Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Know Where I Have Been.

My friend Bunny just set this off.

I told her it was really high time for me to go to New York to do some research for my new book, titled (if the publisher does not object) "White House, Red Carpet". It is mainly set in Brooklyn and the theater district of Manhattan, and while I have been in Manhattan my knowledge of Brooklyn is sketchy.

As most of my blog readers know, a big part of my first book, "TheDistant Shore" (soon to be published by Buddhapuss Ink. LLC) plays in a small coast town in Norway. Bunny just asked me if I've been there, and I told her, yes, I've been.

I remember when I got out of the car there, after driving all day long down from Alesund in the North. It was the middle of May, and quite cold, and when we got there it was raining and getting dark, quite early in the day too. I remember the hotel, just like on this picture, the parking lot not paved, and only this little cobbled street with the three stores on it leading up the hill. There were some small ships in the harbor, the water of the bay was calm and leaden in the steady drizzle, the sky low and grey, like a drawn curtain.  And it was so quiet.

I stood there while my friend complained about the weather, and just like that the place connected to me. It felt as if it had been waiting for me, as if we were drawing this breath of release together. My soul flowed away from me, flowed to mingle with the wind and the rain and the cry of the seagulls and the beacon of the lighthouse far out where the bay met the ocean. I looked out over the water and wanted to be a tree, dig my toes into the soil and take root, dissolve into my surroundings.

We had booked rooms in the only hotel, the yellow building directly on the edge of the water.

We went inside to register, and while the blond girl at the counter got our room keys I looked around. It was not a spectacular hotel lobby, but it had a charm all of its own in its simple elegance. As we went to the lifts I had this sudden vision.

Yes, I know it sounds trite, but that is how it was. I saw this one scene which now is a centerpiece in my novel, the moment when the long-lost lovers meet again after so many years, when Naomi steps out of that same lift, sees Jon and drops the tray with the plates.

For ever and ever this was the only instant of the story I carried around with me, this one look, this meeting. When I started writing down the whole story I never thought beyond this point, this was what I wanted to describe, explore the emotions and reactions, and I had no idea how it would go on from there. Thankfully, my characters knew quite well where they were headed and the novel wrote itself, just like the second is writing itself.

There is another scene in my story, where Jon remarks on something he witnesses and can't explain to himself. Naomi solves the mystery for him, and it is quite mundane, but I did not make it up.

Before my friend and I went down for dinner I spent quite some time staring out of the window in my room. Across a small arm of the bay was a sort of quay, a depot or factory building on it, and for the longest time cars drove up, stood there for a few minutes, their motors running, and left again. There were quite a number of them too. I never figured out what their reason was, but it fascinated me enough to pick it up again for my book.

I'm not going to tell you which explanation Naomi comes up with. If you want to solve the riddle of the cars on the dock you'll have to read my book.

I write about places I know. Places I've been. Most of the time, at least. I've not been to Malibu yet, but so far no one has complained about my depictions.

The main point though is, if you've been to a place you choose as a setting you can describe how it feels, smells, tastes. There will be a connection. Granted, Floro was a lucky find. But still. I like to write about places I've been. So NYC, here I come. Again.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Morning After

You want to know how it feels when you've just signed a book contract?


Like one of those crazy rabbits running from one corner of the cage to the other, holding their heads and going, "Oh my God, oh my God, what to do now?"

Oh wait there's something wrong with this image... nevermind. It's how it feels. I needed a drink. A four-finger drink, straight up. And I needed to TELL! The news sat in my chest like a huge big shining bubble, ready to burst if I did not let it out. Trust me, if this happens to you, you want to SHOUT it to the world. It is the proverbial dream coming true. The one you have lived through, as a writer, on many nights lying awake in your bed. The scene you play out in your mind, the one moment you long for, more than anything else.

Only when it happens, it is WAY different from what you thought it would be.

For me, it was a short email asking for a skype chat. Uhu. I hate webcams. They make me look even fatter and dowdier than I already am. I'm shy, and I did not want my family to be present for this "talk" (I had no idea what was coming!!!) and hid in my kid's room with my laptop.

So on comes this nice lady in a slightly messy office, and she tells me THESE THINGS! Tells me she loves my book and really believes in it, and what a joy it is to work with me, and yes, they really do want to sign me (Insert here: Mariam goes to pieces). There was some more business talk, of course, but the bottom line is: Yes, I have my book deal. And I got it sitting on my kid's unmade bed, the mess on the floor thankfully  not visible over the webcam. I must have come across like a total imbecile, but whatever. Nothing was said that I couldn't just nod to and say, "Uhu,uhu, right, sure." Business cards? Sure. Book tour? Hell, yes!!!

While this went down, my family was grumbling about lunch - which was ready and heartily ignored by me - and ate without me.

And folks, I'm SO glad that camera catches only your face or my brand-new publisher would have seen I was not even wearing a bra... now is THIS how you picture your moment of glory? Certainly not, right? Well, it was mine.

So today I woke up and wondered... is my life different now?

And the answer is, yes. It is different. It is VERY different. Not outwardly, mind. I still need to clean the bathroom before our friends come over later to drink the bubbly with us and celebrate. And the cat still barfed on the carpet. Nothing different there. But on the  inside, everything has changed. It's the day of justification, the moment I worked for so long. Now I can look at my dusty shelves and the grimy stove and say to them, "See? You had to suffer, but it was worth it!" And my dear, poor hubby, who did most of the housework so I could write, and edit, and rewrite, and edit... now I can say, "Thank you, sweetheart, and look, it was good for something."

I know they say you should write for yourself and not think about publication. That's just whistling in the dark. If you are serious about it, you DO write to get published. Well, I did. Do. I need this vindication. I need it to return it to my family and friends. They deserve it, for all their support and patience and love during the past three years.

And hey, I rather like it, too. I liked walking through our book store today and thinking, "Soon, soon!" I like the feeling of being on the other side of the wall, I'm not going to lie. And yes, I do want the commercial success, both for myself and for the publisher who put their trust and money in me. There will be a lot of work before I can admire my novel in the shop windows and displays, but it will be there. If I have to stack it there myself it will be there. My publisher, MaryChris, will not be sorry for her decision to take me on.

My novel, "The Distant Shore", is a Contemporary Romance set in Norway, London, L.A., NYC and the outskirts of Toronto, and it tells a nearly impossible love story. I have the hope it will be published late this year, but that depends on me, and how fast I get the final edits done. So stick around, and watch this space for updates.

I think this will be a wild, wonderful ride.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dark Chocolate, Every Day

Has anything ever happened to you that changed your view of the world within a few minutes? Yes, I know,  it does not happen all that often.

For me, that moment came yesterday when I was staring at twitter slipping by and one tweet caught my attention and led me to Sara Stein's blog. Now you surely remember my "Born To Be Fat" rant from not so long ago. So reading thing, and consequently getting talking to Sara, has both made me cry and cheer up a whole lot. I want to share this post from her blog with all my readers and friends who are struggling with their bodies the way I do. Take heart. We are not alone. Someone out there loves us and cares for us.

Thank you, Sara, for permitting me to post your "Open Letter To Oprah". Here it is:


NOOOOOO!!! That eardrum shattering scream you just heard was mine after I listened to Oprah Winfrey (I adore her) talk about her very public weight gain with emotional eating maven Geneen Roth. (Oprah on a Time She Forgot Her Loveliness, 5-11-2010)

I hear the thundering herd of hoof beats running for a book THAT IS NOT MEANT FOR OBESITY. And I hear the collective thud a month or two from now, of millions of copies tossed into the failed diet books collection. (Yes, we have those).

Don’t get me wrong – Geneen’s elegantly worded conversation on emotional eating is entirely appropriate for someone with 30 pounds to lose, or binge eating, or anorexia-bulimia. She even says that. Yet the audience was stocked full of morbidly obese people. Like me. And Oprah, God love her.

Certainly obese people have emotional eating that needs to be worked through for successful weight loss. But it is NOT the predominant driving force behind sustained obesity.

“I shamed my fat self”, Oprah said, “when I put myself on the cover of O and said how did I let this happen again”.

OPRAH! YOU DIDN’T LET IT HAPPEN! Anymore than you LET your bladder fill or LET your body go to sleep. This is your brain and body we’re talking about, not your soul.

Yo-yo dieting and weight regain are NOT the result of weak wills. THEY ARE THE RESULT OF AILING BODIES. And frantic brains trying to heal them.

Obesity is NOT a state of feeling badly about oneself – it is a MEDICAL CONDITION…with:

1) Chronic Inflammation, Pain and Exhaustion –  Addicted to sugar and caffeine? Maybe you’re an ENERGY addict! It takes additional energy in the form of calories to move your extra-large aching, swollen, inflammed self down the hall. The worse your end-stage illnesses of obesity are (such as sleep apnea, diabetes, arthritis, fibromyalgia, hypothyroid), the longer that hallway becomes. Even if the end-stage illnesses have not yet manifested, the inflammation of obesity is simmering inside you, and exhausting you.

2) Altered Metabolic Pathways – abnormal insulin, leptin, cortisol metabolism (and others) cause the obese person to hold on to weight, be hungry all the time, have higher blood sugar and insane food cravings. Your continuously elevated stress hormones have convinced your trillions of cells to HANG ON TO EVERY BIT OF FAT BECAUSE WE”RE IN A FAMINE!! Don’t you wish you could explain grocery stores to them?

3) Altered Brain Chemistry – Depressed and anxious brains screaming for serotonin and GABA and dopamine driving you possessed toward the chocolate counter. Searching for oxytocin love in all that comfort ice cream and macaroni and cheese. Driven by sleep deprivation, changes in genetic expression and medication effects. Responding to toxic food injury from junk food as addicting as crack cocaine in your brain. This is not emotional eating; this is your brain directing your chemistry ingredients.

4) Severe Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies – such as (but not limited to) D, B12, A, iodine, fatty acids:

Vitamin D from the sun – a prehormone – manufactured by the cholesterol in your skin when exposed to that beautiful yellow orb in the sky. Vitamin D that gives us energy and happiness and relaxation and protects us from diabetes and heart disease and cancer and obesity. You don’t get credit if you stay indoors and look out the window, or if you live in Cleveland like I do and there isn’t any sun half the year, or if you’re African American and your skin acts like sunscreen. And you’re never going to be able to lose weight with Vitamin D deficiency until it is corrected.

Vitamin B12 from animal proteins (not vegan diets). Blocked from absorbing by all those prescription reflux medications. Vitamin B12 that gives us energy, memory, concentration, happy moods, relaxation.

Vitamin A from fruits and vegetables for our skin and eyes – night blindness, psoriasis, eczema – the 5th leading cause of blindness in the world – not found in junk food, you can be sure, but a good carrot or sweet potato might help.

Mineral and element deficiencies like Iodine – Iodine that keeps your thyroid running and your breast tissues healthy, essential for the production of every hormone. Added to salt in the early 1900’s so you wouldn’t get a thyroid goiter, but now you eat fancy non-iodized kosher salt and sea salt or no salt at all. Iodine that used to be in flour until the 1970’s when it was replaced by bromine (the stuff they gave soldiers in World War II to kill their sex drives!)  Makes you tired, in pain, obese, dull.

Essential fatty acid deficiency – I know you’re eating fish 3 times a day, right? Essential means brain function – attention deficit disorder, memory, mood. Essential means skin – eczema, rash, dryness. Essential means inflammation and immune function – cancer, heart disease, arthritis, dementia. My grandmother frying those smelts every week – she knew something!

5) Food sensitivities like 1) gluten from all that fake wheat processed stuff used to thicken, texturize and cheapen your food, 2) corn from the high fructose corn syrup that makes you gain MORE weight than the same caloric amount of sugar; 3) processed soy that slows your thyroid down because it’s no longer recognizable to your immune system. 60% of people with obesity have food sensitivities, aka allergies.

Now…does that sound like ‘”only eat when you’re hungry in a quiet room focused on food” is really going to make a difference?? Treating morbid obesity with emotional eating techniques is the same as treating cirrhosis of the liver with 12-step programs. The proverbial peeing in the ocean.

Here are some suggestions if you are obese.

Get your vitamin and mineral levels checked. Be careful of those who tell you what you should be eating. Pay attention to when you feel sick, what did you eat in the last 24 hours? The hell trinity of obesity is gluten, dairy and sugar. Purify your food and water sources. If you can’t pronounce it or picture it, don’t eat it. It’s making you fat, and that INCLUDES artificial sweeteners. Forget gourmet, aim for plain. Like grandma used to make. Whatever you’re doing now…do the opposite. Get out of the chair. Sleep more. Eat grapes. Watch less TV. Spend more quiet time. Work less. Work out less. Play more. Do nothing that causes physical or emotional pain. Take baths. Dance in a chair. And if you cannot do anything at all, at least get a little sun.

Try 70% dark chocolate EVERYDAY to fool your body about that famine delusion. The heavenly trinity that treats depression…exercise, Vitamin D and dark chocolate. Can you add one in?

There is hope and healing from obesity. One medical condition at a time. Give your emotional soul a rest.

Sara L. Stein, M.D., is a bariatric and integrative psychiatrist  who runs Obesity Clinic at Kaiser Permanente in Cleveland, and is the author of Obese From The Heart: A Fat Psychiatrist Discloses (2009). Learn more at