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Or how ridding my body of toxins positively affected everything

Let’s face it: the American way of life will kill you. Or how ridding my body of toxins positively affected everything.

Although I may reside in Southern California, my Midwestern roots are still strong, strong enough for me to assume, and vow never to try, such starvation-inducing programs of dubious healthful merit as a dietary (translation: juices) body cleanse. I’d be the first to state I’m weak: that I need my cappuccino first thing each morning, I need my cocktail each night. And go without food? Horrors! Perish the very thought—before I do on such a regimen.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Much to my own astonishment, I completed cleaning and detoxifying via basically a juice-fast my liver and gallbladder, the kidneys and urinary tract, and the colon while every other organ went merrily along for the ride. The immediate results realized during this 18 day cleansing encouraged me to stay with it to the end.

In addition to detoxed health and feeling so good it should be bottled, I lost over 10 pounds (and more than a month later, I’m still losing) while freeing my body of not only toxins but parasites, molds, metals, chemicals, yeasts, bacteria, fungi, stones (crystallizations in the digestive system), and heaven knows what else we pick up from the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the foods we eat. It’s a much dirtier world out there (and within) than I ever cared to think about, until that dirt in the various forms mentioned presented me irrefutable evidence. Those shocking visuals further encouraged me: once you see being eliminated what you carry in your very own body, you cannot wait to get thoroughly clean.

What prompted me to start this out-of-character cleanse was a series of skin irritations that resisted treatment, until in utter frustration I declared to my husband that I must need a cleanse, whatever that meant, something to address not just symptoms but underlying causes. The very next day, my friend Milla happened to be discussing such a body cleanse with someone else as I came upon them, and I knew the universe was speaking to me. Milla and I decided to go through the process together and started almost immediately. Best not to think about foregoing food and drink too long! Just jump in.

I purchased a series of packaged kits designed to address the organs and areas delineated above. Milla and I augmented those, as if they weren’t stringent enough (ignorance can be bliss), with extra parasite elimination, a regular routine of dry scrubs, enemas, hot-and-cold showers, and special broth. You can however do the program at different levels of commitment—from no change whatsoever to your current diet to the other extreme, the one we chose, complete elimination of everything “normal” except fruit- and vegetable-juices and special teas. Oh and purified water, don’t forget the water, literally gallons ingested each day.

After only a day or two, it was surprisingly NOT hard. Within the first week, I was sitting at the dining table with my husband, Mr. Meat and Potatoes, while he ate meat and potatoes, and I drank tea. Weirder yet was my not being phased by it, nor feeling sorry for myself. I’m still amazed.

Until the very last days of the 18 total, I was never hungry. I had so many liquids to imbibe within a set timeframe, there wasn’t time to be hungry. Ah, but thirsty, specifically thirsty for just a wee glass of wine to take the edge off at night, that I did feel but managed to resist until the urge simply ceased. To this day, my taste for several of my diet staples, like coffee and vodka, diminished or disappeared. Inexplicably I have since developed a taste for things I always hated, a certain white wine grape for example. I have no idea why.

I had previously tried more than once to cut out coffee, literally going through withdrawals with all over body aches, terrible jitters, and restlessness. I didn’t realize until the end of the second day of the cleanse that perhaps my somewhat fuzzy focus might be related to the sudden elimination of caffeine. After prior experiences, I’d take slightly fuzzy any day, a state which also passed quickly. In addition, I never changed my exercise routine which has always been fairly rigorous—spinning, pilates, yoga, hiking—I never felt I had to. So in addition to not feeling hungry and no longer thirsting for coffee or alcohol, my energy never flagged.

Yet despite evidence of some pretty startling stuff in my bod, the true revelations were not physical, but rather mental, emotional, and yes, even spiritual.

First I realized I had no relationship to my body—no mind/body connection here. I ate and drank due purely to habit: the time of the day, the routine I kept, what I was used to. What I had developed strong relationships with were my boredom, procrastination, and/or unhappiness. Hunger and thirst? I was completely out of touch with those natural needs. Years of built-up toxins, years of bad habits, years of unthinking behavior had all wrought their worst.

But as my body purified and lightened up, my emotions, attitudes, and spirit did the same. I felt physically better each day while my optimism soared and my resilience grew, a sense of well-being infiltrating every aspect of my life. A calmness replaced the uppers-then-downers (caffeine early/cocktails late) syndrome I had been on for decades. I felt peaceful, happy. And yes, my skin not only recovered, it tightened up precipitously. Now there’s an unexpected side benefit!

Maybe it’s not for everyone, this rigorous body detoxifying, but I’m a believer. I saw what years of toxicity had done to me, body and soul, and I saw it flushing away. Overall I’ve been generally healthy, but were that to change, the first thing I’d now do would be to cleanse my body of its numerous irritants and pollutants and give my immune system a huge boost.

But here’s the best pay-off: I started serious writing again. Novel number 2 is officially in production ’cause now I know: I can do anything.

Successful Women in the Workforce: Is it Really All or Nothing?

A few Sundays ago, "60 Minutes" had an interesting segment on the former CFO of now-defunct Lehman Brothers, Erin Callan, a pretty 47-year-old who took issue with the new COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg. The latter attests that women haven't broken the glass ceiling in number because women don't "lean in," her parlance for "go for it at all costs," like men tend to do, though she does acknowledge that there are simply tougher choices for women in the workforce. Callan advocates looking before leaning. Which powerful and successful woman is right?

I can identify with Ms. Callan, whose hard life lessons came to light during the interview. On a much smaller scale, I, too, got caught up in the corporate game, never thinking about what I was leaving out or behind or missing altogether. I've since wondered why I got sucked into the obvious game of it, until, in my case, I turned down the next assignment for unacceptable "personal reasons" (I was in the throes of marital problems) and was promptly left in the dust by those who, like me until that point, always said: Yes! Sure! Of course I want to uproot and move to London! Of course I can fix that broken department in where -- Los Angeles? Not a problem. I can be ready tomorrow.(Actually, that transfer I did take.)

It's not just women that get caught up in the corporate game. Why is it so alluring? At a distance from it now, it's easy to answer the question: Where else in one's life does a man or woman get regular reviews, pats on the backs, atta-boys, praise and recognition, along with the sweet sensation of winning -- all backed by more and more money (though dollars, too often, are preceded by more responsibility)? Answer: Nowhere.

Add to that seduction any kind of personal problems with relationships -- sick kids or parents, a husband fed up with his never-at-home spouse, estrangement -- and too much distance and all the shenanigans that can lead to, plus health issues and so on. It's no wonder Ms. Callan's marriage ended in divorce, as did mine. There just aren't enough guys out there willing to be what every top exec needs: a wife! Someone to handle the day-to-day of the home, the kids, a social life, other family responsibilities. Someone to provide a welcoming refuge from the daily grind at the end of those long, long days, leaving one free to focus on the job. Women need a true partner to succeed, one who equally shares all responsibilities outside the workforce, as Ms. Sandberg recommends. Well, it is possible...

Unfortunately, most men, in my opinion, are incapable of multi-tasking (sorry men, I do love you). And though this might be changing, very few are willing to be house-husbands, even part-time. My favorite interpretation of the feminist movement of the '70s is still "people's liberation," not just women. Shouldn't everyone get to choose how to spend his/her own life? I pray that idea has not been lost in the scramble.

So what did we miss, Ms. Callan and I, in our blind and direct dash up "the ladder?" The biggie -- kids of our own, and that's a lot, but still, not everything. Of course I have some regrets; I'm sure I would, regardless, but not too many.

Would either of us do it differently? I don't know. Only after some years had passed and I'd grown older, wiser and more experienced did I realize what I know now. Perhaps wisdom came too late, too late for kids for sure, but not too late for a full and wonderful life.

I end up agreeing with both women. Ms. Callan advises women to "look before you lean." I'd add that men should do so as well. Ms. Sandberg correctly concludes too many women get sidetracked by the tough choices of life. So whatever choices one makes, do take stock from time-to-time, take a break to step back and imagine if this job/career will always be fulfilling and what else might. Then live by your heart's responses and truly live -- go for it -- with as few regrets as possible.

The Joys of Writing? Are You Kidding Me?

I was going to write, actually I did write, a blog about the joys of getting back to what drives me: writing. But the blog I wrote initially had to be tossed. It sounded so saccharine after the full reality of The Sausage Maker’s Daughters caught up with me.

You see, I spent much of last week preparing for my 2012 taxes, which meant tallying up all my book-related expenses, everything from treats taken to each book store signings to travel expenses around the country, the costs of employing specialists from tax to marketing who’ve advised me, and so on. And on. It was, well, insane I suppose any business person would say. Yep, insane.

I thought about never writing again, finding some lucrative form of employment, doing nothing for as long as I could stand it. And that all lasted about a month. Well into that first month of questioning what I should do, would I write again, and if so—why, et cetera, my mind started spinning on the next novel. My dreams started again (all that ugly money-related business stuff turned off my dreams!), and soon I came to the fortunate or unfortunate realization that I didn’t choose writing. It chose me. So write is what I will do, apparently, must do. For better or for worse.

I also realized and share with you this honest advice: if writing chooses you, if you simply must do it, then so be it. Enjoy the privilege of those wonderful moments spent in your own little world playing God with all the concomitant joys and disappointments and insights and acceptance that brings. It’s the only good reason to write I can think of. But it’s not much of a business model, is it?

Ode to Richard Parker

A review of Life of Pi I simply had to write and share                          

Awe.  Amazement.  Jaw-dropping insight.  Soul-jolting inspiration.  Glimpses of God.  This is not hyperbole.  Life of Pi, both movie and novel, brought me to my writer’s knees, humbling me is too kind, humiliating me as a novelist myself, more like it.  But a month since reading it and another month since seeing it, I’m still so captivated, I feel the need to write about it, and to pay homage.

Prepare to fall in love with a shipwrecked 16-year-old Indian boy, Pi from Pondicherry, cast adrift on a great ocean in a lifeboat he is forced to share with a ferocious Bengal tiger ironically named Richard Parker.  They compete and cooperate in a prolonged struggle to survive calamity, the elements, life, and each other.  That’s only the surface of a tale that deeply delves into the duality of life.  Warring pairs of opposites—life and death, good/evil, light/darkness, savagery/nurturing, competition/cooperation—are more than just inextricably linked aspects of living, they are the purpose of existence, physical and metaphysical.  One cannot exist without its opposite.

It’s a daunting theme, the purpose of existence, yet author Yann Martel explores another equally challenging one at the same time.  Story.  Stories.  What we believe.  How we talk to ourselves, how we see and understand the world and each other—or how we choose not to. 

Rarely does a movie, which by definition must vigorously prune and simplify the subplots and detail of the novel on which it’s based, inspire me to run-not-walk to the closest bookstore to purchase the original work.  But Ang Lee’s movie version of Life of Pi did exactly that.

Rarer yet is the deepening of my gratitude which followed the reading of Life of Pi, both for the novel and novelist and for the movie adaptation and direction.  The film captures the essence of these ephemeral themes while echoing the book’s profound beauty and soulfulness.  Both masterful versions left me breathless, literally gasping, at for example, the tiger’s savagery and his physical beauty, at Pi’s ingenuity but also his innocence, a purity. 

In one charming scene, Pi’s Hindu family sits around a dining table where Pi’s father lectures him on Pi’s penchant to embrace whatever religion passes before him, having practiced in addition to Hinduism the Muslim faith.  He must use his Rational Brain as Man was clearly meant to do, Pi’s father, a zoo keeper, asserts.  Pi glances around the table before hesitantly responding that, um, he now wishes to be baptized.

But should you not care for the man-and-tiger survival struggle told in one way on one level, there are infinite possibilities for interpretation of life’s universal truths, as Pi himself summarizes by saying, “And so it goes with God.” 

And remember, regardless of what versions, layers, or interpretations resonate personally, ‘Pi,’ the unending number 3.14…, no matter how far you carry it out, still can only approximate the relationships it attempts to describe.

The Importance of Being a Genre

One thing I’ve learned and learned well about the book industry since my debut novel released this year is that everyone related to the business of books wants and needs to slot your work and you as an author into a genre. In other words, where does your book(s) fit on the shelves? Everyone from librarians, booksellers, agents, and publicists, and even a large segment of the reading public demand a handle, a genre as it’s called.

This may seem obvious. But what slot or genre should a book occupy if it includes aspects of say, murder mystery and legal suspense? What about aspects of family saga, coming-of-age, period or historical fiction, psychological thriller, family dynamics/relationships, women’s, regional, literary, and many more I’m forgetting about.

Amazon lists over thirty such categories on its website. And trust me, no one inside or outside the industry agrees on any of the definitions that attach to each genre.

I resisted such labels initially as it minimizes all the elements, count them—ten listed above, that go into most works of fiction, not just mine, which arguably spans all of those above. Labels can be tricky. Genre titles can suggest formulaic writing, plot over character or vice versa.

But finally, after months of struggling with this genre question, I had an epiphany about The Sausage Maker’s Daughters. It’s a “character-driven murder mystery and legal suspense,” a succinct enough description that could be helpful more so within the industry. But importantly, one I am finally comfortable with using (although it does leave a lot of important to me stuff out!).

Especially if you’ve read the novel, I’d love to know if you agree, or I’d love to hear what genre you’d put The Sausage Maker’s Daughters into if you could choose. It’s more important than you’d imagine.

Proof that Humas are Capable of Magic

It’s helpful to encourage myself with an inspiration I share not just with fellow writers and readers, but with everyone who from time-to-time needs reminding that we are all truly capable of great, bridging and unifying, and enduring things.

I quote Carl Sagan: “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

And we are!

The Good, Bad, and Inexcusable

I recently returned from Bouchercon, a prestigious annual conference for mystery writers, fans, librarians, and people associated throughout the publishing world. Given it was my very first year attending, I felt privileged to be assigned a panel with a sexy title called: On the Edge of Your Seat, all about writing suspense.

Not many weeks before this, I had attended my first SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) conference in Naples, FL where for the first time in my author-life, I moderated such a panel also with an evocative title: Saints, Sinners, and Swimmers. The common thread there was how setting and a sense of place enters and affects story and characters. I received comments after it from panelists and attendees alike regarding my “showcasing” of the panelists’ work. Well, that was the job, was it not?

Of course I had read the panelists’ books in advance, of course I preplanned questions that sought differences and commonality within the works. Beyond my name and my novel’s name (I may have added it was my ‘debut’), I said no more by way of self-introduction. I’d had the good fortune to have done my very first literary panel at Chicago’s Printers Row under the enlightened moderation of Tony Romano, a role model to emulate! Plus, it just seemed like the job?

Well unfortunately, yes and no. I attended many excellent panels at Bouchercon. Only one had set tongues a-wagging when that panel’s moderator had a little, maybe a lot, of trouble veering off the subject off his own work, opinions, and ideas…you get the drift. When some attendees left mid-session, it was so embarrassing that I stayed, feeling for the panelists, silent and stranded on stage. One of them, in a post-panel session held late that night in the hotel bar, actually thanked me for staying. Wow.

My personal experience as a Bouchercon panelist on writing suspense could not have been better or more different. I was again lucky to have as moderator, Ted Hertel of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who encouraged us panelists to converse among ourselves, but who had questions for each of us to spur discussion. The panel was collegial, supportive, and fun. The subjects covered under the umbrella of suspense ranged from writing compelling characters to apprehension of what’s to come plot-wise to money porn (another story). Hats off to Ted, Norb Vonnegutt, Ken Wishnia (who inexplicably dropped his former 3-initials name!), and David Bell. I feel luckier in retrospect for the great experience. As I do for my friends at Mystery One Books in Milwaukee for bringing my novel to sell afterward. Not all authors were so lucky.

Chicago, Chicago My Home Town

Here’s something I readily remember from my childhood: annual Christmas shopping trips with my sisters and Mom to Marshall Fields in downtown Chicago with its seven-story Christmas tree, and better yet, Frango Mint Ice Cream after lunch.

We must have come into town on the El, Chicago’s elevated train service that starts somewhere in southern Wisconsin and winds up in the Loop (perhaps vice versa?). This was many years ago, but the shocking sight of dilapidated neighborhoods below the train, people stepping over someone lying in the gutter, remain vivid recollections. Chicago, the actual city of my birth, lurked dirty and dangerous in my mind.

But none of that these days! Chicago is the coolest, clean, bustling, architecturally interesting, happening city ever. The entire riverfront now has walkways along its banks with bars, restaurants, shops everywhere, wonderful museums, parks, and people. Endless views carry your eye to the lake that thinks it’s an ocean, replete with sailboats dotting the waves.

This was my Angeleno husband’s first experience of Chicago, and he, too, was truly wowed. We both love New York City, and the comparisons were favorable. Notice my husband managed to skip the driving-for-a-week-through-four-states part of the tour by flying into Chicago at its end for a few days of R&R during which we scored a table at Charlie Trotter’s before he closes forever.

My final Midwestern book tour event, a big affair at the Book Cellar in near-north side Chicago, another happening area, hosted me with authors Bryan Gruley, and Gillian Flynn right before Gillian hit the top of the Best Seller’s Lists. What a pinch-me privilege to be counted in such revered company so early in my new career. And what a finale to a memorable voyage of rediscovery, reconnection, and some plain hard days-in-the-trenches in a writer’s life.

The End of This Endeavour

Californians were treated to a rare and spectacular sight recently when the Space Shuttle Endeavour toured the state on the back of its 747 before coming to rest at LAX and eventually moving through the city to its final resting place, the California Science Center in Los Angeles. My husband and I and a friend decided at the last minute to head down to Santa Monica Beach, which it was scheduled to fly over, a half hour before it was to take place. I'm amazed at our blasé attitudes in retrospect.

We positioned ourselves on a second story structure at our beach club for an unobstructed view of the beach north to Malibu, south to the Santa Monica pier and beyond, then waited, but far from alone. People were gathering everywhere. Thirty minutes passed and still no shuttle, until murmurs swept through the crowd (we now know, crowds had gathered everywhere on its circuitous route through the state) and soon everyone was jumping and screaming and pointing. There over the Pacific, appearing out of the mists that hung over Malibu, came this giant proud bird accompanied by two fighters on either side, looking like gnats in comparison, mere specks. Silence fell as it passed us by, then an outbreak of cheers and whoops, jumps and waving. We watched until it passed out of sight on its way toward the airport and the Boeing plant in El Segundo and onward from there.

What we didn't expect was that it would circle back, flying low up the coast toward us again. Luckily my husband realized it first and shouted for everyone to get back outside. We stood on the beach as that man-made miracle flew low, slow, and proud toward us, then banked right off the beach from us and passed directly overhead as it turned inland.

There are certain times, places, and monuments in the world that have both humbled me and made me proud at the same time. This was such a moment, the Endeavour flying its farewell mission in the skies of California where it was borne. St. Peter's in Rome is such a place, where I feel the hand of man and the Hand of God, the endless possibilities they create in tandem. Humbling, yes, but at the same time, it makes you proud to be a human being, and confident, if we can do that, we can do anything.

The next time I see the Endeavour, it will be on the ground in a museum, but it will now always call to mind the two moving moments when it flew overhead as it said its good-byes.

Reconstituted Memory

I mentioned earlier in this blog series my shocking lack of memory about so many things Midwestern I hadn’t seen nor thought about in decades, places and people all but forgotten. The vast, rolling landscapes so struck me, the enormity of the fields and the states themselves as I passed through, the sense of serenity evoked, a weird sense of belonging I don’t remember feeling while living there. Each and every place displayed its own unique beauty and yes, even majesty. It felt like the “heartland” as it’s called, a term at last viscerally understood. Memories began to stir, rekindling more of the same with opportunities seized to renew friendships nearly abandoned to the years.

Here is what I think that memory loss is about. First, full comprehension of what’s important in life takes many years to formulate, at least for me. Call it the oblivion of youth, open to the moment with too little to compare it to. Add blurred edges with time’s passage. Plus, given these people and places were of my youth—literally the years of growing pains—I think I stuffed those pains and all associations down in my heart and ignored them.

We continually make choices, some that may take us far afield as mine have, that require concentration on the present or future, which further distances the past. We also have a vested interest in making what we choose correct, downplaying rightly or wrongly, what’s left behind.

Finally, modern life renders us ridiculously busy—a reason I gravitated to writing in the first place. Writing allows my nerdy side the alone-time to ponder. Lo and behold, it finally demanded that I look back and remember. My appreciation for the privilege of writing is strengthened by these mini-revelations. I’m a writer and the luckiest person in the world.

Next and final stop of the tour, Chicago, Capitol of the Heartland.

Yes there really is something called 'southern' hospitality

Their reputation had preceded them. I'd heard the (SIBA) Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance put on the best conference in the country. Now I have not attended many of the others but I came away from Naples, Florida feeling so welcomed by the group that gathered there for their annual get together. I met so many nice people, all of whom expressed a genuine interest in my novel, despite the snowy cover that does not speak of the South, and the chilly story of The Sausage Maker's Daughters within. Was it that they accepted me as a southerner myself, albeit one from Southern California whose story takes place in Southern Wisconsin?

No I think it is just their way: graciousness, openness, and sincerity in action. Kudos to the entire organization!

I'm hoping my dubious southern roots will enable me to return, and that SIBA will eventually adopt me as one of theirs.

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