Behind the scenes of Shelter Us

I thought I’d share some “behind the scenes” of how my debut novel, Shelter Us, evolved from first draft to final form. Today’s tidbit: Torah study.

What’s that? You heard me.

After I had completed the first draft and was working sloooowly on revising, I began attending Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein, at Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation, a progressive and all-around awesome place. (Her podcasts are here.)

Every week in Torah study we read and dissected ancient stories, and found connections to modern human foibles, habits, and yearnings — both personal and universal. What surprised me about Torah study, and what kept me coming back, was twofold: how relevant it was — how much I learned from it as a parent, a friend, a citizen. And how completely beautiful its purpose — to inspire humans toward becoming our best selves, all the while recognizing hey, we’re only human.

So nuts and bolts, how did this affect Shelter Us? Well, the first draft already had Sarah meeting and reaching out to Josie, a young homeless mother. (Obviously, my good Jewish Tikkun Olam training had already seeped into the plot.) But I went back and deepened Sarah’s motivation for doing that, deciding to make her late mother a Jewish convert, someone who often modeled the most important Jewish value: Remember we were strangers; welcome and take care of the stranger.

There more I think about it, the more Jewish values I find infused in Shelter Us, from its title, to the idea of passing values from one generation to the next, to the role of ritual, and even to the biggie: beliefs about God. And the more questions there are to explore.

  • How do you continue to learn and grow, be it philosophy, spirituality or history or something else?
  • Have you found yourself more or less drawn to religion or spirituality as you’ve gotten older?

Thanks for reading. Any questions you’d like answered? Feel free to ask in a comment, or contact me. More to come soon!

Meet Laura

Laura Nicole Diamond:

 Shelter Us Available Now

paperback   IndieBound   Barnes & Noble   Amazon

ebook   Kindle   Kobo   Nook

 

I’m starting to feel like a braggy broken record: “My book! My book! My book!” But I have to remind myself of what I learned from the world-changing Op-Ed Project, an education organization out to increase the impact and presence of women’s voices in Op-Ed pages: the world deserves to hear what we have to share. With that, I give you more of my novel, Shelter Us.

Originally posted on perksphillyspeaks:

Shelter Us, a novel, by Laura Diamond Shelter Us, a novel, by Laura Nicole Diamond

Penn Grad, Laura Nicole Diamond goes on tour with her debut novel, Shelter Us and we want to hear all the details!

Tell us about your ties to Pennsylvania. “Even though I grew up in California, I always wanted to experience the East Coast. I loved my four years at Penn (class of ’91), especially being part of the theater community with Quadramics, Penn Players and Art House Dance. Five years after graduation, I ran into Christopher Heisen (also Class of ’91, and a Mask & Wig member) at an alumni event in Los Angeles. We started dating…and this year we will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. Christopher’s family had deep ties to Pennsylvania, and his mother, father, and grandfather all attended Penn. He grew up in Yardley, and most of his family lives nearby in Philadelphia, Bucks County, Main Line, and New…

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The Fatherhood Economy: Spend Time, Pay Attention

Laura Nicole Diamond:

In honor of fathers, an homage from the archives. The best gift of all is yourself.

Originally posted on Laura Nicole Diamond:

When I was pregnant with our first child, a stack of pre-natal and parenting books towered perilously high on my bedside table.

On my husband’s side of the bed was a single book for first-time fathers, bought by some well-intentioned friend (okay, maybe it was me). Giving our “friend” the benefit of the doubt, at the time there weren’t many fatherhood books to choose from. And maybe this friend didn’t read the Table of Contents. Had she, she’d have known that the book’s sole message to fathers-to-be was: You Man. You Earn Money.

I discovered this one night as we lay in bed preparing for parenthood in the way we lawyers knew how – reading, studying – and I heard him groan. I turned in time to see him holding that book, his face contorted with disappointment, the words crushing his natural excitement for his impending fatherhood.

When he explained…

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I’m Using You in My Next Book, Right Now

I’m sitting in my local library, taking an hour to write. It is not a commitment I live up to every day, though I have no excuse not to. As one guest at a book party for Shelter Us gently pointed out, my next novel need not take 7 years; I have no more pre-schoolers hampering my writing time.

I listened, dear reader. I’m here, ready to write.

And all I can think is When did the library get so freakin’ LOUD?? It’s not just the kids and babies, although it is partly the kids and babies, their shouts and cries very much part of the mix. It’s the adults! The people talking to the librarian, the librarian talking to people, a guy at a computer talking either to himself or people via Blue Tooth (it’s unclear)…and now two adorable little boys have discovered the electric pencil sharpener???

Settle down, I tell myself. You have a choice: leave in search of a more opportune place that may not exist, or stay and use this moment in your fiction. Hmmm. It takes me three seconds to realize that the protagonist in this next book — a teenage girl — is working on a research project that will take her interesting places. Let’s put her at the library, shall we?

There we go. One of my most reliable methods to create realistic, genuine characters and situations is to take something I have experienced, or am experiencing in real time, and twist it to fit the fictional story. The emotions are real, but the place or circumstances are tweaked. (Perhaps that explains the reason for multiple scenes at Starbucks in Shelter Us.)

At the L.A. Times Festival of Books, one of my favorite authors, Hector Tobar, described this method as “casting” passersby in his fiction. Lady with dyed magenta hair who walks with a cane? You’re in! Boy sneezing into his elbow? Gotcha!

The library has quieted down now.

I suppose I’ll need to start making stuff up.

 

 

 

“Beautiful, Hopeful, Gorgeous…” OMG!

It is with humble gratitude (and a helluva a lot of glee!) that I share a review by my fellow novelist, Lorraine Devon Wilke. Check her out, too!

What a beautiful, heartrending, ultimately hopeful story this is! I absolutely loved this book by Laura Nicole Diamond; it is gorgeously written, deeply felt, and set with such detail of character, plot, and emotion that a narrative about motherhood, loss, and the meaning of life becomes a true page-turner.

Told from the point of view of Sarah, a former attorney and married mother of two boys who has lost her six-week-old daughter to crib death, we follow her tumultuous trajectory through grief, self-examination, and a fascination with, and compulsion to help, a young homeless mother she stumbles upon in downtown Los Angeles. Distanced from her husband by a mix of his work demands and her own emotional turmoil, Sarah finds herself so drawn to the young woman that she takes some dubious risks, and makes some questionable choices, that not only cause her to question her own motives, but put her marriage and the life she’s attempted to rebuild in serious jeopardy. How she struggles to resolve each layer and nuance of this tsunami of issues becomes the churning center of Shelter Us.

As a native of Los Angeles, I particularly enjoyed the specificity of her “place,” picturing each turn of the road and image up ahead! As a mother, I reveled in her absolutely spot-on descriptions of the many elements of “mother love,” that powerful emotional world of indescribable, passionate love and never-ending need and frustration. Her illuminations on loss and grief will, no doubt, resonate deeply with anyone who’s lost someone they loved, particularly a young child to unexpected death. In fact, every element of this story rang true and deep, with its resolution built on compassion, forgiveness, and love the most salient of its themes.

A deeply satisfying read that I heartily recommend, I will be sure to follow this writer to whatever is next. 

Recommended Summer Reading: “a perfect book for the summer…more than fluff”

I woke up to a foreign sound in LA — rain. Normally I’m thrilled when we are doused. When a storm broke out last month, I ran out to greet the downpour, singing and dancing in the puddles. I have witnesses.

But today? The one day that I have been nagging everyone to go out and attend a book party? Really, rain?? Don’t you know how fragile we Angelinos are? What’s it going to take to get my peeps out to the bookstore tonight? Champagne, wine, festivities, cookies, and THIS REVIEW!

I was drawn to Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond because I love family dramas. Sarah Shaw is the stay-at-home mom of 2, well 3 if you count her daughter that only lived a few short weeks. Though it has been a few years, Sarah has not been able to pull out of her grief and it is putting a strain on her marriage. But this isn’t the part that captured my attention. It was the homeless woman with a small child that captured mine and Sarah’s attention.

I knew how Sarah felt as she passed by the young woman. I so want to help someone who I see is in need. Sarah feels an extra attachment to the young woman because the death of her daughter. She can’t get the woman out of her mind. She must do something. Her greatest desire is to bring her home and give her shelter. Yet her husband isn’t keen on the idea obviously.

The story is told through the eyes of Sarah. A woman who cares deeply for her family, even the child who didn’t live to see her first birthday. However, it is the all consuming grief and guilt that keeps her from fully being in the moment with her family. It’s all she can do just to go through the motion. Until she meets Josie, the homeless mother. This may just be what Sarah needs to pull herself past her grief.

The story is so well told that you begin to think of Sarah as more than a character in a book. She could be the woman you see in the pick up line at preschool or the mother sitting on the park bench as her children play in the sand box.

Normally I would not think of a story like this as a summer read. I typically think of fun and fluff. Yet, I do think Shelter Us would be a perfect book for the summer. There are layers of emotional depth without being too heavy. There are enough sweet moments to balance out the grief and guilt. The writing also has a beauty to it that makes the story flow effortlessly.

If you are looking for more than fluff this summer, then I highly recommend Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond.

I’m looking forward to seeing you tonight!

With deep appreciation to the reviewer and my community,

Laura

Launch Day

For almost a year, today’s date, June 8, 2015, has glimmered impossibly in the future: my first novel’s Publication Date. It has the same magical qualities as a baby’s due date.

And, practically speaking, it is almost as reliable a metric for when your baby or book will arrive.*  Stores have been selling Shelter Us for a couple weeks, Amazon has been shipping it, and friends and family who have read it and liked it have told me so. (I’m not keeping a list, ahem.)

Still, I’m human, and humans love to infuse meaning into 24 hour periods — like birthdays, anniversaries, and the 4th of July. I can’t let this date pass without a little huzzah. Besides, seeing as I’ve been talking and talking and talking about this book (I’m so sorry) for so long, the least I could do is share some Launch day trivia with you.

Here’s a glimpse of the glamorous life of a newly published novelist:

  • Wake up foggy-headed and remember that you’re supposed to pick up your eldest child from a sleepover in twenty minutes.
  • Send newsletter announcing Launch Day, asking everyone to please read your book. Again.
  • Throw on sneakers and sweatshirt, lick finger to wipe mascara from under eyelids (why does it never come off all the way?) in case there’s an earthquake and you have to get out of the car.
  • Check e-mail, read a new review!
  • Bring child home, make him breakfast and a sack lunch for camp. Take to camp.
  • Come home. Wash dishes.
  • Do a radio interview! (…while sitting in a closet, because this is the day tree trimmers came.)
  • Closet 1Take child shopping for shorts and bathing suit for camp.
  • Come home. Wash dishes. Again.
  • Let your kids break into the cookies you bought for tomorrow’s Launch Party.
  • Remember to thank your spouse for being unconditionally supportive and amazing, including that last text that dinner is almost ready.
  • Pinch yourself that people are reading your book, and even if you never write another word, this is enough.

There you have June 8, 2015, a big day, and also just a Monday, drizzled with bursts of excitement and the mundane. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get any better than this.

 

*Side note: Only 5% of babies are born on their due dates. My second baby was one of those!

How to Write a Novel: Start with a Journal and an Open Heart

One of the most unexpected highlights of publishing my first novel (hey, see how I’m calling it “my first novel” to motivate myself to dig into the next one?), has been the support of other authors, new and established.

The novelist Meg Waite Clayton is one of those established authors who consciously create and nurture community. (See also, Amy Sue Nathan, Therese Walsh & Kathleen Bolton, Christina Baker Kline, Jenny Milchman and Kamy Wicoff, to name a few.) Meg Waite Clayton’s website and “1st Books” blog is an amazing resource for writers and readers, and I’m honored to be her guest writer this week.

In my piece for 1st Books, I write about the long and indirect path from keeping a journal (beginning with my Hello Kitty diary in the 4th grade) to seeing my first novel published, and explain why I wrote about my worst fear. (Funny what happens when you sit in front of a blank screen.)

1st Books

Authors like Meg are the kind of author — and person — I’ll aim to be: generous, supportive, and inspiring. Sure, there are those who arrive in the promised land of bestsellerdom only to pull up the ladder behind them. But I haven’t met them. Here’s to those who reach the ladder down for the next person to climb up and check out the view, and in so doing create a happier, more loving, and more literary world.

Here’s my piece on Meg’s blog. While you’re there, sign up for her newsletter to keep apprised of her writing and events.

Words Meant to Be Shared

It may have been the glass of red wine with dinner. Or the 3-hour time change. Or my mother’s delicate snoring in the bed next to mine in our hotel, that kept me awake our first night in New York. Yet, as I pulled the pillow over my head, planning a Duane Reade earplugs run, I was grateful to be able to hear that sound, to sleep near my mother, still.

Our reason for being here: the Jewish Book Council (JBC) and its author networking conference, aka the “Pitchfest.” In those wakeful midnight hours, I ran over and over my two-minute pitch.

You get two minutes. Two minutes to summarize seven years of writing, revising, abandoning, and returning to a manuscript that represents your most personal ideas and emotions. You sit in a filled-to-capacity sanctuary (thinking everyone here wrote a book, too??), waiting for your turn to tell the savvy book festival planners from around the country why they must choose your book for their communities. And you pinch yourself because you’re one of the authors, and everyone in this room loves books as much as you do.

When it was my turn, I left my written notes on my chair, I looked out at the audience, remembered that they wanted me to nail it, and took a breath. I talked to them like I was talking to my mom, telling them about my labor of love. And instead of two minutes it happened during a single encapsulated, time-not-passing, bubble of a moment.

Here’s what I said:

One of the most beautiful commandments in our tradition is to take care of the stranger – the vulnerable and powerless. This always resonated with me, but even more so after I became a mom. I began to see everyone – even a homeless person on the sidewalk – as someone’s child. But like many people, I struggle with wanting to help and not knowing how.

In my novel Shelter Us, Sarah, a mother of two who is grieving the death of an infant, sees a young homeless mother and child, and she can’t stop thinking about them. Remembering her late mother’s many examples of caring for “the stranger,” moves her to reach beyond her comfort zone and try to help them.

Writing about Sarah’s journey allowed me to explore the difficult question of how we respond to the need we see every day. But even more, it was my way of wrestling with a mother’s universal fear that the worst could happen to her child. Sarah, who suffered that loss, sings a Hashkivenu prayer to her children at bedtime, asking for God’s sheltering arms to keep them safe. The song she sings, “Shelter Us,” I first heard at Jewish summer camp, and its primal yearning has stayed with me all these years.

Shelter Us raises some wonderful questions to explore together:

Who are today’s strangers and what are our responsibilities to them as Jews? 

Can helping others heal our own wounds? 

What are the values we want to pass to our children, and how do we communicate them? 

In what ways did Torah study impact my thinking and writing? 

How do we move beyond our fears, to savor the small, beautiful moments of parenthood that are all too fleeting?

And then it was the next author’s turn.

As soon as I sat down I was thinking of what I’d wished I’d said: This book has great blurbs by brilliant bestselling authors! Library Journal recommends it for book clubs! You’re gonna love it! You’re absolutely gonna love it!

But, like life, there are no do-overs. There are words you will wish you didn’t leave unsaid.

My mom is sitting behind me as I write these words to you, and she’s about to leave to spend a day in the city with cousins, while I go do more book stuff. “Mom,” I call out before she leaves. “I have to tell you something!” She stops, a  look of concern floats across her face. And I try to tell her what she means to me.

 

 

Time traveling, to the present.

I know how to time travel. I do it all the time. Backwards: I see a spot on the sidewalk near my home and remember a morning more than a decade old, when I sat down, pregnant and exhausted, to wait out a three-year-old’s tantrum and cry my own tears. Forward: four more years until my firstborn goes to college.

Then what you want to do is close ranks.

You want to hold your growing children close, and you want to do more than freeze time, you want to push time backwards, squish them back to being almost 4 and 7, and not almost 11 and 14, and yourself not 46. 46! You want to hear only their giggles, not their fights. You want to hold the best moments, the photo of them jumping from bed to bed, the older son catching the younger, airborne and naked and laughing. You want to thread yourselves together, beads on a string — mother-father-son-son, the four of you only, connected and always.

And then you want to do the right thing. You want to say to the mother of the girl who is alone, I will take care of her, of course I will. She can join us, she can break our circle, let the beads fall off the string, rearrange them. And so you do, and you grieve for what you think you’ve lost. And you marvel at the new design, different, but not lesser. And you try to hold the present.