05-28-2012 09:44 PM - edited 05-28-2012 09:58 PM
Julia Heaberlin, today’s guest blogger, is the author of Playing Dead, a debut thriller out this month. She lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and is currently at work on her second novel, Lie Still. Playing Dead totally gripped me!
Author portraits by Jill Johnson
WHERE JULIA WILL BE:
2 0 1 2
May 31, 7 p.m.
Barnes and Noble
University Park Village
1612 S. University Dr.
Fort Worth, TX
June 2, 3 p.m.
Grapevine Public Library
Signing/Q&A with Fort Worth Star-Telegram critic Christopher Kelly
1201 Municipal Way
June 21, 6-8 p.m.
Decatur Public Library
1700 Hwy. 51 South
New York, NY
Grapevine Public Library
Book Club Event
1201 Municipal Way
05-28-2012 09:47 PM
WHO I AM
I GREW UP IN A SMALL TEXAS TOWN not that far from Ponder, where Playing Dead is set. Before I could drive and kiss boys, my chief entertainment in July and August was walking in 110-degree heat to the old jail, which had been converted into a library.
The librarian was the mother of one of my friends, a very cultured woman who kindly looked the other way as I loaded up with the ten Harlequin romances that my cat and I planned to spend the weekend with. Fantasy was important at that time in my life. In real life, I changed the color of my barrette and knee socks every day to match whatever outfit I wore to middle school. I was described as "pleasingly plump." I filled my diary with fond thoughts about a sweet, handsome boy I passed in the hallways (who was gay, it turns out, and just as wonderful a person as I imagined).
Eventually I grew taller, thinner, cut my hair, picked up some mascara and attracted a boyfriend named Bubba. Santa Claus putAnna Karenina under the Christmas tree. My librarian, not an Amazon search engine, nudged me toward other worthy heroines: Anne Frank, Josephine March, and the nameless narrator ofRebecca. Shortly after visiting Manderley, I dreamed of writing my first book.
Five years ago, after an entertaining career as a newspaper features editor, I quit my job, cut my family's income in half and worked through more than two years of writing and rejection to make it happen. I remember once telling a writing coach that I just wanted to write "a trashy book, not the great American novel." He looked at me, a little disappointed, and said, "Well, maybe it will start out that way, and you'll write something better." That's exactly what I hope I did.
From Julia's website: http://juliaheaberlin.com/
05-28-2012 09:48 PM
A Q&A with the author
|What's in your genes?|
A: Kentucky and Texas roots, a murderer, Indian blood, a psychic granny and a crazily formed heart that's run in generations of our family since at least 1870. I'm proud to be X in an American Journal of Cardiology story (and to have an implanted pacemaker since age 27).
|What inspired you to write this story?|
A: About eight years ago, a woman wrote me a letter wondering whether I was her daughter kidnapped when she was a child. It was a shocking moment—to be going through the mail in my car, slit open a hand-written letter addressed to me and read something like that. I'll never forget what that felt like: to be filled with her sadness and my shock. For a split second, I wondered: Could my whole life be a lie? Because of my family's hereditary heart condition, I could write her back and tell her for sure that I was not the right Julie. Playing Dead, however, is only inspired by that moment. It has nothing to do with that situation or real life. My book swerves off on more than a few wild turns.
|What are the important things you wanted to accomplish with this book?|
A: First, to entertain! Second, to create a character the reader will miss later. Someone you'd like as a friend. I hate characters who are self-focused, dysfunctional, unlovable. Flawed is OK, but I don't want to spend time with generic, hopeless people. I also wanted to write a thriller where you couldn't see the end coming. My female friends who love mysteries complain all the time about the obvious ending. And last, I wanted to keep the pace going. Write well, but try not to clutter things up. Elmore Leonard was famous for saying, "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." I tried to follow that advice in my own humble way!
|What's your favorite book?|
A: John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. To me, that book is a perfect circle. I loved its messages about God and fate. Owen's sense of destiny and his squeaky voice make him one of the most memorable characters in modern literature.
|What about thrillers?|
A: Rebecca. Silence of the Lambs. Presumed Innocent. Maybe obvious choices, but all of those broke new ground for me as a mystery reader. I don't read every single thing Stephen King writes, but I think he's a genius. I'm attracted to the writing of Tana French and Gillian Flynn and loved their debuts.
|What advice would you give somebody trying to get published when it's so tough right now?|
A: It's like having kids. People tell you it's hard but you don't have a clue how hard and scary until you do it yourself. It took me more than two years to get a contract. I'd written two books by then and constantly had existential thoughts like: If I write and nobody reads it, is it really there? My advice to any writer would be to seek good advice and to rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Concoct a special drink for the days when you get rejected. Surround yourself with positive people who believe in dreams. And find an agent who returns your emails no matter how many rejections you get. Kids help. They remind you that feeding them is more important.
|What's the scariest thing that ever happened to you?|
A: When I was in my twenties, a stranger saved my life. A cardiologist overdosed me on a drug, and my heart stopped while I was eating in a Detroit restaurant. I was there one second and on the floor the next, not breathing, my husband of two years begging for help. A neonatal nurse at the next table ran over. She didn't even live in Detroit; she was just in the city for a Saturday night of dinner and theater with her husband and some friends. She immediately gave me CPR. And then she and her friends got a free dinner. I write her a Thanksgiving card every year.
|How did that affect your life?|
A: Well, I'm here! I'm grateful! I gave birth to a beautiful son a couple of years later, and he exists in this world because of her. Life is all about these random connections. The restaurant manager was so affected by the scene that he ordered his waiters to take CPR training, so maybe one of them will save someone else (or already has).
|Did you see a white light or anything that makes you believe in the hereafter?|
A: No white light. Only black. But I believe in God. A stranger was there to save me.
05-28-2012 09:50 PM
Madness, most foul
from Julia's website: http://juliaheaberlin.com/star-telegram-essay.php
Coaches, umps and taunting players, be warned: Resisting temptation isn't easy for Psychotic Baseball Mom. But she will go to bat for what matters: watching her son grow into a fine young man on the dusty diamonds.
By Julia Heaberlin
(This essay was originally published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Illustration by Mark Hoffer.)
Baseball makes my stomach hurt.
My friend Cindy says that at the beginning of every fall season, every spring season, every summer season. Every time she scrubs red dirt out of baseball pants, every time her son adjusts his cap and grins, every time he steps to the plate even though he is known for blasting the ball out of the park.
Cindy and I are baseball moms, a special psychotic breed. We started out as nice people. In fact, we are mostly nice people. Until it comes to the world that revolves around that little white ball.
It is tough to watch your child fail publicly for years. It is tougher to know that the law of baseball physics makes it a sure thing.
So we bow our heads in the stands, shut our eyes and pray harder than we do in church. We know way too much about the hieroglyphics of the scorebook, the fine points of the balk. We race to see Moneyball for something other than Brad Pitt and snap up the poignant new baseball novel The Art of Fielding because that writer understands.
One mother I know mutters under her breath when her son picks up his bat. "Get a hit, get a hit, get a hit." Another is a pariah, in a special place reserved for the worst of us baseball moms because she openly points out the errors of everybody else's child. Baseball has been like sandpaper to her soul, eroding her social skills. Yet another is seething in the corner, angry that her son is still on the bench, already texting the coach, possibly a preview to telling him she wants her money back. This past summer, she paid $1,500 for the privilege of seeing mostly the tip of her son's cap in the dugout.
Our son, Sam, is a junior in high school. He has played since age 6, blessed with a loose left arm. My husband and I have always tried to be patient, to take the high road. To not second-guess the school or select-team coaches too much or play any kind of politics. But somewhere along the way, my husband stayed on the high road and I started rolling down the hill into the mud.
We sat at a scrimmage the other day and he began to comment positively about a player who competes with our son for playing time.
"We are not here to be kind to others," I said, only half kidding.
Don't tempt the baseball gods, I'm thinking. Don't let any positive energy go the wrong way.
"Who are you?" he asked me.
My friend Laura, a good Baptist whose son now frays her nerves as a college player, warned me about this moment, when things turn. When you are tempted to root against other kids. Nice kids. On your own team.
I know that the demon seed inside me was planted a very long time ago.
Sam was 8 and standing on second base. We were getting slaughtered.
The opposing daddy-coach was arrogant, handsome, tanning-bed brown, wearing ridiculous tight baseball pants that surely were causing stress to his private area. But suddenly, there was hope for less humiliation. Their catcher overthrew the ball into the field.Confusion.Tight Pants is yelling, his players in their bright kelly green uniforms are yelling, their parents in the stands are yelling, waving their glittery kelly green pompoms. Get the ball!
My son takes off from second to third, and the shortstop immediately pulls out the ball from behind his back and tags him. A trick play. My son is out.
Did you get this? The kids were 8 years old. There were glittery green pompoms. Even the parents were in on it. I didn't do anything rash, even though my son had tears in his eyes.
But my stomach hurt.
Flash-forward 10 years. My son is now a left-handed pitcher standing on the mound on a hot, dusty junior college field that resembles a burned-out war zone. I can't remember the last time I saw him cry. The hundreds of games that have come before are a blur of dust and sweat and irrelevance. This is what matters.
The kids on the other team are out of the dugout and on the fence.
Every time Sam starts his pitching motion, they scream,
"Riiiiiippppppp," ostensibly cheering their player on but really trying to bother the heck out of my son, to send that ball off course.
This goes on for every pitch for three batters, before I blurt out to no one in particular: "Is that legal?" Like those boys could be dragged off to jail.
"Yep," says the father above me, spitting out a sunflower seed. "Part of the game."
Three innings later, I can barely keep still. We're behind by 2 runs.
The riiiiiipppppp is louder, more guttural. Sam is angry. The set of his face, his body language between pitches. Nothing obvious, but I know. He rolled around in my belly, after all. I've spent 11 years gauging his happiness on the baseball scale, knowing the split second in a game that will determine his mood when it's over.
When Sam leaves the mound, the kids on the fence take on the next pitcher. It's nothing personal.
I turn to a more sympathetic audience: the psychotic baseball mom sitting six inches away. She's a pro. Her daughter played third base on a championship high school softball team. Her older son, a catcher, pitched in college when his coaches figured out that the speed at which he was throwing the ball back to the pitcher was faster than the pitcher's throw.
Her last baseball baby is in the dugout with my son, probably the first one to say something encouraging to him when he came off the field because the woman sitting beside me has raised him to be one of the nicest kids I know.
"This is completely classless," I say to her. "Sam is out of the game now. It's not about my son anymore [a psychotic baseball mom lie]. I'm going over to those parents." I gesture to a small, silent group in the stands. "I'm going to ask how they can be on a team that behaves this way."
"No, you're not," she says, while the boys continue to chant. "But they're acting like girls."
Fifteen minutes later, she turns back to me. "If I were our pitcher,
I'd hit that kid at the plate with the ball. He's thrown the bat at our catcher twice."
I stare at her. "So you don't want me to go talk to the parents but you'd injure a player?"
"Just in the arm," she says cheerfully. "Nothing too bad."
"You're a nurse," I say.
God help us, these are the things we talk about. It might not be legal.
Our pitcher didn't hit the kid. We won the game in the last inning with a little help from karma. One of the taunters made an error. Afterward, Sam said that the heckling didn't bother him but that the ump should have called his curve ball. He was, um, mature.
When I'm in a plane, it never fails that I stare down through the clouds and see countless green patches, perfect little diamonds where hundreds of thousands of kids all over the United States are enduring the same things. They come with hundreds of thousands of psychotic baseball moms all wanting the same thing. For our children to know that the world hasn't ended just because the bat did not touch the ball or a ball slipped out of a glove or a coach made a careless remark. That they will feel the joy of the game again.
I ask my son why he loves baseball no matter how much it batters him around, and he answers simply, "For the good days."
For the triumphant feeling of striking out the side or clearing the bases with a line drive triple.
On his wrist is a red rubber bracelet, the same bracelet encircling the wrists of many of the kids on his team. It is not a tribute to something abstract. It honors the memory of a player from their high school diagnosed with bone cancer the summer before he was supposed to head off to Texas A&M. Sam and his friends were freshmen when this boy was a senior, so they barely knew him. But they touched the same grass, and that is enough. "In our hearts forever," the bracelet reads. This beautiful, fickle game has wrapped these teammates up and bound them like soldiers. They are always rooting for each other.
So I have learned to keep my mouth shut on the inevitable dark days of baseball. To spread out a horse trough of food when my son comes in the door sweaty and defeated, pat him on the shoulder and let him work it out by himself.
In Chad Harbach's recent bestseller, The Art of Fielding, a Superman-talented shortstop, Henry, is in a slump and refusing to eat. The shrinks think he has anorexia. But Henry'sbest friend, thecatcher, knows better: "I told them, only cheerleaders get anorexia. You're a ballplayer -- you're having a spiritual crisis."
I guess the spiritual crisis applies to baseball moms, too (except, unfortunately, we keep right on eating). Our boys are growing up, pulling away. Their numbers have been whittled down over the years and now they are the ones left standing on a high school baseball field.
It's serious. Competitive. Coaches aren't going to put up with psychotic baseball moms. There are nine positions on the field. They aren't going to play everybody and they aren't going to explain why. They are young men, they tell us. This is their fight. Hard work and luck will determine everything. Keep a respectable distance. So I was surprised one day last year when my son's high school JV coach amiably walked up to me and started a conversation about my son's pitching. Maybe it was because I was working the concession stand and I handed him free snacks and a drink, but I think it was because he is a good guy.
"I had to laugh when that kid hit a home run off Sam," he said. "He was so ticked off."
Really? He had to laugh? He didn't have to yell? "A lot of pitchers wouldn't know that was the 9-hole hitter, but, Sam, well, he's smart. I knew that he knew."
Later, Sam explained. He had lobbed it in there. It was the 9-hole hitter. The last kid in the lineup. The one least likely to hit the ball. Sam was saving his stuff for the lead-off guy coming up.
"I won't do that again," he says. Lesson learned. Don't judge a book by its cover or place in the lineup.
As my son walked away, I was thinking that he made the psychotic baseball mom of a 9-hole hitter very, very happy. The ball he lobbed in there could change the course of that kid's season, maybe even his life. That's how a psychotic baseball mom thinks.
© The Star-Telegram, 2011
05-28-2012 09:52 PM
“A compelling family mystery that kept me turning the pages. Highly recommended.”—Margaret Maron, New York Times bestselling author of Three Day Town
“Dear Tommie: Have you ever wondered about who you are?”
The letter that turns Tommie McCloud’s world upside down arrives from a stranger only days after her father’s death. The woman who wrote it claims that Tommie is her daughter—and that she was kidnapped as a baby thirty-one years ago.
Tommie wants to believe it’s all a hoax, but suddenly a girl who grew up on a Texas ranch finds herself linked to a horrific past: the slaughter of a family in Chicago, the murder of an Oklahoma beauty queen, and the kidnapping of a little girl named Adriana. Tommie races along a twisting, nightmarish path while an unseen stalker is determined to keep old secrets locked inside the dementia-battered brain of the woman who Tommie always thought was her real mother. With everything she has ever believed in question, and no one she can trust, Tommie must discover the truth about the girl who vanished—and the very real threats that still remain.
“[Julia Heaberlin’s] voice is pitch perfect, and her story of one woman’s fierce struggle to reconcile her past with her present is gripping and powerful. An outstanding debut.”—Carla Buckley, author of Invisible
05-28-2012 09:53 PM
Coming May 29th!
From Ballantine Books, a division of Random House Publishing Group
WHAT IF YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS A LIE?
That's the question torturing child psychologist Tommie McCloud after she opens a stranger's letter only days after burying her father. The woman claims that Tommie is her child, kidnapped thirty-two years ago. Suddenly, a deeply rooted Texas girl finds herself linked to a horrific past: the slaughter of a family in Chicago, the murder of an Oklahoma beauty queen and the kidnapping of a little girl named Adriana. With everything she has ever believed in question and a stalker determined to stop her, Tommie must discover the truth about her family's secrets and the girl who vanished.
05-28-2012 09:55 PM
Despite its name, Ponder, Texas, pop. 501, isn't a very good place to think. Four months out of the year, it's too damn hot to think.
It is a good place to get lost. That's what my mother did 32 years ago. The fact that she successfully hid this from almost everyone who loved her makes her a pretty good liar. I'm not sure what it says about me.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother would tell my fortune to keep me still. I vividly remember one August day when the red line on the back porch thermometer crept up to 108. Sweat dribbled down the backs of my knees, a thin, cotton sundress pressed wet against my back. My legs swung back and forth under the kitchen table, too short to reach the floor. Granny snapped beans in a soothing rhythm. I stared at a tall glass pitcher of iced tea that floated with mint leaves and quarter moons of lemon, wishing I could jump in. Granny promised a storm coming from Oklahoma would cool things off by dinner. The fan kept blowing the cards off the table and I kept slapping them down, giggling.
The fortune is long forgotten, but I can still hear the anguished joy of my mother playing a Bach concerto in the background.
A month later, on the worst day of my life, what I remember most is being cold. Granny and I stood in a darkened funeral parlor, the window air conditioner blowing up goose bumps on my arms. Cracks of September sunlight tried to push in around the shades. It was at least 90 degrees outside, but I wanted my winter coat. I wanted to lie down and never wake up. Granny gripped my hand tighter, as if she could hear my thoughts. Merle Haggard blared from a passing pickup truck and faded away. I could hear my mother crying from another room.
That's how I remember Mama—present but absent.
I'm not like that. People know when I'm around.
I've been told that I have a strange name for a girl, that I'm nosy, that I'm too delicate to carry a gun. The first two are true.
I've been told that it's weird to love both Johnny Cash and Vivaldi, that I'm way too white for a Texan and too skinny for a fast food junkie, that my hair is long and straight enough to hang a cat, that I look more like a New York City ballet dancer than a former champion roper. (In Texas, "New York City" is never a complimentary adjective.)
I've been told that my sister Sadie and I shouldn't have beaten up Rusty Walker in fifth grade because he is still whining about it to a therapist.
I've been told that growing up in Ponder must have been an idyllic childhood, picket fence and all. I tell those people I'm more familiar with barbed wire and have the scars on my belly to prove it.
I learned early that nothing is what it seems. The nice butcher at the Piggly Wiggly who saved bones for our dogs beat his wife. The homecoming queen's little sister was really the daughter she had in seventh grade. That's the way life was.
In a place like Ponder, everyone knew your secrets. At least, that's what I thought before. I never pictured my mother, the legendary pianist of the First Baptist Church of Ponder, as a woman with something to hide. I never dreamed that opening a stranger's letter would be pulling a loose thread that would unravel everything. That, one day, I'd scrutinize every memory for the truth.
© Julia Heaberlin
05-28-2012 09:59 PM
SCARY AND NOT: A FEW THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TEXAS
by Julia Heaberlin
On an ordinary summer day, I reached into the mailbox and pulled out a letter addressed to me in an unfamiliar, feminine hand.
I slit open the envelope, and everything disappeared but the words on that piece of paper. They were straightforward enough. The woman who wrote it was looking for her daughter. She said that her child was kidnapped years ago. I shared her daughter’s first name and birth date, information she received from a private investigator. In fact, four other women named Julia with my birth date were receiving the same appeal.
Could you be my daughter?
I wasn’t, but that was the germ of fictional inspiration for Playing Dead, a tale of a whip-smart, slightly unhinged Texas psychologist named Tommie McCloud who receives a letter indicating that her mother had a hell of a lot of secrets she didn’t know about. Tommie’s own identity is suddenly in question. Her father is dead, and her mother is traveling alone on the dark train of dementia. So Tommie sets off on a quest that tumbles her backward through her mother’s horrific past—the slaughter of a Chicago family, a missing girl named Adriana, the murder of an Oklahoma beauty queen.
While there is no plot point based on real life, I think it presents a pretty true, sometimes stereotype-defying portrait of the state I love (most of the time). We’re a little redneck in Texas but a lot more of something else.
With that in mind, here’s a little warm-up:
We prefer Dr Pepper to Coke. I’m drinking one right now. When Tommie knocks one back in the book, I suggest you do, too. I recommend the kind bottled in Mexico with real Imperial Sugar (surely that’s healthier). More than one Texas woman who has lived past 100 attributes her longevity to a Dr Pepper a day. I attribute any extra pounds to it.
Women do carry guns, Part 1. I have a real friend named Tommie McLeod, who has been known to carry a gun under the seat of her pickup and face down very big men who get in her way. When we met years ago, she was tiny, feminine, with beautiful long hair and an accent something like Brenda on The Closer. But don’t mess with her. Don’t mess with the fictional Tommie, either.
Women do carry guns, Part 2. About 15-20 million of us, to be kind of exact. Tommie would fit right into a beautiful book published last year called Chicks With Guns by fine art photographer and Yale graduate Lindsay McCrum http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/44690575/ns/today-to
They sell bull testicles at the Ponder Steakhouse. They are more delicately known as calf fries or mountain oysters. You dip them in what you dip everything else in Texas in: ranch, bbq sauce or cream gravy.
We all didn't want Rick Perry to be president. Or vote to make him our governor, for that matter. Perry received 2,737,481 votes in 2010; 25 million of us live here. Not that I’m embarrassed about him or anything.
We revel in both Johnny Cash and Rachmaninoff. You don't think cowboys are cultured? Did you know that every four years, Fort Worth hosts The Cliburn, one of the greatest classical music competitions on earth? Get your tickets now for 2013. I promise it will be one of the most moving artistic experiences of your life (and you can chomp into calf fries in your off time). http://www.cliburn.org/
You often can’t tell a rich Texan from a poor one. Lots of wealthy men and women here still get dirt under their fingernails and quietly give baskets of money away to charity and the arts. If I had to pick someone to have my back, with a gun or a piece of their mind, one of these guys would be at the top of the list.
This state damn sure knows how to solve a crime. We're better known for putting killers to death, but did you know that since 2001, Dallas County has exonerated more people through DNA evidence than all but two states? And one of the best DNA labs in the world sits in Fort Worth. The North Texas Center for Human Identification just put a name to the bones of one of the unidentified victims of Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy decades after the fact. Until now, the victim was known as No. 19, because he was the 19th victim dug out from the ground at Gacy’s house. Now everybody knows the name his mother gave him: William George Bundy. That’s what we call frontier justice.
Welcome to my world. I think you’re gonna like it.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION WITH JULIA
I love to talk to readers and post literary-ish links on my Facebook site at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Julia-Heaberlin/1224
Ann Patchett. I was recently blown away and away and away by State of Wonder. I also enjoyed Patchett’s amusing “confrontation” with Steven Colbert defending brick-and-mortar bookstores: http://blog.authorsguild.org/2012/02/21/ann-patche
Cormac McCarthy. My son just churned out a high school English essay on McCarthy’s disturbing novel, The Road, about a father and son on an apocalyptic journey. This three-year-old interview with the author makes me think I should read every disturbing book he writes: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100014240527487045
E L James. Why do my friends say they don’t want to read the “mommy porn” bestseller 50 Shades of Grey if it’s about whips and chains, but then they read it anyway? Why doesn’t the author use periods in her initials? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suzanne-braun-levine
Michael Connelly. I bought Echo Park a few weeks ago at a garage sale for 25 cents and I’m getting way more than 25 cents worth of enjoyment out of it. For some reason I’ll never know, the previous owner highlighted every single name in yellow highlighter. I love reading the occasional used book. The person before you almost always leaves something behind. It’s like being intimate with a stranger (without the whips and chains).
05-28-2012 10:49 PM
I'm glad to hear that about Rick Perry, I don't feel so bad about having lived in TX, though briefly, as a kid.
I'm intrigued by the concept of the book and I know I've seen it around the blogsphere a bit, so I'm putting it on my wishlist.
05-29-2012 07:10 AM
Hi, Julia, hope you have a great visit. What to you like about writing mysteries? and How do you come up with you title?
Have a great visit.
05-29-2012 10:47 AM
Wonderful blog, Julia. I like the part about women carrying guns; I do and have the permit to do it. Yes, North Carolina finally went with accepting guns just about anywhere except state and national parks. I will definitely check out your book and good luck with it!
05-29-2012 11:15 AM