Happy New Year! I hope you got to spend some time during the holidays curled up with a book. I know I did…I was finishing two that will be out in 2019!
That’s right! I have a new full length novel coming out later this year (as well as Black Canary: Ignite, of course), and a cute little novella – both for adult readers. The stories are about completely different characters, but both take place in Little Bridge Island, Florida — a fictional town that’s SLIGHTLY based on the island on which I currently live, Key West.
Bridal Boot Camp is a novella that will be released in e-format in May of 2019. The story behind it was inspired by the time I joined this workout class and started realizing that almost everybody there (except for me and the trainer) was a bride, bridesmaid, or mother-of-the bride. It was Bridal Boot Camp!
It was pretty funny. But as a writer, of course I started imagining ways it could be even funnier….
In Bridal Boot Camp, a sheriff’s deputy named Ryan Martinez mistakenly enrolls in a Bridal Boot Camp class after being ordered to take yoga following an on-duty “incident.” Ryan’s plight is loosely based on something that happened to my brother who is a police officer, and whose chief ordered members of his squad to take yoga to combat stress.
Ryan doesn’t drop the class, however, even after finding out he’s in the wrong one. Why would he? He thinks it’s going to be a breeze–how hard can a bridal workout be, anyway? And of course, there are a lot of cute ladies in there!
Let’s just say that Ryan is in for the workout of his life…in more ways than one!
You can find out more about Bridal Boot Camp below, and also here, in this interview I did about it with the amazing Maureen Lee Lenker at Entertainment Weekly!
Looking for a tropical escape?
Welcome to Little Bridge, one of the smallest—and most beautiful—islands in the Florida Keys, home to sandy white beaches, salt-rimmed margaritas, stunning sunsets, and some of the quirkiest—but also kindest and most resourceful—people you’ll ever meet.
Physical trainer Roberta “Rob” James moved to Little Bridge hoping she’d found paradise, but things haven’t turned out quite as she’d hoped. The closest Rob has come to her “happily ever after” is happy hour at the Mermaid Café with her buddy Bree, the bartender slash waitress who’s got romance problems of her own.
But Rob’s situation suddenly changes when sheriff’s deputy Ryan Martinez accidentally enrolls in her bridal boot camp class. Turning mush into metal in time for the big day is Rob’s passion (because even the happiest bride could use a little toning).
But what happens when a guy who’s all mush meets a girl who’s all metal?
They discover they have a lot to learn . . . about each other, themselves, and the island paradise they’ve come to call home.
But let’s not forget No Judgments, the star of the show–the full length novel I just turned in about life on Little Bridge Island that will be out in September 2019!
The storm of the century is about to hit Little Bridge Island, Florida—and it’s sending waves crashing through Sabrina “Bree” Beckham’s love life…
When a massive hurricane severs all power and cell service to Little Bridge Island—as well as its connection to the mainland—twenty-five-year-old Bree Beckham isn’t worried . . . at first. She’s already escaped one storm—her emotionally abusive ex—so a hurricane seems like it will be a piece of cake.
But animal-loving Bree does become alarmed when she realizes how many islanders have been cut off from their beloved pets. Now it’s up to her to save as many of Little Bridge’s cats and dogs as she can . . . but to do so, she’s going to need help—help she has no choice but to accept from her boss’s sexy nephew, Drew Hartwell, the Mermaid Café’s most notorious heartbreaker.
But when Bree starts falling for Drew, just as Little Bridge’s power is restored and her penitent ex shows up, she has to ask herself if her island fling was only a result of the stormy weather, or if it could last during clear skies too.
As regular readers of this blog know, I made the (in hind sight possibly not so great) decision not to evacuate during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Many of my friends and neighbors in Key West also chose to stay. I don’t advocate ignoring evacuation warnings!
But there are lots of reasons families might not be able to evacuate a storm. Most of them are complicated, and as the title of the book above says, we shouldn’t judge others. We don’t always know exactly what’s going on in their world.
Some people who evacuated during Irma were forced to leave their pets behind, thinking they’d be right back to get them (many shelters do not accept animals – although this is getting better!).
Of course, Irma ended up temporarily blocking the road back to Key West, and those who evacuated were cut off from their pets.
The heroine of No Judgements was inspired by a real woman in Key West who organized a rescue hotline for evacuees. They were able to call and tell her how to break into their homes and care for their pets! She was amazing.
Of course, since my story is only partly based on reality (even the hurricane has been renamed), there’s a romance involved, too.
Read an excerpt from No Judgments below!
The hurricane was a thousand miles away off shore when my ex-boyfriend called to offer me a ride to safety in his private jet.
“No, thanks,” I said, cradling my phone against my shoulder as I re-filled jelly packets into the dispensers on the formica counter of the Mermaid Café. “That’s really nice of you. But I’m not going anywhere.”
“Bree,” Caleb said. “There’s a Category Five hurricane headed straight for you.”
“It’s not headed straight for me. It’s headed for Miami.”
“Little Bridge Island is only a hundred and fifty miles south of Miami.” Caleb sounded exasperated. “The storm could change course at any time. That’s why they call the hurricane track the cone of uncertainty.”
He wasn’t telling me anything about the weather I didn’t already know. But it was typical of Caleb to feel it necessary to mansplain.
“Thanks for your concern,” I said coolly. “But I’ll take my chances.”
“Take your chances of dying? Do you really hate me that much?”
This was a good question. Caleb Foley had had his good points: like me, he’d loved a good painting. His family owned one of the largest private collections of nineteenth century Impressionist works in North America.
He’d also been great in bed, always waiting politely to orgasm until after I did.
But when I’d needed him most—which was definitely not now—what had he done?
And now he thought he could make it up to me with a free ride in his Gulfstream just because a hurricane might sideswipe the little island to which I’d fled in order to recover from my heartbreak?
Sorry. Too little, too late.
“It’s nice of you to offer.” I ignored his question. “But like I said, I’m not going anywhere.”
I thought of telling him the real reason why—not about hating his guts so much I wouldn’t get into an Uber with him, let alone a private plane—but about Gary, with whom my life had become inextricably tied since I’d moved to Little Bridge, but who was in no shape to travel at the moment.
But what would be the point? I knew what Caleb would say about Gary. He wouldn’t understand.
It felt a little weird keeping something that meant so much to me from this person with whom I’d once shared every little thing in my life.
But it also felt right.
“Besides,” I added, instead. “No one here is evacuating.”
It was true. Instead of panicking and running around, throwing all of their stuff into the backs of their cars the way I always imagined people would when a hurricane was in the vicinity, the residents of Little Bridge Island, population 4,700, seemed to be taking the news in stride. The Mermaid was packed with the usual breakfast crowd, and though a lot of people were talking about the storm, no one seemed alarmed, only vaguely irritated . . . .
Like Drew Hartwell, whom I could hear next to me informing someone over the phone that he wouldn’t be replacing the hundred year old window sash they’d hired him to restore anytime soon.
“Because there’s a storm on the way,” Drew said, sounding a little testy as he dabbed more hot sauce onto his Spanish omelet, “and there’s no way the glazing’s going to dry before it gets here. That’s why. If you want an inch of rainwater all over your bathroom floor, that’s your business, but personally, I’d wait until it passes.”
Normally I don’t make a habit of eavesdropping on my customers’ conversations, but then normally Drew Hartwell doesn’t use his cell phone in the café. He’s good about following the rules that Ed, the Mermaid’s manager slash owner, has listed by the cash register:
No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem.
Use Your Cell Phone? Get Out.
One person who’s not so good at following the rules? Me. The last one, anyway.
“Beckham!” Ed bellowed at me from behind the counter. I whipped around and saw him glaring at me. He stabbed a thumb at my cell phone, then the glass side door. “Take it outside if it’s that important.” His irritated gaze fell on Drew, who happened to be his nephew, but whom he still treated like any other customer. “You, too.”
Drew held up a callused palm, nodding as he slid off his orange vinyl counter stool and headed towards the door, his phone still clutched to his chin. “Look,” he said to whoever was on the other end of his call. “I get it. But you’re going to have the window boarded up anyway. So it’s not going to make any—”
The rest of his conversation was lost as he stepped outside.
Sorry, I mouthed to Ed. Then, to Caleb, I said quickly, “Listen, I’m at work. I never should have picked up in the first place. I only did because . . . because . . . ”
Why had I picked up, especially since Caleb and I hadn’t spoken in months? What had I been expecting, an apology? Was I ever going to learn?
“I’ll talk to you later, okay?” As in, never.
“No, Bree. I’ve got to talk to you now. The thing is, your mother—”
I felt my shoulders tensing up, the way they always did when it came to my mother these days. “What about her? Is she all right?”
“She’s fine. But she’s the one who’s been bugging me to call.”
Of course. I should have known. Caleb would never have called, let alone volunteered to fly fifteen hundred miles to get me of his own accord . . . not after the way we’d ended things. Or not we, exactly, considering the fact that I’m the one who’d packed up my things while he’d been at work, handed my keys to his doorman, then left.
Maybe I’d been the one who’d ghosted.
What else could I have done, though? He’d believed his best friend’s word over mine when I’d told him that Kyle had made a pass at me—not just a pass, but a full on sexual assault—so what kind of relationship had the two of us even had?
Not one I wanted anything to do with, especially with Kyle still coming over for “brews” every day after work.
Now I was heading for the door again—the Mermaid’s side door. A rush of humid, saltwater-scented air greeted me as I stepped out onto the sidewalk, ignoring the hostile glare from Ed as well as the curious looks my fellow servers, Angela and Nevaeh, threw me. Neither of them could imagine what was so important that I’d dare take a call during the morning rush. I hardly ever got calls anyway, so this was a first.
A first that was probably going to get me fired.
“She’s really worried about you, Bree. We all are.”
It was all I could do to keep from busting out laughing. A little late for that.
“You know your mom pals around with all those meteorologists from the station,” he went on. “She says they tell her this one is a real monster. If there were such a thing as a Category Six, this would be it. She says—”
“Tell my mom I’m fine,” I interrupted, aware that Drew Hartwell was standing only a few feet away from me, his own cell clutched to his ear, having a not dissimilar conversation. I could hear him telling whoever was on the other end of the phone, “Well, for one thing, because I have other things to do right now than restore a century old window you waited until the last minute to notice needed repairing. And for another, because I’m going to have to special order the replacement glass and there’s no way it’s going to get here before the rain does.”
Except that Drew Hartwell didn’t look particularly worried. He never did. Even now his free hand—the one not holding his phone—had crept beneath his well-worn, sun faded Little Bridge Island Bocce League T-shirt to scratch lazily at his flat stomach, unconsciously revealing a trail of dark, downy hair that disappeared into the waistband of his cargo shorts . . . the sight of which caused my stomach to give a pleasant lurch, like I’d just taken a spin on the tilt-a-whirl.
What was wrong with me?
Realizing I was staring, I glanced hastily away, remembering the whispered warning my co-worker Angela Fairweather had given me on my first day of work: “Stay away from that one. ”
Because apparently Drew Hartwell—with his lean six foot frame, tussled dark hair, permanent deep sea tan, and summer sky blue eyes—was as much of a player as Caleb and his friends, just of a different variety: Drew was the homegrown style, having been born on Little Bridge Island, and—with the exception of a few years spent on the mainland—had never lived anywhere else.
Whereas Caleb and his best friend Kyle—who’d turned my entire life upside down in a single moment—had been born in New York City, and had traveled all over the world, thanks to their trust funds and wealthy parents.
And yet Caleb, at least, still didn’t know a thing about women. Or at least the one he was currently speaking to.
“I can tell her you’re fine all you want, Bree,” Caleb was saying into my ear. “But she isn’t going to stop calling. She said to tell you that she thinks it’s time you gave up on this little solo adventure to find yourself, or whatever it is, and come home. And that it shouldn’t take a Category Five hurricane for you to realize it.”
“Is that what she says?” I smiled wryly. It sounded exactly like something my mom would say. “Well, do me a favor and let her know that I haven’t quite finished finding myself, but when I do, she’ll be the first to know. In the meantime, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I don’t need help from her, or anybody else—especially you.”
“Well, that’s just great, Bree.” Now Caleb sounded offended. “Excuse me for caring. You know, last time I talked to you, you were mad at me for not caring enough—”
I felt a different kind of spurt from my gut, far less pleasant than the one I’d experienced at the sight of Drew’s naked stomach. “That’s not what I said, and you know it. There’s a difference between not caring and calling me a liar.”
“I never called you a liar, Bree. I just said that maybe it was all just a bad dream—”
“A bad dream? Really, Caleb?”
I was so mad, I had to force myself to gaze past the harbor, out where the turquoise blue sky met the aquamarine sea, in order to steady myself. Something about that calm, azure blue water always seemed to help me find my equilibrium.
“I don’t want to get into it again, Caleb,” I said. “I need to go back to my job, or I’ll lose it.”
“Oh, wouldn’t that be a tragedy,” Caleb sneered. “Your waitressing job that you don’t even need.”
I glanced hastily in Drew Hartwell’s direction, fearful that he might have overheard—Caleb could be as overbearingly loud on the phone as he was in person.
But fortunately, Drew still seemed preoccupied with his own call.
This was my first opportunity to try to make it on my own, with no help from Mom or Dad, and up until this moment, I’d been doing well, living solely off what I earned at the Mermaid and only dipping into my savings for emergencies, like Gary’s surgery.
“At least,” I hissed at Caleb through gritted teeth, “I have a job.”
“Oh, was that supposed to be a blow to my feelings, Bree?” Caleb asked. “Look, if you won’t come with me,” Caleb went on, “at least let me send you a ticket for a commercial flight, since you can’t seem to be bothered to buy one on your own.”
“Don’t even try it,” I snarled into the phone, “because I’m not leaving Little Bridge Island.”
Then I hung up on him.
I hope you enjoy visiting Little Bridge Island and meeting Rob, Bree, Ryan and Drew!
Bridal Boot Camp debuts May 28 and No Judgments releases Sept. 24.
To celebrate the release of both books, I’m giving away free books! Click here to sign up to win!
And if you’d like to come see me in person, I’ll be at the Key West Literary Seminar next week! Some of the sessions are free and open to the public. Please come! Click here for info.
It’s that time of year again! If you’re thinking “the holidays,” you’re almost right . . . .
Throw in “deadlines” and you get 100%!
I’m busy finishing up the manuscripts for books I have coming out next year (more on those below) but ALSO finishing (okay, starting) my holiday shopping. How about you? Have you, like me, not even started your holiday shopping yet?
If so, allow me to help. Here’s a super easy and practically FREE gift idea for the book lovers in your life:
Send a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to my PO Box (address below), and I’ll return it to you filled with the autographed bookplates (indicate how many you’d like, and if you’d like them personalized), bookmarks and postcards pictured here (jewelry not included)!
(PS If you feel like you’ve seen this before, that’s because I posted it last year…and the year before…and the year before that. HEY IF SOMETHING WORKS DO NOT CHANGE IT AM I RIGHT???)
Send the SASE to:
P.O. Box 4904
Key West, FL 33041-4904
Send your SASE now (RIGHT NOW) so it can be sent back to you in time for the holidays, and so that you can then give the enclosed items to your friends/loved ones!
If you want to be super fancy, I have also worked with Books and Books of Key West bookstore and Key West Island Books in the past to personalize actual books and get them to people, so I’m sure if you gave either of them a call, they would be okay with that, too.
For a guide on which of my books are appropriate for which age range, click here.
If you’re like me, you’re so late on your gift-giving that whatever you order now might have to be a New Year’s Gift. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS! Since most of us can agree that 2018 has been kind of on the crappy side, honoring the birth of 2019 with gifts seems TOTALLY appropriate to me.
(Some of you may have noticed that I truly am literally copy/pasting this from 2017’s blog. That’s because LITERALLY NOTHING HAS CHANGED).
Except for one thing that has changed:
Look for an announcement in early 2019 about
brand new ADULT books written by me
and published by HarperCollins-
Coming in Summer 2019!
Yes! It is true! I’ve written some adult women’s contemporary fiction! Because in order for things to change, we have to BE the change!
Speaking of fun things, don’t forget to come see me, Danielle Paige, and many other authors including MARGARET ATWOOD at the Key West Literary Seminar this coming January 10-13. Although the actual seminar is sold out, there will be many fun programs (and signings) that are open and free to the public, including one that Danielle and I are doing called From Princesses to Supergirls!
As soon as that schedule is available, it will be posted here. So if you’re in SoFlo, COME SEE US!
Okay, well, here’s to hoping that you all have an amazing holiday season, a VERY happy New Year, and that the deadline elves come in the middle of the night and finish your manuscript for you PERFECTLY while you sleep! But if not, that you turn in your manuscript on time (or at least MOSTLY on time). PEACE AND JOY TO THE WORLD XOXOX
Hi! When you’re an adult you don’t really get summer vacation, or at least you don’t when you’re a writer, because you usually have a book due, as I did this summer . . . a book that I still haven’t quite finished. But it’s ALMOST done!
With luck, it will be out August 2019 . . . which I realize is before Black Canary: Ignite, my middle grade graphic novel, which will be out in October 2019.
I do have a title–and even a cover–for this new book, which is an adult contemporary, but I’m waiting for final approval from HarperCollins before revealing them.
So what I did for my summer vacation was spend almost every day working . . . EXCEPT for a few brief weeks I spent overseas going to . . . a wedding!
That’s right, I went to a wedding in Denmark, of all places, which I think should count as research, considering the fact that I write romance (usually with a little mystery, humor, and suspense thrown in).
There was no mystery at the wedding, unless you count the fact that the bride and groom got married in a medieval church that was supposedly constructed by Knight Templars (or a Knight Templar was buried in it, or the Holy Grail is under it, or something. Look, I was off duty for the wedding).
Anyway, who cares about that, look at the wedding tent!
I know, right? The Danish know how to do everything right. Just look at this smorrebrod (open face sandwich) I got at my favorite restaurant in Copenhagen, Told and Snaps (don’t even get me started on snaps, Danish akvavit. By don’t get me started I mean bring me one right now).
There is gluten free bread under that herring.
These Danish ladies we encountered while boating in Copenhagen know exactly how to spend a summer afternoon. Note the inflatable unicorn in the background.
Danes are very emphatic about something called “hygge” which means a feeling or mood of living well and contentedly (I feel like it’s a lot like Netflix and chill only with more alcohol and blankets).
That’s why when you go to a bar or restaurant or wedding in Denmark, you’ll always find cozy or furry blankets tossed over the backs of chairs. They want you to curl up and stay awhile.
See? Fuzzy blankets over the backs of the chairs at the wedding.
But of course I had a book due, so I couldn’t “hygge” all the time. I spent a lot of time in my hotel room, writing. Which wasn’t a hardship, because look at my view!
I was also able to comfort myself with the vast amounts of Toblerone and Nutella that was available everywhere, at very low prices, and sometimes free with breakfast. Remember Joey from Friends and the giant Toblerone???
Often I worked in the hotel lobby, because housekeeping would need to clean my room. If you’ve ever worked in a hotel lobby, you know that is where you see extraordinary things, such as people having meltdowns for no reason, and other people who are trying to get their work done while housekeeping cleans their room.
Other people such as VIN DIESEL.
No one who was there agrees with me that that was Vin Diesel in the hotel lobby (okay, it was the hotel bar, but whatever), but that is OBVIOUSLY him. You can clearly see that it is him!!!
Photo I did not take, but am posting for comparison to prove it was him
Anyway, my trip was lovely, and so was the wedding, and so was Vin Diesel (obviously I did not speak to him because he was working, like I was, and people working have respect for one another), and I learned a lot of new things and got a lot done.
That’s what I did on my summer vacation!
But I’m still working!
Which leads me to this–I’m going to be taking another mini working vacay, this one to Jersey City in October to interview mega-bestselling author JAMES PATTERSON live on stage about his new book for tweens, MAX EINSTEIN!
The event will be on October 9 from 6:30-8:30 at the Loews Theater, and is ticketed (but one ticket admits two people AND gets you a signed copy of MAX EINSTEIN). You can find out more details (and buy tix) here.
What will I ask James Patterson? Stuff about the book, of course! And what it was like to be on Castle! (Kidding. Not kidding.) And anything else you Tweet or FB me. Remember that this is a kid’s event so keep it age appropriate.
Okay, well, that’s it for now, I have to go write some stuff. Hope you had a great summer, and don’t forget to take time out from work to get a little hygge!
This year is the seventeenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93.
Every year in remembrance I post this essay about my experience living in Manhattan a few dozen blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11. I think that now more than ever it’s important we don’t allow the memories of those we lost (or the brave acts that so many men and women performed) on that day be forgotten.
So if you have a few extra minutes in your day, please read on. And if you think what you read was important, please share it with a friend.
Meg’s 9/11 Diary
9/11/01 started out as one of those super nice fall days where the sky was cloudlessly blue and it was just warm enough, but not hot. My LA friends call that “earthquake weather.”
So we probably should have known something awful was going to happen, but most of us didn’t.
My husband had woken up early to go jogging before leaving for work at his job as a financial writer at One Liberty Plaza, which was across the street from the World Trade Center.
He has never been jogging again.
Not being a morning person, I was still asleep in my apartment on 12th Street and 4th Avenue, a few dozen blocks from the Trade Center, when the first plane hit. Our windows were closed and the air conditioning was on. I didn’t hear a thing until my friend Jen called.
Jen: “Look out your window.”
That is when I saw the smoke for the first time.
Me: “What’s happening?”
Jen: “They’re saying a plane hit the Trade Center.”
Me: “But how could the pilot not see it?”
Jen: “I don’t know. Isn’t that near where your husband works?”
It was. I couldn’t see his building from our apartment, but I could see the World Trade Center. The black smoke billowing from it had to be going right into my husband’s busy investment office on the 60th or so floor.
“I better call him to see if he’s okay,” I said, and hung up to do so.
There was no answer at my husband’s office, however, which was crazy, because over a hundred people worked there.
Were they all right? I didn’t know. I couldn’t get through to anyone anywhere. I couldn’t make any outgoing calls from either of my phones that day. For some reason, people could call me, but I couldn’t call anyone else.
It turned out this was due to the massive volume of calls going on in my part of the city that day, both on cell and land lines.
But I didn’t know that then.
Sirens started up. It was the engine from the firehouse directly across the street from my apartment building. It was a very small firehouse, but it was always bustling with activity. All the young, handsome guys used to sit outside it on folding chairs on nice days like the one on 9/11, joshing with the neighbors who were walking their dogs, with my doormen, with the neighborhood kids. The old ladies on my street always brought them cookies.The firemen, in turn, always had treats for the old ladies’ dogs.
Now all the firemen from the station across from my apartment building were hurrying to the fire downtown, throwing on their gear and urgently blaring the horn on their truck.
Every last one of those young, brave boys would be dead in exactly one hour. Their truck would be crushed beyond recognition. That firehouse would sit empty and draped in black bunting for months. No one would be able to look at it without crying.
Of course none of us knew it then.
I turned on New York 1, the local news channel for New York City. Pat Kiernan, my favorite newscaster, was saying that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
Weird, I thought. Was the pilot drunk? How could someone not see a building that big, and run into it with a plane?
It was right then that Luz, my housekeeper, showed up. I’d forgotten it was Tuesday, the day she comes to clean. When she saw what I was watching, she looked worried.
“I just dropped my son off at his college,” she said. “It’s right next to the World Trade Center.”
“My husband works across the street from the World Trade Center,” I said.
“Is he all right?” Luz wanted to know. “What’s happening down there?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t reach him.”
Luz tried to call her son on his cell phone. She, too, could not get through.
We didn’t know then that our cell servers used towers that were located on top of the World Trade Center, and they all had stopped working due to the intensity of the flames shooting up the building.
We both stood there staring at the TV, not really knowing what to do. It was as we were watching that something weird happened on the TV, right before our eyes:
The OTHER tower at the World Trade Center — the one that hadn’t been hit — suddenly exploded.
I thought maybe one of the helicopters that was filming the disaster had gotten too close.
But Luz said, “No. A plane hit it. I saw it. That was a plane.”
I hadn’t seen a plane. I said, “No. How could that be? There can’t be TWO drunk pilots.”
“You don’t understand,” Luz said. “They’re doing this on purpose.”
“No,” I said. “Of course they aren’t. Who would do that?”
That’s when Pat Kiernan, on the TV, said, “Oh, my God.”
It’s weird to hear a newscaster say, “Oh, my God.” Especially Pat. He is always very professional.
Also, Pat’s voice cracked when he said it. Like he was about to cry.
But newscasters don’t cry.
“Another plane has hit the World Trade Center,” Pat said. “It looks as if another plane — a commercial jet — has hit the World Trade Center. And we are getting reports that a plane has just hit the Pentagon.”
That’s when I grabbed Luz. And Luz grabbed me. We both started to cry. We sat on the couch in my living room, hugging each other, and crying as we watched what was happening on TV, which was what was happening a dozen blocks from where we sat, where both the people we loved were.
We could see things flying out of the burning buildings. Pat said that those things were people. People were choosing to jump from their offices in the World Trade Center rather than burn to death. They couldn’t escape the flames, and rescuers couldn’t reach them.
But their offices were sixty to ninety floors from the ground. Some of them were holding hands with their colleagues as they jumped. Many of them were women. You could tell by the way their skirts ballooned out behind them as they raced towards the pavement below.
Luz and I sobbed. We didn’t want to watch, but we couldn’t stop. This was happening in our city, just down the street, to people we saw every day. Who would do this? Who would do something like this to New Yorkers?
That’s when my phone rang. I grabbed it, but it wasn’t my husband. It was his mother. Where was he? she wanted to know. Was he all right?
I said I didn’t know. I said I was trying to keep the line clear, in case he called. She said she understood but to call her as soon as I heard anything, and hung up.
Then the phone rang again. It was my husband’s sister-in-law. Then it rang again. It was MY mother.
The phone rang all morning. It was never my husband. It was always family or friends, wondering if he was all right.
“I don’t know,” I kept telling them. “I don’t know.”
Luz went up to the roof of my building to see if she could see anything more from there than what they were showing on New York 1. While she was gone, I went into my bedroom to get dressed (I was still wearing my pajamas).
All I could think, as I looked into my closet, trying to figure out what to wear, was that my husband was probably dead. I didn’t see how anybody could be down in that part of Manhattan and still be alive. All I could see were things falling —and people jumping — out of those buildings. Anyone on the streets down below would have to be killed by all of that. The jumping people couldn’t choose where they landed.
I remember exactly what I put on that day: olive green capris and a black T-shirt, with my black Steve Madden slides. I remember thinking, “This will be my Identifying My Dead Husband’s Body outfit. I will never, ever wear it again after this day.”
I knew this because when I worked at the dorm at NYU, we had quite a few students kill themselves, in various ways. Every time a body was discovered, it was so horrible. All the first responders involved in the discovery could never wear the same clothes we wore that day again, because of the memory.
Luz came back down from the roof, very excited. No, she hadn’t seen if the buildings in which my husband and her son were in were all right. But she’d seen thousands — THOUSANDS — of people coming down 4th Avenue, the busy street I lived on at the time. 4th Avenue is always heavily trafficked with honking cars, buses, taxis, bike messengers, and scooters.
Not today. Today all the cars and buses were gone, and the entire avenue was crowded with people.
“Walking,” Luz said. “They’re WALKING DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET.”
I ran to look out the window. Luz was right. Instead of the constant stream of cars I’d gotten used to seeing outside our living room window, I saw wall to wall people. They had taken over the street. They were coming from the Battery, where the Trade Center is located, shoulder to shoulder, ten deep in the middle of the road, like a parade or a rally. There were tens of thousands of them.
There were men in business suits, and some in khakis. There were women in skirts and dresses, walking barefoot or in shredded pantyhose, holding their shoes because their high heels hurt too much and they hadn’t had time to grab their commuter running shoes. I saw the ladies who worked in the manicure shop across the street from my building running outside with the flip flops they put on their customers’ feet when they’ve had a pedicure (the flip flops the staff always make sure they get back before you leave).
But today, the staff was giving the flip flops to the women who were barefoot. They were giving away the flip flops.
That’s when I got REALLY freaked out.
The manicurists weren’t the only ones trying to help. The men who worked in the deli on the corner were running outside with bottles of water to give to the hot, thirsty marchers. New York City deli owners, GIVING water away. Usually they charged $2.
It was like the world had turned upside down.
“They have to be in there,” Luz said, about her son and my husband, pointing to the crowd. “They’re walking with them, and that’s what’s taking them so long to get here.”
“I hope you’re right,” I said. But I wasn’t sure I shared her faith.
Then Luz ran downstairs to see if anyone in the crowd was coming from the same college her son went to, to ask if anyone might have seen him.
I was afraid to leave my apartment, though, because I thought my husband might try to call. Not knowing what else to do, I logged onto the computer. My email was still working, even if the phones weren’t. I emailed my husband: WHERE ARE YOU?
A friend from Indiana had emailed to ask if there was anything she could do. At the time, the only thing I could think of was, Give blood.
My friend, and everyone she knew, gave blood that day. So many people gave blood that there were lines around the corner to give it.
After a month, a lot of that surplus blood had to be destroyed, because they didn’t have room to store it all. And there turned out to be no use for it, anyway. There were few survivors to give blood to.
My friend Jen, the one who’d woken me up, e’d me from her job at NYU. Fred (out of respect for their desire for anonymity, I have changed the names of some people in this piece), then one of Jen’s employees, and also a volunteer EMT, had jumped on his bike and headed downtown to see if there was anything he could do to help.
Jen herself was organizing a massive effort to set up shelter for students who didn’t live on campus, since the subways and commuter trains had stopped running, and the kids who commuted to school had no way of getting home that night. Jen was trying to arrange for cots to be set up in the gym for them.
She ended up staying in the city too that night. She had no way to get back to her house in Connecticut.
Another co-worker from NYU, my friend Jack, did manage to reach his spouse, who worked in the Trade Center, that day. Jack used to train the RAs. He would ask me to “interrupt” his training with a fake administrative temper tantrum — “Why are you in this room?” I would demand. “You never reserved it!”— and then he and I would “fight” about it, and then after I left Jack would ask the RAs what would have been a better way to handle the situation . . . and by the way, did any of them remember what I was wearing? After they’d tell him, he’d have me come back into the room, and point out that every single of them was wrong about what I’d had on. This was to show how unreliable witness testimony can be.
Jack’s wife had just walked eighty floors down one of the Towers to reach the ground safely since the elevators weren’t working due to the flames, only to realize the guys in her IT department were still up there, backing up data for the company. Once she reached the ground, and saw how bad things really were, she tried calling them to tell them to forget backing up and just COME DOWN, but of course she couldn’t get hold of them because no phones were working.
So she went back up to MAKE THEM come down, because who doesn’t love their IT guys?
“Why did you go back up?” Jack asked her, when he finally reached her. By that time she, along with the IT guys, had become trapped in the fire and smoke, and couldn’t make their way down again.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.
Of course it did. She was married to Jack. Jack would have done the same thing. She told Jack to say good bye to their twins toddlers for her. That was the last time they spoke.
I can never think of this, or of Jack’s happy, cheerful greeting every time I saw him, or the stunned looks on the RAs faces when they realized we’d pulled one over on them, without wanting to cry. It seems so unfair that those twins have had to grow up not knowing their mother. And for what reason?
Another friend, a pilot who had access to air traffic control radar, e’d me to say all the planes in the U.S. were being grounded — that what had happened had been the result of highjackings. That it was a commercial jet that had hit the Pentagon, where my friend’s father-in-law worked (they eventually found him, safe and sound. He’d been stuck in traffic on his way to the Pentagon when the plane hit. Many people that day were rewarded for tardiness).
But another friend – a girl I’d worked with when I’d been a receptionist in my husband’s office, a girl whom I’d helped pick out a wedding dress, and who, since the big day, had quit her job to raise the four kids she’d had – wasn’t so lucky. She never saw her husband, who worked at the Trade Center, again.
Then, behind me, I heard Pat Kiernan on the TV say, “Oh, my God,” again.
And this time he really WAS crying. Because one of the towers was collapsing.
I watched, not believing my eyes. Since having moved to New York City in 1989, I had become accustomed to using the Twin Towers as my own personal compass point for the direction “South,” since they’re on the southern tip of the island, and visible from dozens of blocks away. Wherever you were in the maze of streets that made up the Village, all you had to do to orient yourself was find the Twin Towers, and you knew which direction to go.
(If you ever watched closely during the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” you can see the towers beneath the Washington Square arch in the scene where Sally drops Harry off when they first arrive in New York.)
And now one of those towers was coming down.
I don’t remember anything else about that moment except that, as I watched the TV in horror, the front door to my apartment opened, and, assuming it was Luz back from the street, I turned to tell her, “It’s falling down! It’s FALLING DOWN!”
Only it wasn’t Luz. It was my husband.
He said, “What’s falling down? Why are you crying?”
Because HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING ON.
Because my husband, being my husband, had picked up his briefcase after the first plane hit and said, “Let’s go,” to everyone in his department, took the elevators downstairs, and insisted everyone start walking for our apartment, because it was the closest place to where they were that seemed unlikely to be hit by an airplane.
(He told me later he’d worried they were going to try for the Stock Exchange, or the federal buildings you always see on Law and Order, and so had made everyone take small side streets home around those buildings, which is why it took them so long to get there).
They had to dodge the bodies of the people who jumped from the burning towers because they couldn’t stand the heat anymore. They saw the desk chairs and PCs that had been blown out of the offices so high above littering the street like tickertape from a parade. They saw the second plane hit while they were on the street, and ducked into a cell phone store until the rubble from the explosion settled. A piece of plane, nearly twenty feet long, flew past them, and landed in a parking lot, just missing Trinity Church, one of the oldest churches in this country.
And they kept walking.
I don’t know what people normally do when someone they love, who they were convinced was dead, suddenly walks through the door. All I know is how I reacted: I flung my arms around him. And then I started yelling, “WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL ME?”
“I tried, I couldn’t get through,” he said. “What’s falling down?”
Because they had no idea. All they knew was that the city was under attack (which they had surmised by all the airplanes).
So my husband and his colleagues gathered in our living room—hot, thirsty, but alive, the ones who lived in New Jersey wondering how (and if) they were going to get home. Eventually, that night, they managed to catch boat rides – see the film above.
Meanwhile, Luz, not wanting to go home until she’d heard from her son, who was supposed to meet her after class in my building, cleaned.
I told her not to, but she said it helped keep her mind off what was happening.
So she vacuumed, while eleven people sat in my two room apartment and watched the Twin Towers fall.
It wasn’t long after the second tower came down that our friends David and Susan from Indiana, who lived in a beautiful condo in the shadow of the Twin Towers with their two young children, showed up at our door, their kids and half the employees from their office (which was also in our neighborhood) behind them.
They had been some of the people shown on the news escaping from the massive dust cloud that erupted when the towers fell. They’d abandoned their daughter’s stroller and run for it, while shop owners tossed water on their backs as they passed by, to keep their clothes from catching on fire.
In their typical way, however, they had stopped on their way to our place to pick up some bagels.
For all they knew, their apartment was burning down, or being buried under ten feet of rubble. But they’d stopped for bagels, because they’d been worried people might be hungry. Or maybe people just do things in times like that to try to be normal. I don’t know. They didn’t forget the cream cheese, either.
I took the kids into my bedroom, where there was a second TV, because I didn’t think they should see what everyone was watching in the living room, which was footage of what they had just escaped from.
I set up my Playstation for Jake, who was seven or so at the time, to use, while Shai, just turning 4, and I did a puzzle on my floor. Both kids were worried about Mr. Fluff, their pet rabbit, whom they’d been forced to leave behind in their apartment, because there’d been no time to get him (their parents had run from work and grabbed both kids from school).
“Do you think he’s all right?” Jake wanted to know.
At the time, I didn’t see how anything south of Canal Street could be alive, but I told Jake I was sure Mr. Fluff was fine.
This was when Shai and I had the following conversation:
“Are planes going to fly into THIS building?” Shai wanted to know. She was crying as she looked out the windows of my thirteenth floor apartment.
Me: “No. No planes are going to fly into this building.”
Shai: “How do you know?”
Me: “Because all the planes are grounded. No more planes are allowed in the air.”
Me: “No. Just until the bad guys who did this get caught.”
Shai: “Who’s going to catch the bad guys?”
Me: “The police will catch them.”
Shai: “No, they won’t. All the police are dead. I saw them going into the building that just fell down.”
Me (trying not to cry): “Shai. Not all the police are dead.”
Shai (crying harder): “Yes, they ARE. I SAW THEM.”
Me (showing Shai a picture from my family photo album of a policeman in his uniform): “Shai, this is my brother, Matt. He’s a policeman. And he’s not dead, I promise. And he, and other policemen like him, and probably even the Army, will catch the bad guys.”
Shai (no longer crying): “Okay.”
And she went back to her puzzle.
Watching from my living room window, we saw the crowds of people streaming out from what was soon to be called Ground Zero, thin to a trickle, then stop altogether. That was when 4th Avenue became crowded with vehicular traffic again. But not taxis or bike messengers.
Soon, our building was shaking from the wheels of hundreds of Humvees and Army trucks, as the National Guard moved in. The Village was blockaded from 14th Street down. You couldn’t come in or out of the neighborhood without showing proof that you lived there (a piece of mail with your name and address on it, along with a photo ID).
The next day, after having spent the night on our fold-out couch in the living room, Shai’s parents snuck back to their apartment (they had to sneak, because the National Guard wasn’t letting anyone at all, even with proof that they lived there, into the area. For weeks afterwards, on every corner from 14th Street down, stood a National Guardsman, armed with an assault rifle. For days, you couldn’t get milk, bread, or a newspaper below Union Square because they weren’t allowing any delivery trucks — or any vehicles at all, except Army vehicles — into the area), and found Mr. Fluff alive and well.
They snuck him back out, so that later that day, we were able to put the entire family on a bus to the Hamptons, where they lived for the rest of the year.
As my husband and I were walking back to our apartment from the bus stop where we’d seen off our friends, we saw a familiar face standing on the corner of 4th Avenue and 12th Street, where we lived:
Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea Clinton, asking people in our neighborhood if we were all right, and if there was anything they could do to help.
I didn’t go up to shake the ex-President’s hand, because I was too shy.
But I stood there watching him and Chelsea, and something about seeing them, so genuinely concerned and kind (and not there for press or publicity, because there WAS no press, there was never any mention of their visit AT ALL in any newspaper or on any news broadcast I saw that day), made me burst into tears, after having held them in the whole time Shai had been in my apartment, since I didn’t want to upset her.
But you couldn’t NOT cry. It was impossible. Everyone was doing it …so much so that the deli across the street put a sign in its window: “No Crying, Please.” Our doormen were crying. Even Rudy Giuliani, New York City’s mayor (whom I will admit up until this crisis I had not particularly liked for cheating on his very nice wife, Donna Hanover, who used to be on the Food Network), kept crying.
But he also kept showing up on New York 1, no matter what time you turned it on, even at two in the morning, there he was, like he never slept, always crying but also telling us It’s going to be all right, which was BRILLIANT.
The same day we put Shai and her family on a bus to the Hamptons, September 12 — which also happened to be poor Shai’s birthday — companies (even RIVAL companies) all over Manhattan offered up their conference rooms and spare offices to all the businesses in the Trade Center and One Liberty Plaza that had lost theirs, including my husband’s company, so that they would be able to remain solvent, another act of kindness that never gets mentioned anywhere, but should.
Since he was the only person in the company who lived downtown, my husband was elected for the duty of removing all the sensitive data from their now mostly destroyed office, which meant he had to pass through the Brooks Brothers in his building’s foyer, from which he had bought so many of his business shirts and ties. The Brooks Brothers at One Liberty Plaza was now serving as Ground Zero’s morgue.
While under escort of the National Guard, he and guardsmen–the first to enter his floor since the event–found a body in an emergency stairwell. It was determined to be the body of someone from another office, who had probably suffered a heart attack while trying to evacuate One Liberty. The body was removed and taken to the morgue while my husband watched. (He threw away the clothes he wore that day.)
For the next week in Lower Manhattan, even if you wanted to forget, for a minute, what had happened on that cloudless Tuesday morning, you couldn’t. The front window of my apartment building filled with Missing Person posters of loved ones that had been lost in the Trade Center. The outside walls of St. Vincent’s Hospital were papered with them as well, and Union Square, at 14th Street, became an impromptu memorial to the dead, filled with candles and flowers. So did the front doors of every local fire station, including the one across the street from my building. The old ladies who used to bring cookies there stood in front of it and cried.
You couldn’t go outside during that week — until it finally rained Friday night, four days later – without smelling the acrid smoke from Ground Zero … and, in fact, you were encouraged to wear surgical masks outdoors. An eerie grey fog covered everything. Some of us tried to brave it by not wearing masks — like Londoners during the Blitz — meeting for lunch like nothing had happened, but the smoke made your eyes burn. I have no idea how the rescue workers at Ground Zero could bear it, and I’m not surprised so many of them now have respiratory diseases and cancer. I have no doubt that for some, the horrors of 9/11 will continue to be felt years from now.
It wasn’t until employees from a barbecue restaurant drove all the way to Manhattan from Memphis, and stationed their tanker-sized smokers right next to Ground Zero, and then started giving away free barbecue to all the rescue workers there for weeks on end, that the smell changed to something other than death. Everyone loved those guys. It was just barbecue.
Except it wasn’t just barbecue. It was a sign that, as the mayor kept assuring us, things were going to be all right.
But of course, for a lot of New Yorkers that day, things were never going to be all right again. While I was celebrating the fact that my husband had come home, Fred – Jen’s employee, the volunteer EMT who had ridden his bike downtown to see if there was anything he could do – couldn’t find his crew. This was before the buildings fell, before anyone had any idea those buildings COULD fall, when the police and firemen were still streaming into them, confident they could get people out.
The crew that Fred normally volunteered with were inside one of those buildings, helping people down the stairs. Fred couldn’t find them, because all the cell towers were down, and communication was so sketchy. Someone told Fred to drive a bus they’d found, to help evacuate people out of the World Trade Center area.
Fred didn’t want to be outside driving a bus. He wanted to be inside with his crew, saving people.
But since he couldn’t find his crew, he agreed to drive the bus.
Then the buildings came down. Later, Fred found out that the crew he normally volunteered with had been one of the many rescue squads buried under the rubble.
Like a lot of the rescue workers who lost coworkers in the attack, Fred seemed to feel guilty about having survived, while his friends had not. Even when all his NYU co-workers pitched in and bought him a new bike (after his old one got buried beneath rubble at Ground Zero), Fred couldn’t seem to shake his sadness. It was like he didn’t believe he’d done any good that day.
“All I did,” he said, “was drive a stupid bus.”
But that’s not all he did. Because remember Luz’s son?
Well, he showed up at my apartment not long after Jake and Shai and their parents did. Luz grabbed him and kissed him and shook him and cried, and when she finally let go of him, he told his story:
He had been heading towards — not away from – the towers, because he’d wanted to help, he said. A lot like Fred.
But suddenly, from out of nowhere, someone grabbed him from behind, and threw him onto a stupid bus.
“But I want to stay and help!” Luz’s son yelled at the guy who’d grabbed him.
“Not today,” Fred said.
And he drove Luz’s son, and all the other students from that community college to safety, just before the towers fell.
Seventeen years has passed since 9/11. A year or two after finding that body, and the company he worked for got back on its feet, my husband decided financial writing wasn’t for him. He decided to follow a lifelong dream: he enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. He got to work with chefs like Jacques Pepin. At his graduation, Michael Lamonaco–who ran Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the Twin Towers. Michael is another person who happened to be late to work on 9/11–offered my husband a job in his new restaurant.
My husband declined, however, because we were moving to Key West, where the pace of life is a little bit slower. Michael said he completely understood.
Luz and her family are doing fine. Fred is now married with two children, and head of his own division at NYU. Mr. Fluff did eventually die, but of natural causes. Jake is enrolled in law school, and Shai is now attending a college she loves. Shai’s mother says her daughter has no memory of that day, or of the conversation she and I had, or of the promise I made her — that we’d catch the bad guys.
Shai, however, says she does remember our conversation, and that I was right: we did catch the bad guys.
Of course, there will always be bad guys out there.
But now more than ever it’s more important to remember that there are way more good guys (and girls!) in this world than bad.
Hi! If this isn’t your first time visiting my site, you might be noticing it’s got a new look! I decided to update things a little, and Janey, my longtime friend and site admin, plus her team, have done an AMAZING job.
(No, I didn’t do this all myself. I don’t even know how to do my own nails. I’d never try to design my own website!)
One of the reasons I wanted to give the site an update is because I’m going to be trying some new things creatively in the next few months/years. You already know I’ve got a book coming out on August 7–the fourth and final (so far) book in the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess series featuring Princess Olivia (and of course Princess Mia Thermopolis, Michael Moscovitz, Grandmere, and the rest of the gang in Genovia), Royal Crown:
But I’ve also got a new graphic novel from DC Comics, Black Canary: Ignite, featuring art by the amazing Cara McGee, coming in October 2019.
But I’ve ALSO got some new books for adult readers (adult in chronological years, but still young at heart) coming out soonish, though I’m not yet at liberty to discuss them.
And those books are so fresh and new, they really need a clean, modern palette on which to introduce them….something I’ll be doing soon!
So please take some time to look around. If you’re a longtime visitor, you’ll find that many things have stayed (relatively) the same, but we’re trying some new things as well. If you’re new, I hope you’ll quickly feel at home. Let us know how you think things are working, or if there’s anything you notice that we might have missed (and keep in mind…this is still a work in progress)!
In the meantime, I’ll be posting updated tour info for Royal Crown, as well as other tantalizing news (including possible new movie/TV news) soon! I don’t like to jinx things by saying stuff before it’s 100%. Uh, also, people yell at me.
Until then, hope your summer is going swimmingly….
Oh, but wait. What will I be promoting at #alaac18? Um, only my new graphic novel from DC Zoom, Black Canary: Ignite!
Black Canary: Ignite won’t be out until October 2019, but this week at #alaac18we’ll be handing out some cool free sample excerpts of the first chapter! I’ll also be on some panels with a few of the very fun authors for DC Zoom (middle grade) and DC Ink (young adult). Here’s where you can see me and/or maybe get a sampler (unfortunately these events are open only to registered attendees of #alaac18):
Penguin Random House Library Con panel – Nurturing Empowerment and Confidence! Time: 1:15pm-2:00pm Place: Room 348 and 349
Ernest M Morial Convention Center
Moderated by Robin Brenner
With Shea Fontana, Lauren Miracle, Karen Berger, Shelly Bond
Saturday, JUNE 23, 2018 – ALA NEW ORLEANS #alaac18
DC Zoom Signing Time: 12:30pm-1:30pm Place: DC Booth #2040
Ernest M Morial Convention Center
With Shea Fontana and Ridley Pearson
Graphic Novel Panel: DC Zoom and DC Ink authors discuss their upcoming original graphic novels for DC Comics: Time: 2:30pm-3:20pm Place: Graphic Novels stage–next to booth #436
Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
Moderated by Michele Wells
With Shea Fontana, Ridley Pearson, Meg Cabot, Danielle Paige, Kami Garcia, Lauren Myracle, Mariko Tamaki
POP TOP EVENT: Cultural Icons in the Libary! DC Zoom and DC Ink authors discuss their upcoming original graphic novels for DC Comics Time: 4:00pm – 4:45pm Place: PopTop Stage–next to booth #432
Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
Moderated by Michele Wells
With Shea Fontana, Ridley Pearson, Meg Cabot, Danielle Paige, Kami Garcia, Lauren Myracle, Mariko Tamaki
Wow, that is a crazy schedule! Especially since I’m used to doing nothing but sitting around writing all day (although this summer I signed up for Boot Camp at my gym so I’ve actually been working out a lot which has been good for stamina, but bad for my goal of avoiding sweating).
I know that some of you are bummed that none of the events above are open to the public. But never fear because in July, when I’m in Denver, CO for the Romance Writers of America convention, I’ll have TWO public signings in TWO days! I hope some of you can attend one or both!
This event is open to the public and is free of charge to attend.
You do not need to register in advance to attend this event as a fan.
Since this is a fundraiser event for literacy organizations, attendees will not be allowed to bring books from home into the event. Unlimited books may be purchased on site, however. Cash and major credit cards accepted.
I think I’ve also mentioned that in addition to Black Canary, I’ve been working on some contemporary women’s fiction/suspense/romance. I don’t really want to say anything more about that yet though because I always feel like if I talk too much about a project before I’m done working on it, I’ll put a curse on it, and it will never get done. THIS IS A REAL THING that I’m positive must happen to other creative people besides me!
Don’t forget that in August, the 4th book in the Princess Olivia, Notebooks of a Middle School Princess series will become available! Look for Royal Crown in stores (and online) everywhere on August 7. I’ll have more details on events for this book soon!
In the meantime, enjoy your summer, and I hope I see some of you in New Orleans and Denver!
So I wanted to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming of princesses and super heroines to talk about depression and suicide.
I know these aren’t the most pleasant topics to discuss, but I feel like there’s been a lot of judginess and disinformation floating around out there, and I want to see if I can to change that a little.
This is the only trigger warning you’re going to get on this post. Discussing suicide in a thoughtful way doesn’t trigger it, but if the subject is an especially sensitive one to you, or makes you uncomfortable, you might want to skip this blog entry. I promise you that I am NOT writing a book on this subject, only discussing it here.
I’m not a professional therapist, of course, but I’ve had experience with both depression and suicide, not only personally but also because I worked for ten years as an assistant director in a residence hall at New York University. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for young people aged 15-24 (CDC), so it isn’t unusual that in a college population I encountered it.
I’m actually deeply sympathetic to those in chronic pain—both physically and emotionally—and to those who wish to end their own suffering. I don’t consider suicide a “selfish” act. I understand that those who are considering killing themselves truly feel (in that moment) that the world will be better off without them, even if I don’t necessarily agree that this is the case.
But I’m also deeply sympathetic to the families and friends of those who take their own lives, as well as to First Responders and others who are called to the scenes of non-physician assisted suicides—especially since, when I worked in the dorm, I became one of those people.
I know that those who are choosing to end their lives aren’t thinking about what happens after they die, but what happens after they die is that someone is going to find them and call 911.
And I can tell you from experience that the people who arrive immediately after that are going to be very frustrated and upset (likely for days afterward) that they got to the scene too late to do what they get paid to do: SAVE A LIFE. It’s their job. They hate seeing a life wasted.
But like I said, I get it: I sympathize with both sides.
That’s because I know personally that someone who can seem to have a great life on the outside can be struggling on the inside with some heavy duty personal demons.
I know I’ve mentioned before on this blog (or interviews) that while I’ve never suffered from chronic depression, I’ve certainly experienced occasional situational depression.
Situational depression, more commonly known as adjustment disorder, can have a number of symptoms, but the primary one is that you find yourself engulfed in sadness and anxiety from which you feel you’ll never escape, because of one or more super sh*tty situations going on in your life.
I wrote about this kind of depression in the ninth book of The Princess Diaries, Princess Mia, which many readers have told me is their favorite book in the series. This book seems to have helped a number of readers through their own difficult periods, often with depression, anxiety, or other mental illness.
The reason it reads so realistically is because it was modeled on a bout of depression I went through my senior year in high school, a time when I did, in fact, feel so depressed I would not have minded dying (though I did not take active steps to hurry along my own death. The truth was, I was so depressed, that would have taken way too much effort).
I was very lucky back then that I eventually recognized what was happening, and asked my parents for help. I was also fortunate enough to receive it in a timely fashion (like Mia does in the book) in the form of a cognitive behavioral therapist. There were no anti-depressants in those days (or at least none any doctor in Indiana was going to prescribe to a seventeen year old girl). The only therapy available to me was talk therapy.
But by venting to the doctor and taking his advice, slowly (very slowly) my depression lifted, and things got better . . . and have (comparatively) stayed that way ever since!
I still see a therapist for talk therapy from time to time for “tune ups” when I feel myself slipping into the “dark place,” and always feel better for it.
But this is why I can place myself so perfectly in the shoes of both suicide victim (well, almost!) and first responder—because I’ve been both!
I know most people think that those who take their own lives must be suffering from long-term depression, but that isn’t always the case. Most people with depression never attempt suicide, and some people who attempt suicide aren’t depressed. They’re upset, certainly, but it can be because of a specific event or sudden crisis in their lives.
When I first began working at NYU, I was surprised by the number of students (primarily male, because while more females than males attempt suicide, more males than females succeed) who took their own lives after receiving what they considered to be a bad grade. These were students who (unlike me!) had never received any grade lower than an A before. The accumulated pressure of moving away from home, beginning a new life in a non-familiar environment, and then receiving a less than perfect grade simply became too much for them.
Because of course there is never any one reason someone takes their own life. According to the World Health Organization, suicide is always caused by a combination of factors.
But since the primary contributor to suicide is a feeling of overall hopelessness, victims may not be able to see that there are many other alternatives to their problems than ending their life (it certainly never occurred to me when I was at my most hopeless that I could simply drop the class that was causing me so much anxiety . . . my doctor had to suggest it, and even then in my depressed state I couldn’t get it through my head for the longest time that this was something that was perfectly acceptable to do).
According to the CDC, suicide is actually almost always an impulsive act. Yes, there are people who intricately plan out their own death, but for the most part, based on interviews with survivors, most suicides are impulsive acts based on a fleeting desire to escape pain felt in the moment, often precipitated by a crisis of some kind (and often done while intoxicated or on drugs, either prescribed or recreational).
47% of suicide survivors, when asked how much time passed between when they decided to take their own life and when they completed the act, say an hour or less. 27% say within 5 minutes.
Now about the stunned amazement I’ve been hearing over the method certain celebrities have used to end their lives:
According to the CDC, the methods people use to kill themselves tend to be whatever is most easily available. In the US, because guns are so prevalent, it is guns. But the means used to end one’s life vary widely from community to community. For many years in San Francisco, the favored way to kill oneself was a leap from the Golden Gate Bridge…until bridge barriers were constructed.
When I first began working at NYU, students chose defenestration (jumping from windows) until we installed blocks on all the windows to prevent them from being opened more than two inches. After that, not only did suicides decrease dramatically, complaints to my office that students were mischievously dropping things onto the heads of pedestrians on sidewalks below also ceased. I considered that a double win!
Death by hanging was a common method of suicide in the dorm—but it was often difficult for us as first responders to tell if the student meant to harm themselves or was participating in the popular “hanging game” (my brother, a police sergeant, tells me that he and his fellow officers have the same problem). Since only about 25-30% of suicides leave a note, in a suicide by hanging it is sometimes impossible to tell if the death is accidental or on purpose.
So why am I telling you all this, including stuff you probably don’t want to know?
Because despite what you might have heard, there absolutely are things that can be done to help prevent suicide (note our success at NYU with the window blocks, and the same success of communities who’ve employed stricter gun laws and bridge guards).
I know some people insist: “But those intent on killing themselves will just some find some other way!”
Studies have shown this not to be true, since suicide is an impulsive act. Making the means of death less convenient often stops the act entirely.
No one, of course, can keep anyone from destroying their own life, be it from drugs and alcohol, other reckless behavior, or suicide.
What we can do, however, is be there for anyone we suspect might be going through a bad time (at least to whatever degree we can be without causing emotional or physical harm to ourselves. Remember there’s a reason the airlines tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first! You can’t help others put on theirs if you’re dead).
Of course it’s tricky because most people suffering from depression are doing their very best NOT to let you know there’s anything wrong. I know that when I was suffering from it, I did everything I could to act as “normally” as possible.
So a good solution is just to treat EVERYONE kindly, and assume EVERYONE is going through something.
Keep this in mind for friends who constantly turn down your invitations to lunch or the movies (and DO be the kind of person who makes a lot of these sort of invitations, despite how busy I know you are).
DO send texts or cards or funny emails to those you think might need them (individually. DON’T mass cc. People tend to ignore those) . . .
But DON’T take it personally if your sad friend doesn’t write back right away, or at all. Even healthy people don’t write back right away!
DO know that even tiny gestures help. I have a friend who, when I’m on a deadline and she hasn’t seen me for a while, leaves me a treat (a piece of fruit or other healthy snack) in a brown paper bag on my doorstep with an encouraging message scrawled on it. This small gesture makes me feel great!
DO know how much something as simple as an offer of a movie or game night at your house (or theirs, but YOU bring the popcorn) or even a home-cooked favorite meal (or delivery from their favorite place) can mean. Even going with them to one of their favorite places (it doesn’t have to be a meal. Coffee or a walk) could make a huge difference.
But DO be prepared for the depressed person to turn your offer down, once or multiple times, or even to have some unkind words to say to you now and then. Depressed people can often be uncharacteristically mean. It’s up to you how long you’re willing put up with that kind of behavior. When I was depressed, I picked a fight with every single one of the few friends I had left (most had graduated or were spending the semester abroad). Good job, brain!
But studies show that socializing is an effective way of helping to alleviate depression–even though of course I can tell you from experience that depressed people hate socializing . . . and pretty much everything (except watching TV, or as I like to call it, Vitamin TV)!
That’s why I’m advising you:
DON’T try to “cheer them up” (that’s just awkward for everyone).
DON’T remind them of all the “great” things they have going for them (this one is worst of all. Depressed people already know they have great things going for them. Don’t rub it in).
DON’T offer them advice on how to alleviate or solve their problems. Leave this to the professionals.
DO tell them you think they’re doing great, even if you don’t think they are. The fact that they’re even getting up in the morning means they ARE doing great.
DO try to engage them about the things they ARE expressing enthusiasm for. If this means every episode ever made of Forensic Files, so be it. Forensic Files is a great show.
DO be there for them and lend a non-judgmental ear.
I swear to you, your offering just to hang out in a non-stressful way could mean the difference between life and death. (One of the reasons my depression got so bad my senior year in high school was that I had no friends–or I felt that I didn’t–with whom I could vent about my problems).
And most importantly of all: DO know that it’s completely okay to ask a depressed person if they’re considering suicide. Doing so WON’T “put the idea” in their head.
But DON’T freak out. Lot’s of people think about suicide but never take their own lives. Encourage your friend to take it one day at a time. Once they’ve made an appointment with a therapist, keep in mind that–depending on where you live–there might be a bit of wait, which can be frustrating.
But trust me, it’s worth it!
And if you’re reading this and have realized YOU are the depressed person, DON’T SAY NO WHEN PEOPLE ASK IF THEY CAN HELP YOU.
I know you don’t feel like talking, or like doing anything, really. I get it.
But you’ll never get better if you don’t make a TINY bit of effort.
I know it’s exhausting, and also that you hate everything.
But I swear to you–and though I lie for a living, I’m not even making this up when I say it–things are going to get better. You may not believe it, but I’m living proof of this. They really, really will.
We’re just a few days away from Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry, and if you’re anything like me, you’re looking forward to watching it. Don’t we deserve a little break from all the bad news we’ve gotten lately (erupting volcanoes, slow decline of democracy as we know it, etc)?
And although I’ve never actually been to a royal wedding, I’ve written about them numerous times:
I feel this qualifies me to post this quick little guide on Meghan and Harry’s wedding for those who feel they need more information:
Who is getting married?
Meghan Markle, a 36-year-old American actress best know for the show Suits, is marrying 33-year-old Prince Harry of England, the younger son of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Harry is currently sixth in the line of succession to the British throne.
Why should I care?
Because Meghan Markle is biracial (half African-American, half white), and will be the first person of color to marry into the Royal Family of England. This will be historic by any measure.
Also, by all reports, she seems to be a genuinely fun person.
Prince Harry, too, seems to be a genuinely fun person, except for a few mishaps in his youth that can hopefully be chalked up to losing his mother in a horrible way at a young age, and to hanging out with the wrong sort of people. Since then, he’s worked hard to change his image.
What makes this wedding more interesting than previous royal weddings?
If you’re American, the fact that an American is involved makes it super fun.
There are already American-style hijinx happening. As of this writing, Meghan’s father will not be attending, due to a dust-up over some photos he sold to the paparazzi (of himself) (Edited to add: Now he is claiming that he cannot attend due to having heart surgery). One of Meghan’s half-siblings sent a letter to Prince Harry, urging him not to marry Meghan (!). And another half-sibling is writing a tell-all book about Meghan.
Isn’t it mean of Meghan not to invite those two half-siblings to her wedding?
What kind of wedding presents are these two going to get?
None. In lieu of gifts, the bride and groom are asking for donations to numerous charities, all of which are interesting. One involves breaking taboos about menstrual hygiene, and another involves sewers.
What should I eat and drink while watching the Royal Wedding?
Personally, I suggest champagne and cake, or any cake substitute, but tea and cake will also do.
Where can I learn more about American biracial princesses?
I’m so happy you asked! One place to start would be my series, From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, which is about Princess Mia Thermopolis’s little sister, Olivia. Book #4, featuring Mia’s coronation, will be out in August 2018.
Do you have questions about the wedding I failed to answer?
Go here. Be sure to stay on the site long enough to see the animated cat stroll by the bottom of the page.
Or you can ask me while I live tweet the wedding on Saturday morning!
I’ve been keeping a secret for months – which has been SO HARD! You know I love gossip and even more, I LOVE TALKING!
Well, now I can finally tell you all about it!
DC Comics, the home of Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman, will be creating two imprints for Young Readers! DC Ink will be for YA readers and DC Zoom will target middle-grade readers from 7-15 years old. I’ve been invited to author a graphic novel featuring the character Black Canary for DC Zoom (when I say invited, I mean I campaigned for this project for months. I LOVE BLACK CANARY, and I wanted her to have her own book for younger readers).
You may be familiar with Black Canary from the CW show Arrow. In my book, Black Canary Ignite, you’ll get to meet teenage Dinah Lance as she first discovers her powers, and then her place in the world of Gotham City.
(ART TO BE REVEALED LATER!!!)
I can’t divulge any more details about Black Canary Ignite but I can tell you that the reason I love Dinah so much is because I’ve always felt she’s a bit like me – really loud, usually breaking stuff, but with a huge, huge heart.
Can you imagine poor Dinah in middle school, before she learned to control her powers? Trying out for the cheerleading team? Or CHOIR???? I was told by my middle school principal that I was the loudest student IN THE WHOLE SCHOOL.
If this happened to me, what do you think happens to poor Dinah???
Black Canary Ignite doesn’t have a publication date yet. While you wait, lovers of manga should check out the sequels I did to Avalon High which tell the story of King Arthur reincarnated as a high school student (as graphic novels). Middle Grade readers will enjoy From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, a Princess Diaries series which I wrote and illustrated! (I will NOT be illustrating Black Canary Ignite! Another artist will be doing this!)
Hooray! If you’re reading this it means you made it through 2017 to 2018! Pat yourself on the back.
I’m hoping 2018 is going to be the best year ever. I know it probably won’t be. But we can hope, right?
With that in mind, I’m posting my list of Top Five Favorite Things of 2017.
I know most people do “Best Of” lists, but I’m not saying the stuff on my list is “the best.”
“Best Of” implies you experienced EVERYTHING 2017 had to offer, and I most definitely did not, because I’m too lazy. I haven’t even seen The Handmaid’s Tale because it’s on Hulu and I can’t figure out how to get Hulu on my TV (though I’m told I have the capability. Like I said, I’m too lazy even to figure out. Don’t judge. I know my limitations. I said FAVORITE not BEST).
(And anyway I saw the original Handmaid’s Tale in the THEATER with poor Natasha Richardson. Shouldn’t that be enough for the love of God?)
So my list is just my Top Five Favorite things of the stuff I actually watched/read/saw etc. That seems fair.
I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings (hopefully more shows that don’t end on cliffhangers. I’m totally sick of that)!!!
But first some housekeeping:
If you sent me a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope requesting autographed bookplates for Christmas/New Years, it’s on its way!
Due to the unprecedented volume of requests this year, there was a slight delay in finishing all the mail. To be honest, I make this offer every year (you can request autographed bookplates from me on this website anytime, not just during the holidays), but very few actually do.
I don’t know what it was about Christmas 2017, but TONS OF YOU wrote in requesting bookplates. It’s like someone decided that bookplates from Meg Cabot would make a really excellent gift this year, so EVERYONE requested bookplates all at the same time. Like HUNDREDS.
This was a bit overwhelming for someone used to doing absolutely nothing during the holiday season, but anyway they’re all in the mail now, and you should receive them soon! Apologies for the tardiness. I will remind people about this offer in November next year instead of on December 9.
Anyway here goes:
Favorite Movies of 2017
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
This movie starring France McDormand as an angry mom who wants the local police to find her daughter’s murderer won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. It has foul language and mature themes but so does life.
The Florida Project
This is another movie with a lot of swearing where not everything gets resolved in the way you might want, but I loved it as much as I loved the filmmaker’s previous film, Tangerine. You should see both if you get the chance, but probably not with a deeply conservative friend or relative.
The Women’s Balcony
This is a joyous comedy (with neither foul language nor mature themes) about women struggling for their right to worship alongside their male counterparts in modern day Israel. It’s available on Netflix now. Everyone should see it! EVERYONE!
The Big Sick
This was one of the funniest little love stories I have ever seen! And it’s based on a true story! I only know a few people who didn’t like it and I still don’t know why.
This is a sweet, moving little documentary about seven cats living on the streets of Istanbul that you can watch right now on YouTube . Go do it! Watch it right now (but then come back and read the rest of this blog).
Of course I liked some “big movies” too–Thor: Ragnorak, Wonder Woman, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But this year the smaller films seemed to move me more.
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen The Shape of Water yet, but Judy Blume has, and she assures me that it will be one of my favorites, too. So we all need to see it!
Fuller disclosure, we have this retro non-profit indie cinema in Key West called the Tropic that gets a lot of indie movies and my husband is now the chairman of it, so I see a lot of artsy movies.
Photo from Trip Advisor
Because the town’s for-profit theater got destroyed in Hurricane Irma, the Tropic is filling the void in the Key West community by showing non-indie movies. But once the for-profit cinema is repaired, the Tropic will go back to showing indie movies.
Top Five Favorite TV Shows
Of course I still love my old faves: Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Blackish,Better Things, and the Holy Trinity: My 600 Lb Life/Intervention/Hoarders.
But this year I branched out a little and really got into some series on Netflix, like GLOW and Mindhunter and Godless (Merritt Wever Merritt Wever Merritt Wever).
I even liked that German time-travel series, Dark, except it ended on a cliffhanger and now I have to wait two years or whatever to find out what happens. I’m sure I’d like that Mrs. Maisel series if I could figure out how Hulu* works in my house (I bet you couldn’t figure it out either). *ETA: Apparently this show is on Amazon, which would explain why I can’t find it on Hulu.
In all, 2017 was an AMAZING year for TV and streaming services in general.
And in March we have this coming back so it looks like 2018 is already going to be outstanding.
Top Five Favorite Books
2017 was a great year for books but I hardly got to read any because I was too busy writing (I know you’re like “What? I hardly read any new books by Meg Cabot in 2017!” That’s because they haven’t come out yet. Just stand by. Announcements will be made soon).
I don’t like to read other people’s books while I’m writing. But here are a few of the books I did read:
Well That Was Awkward
by Rachel Vail
You heard me yapping about this all year but I will continue to since I super enjoyed it. I feared for the characters and was glad when they turned out OK. That’s what you want in a book.
I’ve loved comic books since I was a kid so when someone introduced me to these newly released issues of DC’s Supergirl (origin story – she’s in high school and just discovering her powers) I was easily hooked. The art is beautiful and the story is touching. I can’t believe these came out with so little fanfare and are so (to me) under the radar.
A Princess in Theory
by Alyssa Cole
Someone described this book to me as Coming to America meets The Princess Diaries but it’s actually funnier (and steamier) than that. The down-to-earth heroine wants nothing to do with the African prince hero (he initially contacts her via email–Hello, I am an African prince with a vast fortune who desperately needs your help–ha ha! and she deletes the email, as we all would). They later meet-cute and hilarity ensues. This is a 2018 release (out February 27, 2018) but I was lucky enough to read it in 2017. It’s a MUST READ for anyone who loves royal romances.
Naomi Novik’s Tremeraire series
How I lived so long in ignorance of the Tremeraire series, I do not know. The touching saga of a man and the dragon he “acquires” during the Napoleonic Wars, it’s both historical and fantastical and filled with humanitarianism, if that makes sense. I love these books.
A Death of No Importance
by Mariah Fredericks
I love mysteries. Mysteries and thrillers are my favorite comfort reads, what I reach for in times of crisis, because at the end of most mysteries, there is usually some kind of justice. I read a LOT of them in 2017: The Child by Fiona Barton, The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, The Breakdown by B.A. Paris, All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda, Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King, Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly, I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh, The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne, among others that I grabbed in airports during the many flights I took.
And they were all great. But one of my favorites was Mariah Fredericks’ A Death of No Importance (it will be out in June 2018, but I read it in 2017), a historical mystery about a lady’s maid in turn-of-the-century Manhattan who is thrust into a murder mystery involving one of the wealthiest families in New York! Just when I thought I’d figured out who the killer was, Mariah surprised me again . . . and again. Plus the historic details–especially about what was happening in New York City at the time–was so well done, it completely sucked me in. Loved it. Pre-order it now!
Well, that’s it for my Top Five Favorites of 2017. I’ll be getting back to you soon with some announcements about books being released by me in the coming months (or years. Who knows with scheduling, considering I’m still writing them).
Until then, stay warm, stay safe, and hope to see you soon!
It’s that time of year again! I’ll be spending the holidays here in Key West with friends and family, experimenting with new recipes that I’ll try to share with you on Twitter/FB/ and Instagram (I can’t guarantee they’ll be any good, but they’ll be SUPEREASY)!
Speaking of supereasy, have you, like me, not even started your holiday shopping yet?
Then here’s a supereasy and practically FREE gift idea for the book lovers in your life:
Send a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to my PO Box (address below), and I’ll return it to you filled with the autographed bookplates (indicate how many you’d like, and if you’d like them personalized), bookmarks and postcards pictured here (jewelry not included)!
Send the SASE to:
P.O. Box 4904
Key West, FL 33041-4904
Send your SASE now (RIGHT NOW) so it can be sent back to you in time for the holidays, and so that you can then give the enclosed items to your friends/loved ones!
For a guide on which of my books are appropriate for which age range, click here.
If you’re like me, you’re so late on your gift-giving that whatever you order now will have to be a New Year’s Gift: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS!
Since most of us can agree that 2017 has been kind of on the crappy side, honoring the birth of 2018 with gifts seems TOTALLY appropriate to me.
And I’ll have LOTS gifts for you in 2018: Look for an announcement in February 2018 about brand NEW books from me coming in 2018-2019!
(This is just a random “party” video from a movie I like. SisQo, Vitamin C and the cast of the movie Get Over It are in no way affiliated with my February announcement.)
But things have finally settled down enough for me to update this blog (plus, I actually have Internet access for the first time in a while).
Thanks to all of you who were posting thoughts and prayers for me during Irma! I didn’t see any of them until a few days ago, since I didn’t have Internet.
I have to admit I was surprised! I had no idea that the media was calling the hurricane in Key West a “non-survivable event.”
It’s weird to have survived something “non-survivable” (I’m going to guess we survived due to Florida’s very strict zoning and building codes, about which we used to complain every day. Not anymore!).
I will admit my backyard went overnight from looking like this….
But, like 98% of Key West, it will be fine after some clean up.
Most of the hurricane damage that occurred in Key West was tree-related.
(In case you can’t read the above, it’s the marquee on Key West’s famous indie cinema, The Tropic — already open for business — which says: Key West Lite – Same Great Place, Less Trees)
Homes and businesses in Key West have had power, water, cell phone service, and Internet restored, and the town is up and running.
But many places up the Keys – like Big Pine and Cudjoe – are still without electricity and running water, and many people there have lost their homes. So, while they survived a non-survivable event, they still need a lot of help.
A lot of people have asked why I stayed for the storm instead of evacuating. Honestly, it just felt right to me to stay . . . even though staying in a place you’ve been told to evacuate is a REALLY BAD IDEA. DO NOT DO IT. I was very, very lucky.
That being said, a large group of my friends/neighbors were also staying (mostly because they have family/pets in the area that couldn’t leave, or businesses to run, or whatever). Like me, they had been through hurricanes before, did not have kids, had generators, and felt confident they and their homes could survive “non-survivable” Irma (which we didn’t know was non-survivable).
And . . . we did!
But this was still a bad, bad idea.
Although . . . not to say anything mean about weather forecasters, since I know they do their best, the storm was supposed to come on Saturday, and on the Sunday before, this was my local weather report:
Scary right? I mean, I was totally going to leave.
Then, Monday, the very next day, this was the report:
Oh, okay. So Sunday, it is coming right at us, and Monday, we are halfway out of the cone?
Why go to all the trouble of evacuating, right?
To me, the best solution seemed to be: Board up the house, move in the deck furniture, buy supplies, and wait it out (also, despite what people might be picturing, I live nowhere near the beach. I am a pool girl. So storm surge was never a worry).
Then on Wednesday . . .
The airport closed, there was no more gas, and the hospital shut its doors!
So we began living what we call
The Cone Life
Photo taken Thursday at Higgs Beach, Key West, day before the Irma
A lot of the time when there’s a hurricane somewhere, you hear people safely outside The Cone watching those on TV struggling to survive inside it say scornfully: “Gosh, why didn’t those dumb people just evacuate?”
Obviously, they should have. But here are some reasons why:
Because they have elderly parents or special needs children or sick pets who can’t be moved.
Because they have a business that might need to open rapidly after the storm (such as: insurance) and needs looking after.
Because the storm intensified so rapidly, they didn’t have time to get out.
Because the airport is closed.
Because there is no gas.
Because the entire state is in the Cone of Uncertainty so there is nowhere safe to go unless they drive 500 miles and they can’t do that on one tank of gas so it is safer to stay where they are.
Because the last time they evacuated, they got trapped in their car and there was no one to help and they nearly drowned.
Because they have been through storms before and everything was more or less fine.
Because there is one last totally excellent party to go to (this is a terrible reason. Who wrote this? Oh, me, never mind.)
Because the last time they evacuated their home/business was looted*
*Sadly, I know people to whom this actually happened.
Honestly, we shouldn’t judge. People lead complicated lives about which we know nothing, and most of us are doing the best we can, and not trying to cause trouble for everyone else. NO ONE I knew who didn’t evacuate ended up needing to be rescued by first responders.
But I will say that on that list, number 3 — rapid intensification — has become a habit of hurricanes this year, and one reason these storms have caused so much damage compared to other years:
Harvey: Cat 1 to Cat 4 in 24 hours Irma: Cat 3 to Cat 5 in 24 hours Jose: Cat 1 to Cat 4 in 24 hours Maria: Cat 1 to Cat 4 in 12 hours, and Cat 1 to Cat 5 in 15 hours*
Of the people I know who evacuated from Key West, many of them were hit by Irma in the places they thought would be safe! Naples, Tampa, and Orlando were all places evacuees from the Keys were urged to go, and all got hit by Irma.
What made evacuating even worse than staying for these people was that then they couldn’t return to their own home after the storm was over: the roads in the Keys were impassable for days, and aside from that, there was still no gas!
Nor could these people call or text anyone in Key West to see if their home was okay, because there was no cell service, Internet, or electricity.*
*I actually had power–but no Internet–because we have a generator, and since 9/11 I have always kept a landline, because that is the only thing that worked during 9/11. It worked during Irma, too.
Praise be to the landline. Never bundle. Amen.
Many, many people used my landline to let people outside The Cone know that they were all right. It was also used by evacuees calling in to ask about the condition of their homes and, in some cases, people and pets they’d left behind.
(NO JUDGMENTS. THERE IS NO JUDGING IN THE CONE).
We went on many important recon missions, checking on people’s homes and loved ones.
I hope you never have to experience Cone Life, but since scientists assure us that both the temperatures of the earth and its waters are rising, there is a possibility you might.
Therefore I’m going to make a short list of everyday things you might want to keep handy in case The Day After Tomorrow comes, and you slip into The Cone.
Don’t bundle it to your other services, like cable or your Internet or cell, because if they go down, it will, too. Your landline is connected to the phone company, not the power company, by copper wires buried underground. It should work without electricity, unless your phone company also goes down, which is unlikely, as it usually has a generator.
Batteries and Simple tools
Obviously, you need batteries to power your radio and flashlights. Even if you have a generator (which I highly recommend, but you don’t NEED one), you need flashlights in case the generator doesn’t work.
Also, your generator need only power the areas of your house you use (lights, refrigerator, AC in one or two rooms), not your entire home. So you need flashlights to see in the un-powered areas.
You need a radio to listen to local news since there might be no Internet or cable.
Never use candles during a power outage. Many deaths during hurricanes are caused by fire. 911 will not respond to emergencies during the storm. That is why you were told to evacuate!
If you have a generator, do not use it INSIDE your house. 8 of the people who died during Irma died of carbon monoxide poisoning from using their generator inside their house.
You need a few simple tools to put shutters up over your windows, such as a hammer, a wrench, and pliers.
First aid kit
You need a first aid kit because you will probably injure yourself using the tools, since you are a crazy writer. 😉
Also, there will be sharp things on the ground after the storm. People will step on them and need first aid after coming to your house to use the landline, and the hospital won’t be open right away. Alcohol, band-aids, and some antibacterial spray/ointment will work. Remember, YOU are 911 now!
Buckets and towels
It doesn’t matter how new or old your house is, during a hurricane, some part of it will leak.
A towel at the bottom of the bucket will keep you from going insane at the sound of the “drip…drip…drip” during the storm.
It is important to have a large stash of bottled water in the house during a storm. We had even more than pictured above. Ignore the beer, that was not mine.
After the hurricane, your town’s water supply may be compromised (ours was) for a little while, so you will have to drink bottled water. And you will long for ice like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. Ice becomes rarer than diamonds after a storm!
Fortunately, we got some ice from a local Key West restaurant, The Brewery. How I love you, The Brewery! Key West restaurants were fantastic about donating food and drink before and after the storm. Shout outs to The Brewery, Baby’s Coffee, Dantes, Azur, B.O.’s Fish Wagon, Kermit’s, Eaton Street Fish Market, and probably many more I’m forgetting, who really saved the day for many Keys residents by giving food away FOR FREE to those in need.
Which reminds me:
Don’t forget to stock up on non-perishable food items!!! Probably more high-protein food than this, but you may not feel like eating anything except stuff like this anyway.
I also recommend your neighbor’s cooking! Getting together with neighbors during storms to clean out your fridge and eat all their yummy perishables is the best part of storms. I’m fortunate that one of my neighbors is the Key West Spice man! Get some today, and support Key West! (I like the Southernmost Blend ground fine and sprinkled on popcorn.)
Don’t forget your pets! Make sure you stock up on plenty of food and water for them, too! Obviously, Allie is pictured here with my secret stash of food, not hers. She had plenty of her own, though, along with medication in case of emergencies.
Tornadoes are a real possibility during hurricanes, so it’s best to camp out during the worst of the storm in a ground level room of your house, the one that has the least windows (and in which I also happened to have moved all of my outdoor furniture).
Your pets will enjoy this fun adventure and so will you!
After the storm is over, the hardest part of Cone Life begins:
Is this my beautiful house? – The Talking Heads
After the storm, when everyone comes outside, blinking and shell-shocked, it’s easy to let depression and despair sink in, especially if your home/town has suffered significant damage, or even if you just listen to the news. Words like “devastation” and “disaster” get mentioned a lot by journalists and even our political leaders.
And as we now know, we weren’t even supposed to survive this event!
“It will take YEARS to get back to normal . . . if ever!” said someone official in Key West.
No one wants to hear things like that . . . especially since it isn’t true. Human beings are amazingly resourceful and resilient, especially when we work together.
What IS true, however, though most people don’t know it, is that the majority of injuries occur just after storms, during cleanup, from stepping on downed power lines, hidden nails, attempting to cross storm surge, being hit by fallen trees, getting infected bug bites, dehydration, and things like that.
So this is the time when Cone Life is riskiest, and also the most depressing.
But it doesn’t have to be!
We Can Do It!
Because if no one listens to the forecasts of doom and gloom, and everyone works together (while staying hydrated), it won’t be years before their town is cleaned up . . . .
To The Rescue!!!
. . . but weeks or in some cases even days!
By keeping a positive attitude (and employing a little hard labor), people can do anything. I’ve seen it time and time again.
Above is a photo of St. Mary in the Grotto at St. Mary Star of the Sea church in Key West, where many people go to pray before hurricanes. It’s said that as long as the grotto is standing, a hurricane will never destroy our little island . . . and so far, one never has.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, especially up the Keys, but Key West is open again for business. I’m off to New York for a signing at Comic Con next week, where I’ll also tell everyone I can to COME TO KEY WEST FOR THEIR NEXT VACATION. You’ll find me taking part in the
From a Certain Point of View NYCC Panel on Saturday, 10/7; 11:00am-12:30pm
Location: Hudson Mercantile Building
For tickets, click here PLEASE NOTE: A ticket to New York Comic Con is not required in order to attend this event
The book goes on sale everywhere October 3!
If you’re interested in helping victims of ALL the terrible hurricanes we’ve had lately, including Puerto Rico, donate to One American Appeal. This is the organization put together by our past presidents, or as I like to think of them, The X-Presidents, although this image below needs to be updated to reflect them all:
Remember, we’re all in this together . . . and together, we’ll get through it!