Tag Archives: The Novel in Progress

the sunday salon: april reading, judy in june

The Sunday Salon

Currently // My usual Sunday morning-into-early afternoon perch on the sofa, perusing the Pittsburgh and Philly newspapers along with Facebook and blog posts. On tap for today is grocery shopping and some household chores I need to get to (cleaning the showers … ugh).

What I’d Rather Be Doing // Sitting on the deck reading. It’s a gorgeous day. Finally, spring in the ‘Burgh. About goddamned time.

Reading, April recap // Thanks to the Read-a-thon and several very short books, I read seven books in April. A record month in a year that’s shaping up to be slow going, reading wise, but fantastic in quality. There are just too many damn good books out there.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler (audio)
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, by Alexandra Fuller
Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller
Deep Lane: Poems, by Mark Doty
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh (audio)
Acorn, by Yoko Ono

Of these, My Sunshine Away will be making an appearance on my favorites list for 2015 (loved that one!) and there’s a good chance Leaving Before the Rains Come, Deep Lane, and Z will also show up there.

Reading, currently // I just finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Expect a full review here later today or (most likely) tomorrow, since the pivotal event in the novel occurs on May 3.

Next up will probably be the new Judy Blume novel, due June 2.

Yes. You read that correctly.


Here it is.

In the Unlikely Event

I’m reviewing this one for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and yes, I fangirled my heart out when this was assigned to me. Although, can we talk about that cover? I mean, It looks kind of … amateurish and cheesy, don’t you think? This is a new book by Judy freakin’ Blume we’re talking about here. She’s a goddamn icon. Surely someone can do better than that for a cover, hmm?

Listening // Still listening to Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss and vowing not to eat another thing ever again.

Writing // The Girl took part in a teen program at the library yesterday, leaving me with a chunk of uninterrupted, quiet time to write. I brought my laptop up to the main reference room area and … total writer’s block. I suppose that’s to be expected; I was stunned to see that November was the last time I’d touched The Novel in Progress. It had also been over a week since I wrote anything besides work-related stuff – so it was like dusting off the mental cobwebs.


Wishing // My wonderful sister-in-law a very happy 40th birthday!

Feeling: Ancient and lazy. I swear, if I see one more Facebook picture of a high school friend’s kid going to their senior prom or graduating college or doing the stuff it seems like I was just doing five goddamn minutes ago, I may lose my mind.

Not to mention, every one of my friends has become an Olympian all of a sudden. For real, you’re either running Boston or the Pittsburgh Marathon or the Broad Street Run. Meanwhile, my lower back and ass are killing me today because I carried my laptop, bookbag and 510 lb. purse up one floor of the library’s steps. (Hey, I could have taken the damn elevator.)

Speaking of Facebook pictures, I’m more and more convinced the Duchess of Windsor is not real, you guys. Did you see her, 10 hours after having that baby, looking as fanfuckingtastic as ever? Jesus H. Christ. Of course, you know if she walked out of the hospital in sweats and what have you that would be what everyone would be yammering about. But, still.  I can’t. I just can’t.

Hoping // That The Boy will go back to school tomorrow. He’s been sick with pneumonia for more than a week (today is Day 10). The coughing has gotten much better, but he’s still not himself, especially in the mornings. He’s sick of being sick and we’re getting frustrated with the slow progression of things.

Happy Sunday, kids. Hope you all have a great week ahead.

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Book Review: Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, by Paul Monette

Borrowed TimeBorrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir
by Paul Monette
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
342 pages 

During a critique session, someone in my writing group asked me about my motivation for my novel-in-progress. It’s set in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and is a young adult novel based on real-life experiences. It’s a story that I’m compelled to tell for several reasons.

I thought about my answer for a minute before responding to my friend.

“I don’t want this story to be forgotten,” I said simply, adding that for my kids’ generation, the fear and the panic of AIDS – not to mention the blatant indifference from the government – has become the stuff of ancient history.

Borrowed Time brings it all back.

Paul Monette’s memoir about caring for his partner Roger Horwitz during his fight with AIDS is, without a doubt, one of the most powerfully affecting memoirs I’ve ever read – about AIDS or otherwise. It doesn’t matter that this was published in 1988. This is timeless.

Drawing heavily from Paul’s journals, Borrowed Time has a chronological feel to it, giving the reader the feeling of being in medias res during the nineteen months from Roger’s diagnosis in March 1985 to his death in October 1986.  It’s unabashedly human and raw, as Paul spills emotions of anger and frustration, admitting what he doesn’t remember and portraying vividly what he does.

Living with AIDS feels akin to living on the moon, Paul writes, and that metaphor – along with the symbolism of light and dark – shows up frequently in Borrowed Time. In 1985, that’s how it was; AIDS patients and those caring for them were very much on a different planet than the rest of society.

The writing in Borrowed Time is spectacularly gorgeous. There’s not a single page where Paul Monette doesn’t leave a piece of his heart while taking part of his reader’s.

“Hope had left us so unprepared. We had grown so grateful for little things. Out of nowhere you go from light to dark, from winning to losing, go to sleep murmuring thanks and wake to an endless siren. The honeymoon was over, that much was clear. Now we would learn to borrow time in earnest, day by day, making what brief stays we could against the downward spiral from which all our wasted brothers did not return.” (pg. 183)

Borrowed Time is a lot of things. It’s a roller-coaster ride; one minute Roger is well and the next he is near death. It’s a testament to the bond of friendship, because not only do Paul and Roger have a support system of close friends, they also know the right people in 1985 to be able to access drugs like suramin and AZT and protocols that buy Roger extra time.

Borrowed Time is maddening as hell, because of what we know now. (“It will be recorded that the dead in the first decade of the calamity died of our indifference.” (pg. 18).

It’s about family. “Craig’s mother cut him off one night as he complained about the blood tests and the circular doctors’ appointments: ‘Listen, this whole thing is your own fault. I don’t really want to hear about it.’ That turns out to be rather mild, and at least it’s honest. The real hell is the family sitting in green suburbia while the wasting son shuttles from friend to friend in a distant place, unembraced and disowned until the will is ready to be contested. And even that is to be preferred to the worst of all, being deported back to the flat earth of a rural fundamentalist family, who spit their hate with folded hands, transfigured by the justice of their bumper-sticker God.” (p. 205)

It’s about the very real emotions of being the primary caregiver for someone who is terminally ill. It gets at the unbearable burden of secrecy that was absolutely necessary to protect the people we loved.

Above all, Borrowed Time is a story about what it means to truly love someone. It’s impossible to come away from this without realizing how very much in love Paul and Roger were, which is part of what gives this memoir its overwhelming sadness.

Paul Monette died of AIDS in 1995, nine years after Roger’s passing. From a literary perspective, the mind reels at the loss of such an immensely talented writer as Paul Monette. It’s impossible not to think of what might have been if things had been different, in so many ways.

5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended.






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Words in Process


We are back from a few days by the ocean and the bay, a few days during which I walked these paths and gazed at these skies I love. As is often the case with the weather at the Jersey shore, the skies were sometimes stormy and sometimes breathtaking within the same few minutes. One never knows what to expect from one second to another and these few days by the ocean were that way.

Writing is like that too, isn’t it? Sometimes, our words surprise us. Our characters find themselves on  roads they (and we) never knew existed.

Despite my best intentions, I only pulled out my novel and notes once during this vacation in preparation for my talk tomorrow evening as part of the Words in Process writers series. I did do a lot of thinking and internal prep work for my remarks.


I hope you will join us tomorrow evening, June 18, beginning at 7 p.m., when I will read from my novel in progress. I will also discuss the world of book blogging and how writers can promoting their work through their blogs. (Keith Campbell’s legendary red velvet cupcakes with chocolate liqueur are rumored to be served.)

Allegory Gallery is located at 139 East Main Street in Ligonier, PA. Hope to see you there! 



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in which i will be reading my words in process, in ligonier, in june

So, I’ve been sitting on some exciting news for the last couple days.

It has been like that lately with us book bloggers, hasn’t it? Seems like a bunch of us have new projects and all sorts of new wonderfulness to announce. It has been head-spinning, in a good way.

I have been turning my attention more to this writing life of mine, trying to see what possibilities might be out there professionally and personally.  For reasons that I have been struggling to understand, the profession I know and the work that I’ve been doing for 22 years is not working here for me, in this new place. As I said to The Husband the other night, I really thought more things would have fallen into place by now, nearly two years into this.

But some new things are happening.

One of them has led to my being invited to read my work during this upcoming season of Words in Process.

(I know. Me. A reading. I would have been less surprised if the Vatican had called to say I’d been named the next pope.)

Words in Process is a group of local (western Pennsylvania) poets, writers, and literary enthusiasts who present their work and their thoughts on writing at a monthly Reading Series in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. Afterwords, an open mic is held for audience members to share their work. It’s all coordinated by the wonderful Amy Yanity, who I only know from Facebook and only through another writer friend.

My reading is scheduled for June 18 at 7 p.m. at Allegory Gallery in Ligonier, Pa. I’ve also been asked to speak about blogging and this book blogging world of ours. The talk is open to the public and free of charge. And no, I have no idea what I’ll be reading … although there’s a good bet there will be some of the novel in progress and maybe a blog post or two. We’ll see.

To say that I am thrilled and honored and incredibly excited about this is an understatement. If you’re nearby and able to make it, I’d love to have you in the audience.

Photo is of one of my very first stories, written when I was about 6 or 7. Photo taken in December 2012. 

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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a few words for beth, for work-in-progress day

When Beth Kephart throws Facebook confetti and declares that it is Work-in-Progress day, and when Beth then invites her many talented writer friends to share a few lines from their current Work-in-Progress, and when Beth then asks you (meaning ME) if you’re in ….


Then you decide that this will be a two-blog post day (it is a holiday, after all) and the planned book review will wait.

Instead, you skim the pages of your own novel in progress to see what words, if any, are good enough to share. You want them to be your best – or, as best as they are right now.

Some of you have read these words before, either in this space or in a critique session at writing group. Some of you are new here and hence, have never seen them.

Regardless, here are the very first lines of Chapter 1 of my young adult novel titled Between Here and Gone.

“Anyone die today?”


It was his standard greeting to me during those days, a joke that started taking on a double meaning. We had abandoned the pleasantries of how are you and how was the drive up from Philly. In those days, we were all about the dead and the dying as we tried making room for the living.

“I got the last one, can you believe that?” I said, nodding toward the boxed butter cake I held, an attempt to change the subject.


My dad’s question-as-greeting referred to the obituaries, but we didn’t call them that. They were simply “The Deads.” Our religious daily reading of them in The Philadelphia Inquirer was one of the things we had in common, and one of the many revelations that came to light nearly a decade ago when Mom left to find herself out in Tahoe – and stayed. Whenever someone connected to our large, full of twice-removed peopled family died, it became almost a contest between us, our own celebration of The Days of The Dead, to see who would be the first to call, the first to ask, “Hey, did you see in the Inky that ….?”

He was expecting an answer. There was a time when I would have offered the tired joke about whether one of us were expecting to see our names listed but not now, not today. Not in these circumstances.

“Well, we’re still here,” I offered, just like I knew he wanted me to say, knowing that there would be a day when I wouldn’t be able to give that answer.


When the question wouldn’t be asked.  

photo taken by me at my mom’s house, July 2011

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

photo and copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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The Sunday Salon: Wolves at the Door

Tuesday is starting to loom large. We meet with the surgeon on Tuesday to learn The Husband’s biopsy results and to discuss next steps. Most likely, that evening my life will resemble yet another episode of  “Parenthood” (telling a kid with Asperger’s that a parent has cancer? check!) and we’ll be having a conversation that nobody ever wants to have. So, things are a little subdued around here, to say the least.

I tried to distract myself with Bloggiesta this weekend but I confess, I wasn’t quite feeling it this time around. That’s absolutely no reflection on the awesome job that Danielle and Suey did in organizing this event – quite the contrary. I saved all of the mini-challenges to do later, because they look fantastic.

I managed to get a few things accomplished on the blog front, which I’m happy about, but today I had to get out of the house. There was a children’s consignment sale being held not too far from us so Betty and I went down to see what they had. She needed some new pants and tops. Since today was the third day of the sale (it started Friday night), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised. I wound up getting 17 items (mostly all name brand pants, tops, sweaters, etc.).

I’m ending September and starting October by reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home, a coming-of-age novel by Carol Rifka Brunt about a 14 year old girl who is trying to make sense of her beloved uncle’s death from AIDS in 1987, when we didn’t know much about this epidemic. 
Yeah. I know. 
When I heard about Tell the Wolves I’m Home earlier this summer, there was a part of me that sort of collapsed inside. If you’ve read any of my posts about The Novel in Progress, you know that this is incredibly, incredibly similar to the novel I’m writing – and have been, on and off, for the past 10 years or so. I don’t think it’s anything other than coincidental. 
Still, I wasn’t sure if I was going to read Tell the Wolves I’m Home, if I wanted to read it, or if it was even a good idea for me to read it. 
But when I saw it in the library – face out on the New Books shelf, no less – I grabbed it and I realized what my hesitation was about. 
I was afraid. 
I was afraid that Tell the Wolves I’m Home would be better than my story, that it would make me abandon my novel, which I really don’t want to do. 
Which I can’t do. 
My reaction to this one so far is hard to explain. It’s a highly personal one, and for me, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a hell of an emotional ride on several levels. But even though I’m only on page 53, I’m enjoying the wolves. (How could I not? Junie is me, absolutely.) And overall, I’m glad I’m reading it, because although the storyline has some definite similarities, there are some differences too. I wouldn’t have known that if I refused to read the book. 
I would have remained afraid. 
Sometimes you have to let the wolves in rather than pretending they’re not there. 

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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The Sunday Salon: Restless Reader

I am SO excited, yinz. I has a new toy! 
Well, not really a new toy exactly, but close enough. I finally figured out how I can download library audiobooks onto my phone and listen to them! 
(I hear you laughing. You’ve been doing this for years, right? If so, don’t tell me and spoil my fun.) 
Up until now, my audiobooks have been listened to one way and one way only: in the car, on CDs. (It was cassette tapes up until 3 years ago, as I DIDN’T OWN A CAR WITH A CD PLAYER UNTIL 2009. I don’t own an iPod. Before April, I didn’t own a phone that was smart enough to read books to me. Livin’ the dream here, folks. Yep, livin’ the dream.) 
Anyway, so I discovered this new technical ability of mine on Tuesday, as I found myself in need of an audiobook to entertain me on the ride to and from my writers’ group meeting (it’s a 50 minute drive each way) and no time to hit the library. I looked through what I had on my Wish List and the next thing I knew, it was like Malcolm Gladwell was sitting in the passenger seat with me.

It is truly a kind of magic that I can log onto my library’s website, enter my library card number, and a few clicks later, have a book on my PHONE. (After installing the software that enables it to be so.) 

I chose Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. I know he’s often criticized, but I like Malcolm Gladwell’s stuff. I find his anedotes and stories  interesting and entertaining, particularly so in an audiobook format. I read The Tipping Point (in print) about 5 or 6 years ago, before my book blogging days.

So now, I want to listen to ALL THE BOOKS. On my phone. Because I can.

I needed a nonfiction book after reading what has become this summer’s hottest book – Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Oh my God … like most people who have read this one, this book just blew me away.

I’ll have more to say about this in my review, but what it left me with was an absolute restlessness in my reading. You know what I mean: you read an awesome book that keeps you riveted to your seat, and then everything that you pick up afterwards just doesn’t compare.

That’s happened to you, right?

Such has been my reading week this week.

I hate that, because it’s usually not the book’s fault nor the author’s. It’s more just a matter of timing. In those instances, my tactic is to switch genres: if it was a fiction book that had me captivated, I choose nonfiction as my next read, and vice versa.

This time, even that wasn’t doing it. I started Gail Collins’s As Texas Goes …How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda, but the first chapters with Texas history were losing me a bit. I switched back to fiction, with Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility, and promptly put that on the back burner too. (I’m not declaring either of these as DNFs just yet; I think they are just a victim to the post-Gone Girl phenomenon I’m dealing with.)

I’m restless on the personal front, too. I’ve had one of the laziest summers of my entire life and I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten everything accomplished that I want to. My own fault, that. I’ve also been writing a lot this week – as in, my own novel. I’m a slow writer in this regard; I revise and edit as I go, which means I’m only up to Chapter 3 and approaching 5,000 decent (I think) words. I’m on deck to submit something to my writers’ group in September, plus (dare I say it?) I am allowing myself to be optimistic about a job I might possibly hear about this week, which would put an end to my lazy days of novel writing and throw me back into the world of the gainfully employed. So, I have some self-imposed pressure, in a way.

Perhaps a book with Time as its theme would be in order.

Virginia Woolf, anyone? Today finds me reading The Years, Woolf’s second-to-last novel (published in 1937) about the large, well-to-do Pargiter family. Their mother is dying, and the novel follows each of the characters through “the commonplace moments” (according to the book jacket) and the years that make up a life.

So far, this is okay. I’m ambivalent about Woolf. Loved, loved, loved Mrs. Dalloway, but was just eh about To the Lighthouse. I want to love her. I really do. I just haven’t read enough of her to make up my mind or to have enough of a solid opinion.

Time will tell. This restless reader will give Woolf (and herself) a little bit more. 

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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