Capitalizing on New York and London

Not that anyone has asked me, but if young people wanted advice about writing I might jump right in and introduce them to some old friends, Strunk & White. Old fashion, perhaps, but there is something about the formality that its pages outline that I still kind of like. I understand the new theory that we first want kids to get the ideas out there and then later we can get them to clean it all up and make it look pretty, but somehow that second step seems to be going by the wayside. Even my own children seem to be guilty of this at times and believe me they spent their formative years being corrected on a regular basis by a mother who was an English teacher (except for the mispronunciations that were just too cute to modify.) When did we, as teachers, as parents, as people who speak the English language lose sight of the importance of a period at the end of a sentence? Don’t people need to take a breath anymore? Think of punctuation as one’s chance to breathe. Unless, of course, this sort of free form writing technique is new and creative, and I am missing the boat somehow. Yet, I still believe it is our students that are losing out. Somehow, I learned to be a creative writer and I know when to use a comma (and if I don’t I check with Strunk and White) at the same time. I am grateful to editors as well, but last I looked seventh graders don’t generally hire editors, but are likely to be somewhat acquainted with spell check.

As I said though, I do understand the need to get all those thoughts and ideas out first while creative thoughts are flourishing. My question is when do we go back and fix things? Or better yet, when, if we don’t continually teach it, will young writers learn to write automatically using punctuation and capitalization? I see it happening in my own backyard and I am not sure who to blame? Perhaps no blame is necessary. We all make mistakes.  I make them all the time, but this isn’t what I am kvetching about. I love reading my own daughter’s blog, with or without occasional tiny blunders. Let me just make clear that she has talents that far surpasses anything I could have dreamed of and I see great things in her future. Her creative mind ticks in a way that mine only tocks. Her creative energy is probably one of the biggest reasons I finally got off my tush, compiled a load of the stories I had been writing for years and ultimately published Shades of Gray. If it weren’t for my need to prove to myself that I can do it too and I better do it before my then teenager beat me to it, I would still have a drawer filled with anecdotes of a time in my life that has been resurrected and provided me with a platform to talk about things that really matter to me. Once more I am involved in plans for dropout prevention, talking about important issues of today that are real and for some, still difficult to discuss. Not that I wasn’t enjoying my time as class mother and PTA meetings, but my heart is once more getting close to where it belongs and my head is thinking beyond the next load of laundry and I love it. Should I thank my daughter for that and overlook the itty-bitty inaccuracies? I suppose so.

Then, this morning, I read something and I wondered – literally – if the essayist knew that New York and London both should be capitalized. I know the writer and I know she knows, but why doesn’t she do it? In the same light, I am sure that all the essays I edit for college bound kids have used spell check and yet they aren’t fazed by the squiggly, red lines that appear on their pages. Why don’t they care? Yes, I remind myself, my own daughter’s writing is compelling, soulful, original, and even funny sometimes and that is far more important. Writing is not texting though. Why has writing become a brainteaser? Is it possible that the message gets lost when we have to spend time figuring out the riddle that just a little punctuation and lack of abbreviation might explain more clearly? I digress. I am complaining about the text message I could have gotten from any of my three children that has tended to baffle me for ten minutes until I realize it was simply telling me that he/she would be late for dinner. Just say that! When did L8 become late and is there still a chance that we can twist this resourceful spelling/abbreviating game into a better use of these children’s creativity? True, I do want to keep my aging brain productive and I know that a good brainteaser can assist in that, but I still would much rather be mystified by some sort of real writing. I am not asking for more meaningful texts. I understand there is generally no witticism required for I will be late for dinner, but then I am brought back to the essayist. London, like New York always gets a capital! I’ve been to both cities and I assure you, they both deserve it.

As I am sure many people have complained and blogged about this topic before, I will go back to thanking my sweet daughter for her inspiration and continue anticipating her next blog. I will hope and pray that sooner rather than later educators will wake up and realize that we can teach children to write properly while being creative. One does not have to follow the other, nor should it. I will renew my focus on the issues that have become forefront for me – interracial adoption, dropout prevention, and infertility – and be grateful for this opportunity to get involved again. I will not complain when I am stymied by the spelling on an essay I am editing and I will find merriment in the vision of brilliance behind the grammatical errors. I will. I will. I will.

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Lessons My Father Taught Me

I have to admit, I like mother’s day so much more than father’s day.  At this point in my life it is simply, because it is the one day of the year when I get totally smothered in appreciation and pampering.  For twenty years, as long as I have been a mother, my family has done their very best to bring a new meaning to mother’s day.  They make it all about me, not about the mother I lost when I was just a teenager.  And that is just fine, because there is still not a day that I don’t think of my mother, cherish her memories and thank her for helping to make me into who I am today.  Even the fact that she left me so early in life impacted me enough to mold me; hopefully by now, in a good way.  I like to think she was able to cram all that I needed from her into just seventeen years.  I am sure I could have gotten more beyond that; I don’t know what it is to be an adult with a mother or even a mother with a mother of her own, but I have a blessed angel that follows me throughout my days, my ventures, my trials and tribulations and I am okay.  There are lessons in all of it.

Father’s day, on the other hand, will take on a new meaning this year for me.  Less than six months ago I lost my father and the world still doesn’t seem quite right.  For the past 32 years my father was both parents to me, even at the end when I became more of the parent as he was no longer able.  I am not sure how I will feel on that Sunday in June, but when I think about my father now, I wonder if he knew how much he taught me in life.  Actually, I wonder more if I were to list the basic lessons I got from him, if he would be surprised or annoyed that those are what I choose to acknowledge as the wisdom he passed on.  He probably would prefer to hear that I learned to always put part of my paycheck into savings, or to light the candles every Shabbat, but the greatest lesson I inadvertently learned from my father is to give everyone a chance.  No one I know was friendlier and more willing to lend a hand than my dad.  He talked to people in the checkout line at the supermarket or on the train platform, which can be mortifying for a teenager, but in retrospect I believe he brought smiles to peoples’ faces and that is always priceless.

My father came to this country from Germany as the Holocaust was beginning to unfold.  He shared few stories with us about that time in his life, but what I took away from them was amazement that people could literally harbor a hatred for others simply because they appear different.  Different religions, different colors, different beliefs.  Although my childhood was limited to a pretty flavorless existence, as I ventured into the real world an excitement to explore blossomed.  I still feel fortunate to have been introduced to a slightly different culture just blocks from my own when I began teaching in NYC.  This is where Shades of Gray was born and a passion to keep children in school and open minded developed.  Anyone who knew my dad would never suspect him of teaching me about acceptance.  My best explanation would have to be that we don’t always plan what we want others to learn from us.  It just happens.

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Media Blitz

The news of how people are mistaking my Shades of Gray for EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey has skyrocketed. While I am excited about the media attention, I am more thrilled about the platform it has given me to talk about the issues that are so real to me.  Drop-out prevention, interracial adoption, teachers, teen pregnancy… My illusive fame is opening doors and I can’t be more grateful.  And the reporter asks, “How do you feel about being confused for Ms. James?  Did you read her book?  Are your books similar in any way?”  I continue to smile.  Even the articles that open by quoting my husband saying, “Everyone in town thinks my wife is a slut,” make me laugh a little.  They say any publicity is good.

If it takes a ride on EL James’ coattails to get my message out there, then I will remain thick-skinned and hang on for the jaunt.  The comments that say things about me knowing what I was doing when I chose the title are funny to me.  If they only knew; I am just not that smart – or more importantly, until recently, unfamiliar with the sort of genre Fifty seems to be.  As for the comment claiming it wasn’t important news, perhaps she is right, but if it gets teachers reading and motivates them to bring a little more devotion into their classrooms, then I am more than satisfied.  Am I delighted that through the use of social media and a little misconception I may be encouraging one more infertile couple that there are other ways to become a family?  Yup, I’ll take it.

It is true our titles are similar, though mine is a bit more reality based. Both our books touch on sex, only mine happens in a high school bathroom without the use of handcuffs and is far less explicit.  Perplexingly at first, chapter 11 tends to be one of the favorites of my readers so far; therefore I concede to James’ sagacity that sex undoubtedly sells.  The erotica is justly limited in my Shades, but there is no lack of insinuation and excitement as the reader follows a dedicated teacher through veridical challenges. This is not to say that I am in any way condemning James’ novel(s).  They too serve a purpose and a laudable one at that.  The revitalization of couples’ sex lives is by all means a worthy cause.  I, on the other hand, am anxious to bring more caring into classrooms; to motivate teachers.  Seriously, Fifty serves its purpose – even if just to stand as an example of allowing people the freedom to write and read as they please.  This banning thing is totally bogus.  Both novels provide a glimpse into a world most are unfamiliar with. My story is filled with optimism and controversial subjects that effect many people each day.  My hope is that people will read it and gain a sense of renewed hope in regard to infertility or that more teachers will go back into their classrooms feeling enthusiastic and willing to impart a little bit more of the love that needs to go into making a change.  That those same teachers will learn to look past the lack of sometimes sub-standard conditions and red tape and make a difference in kids’ lives.

It is possible.  As I floated through my first book signing in New York, returning to the city that will forever hold my heart, I was most elated to see some of my old students there.  They are adults that were once labeled “at-risk” and part of the real ACE program twenty-plus years ago.  Now, they are productive members of society, parents of children preparing to graduate from high school and move on to colleges in the fall.  Their gratitude for how our program changed their lives is overwhelming and yet I can’t help but feel that it is I who owes them for how they changed my life by allowing me into their world and teaching me that there are other ways to make a difference.  Not every child learns the same way and these kids needed something a bit different.  At the time I was young, brave and a bit naïve – not unlike Olivia Dalton, my main character, and willing to try subversive tactics to make a difference.  It worked and the best part is that the love I put into teaching I got back tenfold.  Teachers today can’t look to the monetary embellishments their job will give them, but they can certainly take home a good feeling that is far more valuable each day.  I did and I lived to write about it.

So, yes, I will darn my armor one more day as the media compares me to EL James, because just the way I would have done just about anything to save those kids from dropping out of high school, I will do what I can to make my story heard.  They are worth it.  So is my Shades of Gray.

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I’m Not Judging

I hate to keep harping on this, but since it still keeps finding ways to squeeze in to my life, I thought I would share. Yes, I am going to talk about sex again. Apparently, it is a hot topic (forgive the pun). Daily EL James and her Fifty naughty Shades of Grey continue to plague me as I receive friendly emails with hyperlinks to articles, blogs, invitations to discussion groups, You-tube videos of her guest starring on television shows – where I might add she acts all innocent and feigns hours of research that went into her trilogy, when every writer knows that one’s best writing is done when it comes from the heart or at least some sort of experience, but hey, to each his own. Who am I to judge? So what, my own husband has to endure stunned glares from co-workers who think my Shades and James’ are one in the same. Forgive him when after twelve years of parochial school he feels the need to sternly correct them. He finds it difficult to appreciate the humor of the novel confusion. My thirteen year old daughter, on the other hand, thinks it is absolutely hysterical that her friends’ mothers greet me with winks and thumbs up when they congratulate me on my fabulous book. This is not to say that my Shades do not deserve a flashing affirmation, but there is a wink and there is a wink, if you know what I mean. And when a cousin called from New Jersey to clarify that the two books are definitely not one in the same I noticed a slight sense of relief in her voice when I assured her that EL James is not a pseudonym for SJ Hale. Was she truly worried for her own reputation? Nah, I laughed about it once more.

Then I began to reminisce about when I was a kid and Erica Jong’s book Fear of Flying was the “mommy porn” of the day. The difference is that Ms. Jong is a distant cousin of mine and back then I was far too young to understand the winks and flustered awkwardness linked with the association, that I recall my mother finding humorous. At the time I was ten years old and obviously not allowed to read her novel and always wondered why. So, of course, as soon as I could get my hands on it I read it and wondered for years about her infamous zipless fuck. While having tea with my grandmother and Erica’s mother many years later, even then I wondered if the two gray haired, very classy women had read it and understood more than I did. (Years later my question was answered when my grandmother read another of Erica’s books and casually asked me what cunnilingus was. I still turn fifty shades of awkward when I remember that dreadful moment.) If they had read Erica’s Fear of Flying, did they judge her for it? I hoped not, because to this day I still think it was rather plucky and I (inwardly, because I was still too young to understand why) envied her ostensible courage.

It’s true. I am not judging. Kudos to all who have taken either of these books into the bedroom and regenerated a sleepy sex life. Even Dr. Oz supports the book’s many uses and anyone who knows me, knows that Dr. Oz is my guru. What I am concerned with is that others are still appraising each other without full knowledge. We all should know by now that no one really knows what happens behind closed doors, yet we live in a condemnatory society. Even as my friends and I shared way too many behind closed door stories the other night at ladies night out, I try not to judge. I always try to look toward the affirmative. I think Darlene’s unmitigated boldness to share with her eight closest friends her latest find from the sex shop, to which she generously offered up coupons and a field trip for our next night out, is a form of feminism at its best. So what, if Cara laughed until she cried when she was forced to say words like butt plug and Ben Wa balls as we once more discussed Anastasia and her adoring Mr. Grey. And Kathy, it is true, we don’t care if you husband keeps his socks on or not. I am not judging. And you shouldn’t either, because you have either read it, talked about it, plan to read it or have left it on your husband/boyfriend’s nightstand with the hopes that he will skim a chapter or two. As I like to say, it is all good.  Don’t judge.

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Giving Back 2

I spent days perusing more websites in search of the right match for my philanthropic endeavors or, as I prefer to look at it, an opportunity to pay it forward.  I have to admit that while I am enjoying the thrill of finally publishing my first novel, I had a great sense of accomplishment each day I taught in the dropout prevention program that moved me to write Shades of Gray.  Through the magic of Facebook, I have been reunited with many of my old students and delight in their success stories.  My head was full of ideas and websites.

Then Sherice called asking if she could find Shades of Gray on Amazon.  Sherice is one of my students from twenty-plus years ago; one of the many that inspired me to write Shades.  “I don’t really read much, but I want to read this one. I gotta do it while my son is on break from school and I don’t have to spend every night doing homework with him,” she told me.  My emotions stirred as she spoke.  Firstly, the fact that she was going to read anything made me happy.  I encouraged reading in any way I could when teaching.  And then I thought about the fact that she spent her evenings doing homework with her son.  Sherice grew up in group homes and never had a parent to supervise her work.  “I think you will enjoy it, Sherice,” I explained.  “It will remind you of the good times we had in the real ACE Program, but remember this book is fiction.” Sherice assured me that it didn’t matter what she read, because anything that could bring her back to that great time in her life had to be good.  I chuckled at the irony as this was a time in her life when she was labeled at-risk.  “You was an amazing teacher and that program saved my life,” Sherice told me.  I knew then where my first donation had to go.

I hung up the phone and thought about Sherice and many of the others.  A few years ago I met up with about ten of my old students in New York.  We all hugged like long lost family and reminisced about the fun times we had.  They all looked beautiful – well dressed, clean cut and were brimming with stories of jobs and parenthood and everyday successes.  Of course, we hung our heads when we remembered the few that didn’t make it – the one that died of aids in prison, or the one that was shot in a hold up, or the one that no one could find, but was suspected of being a prostitute to support her drug problem, but I spent that evening toasting the successes and I knew then that my work teaching and mentoring these kids, now near forty years old – cough, cough – was worth every minute and every dollar our grant paid for.  And each and every one of them agrees.

A portion of my book sales will be donated to Take Stock in Children a non-profit organization which provides scholarships, mentors and hope to Florida’s most deserving children.   They offer everything I believe works – extensive support, motivation and accountability.  They target at-risk children of diverse backgrounds and work hard to ensure that they graduate from high school and often go on to college or the workforce.  I read on their website, “You can change a life by helping a child build a solid foundation of values, establish goals, improve their academic and life skills, while developing their self-esteem and confidence,” and I was once again transported back to the real ACE kids, who are now amazing adults.  This is for them.  http://www.takestockbrowardfl.org

 

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Giving Back

Happiness never decreases by being shared.  (Buddha)  I feel fortunate to have launched my first novel, Shades of Gray. Part of what is so striking about writing a book is that it gives opportunity to reflect on those who have touched my life, and how, in some way, I may have impacted others.  It’s kind of like what goes around comes around; it’s important to keep that cycle of caring moving forward.  So, I have chosen to dedicate some proceeds from my book signings to charities which can make a difference. Choosing to do that was easy – selecting charities has been a little more challenging, because there are so many important and inspiring organizations to become involved with.  I started to look into a few – and realized that with so many valued philanthropies out there, maybe I could share some, and perhaps spread the word – and the love a bit.  I’m all about sharing the love.

The Toyota Family Literacy Program seemed like a slam dunk.  Olivia, Shades of Gray, teacher was a big proponent of reading and wanted nothing more than to create a family.  I loved everything I read about it.  One of their family literacy models is in New York, where Shades takes place.  One of their goals is to promote literacy while keeping parents involved in their children’s education.  I immediately thought of the chapter where Olivia showed up for parent’s night and no one showed.  That happened to me as well, when I was teaching.  I related through fiction and real life experiences.

A few days after reading about Toyota’s efforts, my niece shared with me a relatively new organization called The Odyssey Initiative.  She is fortunate to know one of its initiators and after zipping through their website, I was convinced that I didn’t just want to donate, I wanted to be involved.   These driven educators have set out to scan the country to find what already works in our schools and catalog their findings.  This is exactly how the real dropout prevention program I helped to develop in the late eighties was created and, for the most part, it worked. The Odyssey Initiative’s creators will then take their success stories and implement them in a new public school to be opened in 2014.  The enthusiasm and optimism alone bowled me over.  It is brilliant! If nothing else, Shades of Gray is about innovative teaching.

Shades is also about inventive teaching and encouraging kids to stay in school and get an education.  That was one of Olivia’s goals.  That is what I wanted when I taught.  I knew that every child that walked through my classroom door had something to offer; they just needed to be nurtured.  If only we could keep more kids in school, other problems could begin mending.  I believe in drop-out prevention.  I’ve seen it work.  That’s why I am drawn towards AT&T Aspire program as well.  They are underwriting national research, providing countless hours of job shadowing for students and providing grants to non-profit organizations focused on helping students graduate from high school and become better prepared for college and/or the workforce.

Then again, adoption plays a large role in Shades as well.  I recently began following The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption on Facebook.  Did you know that you can go right from their website and peruse lists of foster children in need of permanent homes?  As though that isn’t enough to break your heart and want to ask your own sons and daughters to make room for a new sibling, I had to stop and ask myself if we (I thought it wise to consult my husband on this) were truly prepared to grow our family at this time.  I thought of the children I taught that lived in group homes and having spent a fair amount of time with them, I would have adopted many of them, but then reality sets in.  Certainly a noble cause, but are we the right people for that job?  We know full well, having three of our own, that parenting is a life-altering commitment.

The list goes on and on, but I know where my heart lies.  I want to get involved in one that resonates with me at this time.  When the real ACE was created, I had no idea that those children would give me such inspiration and teach me so much.  There are still too many at-risk children in this country, each of them deserving, and surely not enough programs to help them all.  My research continues.  Stay tuned.

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If you prick us, do we not bleed?

As much as it has been fun writing about sex and the various shades of gray on the market right now, lately I’ve read a great deal about Trayvon Martin, but paused at the article written by Michael Skolnik (http://bit.ly/GJHotM). I couldn’t stop thinking about the real ACE kids. While Shades of Gray is fiction, so much of its story happens every day. Although I am not Olivia (Shades main character) – no matter what anyone says, I did once teach in an inner city high school and felt the same sort of devotion to my students that Olivia lives for. I also can recall with great repulsion a time when I stood on Amsterdam Avenue trying to hail a cab. Two of my students, two rather tall African-American teenage boys, stood beside me holding a tattered umbrella above me, as one empty taxi after another sped by. Rob turned to Ty and quietly said, “They ain’t gonna stop with us standing here,” and the boys sauntered away, handing to me their umbrella. Young and naïve, I turned to them and thanked them. It didn’t occur to me until I asked why they were still waiting, leaning against a nearby building twenty feet away out of the drizzle, that they knew what I didn’t. As they succinctly explained in no uncertain terms, I needed to get to a doctor and a taxi wouldn’t stop with them by my side. They would wait to be sure I got picked up.  Almost immediately a yellow cab pulled up and being that I felt pretty ill, I got right in, feeling as though someone had just punched me in my already upset stomach. The reason the boys were with me in the first place was, because they were concerned when I turned somewhat green during class earlier. They were protective and caring. The color of their skin had nothing to do with it, but the cab drivers – many of which were people of color as well, didn’t seem to care.

Twenty-five years later I am still appalled by the truth that I learned that afternoon. Worse yet I am saddened to think that not much has changed for their children. I wonder if a taxi would stop for those same boys that are now men and I believe I know the answer. It doesn’t matter that those men are honest gentlemen, hard workers, involved in their communities and devoted fathers.

Skolnik wrote about Trayvon Martin being shot simply, because he looked suspicious. I too wonder what suspicious looks like, because, just like the next guy, I have been paranoid in a parking lot, concerned about the look in the eyes of the guy across from me on the subway and crossed a street before I actually needed to. I can’t explain why though. And, I can’t stop thinking about Trayvon’s mother and how she probably bought those oversize clothes for her son, so he could go to school feeling like he fit in. Is she any different from the parents who buy their children clothes that scream Juicy or True Religion or whatever the flavor of the day may be? She wanted her child to go off to school with that same confidence and sense of assimilation that the rest of us do. I am positive it never occurred to her that those invariable jeans and hoodie would contribute to his demise. Trayvon’s attire could have been different. The color of his skin, the color of all our skin, is part of what Skolnik calls, “the card I was dealt.” How many of us will admit that the color of one’s skin determines whether or not we should cross the street? Pick up a fare? Pull a weapon?

It is funny; my book was originally titled Colorblind. Somewhere along the way it got changed to Shades of Gray. Of course, that too has created its own frenzy. (Thank you E.L. James for your Fifty Shades of Grey as I am enjoying the ride on your coattails.) When I began writing my Shades of Gray, its main focus was to somehow defuse the world of this unnatural state of paranoia. Ok, so my goals may be a little lofty, but you can’t blame a girl for trying. Perhaps if we all started to think like Olivia and Tom and became a little more colorblind, Ms. Martin wouldn’t be mourning the loss of her child. Possibly, there would be fewer orphans in this country. And maybe when I walk down the street with my tall dark friend in baggy pants and an oversize sweatshirt people would smile and mean it, rather than worry for my safety, because truth is; I couldn’t find a more morally upright friend than my friend from the hood. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? (Shakespeare). Trayvon did. Too many faceless, hoodie wearing others will too if we remain quiet.

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Sex Sells…or so I am Told

My daughter thinks my last blog was appalling being that it insinuated that her mother, at some point in her life, may have (please note past tense) been a sexual being.  Four times, she allotted me, given that I have three children and she so generously threw in a wedding night conjoining.  I understand that no child, even ones of adult age, prefer to envision their parents in a lascivious light.  I get it; I had parents too.  I can recall sitting at the bottom of the steps that lead to my parent’s bedroom late one night, holding my little sister back from interrupting the giggling and who knows what we heard going on up there.  Surely we were too young to know what it really meant, but I do know that it gave me a warm and secure feeling inside.  I thought it was love that we wanted to envision, not the hot sex part.  Silly, naive me.

Then a friend sent me an article about how sex sells.  “You need to promote your book through sex,” she told me.  I reminded her that my Shades of Gray wasn’t about sex.  Sure there are lots of characters having sex throughout my novel; which is how chapter ten got to be a favorite of so many of my readers.  And, of course, there is the constant need to have sex based on Olivia’s ovulation schedule or the insinuation of sex that causes so many students to have children or become pregnant.  This is not enough apparently.  Implications are not sufficient; seemingly I need to be pushing the sex card to sell.

Therefore, hard as I try to resurrect my image due to the confusion over my Shades of Gray for the more erotic Fifty Shades (see my last blog), I am afraid I might just have to go with it if I want my book to ever see a best sellers list.  The fabulously promising reviews just might not be enough.  Even my own friends, who have all pledged their adoration for my Shades, ostensibly have needs.  While planning a local book signing for me I got involved in a long and rather comical string of text messages that virtually had me laughing out loud while in CVS.  (I opted to leave the store when I noticed a woman tugging at her child’s hand in order to keep her from the crazy lady: me.)  One friend asked if I could sign leather riding crops rather than my books.  Another suggested personalized bags for one’s Ben Wa balls as a door prize.  (Lilly Pulitzer designed as I do live in a rather upscale suburb.)  Mind you that same friend had to Wikipedia the spelling of Ben Wa balls and at the same time provided us with the useful information that this sex toy can sometimes be used to treat mild incontinence.  That is when Mary (name changed to protect the innocent) decided that she felt a bout of incontinence cumming on. Mary then rushed off to church to repent.  Terri, our agnostic friend (and another feigning purist) wished she too could turn to church to repent, if only she sensed a little Christian in her.   “Ahhh, a little Christian in me would be nice,” a third fan of Fifty Shades chimed in.  It continued for most the morning proving to me that although my Shades may provide a heartwarming, inspirational bit of prose, the real inspiration for getting some people to read these days is through SEX.  Hot, steamy, fresh out of the red-room-of-pain sex.

So much for happy endings – the kind you find in a novel, not a strip club.  Enough with the gleeful feeling two little girls felt at the thought of their parents being in love.  Who cares if the infertile couple (Olivia and Tom) ever has a baby as long as they have tons of wild sex while trying?  I apologize, dear children, I just may have to go the less ladylike route this time, all for the good of marketing, of course.  Enough with the don’t kiss and tell approach.  I confess….Olivia may have been a naughty little girl and is ready to play bad teacher.

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Gray Confusion

Let’s face it, girls talk.  For the most part though, I believe, that of all the things they might say about me, one of them would not be that I am promiscuous or some sort of sexual wizard.  And what my husband might say I won’t confess, or at least not publicly.   Some days I think it would be fun to be that girl, or any other girl for that matter other than straight-laced, two drink maximum, with the same man (happily) for thirty years, but then I come back to earth and realize that my reality is a pretty darn good place to be.  And then a book came out – a book with a title very close to my own and my life and reputation has changed.  Yes Fifty Shades of Grey has changed the way people look at me in the grocery store, restaurants and airplane.  My own children have had to defend their darling mother’s standing, when in truth I’m quite sure they haven’t any idea how drastically different the two books are – because they will never be allowed to read hers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I too have read two of the three of James’ trilogy (I’m pacing myself) and have taken a few notes along the way, but I am not sure I appreciate the insinuations on all levels.  When I went to the local library to donate my novel and the librarian tried to pocket it until she realized that it wasn’t the shade of gray she was hoping for, I chuckled.  When a woman at the deli counter heard that my novel came out and asked the title I knew immediately from the way she turned the color of the tomatoes and leaned in to whisper in my ear, “You wrote that?” that there was a bit of confusion brewing.  At a parent-teacher conference when the teachers congratulated me on my book I smiled, until one of them asked if I really thought it was appropriate for my thirteen year old to be reading it.  Ah, she too thinks I am Ana rather than Olivia only I profess to be neither.

So, what does one do when her reputation has been abruptly skewed (I said skewed, not screwed)?  Well, I’m not entirely sure.  I suppose I could just sit back and bask in the glory of my new found erotic domain, false as it may be.  I could learn to be a better winker when people look at me perplexed, because they too can’t believe that is what has been going on all this time in my little house in the suburbs.  I could hang a pair of hand cuffs from the rear-view mirror of my mini-van (I don’t really drive one, but it seems to fit the demure image I am trying to resurrect here.)  I could go out and buy some very provocative clothing to accompany my new image?  I’ve always coveted that bombshell bra. Or….and more likely…I could wait patiently for all this sex talk to smolder, because that is, in reality, going happen eventually and hope that those same readers will then be up for a good book that is uplifting in a whole different way.  Besides, Tom and Christian have more in common than you know.

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Shades of Gray by Susanne Jacoby Hale

The sirens blared, but all I heard was the sound of my heart thumping as I ran down the unruly hallways of Malcolm High School. Other teachers were urging straggling students into their classrooms and out of danger. I was on a mission. I’d left my co-teachers with our class and rushed through the halls. I had to know that Benz was safe. I wanted to believe—and so I did—that he had nothing to do with the riot that was tearing through the halls of this New York City high school. I would not rest until I knew that he was not one of the injured students. The thought of Benz being one of the instigators of the uprising, the third that year, ruefully crossed my mind. Please be in your Spanish class today, Benz. …

Teenagers were rushing through the halls screaming uncontrollably. Sirens roared and announcements demanded that the hallways be cleared. Security guards with walkie-talkies ran up and down the halls marshaling students into classrooms. Through the windows that flanked the corridors, one could clearly see down all eight floors to the street where a pool of police cars enclosed the school like a perilous moat.

As I hurried down the Foreign Language hallway, I heard some students screaming to me, but their words rushed around me like flurrying snowflakes melting before they ever contacted my skin. Wrangling my way through the sea of madness, I managed to find Benz’s fourth-period class and banged my tightened fist on the classroom door.

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