Welcome to My Bookshop

We are all islands on a common sea. --Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.

Like me, they believe that bookstores are essential to a healthy culture of readers and writers. It’s a place where authors can connect with readers, where you can discover new writers, and where children get hooked on the thrill of reading that can last a lifetime. I’ve opened my bookshop there–where you can see what I’m reading, and where I hope you’ll consider buying my books and the books I love.

Enjoy my booklists like–Essential Reading for Parents; Writing Inspiration; & Books My Grandson Loves!

Changing The Way You Think About Women’s Fiction

It’s a reality that male writers are taken more seriously than women writers. All anyone needs to do to become disheartened is read the Vida numbers. Trust me, I wish I could laugh when The Washington Post’s Ron Charles talked about “women gossiping about how their little books are treated by media,” except that too much of his totally hip book review was spot on.  Still I’m comforted to know that attitudes about equality among men and women do change–and have–through respectful discourse. To that end, I do my part to make a difference, working to empower our girls to use their voices and, like many educators, I use new research to focus my attention on how we socialize our boys. As a novelist, I’ve parlayed my experience as a family therapist into writing about the emotional and sometimes dark side of relationships in an effort to connect men and women any way I can. Recent studies confirm what every novelist knows: “The novel is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life.”

Though I don’t bristle at the term “women’s fiction” I do see it as narrow and exclusive. In a culture where we’re forever dishing about wanting a sensitive partner, do we really want men to think (or anyone to reinforce) that what women read is for their eyes only?

In an op ed reflecting on the fifty years since Betty Friedan’s seminal work on feminism, Stephanie Coontz, a noted historian and teacher of family studies, claims that the progress toward gender equity no longer lies in changing personal attitudes. Tell that to David Gilmour, who recently set social media on fire with his statements about why he doesn’t teach fiction written by women. No doubt we will always need to force attitudinal change with loud and clear voices, yet we must break down structural barriers to equity too. Readers and writers can play a role by merely turning the label women’s fiction on its head.

Nearly a year ago, Meg Wolitzer wrote an essay that got me thinking about how the term excludes. Nine times out of ten, the first question a reader asks when he or she learns I’m a novelist is, “What’s the book about?” Never once since I began writing fiction have I been asked about genre by anyone outside of publishing. If you’re aligned with Wolitzer’s thinking, that the women’s fiction label can relegate novels to second class status, why not consider a genre makeover?

I propose that like science fiction (fiction about science) and mystery fiction (fiction about a mystery) that we use the term fiction about family. #FamFic if you’re into hashtags. Take a look at the copyright page of any of your favorite family dramas and you’ll find the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data already does this. The first category listed in Justin Torres’s We The Animals is family. For Wally Lamb’sThe Hour I First Believed, Pam Houston’s Contents May Have Shifted, and Steve Yarborough’s The End of California you’ll see family fiction’s synonym, domestic fiction. And if you’re one to frequent Amazon, you’ll find family life fiction is a prominent label categorizing novels online.

So for readers who’ve got to have their labels–who are opposed to fiction just being fiction– fiction about family ticks all the boxes. Without playing the sexism card, it gives women the heads up a book is for them. And it tells men, this one’s for you too. Research shows that when anyone reads fiction, neurologically speaking, our emotional state is positively impacted. Reading trains our brains to work more efficiently. And better brains, lead to stronger hearts, and thus more compassionate action.

Women shouldn’t be the only ones reading about families. Without a doubt there are lots of good reasons for men to read fiction. In the thirty years I’ve counseled families, I’ve seen firsthand how family life education of any kind leads to positive attitudes toward motherhood and fatherhood, changing the way we think about children.

We all want to help women and men become better women and men. If we were to embrace a gender-neutral genre called fiction about family, then writers included in this category would be Meg Wolitzer and Jonathan Franzen, Chris Bojahlian and Jody Picoult, Joshua Henkin and Elizabeth Strout. Wally Lamb, Lionel Shriver, and the list goes on and on.

If you believe like I do that words matter and that novels have the power to influence attitudes about everything from the politics of childcare to understanding addiction, then join me at LitChat.com for conversations about good books. Let’s use our voices to change the way we think about men and women and fiction about family. (#FamFic if you’re into hashtags)

Parenting in Uncertain Times

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Amidst any societal disruption, parents play the lead role in helping children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear. As a nurse and family counselor—and a mother—I know how overwhelming it can be to calm, inform, and advise children and teens without making yourself and everyone else more worried than they already are.

The best way to build capacity for coping with uncertainty is to think of increasing your stress tolerance as a long game, and one that includes focusing on three styles that greatly influence your relationship with your children:

1. The way you respond to your child (or your parenting style) 

2. The way your child responds to you (or his behavioral style) 

3. Your lifestyle

Under our present stressful circumstances, grappling with how life will change related to this global pandemic, it’s likely that all of these styles are under pressure in your family.

There’s no doubt that your ability to respond to your children will be impacted by your own emotional stress level and economic anxiety. And when children’s routines are upended, and they sense that those around them are worried, they’ll respond in reactive ways to you too. Everyone’s lifestyle has been dramatically altered due to school closings, the cancellation of events, as well as calls for social distancing, and even quarantining in certain communities. In the weeks ahead, you and your children will likely experience even greater anxiety as certain family members remain on the front lines of the pandemic, given their work in health care or in supply chain industries, and as you receive news that people you care about are unwell or have been hospitalized.

All of this is to say that when stress goes up, relationships may falter. Still, there are ways you can face this new reality while also strengthening your family relationships.

Your style

Your parenting style has a great deal to do with how you and your child will relate in the days ahead, both positively and negatively. The term social distancing is being discussed a lot. But I prefer to think of the recommendation to limit contact as more focused on physical distancing, because now more than ever you’ll want and need connections to your adult family members and friends—albeit virtually.

Consider setting up get-togethers on a regular basis; this will allow you to put something on the calendar for yourself, giving you something to look forward to. Whether you stay in touch with friends, sisters, parents, or grandparents, to vent or to practice gratitude, everyone is going to need more support, not less, to get through this.

As difficult as it may be, it’s important to take some time each day to ask yourself what you need to manage your stress. Put on your oxygen mask first, so to speak. As you settle into a workable family routine, try to create little opportunities within each day to meet your own needs. If reading calms you, consider adopting a “drop everything and read” period of time during the day for you and your children. Or choose an audiobook every member of the family will enjoy listening to.

Perhaps revisit what experts like me say to parents of newborns. Sleep when they sleep. It might be tempting to watch the news or scroll social media once your children go to bed, but likely that will ramp you up right before you try to get some rest.

If going online allows you a mental break from your worries, then consider taking an online class in the field of your choosing. Many universities and colleges are offering free classes right now. Broadway online is making available previously taped plays and musicals, also free of charge. And there are a number of museums offering virtual tours of their collections. (See links below.)

Just be sure to limit your time online so you can get some rest too. A rested you is a more patient you. And stamina will surely be required to contend with the extended period of time you’ll be spending in close contact with your children.

Their style

This unprecedented health crisis is scary for everyone—and for some children more than others. Children who struggle to manage change or handle the unexpected, children who worry, or those who are particularly sensitive or prone to negative moods, will likely have more difficulty managing so much uncertainty. The way to support your children emotionally involves taking your cues from them.

Noted educator Maria Montessori called this guidance: Follow the child. Practically speaking, it means observing your children for stress and anxiety and then noting what you see in simple, age-appropriate, and fact-based ways. Consider saying things like, “You look sad (or worried).” Or, “When I’m worried about something I don’t know a lot about, I like a hug (or to take my mind off my worries by reading a book, exercising, or playing a game).” Or, “What one thing could I do for you right now that would make you feel a little better?”

Building the emotional resilience to face adversity involves tuning into your children’s feelings, recognizing your own, and talking openly about how feelings come and feelings go. It also calls for leaning into what your children need intellectually. Which means it helps to regularly remind them that all questions are welcome.

It’s fine to acknowledge that you may not always have all the answers; still, it’s important to be honest, while also helping your children turn worried thoughts and anxious feelings into positive action. Children, like adults, cope best when they practice gratitude and compassion, when they know how to tap their creativity to turn aspects of a crisis into opportunities for doing good. Consider enlisting your child’s help to build routines for daily life or to do nice things for neighbors—of course, from a distance.

Your Lifestyle

While it may be challenging to provide consistent routines around bedtime, mealtime, and screen time—and this is definitely the time to make some exceptions and have a bit of fun—some adherence to clear expectations goes a long way toward helping your children feel like you have everything under control. Even when you feel like you don’t! Of course, daily schedules need not look anything like ordinary life, but some regular, age-appropriate routines and definite, clear, non-negotiable boundaries will help your children behave well and feel safe.

It’s important to remember that your children will always look to you to learn how to respond to life’s stressful events. As difficult as this time is—and as uncertain as things may be—you have an enormous opportunity to teach your children positive preventative physical and emotional health measures; to offer specific ways to talk about fears and feelings; and to give your children strategies to cope that will last a lifetime.

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If you need additional parent education to provide these critical skills to your children, please reach out to Lynne at [info] [at] [LynneGriffin] [dot] [com]. 

Grief After Suicide—Profound loss with complicated feelings

The primary focus of my work with schools is to equip teachers, parents, and teens with the tools to support emotional well-being and to detect risk factors and warning signs related to mental health issues before a suicide attempt occurs.

Unfortunately, as we’re learning after the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, even with comprehensive support and treatment—and loving family and friends—people coping with mental illness can still die by suicide.

It’s a tough subject, I know, I’ve experienced this profound grief personally. My sister died by suicide after years of struggling with mental health and substance use issues. And this week’s news is bringing back some painful memories.

Understand and be prepared for:

Guilt—The most common feeling loved ones express after losing someone to suicide is remorse. “Was there something I could have done to prevent this?” In Jill Bialosky’s memoir, History of Suicide, she too grapples with this question. Off and on over the years, she wondered if maybe she’d missed something, a clue. If only she’d known what her sister had planned, or how despondent she was, maybe she could have stopped her.  Professionals call this survivor’s guilt and while it’s a common response, those who experience it must work through it in their own time, in their own way. It’s important to come to the conclusion that no one has complete control over another person’s actions.

Shame—How many of us have seen or heard people talking about suicide in hushed whispers, fearful of the reactions of those around us? Bialosky writes, “I also became more sensitive to this tendency when anyone spoke of a suicide; even in her death, I wanted to protect Kim from that kind of ridicule or shame.” She wondered if her sister’s memory would be diminished or tainted by suicide. After my sister’s death, I was open with others about her struggles. No doubt my honesty made some people uncomfortable, but I believe this discomfort is necessary if we’re to end the stigma associated with mental illness.

Anger—I’ve shared in an earlier post that when I was in high school my father died of a heart attack at age forty-seven. Irrational as it was, I admit there were times I was angry at him for leaving me. Feelings like these are normal, yet they’re especially difficult to contend with if you’re grieving a loss related to a loved one’s suicide. That said, it’s important to remember that along with deep depression come some intractable thinking, thoughts that convince a person others will be better off without them.

Relief—For many friends and family, the weeks and months, and sometimes years, leading up to the death of a loved one by suicide have been a rollercoaster of emotion. In cases where repeated psychiatric hospitalizations, incarcerations, and/or inpatient rehab stays have become commonplace, it’s normal to feel a sense of relief that the unpredictable nature of life has come to an end. Sadly, these feelings often cycle back to guilt or shame. While it may feel wrong to be relieved, it’s perfectly normal to grapple with these feelings.

Sadness—Feelings of profound sadness accompany all kinds of grief. Yet a common nuance as it relates to loss through suicide is sadness over lost potential, over the hopes and dreams never to be realized, as well as all the what-could’ve-beens.

I was deeply moved by Jill Bialosky’s History of a Suicide. It’s a beautiful story about two sisters, and a thoughtful exposé about grief and loss and suicide. Above all it is compassionate. I highly recommend reading it, as well as Joan Wickersham’s, A Suicide Index—a memoir about putting her father’s death in order.

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If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, here are ways to help.

Call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Lynne Reeves Griffin RN, MEd teaches family studies at the graduate level and she’s the author of the family novels, Girl Sent AwaySea Escape, and Life Without Summer. She’s also the author of the nonfiction parenting guides, Let’s Talk About It: Adolescent Mental Health and Negotiation Generation. You can find her online at www.LynneGriffin.comor on Twitter.com/Lynne_Griffin.

The Power of Fiction to Teach

In my ongoing series, Conversations, I talk with interesting people who have something compelling to say about family relationships. Today I’m chatting with Rachel Simon, bestselling author of The Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding The Bus with My Sister.

Lynne: I often talk about what a wonderful vehicle fiction is for teaching. I found The Story of Beautiful Girl to be a powerful narrative that does so much to educate readers about people with disabilities, what they want and hope for, how universal our dreams and desires are. How do you think novels in particular educate readers, as opposed to nonfiction?

Rachel: Two answers come immediately to mind. In fiction you don’t have to come to a single way to respond to what’s being written about, you may even experience ambiguity. Fiction can prompt a reader to rethink previous positions on the issues at hand, about characters; the reader may go deeper than they’ve gone before emotionally. Enlarging their perspectives. In fiction, writers aim to move our hearts.

The second real difference between fiction and nonfiction, is that in fiction a writer with a great toolbox, real skill, can write from multiple points of view. Allowing readers to see the world through many different people’s eyes. With more than one story, many issues can be addressed, none of which have to lead the reader to any particular conclusion. Multiple points of view in a story, ask readers to imagine other lives. In this way, these stories are so powerful. I believe great novels of the past, even the bible, have stood the test of time for this reason.

Nonfiction on the other hand has only one perspective. And of course the danger of writing nonfiction, is writing with an agenda. It shouldn’t be a writer’s intent to write with specific messages in mind.

Lynne: You’ve written nonfiction memoirs. Most notably, Riding the Bus with My Sister. When do you choose to write a story from a nonfiction point of view or as fiction? When you get the germ or seed you know will become something, how do you know it will be fiction or nonfiction?

Rachel: For me there has always been a lot of considerations. When I was an event coordinator for Barnes and Noble, I saw fiction events not well attended. For nonfiction of all kinds, events were well-attended, we sold books. At that time, memoir was a big trend. It was the rise of the stories like Angela’s Ashes, The Color of Water. I’ve always wanted my work to be read widely, and I thought perhaps I can try my hand at memoir.

Enter serendipity. I wrote a piece on my sister and her bus schedule for the Philadelphia Inquirer. My colleagues said, “This is a memoir.” I wondered how would I structure it, and then with a lot of thought, hard work and support, I wrote Riding the Bus with My Sister. The book became a big deal, then movie, and led to speaking engagements about my experiences having a sister with disabilities.

For nonfiction, I have to have a strong need to say something more. It must be dramatic, and if others are writing about similar experiences, I’m forced to ask, “Why should I be the one to write it?”

Lynne: So you’ve written nonfiction about your experiences, and now a novel exploring similar themes. Do you consider yourself an expert on persons with disabilities?

Rachel: No. I’m only knowledgeable about my experience. Every day is a learning process. The older I get the more I listen. Both experiences—my writing in general—have invited people to share their stories with me. And each one reminds me what I know and what I don’t know. I am increasingly curious. I try to live consciously with an open mind and heart—even though at times I don’t.

My whole idea of society is informed by my sister. I believe we are here to help each other. From that you gain a strong sense of what social justice is. It’s part of why I’m here. To do the right thing. To encourage others to do the right thing. To be a translator. I see myself as playing a key role in helping others to understand her, to help her to understand the world.

What I’ve learned that’s so valuable is that so often our stories may at first may seem at odds with each other. The parent, the teacher. But in fact they aren’t. There is something larger at play.

A skilled writer writes from the vantage point of a person’s truth, about psychological understanding of themselves, who they love, or she invites others to go on a journey with fictional characters. Somehow this allows readers the opportunity to examine universal truths.

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Rachel Simon is the award-winning author of six books and a nationally-recognized public speaker on issues related to diversity and disability. Her titles include the bestsellers, The Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding The Bus with My Sister. For more about Rachel, her books, and her speaking engagements visit her website.

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Lynne Griffin is the author of the family novels Sea Escape and Life Without Summer and the parenting guide Negotiation Generation. You can find her online here: www.LynneGriffin.com, and atwww.twitter.com/Lynne_Griffin and at www.facebook.com/LynneGriffin.