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?Read More
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?Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
On January 27 I wrote a blog titled “A 48-Year Déjà Vu” about the similarities between the post-election Women’s March and the march to end the war in Vietnam in Washington DC on November 15, 1969. I’d been at both and have just finished a novel about the latter.
I commented on the longtime gap between issues that were compelling enough to get me back on my feet, and the “wake up” from my “radical sleep.” To illustrate my argument, I’d carefully combed through a circa ’69 photo of me in a protest march and lined up a corresponding shot from today.
The post was heartfelt. I received many comments (yes, a few about my hair) and reestablished connections from long ago. We were still all in it together.Read More
Back in the Fall of 1969, I was increasingly disturbed by the direction of the Vietnam War and just sticking my toe into the campus counterculture at Northern Illinois University. I would comb notices for events advertised on posters and began to attend a few—a planning meeting to support a student strike, a gathering of the campus chapter of the SMC (Student Mobilization Committee to End the War). I’d cling to a wall at the back of the room and try to blend with my brand new jeans, and be amazed at how order would arise from the chaos before me—everyone yelling at once, purposefully raucous, yet somehow arriving at decisions. I’d slink out, without interacting. Intrigued, but not ready to engage.
One day at the union, Marcia plopped herself down next to me, shoved a petition under my nose, dared me not to be apathetic and told me to sign it. I don’t remember what it was for, but I certainly obeyed. She had seen me at all the meetings and knew a ripe convert who needed a push when she saw one. From that moment she became my radical mentor, schooling me in all the important things—we were “freaks” not “hippies;” it was “grass” or “weed” not “pot;” proper attire meant the bells of your jeans had to be a complete circle, not sticking out like triangles from your ankles; and there were “right” ways to get involved (SMC yes, SDS and YSA—the Young Socialists Association, no). She immediately introduced me to her expansive circle including virtually any non-straight person on campus (back when “straight” meant “conforming,” not sexual identification) and gave me the name I am still called by to this day, “Lovely Rita.”Read More
The last time I was part of a massive protest march was November 15, 1969, in Washington DC to end the War in Vietnam. It was major. I wrote a novel about it. This past Saturday, I was in Chicago, part of the Worldwide Women’s March to maintain our hard-won rights. It was bigger. It will be mentioned in inevitable books to be written four years from now. In both cases, I immediately knew I just had to be there, if for nothing else than to be counted.
The first song at Saturday’s rally was Let it Be and 48 years dropped away
Back in ’69 I’d arrived in DC sleepless, after an all-night trip on one of three school buses taking 200 of us from Northern Illinois University to what we were certain would be the end of the war. I froze in a threadbare pea coat left over from high school and gym shoes that got so muddy I had to pitch them the minute I returned. I had three PB&J sandwiches in my paisley bag along with a knit hat to hide my red hair so my military mother wouldn’t see me on TV and realize that I’d gone even though she’d pitched that fit. “What do you mean you have to be there?”Read More
As Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway would put it, at long last, I’ve finally taken the plunge. I’ve burst out of the business world and into a full-time creative career.
I anticipate a wild ride, and I’d love your company.
After my toiling away on my first novel for twelve years, my editor has, as she puts it, “taken away my paintbrush.” I’m ready to go public and find an audience for The Fourteenth of September, a Coming of Conscience novel that follows a young woman in the time of the Vietnam War who must make a choice as fateful as that of any draftee. Think—if Tim O’Brien in the “On the Rainy River” section of The Things They Carried had been a woman—that’s the emotional intensity I’m going for. Like most debut novels, it’s based on personal experience. I’ll be sharing more on my story, what I mean by a Coming of Conscience novel, and on the plunge into the creative life in posts to come.Read More