Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Moving Day!

This blog has been instrumental in bringing us together.  It is not leaving, but it is MOVING - Yay! - to my new website  (How happy am I that I got that domain name?  Can you believe that some other mmfinck has the gmail address?)  

Following is even easier now.  All you have to do is enter your email address on the private contact form on the CONTACT ME page.  No private information, no sales, ads, or questions.

You guys who have been with me here, some since this blog's inception, you know me.  I'm heart with feet.  I talk a lot and have a goofy sense of humor that makes me laugh most of all. Even when you groan I still laugh.  I love being a part of our community.  As an author, I deathly focused and driven; passionate about my characters and their stories; and a little nutty due to all the voices talking in my head.  I am also the most grateful person on the planet for you guys and for the opportunities and work ethic instilled in me by my parents that have gotten me here.  My site was designed to bring all of those parts of me together.  I think my blog did that.  I hope you feel it on my site too.  Click around.  Share it.  Keep talking to me in all the ways you do.

All love,

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Collectible, Tweetable, Quotable

Hello my lovely friends,
I have been collecting the quotes for this post over the past six months.  In moments of despair or quandary, I find comfort in our human lack of uniqueness as illustrated in attributable quotes.  Someone, somewhere, at some point in time, felt what we're feeling and is giving us the words to articulate it.  Or they are simply more sagacious or comical than we are.  There is a reason I leave stand-up comedy to my friend, Matt Fulchiron.  Only I find myself funny.  That's okay.  My loved ones find me finding myself funny, funny enough.  Follow that?  I'm cracking up.  See what I mean?  :)  Enjoy!

Art, art of any kind, shows that folks are trying. - Walter Kim

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. - Benjamin Franklin

I'm not interested in money, I just want to be wonderful.  - Marilyn Monroe

But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.  - Hans Christian Andersen

I am certain there is too much certainty in the world. - Michael Crichton

She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity. - Flannery O'Connor

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn. - Hal Borland

But luxury has never appealed to me, I like simple things, books, being alone, or with somebody who understands. - Daphne du Maurier

Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.
- Ursula K. Le Guin
Numbers constitute the only universal language. - Nathanael West

No medicine cures what happiness cannot. - Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

There's something ugly about the flawless. - Dennis Lehane

To me the purpose of art is to produce something alive...but with a separate, and of course one hopes, with an everlasting life of its own. - Henry Green

Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create. - Maria Montessori

I don't like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and it isn't of much value. Life hasn't revealed its beauty to them. - Boris Pasternak

What's terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don't need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you're capable of better. - Doris Lessing

I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place. - Anne Tyler

None of us really changes over time. We only become more fully what we are. - Anne Rice

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. - Leo Tolstoy

Remember if people talk behind your back, it only means you are two steps ahead. - Fannie Flagg

Charm is the ability to make someone else think that both of you are pretty wonderful. - Kathleen Winsor

The men who cannot laugh at themselves frighten me even more than those who laugh at everything.
- Anne Perry

Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish. - Euripides

Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book. - Jane Smiley

Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. - Confucius


Friday, September 20, 2013


Every now and then I look down at my clothes and for one quick second I am incredulous.  I did not grow up in a wealthy family.  Straight-down-the-middle middle class.  My sister and I were the same size.  Once a year we could go clothes shopping and we had to agree on how to spend our fairly meager clothing allowance because we would be sharing everything.  Fortunately for me, my sister's interest in style was brief.  Mine however - sorry, dear husband! - has been life long.  Our money went further at shopping centers than shopping malls.  Name brands did not often fit into the equation which was fine.  My parents worked very, very hard.  We never wanted for anything.  Education was everything.  

All that I am, I credit to this school of thought and way of life.  My gratitude and respect for my parents knows no bounds.

Still, I love style.  I love clothing, jewelry (not gems, but handcrafted, artistic pieces), and natural cosmetics.  When I look down at my ensembles now and I see a top from Urban Outfitters and shorts from Banana Republic (plus flip flops from Target, lip gloss from Walmart - it's not all glorious.  Too much glory would nauseate me.  I still have my roots.), I shake my head.  How did I get here?  How did I get so lucky?  (The real answer is education and excellent parenting, but I digress...)

I had that moment yesterday professionally.  

I found myself emailing back and forth with a many-time NYT bestselling author, complete with inside jokes and emoticons.  She wants to connect me with another superstar in the writing world.  There was a text on my phone from another guy, a prize-winning author.  And Isabel Allende - Isabel Allende! - and I are working with the same literary magazine.  Not to mention, seeking advice from an old friend - the incomparable Michelle Gable - whom I've known since before either of us were writers and now her novel is upcoming from St. Martin's Press.  She is not a contact.  She is my friend.  But how lucky am I that she can be a contact too - by that I mean, share advice?  Am I awake?  How did I get here?  (The real answer is education and excellent parenting, but I digress...)

You should give it a try.  Take inventory of your life.  I guarantee that there are parts of it that will make you incredulous.  

I hope you are well.  Thank you so so much for all the shares and feedback.  You are wonderful.  Everyday you make me grateful.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Women Writers Women Books

Dear All,
I wrote an article for Women Writers Women Books about presenting ourselves as who we want to be even  (especially) when we feel like frauds.  Act it. <=> Feel it. <=> Be it.  Readers have been getting in contact with me practically hourly since it was posted which, of course, delights me to no end.  Check it out.  I hope you like it too.  Share.  Take care until next time!


PS  By the way, don't you love this photo of my dog?  "Turn out the lights.  Close the laptop.  The story will be there in the morning.  Goodnight already."  Canine groan.

Friday, August 9, 2013

I Hear Better With Hands Over My Ears

Greatest compliment I’ve ever received – “You have natural talent.” 

Graciously given to me throughout my career, those four words get me through a lot. 

They are a gift like a key to a friend’s apartment.  When the chill of rejection (or frustration or self-doubt) turns my lips blue, I slip that key in the lock and hide out under some blankets.  I drink in them in – I have natural talent. – like hot cocoa until I come out stronger, flushed and with a plan.

It is a statement that encompasses so much:  This pursuit is a valuable use of time.  I was made to do this.  Straight out of the gate, I’m ahead of some. 

Talent is intrinsic and forever whereas failure is a mere moment until I try again, smarter, wiser, better. 

No one can take away our innate gifts, but are they enough?  Some say writing is like comedic timing – It can’t be taught.  (shhh… Don’t repeat that to any MFA administrators.)

When Liv Tyler was a young girl – twelve, I think – she appeared in one of her first film roles, and the director, somebody big time I can’t recall, famously told her not to step foot near an acting class.  He said that instruction would ruin what was unique and natural about her.  Someone very close to me fears the same thing about voice lessons.

It’s all the same.  Writing, singing, acting, comedy, architecture, design, art, education... police work.  I am the proud daughter of a cop.  In his thirty years on the force, my father has survived many unthinkable, dangerous situations, not without injury, and solved who knows how many crimes.  His training was continuous, expensive, and valuable, but what saved his life and the lives of others many times over was his inborn gift of reading situations and people.  My father was born with good instincts.
(Personal note - Now you know where my affection for writing dark characters and situations comes from.  All my life, I've been surrounded by rough-talking cops and their stories.  Daughters can go on as many "ride-a-longs" as they like.  A writer too, my father prized his reports.  He kept immaculate records of his cases - in duplicate.  As a child, I maintained his home files, reading every terrifying folder before I slid it down into the metal drawer.) 

The Civil Wars' (Possibly their last ever album dropped this week.  So sad.) Joy Williams does things on “The Tip Of My Tongue” track that were not taught.  I’m quite certain that they are not even on the sheet music.  Her stylings are from her soul.  Her instincts told her what sound to make and how and when to make it.

That said, someone taught her to read sheet music.  Someone taught her to play instruments.  If they also told her to be quiet until it was her turn or not to sing over her partner, she wisely ignored them.

She kept her “voice” sacrosanct.  So did my dad.  So must we.

Like you, I try to keep up with the news and climate of my chosen industry.  I accept advice and ask for guidance about my career.  I workshop my work and chose the most honest critique partners.  For anyone counting, that is three levels of “in.”  But if I don’t measure the inflows, I won’t have any “outs.”  A friend of mine hasn’t written in two years.  She is paralyzed by all the inflows – blogs she follows, discussions she participates in, etc.  I believe that she simply needs to sit at the computer and turn on the faucet, and I believe that when she’s ready she will.  But what she is going through I have felt whispers of too, like its own suffocating chill.

[Insert big “However” here.] 
However, if we want to see farther than our talents can show us, we must stand on the shoulders of giants. *

There is no question that without the likes of Sol Stein and John Truby, I would not have evolved from my first novel.  I may have had talent but I had no training.  The best thing I ever did for my career was to stop trying to make that manuscript better.  The words “ad nauseum” were invented for what I was ineffectually doing.  I desperately needed some expert inflows

I read books, took classes, sought advice, participated in workshops, and attended writers’ conferences.  I listened to every word every published author I knew said.  When I went back to writing, I had the tools to use my talent.  I still use this pattern.  After every major deadline or draft, I take a break from writing to study craft.  I suppose that someday, I won’t anymore, but for the foreseeable future I will.  I am reminded of things I’ve forgotten and internalize new techniques and perspectives.  While I’m busy learning, the other side of my brain is free to hear my next (and sometimes most recent) story.  Doors swing open that were hidden from me before. 

Give me the tools, dear Craftsman, and I will do the work.  Make no mistake, I have my fair share of discipline, but that isn’t what drives me.  I love the work of my passion.  I hope you do too.  Plus, I am and always will be a detail dork.  Different profession, same tendencies. J The technical stuff, the vocabulary, the acronyms, the catch phrases – the language of my second life – it all makes me giddy.  I want to be a brilliant storyteller.  I never want to stop getting better. 

But sometimes I need noise-cancelling headphones.  Even with writers I like and respect, I actually have to cover my ears to our discussion!  Or rush to the x-out button!  Or close the cover on the trade journal!  Inside of me my inflow-meter is rising and rising until all of a sudden my eyes squeeze shut and my hands slam over my ears.  Too much inflow messes with my own “voice.”  I have to shut everything else out.  It’s a good thing my hair is long enough to cover my odd little spectacle until I can excuse myself for tea.  J

The sweet spot – the one I speculate the best writers (artists, singers, teachers, etc.) have found – is the three-headed yin yang of natural talent, training, and experience.  

This example is from my friend and one of my favorites, Caroline Leavitt, from her bestselling novel Pictures of You

It is a father looking at his sleeping son.

"Without him, he might dissolve into a thousand pieces.  You breathe, I breathe, he thought."

Caroline keeps going from the father’s girlfriend’s perspective.

“Charlie reached over and stroked Sam's hair, so gently that it made Isabelle swallow hard.”

Caroline has been writing for a long time and is a huge student (and teacher) of story structure.  But structure doesn’t lead someone to articulate “You breathe, I breathe” or to choose the beat of swallowing hard when witnessing a gentle touch.  That is natural talent, ladies and gentlemen.

Whatever your talent is – macramé, pastels, singing, teaching, parenting, policework – give yourself the gift of tools and practice.  If you don't think you have natural talent at something, you are wrong.  Soul search.  You will find it, I promise.  What a ride it will be.  Sometimes heartrending, sometimes rapture, always electrifying.  Just don’t forget your ear plugs.  Protect what is yours.  Your talent is intrinsic and forever.  J

Enjoy the last hot days of summer! 

* “If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton

Monday, June 10, 2013

You, Me & Emily

(formerly titled "Demagnetize The Compass, North Is Always North.")

So, okay, I'll be honest.  I want to be liked.  I like to be close with all kinds of people.  I am always exposed and reaching.  Cruelty is a no-go characteristic, but faults draw me in as much as anything else.  It's the mystery and honesty of a flaw that I like.  Stories draw me in more than anything.  I have a very diverse family with more crazies, heroes, stories, and skeletons than I could fit in a memoir.  Does this sound like your family too?  Background stories, yours and mine, instill in me a wider world view and empathy.  I am unendingly interested in passions - any!  If it lights you aflame, I want to feel the burn too.  You can guess - I may be considered overly-sensitive in some circles.  Perhaps I would hurt less if I were different.  Some days I wish I was.  That's the truth.  The whole turtle without a shell phenomenon.  But feeling as much as I do is why I am as good a writer as I am.  Facing the world with an open heart means that pain, but also love, happiness, and wonder affect me deeply.  Leonardo DiCaprio once said that if an actor says he doesn't care about approval, he's lying.  I won't lie to you here.  I yearn for validation and approval.

Does this make me a willow in the wind?  No, thank God, no.  No one's approval defines me.  I know who I am with or without outside validation.  Whoever I owe my internal North too, I don't know.  But, boy, do I.  In my industry, you'd blow away without it.  Maybe in life in general, you would too.

Am I perfect at it?  No, God, no.

I got a review point recently.  No one else - of all my reviewers - had ever made the same point, but I knew.  It was completely, totally, exactly right.  I felt like I was tapped by a magic wand or something.  I was so grateful.

Then I lost my North.

The best of us do.  This is a letter from Emily Dickinson to a man she had never met.  He was a literary critic she'd followed in the newspaper.

Dear V. Higginson,
Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?  The mind is near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask. Should you think it breathed, and you had the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude. If I make the mistake, that you dared to tell me, would give me sincerer honor toward you.  I enclose my name, asking you, if you please, sir, to tell me what is true?  That you will not betray me it is needless to ask, since honor is its own pawn.
Two editors of journals came to my father's house this winter, and asked me for my mind, and when I asked them "why" they said I was penurious, and they would use it for the world.  I could not weigh myself, myself.  My size felt small to me.  I read your chapters in the Atlantic, and experienced honor for you.  I was sure you would not reject a confiding question.

Doesn't she sound insecure, yearning for approval, overly eager?  I am not that woman on the outside. Not even most of me on the inside.  But aren't we all a bit of that?  Somedays a bigger bit?  Who can't relate to not being sure of themselves?

I was so aggressive in addressing my review point - for the record, it was a review point couched in heavy, specific praise - that my husband closed my laptop on me mid-keystroke.  I had lost my perspective.  I couldn't see what was good anymore.  I was Van Gogh.  I was like a lot of artists.  Without realizing what I was doing, I was ripping my canvas into shreds.  Overwhelmed by what needed fixing, I thought that my entire concept was crap.  No one could convince me otherwise.  That is the downside of the internal true North.  In a panic, the only person I can hear is me.  If I'm deluded, I'm an island.  Relate?  :)

I got some sleep.  I recalled the praise.  I confirmed I had a back-up file from before I mercilessly hacked away. :)  I read other people's books.  I took a break.  I got back to it.  It is a slippery slope back to merciless, but we have to wear cleats.

Yes, we want criticism.  Can't get better without it.  But, we can not give ourselves away.  I was on the precipice of a big problem, and I will always be indebted to the woman who told me about it.  But I am a writer.  If writing is the solution, I'm the perfect person for the fix.  When I regained my perspective I saw exactly what to do.  All it took was a few perfectly placed things here and there to be inserted, reworded, or deleted.  It was always in me.  

Be yourself.  No one else can.  Find someone you trust who knows who you are, who believes in you, who will remind you when you need it.  Even Emily needed it.  Generally, keep the study doors closed (a Stephen King reference) - I absolutely believe this - but sometimes you need someone like John Mayer's producer who says, "Calm down, man.  It's not all sh**.  There is a lot here to be salvaged."

There is no replacement for an internal true North.  But don't forget your back-up file manager, sleep, and the praise you skipped over.  Do not tear your canvas.  Compartmentalize as minutely and numerously as you need to to address what needs fixing.  Take a break.  But do not destroy the good.  You can't give yourself away.  Nobody wants us too.  We wouldn't be worth the energy of the criticism if there wasn't more to save.

Thank you for reading my blog, my lovely friends and followers!  Things are going so well, I really can't believe it.  Keep your fingers crossed and hands folded - I adore you!  I will keep you as updated as I can.

All love,

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Excerpt from Caroline Leavitt's "IS THIS TOMORROW"

Caroline Leavitt is a longtime literary idol of mine.  A mutual publishing friend suggested Caroline's novel PICTURES OF YOU as a comparative title for my own work. Since learning of this, Caroline has been nothing but lovely and generous to me. I bought her newest release, IS THIS TOMORROW, a couple days ago. I can't wait to read it. chose to highlight it by publishing a one page excerpt.  I am not sure if nonmember can view Red Room, so I am posting it here for you.  Enjoy!


"Red Room Editors Gina and Huntington selected a page from Is This Tomorrow (2013), by Caroline Leavitt, to share with you today:


She came home to find him in her kitchen, her son’s best friend, Jimmy Rearson, a twelve-year-old kid home from school, with a crush on her, reading all the ingredients on the back of a Duncan Hines Lemon cake mix.

“How’d you get in here?” Ava asked. No one, except for her, locked doors in the neighborhood. It wasn’t that she had anything to steal, but still, there was Brian, miles away, breathing down her neck with a custody threat, telling her he got a lawyer and she’d better get one, too, because he was going to file to revisit their agreement.

“Your lock was easy,” he said.

He watched as she rustled around the living room, looking for her purse. She’d wasted her whole morning running to a lawyer to talk about Brian’s custody threat. It was five years since Brian had left them, barely sending money, and all of a sudden he was telling her that she now posed a psychological and physical danger to their son.

She told the lawyer how Brian used to have a drinking problem. He’d abandoned his son—and her—after things at his job went bad. He hadn’t even seen Lewis in nearly five years, so how could he possibly think about wanting custody now?

“Circumstances change,” he said. “You said he has a full time job, but you only work part time, which puts him in a more stable financial situation than you. It could look like a better environment for a kid.”

“You’re joking. My environment is just fine.”

“Is it?” He rolled his pen between his fingers. “You said he thinks you have a lot of men coming over. Can you prove you don’t? Can you show that your bills are paid on time?”

Ava thought of the careful way she went through her bills every month. She had a whole separate bank account of money she was saving so she could buy her house instead of rent it. “I have savings. I have a house.”

“You rent the house. And banks don’t like giving mortgages to women. If you can’t prove your finances are sound, we may have a problem.”

She came home, feeling sick, and there was Jimmy, staring at her. She was a grown woman with grown up problems and suddenly she was in no mood for Jimmy’s quiet devotion.

“Lewis will be home soon from the dentist,” she said. “You can wait for him at your house. I can walk you home.” She reached for her newspaper, glancing at the headlines. Communists and the pale baked potato face of Eisenhower warning everyone about nuclear disaster. We have to be safe.. She had seen Khrushchev on the TV news ranting about Stalin and all she had thought of was Lewis when he was five and how he had had a tantrum in the middle of Better Dresses in Filene’s because he wanted to go home.

Last week, the paper had reported a car had swerved onto a curb in Belmont and frightened a little girl. The kids seemed riled up by the news, especially Jimmy, who kept asking Ava how much faster could a man run than a child? “What do they do to you when they have you?”

“That’s not going to happen, so don’t you even think it,” Ava told him.

They both stepped outside. Everything looked wilted in the heat. “Where is everyone?” Ava wondered aloud. Why was everything so empty and still, as if the air itself had stopped in place?

And then Jimmy ran, all arms and pumping legs, her son’s best friend in the world. She was shamed to think that sometimes he was the best company she had. He tore out across her lawn, to his house. When he got to the door, he turned and waved with both hands, grinning.

Later, that’s what she told the police. How happy he was. How he smiled.


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