Identity Crisis


I am fortunate to have the ear of the local Police Chief who has actually been all over the world in various heroic positions! He is very experienced and smart and, happily, very approachable, so if I have a police question that involves more than a yes or no Google-able answer I text him. If it’s really complicated, I might talk with him about it on the phone.

In my new novel, a victim is sprawled across a sidewalk in midtown Atlanta. For the sake of tidying up, I needed to get him out of there and off for autopsy but I wasn’t sure how this would happen exactly. Would he be slid into an ambulance and transported quietly with sirens off? Would he be in an ambulance with the siren blaring for immediacy? Would the Medical Examiners themselves pull out a stretcher and tuck him into another sort of vehicle on its way to another sort of place?

It was night time. It wasn’t especially late, but it was winter, so it was dark. And it wasn’t especially early either. I grabbed my cellphone out of my purse and scrolled through my list of contacts, tapped the Police Chief’s name and typed a quick text, asking him how to get a dead body out of the street or something equally ambiguous.

Apparently, I was not in his list of contacts.

There was a lengthy pause and then his reply, a simple inquiry before further action might be taken – phone traces, dragnets, dispatched cruisers with sirens of their own – His text came up with a little buzz. Who is this?


Ghosts of Christmas Past

My parents died on Christmas Eve. Both of them. Several years apart – my father in Miami, his Christmas banana bread in tin foil on the counter, and his gift to me, a framed photo of our tiny daughters on their last visit, already wrapped. I arrived home just in time to say goodbye. A senseless death, preventable and arguably suit-worthy, but he was an alcoholic with a ruined liver and it was Christmas and the truth of things was buried in the shock, the ashes and rosaries and incense, in the toasts of old friends, the cushioned seats of limousines.

God, my sister and I said on the rare occasions that our mother spoke of that day. Just promise you won’t die on Christmas Eve. But she did. Fourteen years later. Almost the same minute of my father’s death, in another state, amid fake Christmas trees and empty cardboard wrapped to look like presents, in the whispered joviality of piped carols, the strange brightness of the ICU, she flew away. On Christmas Day I forged her signature and charged her last trip to Miami on her credit card, sorted through her closet for her favorite clothes, her new SAS shoes, her clip-on earrings, but not her wedding ring.

My parents weren’t well-matched. Their best times were captured in old photos on Lake Michigan before our births. The rest was aftermath. They turn up now and then in things I write, appear unbeckoned in my books, in my head. They climb out from behind a word, a sentence – clinging to the anger that spread across our childhoods like a fire. Out of control. Relentless, building on itself, destroying everything in its path and leaving only blackened bits of things, only wrecked scorched hollowed earth.

I used to think it was such an awful eerie thing, the two of them conspiring somehow to ruin Christmas from the grave. But now I don’t. Now I wonder if it meant something, the way they both left on the same day, that one magical day of all the days of the year. I wonder if they shook their heads and walked backstage to take a sad and surreptitious bow.

Snippet of Afterthoughts for The Other Widow

It was important for me to understand Dana, to try to see the world through her ultra-sharp lens, her terror and confusion and to hand that lens to readers. We tend to compartmentalize – bipolar here, schizophrenic there. It’s safer that way. We feel normal, secure. I think it’s far more complicated, that there isn’t one thick line that separates us – that so much of what determines who we are, who we become, our sanity or lack of it, depends on circumstance, on voices from the past that whisper in our ears or lodge themselves in our heads. I hope my readers will relate to Dana on some level. They don’t have to love her. It wasn’t my intent to make her loved, but understood.

            Dorrie, in The Other Widow, falls for someone else’s husband and instantly becomes the proverbial detested other woman. We know her. She’s slept with our now exes, stolen our sister’s husband, come between our parents. She has no heart, this interloper, picking at the bones of someone else’s marriage. Again, different from us. We have morals, scruples – we draw boundaries. And so I made her flawed, conflicted, struggling with her alcoholic husband, stuffing glue in the cracks of a fractured life for the sake of the daughter they both love. He makes her feel alive, this man who isn’t hers. He gets her humor, notes her worth. He touches something in her she’d forgotten – he makes her feel alive, even if it’s only for stolen chunks of time, even if she is his Tuesday girl, his other woman, unable even to grieve openly when he is killed. She has friends and a cat. She makes veggie burgers and shares a bed with someone she no longer trusts and sometimes wonders if she loves. She’s vulnerable and tough, a woman in a dying marriage – much closer than we thought and more than a cliché. She could be our next-door neighbor, our best friend. She could be us. Again, the lines are blurred, the right and wrong, the black and white.


An Excerpt From Afterthoughts - The Other Widow

At readings, people often ask me how I came up with the story line. Someone posed this question to me once in a Starbucks. I kiddingly replied I’ve had a lot of affairs and killed a lot of people, but after the reaction I got from a passing coffee-purchaser, I no longer answer quite so flippantly. I believe we’re all a mix of good and bad, some of us more ethical than others; some embrace strict moral codes, some the Golden Rule. For me, there is always a struggle between thought and emotion, between sticking to the highway and wandering far afield. As in T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, “between the idea and the reality. . . between the emotion and the response falls the shadow.” It is this pause, this indecision, this moment of truth, this “shadow” that will eventually enfold us all, trip us up or propel us forward if we’re human. If we’re at all alive. The women in my book are conflicted. They are complex, humorous, fairly normal people whose realities are shattered in one unlucky moment and whose silver lining is the chance they have to rearrange their lives before the pieces fall back into place.


Today I was driving past the building where I used to work before the state sold out and privatized the jobs we had for years, before that particular bullet was lodged in that particular educational foot. Maybe it was out of habit or nostalgia, the flower blossoms splattered in the parking lot, the café off the lobby with the giggly Chinese owners and the Tuesday Chicken Wraps. In any case I swerved in and sat there with my engine running for a minute, thinking about getting out and going inside, even though our whole department must be closed by now, the loose-end tiers having tied up the loose ends months ago.

I sat in a space beside an SUV with my hands on the steering wheel and remembered the time I thought I’d scratched a Lexus when I pulled in late and half awake, how I’d confessed this to the doorman. Mr. Wonderful, we called him. At least I did. He was retired from somewhere – I forget the story – and he ran a tight ship. Nothing escaped Mr. Wonderful – a hesitating car, a suspicious package – a dead engine; he was on it. I remembered him trekking out behind me in his boots the Morning of the Scratch, the coattails of his uniform flapping a little in the wind, how he stooped to eye the mark from every angle, flattening his hands in the air, calculating carefully before he found me innocent.

I was definitely lurking out there in the parking lot, definitely sliding around in time, remembering the Publix cakes in cardboard boxes, the prison papers inked with dreams, and all those secrets sealed inside a room with crappy lights. I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel and watched a woman I didn’t recognize go back inside and reappear with Mr. Wonderful in tow. She gestured toward my car, loitering and puffing in the space with all the rotted petals.

I thought about getting out, about waving my hands. I thought about saying “Hey! It’s me! Remember?” I didn’t though. I just backed out and left. It was like looking at a scene in a snow globe with all the people lined up and singing and the church and the shops and the snow falling down and everything’s the same but really nothing is.


The train roars down the track, jerking as it turns a corner, jerking back again. The lights flicker. Brakes squeal. A woman gazes at a dirty heart carved in the wall, at the initials knifed inside. She leans her head against the window, lets herself drift back inside the small hotel room she’s just left, clinging to the carved heart of the afternoon. The train squeals to a stop, snow slides through the freezing night. The moon hangs low between two buildings as she walks into the penance of her life:


"She looks behind him at the door popped back open by the wind. It stands ajar. She stops. Panic sends a chill along her spine beneath her heavy sweater, beneath the quilt that used to lie across the bed she shares with Samuel. She feels as if she’s sliding, plummeting, that there is no one anywhere to catch her. And then she remembers staring through the snow at Joe’s wrecked Audi, the clumps of people pointing, shouting, as she took small steps back toward the car. There was something different then from the way she’d left it only a moment or two before, but at the time she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. And now she can."  –The Other Widow



I grew up near the ocean. I loved the sea. I even thought I was a mermaid that got lost somehow and ended up on land. There was peace in the sound of the waves, the circling gulls, the hum of the South Beach bus. They drowned out all the harsher sounds of home and made me want to go, to fly. Everywhere. Anywhere.

I think they are there still, pieces of the past, preserved, the dead alive, the silenced voices singing me away. The parts of me that overlap with Karen Dempsey are in her memories of a cardboard house with hard blue rugs.

  She closes her eyes, and sees his face, and then, for just a fraction of a second, she sees her father’s face, the round white moon of it, shining through a murky window, her father, ripping through the early fabric of her life. Preparing her. Setting her up. For this. For the lie that was her husband. – The Other Widow

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