Thursday, August 26, 2010

My great escape ... and yours

It's been a rough couple of years at my house. My husband lost his job. One of my kids got terribly sick. And our finances bottomed out so badly it'll be a miracle if we ever fully recover.

When people ask how I manage to cope with it all, I usually reply that I don't. But the truth is that I keep my sanity by taking little vacations from reality. Indeed, I have the greatest escape of all.

I write fiction.

Ironically, the novel I was working on through most of this crisis is about that very topic—escape. I say "ironically," because the idea for this book came to me before my world collapsed. And no, I wasn't being prophetic. Escape has always been my friend.

Back then, my life was still chugging cheerfully along. We were paying our bills every month, the children were healthy and happy, and I had the luxury of focusing on my writing without worrying about the mortgage .

Still, escape was on my mind, since it seemed to be the theme of my life when the husband was at work and the kids were at school. And it got me wondering what the ultimate housewife escape would be. Then all at once I had a vision of a portal smack in the middle of the most domestic setting. I saw a woman ironing her family's laundry. But right behind her on the basement wall there was a fissure—a crack, if you will, in the very foundation of her existence. Beyond it was the life she could have lived if she had made an entirely different choice.

This concept of this escape gave me such a thrill I knew I had to mold it into a book. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became.

Ultimately, it took shape as a novel called THE OTHER LIFE, which sold at auction to Putnam, and is coming out this January. It's about a woman expecting her second child who knows that another life exists in which she never married her kind and stable husband, but stayed with her neurotic yet exciting ex-boyfriend. When a sonogram reveals a terrifying problem with the pregnancy, the grief lures her to cross over to the other life, where she discovers that her mother, who committed suicide several years ago, is very much alive.

And so begins a journey of crossing back and forth between her two lives—the one with a frightening pregnancy but a devoted husband and beloved son ... and the other, with a dynamic boyfriend and the mother whose death tore a hole in her heart.

Each life has so much to offer that she doesn't want to choose, but she must. No spoilers here, but I hope that when the book comes out you'll read it to find out what happens. (If you want to stay abreast of news on this title, feel free to click here to sign up for my mailing list.)

Now that the book is complete and it looks as if my family is emerging from its darkest days, I still indulge my passion for escape. It takes the form of reading wonderful books, such as Susan Henderson's brilliant debut, UP FROM THE BLUE (a great book club pick if ever there was one!), working on a new novel about a woman visited by the ghost of Dorothy Parker, and simply daydreaming about the possibilityof THE OTHER LIFE rocketing to stardom and solving all our financial woes. Of course, that would mean my escape into fantasy will have created a real world happy ending. Now that's my kind of irony.

What about you? Do you use escape as a coping mechanism? If so, what's your poison? Writing? Reading? Daydreaming? A stiff drink? A joint on the back porch after dark? Would love to hear from you in the comments section ...


  1. I think reading and surfing the internet are probably my escapes. Congratulations on your book!

  2. Reading and crafting are my ways of escaping -- both of which I've been doing a lot of lately thanks to some big worries.

    Congrats on your book! I'd like to have the opportunity to read it soon!

  3. Wow, I just adore this novel concept. Writing used to be my escape, but now it's my job, so...

    Now when I'm feeling overwhelmed I either 1) take a nap or 2) watch TV or 3) talk it over with my husband. I almost always pick 3. He's a saint for putting up with me.

  4. Thanks to all for the good wishes on the book!

    bermudaonion ... Surfing the net's a biggie for me,too. Alas, definitely gets in the way of work sometimes.

    Jennifer ... I've always admired people who craft.

    Ernessa ... How lucky to have a guy like that!

  5. Escape for me, at least in the past couple of months, has been to read a newly discovered author. Her work is smart, funny, thought-provoking and heart-warming. Her name is Ellen Meister and I am seriously considering starting a fan club in my area.
    This author is not your usual 'please-keep-ten-feet-back' author. She is personally warm and open and surprisingly ready to reach out an experienced hand to new writers. I know this because I, myself, have benefited from her generosity. I started writing two years ago, but have learned more about the process of writing and yes, even the terrifying process of querying, in the past couple of months than I ever had before because of this woman's readiness to 'pay it forward'.
    Like actors, or even politicians, does an author's personal character make them better at their jobs? Probably not, but will it make me search out their work? Yes, and I hope it will encourage you to do the same.

  6. Jill ... What a kind and lovely post! Thank you!! I've been on the receiving end of generosity from other authors and those are the folks I try to model myself on. So yes, I do believe in paying it forward. :)

  7. Ellen, what a beautiful, honest post. I'm so glad to hear things are turning around. And it's amazing that through times of adversity, we CAN escape into our fiction--writing and reading. The past few years have been crazy for me too, and nothing has been a greater escape than jumping to my characters' lives and the world of the story I'm telling. It's a beautiful thing.

    I was lucky to get my hands on an early copy of THE OTHER LIFE--and LOVED it. It's going to be a huge bestseller. Brava!

  8. Hi Ellen,

    I'm so sorry things have been difficult for you but you clearly have the right attitude about it.

    The book sounds fabulous as does the next one. My fingers are crossed that 2011 will the year of Ellen Meister. Only you can't quit the blog when you get rich and famous :)

  9. Hi Ellen! Your book(s) as usual, sound fabulous. Can't wait to get my hands on THE OTHER LIFE!

    I definitely use writing as an escape--I mean, hey, those are lives I have some control over. I've also discovered knitting (more about that on my Sept. 7 post) and I find that incredibly relaxing.

    Wine always helps too, especially when I get to sip it on my front porch with my husband.

  10. I read as an escape. I read, and read, and read. For those times when I need a pick-me-up I usually seek out well-written women's fiction. Then again, there's lots to be said for a glass of wine or two, a good meal, and my husband's company. That can help too!

  11. Ellen,
    I love your courage, honesty and attitude. I love your writing and my fingers are crossed that 2011 will be a big best-selling year for you!
    In the last year I've worked to make more of my real-life feel like an escape - I spend more time in nature, try to stay in the present moment and not worry about all the bad stuff, and delve deeper into writing and reading and talking about writing and reading (bookendbabes.)

  12. What a group! Thank you!!

    Melissa ... It's a beautiful thing, indeed ... especially when someone does it as well as you. xo

    Karin ... Love that thought! But I don't think you could get rid of me that easily!! :)

    Judy ... Yes! The whole control thing is a big, big part of it. Being a writer is a lot like playing God.

    Jonita ... Reading, wine and a darling man ... three of my favorite things!

    Malena ... Living in the moment is definitely worth striving toward. Family time does it for me. Thanks for the kind words!

  13. Go, Ellen, go! You are surely a resilient spirit, and I'm so glad to know things have turned around for your family. THE OTHER LIFE sounds so great (I love books that deal with "what if"), and I hope you have huge success with it! I know what you mean about writing being your escape during tough times. Honestly, I don't know what I would've done without it when I went through my breast cancer caca almost four years ago. But having two books due during the course of my treatment took my mind off things for hours everyday. It was an amazing blessing. I still consider writing my therapy!

    I keep thinking as I read each new Girlfriends' posts what a remarkable group this is! And what incredible stories everyone has to tell. Yay for Girl Power!

  14. Ellen -- your willingness to open yourself to the reader is what makes your fiction so compelling and real. I read an advance of UP FROM THE BLUE and I must say I agree with you! Go Susan - and go YOU for being a true supporter and friend.

  15. Best of luck with everything, Ellen, and looking forward to your book! I'm off to a hopefully relaxing Hawaiian vacation tomorrow with no Twittering or Facebooking to distract me and one goal only: to escape!

  16. Ellen -- so happy life is looking up for you. I agree with Jill -- you've heard me call you my online fairy godmother for all the help you've given me. I can't wait to read the new book!

    I read as an escape, and also take long walks/runs to help me zone out. Even if I'm still frazzled when I'm done, at least I can sleep!

  17. My escapes come in so many forms. Writing is a big one, surfing the net is another but the best escape that truly cleanses the boggled mind is a simple walk along the California coastline. We won't speak of the days that I put on a Chef's coat and imagine that I'm an Iron Chef on the road to another victory, hence my family may try to put me in to another type of white jacket:)
    Love your work and your honesty.

  18. Ellen, best of luck with THE OTHER LIFE--it sounds like a remarkable story. I'm pretty sure that if I were going to be able to step into an alternate version of my life, I'd be doing it through my own basement wall. And it's so, so good to hear things are turning around for your family.

  19. Ellen, I have a good feeling about this book!!! :) Which I am so excited to read, of course.

    It really sucks that so much has been challenging for your family; thank you for writing so candidly about it. Things will turn around for you, I know it!!! We will all be your biggest cheerleaders when The Other Life comes out. :)

    For me, when I need an escape, anything creative helps: cooking, writing, painting, gardening. And when I'm feeling lazy or really down and out, watching movies--particularly those featuring a protagonist who must really overcome some long odds!

  20. Ellen, what an incredibly brave post-- to just lay yourself bare like that takes guts. You're amazing.

    And I can't wait for your new novel. It is going to rock and, of course, be a huge bestseller. I can't wait to be your book-tour-groupie!!!

    Escape is a tough one! Now that I'm working on novel #3 and taking care of a baby, I have very little time for escapes!! Writing is definitely an escape, but I must admit I really love my reality tv. Do I get points for bravery for actually admitting that?!

  21. Ellen, Sorry to hear about how rough it's been! Thank you for the reminder, though, to use writing as an escape. As said above, when we get pubbed and become "professional" writers it's easy for writing to become a job instead of something fun and gratifying. And that can't be good for the writing. I needed this reminder to have fun with it!

  22. What a tough time you've had--but obviously you're built to handle it (even if it doesn't always feel that way)!

    Congratulations on following your inspiration to a fantastic-sounding new book. I'm eager to read it.

  23. Ellen, thanks for your beautiful, heartfelt post and for sharing your courageous spirit with all of us. I'm SO excited about THE OTHER LIFE (and your Dorothy Parker project, too!) and am looking forward to many upcoming celebrations of your stories!

    I think the world is too much with us these days, especially in this era of constant communication -- we have to struggle just to be able to escape for a few hours. (I love to read and watch movies...) But the upside is that it's also easier to stay in contact with such a supportive group of fellow writers, and I'm very grateful for that ;).

  24. Reading is my everyday escape, but ever since I left my ex-husband, concerts have been my ultimate escape. For one evening, I am completely anonymous, no one needs anything from me, I drink a little, loosen up, & experience live music which fills me up.

  25. Susan ... "Breast cancer caca" What a phrase! So glad your creativity helped you through it. Girl power indeed. Go, Susan, go!

    Robin ... Thank you for saying that! And so glad you're a fellow fan of Susan Henderson. She's astounding.

    Wendy ... Aloha! Have a BLAST!

    Liz ... Thank you my friend! Good to see you here. And yup, finding a way to get past it and SLEEP is key.

    Vickie ... Thank you for those kind words! And while I'm not on the same coast, I do appreciate those walks along the shore. For me, a run on the Jones Beach boardwalk can be like taking a vacation.

    Kim ... That's lovely. Thank you so much!!

    Jess ... An excellent list you've got there! And yeah, movies can really take me away, too.

    Brenda ... Bravery points for sure! And let's not forget about another great escape--having lunch with a Long Island author pal!

    Carleen ... Here's wishing you lots of fun and continued success!!!!

    Therese ... You're a love. Thank you!!

    Marilyn ... I'm grateful for that, too. I've met so many kind and wonderful writers online. (Present company included!)

    Anon ... Music hath charms! So glad it takes you away like that. Thanks for weighing in!

  26. Very lovely post Ellen it is very heartfelt. I look forward to reading The Other Life as well as your new Dorothy Parker project!

  27. Wow! What an intriguing premise. I am really looking forward to reading it.

  28. Congrats on your book and Blog!!

  29. hey sweetie, hope it works this time... for me to send this message lol I love the idea of you new book, count me in for a copy ok youre just great love ya Paula aka poetrygirl66 at CM

  30. hey Ellen, first off... you are very beautiful and i really do enjoy the author's group you have on cafemom in which i am a member of. im really excited about that group! i thank you for creating it and commenting when you can!

    that is an awesome blog you wrote and i enjoyed reading it. i like your escape that you can dream about and then write about. i am glad that you havent gave up on your life as things do keep getting bad but hoping for it to turn for the better!

    i would have to say my escape is daydreaming. sometimes i can daydream to a point where i cant hear whats going on around me, i dont write about it though but i should really think about that. i dont know how to sign in, sorry

  31. Ellen--you are SUCH an inspiration! I'm late to the party today--and you are bringing tears to my eyes: of joy, of being delighted to know you, and of the certainty that the next things that happen to you will be wonderful.

    Looking forward to The Other Life! Brilliant.

  32. Tracee (Tjones32 on cafemom)August 27, 2010 at 7:00 PM

    Reading, being on the internet and shopping are my escapes!! Congrats on the book Ellen I am so happy for you!

  33. Ellen, I'm so excited for you on your upcoming novel. Also, just wanted to say that you seem to handle everything with such grace - whenever I've read anything you've written/tweeted/emailed/FBd, I've always been left with such an uplifting feeling.

  34. Reading/writing is definitely my huge escape. There's nothing like it:) Your book sounds fascinating, Ellen!

  35. I read novels to escape, so please keep writing them!

  36. I read novels to escape, so please keep writing them!

  37. Oh, Ellen! This made me cry!! We so often imagine the "glamourous" life of the writer, and your post showed the honesty and humility that I think we all need to appreciate in those we think "have it all." Thank you so much for your openness...and I'm so glad life is looking up for you and your family!

    I have wondered, since joining "Author's Den," how you are able to come up with new ideas. I know you also have autism to deal with in your house, and I can tell you that, even though he is 16 and fairly high-functioning, my son takes up a LOT of my mental energy--and I haven't had physical energy for DECADES.

    The manuscript I have worked on for the past year has actually danced around in my head in some form for the past 20+ years, and I am finally to the point in my life where I'm able to focus enough to write it. (I have a new ending now, and I made the all-important word limit--something I thought would be impossible! I will be posting a new query letter to the group soon.)

    Thanks so much for all your encouragement!!

    LIZ :)

  38. i cant wait to read your new book. sounds so exciting and wonderful. itll be a birthday present to myself. lol ill be 27. my escapes are reading and getting on the internet, playing card games with friends and family.

  39. Maggie ... Thanks! I'm excited about the Dorothy Parker one, too. It's starting to come together.

    April ... That means a lot to me. Thanks!!

    Anon ... Much appreciated. :)

    Paula ... You're a sweetheart. Thanks! Hope all is going well with your writing.

    Americansugar ... So glad you came by! And happy to know you like the Authors' Den. Wish I had more time to spend there! Thanks for the kind wishes.

    Hank ... You're a love!! Thank you so much!

    Tracee ... Both great (and sometimes dangerous!) escapes. Thanks so much stopping in and commenting.

    Meredith ... That warms me to my toes. Thank you so much!!

    Maria ... Thank you so much! And btw, I like your website. :)

    Deborah ... I will! Thank you so much!!

    Liz ... Thanks for that kind and thoughtful message. And yup, those "glam" moments are few and far between. (But boy, I do appreciate them!) So glad you're writing the story you've been thinking about for so long. Amazing journey, isn't it? Good luck with it!!

    Heather ... A January baby! (Capricorn or Aquarius?) Thanks so much for the kind words and for stopping by. :)

  40. What a wonderful post Ellen.

    Escaping into my fantasy world is what keeps me sane as well. I do it with my writing, I do it while reading. I grew up in a very small town. There was nothing to do and most days it was boring. I eased that boring by escaping down the river on a ferry boat or on case with Sherlock Holmes. Reading and writing is a whole other world. My husband finds it funny b/c my characters are alive to me and I talk about them as such.
    The new book sounds great!

  41. Hey Ellen ... what a terrific post. I'm rooting for you on all fronts! I'll add your novel to my TBR list.

    Escape? Oh, I live so deeply in the world of fiction that I hardly come up to breathe the air of reality. I'd even go so far to say that I really need to curb my escapist tendencies and interact with my husband more.

  42. Go Ellen, we are all rooting for the new book and a much better year for you and your family!

    Reading is definitely definitely my great escape--doesn't everything else drop away when you get caught up in an amazing book?

  43. Aara ... I love that your characters are alive to you! That's just as it should be. Thanks for weighing in!

    Beth ... Thanks for the good wishes! And yeah, that escape can be addictive!!

    Roberta ... Yup, I get completely sucked in! (Sometimes so sucked in I need a break from the book because I can't handle the peril the characters are in.) Thanks for the kind words. :)

  44. I tried to comment earlier but the Interwebz ate my post.
    My escape is exercise, that burns off a lot of energy. But others are reading and favorite movies.

  45. I can't wait for the book to come out. I will be buying it the first week so I can find out what happens...I'm already hooked. deserve it.

  46. Carolyn ... Glad you got past those Interwebz goblins! And what a healthy escape. I exercise, too, but for me it's a chore. *sigh* I guess I don't run long enough to get that "runner's high."

    Jackey ... Music to my ears! Thank you so much. xx

  47. My escapes are the beach and a good book. Just not at the same time. I can't concentrate on anything with the sound of the waves rolling onto shore and the water sparkling in the sunlight.

  48. Wow, I can't wait to read The Other Life. It sounds like the perfect way to escape. I'm curious if you think of yourself as writing sci-fi? Did you have to research teleporting/time travel?

    Good luck with everything.

  49. Sassenach ... I love the beach, too! Even a few hours near the waves revitalizes me.

    LT ... Thanks so much! To answer your question, I don't think of it as sci-fi or even necessarily paranormal. It's more like magical realism, where I ground the supernatural in the framework of the story.

  50. hi ellen!! (remember me from newburyport?!!) i am so excited about your new book. sounds like a wonderful read. oh i escape so much - sometimes i'll hear a song or a smell will take me back to a simpler life for me. the one before marriage, before baby - i know that i appreciated the fun times i had in my 20s while i was living them but seriously i want to go back!! i often wonder about the one i let get away?! (is that bad?!!)

  51. Yes! Of course I remember you from Newburyport (and Cafemom). It was so wonderful of you to come to the event!!

    And yeah ... I think we all sometimes wonder about the one who got away. :)