Guest Post: A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

Marisa sitting oneThe lovely Marisa de los Santos, author of the New York Times Bestseller Love Walked In and Belong to Me (review and giveaway HERE), is guest posting today about balancing work and family.  Thanks, Marisa, for this wonderful essay!

A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

I get the question a lot, usually from women and often during book group meetings:  “How do you balance writing and family?”         

The easy answer is that I write my books while my children are at school.  Technically, this is true.  Any writing I do happens somewhere between drop-off and pick-up.  Weekends and evenings, I get a little time at my desk, but mostly these parts of the week are given over to homework, ballet classes, piano lessons, swim practices, meets and games, family dancing in the living room, family singing in the car, family bike-rides, movie-watching of the G/PG variety, and general hanging out.  When the kids go to sleep at a reasonable hour, which doesn’t consistently happen, weeknights belong to my husband and, sometimes, a glass of wine.  Saturday nights are ours, too.  So I balance work and family by writing my books Monday through Friday, while the kids are at school. 

imagesBut this answer is really too easy.  In fact, I stopped giving it for the same reason that I am deeply attached to it:  it makes my life sound tidy, when my life is anything but tidy.  Plus, I didn’t usually get away with it.  Most of the time, before the answer was completely out of my mouth, people jumped in with:  What about groceries?  What about laundry?  What about reading and exercise and volunteer work and meetings and friendships and email and shopping and dealing with the plumber?

While I have some help with some of these tasks and obligations, both from my husband, a true partner, fellow writer, and prince among men, and from a highly capable and much-loved young woman who helps with the kids a handful of hours a week and does errands for me on Thursday afternoons, I end up attending to many of them myself, usually during the hours between drop-off and pick-up.  When I explain all of this to people, I’m sure they wonder how my books get written at all.  I wonder myself.

lovewalkedpaperbackBut the truth is that I do all of the things I do not only because I have to, but because I want to.  I want to sit in the choking heat of the indoor pool or in the lobby of the ballet school and watch my kids do what they love.  I am co-president of Home and School (our school’s version of PTA) because I want to be part of the place where my kids spend so much of their time.  I want to be the one who thumps the melons and picks the piece of salmon my family will eat.  I need exercise, friendships, and family dancing to keep me sane.  Still, sometimes I resent how little time I have to write.  On bad writing days, I beat myself up over the squandered hours.  I envy the lives I imagine other writers are leading.  I long for the peace and time and big trees of writers’ colonies, despite the fact that I have never been to one and, in my heart, don’t really want to go. 

Over time, I have developed a theory.  If people hear it and dismiss it as rationalization, well, I don’t blame them.  It probably started out as rationalization, my putting a positive spin on my frenetic days and limited writing time.  But no matter why I came up with the theory, I’ve come to believe in it.  Not just believe in it.  I’ve come to see that it’s more than just a theory.  It’s big and holistic, ill-defined and not terribly original, but I recognize it as one of the deep truths of my life.

It goes something like this:  everything feeds everything else.  Writing time and family time are false distinctions.  Sweating it out at swim practice, watching my son’s arms arc and arc and arc; choosing one tomato over another; helping set up for the school book fair; listening to my daughter read an Ivy and Bean book aloud, her downward-cast eyes and chirping voice; watching Law and Order reruns with my husband; my obligations to the people I am honored to have in my life, the hours I spend with them:  all of these things make me–I almost wrote “a better writer,” but better than what?  Better than who?  All of these things make me a writer.  They impact directly the words I write in palpable and invisible ways.  Just as the hard-won hours I spend with language, story, and characters make me the friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother that I am.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Review and Giveaway: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

imageDB-1.cgiBelong to Me by Marisa de los Santos starts out like this: 

“My fall from suburban grace, or, more accurately, my failure to achieve the merest molehill of suburban grace from which to fall, began with a dinner party and a perfectly innocent, modestly clever, and only faintly quirky remark about Armand Assante.” 

It begins as a fish out of water story about Cornelia Brown, a character from de los Santos’ debut novel, Love Walked In, which I did not read.  No matter.  I didn’t even realize this was a continuation of another book until after I’d read it.  It was great all by itself!

Cornelia and her handsome doctor hubby, Teo, move to suburbia from the city, and pretty soon they are getting to know people.  Teo, by the way, is Handsome with a capital H.  The frequent reminders of his hotness made me think of the way Stephenie Meyers described Edward in Twilight.  He’s attractive; very, very attractive, and doesn’t seem to know it.  Mr. Modest.  

We don’t get to know Teo that well, although he plays a pivotal role in the story.  Belong to Me is more about women, and their relationships with each other.  Ok, about their relationships with men, too.  But it’s more a book about women.  Piper from across the street is a snooty beyotch (did I spell that right??); a married stay at home mom who is critical of everyone.  Right off the bat, she makes comments about Cornelia’s name, hair, and yard.  Pipe’s BFF Elizabeth, sadly, is battling cancer, which is awful but really brings out the human side of Piper.  Cornelia befriends a waitress named Lake who seems smart and blissfully normal (and nicknames Piper “Viper”- ingratiating herself to Cornelia instantly).  But Lake has a secret- a big one.  She also has a son, 13 year old Dev, with a genius IQ.  And Clare is a frequent guest at Cornelia and Teo’s house, who Dev falls for, hard.  Ah, first love. 

It was interesting to see the transformation that takes place in the characters, especially Piper. All her perfectionism and controlling behaviors mask an inner self doubt and lack of confidence, and when things beyond her control threaten her carefully constructed life, it forces her to take a closer look at the things that truly matter- love, friends, family- not the manicured lawn or the perfect crease in the sleeve of her blouse.  Even Cornelia likes her by the end of the book.  

The story is told from 3 points of view in alternating chapters- Cornelia, Piper, and Dev.  De los Santos did a great job of keeping their voices unique- I could easily tell who was telling the story.  Cornelia had such an interesting vocabulary, Piper was really into appearances and denial, Dev was teenage-awkward and brilliant in the best possible way.  The characters had a depth that made them very realistic to me. 

There’s money, private schools, cancer and death, secrets and lies, inappropriate relationships, affairs, and children- legitimate and otherwise.  Does it sound a bit like a soap opera?  I guess it does, but Santos is able to intertwine these characters and their stories in such a way that the reader truly cares about them.  The book is filled with hope and friends, laughter and tears, and the warm feeling that comes from knowing we belong to the ones who love us.  My emotions were all over the map while reading Belong to Me, and the unexpected ending was a real treat.  De los Santos is a truly gifted writer.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.  

Please visit Marisa de los Santos at her website, and check out the wonderful guest post she wrote for me about balancing family life with writing and working from home.

Oh!  OH!  I almost forgot!  Harper Collins is generously offering copies of Belong to Me to 3 lucky readers!  Leave a comment by Monday, May 25th, for a chance to win!!

Authors- They’re Just Like US! #1

One of the glossy magazines dedicated to celebrities (Us Weekly, I believe) has a regular feature showing famous people doing everyday things.  I like seeing rockstars picking up their drycleaning or box office sweethearts biting their nails.  I’m just a voyeur that way.  It’s interesting to see that in some ways they’re ordinary people, just like us. 

In writing this blog I’ve been able to correspond with authors, MY celebrities- MY rockstars, and I began to wonder about them.  Do they like the same books I like?  What do they recommend to their friends?  I don’t have the resources to hire the paparazzi to follow them around and peek into their bedrooms to see what’s on their nightstands, so I decided to pose the same 5 questions to a number of authors.  I got so many great responses that I’ve decided to tackle each question in a separate post.

Question #1- AUTHORS:  WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

Linda Merlino, author of Belly of the Whale:  Firehouse  by David Halberstam.

Jennie Shortridge , author of Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe: A rather odd juxtaposition of fiction and nonfiction:  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. 

Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience:  When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Megan Crane, author of Names My Sisters Call Me:  Careless in Red by Elizabeth George.  It’s the latest Lynley mystery, and now that I know George will, in fact, kill off longterm characters, I know that no one is safe! 

Jasmin Rosenberg, author of How the Other Half Hamptons:  The Divorce Party” by Laura Dave, after devouring her debut novel “London is the Best City in America”

Edward Hardy, author of Keeper and Kid:  A Voyage Long and Strange  by Tony Horwitz. 

Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters:   Dirty Words, edited by Ellen Sussman, which contains so many pieces that are funny, surprisingly sweet, and undeniably sexy.  And The Divorce Party, by Laura Dave, which is an incredibly moving story of two women sorting out how to go forward with or without the men in their lives.

Alan Cheuse, author of To Catch the Lightning:  Lost in Uttar Pradesh: New and Selected Stories  by Evan Connell, an old master, and stories by new Irish writer Claire Keegan, a real prodigy (Keegan’s book is titled Walk the Blue Fields).

Mathias Freese, author of Down to a Sunless Sea:  I’m about to begin reading Montaigne’s essays, in part, because Eric Hoffer claimed he learned about writing essays from this master. 

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony:  Netherland by Joseph O’Neill.  A terrific novel. 

Susan Woodring  , author of Springtime on Mars:  An Invisible Sign of My Own  by Aimee Bender (I’m on a Bender kick.)

Doreen Orion, author of Queen of the Road:  I’m currently reading a novel by Marisa De Los Santos, LOVE WALKED IN.  The last bookstore I did one of my reading/signing/royal shticks at, A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, gives authors who do events a choice of any book in the store as a gift.  So, I asked what they particularly loved and this was it.  I started it on the plane back last night and I can see why. 

Don’t you just love knowing that Meg Clayton is reading Dirty Words, or that Doreen Orion is reading that Marisa de los Santos book you’ve been eyeing, or that Alan Cheuse is reading Walk the Blue Fields (which, by the way, has a stunning cover- I may have to get it just for that!)? 

Next time we’ll see what books authors couldn’t/didn’t finish reading, and why.  I’ve been known to abandon a book now and then, so I’m very curious to see what books authors let go of before the end.

So..what are YOU reading?