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A Psychologist Brings Insight to Fiction

This week I’m sitting with psychologist, Dr. Kixx Goldman. Her book, Speak from Your Heart and be Heard will launch at Changing Hands bookstore, Phoenix, on February 27 at 7pm.

I asked some questions about her writing practice.

Q. When did you know you wanted to write a book?

A. I knew I wanted to write when I was around ten and I sat at the kitchen table with my mom while she sewed frumpy jumpers for me. I hated sewing but I liked making up characters, like my favorite super glam, career woman, “Karen Taylor.” After that I got caught up in school, marriage, kids and developing a professional career, instead of characters. My profession required lots of technical reading and writing and creative pursuits suffered. About ten years ago, with fewer work responsibilities I got back to fiction and was in awe reading Alice Munro. I began to wonder if I could ever write like that. To me, it was the ultimate challenge. I took some classes, where I was encouraged to “just write.” After that I hired a writing coach and started crafting my stories. The key to it all was finding a good developmental editor.

Q. Your book is unique in that you use your knowledge as a psychologist to create fiction out of your experiences as a therapist. What portion of your stories are based on fact and what are created out of whole cloth, i.e. entirely fictional?

A. I like your description, Margaret. It seems apt for what I wrote, even though I didn’t start out with that intention. It’s interesting to me now to realize that there isn’t one story that isn’t based in some way on my experience. But, out of the eight stories, only four are based on my experience as a therapist. The other four are based on my life experiences. And only one, “Caught in the Crossfire,” is entirely fictional. But, the main character in that story is reminiscent of a client. Another story, “The Promise” is largely fictional but was inspired by an event in the life of a young dancer I worked with many years ago. I remember thinking, if I were to tell this simply based on what really happened, it wouldn’t be as engaging for readers. I guess that’s true for all the stories.

Q. That’s what writers, do, isn’t it? We take our experience and transmute it in some way, ideally breaking down the essence of what we want to say into a story that engages. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, life is often messier than that. Your book cover, with its “blue heart” signals life’s challenges. In your stories, you talk about following your intuition to speak openly about your feelings, despite the risk. As a psychologist, do you have any tips on how to
take that leap?

A. One way of taking the leap is start more gently with a less direct approach, I learned from Communications expert, Marshall Rosenberg. In a one to one conversation, before you express your thoughts, start with indirectly empathic question or statement to the other. For example, in my story, the Replacement Child, Rachel wants to express her concerns about her friend Betty’s treatment of her daughter, Lucy. She could say to her, “I know you want the best for your
daughter.” This gives Betty a chance to express her feelings first and allows her to “hear” Rachel’s suggestions better.

Speak from Your Heart and Be Heard Book launch at Changing Hands, 300 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013, Thursday, February 27, 7 pm.

A Fundraiser for the Australian Fires

My publisher, The Wild Rose Press, has authors from all over the world. Perhaps unique among publishers, it encourages friendship between its authors through an email loop.

One of the writers is Stephen B. King of Western Australia. He has been keeping us apprised of the bushfire situation in Australia. As we know from daily television and news reports, the bushfires have raged up and down the East Coast, and the West Coast as well, taking human lives, killing millions if not billions of insects, birds and animals, and causing choking smoke to pollute the major cities.

About three weeks ago, Steve floated an idea: What if the authors of The Wild Rose Press were to put together an anthology of short stories and to donate all profits? Within 24 hours, he had offers for short stories from 40 authors, and by a few days later there were 48 of us with stories ready. There were so many stories offered that the press decided to create three volumes.

The publisher acted swiftly. Contracts were sent out in record time, the editors volunteered to copy edit and proof read, a brilliant cover was created, and a release date of February 14 was anticipated.

It all went so well to plan, with such enthusiasm all around, that Volume One was released this week. Australia Burns – Show Australia Some Love is advertised on Amazon for $13.99.

However, in order to avoid any profit being made on this book by third parties, could you kindly purchase this book through the publisher at HERE.

My story, The Ring, is in Volume One.

Volumes Two and Three will be forthcoming. The entire project is a voluntary one and all profits will be donated.

As far as I know, The Wild Rose Press is the only publisher to make such a contribution. Rhonda Penders and R.J. Morris, owners of the press, deserve accolades for this superb feat of organization and quick turn-around, and gratitude for their generosity. And to all the authors as well, a huge thank you from this Australian. Their outpouring of support has been incredible.

To everyone who has wondered how they can help, this is a wonderful way. And you’ll enjoy the read!

Why Little Women Endures: How A Woman Who Hated Sex Keeps Us Reading

The new movie, Little Women, is on my to-see list. It reminded me of an article I wrote in 2018 about how that book influenced me to become a writer. Here it is: How Childhood Reading Shapes Identity. That article has been retweeted continuously since publication – a testament to Alcott’s evocation of family life and the psychological complexities of the thinking of girls on the cusp of womanhood.

I am not alone in wondering if Alcott’s enduring hold on the imagination of girls and women is her very complicated, not to say confusing, attitude to sex. Jo, the future writer, rejects the handsome boy next door, Laurie, because she wants to be an author. We understand from the subtext that she thinks she can only write without being a wife and mother. Then Alcott has her marry a much older man. At first, Jo thinks Professor Bhaer is an intellectual companion, but then he belittles her literary aspirations, and they go on to run a school together, a school for boys. Jo’s writerly aspirations are set aside.

Historians say that Alcott’s publisher pushed her into making Jo marry. Alcott seems to be putting up a little rebellion by creating a character in Bhaer that is quite unattractive. This conflict is at the heart of the story.

Alcott’s own childhood of genteel poverty led her to a dim view of a man’s ability to support his family. Her own father was an idealist who could not, and the household was held together by her mother, and later, Louisa herself. She seemed unable to imagine a true partnership of a man and a woman where respect and passion comingle. That aspiration, so dearly held by girls today as a real possibility, drives the book’s popularity. It is an aspiration still very far from reality for
many women.

I read Little Women first at the age of eleven. That is a magic age for girls, or was for me. It is a time when I felt I could do anything, aspire to anything. That was before puberty, when girls feel the pressure to attract the opposite sex. When advertising suggests that they are not worthy unless they spend time, energy and money on their appearance. Alcott seems to be saying that that a career should trump those concerns. But sacrificing one for the other is not what girls want, in my experience. The psychological battle continues for woman’s lifetime. That’s why Little Women has us flocking to the movie theatres.

Sorcery in Alpara

Sorcery in Alpara

By Judith Starkston


Judith Starkston draws us once again into the ancient world of the Bronze Age as she cleverly combines the story of an actual Hittite queen with fantasy elements. But that’s not all. Ms. Starkston’s great gift is to show us a world we can hardly begin to imagine, and yet she peoples it with characters we can recognize. The book starts when the priestess Tesha, newly married to King Hattu, is on her way, for the first time, to his kingdom, which is under threat. This is a very fast-paced and dramatic story, full of original elements. As we read we’re drawn into a vanished civilization’s customs, art, political alliances and superstitious beliefs. Yet the story also encompasses modern concerns like step-parenting, father-son relationships, PTSD, and disability and how it can be triumphantly managed. The nuanced and intelligent portrait of a marriage is the centerpiece of Sorcery in Alpara, giving the book remarkable depth and maturity.

Sorcery in Alpara on Amazon

The Perfectly Good Lie

By Rose Gonsoulin

Available on Amazon, 2019


Rose Gonsoulin captures the world of pro golf in her story of Buck Buchanan, initially a selfish, shallow competitor in the lower rungs of the professional circuit, a player in every sense of the word. It says a lot about the quality of the writing of this delightful book that despite Buck’s hard-heartedness the reader is hooked by the story. Buck must return home when his mother dies, and finds himself saddled with the care of his not-very-bright, video-game playing younger half-brother Art. In desperation, he makes Art his caddie. Gonsoulin has created a charming character in Art, who becomes Buck’s road to redemption. There’s not a second of sappiness, however, in this book. Ms. Gonsoulin’s snappy dialogue, great scene setting, characterization, fast pacing, her insight into the sometimes seedy world of sponsorship and her lyrical descriptions of how it is to play in a championship game kept this reader turning pages.

Without A Mother

The recent New York Times Op Ed by Hope Edelman hit a chord. Entitled “I Couldn’t Say ‘My Mother’ Without Crying” the article’s theme is that “There’s no quick fix for childhood grief.”

Hundreds of people commented and September 1’s letters column was full of responses.

I look forward to reading Edelman’s new book The Aftergrief. It’s not a happy subject. But it is one that has always been at the back of my mind. Why am I interested? I did not have the misfortune of losing my own dear mother when I was a child.

But she did.

My mother lost her own when she was twelve years old. Her mother, Stella, died of lymphoma at the age of thirty-six. On the cusp of adolescence, my mother and her younger sister had to go and live with their grandmother. While loving, “Gran” was old fashioned and weary after raising her own brood of ten.

Years later my mother told me, tears in her eyes, that she and her sister were not allowed to go to their mother’s funeral, and stayed home alone. When he returned from the burial, their father built a big bonfire in the back yard and burned all their mother’s clothes. And the next day at school, they entered a culture of silence. Neither teachers nor friends mentioned their loss.

This repression haunted my mother ever after. She lived her entire life hiding her never-ending grief, and her anxiety grew and grew.

People often ask what inspires an author. “Is your story autobiographical?” they want to know. Usually it is not. But I do know that in writing my new novel, now finished and awaiting a published home, I drew on what I knew about my mother’s grief. In my book, my protagonist, Maelle, lost her mother at the age of ten in mysterious circumstances. Sent to live with her grandparents, she, like my mother, entered a culture of silence. No one would talk about why and how her mother had died.

That’s where my imagination took off and I created a mystery and a totally fictional family.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my book’s journey to publication.


“Coping” by Brian Leon of Ottawa is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Summer of 69

 Elin HilderbrandBy Elin Hilderbrand

Little, Brown & Company, 2019


As the summer winds down and fifty years after 1969, I picked up this book. I had never read this best-selling author before. Realizing that the book was based in Massachusetts, where I lived for many years, I was immediately hooked. In fact, I read the book compulsively from cover to cover. The story features four point of view protagonists, challenging for an author, and I admire the way Hilderbrand kept all their stories in control.

The four are all members of the Foley-Levin family; Kate, forty-eight, the mother of Blair who is married and pregnant, Kirby, at college and rebellious, Tiger, who has been drafted and sent to Vietnam, and thirteen -year -old Jessica, who is the daughter of David Levin, Kate’s second husband. The family could not be more upper-crust and conventional. A military family, even. Kate’s first husband Wilder Foley, had served in Korea, and died on his return, possibly a victim of PTSD.

Conventional and comfortable they may be, but the entire family is against the Vietnam War, and when Tiger is called up, Kate goes to pieces. Hilderbrand paints a fine portrait of this immature, spoiled woman, who actually believes the handyman at her family’s summer residence on Nantucket can pull strings, through a distant, third hand acquaintance with General Abrams, to remove her son from danger. As the story moves through July, and the landing on the moon, which happens the same day Blair has twins, the author reminds us that even though war guts us, intimate events like birth and historic events like the moonshot keep us moving forward, all little swimmers in a great steam of history.

The book is full of time markers, with music, food, and lifestyles accurately rendered. A few caveats, however. Jessica is invited to go to Woodstock; she anticipates sleeping in the back of “someone’s truck” after listening to the bands. There’s no way a thirteen-year-old could imagine this is how Woodstock would play out. I’d bet that she’d barely know where Woodstock is, let alone how a huge rock concert could get out of control. This is a girl who at thirteen has be
walked to tennis lessons by her grandmother. She’s exceptionally sheltered, in my view. However, Jessica is the best drawn character in the book.

“Sheltered” is how I would describe all the book’s characters, except of course, Tiger, who is in active combat. Whether Hilderbrand meant to make this point – that for Americans, no matter what their circumstances, life is protected and safe, while the rest of the world spins into terror – is unclear. Hilderbrand lives on the magical island of Nantucket and sets all her books there. Yet for many Americans, life is not easy at all and never was. Hilderbrand alludes to many of the issues that surrounded this era of social change, including civil rights and the lack of access to legal abortion. Yet she skims over the consequences. The African-American characters in the book are upper middle class, summering at Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, hardly the people for whom civil rights activists were risking their lives. Anti-Semitism is called an issue, yet we never see evidence of such prejudice, except in the grandmother, and even then, Jessica, her half-Jewish granddaughter, is her favorite. And even Kirby, the “activist” who attends anti-war demonstrations, is never in danger. There’s always the country club for these characters.

Fifty years on, the summer of 1969 is worth talking about. I would argue that 1968 was the more transformative, with student rebellions happening all over the world, and political assassinations, (Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King) bringing in their wake more profound change. But truly, not much changed that year on Nantucket. And not much does, in this book. Of course, many a famed writer took a small domestic situation to make a point about human nature while war was
exploding off the scene (Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf). But those writers never claimed to be writing about “the most tumultuous summer of xxx century”, to paraphrase this book’s cover. While The Summer of ‘69” was a truly enjoyable read, and I admire Hilderbrand’s professional skill, I’m still waiting for the definitive novel set in this amazing time in history.

My Dear Hamilton

My Dear Hamilton book reviewBy Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Kindle edition, 2018


Alexander Hamilton is having a moment. A very long one, if the success of the musical of the same name is anything to go by. And Hamilton gets by far the biggest billing as one of the Founding Fathers at Philadelphia’s new, magnificent Museum of the American Revolution.

But what of the woman who married him?

In this engrossing novel, Dray and Kamoie bring Elizabeth Schuyler to life as a first person narrator. I relished the wonderfully detailed descriptions of everyday life in the New Netherlandish home of General Schuyler and his family, and then, in the home that Eliza (also known as Betsy) and Alexander make for themselves after their 1780 marriage. Despite being raised in wealth and comfort Elizabeth is no brainless belle. She knows the war and its stakes intimately from her childhood and is fully committed to the cause.

The Revolutionary War drags on and on. It is almost lost, time and again. Even after the bloodshed is over, the union is fragile. The authors bring this point home vividly. The relationships between the Washingtons and the Hamiltons, and between them and other figures such as Lafayette, Jefferson, and Madison are complicated and convincingly told.

This is a long book, covering Elizabeth’s life from her coming of age until her eighties. She lived until she was ninety-seven. She was married to Alexander Hamilton for twenty-four years until his death in a duel with Aaron Burr. These tumultuous years included Hamilton’s involvement in factions and feuds between the Founding Fathers, with the new Republic threatening to break apart several times, and his passionate, even desperate, work to create the foundational
infrastructure to make it viable. Hamilton was involved in so much that the authors have to compress many details, as they tell us in the afterword. His brilliance is palpable, however, in the telling of the story. As is his egotism and occasional recklessness.

For Betsy, these twenty-four years included the birth of eight children and one miscarriage. The story of their marriage is the heart of the book. Elizabeth’s reaction as the humiliated wife of a politician whose extra-marital affair was made public is poignantly told. Yet for Hamilton, raised as an orphan, family was as important as it was to Elizabeth. In an age when childhood deaths were commonplace, the fact that the Hamilton kids all survived to adulthood is a testament to the capability of their mother. But she was also more than a wife and mother. We see Betsy reflecting uncomfortably on the fact that slavery was endemic in her society, and her horror at the conditions under which the Revolutionary War’s ordinary soldiers suffered and the brutal treatment of deserters and mutineers. Her charity work on behalf of widows and orphans was prodigious.

The evidence shows that Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton was her husband’s equal partner as much as it was possible to be, even helping him draft some of his writings. She knew from her earliest years the most famous men of the age, and evidence also shows they regarded her with respect. Hamilton’s complicated and ultimately unknowable emotional life as discovered by his wife after his death deals her a blow as great as the death itself. How she lived her long life after being widowed at forty -six demonstrates her strength of character.

The afterword of this book explains the depth of research undertaken by the authors, and their access to the trove of correspondence that survives, much of it due to the efforts of Elizabeth Hamilton herself, who searched for years to obtain it. The effort she put into this (much of the correspondence was hidden for political and personal reasons) shows, the authors surmise, not only that his widow wanted to make the world understand her husband’s greatness, but also that she herself wanted truly to know and understand him.

Lily Campbell’s Secret

Lily Campbell’s SecretBy Jennifer Bryce

Rightword Publishing, 2019

It is 1913, and seventeen-year-old schoolgirl Lily discovers she is pregnant.

Unmarried motherhood is a social sin that was unforgiveable in that time, but this book takes off in an unexpected way. Lily, an upper-middle class girl with a private school education, with a promising position at the Music Conservatory awaiting her, does not wish her baby away. She’s in love with her boyfriend, Bert,a stable hand with a love of animals, and they marry, happily, and have a baby girl, Edith. Not that things are easy. Lily has no idea how to run a house and her horrified parents shun her.

Then the world erupts in World War 1 and Bert enlists. When he returns, he is changed utterly. Lily has to cope with a man with a head injury so severe he needs round the clock help. There’s no money, and Lily must cope as a wage-earner, carer, and mother. How she does this, and the choices she faces, propel the book along to its shocking conclusion.

This book captures all the senses, as well as historical details that all ring true as the author evokes life in a country town. The war is remote, yet its aftermath reverberates throughout the lives of all who lived in the era, and beyond. That’s why this is a timeless story. Jennifer Bryce captures the heartbreak and helplessness of PTSD and brain injury for the victim and their families. With very appealing main characters, Lily, Bert, and Edith, and a well-drawn cast of supporting characters, this book draws the reader in and won’t let go. I could not put this book down. Please read it.

The Wolf Border

By Sarah Hall

Harper Collins Publishers 2015

Rachel Caine studies wolves. An interesting professional choice, since it takes her far from civilization, into a remote part of Idaho, where wolves are being reintroduced to the wild. Rachel guards herself against emotional involvement. She has sex, not relationships, she tells a doctor. Approaching forty, she must change, somehow, unless she’s headed for a lonely old age like her once-promiscuous mother, who never married. This change does not come as an epiphany at her mother’s death. Rachel does not attend the funeral. But when she discovers she is unexpectedly pregnant, she slowly starts to melt her frozen heart. The reader is way ahead of the protagonist on this. Her health insurance won’t cover the cost of maternity. But fortunately, Rachel is English, so she heads back to the UK – and its free medical care – to supervise the reintroduction of wolves in Cumbria, near the Scottish border. Everything changes here for Rachel, though she is still wary of emotional commitment, like a lone wolf. But wolves, too, love their offspring, and observing them with their pups Rachel feels drawn to them even further. They’re teaching her something. Unlike most wild animals, wolves form lifelong bonds with their mates. The blurring of borders between animal and human behavior, between the habitats of animals and the political boundaries drawn by humans, and the choice of whether to be a mother and then how to be a mother, all are explored here. At the end of the book Rachel will have to make a choice. But that is for the reader to imagine. It would be interesting to know which side most readers come down on. Sarah Hall writes gorgeous prose, too. I was sorry to finish this novel. I felt I was just getting to know this complex person and her passionate devotion to wolves. An original and fascinating book.