’s much more important to over-parent your kids. To get down on that filthy floor and play with them rather than clean it. Of course there does get to be a point when cleaning is necessary. In that case…

Never clean your house in full.
Straightening up is really all you ever have to do, most of the time. Just let the neighbors’ kids leave their shoes on when they come over so you don’t have to explain to their parents why their once-white socks are as black as your soul. (If you don’t care about their stupid parents and what they think, by all means have those kids run around in their socks and pick up some of the dirt and grime while they’re at it. Mop, schmop. Am I right?!)

If you must scrub, don’t wimp out on the chemicals.
Especially if you clean as infrequently as I do. As well-meaning as vinegar and baking soda are, they’re just not going to cut it on a toilet bowl ring that’s had months to set in. No. You’re going to have to go with the strongest cleaning chemicals you can legally buy. If they burn your skin and your throat when you breathe them in, you’re doing it right.

If you want your husband to help you clean, clean naked.
You know you can get your husband to do whatever you want him to as long as you ask him when you’re naked. Also, cleaning naked means no bleach stains or other crap on your clothes, which is kind of a plus because god knows, if you’re hanging around your house with your kids all day, your clothes are crappy enough as they are.

Don’t have rugs.
Why? Listen to these words. See these words in your carpets. Play-Dough. Mashed potatoes. Rice. Grape juice. What else do you need to know?

Do “all-socks” loads of laundry.
This one may seem practical, smart even, but I have to be honest with you, it’s just plain lazy. The whole thing about where do the socks disappear to… It’s no great mystery, folks. They get tangled up in your other clothes. Speaking of socks, instead of going through the torture of sorting and balling them up, when they come out of the dryer just pile them into a giant tub you set in the hallway and let everyone fend for themselves. It’s great fun! Especially in the morning.

Stain removal.
Fact: I haven’t been able to keep even a single article of clothing unstained since I got married. If I went to task to remove all the stains in my clothes, there would be no time for drinking. So what’s my solution? I don’t bother–and neither should you. Look, any mother who walks around in fresh, crisp, immaculate clothing is just doing a disservice to every other mother out there. If there’s a stain on your shirt, wear a dramatic scarf or necklace to divert attention. (Unless the stain is by your neck. Then I guess you’re probably screwed.)

Let’s see… Let’s see. Oh yeah. Sewing!
Is never worth it. Never.

Dogs make excellent vacuum cleaners.
Or so I am told. Sammy, my husband, won’t give in to a dog right now. As if he’s the one who’s going to take care of it! A dog is a great investment–and cheap if you’re smart about it. If you have enough kids under the age of eight in your house, throwing and dropping food all over the place, you won’t even need to buy dog food. Think about it.

Have an even number of kids.
I don’t know why more people don’t know this, honestly. When you have an odd number, someone’s always left out, and you can bet that little bugger’s going to be up your butt looking for a bud. Give the kid a bud. (Then go grab yourself a Bud or a bottle of gin or whatever’s going to get you through having all those kids.)

Make dinners that seem like more effort than they are.
I’ve learned you can make pretty good things with practically no involvement on your part, and also make the people who live with you think they’re getting something special while you’re at it. (Be careful of cooking too well, however. You don’t want them to expect it.) Here’s a recipe:

Pasta With Meat
(I suppose you could say “bolognese” if you’re feeling fancy, but that seems like a lot of trouble to me. And I’m sure more goes into bolognese, but I don’t really care.)

You need this stuff:
Olive oil
A sweet onion, roughly chopped (some people call this “country-style” but let’s be honest that it’s “lazy-style”, okay?)
Some garlic (I’m not going to tell you how much, that’s between you and your spouse)
A splash of wine, red or white (you know, whatever’s open)*
A can of crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
A package of ground beef
A box of pasta

Here’s what to do with it:
1.  Toss into a pot: olive oil, onion, and garlic. When it all gets nice and soft and hot, splash in wine, then pour in the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer.
2.  Cook pasta in boiling water for however long it says on the box. (If you made the pasta fresh by hand, you’re not doing this right.)
3.  Brown meat in a frying pan. Don’t drain it. (Blah, blah, blah health. But who cares. It’s better this way.)
4.  Now: The sauce goes in to the meat; they both go over the pasta. And you’re done.

Did you just make special “homemade” tomato sauce? You bet you did, you clever thing! Now pat yourself on the back, pour yourself a drink, and go catch up on The Real Housewives of Whatever.
 
* Please note: Dry vermouth is very cheap and not that tasty. And if you, like me, prefer to save every last drop of your wine for drinking, I say buy a giant bottle of dry vermouth, keep it for cooking, and be done with it. (If you do ever run out of wine or vodka, you can probably tolerate some vermouth over ice. I’ve suffered it. I didn’t die. Drop a couple of olives in there and it will almost kill the taste. And remember, it’s cheap! So why not?)

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Note: Harriet Saunders is a supporting character from my second novel, The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything. As one of my main character Mina’s only friends, harried Harriet helps ground Mina in her life–in fun and irreverent ways! The character herself is a cocktail / composite of all the frazzled mothers I have known, myself included. In this “Anything Goes” post I did for Louise Wise’s WISE WORDS, I imagined someone had asked Harriet to write a home-making column, sharing some of her best tips for domestic bliss. Please leave me comment sharing one of your most incredible household hints, helpful or horrid. I’d love to hear them!

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I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank all the moms who took part in this promotion! (Find a list and links by clicking here!)

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539286_10200439346445319_1446602713_nMina Clark is losing her mind—or maybe it’s already gone. She isn’t quite sure. Feeling displaced in her over-priced McMansion-dotted suburban world, she is grappling not only with deep debt, a mostly absent husband, and her playground-terrorizer 3-year old Emma, but also with a significant amnesia she can’t shake—a “temporary” condition now going on several years, brought on by a traumatic event she cannot remember, and which everyone around her feels is best forgotten. A routine trip to the dentist changes everything for Mina, and suddenly she’s not sure if what’s happening is real, of if she’s just now fully losing her mind… especially when she realizes the only person she thought she could trust is the one she fears the most.

BUY IT NOW!

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162762_2662032389151_5076510_nLet’s connect! Find me on Twitter and Facebook, and email me: francine@francinelasala.com.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

I hope this weekend finds you joyfully celebrating with your mom or kids–or both! As you know if you’ve been following my blog recently, I’m all about the moms this month. I’m blessed to still have both my mom and mother-in-law to celebrate, and celebrate with. This year, my sister-in-law joins the “fun”!

Fun, right!?
Fun, right!?

Okay, maybe a tad obnoxious to put the “fun” in quotes (did it again…), but you know what I mean. It really is a joyous job, but it does comes along with a lot of hard work and very little recognition. Which is okay, it’s not like you do it for the props or anything. 🙂

The other thing about motherhood–be honest and tell me in the comments section if you agree–is that it really makes you feel like you have amnesia sometimes. So consumed am I with laundry and homework and making meals that I often forget those times that “doing the laundry” meant buying new underwear to put it off a few days more. When “homework” was the freelance storytelling I did when I wasn’t at work. And “making meals” involved complicated dishes calling for “required-taste” ingredients…

When late nights meant staying out drinking with friends and stumbling into a cab at 4am. When shopping for clothes meant cute, dry-clean-only numbers I could easily slip into…and out of… A time when I could wear heels to bring me closer to my husband’s height (he’s 6’4″, I’m 5’4″–you have to imagine what I used to be able to teeter around on before I spent most of my time chasing toddlers…)

I miss that girl sometimes. (I think my husband might, too.)

But the woman who’s replaced her isn’t so bad. I mean, I don’t always recognize her, driving around in a Volvo station wagon and hanging out in playgrounds in the middle of the day instead of bars and clubs in the middle of the night. And last summer may have been the last time she had a pedicure (or shaved her legs–LOL… Sort of kidding…) And her shoes are terrible. But she’s got some redeeming qualities. I mean, her daughters are just awesome, so she can’t be too terrible at this new identity… Right?

cousins

When I wrote The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything, I wasn’t intending it to be a mother’s story. (Although if I’m to be honest, I’m not at all sure what I was intending it to be.) But within the madness of that story, this is just what emerges. A woman who used to know who she was, but in her somewhat uncharted universe of play groups and school drop offs, mingling with other mothers and dealing with the craziness of having small kids, she does not have her feet under her any more. Of course that’s not what triggered the amnesia in the first place, but it surely helps keep her in a daze.

539286_10200439346445319_1446602713_n

In any case, whatever phase of this mad ride you’re on, I wish you a fun, fruitful (in love and blessings) Mother’s Day!

Cheers!

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Let’s connect! Find me on Twitter and Facebook, and email me: francine@francinelasala.com
Hello May, A Month for Mothers!

Hello May, A Month for Mothers!

me and girls
Me and my princesses.

Hey there. Welcome to May in the ‘Shed!

While May is officially Chick Lit Month, it’s also Mother’s Day month, and after almost eight years of this motherhood business, I decided it was time to take a step back and see if anything made more sense to me now about this crazy state of life than it did in the beginning.

Uh…nope. 🙂

So there won’t be an interesting or hilarious post on motherhood from me today. Probably not even this month. Which is why I dragged another 20 or so other mothers in here, basically to share what it means to be a mother and also at the same time, be a human being. (I’m not sure I understand the secret of that yet, but I’m eager to learn!)

The mothers you’ll meet this month are here because they inspire and delight me. They are not the judge-y bitches of the Easton Estates playground I wrote about in The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything. Rather, they’re all very cool women who are still able to understand who they are in this crazy mess known as motherhood. I admire that. I kind of crave it. Maybe you do, too?

Featured “Five for Friday” interviews this month include, Amber Dusick, the creator of the hilarious blog Parenting Illustrated with Crappy Pictures(tm); Jen Pate and Barb Machen, from the hit web series, Jen and Barb: Mom Life, New York Times bestselling collaborator Mim Eichler Rivas; Chick Lit Central founder Melissa Amster; and “Crib Notes” Kelly Perotti.

You’ll also meet a ton of other moms, women who have managed to find those “stolen moments” between diaper changes and playdates and various sporting events, to carve out just a little time to do their thing, whatever that thing is. (Mostly we’re writers but that’s only because this is the kind of person who writes blog posts.)

Just about every day, moms from all over the world will be here to make you smile, and maybe even teach you something you didn’t already know.

So check back regularly. And have a great day!

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FRANCINE LASALA has written nonfiction on every topic imaginable, from circus freaks to sex, and edited bestselling authors of all genres through her company, Francine LaSala Productions. She is now actively taking on indie clients for manuscript evaluations, editing services, copywriting (covers, blurbs, taglines, queries, and more), website and blog creation, and developing kickass social media campaigns. The author of novels Rita Hayworth’s Shoes and The Girl, The Gold Tooth & Everything, and the creator of The “Joy Jar” Project, she lives with her husband and two daughters in New York.

Write to me: francine@francinelasala.com.

And let’s connect!

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Facebook

Website

The “Joy Jar” Project

Buy Rita Hayworth’s Shoes

Buy The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything

How to Celebrate Easter + Passover?

How to Celebrate Easter + Passover?

An excerpt from Rita Hayworth’s Shoes shows how it’s done. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, and Happy Spring everyone!

How Amy and Her Extended Family Celebrated the Holidays

She didn’t know what she had expected to find when the front door of the apartment swung open, but it certainly wasn’t what had greeted her: Zoë outfitted in a quasi-Playboy Bunny getup, wearing a set of oversized bunny ears and an expression that could only be described as humiliated. “No. Not Elijah,” Zoë called back into the room and then added just for Amy: “Only Vashti.”

“Oh, very funny,” Amy smirked, as she leaned over to give Zoë a giant hug and kiss.

“I have to find the humor in all this somehow, Auntie Amy. Do you see what they have me in this year?” she asked.

“What’s wrong? I think you look cute.”

“If I was sixteen and decided to wear this myself, my mother would ground me until I left for college. I mean, look at this,” she said as she turned around to give Amy a look at her perky cotton tail. “Seriously,” she said. Then she looked Amy up and down. “What are you wearing?” she asked.

“Why? What’s wrong?” Amy asked, immediately self-conscious. “It’s just a turtleneck and a jumper.”

“A jumper,” Zoë repeated, in a flat tone.

“A jumper,” Amy replied, wondering what the big deal was. “Auntie Amy,” she shook her little blonde head. “A jumper is a person who’s given up on life. Someone who sits on a ledge or a bridge somewhere ready to say ‘good-bye cruel world’ and take a leap. It isn’t something you wear.” She looked away, ashamed. “It’s dreadful.”

“Zoë!” gasped Jane, who had just come over to welcome the new arrival. “Nice little girls…”

“I know, I know. Nice little girls let their friends walk around looking like bag ladies if that’s what makes them happy.”

“That’s not what I meant, young lady.” Quite the opposite of Amy, Jane wore a gauzy yellow sundress with a white, loosely buttoned cardigan sweater casually tossed over it. New white espadrilles adorned her otherwise bare feet, and showcased a bright peach pedicure. She was perfectly dressed for a spring celebration; Amy, on the other hand, was dressed more along the lines of…

“It’s Urban Amish,” said Zoë.

“Sorry?” both women asked, looking to the girl.

“Urban Amish. I’ve been trying to figure it out for years and now I know,” she said, folding her arms across her chest as she nodded at Amy. “Yep. That’s her look.”

“Zoë, nice little girls…” Jane stammered, embarrassed, yet more than a little bit intrigued.

“Think about it, Mama. When’s the last time you saw Auntie Amy wear any other color but…” she started naming on her fingers, “black, navy blue, beige, gray.” She looked to her mother. “Am I missing one?”

“No. It’s true,” Jane said, looking pained. And then, as though Amy had ruined Zoë in some horrible way and for life, she added, dramatically, “What’s wrong with having a little color in your life?”

“There she is!” came a voice from the living room. “There’s our Amy!” Saved by the rabbi. Joshua Austen-Rabinowitz, along with Lauren, joined the party at the door, and took Amy into his arms. “Come on in,” he said as he hugged her, taking the bottle of wine she’d brought and passing it to Lauren.

“Nice to see you, dear,” said Lauren, as she planted polite air kiss on each of Amy’s cheeks, and took her hand into her own, which was slightly cold and bony. “You over him yet?”

Amy, caught off guard, smiled weakly. “Oh, well. You know how it is. It takes time. I don’t think I’ve ruled out reconciliation and—”

“I think I have the cure,” Lauren cut her off, without emotion. “There’s only one cure for a broken heart, you know.” And then Lauren let out a boozy, uncharacteristically hearty laugh.

Amy didn’t know what she was talking about, but nervously laughed along anyway.

“Come! The egg hunt is about to begin,” Joshua beamed, his eyes on his granddaughter.

“And our little bunny’s done one heck of a job with the hiding this year! Haven’t you, Zoë?”

“Sure,” said Zoë, wincing as she looked down at her barely covered form.

Following an hour-long egg hunt that essentially consisted of Zoë having to find every single egg she had hidden earlier as the adults found the bottoms of their glasses again and again, the family gathered around the large, festively decorated table in the center of the dining room for the much-anticipated annual Easter-Seder feast.

A spectacular spread was laid out before them—one that celebrated both the Jewish and Christian traditions of the varied members of the Austen-Rabinowitz families assembled. There were miles of matzoh and mountains of maror. There was a rack of lamb and asparagus and roasted rosemary red potatoes. There enough brisket to feed an army. There was challah bread with colored eggs baked into it (though there wasn’t a single drop of Italian blood to be accounted for here)—St. Yosef’s bread, as Joshua liked to joke. And, to ensure the evening would be rich in tradition, and loose in inhibition, there were four wineglasses set at every place.

“We’re at the kids’ end,” Zoë said to Amy, as she led them to their seats at the foot of the table. “We get to sit with the Happys again,” she joked. Amy couldn’t help but let a giggle slip, as this could only mean they’d be sharing their end of the table with the gloomiest people she had ever met.

As if the seating order ever changed from event to event, everyone searched out their place cards. Joshua was at the head, with Lauren to his right and Jane to his left. To Jane’s left was Joshua’s younger brother, Morty, who looked to be about ten years older than he. To his left sat Lauren’s ancient Aunt Clarabelle, followed by Amy. On the other side of the table, there was an empty seat next to Lauren, and beyond that sat Joshua’s own ancient aunt, Enid. Next to her sat her long-divorced, morbidly morose son, Grant. And next to him sat his miserable thirteen-year-old daughter, Ava, whom, Zoë had explained to Amy as they walked to their seats, she was expected to entertain. Except not even the bunny suit had sparked even a mocking smile.

The doorbell rang and Zoë cringed. Joshua and Lauren grinned at their granddaughter through a haze of pre-dinner wine and Zoë buried her face in her hands.

“Maybe that’s Elijah!” slurred Aunt Enid.

“Go on and get it!” screamed Clarabelle, with a hint too much enthusiasm.

“But I’m really not into any of this,” Zoë pleaded. “I’m a Buddhist.”

Everyone laughed, charmed as ever by the adorable little girl. Except for Amy, who gave Zoë a supportive little hug. And except for Grant and Ava. Because Grant and Ava never smiled.

Zoë took a deep breath and slid out of her chair. “I wonder who this could be,” she said, monotone as she dragged her feet to the front door and opened it.

“Hi, Zoë,” came a man’s voice from the other side of the door.

“Oh. Hi, Brendan.” Zoë said, bored, as she turned back to the table. “It’s just Brendan.”

Amy didn’t know a Brendan and immediately turned her head toward the front door when she saw how excited the other woman at the table appeared at the mere mention of his name. She nearly choked as he entered, as the man––whom Zoë had dismissed as just Brendan––was the most beautiful man Amy had ever seen. Brad Pitt would have looked like a pile of vomit next to this strapping, sandy- haired, green-eyed Adonis. Amy must have been staring, for when Zoë came back to the table, she leaned over and whispered loudly in Amy’s ear, “Stop staring.” Amy promptly took a sip of water and tried to refocus on the dinner party.

“You can’t fall in love with a body,” Zoë said pointedly to Amy.

Jane quickly jumped up, urging Uncle Mort to take the seat next to Lauren on the other side of the table. “Come. Sit here,” she gushed to the new addition, tapping the seat next to her. “How are you, Brendan?”

Lauren stood. “No, dear. He’ll sit by me,” she said. Jane glared at her mother. “Not for you,” Lauren mouthed, as Jane crossed her arms and sulked and Brendan made his way over to Lauren.

Amy leaned toward Zoë. “Who is he and why haven’t I met him before? I mean, he’s here in your house for the holidays. He must—”

“He’s no one. Believe me,” Zoë said, letting out an exasperated sigh.

“Seriously. He must be someone special. An actor?”

“He’s just a guy Nana found lurking around at Starbucks one day. Some college dropout.” Zoë looked at Brendan, who began schmoozing with the others. “He’s one of those ‘strays’ New York liberals like to bring to these kinds of events. You know, just some loser with no family and nothing else to do.”

“Oh.” Amy looked away, embarrassed.

“Oh, God—I didn’t mean you, Auntie Amy. Of course you’re one of us.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Zoë.”

“Gooble gobble.”

“Huh?”

Before Zoë could explain the reference, Joshua lifted his wineglass and stood. “Now that we are all present and accounted for, we may begin our celebration. The glorious union of centuries-old traditions that could only be possible here.”

“Cheers, everyone,” said Lauren, raising her glass. Everyone drank. And then drank some more as a long, uncomfortable silence followed.

Impatient, Joshua nodded to Zoë. “Come on, child. You should know this cold by now.”

Zoë sighed deeply and then began. “Right. Sorry,” she cleared her tiny throat. “Why is this night different from all other nights?” she said in what had become her trademark monotone this evening.

As the ritual unfolded, Amy tried to sneak a quick inconspicuous glance at Brendan, mortified to find he was staring at her. He waved, throwing her for a bigger loop. She turned her head to make sure no one was standing behind her, causing him to chuckle and shake his head. He waved again and mouthed a small “Hello.” She waved back and quickly looked away as the four questions ended.

“Bon appétit,” said Lauren, and everyone dove in.

“So, Amy,” said Joshua. “Tell everyone how you killed your boss.”

“Joshua!” Lauren gasped.

Clarabelle shouted across the table at Enid. “What did he say?” And then to Morty, “What did he say?” Morty leaned in and whispered to Clarabelle. “She did what?!” Now Clarabelle gasped.

“Dad! Honestly,” said Jane, shaking her head. “Amy didn’t kill anyone. Her boss choked to death on a cookie.”

“How do you choke on a cookie?” asked a puzzled Enid.

“It was a biscotti,” Amy chirped, thinking this would help somehow.

“Oh,” said Enid, as if it had.

“Pappy, come on,” laughed Zoë. “Amy’s not a killer. I mean, seriously. Just look at her outfit.” Now Ava looked Amy up and down, and nodded in agreement when Zoë added,

“Doesn’t exactly scream ‘femme fatale’.”

“Zoë Mary-Alice Austen-Rabinowitz!”

“I kind of dig a chick in a jumper,” said Brendan from across the table. “Seriously,” he said, as if no one believed him.

“I still don’t see how you could choke to death on a cookie,” said Enid, looking worriedly at Grant, who had just taken a large bite of a macaroon. Sensing his mother’s displeasure, he immediately tossed the macaroon back onto his plate. When she turned away, he picked it up again, considered it, and shoved the rest of the cookie into his mouth.

“I’m Brendan,” Brendan waved to Amy. “I think I was invited here to meet you, right?” he asked, now looking around. Lauren pretended to be looking at her fingernails when his eyes fell on her. He smiled again at Amy. “You know, I’ve hated every boss I ever had. So I have to say, it’s especially nice to meet you.”

Amy flushed bright red. “Well, thanks. But I didn’t kill—”

“You never did like that Heimlich, did you?” asked Joshua.

“And those shoes,” said Ava, out of nowhere, and miraculously now smiling at Zoë. “Yes, I see. I think I know exactly what you mean—”

“Speaking of shoes,” said Amy, coughing as she desperately tried to change the subject.

“I had the strangest experience yesterday with a pair of shoes.”

“Really,” said Zoë, now enjoying an audience with Ava. “Because I—”

“Zoë!” shouted Jane.

Amy cleared her throat and continued. “I was walking by Smitty’s—you know, that second-hand store down on the strip?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Clarabelle. “Such bargains. I bought this scarf there and for such a bargain,” she nodded to Enid, who looked crossly at Clarabelle. Clarabelle looked away and absently tugged at the hairs on her chin.

“Right. Well, anyway,” Amy continued. “There were these shoes there, shoes like I’d never seen before. They were red and so shiny and…” she drifted off. “I can’t explain it.”

“Did you buy them?” Ava craned her neck to look under the table.

Zoë joined her. “Those aren’t them, are they?” asked Zoë. “Because you know those aren’t red, right?” Zoë taunted, and Ava actually laughed.

“I don’t get it,” said Brendan.

“What? No.” said Amy, getting annoyed that Zoë was entertaining Ava at her expense.

“Well did you?” asked Grant. “Did you buy them?”

“That’s the ridiculous part,” Amy said. “They were two hundred and fifty dollars. Used. I mean, could you imagine?” she looked around for support from the other women, but not even Jane would look at her. “You don’t think that’s just a little ridiculous?”

“What price can you put on what you’re worth?” asked Morty, seemingly to the air.

Amy was amazed. “That’s so weird,” she said. “That’s kind of what the saleslady said,” and she looked around for a response. She got none. “Anyway, she also said that the shoes had belonged to Rita Hayworth, like that was supposed to decide it.”

“Rita Hayworth,” mused Joshua. “Now that’s a name you never hear anymore. Big in my day, but—”

“Dad, you’re in your sixties,” said Jane. “Were you even born when Gilda came out?”

“Well, in my father’s day maybe. But, oy. What a knockout she was. Hair red as fire. And the most gorgeous set of––”

“Pappy!”

“Sorry. Well… Anyway, tragic story. Tragic girl,” he shook his head. “Started out bad,” he said, draining the wine from the bottom of his glass. “Drunken horrible parents,” he said, and poured himself another. “Ended badly.”

“What happened?” asked Amy.

“Drank herself crazy,” said Clarabelle, grabbing another bottle from the table and filling her glass. “Alzheimer’s and a slow death.”

“Abusive childhood. Bad marriages,” said Joshua. “Divorced five times,” he said, looking right at Grant.

“And here I thought one was a pain in the ass,” Jane smirked.

Grant was not amused. “Sometimes once is enough,” he chortled, and looked as though he would burst into tears at any moment. “It’s like being cut off at the waist. Every day a new struggle. I just don’t—”

“Oh, are you still sensitive about that? Sorry.” Jane said snidely. She collected some dirty plates from the table as Grant glared at her.

“Let me help you with that,” said Brendan. She blushed and as he followed her into the kitchen.

Zoë looked at her grandparents and then back at Amy. And then at her grandparents. And then back at Amy.

Joshua reflected for a moment and stood. “I have to agree. Two hundred and fifty is too much for a pair of shoes,” he said, as Lauren coolly looked the other way. She stood, collected more dirty plates, and headed for the kitchen. Joshua dutifully piled up the plates in front of him and followed.

Zoë waited for her grandparents to be out of earshot before she leaned in and said, “Except he didn’t tell you the important part.”

“What do you mean?” asked Morty.

“The legend,” said Zoë. “About the shoes?”

“I don’t think I know anything about the shoes,” said Enid. Now they all looked to Zoë, as they often did. “Well, from what I read,” she began, and looked around.

Clarabelle leaned over to Morty, “That child is always reading,” she nodded. “She would know.”

“From what I read, Rita Hayworth was kind of plain and boring when she was young,” Zoë said. “A little like you, Auntie Amy.”

“Thanks.”

“But then she made a decision that would change her life. She fell in love with a pair of shoes. A very expensive pair of shoes. And, after passing them in a store window day after day on her way back and forth from her job in a factory during the height of the Great Depression, she decided she just had to have them.”

“But how could she afford—” Grant started to ask.

“She always had to give all her earnings to her father on payday, it’s true—”

“So he could drink it!” growled Enid, in disgust, and then swallowed down the rest of the wine in her glass.

Zoë smiled. “That’s right. But this one week, she decided no. That it was her money and that she would spend it the way she wanted to. So…”

“So?” Ava wanted to know.

“So she stopped in the store and bought the shoes.”

A collective gasp came from the group.

“And her father?” asked Clarabelle. “What did she tell her father?”

“She pretended she got mugged,” said Zoë.

“Did he believe her?” asked Amy.

“Oh, no,” said Zoë.

“Then what?” asked Morty.

Zoë looked around before speaking. “Then he beat her, of course.”

Another gasp.

“But it never mattered again, because after that, everything changed,” said Zoë.

“Margarita, her real name, went out in the shoes the very next day, and she met Darryl Zanuck.”

“You mean the big Hollywood producer?” asked Enid.

“The same,” said Zoë. “He offered her a role in his latest film, and she left for Hollywood two weeks later.”

“I heard that story!” said Clarabelle. “I remember that!”

“I don’t quite remember it like that,” said Morty, looking a little confused.

There was a moment of silent reflection, but only a moment. “Are you going to buy the shoes, Amy?” asked Clarabelle. “They could be the ones!” gushed Enid.

“Buy the shoes, Amy!” urged Ava.

Amy tried to make sense of it all, while trying to pull herself out of the spotlight. “I don’t think I knew any of that, Zoë. Thanks. But two hundred fifty dollars for shoes. I mean, come on.”

“Some people just don’t understand the power of shoes,” Lauren said, catching the end of the conversation.

“Personally, I don’t think all that much of it,” said Zoë. “Yet I can’t scientifically rule it out.”

Brendan returned with Joshua. Jane, looking annoyed, walked a few steps behind them.

“So who’s taking over for Heimlich?” Joshua asked.

“Right now? His classes are being covered by a few of his graduate students and some other members of the department. But going forward––”

“What about you?” Lauren asked. “Are you taking on any of them?”

“Me?” Amy blushed. “Oh, no. I couldn’t possible teach his classes.”

“But don’t you have a Masters degree in English Lit?” asked Lauren.

“All she has to do is defend her dissertation at this point and then it’s PhD all the way.”

“Jane!” said Amy, horrified.

“Well, I’m sorry, Amy. But it’s true. She downplays how far she’s gotten, and how brilliant her paper was. All she needs to do now is defend it.”

All eyes were now on her. “I have a little, uh, stage fright.”

“Perhaps if you had the shoes…” mused Clarabelle.

“What’s that?” asked Joshua.

“Oh nothing, Pappy,” said Zoë. “Don’t worry about it.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

Buy it now!

Rita Hayworth's ShoesHer magic shoes may have brought new love into her life… But is her new prince really just a frog?

Amy Miller gets dumped on her wedding day and everyone knows it’s for the best her relationship with David had eaten away at her for years. Except for Amy… When her best friend, Jane Austen-Rabinowitz, and Jane’s sagacious six-year-old daughter, Zoe, convince Amy to treat herself to an extravagantly priced, super-cute pair of shoes, which purportedly once belonged to a siren of the silver screen, she balks at first, but their allure soon wears her down.

Once they are hers, her life turns around. She gets refocused on her career and meets a true kindred spirit, the also-jilted English professor, Decklin Thomas. She’s not attracted to Deck at first. But when circumstances lead to them spending more time together, they bond, and Amy starts to believe she may have found her soul mate. But when Deck’s former wife goes missing, again, the perfect romance may not be what it seems… Sparkly and witty as a 1940s screwball comedy, and filled with quirky characters and lots of delightful surprises, Rita Hayworth’s Shoes is a story of bouncing back, a heartwarming and potentially heartbreaking romance, and even a mystery rolled into one fun, hilarious page-turner.

Also by Francine LaSala – The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything

539286_10200439346445319_1446602713_nWho can you trust when you don’t know who you are…

Mina Clark is losing her mind-or maybe it’s already gone. She isn’t quite sure. Feeling displaced in her over-priced McMansion-dotted suburban world, she is grappling not only with deep debt, a mostly absent husband, and her playground-terrorizer 3-year-old Emma, but also with a significant amnesia she can’t shake-a “temporary” condition now going on several years, brought on by a traumatic event she cannot remember, and which everyone around her feels is best forgotten.

When a trip to the dentist leaves Mina with a new gold crown, her whole life changes. Slowly her memory and her mojo return. But when everything begins to crash down around her, she’s not sure if what’s happening is real, of if she’s just now fully losing her mind… especially when she realizes the only person she can trust is the one she fears the most. What’s it all going to cost her in the end?

Buy it now!

Boring Is the New Black–Or, Voltaire, You Owe Me a Favor!

Boring Is the New Black–Or, Voltaire, You Owe Me a Favor!

When you write a book, it’s impossible to put yourself out there without getting trampled. It’s part of the process. You’re not ever going to be able to please everyone, and nor should you ever try. Still, I know I’m not alone in the writer world when I admit that a bad review can sting. Here are my two favorites:

For Rita Hayworth’s Shoes (2 stars!)
BORING! (by “Angela”)
“My apologies to all my fellow 5-star reviewers, but nothing thrilled me about this book. I felt it was run of the mill, even bordering on boring. The only saving grace for me was that I decided to read Voltaire’s Candide because of it.”

For The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything (1 star!)
IMPLAUSIBLE! (by “Cman”)
“This has to be one of the worst books I have read recently. Everything up to the last scenario with Esther (almost at the end of the book) was just implausible to believe. In fact it was irritating that author would think readers would not question all the holes in the plot. There was nothing to believe in characters responses to events occurring. I would not call it a psycho drama, fantasy, magical or any of the other genre descriptions used in other comments.”

I have to admit, I’m far more excited about the outrage of the GIRL review (more on that in a bit) than I am about the malaise of the one for RITA. (I also have to giggle at the use of “my fellow 5-star reviewers,” which implies that she is one of them… But I am thrilled to have introduced Voltaire to new reader–hence the favor that guy owes me.)

In any case, here’s what I try to remember when I get a bad review and maybe it might help you too–before you start weeping so hard, you short-out your laptop:

1) Consider the source. Not every book is for every reader. I never got past page 2 of Twilight, but I’m sure Stephenie Meyer and her billions of fans don’t give a rat’s ass what I think.

2) Know that some people like to hate. I accept my books aren’t Shakespeare, and so should you. Because that is not our name. But to be serious… I’ve been at this a while and I know my books aren’t garbage either. Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, but if I can’t give a book at least 3 stars, I don’t bother with a review. Why would I care? Which brings me to my next point…

3) Someone hated your work enough to CARE!  This is by far my favorite. Look at it this way: If someone gave you a scathing, hateful review, be honored that your writing touched a nerve, compelled that person in some way to log on to a website, search out your book, and tell the world just how shitty he or she thinks you are. I know it’s hard to see this through the thick veil of your tears, yes, but consider how many people email or Facebook you to let you know they loved your book, but never leave a review. (Though best not to consider all the others who didn’t hate your book enough to crap all over you and your work.)

For any writer who thinks “a” or even “some” bad reviews means it’s time to turn in the towel, check this out:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/54494-the-13-worst-reviews-of-classic-books.html?utm_source=PW+Tip+Sheet&utm_campaign=0aed5f1574-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email

The point of this? (Aside from trying to make myself believe my heart isn’t in pieces.) It’s to tell you and me both: KEEP WRITING! And do it with the joy of knowing that people are going to fucking hate you for it!

But please, for the love of all that is holy, do not, do NOT, let a bad review influence what and how you write. You must always keep true to what you do. I, myself, intend to spin hundreds more “boring,” “implausible,” “shitty” stories because I enjoy writing them that way and others enjoy reading them that way. You do that too, okay? Great! (And if you can bear it…tell me about your crappiest review in the comments? Pretty please? I promise that sharing makes you feel better!)

Also, and this is HUGE, please make sure that no matter what boring, implausible, shitty stories you spin, please be edited. Please. Your work should be crapped upon because people hate your premise or your characters or you, not because you were sloppy. (If you got a bad review because you were sloppy, that’s totally about you sucking.)

So break out those hate cauldrons and get ready to stew bad-review-givers “Angela” and “Cman” because I’m pretty sure you’re going to want to gouge out your eyes with your own fingers when you see what I’ve got coming next. 🙂

Have a great day everyone (even you haters)!

P.S. If you do like a book you read, the best gift you can give an author is a review. Just sayin’.