Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Sunny" Days Are Here Again

To finish out the year, I give you my Nov/Dec '10 Slice of Life column from Lake Mary Life Magazine, about holiday visitors . . . mothers-in-law.
Happy New Year!

Julie's Slice of Life: "Sunny" Days are Here Again*

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, the day most people view as the official start of the holiday season (all except retailers, who, let’s face it, would start putting up Christmas decorations on Independence Day if they thought it would increase sales). And with the holiday season come visits from out-of-town relatives – those who lavishly shower us with the glad tidings and good cheer we look forward to, and those who, like the love bugs that visit our state every May and September, express their love by descending upon their helpless hosts and refusing to leave until they’ve sullied every surface in sight. If you’re lucky, your relatives bear a closer resemblance to the characters in a Christmas carol than a scary movie, but like the saying goes, even the best guests, like fish, can start to smell after a few days.

Unless, of course, the guest is my mother-in-law, Sunny.

When she and my father-in-law pull into our driveway after a sixteen hour car ride from St. Louis, they bring with them a hurricane-force wind of good will and upbeat attitude. You’ve heard of Norman Vincent Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking? Well, I’m convinced that man learned everything he knows from my mother-in-law. When she leaves a few days later, the only reason I could possibly give for wanting to see her go is that, as the perfect guest, her exemplary behavior highlights the fact that I am far from the perfect hostess.

It begins when we open the door to greet them. Where other relatives might whine about the long drive, lament that they didn’t take a plane, or moan about how “beat” they are, my energetic, seventy-something mother-in-law says, “So what should we do first?” And she doesn’t mean take a nap. During her last visit, we went zip-lining at the Central Florida Zoo.

Her conduct as a guest is beyond reproach. When I make a meal, she asks how she can help, and when time comes to clean up, I have to throw her out of the kitchen or she’ll do the job herself while my back is turned. If I forget and leave wash in the machine, I later discover it dried and folded on my bed. If I accidentally sleep in one morning, I wake to find the coffee made and fresh, cut-up fruit on the kitchen table. Where many women I know grow weary from the subtle insults they endure from their mother-in-laws, mine repeatedly tells me I’m just like a daughter to her and thanks me for loving and taking care of her son.

Her presence causes a miraculous change in our children. Suddenly, they don’t fight. They give hugs and kisses without reserve. My fifteen year old daughter, who sees nothing wrong with calling me to bring the car and pick her up from the bus stop at the front of our neighborhood, magically becomes willing to take long walks on the Seminole-Wekiva trail. My eighteen year old agrees to watch The Man from Snowy River, where normally she views any film made prior to 2005 old-fashioned and boring (not to mention, she adds, the special effects are downright laughable).

It’s true. I am that rare breed of daughter-in-law who actually likes my mother-in-law and looks forward to her visits. I love her, too, of course. After all, she’s family. But to like someone can often be a greater compliment because it comes not from obligation, but from genuine respect and admiration for the beneficiary.

Because my mother-in-law resembles Julie Andrews, my husband and I used to watch The Sound of Music with our girls and tell them their grandma was once an actress, and that she played the character of Maria in the movie. Ditto for Mary Poppins. They believed us, and looking back at the nature of both those lead characters, I realize it was as much their grandmother’s cheerful personality as her similar appearance that caused them to fall for our white lie.

No wonder her father nicknamed her Sunny.
*(Originally published in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Lake Mary Life Magazine.)

Monday, December 20, 2010


Bookreporter.com reviewer L. Dean Murphy named RESCUING OLIVIA one of his Top Ten Reads for 2010!

Here's the link to his (and other Bookreporter.com reviewers') Top Ten picks.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

From Kindergarten Cop to College Mom

A few months ago I started writing a new column called "Julie's Slice of Life" in Lake Mary Life Magazine, the community magazine I've been writing for since 2006. We're fortunate to have wide circulation: the magazine is delivered to over 20,000 homes throughout our county and is also available in numerous businesses. I've decided to post the columns here, too, so others outside our area could have the chance to read them. This first one ran in the September/October 2010 issue (hence the references to summer).

Julie's Slice of Life: From Kindergarten Cop to College Mom*

"How much longer?" my agent asks, referring to my next book.

She's anxious to start making the rounds to publishers, to start shopping it. The publishing world pays lip service to quality, but the greenbacks flow most freely to those who can produce a novel a year. Two a year? You're golden.

I'd call myself bronze, at best. I'm lucky if I write a first draft in fifteen months. Two years is more realistic.

"It's summer," I say. "Hard to get any writing done when the kids are home."

And that's true. But here's the thing: I don't want to get any writing done. I want to spend every waking moment with my children, because for the first time since the oldest started kindergarten, I am acutely aware of how few days I have left to watch them while they sleep, or to cook enough decent meals so that they remember me as the mom who fed them well instead of plopping another pizza on the dinner table.

Why this realization?

My oldest daughter is about to leave for college. The younger one, who just entered tenth grade, is not far behind.

I should feel lucky. The parents I know who have college bound kids have already bid their goodbyes. But my daughter's school of choice doesn't start until mid-September; we'll drive her up for move-in and orientation a few days before. So I have a few extra days to hug her and make sure she knows she'll always be my baby. Yeah, just want she wants to hear.

I can still remember vividly the day she climbed the tall steps of the school bus for the first time. We lived in the suburbs of Boston, and if autumn is synonymous with going back to school, autumn in New England, with its brilliant colors and scent of burning leaves in the air, is the quintessence of the season, at once inspiring and heartbreaking. I cried my eyes out when that bus pulled away.

My husband and I followed the bus. Yep, you didn't misread that. We followed the bus. Once we were no longer in our daughter's line of sight, we jumped in our car and quickly started the engine. Turn for turn, stop for stop, we trailed it like two spies in a James Bond movie. When the bus pulled up to the school and lined up behind the other buses to unload the children, we made a small detour, abandoned our car in the parking lot, and took our hiding places behind a bush to watch our daughter disembark. Would she be crying? Would the fear and bewilderment I was sure I'd see on her face cause me to start bawling all over again? Would the school keep the implicit promise it made to all parents and make sure she made it safely from bus to building, building to bus, bus back home again? My husband held our video camera to film this momentous occasion; I lay in wait, ready to spring forward and save the day if our little girl needed our assistance.

When she stepped down, ballet slipper bookbag on her back and posture straight with pride, I smiled. I cried, too, but they were tears of joy. Our Jessie was going to be just fine.

They say you have to cut the cord. It's painful, but all parents do it, sooner or later. I asked both of my girls recently, "Am I a helicopter parent?" The answer was a quick and resounding, "No! Not at all!" I had the sense they knew a few, and I was happy not to be among them. Yet at the same time, I wondered whether I'd been there enough, whether I'd spent too much time with my novels and not enough with my children.

When the last box is set on her dorm room floor, when we've met the roommates and deemed them acceptable, when we've said our final goodbyes and left her behind to start her new life, I only hope my scissors are sharp enough.

My husband, meanwhile, will probably be following her to her first class, video camera in hand.

*(originally published in the Sept/Oct 2010 issue of Lake Mary Life Magazine)

Monday, November 01, 2010

Never Underestimate the Power of a Female Biker

So I didn't get a chance to ride my bike for a few weeks, and then when I went out to the garage a few days before Daytona Biketoberfest to start the bike and make sure it was road ready (because I'd planned to ride down with my Chrome Divas), it wouldn't start. After looking for all the obvious problems, I described the issue to the Divas and several of them suggested I probably needed to charge the battery. I went to the shop near my house (not the Harley dealership, whose employees always treat me with respect and try to earn my business -- someday I plan to move up to a Harley and give it to them . . . ) and bought a battery tender. At this visit, like so many others to this particular shop, everyone ignored me when I walked in (despite the fact that there are always more employees than customers). I approached one of the employees and asked him about battery tenders. After several interruptions where he talked to another employee about this and that, he showed me two and recommended the larger (and more expensive) one. When I asked why, he had no good answer other than the smaller one can get hot. Hmm. I bought the smaller one. It worked fine. My battery did need charging, but I realized, once I charged it, it needed charging because I had run it down trying to start the dang bike so many times.

So, battery problem solved, but the bike still wouldn't start. It's a relatively new bike (I bought it new in Fall '08) and it doesn't have many miles on it. I ride it often, but to Daytona and back is the farthest I've ridden in one trip. So I really didn't think my problem could be anything major, something I couldn't solve on my own with a little research.

I did some searching on the internet for others who owned the same bike and had similar problems. Turns out, my problem was probably the fuel. It had sat too long, and with the new, high percent ethanol fuel, the fuel will go bad faster and can clog the system and the carbs. The solution, based on everything I read, seemed to be something called Seafoam, a type of fuel stabilizer/cleaner. I decided to give it a try.

I went back to the same shop this past weekend (despite my dislike of this place, it's where I bought the bike before I knew better, and it's the closest place around) and asked about Seafoam. They showed me a comparable product which they said worked better. I explained my problem to them, and at least three of the guys standing behind the counter insisted that I would have to bring the bike in to have the carbs cleaned, that the Seafoam-like product only works as a preventative. I asked how long this would take and how much it would cost. Three hours to clean, and another to put the bike back together. Hmm. I'd have to check with the service department to get a cost quote, they said. I didn't need to. I could guess what four hours labor would cost me, plus the cost of towing my bike in, since I don't have a trailer yet.

So I took my Seafoam-like product home and decided to try it anyway. Based on everything I'd read, it was worth a shot.

I added the appropriate amount to my fuel, gave it about an hour, and then tried to start my bike.

Guess what?

Yep, the bike started, and it's been running fine ever since.

Guess what else?

My visit to that particular shop was my last.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Barnes & Noble General Fiction Online Book Club

During the month of November, the Barnes & Noble General Fiction Online Book Club will read and discuss RESCUING OLIVIA. I'll be joining the discussion to hear what readers have to say and answer questions. Hope you'll join in!

Click here for the reading schedule, and for links to sign up with BN's online book clubs (if you don't have an account already).

Friday, July 30, 2010

"So Damn Lucky" (or How I Met Dave Matthews)

I'd been waiting all year for this past Wednesday night. It had been too long (last summer) since I'd been to a Dave Matthews Band concert and I'd been having DMB withdrawal. Plus, they recently announced they wouldn't be touring next year (the first year they've skipped in 20 years), so this summer's shows would have to last me a while. When I found out my Tampa tickets were in the orchestra pit, I was ecstatic. Can't get much better than that, right?

Wrong. It got much, much better than that.

Late afternoon on Tuesday, my DMB concert buddy Robin called me with the news that we were going to meet Dave before the Wednesday night concert. I didn't believe her. I thought she was playing a cruel, cruel joke on me. Robin and I have attended the Tampa shows together since I moved to Florida back in 2003. We even both went on the Dave & Friends cruise back in 2006. Personally, I have lost count of how many DMB shows I've been to all over the United States in the last decade or more, but it's approaching 50, I'm sure. So for someone to tell me I was going to meet Dave Matthews and not mean it? Yeah, that would be a cruel, cruel joke.

Robin's a fanatic like me; I found it hard to believe she would trick me that way, but I found it harder to believe we were going to meet Dave Matthews. I screamed, she screamed, I screamed, she screamed, my daughter who was in the car with me screamed "Mom, stop it! You're hurting my ears!" For about 40 minutes, Robin and I screamed some more.

Turns out, just minutes before, Robin got a call from The Warehouse, the official DMB fan club, of which we both are proud members. (If you're a fan, you'd be stupid not to join the fan club – as a member, you can request concert tickets and know whether you received them in advance of the public on-sale dates.) Each year, Robin and I both request two tickets to the Tampa show, and then we use the two best seats. (This year, because mine were in the orchestra pit, we were using mine.) When Robin picked up the phone, a woman introduced herself and asked Robin how she'd like to meet Dave Matthews. I don't need to tell you: Robin screamed.

We're not sure exactly how they choose whom to call. We don't think it's based upon seniority, because I've been in the fan club a few more years than Robin, and I've never received such a call. The woman gave her a quick briefing – telling her she could bring one guest (moi!), explaining what to do when she arrived at the amphitheatre, informing her that there would be four other fans there, too, with their guests, explaining how each person could bring one thing to be signed and we would all be able to take pictures.

Hmm, what to have signed?? Ever since my first book, Tell No Lies, was published, I've thought about how I might get a copy to the band. I thanked DMB in the acknowledgements section because it was their music most often playing in the background when I was writing the book. (I often joke that I'm not sure I could ever sell movie rights, because then I'd lose control over picking the soundtrack . . .) As corny as it sounds, I wanted them to know how much their music means to me.

So now, not only would I have the chance to give Dave the book in person, I could have him sign one, too. But it's a bit hard to frame a signed book and hang it on the wall in the billiards room (where much of our family's memorabilia hangs). I thought, maybe I should have him sign my concert ticket. Maybe I should have him sign an 8 x 10 glossy of one of the great pictures I took during the cruise show. Maybe I should have him sign a CD cover. Or maybe a band T-shirt? Decisions, decisions.

Nope, it had to be a book. Nothing else seemed as personal, as special, as one of my own books. Rick, Jess, and Sally all agreed: it had to be a book.

So Robin shows up the next day at my house around 2:00 p.m. She comes from Jacksonville, and then we leave together from my house near Orlando. No sooner do we pull onto Interstate 4, it starts raining. We're not surprised. It has rained every year we've been attending the Tampa shows together. Usually the rain and lightning like to have a little fun with us and wait until we're in Tampa, until we're tailgating in the parking lot of the amphitheatre or trying to find our way to our seats. So this seems a good sign. Let's get the rain out of the way.

We giggle like two school girls the whole way. The rain stops almost as soon as it starts, and we turn up the DMB music and sing our way across the state. At the fairgrounds, we set up camp in the heat and spend the next hour and a half wondering what we'll say to Dave and how we'll keep from acting like blubbering idiots. It's all we can do not to tell all the other fans around us that we're about to meet Dave, but we're afraid we'll somehow jinx ourselves. We're sweating profusely because it's SO hot, so every once in a while we get in the car and start the engine to cool ourselves off. Before we know it, it's time to head over to Will Call and wait for our escort. Once there, we immediately see others with the same, amazed "Cinderella at the ball" look on their faces, and we know they're there for the same reason. We keep pinching ourselves, convinced it must all be a dream.

Our serious-faced escort shows up, and Robin, always ballsy, says to him, "Where's your lanyard?" (The woman on the phone told Robin the escort would have a lanyard.) Leave it to Robin to check the guy's credentials . . . Without cracking a smile (you can tell he wants to, though), his hand goes to his waist, where the lanyard is clipped to his pants.

After he checks everyone's names off a list, we're given special stick-on passes that will indicate we're allowed backstage. He then walks us to the back lot, which we enter through a small opening in the fence. About twenty or thirty hopeful fans are loitering around the opening, hoping for a glimpse of Dave or one of the other members of the band (been there, done that), and we feel a bit guilty, because this time we're the lucky ones who get to go in. (This is where my husband would say, "Guilty? Do you know how much money you've contributed to this guy's career? Tickets, airfares, hotels??? You deserve to meet him!")

Inside the fence, we're greeted by the numerous tour buses, lined up, one after another. As we continue to follow our escort, I spot Tim Reynolds walking by in the opposite direction. I nudge Robin and whisper, "Look! It's Tim Reynolds!" One of the guys in our group reaches out his hand and Tim shakes it.

We're led to a small Tiki hut area behind the amphitheatre. There's a bar, stools, and several patio tables, and even though I think I'm about to melt from the heat, the last thing I want to do is sit. The escort gives us a short briefing, which is pretty funny, because after he tells us how Dave will come around and spend a few minutes with each of us, take pictures, sign whatever item we brought to be signed, etc., he says, "But once he's finished and goes on to the next fan, DON'T follow him." In other words, don't be obnoxious.

All of a sudden, here comes Dave. He just walks into the Tiki hut and strolls through the middle of us, heading in the direction we all came in from. He mumbles something, like he so often does (if you know anything about Dave, you'll know what I mean), and then he says, "I'll be right back." So we all stand there looking at each other with our mouths open and our eyes wide.

As promised, he comes back after just a few minutes. The next half hour or so passes in about 20 seconds. He goes from couple to couple, chatting a bit, posing for pictures, signing whatever . . . We're standing near the end of the whole group, which is great because it gives me time to snap some pictures at leisure. He likes to be quite a goof when he poses for pictures, giving the same devilish or silly faces he sometimes gives the crowd when he's onstage. Robin whispers to me, "I hope he doesn't do that for the picture with me." I think it's charming, though, so I don't care what look he gives. He could blow spit bubbles for the picture and I'd be okay with it.

All of us are lined up in a rough half circle, and since we're at the end, I assume we'll be the last ones he greets. Nope. About halfway around, he suddenly crosses the Tiki hut to our side. The next few minutes or so passes in a millisecond. Robin gets her picture taken with him (below), then I get my picture taken with him (first pic at top). In the same way he posed with everyone else, he puts his arm around my back and I put my arm around his back, but I'm so excited that I spontaneously fling my other arm across the front of his belly. It suddenly occurs to me that, oops, maybe I shouldn't do that. Maybe I'm being a bit too chummy. I quickly remove my arm. I think I might have even said, "Oops, sorry." But if he minds or thinks I'm being a bit presumptuous, he doesn't reveal it. Heck, maybe he doesn't even notice. He's probably thinking about his upcoming set list.

But the best part is still to come. I grab my book off the table behind me, and I open to the page near the front containing my acknowledgement to the band and hand it to him. I tell him this is my book, that I'm the author, and I point out the acknowledgement and explain why it's there. Now, mind you, I'm speaking ninety miles a minute because I'm so afraid my time is about to run out, and at first I don't even think he's registering what I'm saying. He's probably thinking, yeah, yeah, let's get on with this. He begins to sign the book, but then all of a sudden he stops and flips the cover over to look at the front jacket. Time seems to stand still (for me, at least). It feels very intentional, the way he stares at that front cover. I'm wondering, what is he doing? He opens the book up again, then, and as he resumes writing, I see him begin to personalize his message, and I get it. He looked on the front cover for my name.

When I recounted this to Rick later, Rick said, "He realized this was personal for you, that you weren't simply going to turn around and sell his autograph on the internet." I don't know if that's true, if Dave ever gave it that much thought, but I like to think so. I like to think he understood how special all of it was for me.

I thank him (at least I hope I did!), and I reach back around to the table for bag of books I brought for him – one of each, Tell No Lies and Rescuing Olivia – signed to him and the band with my own personal note of thanks. Reading material for the long bus rides, I tell him. His assistant, who'd been trailing him the whole time, says "I'll take that for him" and grabs it from me.

Dave is about to move on to the next couple when Robin and I realize he hasn't signed the shirt she brought. It all happens so fast, but I grab a camera and manage to get one more picture – Dave signing Robin's shirt. The escort then tells us to follow him, he'll lead us out. I lean over and tap the assistant on the shoulder, and when he turns to me, I motion to the bag of books and say, "You're sure he'll get these?" He says, "Yeah, I'm on his bus. Don't worry." Who knows if he's telling me the truth? But nevertheless, I choose to believe him.

Once we're out of the Tiki hut and have been set free by the escort, I think we scream again.

The rest of the night is like most Tampa DMB concerts – incredibly hot and sticky – but we barely notice because for the entire evening, we're both floating on this little cloud of pure delight. Our smiles are glued to our faces, and when the band comes onstage, those smiles get even bigger. Our seats (or rather, our standing room spots) in the orchestra pit place us just in front of the stage on the left side, where we feel Carter's every drum beat from the humongous speakers that are so close we can almost touch them. (I'm certain we lost a bit of our hearing Wednesday night.) The fans around us give us high fives when we tell them we met Dave, and like every DMB show, there's a camaraderie I've never felt at anyone else's concerts.
And then, toward the end of the concert, as if the night couldn't get any better, the band plays "Crash Into Me." It's not my all-time favorite DMB song (that would be #41), but if you've read Tell No Lies, you'll know it makes a cameo appearance in the first chapter, so hearing it on this night is extra special.

After the show, still on our dreamy cloud as we walk back to the car, Robin and I realize something: it never rained. A Tampa DMB show without rain. It reminds us of another song they played that night.

"So Damn Lucky."

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Little Shout-Out to the Readers Who Make This All Possible

I get many emails from readers who write to tell me they enjoyed one or both of my books, or sometimes to ask a question about something, the most popular being "Did __ actually do it?" (I won't fill in the blank because I don't want to spoil things if you haven't yet read Tell No Lies.) Next to the actual writing, those emails are the best part of being an author. They are like food for my soul, and I save every one of them. Every single one. I'm still amazed that someone chooses to read my book over the many others available at any point in time, so when a reader goes the extra mile to let me know he/she loved my work, I'm incredibly thrilled.

Every once in a while, though, I receive an email from a reader that truly blows me away. An email that makes me sit back and think, "Wow, someone took the time to do all this to help me succeed as an author, simply because she loved my book."

Today I sat down at my computer to find just that sort of note from Debbie Haupt, a reader who lives near my hometown of St. Louis. Debbie had recently won a signed copy of Rescuing Olivia from an online contest. Not only did Debbie tell me how much she loved the book and that it would receive a "place of honor" in her library, she also told me she planned to pick up my first novel, Tell No Lies, on her way home from work that day, and that she would spread the word about me "to who ever will listen." And she wasn't kidding! She posted a review on her blog, The Reading Frenzy, on the Barnes & Noble site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

An author can't ask for more than that from a fan. :-)

Thank you, Debbie – you really made my day!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ellie Grossman and the "Mishegas of Motherhood"

I've been meaning to write about my Rescuing Olivia book tour, but the demands of the tour itself have kept me from doing so. I'm such a limp rag at the end of each day, I can barely eek out a meal for my family (when I'm home), so trying to eek out words that make sense would be futile. The few times I've tried, the words fell flat on the page. So I resigned myself to waiting. Instead, I've tried to keep folks updated by comments and pictures on Facebook (some are on my regular page, some are on the Fan page . . . still figuring that out . . . Eventually, I'll post some of my favorite pictures here, too.

In the meantime, I'd like to keep a promise I made long ago and introduce my readers to Ellie Grossman (at left, with dog Luci), someone I first "met" when I was promoting Tell No Lies. We have many things in common: she's from St. Louis, too (but unlike me, she still lives there), she's a mom, a writer, a Parkway North alum, and interestingly enough, we share the same name (my maiden name is Grossman), though as best as we can tell, we're not related. I remember her in high school, but she was a grade below me and we never met back then. She wrote to me after hearing about Tell No Lies, and I discovered she wrote a fantastic blog, "Mishegas of Motherhood," which also runs as a column in the St. Louis Jewish Light newspaper. It's been almost two years since I first asked to interview her – she truly is a pillar of patience – and finally, I have. I'll let her do the heavy lifting, but I must say this – she's a funny, funny gal. After you read the interview, check out her website at "Mishegas of Motherhood." You'll be glad you did.

Julie: Tell us a little bit about Ellie Grossman.

Ellie: I knew I was hooked on writing when I was a student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in the mid 1980s and saw my first full-length feature story published on the cover of the Columbia Missourian. My in-depth investigation on the latest trends in salad bars, which included quotes about garbanzo beans from the produce manager, impressed the editor so much that she let me skip class to hang out at a local bar and research the college craze of drinking flavored schnapps shooters with weird names like “Fuzzy Navel,” (made with orange juice), “Buttery Nipple,” (mixed with butterscotch), and “Sex on the Beach,” (blended with cranberry juice). To this day, a fruity cocktail reminds me of my college days and brings a smile to my face.

After I graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Journalism degree in “ego,” I visited the Big Apple to brainstorm ideas with editors at Conde Nast, Meredith , Fairchild, and other major publishers to find out how a Midwest girl like me could break into the freelance writing business. The most important life lesson that I learned on that trip is to never wear high heeled pumps (especially fuchsia colored) when walking up and down the sidewalks of Madison Avenue and Broadway, even though tearing up my shoes and twisting my ankles led to my first paid writing assignment at Woman Magazine.

Right after I landed my first national byline, I got a letter from another magazine writer with my same name, Ellie Grossman the “Grammar Guru”, who told me to change my name because she was in the business longer and it would only confuse editors, so that’s when I started using my initial as Ellie S. Grossman. I’ve had other aliases throughout my career, including L.E. Brighton, that came in handy whenever I wrote restaurant reviews and had to disguise my identity.

Over the last two decades, I’ve written just about everything for a buck, including obituaries, city council meetings, book reviews, advertising copywriting, newsletters, fashion trends, real estate, health care, you name it, but my niche has always been newspaper and magazine features. Right before I got married in 1993 to a fellow native St Louisan, Scott Cohen, I actually had a “real” fulltime job writing direct mail pieces for a medical publishing company—ho hum—but that changed soon after my first child Jack was born in 1995, and motherhood became my new beat. I also have a daughter, Sari, who is now 11 years old.

As a new “stay-at-home mom who never stays home” (that’s my official title on my business card), I started to write about what I know best—fun things to do with kids so parents don’t lose their minds. In those days, I wrote for an entertainment supplement called “Get Out!” in the St. Louis Post Dispatch and toted a stroller and cafĂ© latte all over town, reporting on everything from the best shaded playgrounds to storytelling events at bookstores. I’ve been told by readers that many of my clips ended up on their refrigerator magnets.

Julie: Your blog/column is called "Mishegas of Motherhood." Can you explain the meaning of the Yiddish word "mishegas" for readers who might not know? How did you come to write this column? And how does your family feel about being the subject of some of your columns? Ellie: My proudest journalistic accomplishment, so far, is creating my weekly parenting humor column “Mishegas of Motherhood,” which is published in the St. Louis Jewish Light and picked up by other Jewish media as well. I gave birth to “Mishegas of Motherhood” four years ago, and I must say writing a first-person column has been a great gig and has opened a lot of doors for me, including guest speaking for various organizations and mostly building a loyal readership.

According to The Joys of Yiddish, the word mishegas (pronounced mish-eh-goss) literally means insanity or madness, but I refer to it in my website in a more lighthearted kind of way, such as how kids drive their parents crazy.

Basically, I wanted to find a niche in my writing and do something that hadn’t been done before. There are countless, boring mommy blogs out there, and I wanted to be different, provide something funny and entertaining, but also with value and not just fluff. My writing has always been a little tongue and cheek, but this time I gave it a Jewish twist. My columns are based on my own family and real life experiences, and while I sometimes poke fun at my husband and kids, I never invade their privacy or hurt their feelings, at least not intentionally. Besides, they don’t seem to care or even notice when I write about them because they rarely read my stuff anyway.

Julie: Is it difficult to come up with new topics to write about each week, or do you find they almost write themselves?

I’m never at a loss for story ideas for very long. When it comes to writer’s block, my best advice came from the late, great humorist writer Erma Bombeck, who told me personally at a journalism school seminar years ago, “Writer’s block is like North Dakota. It doesn’t exist. Well, has anyone ever seen North Dakota?”

Julie: You have a section on your website called Readers Favorites. Have you noticed that certain topics tend to become favorites?

Interestingly, I’m surprised at how widespread my readership has grown. According to my weekly website traffic reports, I get hits from all over the world, including Canada, Israel, United Kingdom, Australia, China, and even the small Carribbean island of Tobago, which is actually the birthplace of the limbo, go figure.

While I write about Jewish holidays and traditions and learn a lot about my own religion in the process, some of my favorite columns have nothing to do with being a Jew. For example, I got a lot of feedback on the piece about my preschool daughter’s horrific experience with lice, the philosophical narrative on what dogs teach us about life, and the column on my obsession with the food network (even Paula Deen’s people liked it and sent me a subscription to her magazine). My all time favorite column, “Why Jews Don’t Camp,” won a national writing contest and led me to Hollywood.

Julie: Yes, you've had a brush with Hollywood because of your column! Would you like to share what that was and how it came about?

Back in February 2008, I submitted a version of my column on my family’s camping disaster to an Internet-based sitcom called “In The Motherhood,” and when I got the email that my story was selected to be used as a screenplay for a webisode starring comic actress Leah Remini, I thought it was a hoax. I’ve never won anything in my life, except a lottery ticket that paid me another losing lottery ticket. When I realized that I won a trip for two to Hollywood to meet the cast and producers and watch the filming of the webisode, not to mention a four night’s stay at a hotel on the Sunset Strip and a makeover at a Beverly Hills salon, I started screaming in excitement and went shopping for a new outfit. I wrote about my adventures in Hollywood, of course, and the experience remains a highlight in my career.

Julie: In addition to your column, what other types of writing do you do?

My latest journalistic endeavor is to get into children’s book writing. In fact, I’m working on a proposal right now about my favorite subject of all, my toy poodle named Luci. So if anyone out there knows a good agent . . .

I’ve also heard positive things about self publishing, so I’m still trying to figure it all out. I have great admiration for writers like you, Julie, who are disciplined enough to get their books published and are rewarded for their hard work and talents. For me, the process of writing a book is daunting enough, plus pounding the pavement and marketing myself through blogs and social networks seems overwhelming. I’ve been writing professionally for more than two decades now, and my dream to publish a children’s book. With a lot of hard work and good luck and chutzpah (perseverance), it will happen.

Thanks so much, Ellie! In my humble opinion, though talent is required (and you clearly have that), it's often perseverance that is the key to open doors. I suspect, given what you've accomplished so far, you have a lot of that, too. Best of luck with the column and your children's book in progress!

Don't forget to check out Ellie's website at

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

RESCUING OLIVIA hits US bookstores today!

Rescuing Olivia officially hits bookstores today! I'd love it if you'd help me spread the word. Wondering how you can help? Here are some ideas:

1. Look for Rescuing Olivia in your local bookstore. If they don't have it, ask them to order it. (If it's there, and your phone has a camera, take a picture with you holding it and I'll post it online!)

2. If you like to shop online, online buyers can find Rescuing Olivia at numerous places online: Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Target, Indiebound, and Powells, to name a few.

3. If you like to get your books at the library, ask for Rescuing Olivia at your local branch, and if they don't have it, ask them to order it.

4. Rate the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, Shelfari or any other online service, and give a one or two sentence review. It doesn't matter if you bought the book or read it through your library. You don't have to purchase a book to review it.

5. Tell your friends and family about the book. Repeatedly. Make them so sick of hearing about it that they'll go out and buy it just to shut you up. :-)

6. Mention Rescuing Olivia on your blog, Facebook or Twitter.

7. If you belong to a book club, consider choosing Rescuing Olivia as an upcoming selection. I've got book club questions on my website, and there's a form for clubs to contact me to arrange a visit, either live or by phone.

8. If you are part of a group or organization that is planning a conference and looking for a speaker, or workshop leader, suggest my name.

Many readers unfamiliar with how the book industry works don't understand the importance of those first few months after a novel's release. The shelf life of most books – unless you're a well-known bestseller – is pretty short. So every bit of buzz helps.

Thank you to everyone who has cheered me on! You're the best!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Nice profile in The Big Thrill, ITW's newsletter

Lj Sellers did a really nice profile piece of me and RESCUING OLIVIA in the February issue of The Big Thrill, the online newsletter of International Thriller Writers, that just came out today. Thanks Lj!

Here's the link: The Big Thrill

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thank you Naples Florida Weekly for a great review of RESCUING OLIVIA!

Naples Florida Weekly had a really nice write-up of Rescuing Olivia in this week's print edition. The online link won't be available until February 11, but here's a taste:

"Ms. Compton paces the story majestically, giving just enough new information in each scene to raise new questions that pull the reader forward. A fascinating cast of characters deepens the story. And as she does with the people in her story, Ms. Compton also makes each of her major settings – Florida, New England and Africa – contribute mightily to the imagistic and emotional power of the novel. By making a seemingly ordinary guy like Anders Erickson her central character, Ms. Compton goes against the grain of much contemporary suspense fiction written by woman. Most of her peers select a female protagonist, but Ms. Compton does a remarkable job of portraying a flawed yet sympathetic male hero." Naples Florida Weekly

Saturday, January 30, 2010

RESCUING OLIVIA is in Stores! (A bit early . . .)

Stopped by the Barnes & Nobles on Colonial here in Orlando to see my book on the shelf. (When I was talking to the manager the day before, he mentioned he already had the book out.) I'm so pleased to see that it's not only out, it has its OWN TABLE! And a wonderful window display, too. Barnes & Noble really does advertising well. Thank you, Geoffrey at BN!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Should a seven year old child be in a tanning booth?

A seven year old girl spending time in a tanning booth? And everyone from her mother who called to make the appointment (who I have to believe is the instigator of this activity) to the employee at the salon taking the call, thinks it's okay? When Rick came home from getting his haircut to share this story with me, I simply couldn't believe it. But then, I live in an area where boob jobs and Botox injections are more common than palmetto bug sightings. A seven year old in a tanning booth really shouldn't surprise me.

I'm the first to admit I've been guilty of sun-worship. I have darker, olive skin to start with, and it tans easily. I'm from the generation of women who, as teens, used to slather baby oil on every inch of our bodies and lie in the sun holding album covers wrapped in foil near our faces to speed the process. We didn't know any better then.

Even now, some of my favorite days are the ones spend in a beach chair next to the ocean, reading a good book and soaking up the rays. Rick sits under a large beach umbrella, but I place my chair outside its shadow. I'm a little bit smarter than when I was sixteen, though; I wear suncreen with a much higher SPF, and I reapply it often. And now that I live in Florida, I no longer sit in the sun six days in a row to get as much color as possible before I return north from vacation. My long days in the sun are few and far between, and they're no longer the goal, but merely the byproduct of a day at the beach. I know there's no such thing as a safe tan, but like the smoker who continues to smoke even as he's hacking away, I accept it as my one vice that has the potential to kill me and so I make an effort to do it less and less.

Yet I'd be lying if I said the only reason I'm more careful in the sun is to protect myself. No, what finally compelled me to limit my time in the sun and wear stronger suncreen was the need to protect my daughters, and to teach them good habits. My oldest daughter, Jessie, has my husband's skin -- fair, and quick to burn. It's never been too difficult to convince her to wear sunscreen. She has seen how fast she'll turn lobster red if she doesn't. She often wears a shirt over her bathing suit, and she always sits under the umbrella if she's not in the ocean on a boogie board. But Sally has my skin, and she believes she's invincible. She gets dark fast, and she thinks that means the sun won't hurt her. I try to explain that a tan is evidence of the sun's damage, but my explanations fall on deaf ears. Instead, I simply become the mean mom and insist she wear sunscreen and reapply it often. Even coated with 30 SPF suncreen, she still gets dark, and when I take her to the pediatrician, I always get a lecture about skin cancer. Her doctor takes one look at Sally's skin and disbelieves my assurances that I make my children wear suncreen.

So when Rick came home from getting a haircut to tell me about the mother making a tanning bed appointment for her seven year old daughter, I was appalled. Huh? He expressed the same disbelief to the salon employee, and she defended the decision. "The tanning bed is safer than the sun." Really? People really still believe that?? And how about the fact that no one has considered why a seven year old needs a tan in the first place?

Someone please tell me this type of thinking is the exception and not the norm.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Please meet . . . Margaret Reyes Dempsey, author of THE BENEFACTOR!

Today I'm delighted to introduce Margaret Reyes Dempsey, the author of The Benefactor. My friendship with Margaret is another one of those "would have never met her but for my book" type of stories. Interestingly enough, Margaret and I attended the same university, Washington University in St. Louis, and we graduated only one year apart. (I confess. I'm the older one.) We probably walked the same halls at the same time, because she majored in Spanish and I majored in English but also took plenty of French classes, and all of the Romance languages were in the same building. But we never met. Until, years later, when Margaret saw a blurb about my first novel, Tell No Lies, in our alumni magazine and wrote to congratulate me. At the time, I was renting a little house for a week up near the coast in Georgia, a little retreat in the middle of the swamps where I go sometimes to write. I take my dog Wolfie and we have a nice, quite week away. Her email came as a surprise, and feeling as isolated as I did out in the boondocks, I was happy to have someone to correspond with. Turns out Margaret was a novelist, also, still trying to get published, and we've been writing to each other ever since! (We've even travelled with each other – see my July 06, 2009 post.)

Well, Margaret is no longer trying to get published. She is published. The Benefactor is romantic suspense novel featuring Kate Barrett, a girl who begins receiving anonymous gifts from someone called Secret Friend after the tragic deaths of her parents when she is eight years old. Years later, after landing a challenging job and the apartment of her dreams, she is caught off guard when another package shows up at her now unlisted address. Troubled that someone is watching her every move, she sets out to discover the stranger's identity.

Margaret took the time to answer a few questions about herself and her writing. (She has a great personality, as I think you'll see from her answers.)

How did you come to write The Benefactor? What initially sparked the idea for the story? Is the story that made it into the published novel the same one you began with?

Exactly four years ago, I was reading the newspaper and saw a brief article about money stolen from a church's poor box. In my typical fashion, I started asking "why" and "what if," jotted down a few notes, and filed it all away since I was already in the middle of writing a novel. A year later, I had finished that novel and was submitting it and wanted to start a new project. I peeked into my Ideas folder and found the notes I had written a year before. I decided that was the next story I wanted to write.

The story in the published novel is somewhat different than my first drafts. I ended up doing a rewrite of the story after my "first readers" reviewed it. I just felt it was missing something. I think what I ended up with is better.

What did you do upon first learning that your novel had been accepted for publication?

That was an odd day. I had just visited my son's fourth grade class for an authors' party--the kids had written books about endangered animals. We walked around the classroom, read their stories, and signed their fan pages. On my son's page, I wrote that I was proud of him and that he could now say he was published before his mom. A half hour later I arrived home to find the email indicating my novel had been accepted. I jumped, screamed, ran around a bit, and hyperventilated. Later that night, a friend and I went to a book signing for Mary and Carol Higgins Clark. I told them the news and they were so excited for me. It was nice to see that they hadn't forgotten the thrill of that first acceptance.

Tell us a bit about your writing history and your journey to publication. Is The Benefactor the first novel you wrote, or do you have others tucked away in a drawer somewhere?

No, no, no and yes, yes, yes. My very first novel was called Survival of the Fittest. I started it in 1987 and rewrote it dozens of times over the past 20 years. It in no way resembles the original story. In fact, it's so different, I could finish the last version and the first version and no one would realize they were the same book. That one is kind of like the child who never grows up and moves out.

After that, there were about a dozen half-finished novels, which are bulging out of my file cabinets. In 2005, I was finally sufficiently disgusted with myself to actually finish a novel. I'll never forget the day I printed out the entire Self-fulfilling Prophecy manuscript. It was like giving birth. The very first one I ever finished. Though that one was never accepted for publication, it will always be special to me.

What writers or other people have influenced you? In what way?

The biggest influence in my life was my grandmother, Nana Mickey, a creative person who was not aware of her own giftedness. She used to babysit for us every Saturday night and thrill us with her made-up stories of smugglers and kidnappers at the South Street Seaport. Each week she'd leave off at a cliffhanger to be continued the following week. When I was a bit older, I would raid her bookshelves for romance novels. I think that's why I've always been drawn to write stories that were suspenseful and romantic.

I know she's smiling down on me, no doubt proud that I've been published. She was always my biggest fan. What a blessing it was to have a whole squad of cheerleaders wrapped up in one cuddly grandmother!

Tell us about Margaret Reyes Dempsey.

I am nothing if not enthusiastic and intensely curious. I love new experiences--visiting new places, meeting interesting people, trying new foods. I'm always thinking. I have a team of hamsters in my head and they are always on their wheels, spinning, spinning, spinning. I'm less interested in the "who" and "what" as I am in the "why." I love "what if" scenarios. It's how I create stories. I start with a nugget and then ask what if this happened or what if that happened; before you know it I'm onto something.

My biggest thrill in life is helping people see their own gifts. It's a shame that so many people aren't aware of just how creative they are. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who just cooked a magnificent dinner for a big party and they're lamenting the fact that they have no talents? Or the person who whips up dozens of beautiful, hand- knit scarves for the holidays and wishes they were creative when they hear you've published a novel? My jaw drops and I want to shake them by the shoulders until they realize just how gifted they are. :-)

Besides my fiction writing side, I also happen to be an entrepreneur. I own a consulting company specializing in technical writing. The experience I've acquired in promoting my business is a huge asset in promoting The Benefactor. Unpublished writers may not be aware that, these days, once you're published, the marketing of your book is mostly up to you. Fun, fun, fun.

And speaking of fun, I believe writing should be fun. Not to say it isn't hard work, but hard work can be fun when you're passionate about what you're doing. I think a lot of needless, personal suffering in life is due to people not following their passions. But this is just my opinion. There's room for others. In fact, I was recently talking to a writing pal and mentioned that I'd jumped ahead in one of my writing projects because I got bored in the current scene and wanted to keep it fun. He was a bit horrified and told me we were supposed to suffer as writers. I laughed hysterically at this and we bantered back and forth until he finally acknowledged we were approaching it from two different directions. I agreed and told him he was "approaching it from pain and suffering and I was approaching it from pleasure and joy. Whatever works for you. Jumping ahead has reinvigorated my writing, it's energized me, it's given me insight into my writing process, and now it's provided something to discuss in Julie Compton's interview. So thank you for disagreeing with me."

What's the one thing you think readers would be surprised to know about you?

When I was eight years old, my lifelong dream was to be a cashier. Alas, I never had the pleasure of fulfilling that dream. However, as a technical writer, I have written several training manuals on how to use sophisticated cash registers. :-)

Okay, I'll admit it...when my son was just a toddler, I played with his toy cash register after he'd gone to sleep.

All right. I'll give you one more. I'm a pretty quirky person. I can't eat the end slices from a loaf of packaged bread. Yuk!

Which authors do you like to read? What books are currently stacked in your "To Be Read" pile right now?

I have eclectic tastes when it comes to reading--anything from beach-read novels to medical textbooks. The following books have been sitting patiently on my bookshelf, waiting to be opened. I purchased many of them just before I found out The Benefactor was accepted for publication, and it's been a whirlwind ever since.

The Anatomy of Story - John Truby
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
The Scottish Novels - Robert Louis Stevenson
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke
The Art of War - Sun Tzu
The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Inheritance - Natalie Danford
Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult
A Great Deliverance - Elizabeth George
Gaslit Nightmares - Edited by Hugh Lamb
Daniel Deronda - George Eliot
The Princess Bride - William Goldman
Republic - Plato
1001 Ways to Market Your Books - John Kremer (Guess I should move this one to the top of the list, eh? :-))

What's next for you? Is there a work-in-progress readers can look forward to?

I actually have three works in progress. The latest one was a crazy idea. In the busiest month of my life, with book promotion tasks piling up, I decided to join the NanoWrimo contest and attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November. The idea comes from a real life experience--I was having odd dreams after which I'd wake up feeling there was something very important I had forgotten. I know it was just my mind's way of dealing with the anxiety of being a newly published author, but the idea appealed to me as a story. I started asking my "what if" questions and ended up with a psychological/scientific thriller. I didn't complete 50,000 words by November 30th, but I'm happy with the 25,000 or so I've written so far.

Another work in progress is a romantic comedy novel I'm writing in collaboration with Richard Lamb, a screenwriter from the UK. We met online, have been writing our novel online, and the online theme carries over into the novel. It's the kind of thing that makes you pause and consider what a miracle it is that we can make friends with people in other countries and conduct business all with the click of a mouse. The best part is I don't have to get out of my pajamas for meetings. :-)

The third work in progress is a suspense novel I started last year just before I got the good news about The Benefactor. It starts off as a deceptively simple murder mystery, but it doesn't end up that way. In fact, I'm not sure how it will end. I have two possible paths to explore.

How can readers contact you and learn more about you and your books?

My website http://www.margaretreyesdempsey.com/ provides one-stop shopping. You can read about The Benefactor, hear the latest news about my journey as an author, find upcoming events, access my personal blog, print photos of me to hang on your refrigerator (kidding), access links to buy the book, and send me an email. I love to hear from readers and respond to all emails I receive.

Thanks so much, Julie. This has been lots of fun. Happy New Year to you and your readers.
You're very welcome, Margaret. Thanks for stopping by!
For those in the New York, Long Island area, Margaret will be signing her books this Saturday, January 16, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, NY. Proceeds will be donated to the LIV LIFE MS Walk Team (LI Chapter of the National MS Society).

Saturday, January 09, 2010

New Year's Predictions, How Eerily Accurate They Were

Happy Birthday Dave Matthews! (43 today)(picture taken by yours truly!)

Sometimes I mention things I love about being a writer (other than the actual writing, which is a given). For example, hearing from old friends. Another is meeting new ones. Another is meeting other authors. Writers tend to be a friendly bunch, and mystery and thriller writers, in particular, are some of the nicest people I've met. I mention this today because yesterday I was interviewed for an upcoming feature in The Big Thrill (International Thriller Writers' online newsletter) by Lj Sellers. I'd never met nor spoken to Lj before, but I immediately felt at ease with her and wished we lived in same town to meet for coffee. Alas, she lives on the Northwest coast, and here I am in the East. But hopefully, we'll see each other soon at a writer's conference. Check out Lj's website.

Now, on to the topic of the day: New Year's predictions.

On Thursday, one of the most interesting and unexpected pieces of mail showed up in my mailbox. It was an envelope from my good friend Karen in Boston. (I realize as I write this that Karen gets mentioned a lot in my blog. See my Feb. 28, 2008 post and my July 21, 2009 post. I wonder how she feels how about that?) It was a regular size envelope, but it felt slightly thicker than a regular piece of mail and, even more unusual, it was addressed to both me and Rick. It was also unusual because Thursday was her birthday; I remember thinking, why is she sending me something on her birthday? I'd sent her a present, and had left a voicemail message earlier for her, but we hadn't talked yet.

Still, I didn't open the envelope right away because I was running out to drop off my youngest daughter Sally at volleyball practice. When I returned home, I jumped in the shower before Rick got home; we planned to have dinner out together and then pick up Sally from volleyball. (In case you haven't noticed, we spend a lot – I mean a lot – of time driving Sally to and from volleyball.)

Well, Rick apparently opened the envelope while I was in the shower; later, at dinner, he told me what it contained: a cover letter from Karen asking, "Do you remember where you were ten years ago?" – referring to New Year's Eve 1999 – and then proceeded to remind us. We had been at a New Year's Eve party at Karen's house. We had already moved to Philly at the time, but we drove up to Boston the day before, stopping in New York City to see the Times Square preparations for the big turn-of-the-century party the next night.

Karen's cover letter reminded us who was there, what we ate, what we did, etc. But here's the most interesting part: underneath the cover letter were two pieces of confetti-decorated paper, one in my handwriting, one in Rick's handwriting. At the top was typewritten, "Happy New Year!" and the question, "What do you expect your life to be like in 10 years?" Following that question were our handwritten (quite sloppily – I think we were a little tipsy) predictions. Reading mine gave me the chills:

Will have:
(1) published something, anything
(2) jumped out of an airplane (with a parachute, of course)
(3) travelled to various parts of the world – Africa, Europe, Russia, etc.
(4) obtained my instrument rating
(1) be a mom my kids still talk to and want to spend time with
(2) live anywhere but PA – preferably near a beach
(3) spend at least one New Year's Eve in Times Square – perhaps the real millennium
(4) be healthy

Wow. I wrote these things ten years ago. I think my batting average is pretty darned good.

I'm published.

I haven't jumped out of the airplane yet, but my daughter Sally (yeah, the volleyball fanatic) intends to do it for her 18th birthday (a few years off) and I have told her I will do it with her.

We travelled to Europe (Belgium, to be specific, to attend the wedding of our friends Jolanta and Ronny) and the UK, and even Africa, which plays a large part in Rescuing Olivia. Russia is still on the list.

I haven't obtained my instrument rating yet, but it's still on the list, too.

I think my kids still like to talk to and spend time with me. You'd have to ask them, I guess. :-)

We live in Florida, which most certainly is not Pennsylvania and is near the beach. To be fair to PA, I wrote my list not long after moving away from Boston. I loved Boston and didn't want to leave. But I grew to love PA pretty quickly, and I cried my eyes out when we left for Florida in 2003.

We haven't spent New Year's Eve in Times Square, but we did go to the Macy's Day Parade one Thanksgiving and, as fun as that was, I think I no longer have the need to be in a NYC crowd during a major event. I guess that means I'm getting old!

And lastly, I consider myself healthy. I don't run as much as I used to, but I eat well, don't smoke, and my only real vice is the sun, and even that I don't abuse too much any more because I simply don't have the time.

All in all, not bad. What I found most interesting about my list from ten years ago is how well I knew myself. I've always been a goal-oriented person - probably too much so. Darn it, if I want to do something, I want to do something. LOL! This attitude comes in handy in the publishing business, where roadblocks exist at every turn. If nothing else, I know how to persist.

So what are your predictions for yourself? Where will you be ten years from now? Make a list, tuck it away in a safe place, and you've given yourself a neat little present for 2020. Just remember, no peeking!

Next up: an interview with Margaret Reyes Dempsey, the author of The Benefactor.