The Nitty Gritty on Beach Reads

Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series

Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series

You know that beach-read novel you can’t wait to dive into? Would it surprise you to learn the popular novels often billed as “escape reading” are an also escape for the authors who write them?

Speaking for myself, I can’t think of a life crisis I’ve weathered without pulling the figurative blanket over my head in the form of whatever work-in-progress I had going at the time.  Kid-related problems. Divorce. Remarriage. Miscarriage. The deaths of my parents. If you’d seen me hunched over my laptop feverishly typing away just hours after I got the call that my dad had passed away, you might have thought me heartless. When, in fact, the opposite was true: I wrote to escape emotions I couldn’t cope with in that moment. My dad would’ve understood.

The day of my miscarriage I was so sad, all I could think of to do was write. I poured all that inner pain onto paper. I wrote so I wouldn’t have to dwell on my loss. I was working on my first novel, Garden of Lies at the time. There’s a scene in it that many readers found harrowing, in which my character Rachel, agrees to end an unwanted pregnancy only if her doctor boyfriend will perform the abortion. She wants him to know it’s a big deal, not the “minor procedure” he seems to think it is. Both are haunted by it after the fact. The scene was ripped from my own heart and life.

If you’d seen me on 9/11 sitting at my keyboard minutes after the second plane hit, you’d have mistaken me for a terrorist sympathizer. In my defense I was deeply shaken and worried out of my mind. My daughter was working on Wall Street at the time, and I had no way of reaching her.  I think I forgot to breathe. I know I was in danger of losing my mind. My only solace was to once more dive into my fictional world where I could control the fates of my characters.  I didn’t tear myself from my computer until my daughter showed up at the house, her shoes covered in ashes.

Divorce? You’re no match for me. When my then husband, who was also my literary agent, and I were in couples therapy, he muttered at one point, “I didn’t appreciate your negative portrayal of me in Trail of Secrets.” You see, he’d read the first draft of the yet-to-be-published novel, being my agent and all, in which one of the characters closely resembled him in a not altogether flattering portrait. I’d taken out my frustration without even realizing what I was doing. Only when I re-read those scenes in which I poured out my angst did it occur to me, “Oh my God, that’s him!

While I was writing my current novel, Bones and Roses, which comes out August 5th, I lost my oldest friend. Kay and I had been besties since we met in high school when we were fourteen.  I felt her loss keenly but found solace in the deep bond between my amateur sleuth, Tish Ballard, and her best friend, Ivy.  They become friends in sixth grade after Tish (short for Leticia)  remarked to the new girl in school, Ivy, that they both had first names that belonged on a mossy gravestone.  Ivy responds by inviting Tish over to look at her collection of gravestone rubbings.

Recently I had occasion to reflect on the ways in which an artist’s life spills over into his or her art when my husband and I attended the stellar concert of popular singer/songwriter Sara Barielles at Madison Square Garden. Sara writes her own songs and they’re often a reflection of what was going on in her life at the time. Heartbreak, troubled relationships, career setbacks, loss—it’s all there in her lyrics. One of her songs goes, “That guy’s an asshole. That girl’s a bitch…” Clearly it came from experience.  A reminder that that success doesn’t inoculate you against life’s ills or ill-givers.

So I guess this means I’ll keep doing what I do as long as life keeps dishing it out. While the prospect of an idyllic existence is tempting, what the heck would I write about without cares or woes?

Bones and Roses is the first book in my Cypress Bay mystery series. Click here to read an excerpt:


11 thoughts on “The Nitty Gritty on Beach Reads

  1. Eileen,

    My heart ached as I read your experiences with ‘the nitty gritty’, the ‘down-and-dirty’ stuff going on in your life. I even hesitated to post a comment, fearing anything I could say would sound too trite. So, I will address this solely as a reader. The tragedies of your life, the inconveniences, the curses, have indeed proved to be a blessing… perhaps not for you, but certainly for us, as your readers. You have such a wonderful way of using the written word to pour your emotion onto the pages, making us not only ‘feel your pain’, but inviting us ~ indeed, encouraging us ~ to find the strength and courage within to examine our own pain. What a gift to share with your readers. And for that, I thank you.

    ~ Kathleen

    P.S. Just curious: have you ever intentionally ‘written’ a character with a real-life person or situation in mind?

    • Thank you, Kathleen. We all have our crosses to bear, no? I don’t consider myself special in that respect. It’s all in how we move on, not in what slows us down

  2. Lovely post, Eileen.

    The old adage “Write what you know” should really be “Write what you know in your heart.” Good fiction speaks the truth, or a truth, but it’s not easy to pull it off, either technically or emotionally. You’re fearless in your desire to put the truth of your feelings and experiences onto paper for the rest of us to learn from, and enjoy. Thanks. Difficult and tragic things couldn’t have happened to a better person.

  3. Dear Eileen,

    Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into your life and how that relates to your writing. You have such a gift for connecting the dots.

  4. I love when women show others their path to being strong and resilient. And you did such a beautiful, moving job of it in this piece. As we all know, there are a lot worse coping mechanisms (and vices) than your wonderful gift of writing :)
    Thank you for sharing these very intimate thoughts. Just when I thought you couldn’t be any more genuine or good hearted, along comes this piece.

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