Category Archives: News

From Instagram: Someone’s cat and my book. The poster says the kitten was teething on the book, but it seems pretty clear to me she’s reading it…and probably nearsighted as well. Get the kitty some glasses, I say!


Spent the day off buried in paper. “A Reunion of Ghosts” by Judith Claire Mitchell —> so sad and bloody brilliant that the kitten tried to eat it. #areunionofghosts #bestboxdayever

Paper Delph

I love this doll by Traci Stillwell that I cut out of Cloth Paper Scissors – doesn’t she seem perfect for this quote from A Reunion of Ghosts? (It’s a fantastic book, BTW)–Deb Matten Desi.

I came across this today on a blog called Of Sage and Sepia. The blogger, an artist named Deb Mattin Desi, does what she calls “doodles.” Her current doodling project involves filling a book with a doodle a day. She  writes: “Doodling is what this book is about–most pages have a prompt and some subtle background color or design, so there’s no dreaded white page. I’ve been stretching myself to put pen to paper on most days-either as a doodle or lettering…”

Her work reminds me of the approach folks such as my colleague Lynda Barry and my former grad student Oliver Baez Bendorf take to drawing, collaging, and cartooning. As is the case with Lynda and Oliver’s work, I found Deb’s blog inspiring, especially given a project I’ve had in mind since visiting the Galapagos in late July/early August that would blend story and visuals. I’ve loved drawing since I was a kid but was dissuaded from pursuing it because…well, I’m awful at it. (And now I hear Lynda chiding me as she does everyone who demeans their own drive to create art of any kind by constantly plaguing themselves with the two questions, “Is this good? Or does this suck?”)barry001

Anyway, what I really wanted to say here is how happy it made me to see this particular doodle on Deb’s blog. In the caption Deb explains she began by cutting out a doll by another artist (the prompt), then doodling in the background and adding the quotation from A Reunion of Ghosts. Gotta say that it definitely doesn’t suck to come across something like this! Thanks, Deb.

Scotland Photo Album

IMG_0287The ten days I spent in Scotland, giving readings, meeting with book groups, visiting bookstores, and doing signings, was so much fun. A beautiful country full of warm, welcoming people. Dour Scots?  I didn’t meet a single one. And haggis? Guys, that stuff rocks.

The main reason I went to Scotland was an invitation from the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The festival is held at Charlotte Square, a private park that opens its wrought iron gates for 17 days in August for the event. Tented buildings are erected along the perimeters for the readings, lectures, performances, and book sellers. The big bookstore where I signed books is to the left in the above photo. And the statue is of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. The photo captures a rare moment when a seagull was not sitting on his royal head.

Here are some more photos from my time in this beautiful country:

Benjamin Johncock and I sign books after our Edinburgh Book Festival panel, and then…
One week later, my former MFA student Rowan Hisayo Buchanan at the same table signing her first novel Harmless Like You
…one week later, my former MFA student Rowan Hisayo Buchanan sits in the same signing area after her panel. Harmless Like You is her first novel and it marks the beginning of an exciting career.
Here are both UK editions of A Reunion of Ghost–soft and hard cover–on the “Reading Today” shelf at the Book Festival. Always fun to see one’s book in a big, busy book store…
…but sometimes it’s even more fun to see one’s book in a small shop in a small town where they’re limited by space and have to be choosy about what they stock. This is the Waterstones Book Store (think Barnes & Noble in terms of national scope, but independent bookstore in terms of the way each individual shop is run) in Aviemore in the Eastern Scottish highlands. This copy of the book is all dressed up in its “Waterstone Book Club” sticker (Waterstones chooses 6 books a year for the honor) and some kind words from the local booksellers. Also, if you buy A Reunion of Ghosts in Aviemore, you get another book at half price! Might be worth the trip! And finally…
...the Haggis collection from, I think, the menu at our hotel outside Aviemore, in a wee village called Boat of Garten. Haggis pakora! Haggis lasagne! I, for one, would recommend the haggis with neeps and tatties (or turnips and potatoes). Good stuff.
…while I’m suggesting things to read, here’s the Haggis collection from the menu at our hotel outside Aviemore. The hotel was in a wee village called Boat of Garten, but had a surprisingly excellent restaurant. We skipped the Haggis at this stop, but look at this international flair. Haggis pakora! Haggis lasagne! Something for everyone. Well, okay, maybe not everyone. Where is the haggis matzah brie, I ask you?? In the end, however, I would recommend sticking to the basics and ordering the haggis with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Really good stuff. Kind of like stuffed derma. Honestly, haggis could really use a better publicity team.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

EIBPIf my event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival was the most enjoyable book festival gig I’ve done to date it’s all because Daniel Hahn, the moderator, was so prepared, smart, and funny. And it’s also because the other writer in the room, Benjamin Johncock, was also whip smart, thoughtful, and gracious. And it’s also because I got to go out afterwards with my beloved British editor Lettice Franklin who came up from London so we could meet at last.

Above is a picture Don took of (left to right) Dan, Ben, and me, the three of us just moments away from talking our heads off about everything from historical research to why it takes forever to write these books to the use of commas.

East Side, West Side, All Around the…World

This crazy, wonderful summer! I turned 64 in early July and, yes, I’ve been doing the garden and digging up weeds, but even though I agree that one could not ask for more, the universe has somehow decided to give me lots more anyway. There was the Vermont Studio Center residency in early July. Then, a few weeks later, in non-A Reunion of Ghosts related activities, Don and I spent 10 days in beautiful Ecuador, 7 of those days exploring the mind-blowing Galapagos islands. Here’s a picture from your average morning in the islands:

Version 3

But turning to book-related travel, a week ago I read in the Scribblers on the Roof reading series at Ansche Chesed, the Upper Westside synagogue, where, to my delight and amazement (it was a hot August evening in NYC, after all) the place was packed. The horrible heat and humidity of the prior days had broken and there was a gentle breeze as first the smart and witty Janice Weizman and then I read from our respective novels. After each reading the audience asked intelligent and illuminating questions. There was even homemade chocolate cake. (Happy birthday, event coordinator Josh Hanft!)

13995530_10153637746241246_4494351262501133145_o (1)And to make things even better, a classmate from my Bethpage High School days, Ira Temchin, was sweet enough to take the A train down to see me. There is such a strong connection among my BHS crew–stronger in some cases now than it was back in the day. We have a different perspective at this point in our lives: we see our similarities rather than the silly differences that can keep short-sighted kids apart and cliquish. The blessing/curse that is Facebook is at its blessingest when it comes to my high school classmates, facilitating connections and allowing us to feel physically closer than we are in reality. I truly turn into a sentimental puddle when it comes to this particular community of fellow 64-year-olds, so seeing Ira was deeply meaningful. Anyway, enough of that! Here’s a picture that Ira took of me reading.

There was no time to linger in the city, though. The morning after my reading, I zipped right back home. The next morning I spoke by phone to the members of the Marlboro Public Library’s book club who’d read Reunion this month. Thanks to Monmouth County, NJ librarian Robyn Miller for selecting the book and her unwavering enthusiasm for it. Her questions were smart and probing, making me think about my own work in new ways.

And now, after a week at home catching up on school work, I’m preparing to travel to Scotland for 10 days. I’ll be flying out on Friday, reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Sunday, and meeting with the Edinburgh Jewish Women’s Book Group on Monday. Info about both events, the former public and the latter private, are here.

IMG_0733After Edinburgh, I–I should say “we” because Don is coming too–will be traveling to Glasgow and then taking a couple of days to explore the west highlands, ancestral home of this little person, my west highland white terrier Josie, who, I sense, has a tartan neckerchief in her near future.

So–yes, what a crazy, busy, happy summer filled with blessings galore. And if this post were to have an acknowledgments section the way a novel does, then I’d be acknowledging Clare Juddson Kagel, a reader who befriended me and snagged me the Ansche Chesed invite, the aforementioned Josh Hanft and Robyn Miller, author and erstwhile kid sister Jessamyn Hope for connecting me with the Edinburgh book club, my publicity team at 4th Estate in London, and the University of Wisconsin’s Art Institute for awarding me its 2015 Emily Mead Baldwin-Bascom Prize, which helps pay for the parts of all this travel that are writing-related. I am so incredibly fortunate.

Sunset in New York City: A Reading

There’s a scene in A Reunion of Ghosts where the three sisters narrating the book discuss the almost luridly colored sunsets over the Hudson River that they can see from their Upper Westside apartment. In fact, that scene inspired the jacket of the British paperback edition of the novel. Here’s the jacket next to the real deal.

Eng pbk                          ny_sunset_over_the_hudson_river_2_143

How perfect, then, that this Monday (August 8 at 8pm), I’m going to be closing out New York City’s summer reading series, Scribblers on the Roof, which takes place on the rooftop of the UWS synagogue Ansche Chesed, and where, I’m told, the backdrop to the reading is the topic of the sisters’ conversation itself: the sun slowly setting over the Hudson.

Reading with me that night is debut novelist Janice Weizman, whose historical novel The Wayward Moon received a Midwest Book Award and an Independent Publishers Book Award in historical fiction.

So…from sunset to the wayward moon’s rise. It should be a beautiful evening.

TOK FM Warsaw

It seems that Poland’s radio station TOK FM in Warsaw broadcasts a a program quite like Madison’s A Chapter A Day, in which a host reads a book out loud over the course of two weeks. And it also seems that host Halina Skoczyńska read A Reunion of Ghosts–or rather The Subtle Charm of Suicide, as my Polish publisher rechristened it–on that program shortly after its release. Here is photographic evidence:


Home from Vermont

mason_greenI had a phenomenal time at Vermont Studio Center. The stifling heat and humidity of the drive from Burlington airport to the VSC campus broke shortly after I settled in to my apartment, and for the rest of the week the weather was either romantically rainy or beautifully sunny.

On the night I arrived I gave a reading from Reunion. The next day I gave a craft talk and, as so often is the case, I picked up as many good tips from the other writers in the room as I’m hoping they picked up from me.

The best part about the Visiting Writer gig, though, is working one-on-one with the writing residents. This group included writers working on their first books to writers who had already published several books. It also included UW MFA alum, Hannah Oberman-Breindel, whose presence made a joyful week somehow even more joyful.

Version 2On my last day, I offered to meet with the residents as a group to discuss the unwieldy process of writing the novel and was pleased so many came–including poets and even my husband Don,  a visual artist who makes sculptural art jewelry. Here’s a photo of Don at the discussion. He seems to be toasting us with his cider. I suspect he’s thinking, “Thank goodness my work only involves welding and torches and other forms of physical labor, rather than this awful novel-writing thing.”

All in all, the work this week was exhilarating, but needless to say, it also took a lot of time and energy.  I was often so tired by the day’s end that I’d fall asleep soon after dinner. Or maybe I was just exhausted by the juxtaposition of the uplifting art and creative spirits with the soul-crushing series of news reports: the day before I left Madison, Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge; on the day I flew to Vermont, Philando Castile was killed in St. Paul; on the day I arrived at VSC, five police officers in Dallas were killed during a peaceful Black Lives Matters protest; and the day I was to fly home marked the first anniversary of Sandra Bland’s death in a Texas jail cell, though she’d committed no crime.

saarIn light of all this, I was glad that on my final night I fought off my sleepiness and attended Visiting Artist Alison Saar’s slide show. The work she showed us was touching and heartbreaking and upsetting and funny and intense. I didn’t get a chance to meet her–we were two ships passing in the night–but  I was grateful for her presence.

Then a going-away party on the porch of Trustee House, where I was staying, and the next morning Don and I were off…

…or so I thought. When thunderstorms along the east coast essentially shut down Burlington airport on my scheduled day of departure, we were forced to spend an extra night in Burlington, which turned out to be a treat. We had an amazing dinner at Hen of the Wood, then strolled along Church Street Marketplace, where we watched a street magician make oranges and melons appear out of nowhere. A perfect end to a magical week.

Vermont Studio Center Redux

MACKENZIE-VermontStudioCenter-8 We’re busy packing for a week at Vermont Studio Center, where visual artists and writers come to work on their projects in a beautiful setting. I did a one-month residency there a few years ago and made significant progress on A Reunion of Ghosts, which was still in draft form.

This time, though, I’ll be at VSC as their July session’s Visiting Writer. This will be my second time as the Visiting Writer. The first time I did it was during an icy week in January, and, despite the frigid weather, I enjoyed my time and the writers I met. So when I was asked to do it again I was thrilled. This time, from July 7 to July 12, along with working on my own writing, I’ll engage with the 16 writers in residency. I’ll also give a reading at 8pm on July 7 that’s free and open to the public. The next day I’ll be delivering a craft talk. And after that I’ll read the work of, and meet individually with, any of the writers who are interested in my feedback.

Extra bonus: this time around my husband Don is coming with me!