Sunday, June 30, 2013

Memoir Review: Reaching by Grace Peterson

As you may know, I'm focusing on the work of fellow memoirists and today I am reviewing Grace Peterson's riveting memoir, Reaching.  The product of a dysfunctional family, she refers to her parents only as "the mother" and "the father," clearly letting readers know how distant and disinterested they were in her and her siblings as well.  Traumatized by moves, bullying by schoolmates and the tragic death of her best friend, she struggles to find her place in the world.  Convinced that she is possessed by a demon or is perhaps a demon herself, she turns to a "healer" who is anything but.  Yet she manages to find love, raise four children and finally extricate herself from the healer's power.  Through courage and therapy she pulls herself together and invites the reader to share her journey.  I give this book 5 stars  It's available on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Writing Our Lives: Interview with Mirta Trupp, Author of With Love: The Argentine Family

First and most important, tell us about your book.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do what authors like to do best- Kvel and Kvetch. First the kvelling, a quintessential Yiddish word, conjuring up images of beaming parents; proudly boasting about their offspring. While I do my fair share of maternal boasting, today I’m kvelling about another sort of offspring. I have written a Creative Non Fiction, a memoir to be exact.
My book, “With Love, the Argentina Family~ Memories of Tango and Kugel; Mate with Knishes” speaks to the impetus of a family’s exodus to America; namely a Peronista government, a stagnant economy and an anti-Semitic culture. The family transform into jet-setters relentlessly traveling back and forth across the continents thanks to a mother that never stops crying about "The Argentina Family" and a father who works for Pan American Airlines. The story unfolds in "die goldene medina" -America- sharing the insecurities and confusion of a young, immigrant girl faced with identity issues. As one brash classmate stated, "She is too white to be Latina, and too Latina to be Jewish." Wearing out five passports before her twentieth birthday, she learns to deal with never-ending jet lag; dividing her life in between her adopted country and her native land. Almost inevitably, a long distance, whirlwind romance begins in the aftermath of Argentina’s “Dirty War.” Complications abound, including a frightening interrogation with the Argentine Police and an astonishing encounter at the American Consulate. Readers will follow the sometimes poignant, sometimes comical trials and tribulations of a young girl coming to terms with her Jewish heritage, her Argentine traditions, and her fierce American patriotism. 
What inspired you to write the memoir?
The inspiration for the book came about like one of my mother’s recipes…a pinch of this, a dash of that and a healthy dollop of the other. First and foremost, I wrote it for my kids; I have three adult children. My sense of family and constancy urged me to give them a tangible link- something that will forever remind them that they came from this loving, enduring stock made up of Jewish values, Russian ancestry, and Argentine culture. In addition to that rather emotionally charged motivator, I was encouraged to write the story by friends, family, and strangers alike; people who have continually said that my story was unique and enlightening. Recently, I found myself whiling away a few hours on a tour bus. My fellow passengers and I engaged in customary small talk, “Where are you visiting from?” which led to, “What is your name?” which led to, “How unusual! Where are you from originally?” My decision to write this memoir was validated once again as two lovely ladies, both teachers and lovers of history, genealogy and romance said, “That is the greatest story I ever heard! You should write a book!” Imagine my pride and sense of accomplishment when I turned to them both and said, “I did!”
What was the hardest thing for you about moving to a new country?
I was only 11 months old when we immigrated to the United States; so naturally, I can’t say that I personally experienced any angst or any sort of emotion struggle. The hardest thing for me was what I absorbed from my parents; my mother in particular exuded anxiety and melancholy. Because of my father’s employment with the airlines, we were able to fly back and forth quite often. Rather than being a positive factor, for me as a child, it proved to be a very unsettling matter. My sister and I never knew if we were coming or going. Although leaving Argentina was probably the wisest decision my parents ever made, dealing with the loss of family was a lifelong struggle.
What helped the most in adjusting to a new life?
My recollection of our immigrant experience is that my parents and the others in our group were adamant about integrating themselves into American life. The need to assimilate was a priority, especially for my father. We watched quite a bit of television, which might be frowned upon nowadays, but it helped! We socialized with Americans, celebrated and partook in American holidays and activities and by doing so; we learned to adapt and to become part of the American tapestry.
Since I’m a speech pathologist, I’m always interested in language issues.  Did you speak English before you came or did you learn it here?
My first language was Spanish, Castilian Spanish to be exact. While in Argentina, my father had studied English at the British academy, Toil and Chat however; my mother only spoke Castellano. Eventually, through dedication and hard work, my mother learned to speak, read and write English far better than she ever gave herself credit. When I began elementary school, E.S.L. (English as a Second Language) programs didn’t exist. You were just put into a classroom and you were expected to learn, and so I did!
It seems, as with many immigrants, your family’s ties with Argentina were very strong.  Did America live up to their expectations?
America was die goldene medina, where the streets were paved in gold. My father’s love for this country began in his youth and he wouldn’t settle for anything less than to become a full-fledged citizen of this nation. My father always said that he was a “simple working man” but he lived like a king in America. When I was young, I believed that he was speaking of monetary achievement. As an adult, I realized that my father held peace of mind in higher regard. America allowed us to live in peace and comfort and my parents were eternally grateful and proud to call themselves American.
What was your family’s reaction to the book?  Were they aware you were writing it?  Involved in bringing up any memories?
For over two years, I brought up the subject of my book at every family gathering. I asked for their opinions and begged for anecdotes.  Every time I began a sentence with, “Do you remember when…?” I could see the eyes roll and hear the sighs of exasperation, “Here she goes again!” I don’t believe that the majority of my relatives took me seriously until I began talking about publishing. When I presented them with the finished product, I was happily rewarded with great support and appreciation for the work I accomplished.
What is your writing background?
Besides being an English major in high school and Mrs. Doyle’s darling, none whatsoever! Which leads me back to the other word I mentioned; the other “K” word, kvetching- a great Yiddish word and one with which any Indie author can relate. Kvetching means complaining. Having no prior experience, I simply had NO IDEA how difficult it would be to write, to publish, to promote, or to merely get people to “Like” my book’s page. I always knew I had at least one good book in me. I had the material- fifty years’ worth at least, but I struggled. I struggled with first person vs. third person, real names or fictitious, copy right regulations and the oh-so-beloved Chicago Manual of Style. I struggled to appease family members who wanted to be removed from the story line and then, complained when they were not included! It took me about two years of work and yet; once I typed that final word, the real struggle began. I had no clue how to get the book published “the old-fashioned way.” Researching on the Internet, I learned about marketing proposals, submission requirements and inquiry letters; the entire undertaking felt like a full time job that required a university degree. It seemed an impossible task for this “newbie” memoir scribbler, so I began considering the self- publishing route.
If you could compare this to any other book, what would it be?
My story is a bit like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” meets “Father Knows Best” meets “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.” You could probably add “Fiddler on the Roof” into that mix, as well as the classic, “I Remember Mama.” I know- I’m mixing media and your question was actually about books. My story is unique as it takes an intimate look at my particular circumstance as a Jewish, Argentine immigrant that continually traveled back to her native country, but I think the following are examples of other books that might be included in this multicultural or ethnic memoir genre: “Black, White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self” by Rebecca Walker, “Burnt Bread and Chutney: Growing Up Between Cultures-A Memoir of an Indian Jewish Girl” by Carmit Delman and “The Book of Memories-Jewish Latin America Series” by Ana Maria Shua.
Any advice for writers, especially memoir writers?
 I recall the scene from the classic movie, “I Remember Mama” where the mother, at the behest of a famous, well-known author, offers her daughter expert advice, “Write what you know.” Jo and Professor Bhaer had the same conversation in “Little Women.” The amount of memoirs on the market is daunting; my wholesome story is competing with some pretty serious material in the same category, not to mention the coming-of-age vampires and charming sorcerers in other genres. My advice is to write from your heart. My book was written out of love- love for my parents and the memories we created. It was written out of love for my children and for hopefully, those yet to come. And lastly, it was written for the love of creating something enduring, something of worth… something by which to be remembered.
Where is your book available?
My book can be purchased directly from my E-Store:

Or if you prefer, you can purchase it from Amazon:
And you can find me on Facebook:


Monday, June 24, 2013

Quote for the Week: Friendship

"A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you."  Elbert Hubbard

Sybil, Sonia and Me in front of the Beer Can House

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Weekend with Old Friends

Sonia, Sybil and I were best friends in high school, so when Sybil and Bud, her significant other, came to Houston to meet up with a friend from Germany who was here for a business meeting, Sonia and I became tour guides for them. 
Beer Can House

Art Car Museum

Bolivar ferry

Galveston beach

And the three of us forgot our graying hair and wrinkles and sagging body parts and were once again the girls who giggled at inside jokes, had slumber parties, practiced our driving skills, swam and sunned at Barton Springs in Austin, ate hamburgers at the Holiday House or tacos at El Matamoras, followed the Austin High Maroons and the Austin Pioneers baseball team, shared secrets about crushes and first kisses, showed off first drivers licenses and first high heels.  There were so many firsts those days, so much to look forward to when we were on the cusp of being grown ups.  We never foresaw the tragedies that would befall us as years would pass or the memorable and wonderful things either.  But we've kept our friendship and that's the most important.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Writing Our Lives: Interview with Alexandra Bogdanovic


Every Thursday I'm going to feature a memoir writer.  Today it's Alexandra Bogdanovic, author of Truth Be Told:  Adam Becomes Audrey

Describe your book for us.
  "Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey" is my first book. It is also a memoir. In it, I share how I met, fell in love with and married the man of my dreams only to find out that he self-identified as and planned on having gender reassignment to become a woman. I also share what happened after I learned the truth.
This must have been a difficult story to tell.  What inspired you to write this very personal account of your husband’s decision?
  That's an interesting question. Yes, it was extremely difficult. Although my journalism career put me in the public eye to a certain extent, I'm a very private person. Now my entire life -- including the most painful parts of it -- are subject to tremendous public scrutiny.
To answer the second part of the question, I think it's important to point out that the book isn't as much about my ex-husband's decision as it is about how that decision impacted my life.
In order to understand why I wrote it, I also think it's important to explain why I didn't write it. I didn't write it to "out" anyone. I didn't write it to hurt or exploit my ex-husband's life in any way. I certainly didn't write it to exploit my own life.  Instead I wrote it in order to achieve some measure of catharsis and to share another perspective on an oft-told story.
While many members of the LGBT community write books about their experiences, we seldom hear about the impact those experiences have on the authors' families and friends. I want to give those people a voice, to let them know they are not alone, and to let them know that no matter how hard things seem or how lonely they feel, everything will be alright.
What has been the response to your book?  From readers?  From your family?  From your former husband?
 Until fairly recently, a demanding day job kept me from marketing the book aggressively, so I"m just starting to get some feedback from readers. The initial response has been fairly positive. Some readers have said they enjoy the writing style and that the story has resonated with them. Others have said -- and perhaps rightly so -- that the detailed account of my courtship with and marriage to my ex-husband takes away from the story. In would point out, however, that I am writing about the real lives of ordinary people. And we all know that real life is sometimes tedious, sometimes boring and always filled with minutia.
My immediate family -- namely my mother -- has been extremely supportive. In fact, I never would have had the courage to write the book much less have it published without her unconditional love and encouragement. She is my hero.
My ex-husband knew I planned to write the book but refused to participate in it at all. We are no longer in touch.
My experience with transgender stories is that they aren’t so much about the impact on the family.  That seems to make your book unique.  Have you heard from others who have been in your situation?
  No, I haven't heard from anyone who has been in my situation yet, but I hope that I will as word spreads about the book.
What is your favorite part of the book?
  My favorite part of the book is definitely the end. I had such a sense of peace and closure when I finally finished writing the book. I hope that resonates with the readers.
Tell us about your writing background.
I pretty much knew I wanted to be a reporter when I was 12 and started covering high school sports for a local daily paper as a high school freshman. I began by writing short blurbs that basically summarized the results, but the sports writers at the Greenwich Time took me under their wing and taught me how to write real game stories and feature stories. By the time I graduated from high school I'd been writing for a daily newspaper for four years.
I interned for the same paper in college, and officially began my journalism career as an editorial assistant at its sister paper, The (Stamford) Advocate in 1991. Since then I've worked at hyper-local community newspapers in three different states. I am the recipient of 10 Virginia Press Association awards and one New York Press Association award.
 What are you working on now?
  I am just starting to research material for my next book, which will be based on my father's life as a staunch anti-Communist and political refugee in post-World War II Europe.
Most important, of course.  Where can readers buy your book?
"Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey" is currently available on;; and through my official author website, which can be accessed at:
And for people in your local area, are you available to speaking engagements or book signings?
  Yes, I am definitely available for both types of events. The best way to contact me is through my author profile page on It can be accessed at:

Monday, June 17, 2013

Quote for the Week

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
         Maya Angelou

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Lessons I've Learned from Widowhood

Leukemia.  The diagnosis was shattering. 

Within a week my husband was hospitalized, undergoing treatment that required him to spend a month in an isolation room, removed from contact with anyone except medical staff.  I could speak with him on a telephone or wave at him through a window.  I was getting my first introduction to life alone.   But I didn’t let myself believe it would happen.  Hope lit our way:  enrollment in a clinical trial in the top cancer hospital in the country, a stem cell transplant from a sister whose blood was a perfect match.

Hope was transitory; it disappeared like vapor in the sun.  Ten months after his diagnosis, leukemia cells reappeared in his blood.  His options were limited, infinitesimal.  A year, almost to the day after he began treatment, he was gone.

The first morning after he died, I woke up with a sense of unreality.  I couldn’t imagine he was gone, and I was a widow.  The word sounds somehow old-fashioned:  a gray-haired woman clothed in black from head to toe, her face shuttered with grief.  I didn’t want to be that woman, but I didn’t know how to be someone else.

Time has passed and I have learned.  The most important lesson is how fragile life is.  I have learned to appreciate every moment:  the sound of rain, a sunset, an evening with my children,  my cat’s soft fur, flowers, a movie that makes me laugh.  And yes, I have learned to laugh.  And to enjoy.  I’d rather share the fun and laughter with him, but I can’t.  Would he want me to spend the rest of my life being miserable?  Missing him, yes; miserable, no.

I’ve learned to cherish friends and family.  Not that I didn’t before, but I do even more now.  I stay connected, in the virtual world and the real world, too.  If a widow has a choice, the real world is best, but on-line friends bring joy as well.

I’ve learned to be kind to myself.  I’ve learned to rest when I’m tired, eat a healthy diet but give in and eat coffee ice cream when I’m stressed,  and say no if I want to.  And I’ve learned that time is precious so I don’t waste it with people who annoy or upset me.

There are some things I just can’t do.  Ralph would double over laughing if he saw me trying to change a tire.  I wouldn’t even think of it.  I can change a light bulb but a tire?  Not possible.  I’ve figured out who to call when I need help—I make a lot of calls.

I think I’ve learned a lot.  I’m a pretty good survivor.  That’s not to say I don’t wake up some mornings and wonder why the other side of the bed is empty, why I often visit Ralph in dreams and  why I still hate the word widow and always will.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Quotes for the Week: New York

Last week I was in New York, one of my favorite places, to present my book at the Jewish Book Council.
my memoir

But of course I stayed a few days longer and met my sister so we could enjoy the New York scene and visit some of our favorite places.  We saw two plays--Ann and My Name is Asher Lev, both wonderful, went to the Guggenheim and the Museum of Natural History and ate at our favorite restaurant, Lattanza.  We  ifnished off with an art gallery tour of Chelsea--amazzng art from weird to awe-inspiring.
Guggenheim Museum
So here are some of my favorite quotes about NYC:

The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world. F. Scott Fitzgerald


Give me such shows — give me the streets of Manhattan! Walt Whitman


I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later — because I did not belong there, did not come from there — but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs. I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month. Joan Didion


Anytime four New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place. Johnny Carson


I go to Paris, I go to London, I go to Rome, and I always say, “There’s no place like New York. It’s the most exciting city in the world now. That’s the way it is. That’s it.” Robert De Niro



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Books of April and May

The Dinner by Herman Koch, translated from Dutch, takes place during a single dinner at a restaurant where two brothers meet to discuss an important family issue.  It's slow moving, filled with many flashbacks and at least 2/3 of the book is over before you find out the real issue, then it creeps slowly along to a climax.  I had heard good things about it but I wasn't impressed.

The Winner by David Baldacci is what my book club refers to as a guilty pleasure.  A thriller about a girl who is set up by a mysterious stranger to win the lottery.

Death, Dying and Dessert by Susan Lieberman.  You may wonder what this title means.  It refers to a discussion group on end of life issues that also includes dessert.  Because I'm a member, I was familiar with the content but I read it anyway.  It's a book I recommend to everyone, whatever your age or your health.  Wise and important information.  Belongs on anyone's bookshelf.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco was a book club selection and a worthwhile read.  A medieval mystery that takes place in a monastery, it holds your attention despite some of the long passages about the views of various monastic orders.  The interview with Eco was delightful.  Note:  I bought a book that contains background information and translations of the many Latin passages.  Even though I relied on the "cliff notes" I enjoyed the book.

The Storyteller is a different sort of book from Jodi Picuolt because it has no trial and because it's a Holocaust story.  Various stories--the narrator's, her grandmother's, a tale her grandmother wrote are woven together.  A fast read, but it doesn't provide much that hasn't already been told about the Holocaust so it seemed a little flat.

In My Beloved World, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor shares her remarkable journey from the projects of the Bronx to her appointment to the federal bench.  What an amazing woman.  No matter what your politics, you can't help but admire this brilliant and courageous woman.  Highly recommeneded

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