Torn Between Two Lovers: A Tragicomic Tale of Second-Novel Rivalry 💔

Torn Between Two Lovers: A Tragicomic Tale of Second-Novel Rivalry 💔

My first love, a thirteen-year affair, caused a lot of emotion over its long life—excitement, rage, fear, euphoria, satisfaction, frustration. It was both thrilling and exasperating and, truth be told, there were a few breakups, one I thought would be irrevocable. Friends were concerned we wouldn’t make it, calling it my phantom novel. But we went the distance and finally celebrated going public nine months ago. Since then it’s been a party, all champagne and celebration. A victory lap full of hard work, yes, but mostly pure joy.

One of the names I call the object of my affection is The Fourteenth of September. When I’m in a rush, I use its pet name, “A Woman’s Story of Vietnam,” sometimes just a short but sweet “Set in ’69.” We’ve had our moments. Never will a relationship be so volatile, meaningful, or memorable, and it will always be with me.

But I’m ready, as they say, to move on. It’s me, not it. No fault, harm, or foul. It’s just time.

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Coming of Conscience Scholarship Recipient Announced

Coming of Conscience Scholarship Recipient Announced

As I wrote back in February’s blog post, the Coming of Conscience Scholarship that was created in the spirit of the journey of the main character, Judy Talton, in my novel The Fourteenth of September had attracted a record-breaking 200+ applicants. The scholarship was open to all students (undergrad and graduate) at Northern Illinois University (NIU), the real-life model for the fictional university in the novel. It was designed to encourage meaningful activism and bold personal responsibility. Applicants were asked to write an essay to describe their understanding of Coming of Conscience, to share an example of a Coming of Conscience moment of their own, if possible, and, above all, to indicate their plan for how they will use their degree to help change the world. Essays were evaluated by a faculty committee established by the NIU Foundation, who chose the final recipient.

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Women’s History Month: A Matter of Standing

Women’s History Month: A Matter of Standing

Women’s History Month isn’t an anniversary I typically celebrate or to which I pay much attention. Early in my career, in fact, like so many of us, I worked hard not to differentiate. Making an issue of being a woman in the workplace seemed to underline the very differences I was trying to equate. However, as I type this, I admit to feeling ashamed of myself and that—though I’m dying to meet Gloria Steinem in real life—I hope she doesn’t inquire about the details of my feminist record. It’s there, but in my younger years I did work harder for what seemed more immediate, achievable goals, like ending the Vietnam War. I would say I don’t feel tragically ashamed, more like the descendant of a suffragette being admonished by her ancestors: “Do you realize what we went through?” I’ve always been on the right side—but not raging. I wanted my career and achievements to speak for, not themselves, but for me. I had earned that standing, regardless of gender, I felt. Looking back, after learning how hard it was to be heard, even when you did everything right—even way beyond right—I wonder what on earth I was thinking about. Why did I feel I had to prove anything?

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Thank You: The Coming of Conscience Scholarship Is Fully Funded with 200+ Applicants to Date

Thank You: The Coming of Conscience Scholarship Is Fully Funded with 200+ Applicants to Date

The tag line for my book The Fourteenth of September, which came out this fall, is “A Coming of Conscience Novel,” a designation intended to echo yet distinguish it from the typical coming of age experience. In the story, which takes place during one of the most difficult times in our country’s history—The Vietnam War—the main character, Judy Talton, is plunged into a dangerous journey of self-discovery. She ultimately makes a character-defining decision with huge ramifications for who she is and what she will become. Her dilemma parallels that of America at the time: What are we if we stay in Vietnam? Who are we if we leave?

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Thank You: The Fourteenth of September Is Off to a Great Start

Thank You: The Fourteenth of September Is Off to a Great Start

The Fourteenth of September debuted this fall and has become a well-reviewed, award-winning and reader success, poised for a second printing as I write this. The three+ month launch period was a whirlwind, with nearly twenty events, parties, salons and speaking engagements, from New York to California, DeKalb IL to Chicago. Click for details on awards, reviews, media coverage and more photos from events and salons.

This wouldn't have been possible without my very valued "village" of salonnieres, event sponsors, bookstores and the incredible interest and support of friends and associates from all aspects of my life — close and extended, past and present. I thank you all. Your support has been overwhelming.

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December 1, 1969: A Date Which Will Live in Irony

December 1, 1969: A Date Which Will Live in Irony

Forty-nine years ago tomorrow was the date of the first Vietnam Draft Lottery, the day the phrase “to win the lottery” became, not a prize, but a death sentence. It was also a marker for a generation not unlike December 7, 1941, the date of the Pearl Harbor attack, characterized by then president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a “Date Which Will Live in Infamy,” a phrase which itself featured an ironic word referring to the dark side of famous. Perhaps that’s what war does to us? Keeps us mired in subtext, unable to talk straight.

I named my debut novel The Fourteenth of September, the birth date of the Number One lottery “winner” drawn on 12/1/69—straightforward, and crystal clear. All irony upfront and intended.

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It’s PUBLICATION DAY for The Fourteenth of September: Let’s Make It Memorable

It’s PUBLICATION DAY for The Fourteenth of September: Let’s Make It Memorable

I have to admit this is an exciting day. This story’s been on a long journey—from actual experiences decades ago, to in my head for what seems even longer, to the drawn-out writing process which took twelve years, and the always bumpy road to publication. This book has gestated long enough to be a monster, and sometimes it’s felt like that. It’s more than time this baby was born. And I can’t wait to share it with you. Please help me it a success.

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Fifty Years Ago Today: When the Whole World Finally Started Watching

Fifty Years Ago Today: When the Whole World Finally Started Watching

They always say that Vietnam was the first war we saw in our living rooms as we watched the nightly TV news. I don’t recall those images as much as I should have, but I absolutely remember the night I watched the war at home—as I sat on the ’60s-splashed orange-flowered couch in the living room—when the police jumped out of the paddy wagon and began beating young people. This was happening in my hometown, only an hour from the suburb where I lived. And I was watching it with my mother—a World War II veteran. It was when the generation gap disappeared for us for a brief moment. It was the first time we agreed in months, and the last time we’d agree, for a long, long time. This was inexcusable. This was not America.

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First Look: Premiering My New Book Trailer

First Look: Premiering My New Book Trailer

It’s time to take a break from marking all these important—but sad—anniversaries of events that happened around the time frame of my novel and share some fun stuff as I move toward the fall publication of The Fourteenth of September.

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The Assassination of Bobby Kennedy: Three Strikes and the Early Hope of a Generation Is Out

The Assassination of Bobby Kennedy: Three Strikes and the Early Hope of a Generation Is Out

This year has presented a lot of where-were-you-when moments that are impossible to keep from reflecting upon. And, if you miss one, just catch the CNN special on 1968: The Year That Changed America and you’ll be immediately transported.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Unlike that of his brother, five years earlier, I don’t remember exactly where I was when I heard—but I do vividly recall the next day. I was in study hall, supposedly getting ready for what would be the last finals of high school. I was wearing a green skirt. I remember because I kept staring protectively into my lap, away from my books and the tense eyes of others, darting back and forth across the aisles of desks, anxious to commiserate. I couldn’t keep my mind focused and resented that I had to. How could we be expected to study, I screamed in my head? Or even take finals, or even be in school with all this going on? Another Kennedy dead, two months after King. This is happening here, in our country, not some remote third-word place I couldn’t picture. I was terrified. We were terrified.

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Remember Kent State, May 4, 1970: An Iconic Moment for a Generation... A Coming of Conscience for a Country

Remember Kent State, May 4, 1970: An Iconic Moment for a Generation... A Coming of Conscience for a Country

Recently, while promoting the fall publication of my novel, The Fourteenth of September, which takes place during the pivotal 1969-1970 years of the Vietnam War, I was asked if—of the many iconic moments in American history that happened during that time period— one had impacted me more than any other.

I paused to consider the word iconic... icon—a symbol. No question. It was the Kent State Massacre, a symbol at the time of the total chasm between the government and the youth it was supposed to be protecting: the bridge too far that blew away most of the remaining support for the war, though it’s death throes dragged on another five years.

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Cover Reveal: First Peek at the Final Book, Counting Down to September 18 Pub Date

Cover Reveal: First Peek at the Final Book, Counting Down to September 18 Pub Date

I’m quite excited to introduce the cover design for The Fourteenth of September, the novel I’ve worked on for so many years. I have to admit, it’s pretty thrilling to see it come to life, and I AM palpitating more than a bit…

I must say, the journey to this final cover has been a surprisingly challenging process. I probably should have known this, coming out of over 25 years in marketing. Looking back, when the cover is done it seems so obvious, like the title. However, after years of wrestling this complex story into a narrative, and naming it (thank you, Gary Wilson), and now again having to digest it all into a single image with the power to instantly engage the reader who would most love, enjoy, and relate to it? Well, that clearly required a specific eye and expertise far different from anything I’d done before.

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Hell No, Never Again. We Are All In The Shot Together.

Hell No, Never Again. We Are All In The Shot Together.

Watching the news on Valentine’s Day about the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, my mind raced back ten years—Valentine’s Day 2008. That year, too, broadcasts broke a story of horror mid-day, shattering a holiday celebrating love. A young man with a shotgun and two pistols had killed five students, injured seventeen and shot himself at my alma mater, Northern Illinois University, in a lecture hall where a few decades earlier I had taken many classes. More than one student in my preferred section of seating didn’t make it. At any random stroke of time one of those casualties could have been me, could have been one of my friends, could have been my second cousin who was a senior at NIU at the time. I wasn’t there, but I was. I was in the shot.

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Rita's POV on Art vs Artist: Should We Judge a Person's Work Through the Lens of Their Character Flaws and Bad Behavior?

Rita's POV on Art vs Artist: Should We Judge a Person's Work Through the Lens of Their Character Flaws and Bad Behavior?

I've been getting a lot of questions about my position on the subject of Jim Morris's guest post sent out last week and that's fair. I didn't want to include it until I heard from you all and it was a lively series of comments indeed. In thinking this through, I got a little carried away given the complexity of the Art vs Artist debate. I hope you'll find it provocative as we all struggle with this tricky issue. Let me know what you think.

Many of you have asked my “stand” on this fraught issue. So here I am weighing in and wanting, really wanting, to purely say that the Art should be above the behavior of the Artist. But is that an absolute? I find censorship anathema and have always felt that people who reject the pleasure of Wagner’s music (or Cate Blanchett’s sublime performance in Blue Jasmine — it's worth it, Frank) are being way too rigid in a world that requires more flexibility. But then, does that very flexibility give permission beyond what our viewing or listening, or overall enjoying of the art, intends? Are we, God forbid, enabling?

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Art vs Artist: Should We Judge a Person’s Work Through the Lens of Their Character Flaws and Bad Behavior?

Art vs Artist: Should We Judge a Person’s Work Through the Lens of Their Character Flaws and Bad Behavior?

This month I’ve invited my first Guest Blogger, advertising veteran Jim Morris aka Tagline Jim (whose brilliant tagline for his own business is “long story, short”) to share his POV on a difficult subject. Jim is a radical thought leader in his industry, per his bio below. As an engaging and opinionated author, speaker, teacher and blogger, he often branches out into topics with ramifications for us all. His recent white paper on “Art Versus Artist” caught my eye as a subject that’s been around as long as Hitler and Wagner, and is as blazingly current as the behavior of Woody’s Allen’s actors. It’s a tough issue. Please read and weigh in, even if the answer remains “It depends.”

The question of whether we can separate the art from the artist has been much discussed for centuries. This current sexual harassment brouhaha that seems to preoccupy our news media compels us to visit, (or, for some of you, revisit) this question. Of course, character flaws and bad behavior extend far beyond sexual predation. They include, among other things, bigotry, various addictions and compulsions, non-sexual violent behavior like assault, mental torment and murder, as well as a host of other bad acts from embezzlement and thievery to bribery, plagiarism and combinations of deplorable behavior of which, one could argue, Hemingway and Picasso are prime examples.

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From ‘60s Civil Rights Activist To Today’s Boardrooms, Sheila Talton Champions Diversity To Power Progress

From ‘60s Civil Rights Activist To Today’s Boardrooms, Sheila Talton Champions Diversity To Power Progress

So here’s the famous story. Sheila Talton hired my public relations firm back in the early ’90s to represent her technology company. One day, she took me to lunch at Chicago’s famed University Club. There, in the glow of the glorious two-story, stained-glass windows gracing the sumptuous corporate dining room, a shared history was revealed.

It turns out we’d both been at the same school (Northern Illinois University), at the same time, and in the same massive student protest—she in one faction as a civil rights protestor yelling “Black Power,” and me in the other as a member of the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, shouting “Bring the Troops Home Now.” I’m sure you recognize the era.

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It’s Official! My Novel is to be Published September 18

It’s Official! My Novel is to be Published September 18

Though it’s been in the works since April, I’m very excited to be able to officially announce that my debut novel, The Fourteenth of September, will be published by She Writes Press on September 18, 2018—the closest date possible to the actual title of the book.  Sometimes the stars align!*********

For those of you who haven’t heard the story by now, it’s about a female recruit, in college on a military scholarship during the Vietnam War, who begins to have doubts. She goes underground into the counterculture, and risks family and future, as she’s forced to make a choice as fateful as that of any Lottery draftee. The story is ever so loosely based on a character-defining personal experience of my own that happened during that critical time frame between the first Draft Lottery and Kent State, one that I’ve always felt defined our generation and cried out to be examined from a woman’s point of view.

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Poets are Different from You and Me; They Hear Life and Experience it Through Sound

Poets are Different from You and Me; They Hear Life and Experience it Through Sound

This “borrowing” from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote about the rich kept working its way through my head as I listened to award-winning poet Christina Pugh talk about her work and her process at my recent Literary Salon.  Though his comment was disparaging, mine is meant with all admiration and, as one Salon guest put it, “awe.”

I’d met Christina in 2013 at what we both can only describe as a “celestial” experience at Ragdale, an artist’s retreat I’ve mentioned before in these posts. I’d been tremendously moved hearing her read her gorgeous words, delivered with a voice that invited us into a truly uncommon experience, and wanted to share. When she told me she had a new book out, Perception, we set a Salon date.  However, of the nine Salons I’ve held over the past eight years, only one had featured a poet, and it was a bit of a hard sell to get my avid fiction readers to come out for it. That Salon, featuring the wonderful Parneshia Jones introducing her book Vessel, was a tremendous success for those who attended.  I wanted an expanded audience to drop whatever “perceptions” about poetry might be holding them back and get re-excited about the literary form.

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When Writer’s Retreats are Hard: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Muse

When Writer’s Retreats are Hard: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Muse

Process is not for the faint of heart. I’ve emerged from my latest residency without coherent pages in my hand—nothing tangible, nothing new to read on my last day where we shared what we’d been working on. My time there was all about process, and I feel scattered. Does thinking count? Did I waste three precious weeks or take a big step? It’s been making me ponder this question: how do you judge your own “productivity” when it comes to the creative arts? Is it the thickness of the manuscript in your hand, or the heaviness in your heart from the wrestling you’ve done to get it there?

I could always write at Ragdale

We often talk about “writer’s block” (I believe that comes just before The Crack-Up), and I’ve certainly had it in spades, but never at a residency. On the contrary, I’ve been to a variety of writer’s retreats over the past twelve years, primarily at the wonderful Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois. And it’s always been a great experience, miraculous actually. Ragdale is where I’ve written about 90% of my novel, The Fourteenth of September, most of the time in a delightful nook with a sloped ceiling and French doors named after one of the historic building’s original inhabitants, my “lucky” Sarah’s Room.

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What a Mini-Skirted Watergate Prosecutor Represents about Relevance

What a Mini-Skirted Watergate Prosecutor Represents about Relevance

The Re-Invention of Jill Wine-Banks

When I first met Jill Wine-Banks about five years ago we were both writing books about topics we’d been told repeatedly were no longer of interest—me about the Vietnam War and she about the Nixon White House. We both felt we might have missed our windows, but I was much more skeptical that hers was ready to be put out to pasture. After all, she was the one who interrogated Rosemary Woods, the White House secretary responsible for the notorious missing 18½ minutes of the Watergate tapes. I felt Watergate was right up there with the Nazis in terms of perpetual interest—the creative gift that keeps on giving.  How could she doubt herself?

Let me back up. First of all, to meet Jill you need to do a double and triple take and think, no way could this woman have been around and in her prime back in the early 1970’s Watergate days. She looks way too young and still so striking that it’s easy to imagine her in the mini-skirt she got so much flack for back in the day. (She was dubbed the "mini-skirted prosecutor,” and eventually auctioned the garment off for charity it had become so famous).

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