Monday, February 22, 2021

Lots of news here!

 Yes, we are still mostly staying inside with our pod, but I still have a lot of exciting things coming up that I think many of you will enjoy too.

First, I am so excited that my new YA novel, JUDE BANKS, SUPER HERO, will be published by Penguin on May 18. It's available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, or your favorite independent book store. Here's a description of the book, which will appeal to adults too:

Katie was Jude's favorite person in the world. And not many brothers say that about their sister and mean it. But to Jude, Katie was everything--the person who made him learn how to say "I love you" in every language, who performed dramatic readings of Romeo and Juliet, who obsessed over every item on the diner menu looking for the most authentic diner meal. The one who called him "Jude Banks, Superhero," because to her, Jude was the best.

She was also the person who died. Out of nowhere, and without a goodbye. And Jude believes he was the one who killed her.

Now, twelve-year-old Jude must figure out what life looks like without his favorite person. With Mom checked out, and Dad just trying to do his best, Jude enters a world of grief youth groups and dropped-off lasagnas. It's only when he meets a girl named Clementine, who also lost a sibling, that he begins to imagine a world where maybe things might be okay. But Clementine is nursing a terrible guilt, and even though Katie called Jude a "superhero," he isn't sure he can save her.

In her signature prose, Hood crafts an extraordinary story of grief and resilience, asking the important question: How does a family begin to heal?

I will be posting Zoom events as soon as I get the schedule.

Lots of Zoom conversations coming up!

I will be talking with Jeff Porter, whose memoir PLANET CLAIRE is the second one I've published in Gracie Belle Books, my line of grief memoirs with Akashic Press. If you haven't yet read PLANET CLAIRE, I know you will love it as much as I do. It's sad and funny and hopeful and romantic. The Zoom talk is through Buffalo's fabulous bookstore, Talking Leaves. Details here: https://www.tleavesbooks.com/

On Friday, April 9, at 5PM I will be at the fabulous Brattleboro Literary Festival's Cocktail Hour via Zoom with Julia Cooke discussing the good old days of being a flight attendant! Julia has a new book coming out about all things Pan Am, and my own memoir about flying for TWA, FLY GIRL, will be out in May 2022. So fasten your seat belts and join us! Details available at https://www.brattleboro.com/downtown/brattleboro-literary-festival/

Then on May 7, I am Zooming via Porter Square Books with Danielle Dreilinger to discuss her fascinating new book, THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOME ECONOMICS: HOW TRAILBLAZING WOMEN HARNESSED THE POWER OF HOME AND CHANGED THE WAY WE LIVE. Details here: https://www.portersquarebooks.com/

And teaching, teaching, teaching! All via Zoom, of course.

One of my favorite writers conferences to teach at was the Iceland Writers Retreat in Reykjavick. Iceland is an extraordinary country and IWR is an extraordinary conference. Like everyone else, they are going to be online this year, and I am lucky enough to be teaching a workshop on my favorite writing device, the objective correlative, AND to be on a panel. The workshop is on May 1 at 12:45 and is followed by a Q and A. The panel is at 4:15 that same day. Details and registration are here: https://www.icelandwritersretreat.com/

I am teaching a month long online workshop on Writing the Personal Essay through the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown's online classes, 24Pearlst. The dates are April 12-May 7. I love teaching this class and if you want to try your hand at or improve on writing personal essays, please join me here: https://web.fawc.org/24-pearl-street/workshops?tid=All&field_acdemic_year_tid=164&field_session_value=All 

Speaking of The Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, I was scheduled to teach a memoir workshop there for a week last summer, which got moved to this summer, which got moved to online this spring. I miss being in that beautiful, special place but am delighted to Zoom my class the week of May 10-14 from noon-2. Registration here: https://web.fawc.org/

More immediately, Hester Kaplan and I are teaching our prompt based lunchtime workshops for fiction and non-fiction writers on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from noon-1, weeks of March 1 and March 8. Very few spots still open so email me here to save one!

Yes, there's more exciting news!

The low residency Newport MFA that I founded and co-direct is accepting applications for our June residency, which will be online. But things are looking good for us to resume in person for the next one in January 2022. Our guest faculty in June includes bestselling, twice Oprah Book Club writer Jane Hamilton and award winning essayist and non fiction writer Emily Bernard!  Applications and information here: https://salve.edu/graduate-studies-and-continuing-education/mfa-creative-writing

And last, but certainly not least, mark your calendars for the Newport MFA Weekend Writers Workshop, June 25-27, with award winning, best selling writers Andre Dubus III (teaching Fiction), Nick Flynn (teaching Memoir) and David Yoo (teaching YA). Registration is not open yet but I will post link here as well as on Instagram and Facebook as soon as it is!

A busy spring, albeit from my sofa! Not too busy to immerse myself in reading Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Bowen novels, keep knitting my Wool and the Gang's Julia sweater Billie Jean, and take Annabelle on college visits--tours have been suspended so we are just driving around campuses to see what she does and doesn't like.

Stay safe, everybody! I hope to see you at some of these events or workshops!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Happy 2021

When Michael and I walked  out of our NYC apartment last March, never did I imagine that almost a year later I wouldn’t have walked back in. Or that hundreds of thousands of Americans would be dead. Or that democracy would be threatened. Growing up in the 60s, I was acutely aware that I lived in a time during which history was being made. That is pretty much how I have felt at least some part of every day these 306 days. But such grim, sad history! I remain hopeful that we will all get our jabs and be able to re-enter the world. That democracy will prevail and a sense of hope and security will return. I hope you and yours are all safe and healthy during these strange times. 

Here are quite a few things to lift your spirits or keep you busy or distracted or to inspire you. 

Last fall my son Sam, his girlfriend Katherine and I were lamenting that everything like theatre, readings, writers conferences, and the like had all been cancelled. If only we could invite our favorite actors and writers and teachers into our living rooms! That’s when the proverbial light bulb went off: why not help others do just that? And so Craft Talks was born. Sam and Katherine filmed six of the most beloved, bestselling, award winning novelists in the country giving craft talks. Andre Dubus III, Laura Lippman, Sophfronia Scott, John Searles, Bill Roorbach and yours truly. Go to Crafttalks.com to sign up for unlimited access to these talks and get your novel written!

More for writers: the Newport MFA, the low residency MFA that I founded and co-direct, just finished its January residency. I really think we have the best low residency MFA around and I’d love for you to find out more by emailing me or going to the Newport MFA website!

Ok, final opportunity for writers here. Hester Kaplan and I are starting our weekly workshops via Zoom again in February and we’d love to have you join us. They began as a way to create a writing community during these challenging times and to stay inspired and writing through prompts and discussions. We meet three times a week from noon-1 and cannot wait to start up again after a holiday hiatus. 

All of you readers—which is most of you!—I'm so excited to announce the second book in my Gracie Belle Books imprint with Akashic Books: PLANET CLAIRE by Jeff Porter is the story of how humor, memories, and love got Jeff through the loss of his beloved wife. Order it now from your favorite bookstore or online!


For weekly reading, I highly encourage you to subscribe to my wonderful husband’s newsletter. It’s free and fabulous, with recipes and recommendations for all sorts of things. Go to Ruhlman.substack.com to sign up. 

I have read a lot during these 306 days, typically more than my vow of reading a book a week. So far this year I’ve read Actress by Anne Enright, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, Snow by John Banville, and a new book about my beloved Beatles, One, Two, Three, Four by Craig Brown. Recommend them all, plus my 2020 favorites HAMNET by Maggie O’Farrell and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. 

And for my knitters, I hope knitting has brought you the comfort it has brought me these months. Before pandemic I had knit exactly one sweater. Since pandemic: almost five. This newest one is Billie Jean by Wool and the Gang. Knit in moss stitch on big needles, it’s perfect knitting for binge watching the news, Schitts Creek, and season one of The Morning Show. 

This is a long post, but I hope it gives you lots of ideas and distractions for the weeks and months ahead. Stay safe. And as always, read, knit, cook, and hold the people you love close (if only metaphorically for now). 

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Most Unusual Thanksgiving in the Most Unusual Year

 When my son Sam was seven months old, my cousin and I decided it was time for our family to come together at Thanksgiving. There is power in having the only baby around--everyone wants to see him all the time. So in 1993 we hosted out first all family Thanksgiving, with Sam taking on the lead role over the turkey. I lived then in a second floor apartment of a beautifully restored Colonial house on the East Side of Providence. My landlord and landlady were a single mother's dream: supportive, fun, kind. I was very off kilter, having moved from my beautiful duplex on Leroy Street in Greenwich Village just two weeks before Sam was born. Thankfully my parents lived nearby because the man of my dreams had gone AWOL. But that Thanksgiving, GJ and I created a memorable dinner in my small kitchen with its blue and white table and chairs, Sam happily eating and getting adored by two sets of aunts and uncles and his doting grandparents. Unsure what to do all afternoon with half a dozen geriatrics, we decided to have a fun activity for everyone, which was making hand turkeys. That Thanksgiving was such a success that we have repeated it every year since, in that same small kitchen, in different rented Victorian houses with much grander dining rooms, in the dining room with the enormous hearth in the house where I lived with my family for twenty years, and for the last four years in my loft with giant windows that let the silvery November light in. We've added to our guest list over the years--cousins, friends, partners, new children--so that even as we've lost most of the older generation and most of the partners eventually became exes, the celebration still grows somehow. Until this year.


We'd imagined a scaled down Thanksgiving on my roof deck, which is big enough to socially distance many more than the nine people coming, sitting in three pods. No buffet. No hugging or dancing or singing Italian songs. But still, like that first small one at my blue and white table, we'd all be together. Then Rhode Island's cases spiked. The CDC warned us not to travel. Dinner should be limited to just our immediate families, the one we live with. With guests coming from Vermont and Boston and NYC, with this virus raging, on Friday we made the smart, right decision to follow the rules. For the first time in 27 years--since he was born--Sam would not be home for Thanksgiving. There would be no drunken Thanksgiving Eve as people arrived from far flung places, like Scotland and California and Puerto Rico. There would be no toasts, no Nantucket scallops from our friend Bruce, no cocktails made by Matt. GJ and I would not be making plans for the dinner and the day itself.


It's easy during this hard year to focus on all of that, all of the things we won't be doing together. And believe me, I've had more than a few crying jags since Friday, more than a few "pity parties," as Gogo called those times when you just feel bad for yourself. But yesterday morning, Michael and Annabelle and I sat down and vowed to have a lovely, happy Thanksgiving. We each got to choose our favorite Thanksgiving foods (which is why I'm baking a blueberry pie), we set up a Zoom cocktail hour with all of the people who usually come and celebrate with us, we bought a turkey, and champagne, and we planned our day.

How lucky I am to be "stuck" with the man I love and my fabulous daughter. How lucky I am that, so far, the people I love have been spared this terrible virus. How lucky I am that we have food aplenty, and a warm home, and each other--and by each other I mean all of those wonderful people staying wisely in their own homes this year. Next year, "God willing," as my father used to say, we will fill this loft to its high ceilings. We will dance and sing and cook and eat and drink and remember the year that we had to be apart. 

Be safe, all of you lovely people who read my meandering musings here. Don't take unnecessary risks with you or your loved ones. Be thankful.

Meanwhile, I am knitting Ferrymen gloves from Churchmouse Yarns and Teas. I am reading "We Keep the Dead Close" and "Ghost Wall," and recommending "Shuggie Bain" and "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," both which I loved. I am playing lots of cards--cribbage, hearts, and pitch. I am reminding myself to cut the pity parties short, and thank the universe for this crazy, mixed up, gorgeous world

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Autumn Already

 It says a lot about these past few months that I have not posted here since the end of July. We have been in the most lovely blur of beach and sunsets, osprey and seals, egrets and swallow murmuration, even as the pandemic continues on relentlessly and our beautiful country grows ever more divisive and frightening. On August 1, we decamped to my favorite sleepy beach town in Massachusetts where I rented houses for several summers when my kids were younger. They have such fond memories of those summers here, many of them centered around the local ice cream stand. As each of my teaching and speaking commitments got cancelled, the idea of a month at the beach became more and more obvious. That month has turned in to three, as we could not leave this sliver of happiness by the sea. Happily, Michael fell in love with the town as hard as I did all those years ago, and our days--with Sam and Annabelle--melted one into the next, full of good food (local corn and tomatoes and pole beans, now new potatoes and broccoli and Brussels sprouts), evening cocktails (here's a link to one of Michael's Friday Cocktail Hours, but watch them all! https://ruhlman.com/2020/08/14/friday-cocktail-hour-the-mai-tai/), bocce games on the lawn (with stray balls falling into the river and Sam having to find them), games of Code Names and Hearts and Pitch and the Name Game on the screened in porch, reading on the aforementioned porch or in the hammock (my top recommendations: HAMNET, THREE HOURS, SHUGGIE BAIN), long walks to the beach, cocktails and picnics on the beach, reading on the beach (you get the idea--we spent a lot of time on the beach), late nights sipping whiskey and talking. And writing, writing, writing.

Sam and Katherine went back to Brooklyn in mid-September, but we have stayed on, happily watching summer fade into autumn. How the light on the ocean changes with the seasons! The leaves are turning, the air is crisp, we need sweaters now when we sit on the deck for our evening cocktails and Cribbage. The truth is, we don't want to leave. But Annabelle's school has started up in person half time (much to my consternation) and Providence beckons. So we are treasuring these last days here--today a walk to the beach with our books in hand. Tomorrow apple picking again. Our dinners of burgers or hot dogs on the grill have become pot roast and baked pasta. The sweaters I knit all summer are coming in handy.

We will return to Providence, and with colder weather and the coronavirus, retreat inside again.  I fear for our country and our democracy; I fear for our planet; I fear for all of our health in the coming months. As I know many of you do. But these magical days we've had here will help get us through the coming ones. Remember your own magical times and hold them tight. Keep knitting and reading and loving. Hold your family and friends close, even if only figuratively for the time being. Stay hopeful. That's what listening to the geese fly south, watching swallows swoop overhead, breathing salt air and feeling the waves break on your ankles remind us to do. Stay hopeful. 


Sunday, July 26, 2020

On an early Sunday morning

Sometimes, like this morning, I find myself thinking about how the world has changed these past almost five months. When Michael and I left NYC that mid-March day, we never imagined how the different the future would be. This week, we would have been in Ireland, one of my favorite places, where for six years I’ve taught and laughed and been with friends old and new. As someone who really does not like hot weather, when I step off the plane in Ireland, the cool air, even the rain, greets me and I smile big. Our week in Dingle has become a tradition, and this morning I am missing the wild ocean there, the green fields of sheep, dinner at the Chart House, Dingle gin and tonics, the pubs and the colorful buildings, visiting the folks at Dingle Crystal, Guinness, the little cheese shop, fish and chips, dinner at World Village, Murphy’s ice cream, friends...I could go on and on. If you’d like a glimpse of this special place, read Michael’s article about it in Saveur. He captures it beautifully.

It’s easy to fall into thinking that in these uncertain times, I may never be in Ireland again. I confess, there are moments when I do think things like that. The happiness of being in Ireland and Tuscany and Mexico and all the places I return to every year can feel far away, even impossible. The excitement of seeing new places—we were going to Ecuador at the end of the summer, planning a long dreamed of visit to St. Petersburg, Russia—seems almost too hopeful to allow myself to dream about.

But usually, usually, I instead take quiet times like this morning as everyone, even the cats, are asleep and the hot summer sun is peeking through the shades and the ceiling fan spins above me, to walk the hilly streets of Dingle in my mind. There is a light rain and a crowded pub with music playing. The air is cool and fresh. The ocean is right over there. My gin and tonic has a slice of orange and juniper berries. I’m there.

On other mornings I may walk the rocky path to dinner at Spannocchia in Tuscany, past centuries old stone buildings, black and white pigs, cypress trees. I can almost taste the local wine, the pizzas hot from the pizza oven. We roast chestnuts in the hearth, drink liqueur made from walnuts that grow outside our house.

Or maybe I walk the streets of a small Mexican town hand in hand with Michael. We stop at the mezcaleria, or for street tacos, or the best mole. We look at art and wander local markets, travel back roads to visit weavers or painters or agave farms.

What will our world look like in another five months? Will I spend a glorious week with writer friends in St. Petersburg (Florida, not Russia!) teaching and eating cheeseburgers, staying up too late in our pajamas, hearing readings that make us laugh or break our hearts, surrounded by the warmth of old friendships made deeper and stronger over more than decade there?

Will we sit in Manhattan restaurants, Broadway shows, our favorite movie theatres? Have our friends over for whiskey sours, my students crowded together for posole in our tiny apartment? Will we board an airplane and take off for someplace new, feel the excitement of stepping into a city we’ve never wandered before? Or the comfort and joy of one we know and love?

This hot, humid July morning I dream of all of those pleasures returning. I dream of Ireland and Italy, of Mexico and Manhattan. I dream new dreams.

The cats are awake, nipping my toes, urging me out of bed to feed them. The Sunday NYT is waiting downstairs. Later I’ll struggle over the sweater I’m knitting, finish Maggie O’Farrell’s gorgeous new novel HAMNET, bake blueberry muffins. I hope you find time in your day, every day, to dream. To remember the streets you love to walk, to smell the air there.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Fourth of July

A Fourth of July without family cookouts and fireworks is upsetting to a lot of people. For me, I'm grateful. You see, the Fourth of July is one of those holidays that kind of tears up my heart.

My father, love of my life, was born on July 4, 1929. For much of my life, the Fourth of July was about celebrating him, with a nod to Independence Day. Dad was a patriot, and as such felt truly proud that he was born on the same day as the United States of America.

As a kid, I would wake up on the Fourth of July to the sounds of John Phillip Sousa march music playing loud in the back yard. From my bedroom window I could see Dad in the backyard, already at the grill with a cold beer in his hand. I'd call Happy Birthday! down to him, and he would grin back up at me. My father had the widest grin, the bluest eyes, the blondest hair, the softest beer belly, and the biggest heart.

Way before noon, people started showing up. My mother did not like parties, drinking, or people acting foolish, so she did not love the Fourth of July. She left it up to Dad to grill the food and refill the cooler with ice and beer and party away. It was hot in our scruffy back yard, but soon enough the party spilled onto the front sidewalk and into the street. One year, the WW II vets among us put pots and pans on their heads, grabbed mops and brooms, and marched around the block singing. Illegal fireworks filled the sky with smoky red and blue from Roman candles and sparks of light from sparklers. In other words, anything could and did happen on the Fourth of July at 10 Fiume Street.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, after I'd made some money as a writer, I rented beach houses for my family every summer at Scarborough Beach in RI. So the parties moved there. And they only got bigger as cousins got married and years worth of high school and college friends came too. Now that we had a big, sloping lawn, the annual bocce ball championship began, a mostly drunken, highly competitive game that went until dark. I have a picture of Sam at three months old, dressed in red, white and blue, smiling up my father on Dad's birthday party at the beach; a picture of me, seven months pregnant with Grace, my head tilted against Dad's, grinning.

Like all things, those celebrations at the beach ended. In 1996, Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he died the following April, three months before his sixty-eighth birthday. That year, we all decided that we needed to go somewhere that didn't celebrate the Fourth of July. Even though grief advice is often that running away is not a good thing, I have found the opposite to be true. Mom, Cousin Gina, Niece Melissa, four year old Sam, nine month old Grace, and I flew to Mexico, where we stayed at a luxury hotel on the beach in Ixtapa.

For four days we ate tacos with our toes in the sand, swam in the pool, shopped at the outdoor market, and drank margaritas. On the 5th of July, we realized we had managed to miss the holiday, and felt so grateful that we immediately ordered more margaritas. dad would have approved.

Ever since then, I have had to think ahead, plan my escape. For several years I taught out of state at a writers conference over the Fourth. I took other trips out of the country--London or Italy or anywhere, really. If I had to be home, I said no thank you to invitations to parties and cook outs and kept my family close, gazing up at the fireworks exploding above us. "Isn't it nice how everyone puts on a firework show for my birthday?" Dad would say. In 1986, I was invited to the hundredth birthday party of the Statue of Liberty, celebrated on the Fourth of July. We had ring side seats on Governor's Island, with lots of food and drinks, and a perfect view of the 40000 pyrotechnic device fireworks show. They lasted for twenty-eight minutes, dazzling us and two million other spectators. At one point Dad squeezed my hand and whispered, "Really. This year they've gone way overboard to celebrate my birthday." I leaned my head toward his until we touched, and the sky exploded before us.

2020 finds us living in such uncertain times. On March 11,  Michael and I were in our apartment in NYC trying to decide where to eat before we went to see the play The Lehman Brothers on Broadway when Sam called and told us that Broadway had just shut down. I remember looking at Michael and saying, "This is really bad." Four months later, we are still saying that as the coronavirus spreads and spikes across the country and the world; as protests over racial injustices shake us awake; as our country, of which I have always been so proud, sits on a dangerous precipice. On that Fourth of July in 1986, France's president, Francois Mitterand, said: "May our children's children find themselves celebrating together in 100 years time." Yet today, we can not even travel to France, or anywhere in the EU. In this time of so much uncertainty, when there is no normal anymore, firework displays have been cancelled and large cook-outs are not allowed because we can not safely social distance.

Sam is in Miami, which is a hotspot for COVID 19. Michael is self quarantined in NYC after visiting his son in Syracuse to celebrate his 21st birthday. So Annabelle and I will watch Hamilton (again! Thank you, Lin Manuel Miranda) and eat ribs (thank you Chez Pascal!) and corn and heirloom tomatoes. That's all just fine with me. I don't know if there is a heaven, though I like to think there is. I like to think Dad and Mom and my brother Skip and my daughter Grace are all there together, looking down at me here. I hope there's beer there.

In my mind, John Phillip Sousa is playing, loud. Dad is grinning up at me, a beer in his hand. I can hear the clink of bocce balls knocking together, smell the acrid scent of fireworks right after they've been lit. Happy Birthday, Dad. Happy Fourth of July.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Insomnia Files

I know I’m not alone in having a lot of trouble sleeping during these strange times. It’s a topic I’ve discussed with lots of my friends, all of pacing, fretting, podcast listening at all hours. I imagine looking down from space and seeing all these women in pajamas moving all night. My own sleeplessness takes a couple different forms—waking at 2, then 3, then 4, and finally falling asleep around 5 or 6; or waking at 4, usually in a full panic. Sometimes I convince myself I have COVID 19 because I can’t catch my breath, only to realize it’s anxiety that’s taking my breath away. Sometimes I worry about everything from how Annabelle is going to safely go back to school in the fall in a school with 1200 kids to financial ruin to Sam being in Miami where cases are spiking to the upcoming election, and sometimes I worry about all those things. Oh, and there’s more too, but you get the idea. Some things help. Like I need the sheets and blanket tucked in nice and neat, the loft chilly, my pillows in the right position, and a cat or two on my feet. Hermia was the most dependable for the latter, but I think I was keeping her awake because she’s been sleeping in the couch. When I was an international flight attendant, we would hang our scarf on our hotel room door so others could see who was awake and come for a visit or even go out somewhere. I wish there was a way to hang my scarf so others could see who was awake, worrying her way through the night.

Days are a different story. I’m almost joyful as I move through them. Reading the NYT, drinking coffee, and doing the Spelling Bee in bed with Michael every morning. Writing my novel. Having lunch with Annabelle. Teaching the daily writing workshop with Hester Kaplan every weekday at 1. Knitting in the afternoon. Reading on the roof. Playing cards with Annabelle and/or Michael: cribbage, pitch, Hearts. Cooking. Six o’clock cocktails. Dinner and a movie. Reading some more. In between there’s lots of time zooming and texting with friends, lots of time for dreaming of moving to Ireland or Italy, of sitting in a Broadway show again with Michael and eating at Barbuto with him, of hanging out with Sam and Katherine in NYC again, of walking from the West Village to the East Village and eating Vietnamese food then going to see a play at the NY Theatre Workshop. Yes, dreaming big dreams and dreams of what used to be normal.

So today I woke at 4. Now I’m getting sleepy again. Hermia has left the couch and is cuddled up beside me. I will sleep for an hour or so. And in a few nights I’ll sleep blissfully the whole night through. In between, well, these are strange days and nights. We are all doing the best we can. Be gentle with yourself. Hang your scarf out and know all over this big world, lots of others have theirs out too.