valletta78, by Erin Fitzgerald

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Last week, I read Erin Fitzgerald‘s excellent new book, valletta78. It is a book filled with humor and sadness. It is also a book that made me think and consider my own life.

When I started working as a content producer for an onilne portal in 1997, I didn’t understand the people who hung out in our chatrooms and on our discussion boards. What were they looking for?

It wasn’t until 2002 when I joined an online writing workshop that I understood. They were looking for people like themselves who felt out of place in the non-virtual world. They were looking for a connection. They were hoping to finally join the conversation.

When I joined that writing workshop, I joined the conversation. I made friends all over the world. Most of the people were great, but there were a few interlopers that we all became wary of. Those who were adversarial for the sake of being adversarial. Those who faked their identities. And, worst of all, the plagiarists (who usually also faked their identities and were adversarial).

There was a level of trust we had in sharing our work online. We trusted that the person on the other end of the screen would treat us fairly, would not steal from us, would not lie. Usually this worked out but sometimes we got burned.

Still, most of us kept coming back. Now, I interact with most of those same writers on social media instead of in that writing workshop. We mostly all migrated to social media and picked up our conversations there. And our conversations broadened and included other people, many other writers.

Social media is, in my mind, an excellent resource for writers. It is there that we can hold conversations in the way the rest of the world does. It’s where we use our skills with the written word to debate, to communicate, to make people laugh, cry, whatever. It makes sense.

And yet, it is an imperfect world. There are the people who take on the identities of others. There are people who portray themselves as happy when they are dying inside, or as dying inside, when they are happy.

It can become difficult to know what is real.

In part, valletta78 is about living one’s life in such a fractured way. The real life is one in which the protagonists marriage is hollow, her desires unspoken. She is bored, distracted, numb:

“Distraction is the blanket that goes on top. When I brush my teeth, I look out the bathroom window. When I drive, I listen to the radio. When I scratch at mosquito bite, I chew the inside of my lip. When I talk on the phone, I press the letters of the alphabet into my palm.”

And then there is the virtual life in which she takes on false ailments out of a sense of boredom and to garner sympathy. She even goes so far as to create a sick brother, because she,

“…just wanted to make sure a voice was heard.”

So, in part, her motivation is to be heard, even if that means lying to do so. She wants, I believe, to feel something. To peel away the layer of numbness and experience true emotions and yet she is incapable of showing her true self.

However, there is one person to whom she shows her inner self and tells the truth (at least partially). She even goes so far as to show an actual photo of herself instead of a photo of how she would like to be seen. What she does, finally, is trust this person. So much so that she sets out to meet him.

What we learn in the end is not something that is exclusive to the virtual world. What we learn is that opening ourselves up to others can be scary and we might end up broken by it. But even if we do there is an opportunity to come back to ourselves and the world we create can be as wonderful or horrible as we choose it to be because,

“One of the currencies of the world below the clouds is the truth.”

While this book does, unflinchingly, hold a mirror up to our online lives and force us to look at them; it neither judges us nor does it provide us with an answer for how to live better. It is not, then, moralistic. This is no cautionary tale. Instead it is a beautifully, tautly, written tale of modern life and how the cycle of despair leads us both closer to and farther away from our happiest selves.

Reader, I hope you seek out this book, read it, and spend some time thinking about what it means to you. I believe you will be better for having done so.

‘Tenderness, fragility, an understanding beyond her years’ – Myfanwy Collins

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Here the overture for my upcoming Undercover Soundtrack.

My Memories of a Future Life

for logoMy guest this week has just one musician in her book-s arsenal – a singer who  perfectly, wholly, uncannily embodied the character she was searching for. The story is a young adult novel – a new departure for the writer, who has had other works published in the adult market and in literary magazines. Anyway, the emotions run high – and also the fragility. Stop by on Wednesday when Myfanwy Collins will be sharing her Undercover Soundtrack.

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Do You Know Who I Am: On Writing and Identity

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I had a job interview once for a job I sort of wanted. It was going to be a long commute and we needed the money. I interviewed with some peers and potential boss and then one of the founders of the company was going to meet with me. He walked into the room and the first thing he said to me was, “Do you know who I am?”

My impression at the time was that he didn’t say it in a gentle, awkward way that one would hope such a thing would be said. Instead, he said it in a cocky way.

My first thought was, why, yes, you’re the person I don’t want to work for, but instead I dutifully said, you are so and so, blah blah blah.

They offered me the job for which I was overqualified but when our negotiations broke down over vacation time, I was happy to walk away from the offer. He would not budge over a few days. And neither would I.

I knew who I was.

It’s rare that I know who I am. I consider my face blank and unrecognizable. This is how I see myself from within my skin, looking out. Tabula Rasa.

Who will know me? Who am I?

I have a published a literary thriller novel, a collection of short literary fiction, and a young adult novel. I am being gently encouraged to focus, write another thriller. Focus. Focus. Keep reaching. Become this.

Become what? Write what?

Here is something I have been reluctant to talk about. I try to be as professional as possible in this business of writing but maybe saying this here will help someone, too, because this is about something that jolted my sense of identity as a writer.

So here goes: In January, I learned that my beloved agent was leaving publishing. This was a tough blow for me. She and I had been working together for nearly ten years. I have come to count on her as a key part of my writing process. You might be thinking now, who cares? Who are you anyway? Who even wants to read any more of your stupid books?

These were all things I asked myself. Who are you? Who cares?

I care. This vacuum I am in lacks air and light and sometimes we need others to bring us that air and that light.

But all is not lost.

The good news is that her boss, the owner of the agency, kept me on as a client and for that I am most grateful. Having met and exchanged emails and phone calls with this woman I know I am in great hands. So that is good.

But who am I? Which writer? Which person? And what will become of my process?

Last week, I was at the AWP conference in Minneapolis. This was my fourth (or fifth?) time at one of these conferences. They are overwhelming and exhilarating. So much to see and do and experience. So many people to meet and so many people to reconnect with.

I will admit, though, that I spent much of the conference in despair. I was missing the huge part of me that is my family. I was anxious that people would not like me or that they would not notice me or, worse, ignore me.

Of course, it was all great. My one-on-one conversations with friends were the best part of it, but also the readings and panels were exhilarating and I left there feeling completely ready to write again.

And yet, still I am wanting. I want so much. I want my new book to be read and reviewed. I want it to get into the hands of people it might help. I want. I want. I want my novel manuscript that is lingering out there in the world to not be ignored. I want someone to read it and recognize what I am trying to say. I want that connection.

I want you to hear me.

Do you know how I am?

Maybe that man wasn’t being arrogant. Maybe he was legitimately experiencing a moment of crisis or maybe he was awkward about the weird dynamic that is the job interview. I can give him this now.

When I was pregnant, I worried that my child would not recognize me when he was born. I was worried that he would not love me. Of course, I was wrong. He was born with his heart attached to mine, knowing me in the way that no one else can.

Like a newborn, I push myself out into the world constantly with my words and always I am asking you this: Do you know who I am?

the bluff

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This picture is of the bluff where Laney lived with her grandmother. Of course, the one in the book is made up but this is the one I based it upon. This bluff exists in the lake where I grew, a place where I felt most free and also most trapped. As a child, I lived in the woods, the water, the mountains. As a young adult, I lived in my mind, in my books, in my anger.

The woods, the water, the mountains, the mind, and the books are still here but that anger has died. It has been replaced with determination and desire. And right now, that anger is also replaced with fear.

I’ve been having dreams this past week. Anxiety-fueled dreams that wake me up filled with belief that they are real.

No one shows up to my readings or just a few people show up or people show up but don’t care. All of this is wrapped up in my anxiety, of course, because this weekend I will be presenting THE BOOK OF LANEY for the first time. On Saturday night (3/28)  at 7PM, I’ll be at Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport and then on Sunday at 2PM, I’ll be at Newtonville Books in Newton Center.

I’ve had my share of readings and reading in front of an audience is something I enjoy doing. So why the fear and worry?

Maybe it is because I feel a great deal of responsibility with this book. It’s not like I haven’t felt responsibility with my other books but with this one I am hoping to reach a specific audience of young people and maybe make a difference for them. I feel responsible that this book speaks authentically from the voice of a fifteen-year-old. I feel responsible that the material be treated with the seriousness and respect it is due. I feel responsible to victims and also to those who feel an urge to victimize. I want this book to help heal those who need healing and to reach those who are nearly out of reach.

Of course, I have no control over any of this but being given the opportunity and the honor to speak and read in front of an audience is one way in which I can reach out and with that comes the pressure to make it count.

I will make it count. I promise you I will. If you will meet me there, I will be there for you. Thank you to those who have already read this book and let it speak to them. Thank you to those who have let me know what it meant to them. You have given me such hope.

Thank you for coming to the bluff with me and remembering how we can come back to ourselves. Even in our darkest moments we have that possibility.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for hearing me.



pub day: today is my butter

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Last weekend, I made a double batch of zucchini bread because we have a busy week ahead. My son is in his second play and has seven performances between tomorrow and Sunday. I wanted him to be able to have something homemade in his snack and lunch so that even though he was busy, he would know he was loved and that I was thinking of him.

Unfortunately, I messed something up in the mixing and baking and the zucchini bread is, frankly, sort of gross. However, I have found that if you cover it with a lot of butter, it’s not half bad.

As I was choking down my butter-covered zucchini bread this morning, I realized that this is pretty much how I’ve made it through my life: examining my mistakes and failings and then trying to find a way to fix them, even if that means covering them with butter to make them more palatable.

Yesterday became a weird day and at some point I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I went to bed feeling horrible. I had a fever and my whole body was sore. Before I fell asleep I kept saying to my husband, “I feel like I am doing everything wrong.”

Even though it is raining out today and our big, ugly brown snow banks are melting all over the place, today is a much brighter day. Some sleep and perspective taking have been just the butter I needed.

Also, I have so much to celebrate: my third book–THE BOOK OF LANEY–is officially published today. I am extremely grateful to Lacewing Books for bringing it into the world and I am grateful to anyone and everyone who reads this book. For all of the work and the disappointment and the rejection and the self-doubt that goes into the making of a book, this day, when it is officially placed into the hands of readers, is the day that makes it all worth it.

I am taking this day. I am claiming it even though maybe I screwed something up in the mix yesterday, making that day come out a bit crumbly. Today I am going to say that I am doing things right. I’m taking this day and I’m covering yesterday with as much butter as possible and I’m saying thank you to you for sharing today with me. Thank you.







* in case you are wondering… all of that butter in the photo came from my freezer. I am a butter hoarder. Not proud of it. I just don’t want to run out. I also hoard toilet paper and canned beans. Make of that what you will.







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I was going for some beautiful lilies. They were already open and their colors were intense–red and yellow and orange. A woman stopped me.

“Those are already spent,” she said. “Go for these unopened ones.”

She was right, of course. I said thanks and followed her suggestion.

I was disappointed, though. I wanted those colorful beauties and not the green buds. What if their colors were dull? What if they failed to bloom?

It was something about believing in possibility.

It was something about knowing that I would hear what these flowers had to say to me.

It was something about trust.

The buds the woman directed me to did eventually bloom and when they did, they were spectacular. They lasted a long time in my vase, longer than the ones I had initially gone for would have. She was right.

I’ve spent most of my life as that closed up bud. I’ve been waiting for someone to see me not for how I appear now, but for the promise  that I–my words–hold.

I’m telling this to myself and to you.

Your waiting, your anticipation, at some point these will fall away. Believe that someone will choose the bud instead of the flower. Believe that someone will understand that you represent possibility and not what has already bloomed.

Bloom. And when you are done blooming, regenerate your potential and become another bud.

No one is waiting for you. So don’t you wait. Don’t hold back.

Do not waste time. Bloom. Bloom now.






arrival, gratitude

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I started writing this book five years ago, in the winter. I started writing it after a long, dry spell of not writing much. I started writing it during the times when my then-toddler napped.

I remember I would get him down to sleep and then bring my laptop into my room and sit on the lumpy chair and force myself to write 500, 1000, 1500 words at time. Then I would write beyond that. I would write and write until he woke up.

As always, I wrote in a fury. I wrote when that not-so-carefully patched up thing within me busted open again.

I started writing this book out of a sense of desperation and loss. I felt I had something to say about how hard it is to grow and survive and to learn how to thrive and be self-reliant. But it took me quite a few drafts to get to exactly the place where it is now. The place where it says just what I want it to.

Not everyone is going to love this book. Not everyone is even going to like it. Some people may even hate it. Some people will be put off by hard truths. Others may feel I don’t go deep enough into the truth. But the reactions of these readers are now beyond my control.

And thanks to my editor, Andrew Scott, and my publisher, Victoria Barrett, and thanks to Penn Whaling and Ann Rittenberg and the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency, and thanks to my husband for his faith in me and my child for his unwavering certainty that his mommy is the best (and thanks to him for taking those naps back then as well) and thanks to all those many people who have believed in me and supported me all these years, this book lives today.

As soon as this book hits your hands, it is no longer mine but ours. Thank you for sharing it with me.


Available for preorder from Lacewing Books, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s, and Amazon.