Welcome to my new blog

Hello, my dear friends,

I’ve decided to write a Blog! It’s going to be an intimate glimpse into my life as a woman writer. Sometimes it will include short stories or articles that are too long for my newsletter or Facebook posts. It won’t be in any special order, because the mind of a writer is an effervescent chaos of ideas. It won’t always be the same length. Sometimes there will be lots of photos. I hope you enjoy them!

Love, Nancy

Bodies & Souls

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In 1978, Tillie Olsen published a non-fiction book called Silences, where she shares a survey proving that then—in 1978—one of every 12 published writers were women and 8% of the writers who write in English were women. That means 92% were men.

Yes, things have changed since then. But back then, I was struggling to write about what I considered most important, and my first two published books were very feminine, very much about hearth, children, and home.

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For my third novel, I set myself the task of writing a book with seven different points of view—three of them male. One of the major characters was a minister, one an elderly man, and one a repressed professor.

Also, I wrote lots of sex scenes.

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But I wrote as much about family, religion, and libraries. Some people say it is the best book I’ve written. I think for readers these days it is too slow-paced and too dense. Too wordy. Too interior. Bodies & Souls is certainly not a beach book, and I wouldn’t recommend it for people who shock easily.

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It received mixed reviews. Boston Magazine ran a brilliant (at least I thought so, because it was so complimentary!) article about the book.

And people begin to ask me, “Did you do that?” about certain scenes. At first, I denied it, explaining that I wrote fiction. After a while, I learned to smile smugly and respond, “Yes, I did. I did it all.” Which I couldn’t have, since I wasn’t a woman and an elderly man and a childless college professor.

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But never mind. Bodies & Souls is the novel Charley Walters interviewed me about on his Nantucket television show ArtsView.

And that changed everything.

 

 

Or Prophecy?

IMG_2290I’ve always said that I wanted to write books about real women’s lives. I’ve wanted to include the dirty dishes and the endless day when your children are both sick and you never get out of your stained robe and you eat peanut butter off your spoon because you don’t have the energy to make a real meal, which your children can’t eat anyway, because they’d throw it all back up. So yes, I’ll admit I borrowed shamelessly from my life, and from my children’s.

 

Three Women at the Water’s Edge was published in 1981. The three women are in classic stages of life.  Margaret, at fifty, wants to break away from taking care of others and find out who she is under her Mrs. Santa Claus guise. In a way, she was like me, or I was like her, exhausted from taking care of my two small people alone.  Daisy, at thirty, has two small children and a baby on the way when her husband leaves her for another woman. The scene in the book where both of Daisy’s children are extremely sick with bronchitis and the stomach flu might seem long in the book, but it wasn’t nearly as long as it was in real life. Daisy’s joy in her children came from my life, too.

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Dale is the character most not like me. Not me as I was then. She’s a teacher in a small town on the coast of Maine, and she’s fallen crazy in love. She’s so wildly in love she has to drive to the ocean and run through the surf, because her heart has come alive. When I wrote Three Women, I was living in a small town in the Berkshires. The ocean was far away. So why did I set Dale near the ocean? Why did she fall in love near the ocean?

Often I write about events that have actually happened in my life.

It’s a little wonderful when events in my life happen after I’ve written about them.

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AUTOBIOGRAPHY?

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By the time my first novel, Stepping, was published, I had already written most of my second novel. As I wrote Three Women at the Water’s Edge, I was in the process of getting divorced. My children were five and seven. We had to move out of our house. I was terrified.

I was sustained by my friends. Their laughter, their willingness to listen, the stories they shared about their own lives, all that kept me buoyant. My friends were my life raft in a turbulent sea. . .and more about the sea next time.

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Three Women at the Water’s Edge is about Daisy, a young woman with two small children and another on the way. Her husband leaves her for another woman, right when she’s bogged down and fogged in by hormones and the constant care for her children.

The novel is also about Margaret, Daisy’s mother, who has just turned fifty. Margaret divorces her husband and moves to Vancouver to start her life over. Margaret has enormous sympathy for Daisy, but when Daisy asks her mother to come help her, she refuses. Margaret decides she’s been “Mrs. Santa Claus” to her family and her community for far too long. She sends Daisy money, but she has begun her new life and she’s not going to leave it.

Dale is the third woman, the younger sister, a teacher in Maine. She’s fallen passionately in love and she’s terrified. If her sister’s husband is leaving her and their mother is leaving their father, what chance does Dale have for a lasting love?

Three Women at the Water’s Edge brought me letters, stacks and packs of letters. Most of them were about Margaret. Half of my readers were furious. “How could a mother ever desert a child in trouble? Margaret’s a terrible woman!” The other half of the readers wrote: “Hooray for Margaret! She’s spent her entire life taking care of other people. It’s time for her to stand up for herself!”

I also received angry letters about the amount of alcohol Daisy consumed in the first chapter of the book. She drank wine, and after a confrontation with her husband, she went to bed with “a water glass full of brandy.” I’ve always felt terrible about that. I never have been able to drink much, and I had no realistic way to judge the amount of alcohol Daisy drank. I don’t think I’ve tasted even brandy.

I will confess, however, during those early years when my first books came out, I drank a great deal of champagne. I always drank it with my friends, my wonderful friends who made my life possible and delightful in so many ways.

More about these three women next week!  Until then, here it is in its gorgeous ereader cover!  I’ve tried to decide which heart is my favorite, is me.  Can’t make up my mind!

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It was a glorious occasion when my first novel, Stepping, was published by Doubleday in January, 1980!  If you want an idea of just how much fun I had, count the champagne bottles on top of the bookcase behind my two fabulous friends Jill and Merry.

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Doubleday threw me a pub party in NYC, and my glamorous friend Dina went with me.  And yes, that is a cigarette in my hand.  I thought it made me look sophisticated.

IMG_6419Stepping got a great review in the New York Times, complete with photo, even if it was right along the fold.

My lovely friends had an album made for my reviews and letters.

IMG_6414I received so many lettersremember letters?  This was before the age of computers, email, and texting.  And I’m so glad.  I kept every single one of those letters and cards and photos from readers who liked my book.  I have them all still, over thirty years later.

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IMG_6415I got telegrams–remember telegrams?  And I got cards, one from the woman who inspired my novel My Dearest Friend, about a woman whose best friend and husband. . .but we won’t talk about that now.  In January 1980, I was overwhelmed by my good fortune.

IMG_6431My friend Katherine, a gifted potter, made this joyful jar for me.  There I am, typewriter–remember typewriters?–and manuscript at my feet, champagne on the table and in my hand.

And the best of it all were my friends.  What’s that saying?  A good friend helps you during bad times, but the best friends help you celebrate.

It takes years of solitary plugging away to write a novel.  It takes generous, huge-hearted, magnificent friends to help you celebrate its publication.