Monday, November 14, 2011

From the latest novel, The Saints of Los Vientos, due for publication in Spring/Summer, 2013 by Simon and Schuster.

Petras Zilius was taken at gunpoint across green fields to an area behind the slaughterhouse where a mass grave had already been dug.  The butcher was amongst the men whose hands were tied behind his back.  The soldiers went from man to man, taking their jewelry and identification.  “Get on your knees.”  Most of the Lithuanian men knew Russian, but they didn’t obey.  The soldiers prodded them with rifles.  They whacked them in the backs of their legs, making them fall to their knees.  The men faced the hole.  There were no cigarettes and no blindfolds, and it’s doubtful that, as much as Freddie Zilius would like to think his grandfather had a song in his head playing through his fingers, that Petras Zilius was thinking anything, but “My family.  Oh my God!  My family!”  Petras Zilius and eighty-three other Lithuanian men were shot in the backs of their heads and booted face first into the mass grave.  A few were still alive, but the dirt came just the same.  It covered ministers and machinists.  It dusted blacksmiths, accountants and doctors.  It fell in rich clumps over lawyers, shop clerks, poets, teachers and musicians.  It didn’t discriminate.  The rich Lithuanian soil tended by its people was being used to hide their deaths. 
            Frederikas ran from house to house in search of help.  He was not at home when his mother was carried away and forced into a cattle car.  He was not at home when his sisters were killed or when the youngest, just sixteen, ran into the forest, digging a saucer of dirt to hide.  To be a turnip or a bird.  Rooted or free.

*I'm making shrinky dink necklaces based on my characters.  "Ti-i-i-ime is on my side with you."  Have a fabulous Thanksgiving.  XO Shel

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where's Michele? At 7 o'clock, WORD Brooklyn.

Here I am! Here I am!

Hard at work on revising novel #3--The Saints of Los Vientos. I had expected to be finished by Oct. 1st. Then by Oct. 12th, and now I am shooting for Oct. 28th.

The book is written. There is a beginning, middle and end, but as my delightful agent pointed out--from reading the first chapter--"You have to remember 'clarity'. Not everyone is going to know who these people are...' Me and my weird wonky brain.

Anyhoo, I am in Brooklyn right now, in Greenpoint, and loving it. This is my first time staying in Brooklyn. Tonight, I am on a panel with the talented, NY Times Bestselling author, Heidi Durrow, and my brilliant cupcake of an agent, Michelle Brower. I also get to hang with my editor at Simon and Schuster. She's no cupcake. She's more like a conductor, a wielder of light and lightning. (And Michelle is only cupcake on the surface. She is brilliant cupcake. Tangy.)

So, here I am. Where are you? Whatcha doin'?

Ooh, ooh, ooh, and lest I forget to mention it: My sister is here in Brooklyn with me. Yay, Sis! See you back in RVA soon. And seriously: Whatcha doin?

--If you happen to be in NYC or Brooklyn tonight, come see me. 7 o'clock! Word Brooklyn. I will sign a book for you. I will even dance. More than likely. I'm going to be surrounded by my favorite people.


Monday, August 8, 2011


Since my son started talking, I've picked up a new nickname, "Shel".
At birth, my dad nicknamed me Micki Moose because I was such a plump baby.

My friend Anne calls me "Shell" with two l's and got me this book, which is a pretty strange book--as I am a strange bird. Feeling woozy and wonky as I finish book three. Feeling like Micki Moose and Shel and Shell.

Because I'm a Michele with one "l", I find it difficult to be "Shell." I know that this sounds like Crazy Shell talk, but I guess that's what I'm getting at: Do most writers feel more comfortable in the worlds they write? Do most writers feel like their characters are more than figments of their imaginations? Are the characters your friends? Do your characters write you letters? Do you cry when you have no other option than to kill them off? Are we all hanging on by a thread to keep the fictional world separate from the real world, or are we ALL hanging by a thread, each and every one of us (in one way or another)?

Am I a Crazy Shell?

Are you a crazy shell? What's your nickname? What's your favorite food? Do you sleep with socks on or off? Nightlight or pitch black?

Crazy "Shel" wants to know!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Canned Chicken, Anyone?

We caught a Baltimore Orioles game last night. Today, we are on our way to Lititz, PA.

Tomorrow, July 17th at 1 pm, I'll be at Aaron's Books discussing The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors. I hope to see you there!!

p. s. I thought the canned chicken was weird, but I think I may have seen them once in the Bahamas. Any thoughts on canned chicken?


Monday, July 4, 2011

Are you invincible?

I write about the young and the old in my novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, but I've discovered... now on my third novel... that I write about generational relationships in all of my books.

With age comes wisdom. With youth, there is fearlessness; the belief that nothing can harm us. We are just beginning and so we're invincible.
There are so many similarities between young and old. Neither is caught up in the minutia of life, the clock ticking, the rushing here and there, as is referenced in The Handbook. If we manage to grow old without becoming jaded and cynical, we are even more like the very young.

It's a shame for anyone not to be awed by sunsets, flowers and oceans; ladybugs crawling on the edge of a glass; old men telling fish stories; young girls newly smitten; it's a shame not to be awed by cliffs and green fields. It's a shame not to treasure the little things. The giggles and smiles and side glances.

Please, don't ever let me lose my wits so that I forget to revel in the little things. Please don't let me ever forget my first love or the first time I held my son.

I'm reading The Madonnas of Leningrad right now and loving it, but I'm also struck again by the fear that because I want to remember every little thing, I'll forget everything. I've been through the forgetfulness that accompanies pregnancy and childbirth and now my forgetfulness has no real explanation, and I think, if it comes to dementia or Alzheimer's, let me remember with acuteness the best things. If I'm going to lose the immediate, let me have glory days.

Lately, I've been hanging out with "Grannie Annie" and she often tells me the same story over and over, but in each telling, I learn some small tidbit, that is so unique that I'm glad I got to hear the story again. She is smart and witty. She says, "I'm glad I moved here into this smaller house because this way I'm closer to my treasurer (her son)" and she laughs. She's no slouch. She's proud and quick, and I realize that even though she's no blood relation to me, I want to know her better. I want to hold her stories and retell them. Pass them along in fiction and in my own stories, and maybe when I'm very old, I'll imagine her tales as my own. Who knows? The mind is a funny place with nooks and crannies and wonderment. Let's never forget to love those softer places that are less immediate because they are history. They are who WE are, and they are no less worthy of attention.

Do you know someone who is old and who has the world to offer? Do tell!!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What does the D word mean?

Welcoming, Robin Antalek, the very talented and successful author of The Summer We Fell Apart.

When I wrote The Summer We Fell Apart I was not thinking about family dysfunction. I was not thinking about the D word at all. I wrote about this big messy family of artists and writers living in a large broken down house and all that longing that comes with the headspace of creative people living together. I saw the four children of Richard and Marilyn Haas as the very real end-product of a pair of dreamers, their lives and love and needs at cross purposes with the reality of raising a big family. I didn’t see these characters, which sprung fully formed from the writing gods, as victims or saviors. I just knew that I wanted to tell the story of what it was like to grow up in a large group, of how siblings often split off into smaller factions. Specifically I wanted to tell the story of the bond between the youngest Haas child Amy and her brother George, and it wasn’t until I started talking to readers that I realized I had written so much more.

What does it say about me that I didn’t identify what happened in the Haas family as dysfunction? The first early review, a rave from Publishers Weekly no less, said (among other very nice things) that The Summer We Fell Apart was… “A testament to the resilience of the human spirit” and “an easy-to-relate to dysfunctional family drama.”

What dysfunction?

My agent and editor and publishing house were thrilled at the positive buzz. Soon, more

reviews came in and most all of them used that word. Target picked up the book for nationwide distribution as a “break-out” pick. Book groups started calling and I spoke with some really lovely people, over seventy groups in all, and all of whom wanted to know if I too had grown up with this level of dysfunction.

What dysfunction?

Naturally, not wanting to sound as if I needed immediate counseling by denial, I danced around the “D” word. Since the novel spanned fifteen years in the family, I stammered through

explanations about different parenting styles, less hands-on, less hovering. Readers dissected the flawed lives of the characters as evidence of their dysfunctional upbringing. They quoted passages, referred to episodes in their own lives, and shared stories of heartbreak and disappointments and triumphs.

Very soon I realized that what I described in the book was not so easy to explain away. The father was manipulative and often cruel, disappointed by the failure of his own dreams he drank and had affairs and did nothing to shield his wife or family from the drama. His wife, reacting to the failure of her marriage retreated to her room and allowed her children to do what they wished. They floundered amid the chaos with moments of tremendous stupidity and grace. Just like we do in real life.

Finally, I ventured to ask my parents if they thought what I had created in the book was the ultimate dysfunctional family. My father, at 81, looked amused by my question. He touched the cover. “This is life,” he said. “Just life.” He paused. His own mother had died when he was three. His father, a jazz musician, unsure of what to do with a small child and his own grief, passed off my father to his dead wife’s six sisters, all, it is safe to say, at vastly different stages of their lives, all of them unprepared for a small

mother-less boy. My father’s upbringing was a patchwork of homes based upon adult availability; often he slept head-to-toe with cousins, my great-grandfather popping in from time to time between gigs. My father never felt he had a place to call his own until he bought his first house, and even then, we knew, it was hard for him to shake the shadows of the past.

“What is the urge to label everything?” My father asked. We do what we have to do to survive, we have faith, and in the midst of it all we have each other.”

And that, I realized, is all any of us can do, in life or in fiction.


ROBIN ANTALEK is the author of The Summer We Fell Apart (HarperCollins 2010) chosen as a Target Breakout Book and soon to be published in Turkey by Artemis Yayinlari. A frequent contributor to The Nervous Breakdown (, her short fiction has appeared in 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, The Southeast Review and Literary Mama among others. You can visit her site @ or if brave enough, publicly admit to liking her on Facebook

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day

For Dad:

everything I write

is about forgiveness and light;

we come from dark places, enclosed spaces

snug and warm, from our mother’s womb

to a marble tomb

and in between is one shot

one light

one poem, one passionate night

one father, one mother

one daughter and another.

Dylan Thomas said “Do not go gentle into that good night,

…Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” and

you and I take it to heart.

From you, I got rage. From you, my mad zest

my unapologetic opinions and voice

The truth that there is beauty in drama and noise.

Discordant. Mad. Cacophonic.

The sound of the five am dumpster.

The click-clack of spoon against #1 Dad

The Cremation of Sam McGee

long division at the dining room table

getting in front of that ball, getting down on one knee.

In On the Road, Jack Kerouac wrote, “The only people for me are the mad ones,

the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”

That’s you, “centerlight pop,” Awwwwwwwwwww,

and that’s me,

I am desirous, eccentric and grateful for everything.

Every second the sun lights up your face

Every time I hear you laugh.

I love you, dAd!!!!!

micki-moose, Father’s Day, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My BFF is awesome. Tell me about yours.

My BFF lives in London, England, and I haven't seen her since she had her baby, Noah!

Mind you, when I had my son, over six years ago, she was my go-to gal. She did everything for me. She even had beer in the refrigerator the day I came home from the hospital. She and her then boyfriend, now husband, took care of our sweet dog, Emma Peel, while I was in the hospital. ...Oh, and lest I forget, after my "Mum" and my husband, she was the first person I told that I was pregnant. When she told me about her own pregnancy, it was via Skype, and I burst into tears. She'd done the same for me--but in person.

There's nothing like having that BFF, that girl who understands everything, and knows just what to say to make it all better.

Gemma is coming to the states this summer, and we're taking a holiday at the beach. I haven't seen her in so long, but I know that when I do see her, it will be like no time has passed (except for the baby...) Hee hee.

When I was preggers, Gemma also threw me the most terrific baby shower with handmade invitations, wonderful food, games and guests. ...And not too many games because you don't want to drive people crazy... and a select few "mates" were invited as well.

I remember that when we first met, she said, "My name's Gemma," in her delightful British accent, and I said, "My dog's name is Emma, which is like your name, except with a 'G'." Now, some people (not Gemma) might think, 'You just compared me to your dog.' Rather, she said, "I like dogs." She's the best egg so she likes animals in general.

Here's to all our BFFs. Whether near or far, there's nothing like knowing that you have that kindred spirit in the world. Maybe call yours up today. XO

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Listen, I know what you are..."

Family and Dysfunction: You got a good story to share? Tell me!!!!!!!!

When I was a teenager and I had a date, my dad would answer the door in his underwear. He would then have the unsuspecting boy sit on the couch and explain to him: "Listen, I know what you are... You're a hard-dick son-of-a-bitch, and you better not lay a finger on my daughter. I'll break your finger. I'll do more than that."

Eventually, word got around high school that anyone who wanted to take Michele on a date, should arrange to meet her outside her house, preferably six to seven houses or six to seven miles away from her dad.

Mind you, this is great fodder for being a novelist, and I love my crazy SOB DAD. He'd still break your finger if you tried to mess with me.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why I love the ultimate boyfriend Ken!

I love New York. Today, while I was trying to buy some postcards or something, I got sandwiched by some big dudes, like Chris Kattan, Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey (on SNL) on the corner of 7th and 49th, and they said, "We like your tattoo!" "Are you a Pisces?" "The best sex I ever had was with a Pisces."
I said, "That doesn't surprise me!" Sassy girl. Me.
Then, the one guy says, "I'm serious."
I said, "So am I?"
"Are you married?"
"Better believe it."
"I'm not surprised."

"Hey," one of the guys shouts to Mickey Mouse, or the man in the Mickey Mouse costume, "It's okay. You can smack her ass. I think she'll like it." Now, I have no idea what Mickey Mouse was doing behind me. I can only imagine.

Fortunately for me (or unfortunately... if you are one of those people who has a fetish for big stuffed animals), Mickey didn't smack my ass.

Earlier today, an Egyptian taxi driver, 46, with 4 kids and 4 grandkids, lectured me on the evils of adoption, and told me that I needed to have more babies. Not only that, but if necessary, he would father them. People really like me!

I am grateful for all the strange mysogynistic and humorous men in New York. It's important to have a sense of humor!

If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have gone to the Barbie land of Toys R Us and bought a Ken doll who says whatever I tell him to say! Le Petit ami ideal; der perfeckte freund

"Oh Shel," he says. "You're so beautiful. I can't imagine my life without you."

"Gee... Thanks, Ken." If only you had a penis...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Dog Died Today

Danny, Emma, Me preggers, 2004.

My Dog Died

Our sweet Emma Peel died today. She was thirteen years old.

She was the reason that my husband and I bought our first and only home.

She was the ring-bearer in our wedding and accompanied us on our honeymoon.

We always stayed at pet-friendly hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts because we couldn't bear to leave her at home.

When I was pregnant with my son, she would rest her head on my belly.

In 1999, she found us. We were walking near the VMFA on Grove Avenue and she was nearly hit by traffic. She ran up to us, and we carried her to our house in the fan. She was our first child, our daughter, and we miss her terribly.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Much is Enough? And what if it's just not coming?

I don't know how much is enough! Do you? When I was a kid, I watched that very silly movie, "Throw Momma from the Train," with Billy Crystal, and I remember that he said, "A writer writes every day."

This sage wisdom was repeated to me in my MFA program, and I have certainly taken it to heart. I try and remember that if I only write one page a day, in a year's time, I'll have 365 pages. But will they be "great" or even "good" pages? Won't I still have to revise? You bet your bottom dollar!

Some days I can't seem to get in the groove. Like yesterday, I sat at my computer, unable to stop checking my email and posting silly love notes to readers on Twitter. (That's part of my job now too.) Twitter and Facebook. I am having trouble keeping up with the technology!

Still, I am grateful for everything! Even Tweeting. Ooops, I am sidetracked.

Back to "How much is enough?" So, I threw in the towel yesterday. Walked away from the computer and collapsed on my bed--only to see my beloved and tattered journal, of late, within arm's reach. Without thinking, I continued on with my novel. I lost track of time. I wrote and wrote and didn't even think, for one second, that I was writing, that I was continuing, that pages were coming. This is the best feeling ever.

So, I don't have the answer, "How much is enough?" and I'm not sure if one should keep writing when it's not coming, but I'm guessing, "Yes," because if you just keep going, certainly some flash or glint or sliver of something worthwhile is going to surface.

If you have the time, please check out my latest guest blog, Wednesday with Michele Young-Stone at Todd Ritter's blog:

It's a fun interview. And, if you are around tonight, please come to the West End Richmond Public Library for a Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors book club. It's free and open to the public, 6:30-7:30.

p. s. Look for The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors in your local Target. Send me a pic to to win a copy of my novel. Be sure to tell me the location of the Target!


Monday, May 2, 2011


May Day! The maypole dates back to Germanic pagan ritual, possibly the Iron Age. Having survived the Christianization of Europe, the maypole is thought to represent a TREE, a symbol of spring, and every May 1st, you should dance and celebrate around the May Pole. I made this one for my friend's birthday.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Teaching, Style Weekly and David Baldacci

Thank you, STYLE WEEKLY readers, for voting for me for Best Local Author.

I want to share a story about David Baldacci, another Local Author favorite: I taught English for nearly ten years. First, in Nottoway County, where I taught special education English and U. S. history. Mind you, this was my first year as a teacher and I had NEVER taken a course in special education. Also, and I love this: my morning monitoring duty was in the cafeteria outside the boy's bathroom. Nottoway County is known, as well it should be, for its football. Whenever a fight broke out, I just screamed, "Fight!" There was no way I was getting between two boys the size of grown men.

I taught at Nottoway High School for three years, and then I taught 8th grade English at L. Douglas Wilder Middle School for four years. In many ways, it was hard to leave teaching. It's fulfilling to know that you are making a difference in a young person's life.

While I was at Wilder, David Baldacci came and spoke to the county's English teachers. He was very inspiring. After he spoke, I went up to him and asked him to sign a poster for one of his books. I told him, "I'm going to be a published novelist one day." Rather than dismissing me, he was encouraging.

It blows my mind that my name is under his in Style Weekly's Best of 2011 issue. While I was teaching and getting my MFA in fiction writing at VCU, he sponsored VCU's First Novelist award. He still does. I'm "up" for that award this year! Mr. Baldacci is generous with his time and his money, supporting other writers. I am so fortunate to be in such good company. XO

P. S. I think The Book Lady and I are going to Target Road Trip when my novel hits the stores, May 22nd!!!

Monday, March 28, 2011


I was in the coolest MAN CAVE I've ever been in last night. We are talking multiple televisions, dartboard, wood stove, great art, great food, great lighting, great company, kick-ass bar, refrigerator... I felt like I was in that movie HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, when Betty Grable goes up to the rustic hunting lodge (terrible reference for a MAN CAVE, I realize) but if you've seen the movie, you get what I'm saying.

The only thing missing was the bear rug. Me, the vegetarian, wants a bear rug on the floor. Go figure.

Anyway, the MAN CAVE got me thinking and wondering: whatever happened to the MENSTRUATION HUT? Wasn't that the original cave? When did men start getting their own huts? What do we girls have? The kitchen? Is the kitchen still "a woman's place"? I don't think so. Many a month, I think about those good old days when women were shunned and sent to menstruate together in a cave. No wonder that girls who spend a lot of time together end up having their periods at the same time. It's in our DNA. We've lost our Hut time.

We've lost our huts to our husbands, and they've turned them into caves. It sounds like I'm unhappy and down-in-the-mouth about this, and I might be except for the fact that I was invited into the MAN CAVE. YAY!!!! The MAN CAVE doesn't discriminate. I could've used the urinal thing if I'd wanted, if I could've figured out just how to do such a thing... hmmm.

The MAN CAVE shows just how far we've all come. Us girls aren't shunned five days a month (although I might like that), and the men/boys are good sharers. Three cheers for the evolution (?????) of the MAN CAVE.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Win It BEFORE you can BUY IT!!! The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

From The Book Lady: "Michele Young-Stone’s debut novel The Handbook for Lightning Strike SurvivorsFont size

was one of my favorite books of 2010, and that was the case well before she and I figured out that we live minutes from each other and became friends. The Handbook has been widely praised (Publishers Weekly called it one of the top ten debuts of 2010) and was just selected as a Target Emerging Author selection for this summer.

And? Michele just signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster, so there is more goodness to come.

The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors will be out in paperback April 5th, and this is your one and only chance to win it before you can buy it."

Three lucky winners will win:

  • A signed paperback edition of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors
  • A Skype or phone-in visit with you or your book club

How to enter:

Do one, get one entry. Do both, get two. It’s that easy. The giveaway closes at midnight this Friday, March 25th, and winners will have the book in their hot little hands before it is available in stores.

*Pictured above: Susan Gregg Gilmore, author of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove and Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, and Rebecca Joines Schinsky, The one-and-only Book Lady. She's always throwing her panties around (see her blog), and I got to be her roomie at VA Festival of the Book!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

what's your relationship with paper?

I've been busy with new characters romping in my head. Thinking about their likes and dislikes.

Thinking about my own.

Wondering how the technological age is going to change our relationship with books, and more specifically, paper.

Holding onto my Nana's old brown recipe book containing Depression-and WWII-era recipes, thinking how I pull up recipes online, how I don't know if I even NEED that subscription to Vegetarian Times, but I have a thing for paper. I'm actually allergic to cheap recycled papers like paper bag paper and cardboard. (This used to come in handy when people asked me to help them move. Now, half the people I know, pack in plastic bins...)

I remember when I first started looking for an agent: No one accepted email queries. Everything was paper. No one accepted electronic submissions. Everything was paper. Now it's the opposite. I'm all for saving trees, but I'm also a lover of paper. I write in all my favorite novels. I underline passages and dog-ear pages, and if I haven't mauled a book, chances are that I really didn't love it.

All that said, I just don't know how I feel about e-books and Kindles and Nooks, etc.

What do you think?

p. s. The "paperback" version of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors "drops" April 5th. ha ha... drops...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fabulous Yellow Roman Candles

I am enamored of Jack Kerouac, deceased, but in my mind, living and breathing, thirty-six, in the Maldives. He's sober and productive. I wrote him back to life in my latest novel, Perfect Birds.

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'

Blogs, the best bloggers know..., are meant to be interactive. So, who are you going to write back to life? Who are you going to offer a second chance to? Inquiring minds (at least mine) want to know.

From novel #3, "They were tied up with birds and music. Songs, I guess." XXOO michele