The Rescue Beagles dragged Amy Biancolli kicking and screaming into the Batcave in order to help us celebrate the release of her wonderful book FIGURING SH!T OUT: Love, Laughter, Suicide, and Survival.
Now, one would have to have their bellybuttons inverted to believe that Love and Laughter belong with Suicide and Survival – and that’s what makes Amy’s book so amazing. In fact, when Amy’s lovely agent, Jane Dystel, sent me the proposal, I tried to politely decline because I was thinking, “Oh no, not another death book.” Jane, in all her wisdom told me (politely) to shut up and read it – it’s not like anything in the marketplace.
She was right.
I did laugh. In fact, my sides ached…which isn’t easy. I may love to laugh, but I’m not a patsy. However, Amy’s humor is sinfully delicious, and she writes with an extremely deft hand. She knows the absolute meaning of balance and never spends too much time wading through any one emotion so that you’re emotionally spent. I came out feeling good…and I felt good about Amy and the path she’s currently walking. Because none of us are immune to SH!T. We all are magnets to some extent, and it’s how we deal with it when it dumps in our lap.
I decided I want to be like Amy; healthy, unafraid to not have all the answers and willing to stumble through the unknown with a modicum of indignity and humor. Which is why I had to have her manuscript. It’s a soothing balm for, well, FIGURING SH!T OUT.
So, Amy, you took a huge step in baring your soul to readers. Did aliens posses you to write this book, or was there something more earthbound that had you taking cyber pen to cyber paper? Therapy? Insanity? A message to share?
Funny that you mentioned aliens, because my son and I have been binging on The X-Files lately, and I’m starting to think I was abducted. Initially I had no plans on writing anything, because living through the grief was hard enough. But then, gabbing one day with an old friend with a huge laugh, I cracked some joke about writing a book – and he needled me until I did. This was right in the thick of that first year, maybe nine or ten months after my husband’s suicide. I was still living through the worst of it, so writing a book was an insane thing to do. But so much about that first year was insane, and my life had already veered so wildly off script that I was open to anything.
I loved the ending of your book. I stood up and cheered. And that’s what we do when we wade through any kind of darkness and punch through on the other side. Doesn’t matter what the “it” is – the important thing is that “it” affects our life – be it death, illness, losing a job, teenagers (oh, don’t even get me started), or financial strain. It’s all SH!T, and it must be dealt with. Did you see progress throughout your first year, going from Point A (hideous grief) to Point B (meeting a Mr. Manly Pants)?
Yes. I did. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it does have a blessed insistence about it, moving us along despite the wounds we carry. But it was more than just time. If indeed I did make it from Point A to Point B, writing the book helped me get there. Once I set to work on it, it felt necessary and healing. There’s something intensely therapeutic in telling our own stories and making sense of our own lives. If we can see trauma as a starting point – as an opening chapter in the narrative – then we can open ourselves to growth and then progress, however fitfully, toward some kind of happy ending. Maybe that happy ending is just a tiny, silent epiphany as we sense the arrival of hope. But if you see Point B in the arc of the story, and compare it with Point A, it’s huge. Quite a lot of life happened to get there.
Being able to find the humor in really tough situations is a godsend, but is that something that can be learned, or are you just hardwired that way?
I don’t know if I’m hardwired that way, but my mother saw the funny in everything. She was a wise soul and an absolute, blunt-talking pisser who faithfully loved and cared for my father in the long years following his suicide attempt and slide toward dementia. Her life, career and marriage changed forever, but she bore those changes every day with humor — and she’s been my guiding spirit and inspiration in the wake of Chris’s suicide.
Also, grief isn’t monochromatic. It’s not just black-on-black. Punctuating the hard tears of that first year were bizarre, darkly comic experiences that really were godsends. I had to laugh at them because I had no choice, and I’m profoundly grateful for the friends and family who laughed along with me. I’m not unique: anyone, facing any kind of loss or traumatic disruption of the normal, has to let loose now and then. Some of the sh!t that hits is too surreal to believe, and if you can’t laugh at it, you can’t live.
You wrote about New Amy vs Old Amy, and I wondered how New Amy is different from Old Amy.
Well, it would be nice to say that New Amy is less of a reflexive apologizer than Old Amy, who routinely drove her friends batty with cascading “sorries.” I described my efforts to overcome this in the book, but lately I’ve been backsliding. Sorry about that. But rest assured I’m still swearing a heck of a lot more than I used to. It just snaps out in colorful bursts, like Pop Rocks. Otherwise, I was never a good housekeeper; now I’m terrible. I was never much of a disciplinarian; now I’m the laid-back slacker-mom who gives her kids a pass for everything shy of criminal activity, because they’ve already been punished enough. And they are such beautiful, inspiring, awesome creatures, full of life and guts. Old Amy thought so too, but New Amy is more determined than ever to count her blessings and treat each day as a gift, because God only knows about tomorrow.
And for the record, Amy has TOTALLY backslid on the “sorries.” I think I managed to collect 4 in one day.
So there you have it, folks. Amy’s book reads like you’re sitting across the kitchen table from her, sipping coffee laced with brandy, laughing, crying, commiserating in sisterly Kumbuya fashion. So rush out and pick up a copy so we can all Kumbuya together. And if you’re in Albany, don’t miss Amy’s blowout of a book event.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (EDT)
And here is a terrific article on Amy by All Over Albany
The Times Union has a wonderful article about our clever and talented author, Amy Biancolli. Her book, FIGURING SH!T OUT: LOVE, LAUGHTER, SUICIDE, AND SURVIVAL is capturing attention because of Amy’s ability to seamlessly marry tragedy and humor into a book that’s the perfect scratch-where-it-itches.
And really, how can anyone resist a woman wielding a toilet plunger? Go. Read the article. Buy the book. If your life is roiling in SH!T, then Amy’s book will become your bible. Pinky swear.
There’s a terrific article in the Daily Mail showcasing our author, Kara Sundlun, and her new book FINDING DAD: From “Love Child” to Daughter. Kara’s story blew my doors off because she grew up never meeting her father until she was 17, when she sued him for paternity. Her main goal was to open up the door to create a relationship with him. He’d spent two years blowing off her letters, so she took the more drastic route.
The paternity test proved they were father and daughter, and the lawsuit was about owning up to his responsibilities to his daughter. Her father, Bruce Sundlun, then Governor of Rhode Island, could have done the bare minimum and paid for Kara’s college. But he did a shocking thing and invited her to move into his home so they could get to know each other.
Obviously, there was a lot of hurt and emotions were running high, but Kara (at 17) overlooked the hurt and feelings of abandonment, and the two of them went on to have an amazing father/daughter relationship. But it all began with Kara’s willingness to forgive.
Forgiveness is a tough thing, and I so admire the way Kara kept her eye on the ball, and never gave up believing that one day, she’d become more than a “Love Child,” and become a beloved daughter.
A fabulous read, heartwarming, funny, and a true testimony of how love always finds a way. Go, Kara!
You know what I’m talking about…the opening pages are filled with action, action, action – be it bombs exploding, screeching tires into a dark alley, or a midnight robbery. It’s about movement and immediately capturing the reader’s attention so they keep turning the pages and pulling out their credit card to buy the book.
But here’s the thing about Action Beginnings…you have a lot to live up to. The question is: Can you?
I’ve read many submissions that have Action Beginnings, and many times I’ve belched out a “Aw, such a cheapie move!” It’s like the movie trailer that shows all the funny lines, thereby seducing movie goers that the movie is a laugh riot…only to find out that all those funny lines were in the trailer, and the movie really sucks stale Twinkie cream.
So what makes it a cheap trick?
Inconsistency: What I mean here is that the subsequent chapters are snooze fests.The Action Beginning is amazing and pulls the reader in, but then the next chapters are about as exciting as my attempts at meatloaf. These often read like two writers collaborated; one says, “Let me write the coolio begining, and you write the rest.” Only the other writer has no clue how to match the voice, pace, and flow of the Action Beginning.
This happened when I read a submission where the story opened with a dramatic, fingie-nail-bitey scene of a doc caring for a patient with a gunshot wound in the ER. Ooo, my heart was a-pumpin’, let me tell you. But then the following chapters backtracked to the doc getting up in the morning, figuring out what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, and walking the dog…the mundane. Being the heartless, ill-tempered editor that I am, I allowed The Rescue Beagles to use it for bed lining because the author’s fast-paced, tension-filled chapter was followed with the achingly everyday. It was like the author sent me from zero to 90 mph, only to suddenly stop and slam me into a brick wall.
Action Beginnings are great when they gradually let you down and slide you into the following scene. The boring chapters about the doc’s day made me want to go back to the first chapter, where something was happening. I felt dragged to the next chapters kicking and screaming…I didn’t go there willingly…because the author didn’t know how to properly organize his story. All the literary talent of the Action was missing from the next chapters.
Be consistent, or go home.
Logical: My other Cheap Trick litmus test is whether the Action Beginning is logical.
I remember reading a submission years ago where the story opened with a tension-filled robbery in the dead of night. Great chapter. Totally into it. After that chapter was over, the story went backwards in time to twelve years before, and was about as exciting as a root canal. There was no action, very little character development, and no indication of a plot. It became evident that the robbery chapter wasn’t a pivotal piece to the story, but merely a misadventure of one of the characters.
In short, it wasn’t logical. There wasn’t anything important about that Action Beginning other than it was a really cool chapter. It had very little to do with the overall plot.
Upon asking why he led with it, the author replied that he’d been told it was a good idea to start a book with action. Ouch. Since the author only used the Action Beginning in order to draw the reader in, I labeled it a Cheap Trick and suggested that he yank it out and put it further back in the book, where it made more sense.
Ask yourself if it makes sense to put the Action chapter at the beginning. Is it important to the plot?
More importantly, ask yourself why you’re using that particular Action chapter for your beginning. Is it a good lead-in to your next chapters? Understanding your motivation is important to your writing arsenal. Don’t get me wrong; Action Beginnings can be a fabulous writing tool, but it can also go horribly wrong. If you start with a bang, you gotta keep that bang going.
Have you read Action Beginnings that you felt belonged there, or did you want to give the author a wedgie?