This blog first appeared for Women and Words, January 22, 2017 (Womenwords.org)
I was brought up an orthodox Jew so we had rules about everything. You could eat a chicken if its neck was slit but not wrung; on the Sabbath you could read a book but not play the piano, write or switch on a light; you were expected to attend services every Saturday, but only if you could walk to get there. I never minded all these rules and regulations because I loved my Judaism. In fact, I planned on going to seminary and becoming a Rabbi’s wife. But life has a way of bringing about surprises and instead of becoming a Rabbi’s wife, I ended up making out with one(true story).
You might be wondering what any of this has to do with lesbian fiction. One of the issues my new suspense novel, Devoted, deals with is what happens when long-held beliefs clash with adult reality. Ashley Glynn suspects her beloved sister, Lizzie, was poisoned and she’s determined to find out who did it. But unraveling the mystery of her sister’s death forces her to face the conflict between her religious beliefs and long-suppressed sexual desires.
Devoted is a mystery novel that will keep you on your toes, whether or not you have any interest in faith issues. (You can read the first chapter here.)Early reviews have described it as “a page-turner” with “strong writing and great character development.” It’s in the same genre as my previous novel, Along Came the Rain, which has been described variously as a psychological whodunit, a cozy mystery, and domestic noir.
In Devoted, Ashley is dealing with the loss of her sister. In my own life my beloved Mum died just a few weeks prior to Devoted’s release. Judaism has very specific guidelines about mourning. I’ve spent my adult life sifting through the hundreds of religious rules I learned as a child, figuring out which ones I still want to keep. Despite my ambivalence about certain aspects of my religion, going through the Jewish rituals of mourning and shiva was incredibly comforting in a time of sorrow.
This blog will publish two days after The Unthinkable. Whatever our belief systems and whatever the loss, finding rituals of comfort is something we all need in challenging times. What rituals help you take comfort? Let me know – and don’t forget to check out Devoted.
For days and weeks the evening sky of Gulfport, Florida crackled with thunder and lightning and residents asked themselves, “but when will it rain?” While other areas in Pinellas county and across the bay in Tampa received regular downpours, Gulfport remained dry. Until the evening of July 13th. The Nextdoor Book Club was just sitting down to their monthly meeting at the Peninsula Inn, to which they'd invited me as guest speaker. Just as we were about to begin, the thunder and wind suddenly turned into what everyone had hoped for: a heavy downpour of rain.
“That’s the answer!” Exclaimed Suzanne Bogacki pointing to my novel which they were there to discuss. Of course you know the title: “Along Came The Rain.” So, if you’re tired of watering your garden and your plants are wilting, the answer might just be to start your own book discussion group. Just don’t select “The Dry Grass of August,” or “Bone Dry” as the summer choice.
I’m a jigsaw puzzle addict. Give me a 1000 piece puzzle and I will bury myself in it and barely come up to eat or sleep.
What I love about jigsaw puzzles is the process. You start with a mass of diverse pieces, none of which make sense on their own. With an image as your guide, you put the pieces together one at a time, until gradually, out of the chaos, the picture forms. For those who write novels, you will recognize this process. Writers have glimpses of ideas, characters, phrases and plot and then we work, word by word, sentence by sentence to make them all fit together into a coherent and startling whole.
Completing a puzzle and finishing a book both bring rewards. But this week I realized an important difference between those rewards. So let me tell you a little about the book and then I’ll get back to the puzzles.
I was thrilled with the very first book review for Along Came the Rain. It was written by Thalia Chase (click here to see the full version.) She said that not only did she love the book, but she was sure it would spark a lot of discussion in book reading groups. She couldn’t wait to talk about the novel with other people who’d read it.
And that’s when I realized what books give you that puzzles can’t.
Both puzzles and books provide hours of pleasure as they stimulate the mind. But if a book is good, it provokes a response from the reader; it makes her want to talk about it, and hear what other people have to say.
When I read Thalia’s review, I realized that her reaction was exactly the one I was looking for. Not only do I want people to enjoy my novel, I want them to feel like they need to talk about it. The novel deals with issues that are both thought provoking and controversial. I’m looking forward to some heated discussions about it!
My love of books was fostered by my Mum. She’s also the one who introduced me to the challenge of 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles. Five days after my novel is published, I’ll be visiting Mum at her Alzheimer’s facility. (She lives in my native UK, I live in the USA.) On my last visit, I tried to help her complete a 12 piece child’s puzzle of Noah’s ark, but when it was clear she couldn’t do the puzzle, we put it aside and looked at a picture book instead. This time when I visit, I’ll show her my novel and even though she can still read, I don’t think she’ll remember who Alison R. Solomon is. She knows her daughter as Alison Trenner, the maiden name I gave up almost 35 years ago. I suspect when I show her the book she’ll say, “Who’s Alison Solomon?”
Mum may not know, but I do. I’m the one whose book you’re going to recommend to your friends or book club so you can have a discussion about it. I’m the Puzzled Writer.
(A version of this blog originally appeared on Women and Words.)