Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hey, Whaddya Know?

by Judy Merrill Larsen

Hello! First off, I'm loving all the fabulous book recommendations and I have two to add to your already tottering TBR piles . . . Lynne Griffin's beautiful Sea Escape (and if you haven't picked up her debut Life Without Summer, grab that one too!) and Anna Quindlen's Every Last One. All three of these books will make you smile, cry, and feel like you understand yourself a little bit more. They deal with families, heartbreak, loss and love and when you turn the last page you'll wish you could start all over.

When I was writing my first book, All the Numbers, I had no idea of all the things that I didn't know. I mean, thanks to my kids, I knew that I was completely clueless about many things, but the whole world of being a published author was still a mystery to me. I laugh now when I compare what I thought it would be like to the reality.

Before the book came out, I dreamed about finally meeting Oprah (still waiting on that call), wondered if the Today Show set would look bigger or smaller than it does on my TV when I was sitting there dishing about my book with Meredith Viera (yeah, I still can't answer that one), and hoped I'd be all cool and collected when I spotted someone reading my book on an airplane (that skill hasn't yet been tested).

But, I could also have never imagined how amazing it is to have readers e-mail me and tell me how much my book meant to them. To have complete strangers show up at a book signing/reading and want to meet me (and to know my mom didn't pull them in off the streets). I remember when my editor told me what the first print run was going to be, I panicked thinking, "Ohmygod, I don't know that many people!"

It's so much more than I ever imagined.

Fast forward to working on my next book . . . and, in the same way that after you have one baby you think (wrongly) hey, how much harder could another one be? And of course, that next baby, along with stealing your heart in ways you never imagined because you absolutely adore the first one, also lets you know, from Day One, that he has no intention of doing ANYTHING the way his big brother does it, so you are a brand new mom all over again . . . here are some things I've learned this time around:

~what you think will be your next book often isn't.

~then, what you are sure will be your next book, sometimes still isn't.

~but then, after you've ranted and raved to your author buddies (who you never would have gotten to know without that first book) and cried to your husband (who knows enough to just listen and pour you more wine), you suck it up and open your laptop and start AGAIN with Page One and discover that maybe you can write another book.

and one more thing you learn . . . is how to knit.

Yes. Knit.

You see, in this next book, one of my characters knits. So, last winter I signed up for a beginning knitting class. I wanted to know what I was talking about. I didn't expect to love it as much as I do. Two felted purses, three scarves, and one hat later (along with several in progress projects), I am a bona fide knitter (my husband might say obsessed, but he'd be wrong. Sort of.). It's incredibly relaxing. Kind of zen-like for me. Without this particular character, I might never have learned to knit. It's so cool to get something from a book I'm writing. It has me thinking that perhaps my next book needs to have a character who goes to a tiny Tuscan village to learn to make pasta. Or maybe a little town in the South of France to learn anything. Just an idea . . .

Anyway, back to reality (which is highly overrated these days). It's really neat to learn new things even at age fifty (Eek.). Next up, I think, is learning to make artisan breads. Oh, and I want to dust off my piano and start playing it again. These things might come in handy for a character someday, but even if they don't, I'll be able to smell bread cooking while I play some sonatas with a handknit scarf wrapped around my neck to keep me warm.

So, what have you learned lately? What's on your "to learn" list? I'm convinced everyone should have one . . .

I live in St. Louis, MO with my husband, am the mom/stepmom to five kids (ages 17-25), and taught high school English for 15 years. I'm over on Facebook and am always eager to make new friends, too!


  1. Pouring my coffee and reaching for my first scone as I entered the pink clubhouse, excitement filled me when I saw today's blogger. One I had been anxiously awaiting and I was not disappointed. Your posts was full of the fun, positive thoughts I expected. I taught myself to knit about four years ago and even made a blanket for my new great-nephew. I like that I can (to some degree) turn off my internal voices when I knit. I am studying Italian right now, a language I've always wanted to learn and on my TO LEARN list: golf, pottery, and deep sea diving! Thanks for a bright post!

  2. Hi Jill! You're such a sweetie. I'm impressed that you taught yourself to knit--I never could have done it without a teacher holding my hand (and fixing my mistakes!). I love the idea of studying Italian . . . you've got a great TO LEARN list, too!

  3. Great post, Judy! I love how you refer to your books as children. This third one of mine that I'm working on now is even harder than my first two combined....

    I don't have a TO LEARN list!! Oh no. Clearly I need to get one asap.

  4. Really enjoyed that Judy! And can't wait for the next book! To Learn? I've got nothin'...and now I feel like a slacker for not having one. I'm totally impressed you learned to knit...am certain I do not have the patience for anything like that. Maybe I'll satisfy myself with learning how to play the new Wii games I bought...does that count? :-)

  5. What a fun post. I loved your reaction to the print run.

    I want to learn to type (after five books I still peck and hunt). Also I want to learn French and I'd love to be really good at yoga.

  6. Thanks Brenda! They are like our babies, aren't they? They can be difficult, talk back, and make us incredibly proud, can't they?

    Hi Carrie! I'm thinking you're too busy taking cool trips to have a TO LEARN list. And I swear, if I can learn to knit, anyone can.

  7. Oh Karin, we must be long lost sisters. I don't know how to type either! But I think my own sorry system is so entrenched by now, I don't know if I could learn to type the right way. But I am in awe when I watch people type . . .

  8. Love this post! I haven't yet read All The Numbers and will order it.

    I've learned so much from researching my books--most recently how to make fresh pasta and a little conversational Italian.

    I've tried and given up on knitting several times, but it's always on my list. I'm so bad at it! I think I'm too impatient, maybe, or just all thumbs. I'd also love to take a beginner's ballet class.

  9. who the heck has time to learn? I am learning about the solar industry, only b/c my part time job is in the solar industry, but other than that, with putting 2 books out a year and the rest of my life... learning is on the back burner.

    So many people love to knit, but I found it stressful instead of relaxing... sigh

  10. Looking forward to the next book! What I want to learn? -- to play the piano and to speak French. And anything I can learn by traveling as much as I can afford. See you in about a week.

  11. Judy, you're so right about books being like your children, including the nine months' of birthin', then a long and difficult labor and delivery, and then you have to take gentle care of it so it grows up to be a bestseller. And if it isn't an overachiever, you're still proud of it anyway.

    At the ripe old age of 55 I learned to ride, which was a lifelong dream come true. (And no, I'd never even been horseback once in my life, and I was terrified of animals.) Now I'm learning to quilt, and have just pieced my first bed-sized top, getting ready to add a border and quilt it. I never expected to enjoy sewing like this, after a lifetime of "gourmet" garment sewing, but it's been a lot of fun, so far, and I have acquired a stash of fabric for more projects.

    Next up: Lavender production.

  12. Great Post! This was exactly how I felt about getting published, and then like labor and delivery, being lucky enough but terrified to do it all over again!

    I also loved the reference to learning to knit. I attempted to learn how to play Mah Jong for one of my characters, but alas, she was way better at it than me. If I really played with her, I would have sat at the table eating Entenmanns hoping my cell phone rang.

    Thanks for sharing such honest thoughts. Wishing you continued success!!!!

  13. Judy, I must be an idiot. How did I not know you're right here in St. Louis??? Regardless, I'm glad I'm aware of that now! What a great post for this Tuesday morning (that feels an awful lot like Monday!). It's reassuring to know we all go through a lot of the same dreams and fears when our first book is published and with every book after! As for my "to learn" list, I finally took a yoga class this summer, and I loved it! I keep saying that I'm going to take cooking classes but haven't done that yet...maybe after this November deadline is met! Good luck with your next book. I am definitely looking forward to reading ALL THE NUMBERS. :-)

  14. Melissa, ooh, I'd love to make fresh pasta. Good luck with the ballet--I was "all thumbs" (or should that be all big toe?) with that way back in kindergarten.

    Judi--knitting was stressful at first (I actually ended up with "knitter's elbow" much to my husband's amusement) but now it's very relaxing.

    Joan--French? Good for you. See you Monday. GO CUBS!

    Karen, I'm impressed that you learned to ride . . . that was definitely a dream of mine about 40 years ago. Let me know how the lavender grows, okay?

    Saralee, you crack me up. Eating Entenmann's while waiting for your phone to ring.

    Yup, Susan, we're probably practically neighbors.

    Thanks everyone for the good wishes and for chiming in. This all feels like a really fun book club. Later on, I'll open the wine!

  15. You highlighted one of my favorite parts about writing fiction - we get to dip into new worlds all the time! I learned about opera for my second book.... and you learned to knit. So cool!

  16. Judy, what a wonderful post! And I love what you've said about the second book being like a second child -- one who doesn't want to behave that like firstborn ;). I felt that *strongly* when I was working on my 2nd novel (and found out this year that the 3rd is just as hard to predict -- LOL).

    As for skills I want to learn, I had to gather a little bit of knowledge about chess and mahjongg for this 3rd book. Thankfully, between my husband and a good friend, I was able to learn a few basics. I admire you for picking up knitting, though! I so admire the skill, but I've tried it, and I'm *really* not destined to be making scarves or sweaters anytime soon!

  17. This was such an interesting post for me, b/c there has been some stuff that I've been avoiding researching with my second book. The bad stuff: I really need to find an oncologist and a good memoir about someone's who's gotten mentally healthy after a parent's suicide, and I also need to call our accountant to find out what he does during the off-season. The good stuff: I also have to shadow a black comedian, an indie rock band, and watch lots of Yo! Gabba! Gabba!

    This post also reminded me that I haven't acquired a new skill in like forever. I have a somewhat informal plan to learn as my daughter learns. For example, when it comes time for an instrument, I'll take lessons, too. When she starts learning Spanish, I'll (finally) learn it, too. Should make her childhood really interesting.

    Great post!

  18. Loved this post! You articulated so many things that I'm always thinking about. Do you think Oprah's people lost our numbers or something?

  19. Hi Judy,

    I learned to knit when I was 5 (my mom taught me in hopes that I would stop sucking my thumb). I'm glad to say that it worked;)

    I would love to learn to take some decent pictures. Right now I just point my camera and hope for the best!

  20. Can't wait to read the next one, Judy! You're so right - you can't predict anything. (Except - you can predict that I won't ever take up knitting. I'm just too clumsy!)

  21. Hi Judy,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. And I'm also looking forward to reading your book -- I just added it to my list!

  22. Love this, Judy. And yeah, after two days spent at the coast researching my next book, I wholeheartedly endorse the value of researching new things. :-)

  23. And this is exactly why I love writing--you can learn SO much! Every project, every character, is an opportunity for professional development.

    (I am with you on the sophomore novel, sister!!!!)

  24. A to-learn list. What a great idea! Maybe I should pick something that has NOTHING to do with writing to give me some balance. I tend to make everything about whatever book I'm working on. Hmmm. Definitely something to think about!