Monday, May 30, 2011

Another tune by Paul Sharples

Please click on Tab Two above to hear another tune by Paul Sharples

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Anniversary at Terranea

We spent our forty-first anniversary at the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, California Though it is just thirty-five minutes from our home, it felt like we were away somewhere exotic.

The whole experience was beautiful - the water-front location, the ocean-view room with pale yellow walls that literally glowed with the sun's rays, and the food. We went to a casual venue called Nelson's for lunch and shared a seared tuna burger and fries and then ate quite elegantly at Mar'Sel for dinner. Bob had halibut and I had seared tuna again. 

I took my usual Sunday morning walk today along the ocean's edge of the Terranea property. It was sunny but cold and windy, so I didn't last long. I finished my workout at the resort's fitness center.

Unfortunately I only took one photo - a view that is replicated in drawings and paintings hung throughout the property. Sorry it's so dark. Click on it to see it better.

  Terranea Cliff

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Marketing a book takes a lot of time

I’ve been working away at my Women on Writing WOW blog tour posts, and as of right now I have a draft for all ten of them. This weekend, as I normally do when editing my work I'll read each on a hard copy and make redline corrections and changes. I have to start sending in my pieces on June 1, so as due dates begin to arrive I’ll go over each for last minute changes and tweaks. Other than my posts, a couple of the bloggers will interview me and a couple others will review my book, so over the month-long tour, I won’t be doing all the work.

Just before the tour starts I’ll post the schedule here, and in real time, post a link to the blog once they are posted.  The tour starts on June 6 with an interview with me on WOW’s The Muffin blog

Speaking of interviews a senior student at our local Vistamar High School interview me this week to fulfill her senior project to prepare a biographical essay of someone in her community. The project, lasting three weeks consists of learning how to interview, doing the actual interview, and then presenting her essay to her school community. 

And I must say she asked some very probing questions especially about the death of Paul and how it felt putting all that down in a book. We spoke in front of a video camera for about forty-five minutes and even had an audience. One young man wanted to attend because he is poet. I was very impressed that this young woman had done her homework. She had checked out my blogs so she knew what she was in for. I think she worried about asking me about Paul’s suicide because she had her teacher ask me if it was all right first. Of course I said it was. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm not quite ready for the jazz scene yet

Paul playing the piano at home

The last night of our trip to Portland we all decided to go to Tony Starlight’s to listen to jazz. My brother-in-law Tom is heavily involved with the jazz scene in Portland and is the president of the board of the 2011 Portland Jazz Festival. A group of three young men from Switzerland, playing piano, bass, and, drums, performed that night.

Well I’m not sure if attending that show was the wisest decision for me. I hadn’t purposely gone to hear jazz since my son Paul died almost twelve years ago, and once there and listening to the music, all I could do was compare that group to many similar trios Paul used to play – all young men playing avant-garde tunes. However, this music was hard to listen to – quite discordant in a lot of parts, and they played nothing recognizable.

Though Tom compared Paul’s music to theirs, I feel that Paul’s music was much more melodic. He played his riffs on the high notes; they played loud chords mostly in deep dark tones. But no matter whether I liked this music or not, I realized I’m still not ready to listen to jazz. It’s too close to home. Even listening to Paul’s music is hard. No matter how long ago he died, this is not yet a place for me to go. And to have the music be less than enjoyable made it worse.

Listening to Jazz at Tony Starlight’s

After almost twelve years
I went to a jazz club
and all I could do is compare
the music at Tony Starlight’s,
played by the Colin Vallon trio
from Switzerland
to my son Paul’s.
I found theirs, described as
uncommonly sensitive,
discordant. Slow
deep bass repetitive chords,
uncommonly hard to listen to.
Paul would play the high notes,
tinkle out his improvisations
giving his music
a sweet melodic sound.
This trio of three young men,
playing piano, bass, and drums
looked not much different from
Paul’s trios of years ago.
They just weren’t Paul’s trio.
That’s the crux of it all.

Monday, May 23, 2011

More photos from our weekend in Oregon

Birthday dinner at my sister and brother-in-law's home in Lake Oswego

Bob and I with my sister-in-law from Denver and 
my nephew Brendan and his lovely Kasia

Bob and I during our wine tasting afternoon in Oregon's Willamette Valley

And those gorgeous Rhododendrons and Japanese Maples 
in Portland (wish we would grow them in Southern CA)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Birthday in Oregon

I'm spending my birthday weekend in Oregon at my sister's. We drove to the Oregon coast yesterday and enjoyed a sunny but windy day at Cannon Beach. Here we are on the sand. The Haystack rock is behind us. 

My Sister-in-law Barb, Me, and My Sister Sheila,Cannon+Beach,+OR&gl=us&ei=z9fXTY_iE4j0tgPQzuC0Bw&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CEgQ8gEwAA

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A book launch and signing - Part Three

Here’s the third installment of my blog about my book launch and signing.

Signing a Book  - What a Pleasure 

Part Three – Lessons Learned.

  1. Book the venue early. I contacted the Pages  ( bookstore on February 2 and received an answer the very next day. I booked May 12 – four days after the book’s scheduled release – absolutely perfect timing.
  2. Be prepared to do most of the publicity yourself – I used my Facebook and email network; the bookstore helped by posting it on its weekly newsletter with a nice blurb and links to my book cover and trailer.
  3. Try to arrange for other publicity early. I asked both of my local newspapers way in advance to publish a story about the book. One published a great interview with me on the day of the event; the other just posted a brief notice on their weekly calendar of events. Even if someone says they’ll be glad to support your event, it doesn’t always happen as expected.
  4. Send out lots of invitations – don’t worry about filling up the room with people in all the seats and standing around the perimeter. I created an invitation on Facebook, and I used the Punchbowl email invitation system ( I found it a lot classier than Evite. The invitations came in an envelop with “stamps.”
  5. Since the time of the event was given as a range, people came and went throughout the evening. One person arrived an hour a head of time. And the last stragglers arrived after the store was ready to close. Also a lot of people didn’t know about the reading. Come to an agreement with the bookstore about what time the reading will take place and list the time on the invitation.
  6. Don’t offer food – just a little wine and water. We had to bring most of the food back home, and I had to give it away. It was a huge waste of money.
  7. Here are a couple of nice things to do: get someone to have people sign a guest book (my husband did that job), and ask someone to take photos (my daughter-in-law, Marissa, was the photographer). After the event Marissa presented me with a beautiful photo album and she posted photos on Facebook – to share with folks who couldn’t be there.
  8. And I think this is the most important lesson. Have no expectations about your attendees. Some people who say they’ll be there, don’t show. And people you have do idea will attend will be there. Some of them will be people you’ve never met. 
And don't forget to enjoy yourself!

Monday, May 16, 2011

A book launch and signing - Part Two

As promised here is part two of my three-part blog about my book launch and signing. In Part Three I'll discuss lessons learned.

Part Two - The Actual Event

Reading at {Pages}, a bookstore

Our son Ben arrived at our house at about five thirty ready to help bring books, food, and drinks to the Pages bookstore, and by the time we got there, about six, Jetena, the receptionist from the building where I used to work, was already there. Although Ben joined his wife Marissa and her folks for dinner, Bob, Eleanor – my friend from Oakland who came down the day before to keep me calm and centered – and I opted to stay in the shop. Eleanor and I put out the strawberries, mangos and cheese cubes in a divided platter that I brought from home, Dinah, the cupcake host, arranged the mini lemon cupcakes, and the store manager and his assistant arranged the drinks – wine and waters – on a separate table, some chilling in ice buckets. They made a cute pyramid cup arrangement.

Flowers from my publisher, Lucky Press LLC, 
looked great on the food table's blue tablecloth

People trickled in gradually and as I interacted with them all of my stress dissipated. Some people I had never met came in, and one came up to me almost immediately and told me the story of suicide in her family. By the end of that conversation we were both crying.

At seven thirty the room was full, people filled all the chairs and others were standing around the room when the storeowner suggested we start the reading. Also the store needed more books brought in. I had taken over five on Tuesday. and I realized this might be big when the owner called the afternoon of the reading to remind me to bring more books – they were down to one. So within an hour and a half forty-five books were sold. Ben had brought in two boxes of twenty right away and brought in another box of twenty as soon as our reading was over. All but four of those were sold by the end of the evening.

I chose to read a short piece from about the middle of the book. I didn’t want to read anything that discussed Paul’s bipolar disorder or the gory details of his suicide. I wanted something that was a little more upbeat, so I read about packing away his clothes four months after he died, explaining that this was my first step in an attempt to get back to normal (new normal). I also asked Bob, Ben and Marissa to each read a poem and speak a little about the poem they read. A few people asked questions afterward, e.g., How do you feel about putting out such personal information for the world to read? Did you consult with your husband about your decision to have this book published? Have you thought about putting Paul’s music on a CD and selling it? (I’ll answer these questions in later blogs.)

And the signing began again – with people standing in line, waiting their turn patiently to come up to me. During that time I heard several stories from people I hadn’t met and people I’ve known for years about how they had been touched my bipolar disorder and/or suicide in their families. It’s amazing how much we don’t know about people and how much tragedy and heartbreak people have in their lives. Perhaps my putting my story out there so explicitly gave them permission to tell me theirs.

And people kept coming in the door. In fact by about half past nine the store manager asked me to get people to leave, he had to close the shop and take his young helper home. Since Bob and Ben had taken all the leftover food and drinks – and we had plenty – to the car (the store wanted to keep the leftover books), we ended the evening with a few stragglers at our open 24-hour downtown coffee shop, The Kettle, to have something to eat and a final toast. That was a good thing. I hadn’t eaten anything all evening besides a couple bites of cupcake, and my heartburn – that came on suddenly like a punch right after I read – was giving me fits.

I'm the last one out the door, looking pretty tired

So this launch and signing event, as I’ve written before, was a huge success. Even though most of the people there were family and friends, selling sixty-one books was way more than I had expected. Hopefully, I’ll be able to repeat that experience again and again.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A book launch and signing - what's that?

Paul's Bench

I'm going to write about the book launch and signing of Leaving the Hall Light On in three parts: Preparation, The Actual Event, and Lessons Learned.

Part One: Preparation
I think the worst part of the preparation stage was waiting for the book signing to happen. I booked it for the first Thursday after the book's release at Pages, my local independent bookstore, several months in advance, and I started to stress right away. I always stress before speaking in public and always end up calming down right before I speak, so it’s really the waiting time that drives me to drink.

I also arranged for publicity in our local newspapers, "The Beach Reporter" and "Easy Reader." "The Beach Reporter" interview happened the Monday before the event and appeared on the day; "Easy Reader," though it got a review copy of my book, has yet to print something. Well, as I said to them in my email today, it’s never too late.

Then I sent out invitations. I created an event on Facebook and carefully selected people in my local area to invite. In all I got about forty yes RSVPs from the Facebook folks. I also sent out an electronic invitation by email. I chose the Punchbowl application – I think it’s a lot nicer than Evite. The invitation actually comes in an envelop that the invitee clicks to open. I got another forty or so yes responses as a result of that invitation. With that number of positive responses I started to stress even more. Plus my husband kept wondering where the small bookstore could put all those people. I didn't worry about that. I knew people would come and go – not everyone would be there at the same time. Also a woman I do Pilates with advised me to have no expectations about the number of attendees. She said I could have a huge crowd or no attendees at all. And I knew from my The Emerging Goddess reading experience, people who say they'll come don't, and people I don't expect to come do.

Next I had to plan the food. My wonderful facialist offered early on to host mini cupcakes, and I was delighted with that offer. To accompany those I decided to offer strawberries, mangos and cheese cubes; wine, and sparkling water. At my last reading we had way too much food, so I worried about how much to serve. It seemed like the crowd would be bigger this time, so I of course, the typical Jewish mother, didn’t want to run out.

Another hard part of the prep was deciding what part/parts of the book to read. I had read an article about book signings and readings a few months ago, and the advice was to read for no more than ten minutes. Otherwise the audience would start nodding off. So after a few tries I picked a short prose piece, purposely chosen not to reveal much of the dark nature of my story and to show how I started on my way to survival. I also decided to ask the other three main characters in the book, my husband, son, and daughter-in-law to each read a poem. I picked out their poems.  As the article advised, I printed out the excerpt and poems in large font on white paper so we wouldn't have fumble around reading  from the book. And as suggested I practiced my part three or four times.

Stay tuned for Part Two: The Actual Event

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book launch and signing - a huge success

The launch party for Leaving the Hall Light On at Pages: a bookstore in Manhattan Beach CA last night was a huge success. People from all parts of my life attended: high school friends, former work colleagues, neighbors, friends from the Los Angeles area and Las Vegas, Ojai, San Diego, and Oakland, and many family members. In addition people came as a result of a wonderful article about my book in our neighborhood newspaper, "The Beach Reporter": 

The room was filled to the brim with standing room only during my reading, and it was a dream come true to have so many attendees wait in line for me to sign their books. In all, the event resulted in the sale of sixty-one books - with some people buying two or three.

People I've known for years and people I've never met came up to me to tell me their similar story of bipolar disorder and suicide in their lives. I am indeed thrilled they chose to attend last night and read my book.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Keeping my fingers moving – fast and furiously

I was invited to be the guest at the weekly chat conducted by a Facebook group I belong to last Friday evening. The subject was my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On.

And I must admit when I agreed to attend I had no idea what to expect. I’ve participated in online telecoms, individual chats on Facebook, but never a group chat. I didn’t even know at first whether this would be an audio chat or just through the computer keyboard.

I found out soon enough – it was a typing on the computer kind of chat.

The organizer sent a link to a Facebook chat application called “Let’s Chat” via Clobby Group Chat, and I logged in about fifteen minutes before my six o’clock evening start time. A few people were already there – I could tell from the list on the right sidebar. The group leader was also there and said she was relieved to know I managed to successfully get in. Then she had me test how many words I could type in the little input box before the application cut me off. It turned out to be about two and a quarter lines of text. She said I could keep “talking” if I hit return at the end of my limit. I would then get another input box that allowed me to continue.

Now all of that works very well in practice and through the first few questions that were one on one between the leader and me, but pretty soon others started typing in their questions as well. And some turned out to be comments to past answers, and some not even directed at me. It’s like a lot of balls being thrown my way at once that kept me on my toes – or fingertips I should say. I had to keep scrolling up and down to make sure I answered what I needed to answer. By this time my fingers were huffing and puffing, but I think I answered every one. When the leader announced after about an hour and fifteen minutes that the question and answer period was over and that the attendees could then just chat amongst themselves, I was definitely ready for a rest.

A couple of other things:
People kept coming in and out of the chat – I could tell because their names kept flashing on the screen. I was a little taken aback when one participant left the chat after about a minute into it. I started to wonder what did I do, what did I say, but I realized I had to get over that and more on. The screen also told me who was typing.

Also, I had my computer desktop loaded with backup material. But I never referred to any of it. That’s good. It proved I didn’t need any notes. Plus I wouldn’t have had the time to look if I did need them.

My online chatting experience turned out to be both an exhausting and exciting. Plus I loved to interact with so many people about my book. We’ve agreed to meet again after they’ve read the book. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad

Dad with Paul, 1972

Today would be my dad’s birthday. He died in 1975 at the age of seventy-two after a year and half battle with cancer of the bile duct system. Who knows where that came from? He always lived very healthy. He was trim, he was an early advocate of health foods and one of the first health food gurus Gaylord Hauser, he didn’t smoke, and drank only moderately. I always worried a heart attack would take him since he had one at age fifty-seven, probably caused by stress. Perhaps stress was what caused his cancer. He sure had his share of it – from my mother and from major business setbacks toward the end of his life.

He was a quiet guy and kept most of his thoughts and feelings inside. That could have caused his cancer as well. I’ve heard if we let emotions out it’s better for our health.

What I most admire him for was his sense of family – he always protected us and encouraged us. He also was creative. He played the violin as a youngster, and he made sure my siblings and I studied music – we all learned to play piano. Plus he knew about interior design. As a textile salesman and fabric designer he had a wonderful eye for how to furnish our homes. I think I got my love of beauty and music from him.

He also was in love with our son Paul. Unfortunately, my dad died when Paul was three. Paul first tinkled on the piano at my mom and dad’s house, and perhaps he got an early encouragement to learn to play from my dad.

It’s now thirty-six years since he died, and though I don’t think of him often enough, I remember him well.

Happy Birthday, Dad, wherever you are. 
Love, Madeline

Thursday, May 5, 2011

It's Not Just About the Money

Paul Sharples 1971-1999

The Red Room Where the Writers Are blog ( prompt this week was to write about "writing for free." Here is what I had to say about that.

I’ve been writing without monetary rewards virtually all of my life. However I’ve stepped up the pace in the years since the death of my son in 1999, when I found that writing paid me in comfort and healing.

Writing about the unhappiness and tragedy in my life transfers the pain from my body onto the page. Writing is like an addiction to me; I get itchy if I don’t do it. My office, where I write, is like magic to me. I could spend all day in there and never feel confined. I see the outside garden and the fountain from my writing table. The fountain attracts the most beautiful orange and yellow birds. Some have red heads, some take little dips in the pool, some surf on the leaves that hang over the fountain, some just hover over the water too wary to wade in. The time I spend writing in my office makes me feel so good. Writing leaves me no time for grieving.

Though Paul’s death has been a horrendous loss, he left me with the wonderful gift of writing, especially poetry. Poems just came spontaneously after he died, and now I integrate writing poetry into the rest of my writing life.

Another gift is that is that I was able to create a book about him and his bipolar disorder and how my family and I survived his suicide. I wrote it let others know about the dangers of bipolar disorder and the frustrations of caring for an adult child with bipolar, that it is possible to survive the death of a child, and to keep Paul’s memory alive. Even if I don’t make a cent from book sales, if my book, Leaving the Hall Light On, benefits others I’ll feel it is a success.

So it’s not just the dollars that count. Writing has paid me in ways much more valuable. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My interview for Out on a Limb

My friend and writing colleague, Martha Clark Scala, interviewed me for her monthly e-zine, "Out on a Limb," meant to invite and inspire you to maximize the joy in your life. I am so thrilled that she chose to write about me and my book in her newsletter. She is a true BFF.

Out on a Limb
A Monthly Newsletter from Martha Clark Scala
Invest in bringing joy back to your life.
May 2011

Here is the interview:

Digging Out of the Muck: An Interview with Poet and Memoirist, Madeline Sharples

In April’s Limb, you heard about Helen the Hummingbird and her two babies. Several readers have written to ask “what happened next?” The two babies successfully fledged! We have viewed them on neighboring bushes and branches, and on one occasion, Helen was seen feeding the kids. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of seeing a seal pup who was only one hour old, and observed the family activities of five goslings with their parents. In the wild, and in captivity, it is usually our parents who show us the way, and whom we are meant to emulate. It doesn’t always work that way but when it does, young ones are able to develop to their highest potential. Our parents do not need to be our only teachers; it is just important that we find them!

Grieving adults may not look like baby goslings but some part of us is very, very young in the aftermath of loss. We need someone to look up to who will show us the way. That is why I want you to meet Madeline. I met Madeline Sharples four months after the suicide of her multi-talented son, Paul. As fellow participants in a writing workshop led by Ellen Bass, Madeline’s stark, honest poetry about this devastating loss left me breathless. In periods of deep grief, I have often thought of Madeline, and tried to emulate her fierce determination to “dig out of the muck,” as she once put it, of sorrow. Sometimes it helps to have a person who you can think of to remind yourself “If she can dig out of the muck, then so can I.” Or perhaps it helps to have a parent or teacher like the seal pup’s who, within one hour of birth, was already being led to the water for important lessons about self-care and survival.

On Mother’s Day (May 8th), Madeline’s memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, will go on sale. 

Madeline took some time to share how she re-claimed joy despite the tragedy of her son’s suicide.

Martha: Did it ever occur to you, after Paul's death in the Fall of 1999, that you could possibly experience joy in your life again?

Madeline: No. I didn’t think there was anything to be joyful about. I had thoughts about taking my own life. The only thing that kept me from that was that I couldn’t hurt my husband Bob and or my son Ben that way. I also thought I was betraying Paul’s memory by doing anything that would make me remotely happy.

Martha: What brought joy to your life prior to Paul’s suicide?

Madeline: Some of the same things that bring joy now – family (especially the little children in the family), going to dinner with friends, feeling successful in my work, working out, writing, and my list of diversions – movies, theater, opera. Most of all I loved listening to Paul play his music and watching Ben on stage and on the tennis court.

Martha: What helped you cope with Paul's suicide?

Madeline: When people ask me how I managed to live through the suicide of my son, Paul, I tell them about my recipe for healing  with writing as one of the main ingredients. Soon after I came home from that writing workshop we attended, I found a class taught by a cuddly chubby guy in the relaxed and intimate setting of his living room. He and the others in the class were very forgiving about the dozens of poems and journal entries I wrote about Paul. A goal to write a memoir started to formulate: perhaps if I could tell my story, I could help other parents with children with manic depressive illness that in many cases results in suicide. A goal and the sympathetic understanding of others have helped in my grieving and healing process.

Martha: Besides your writing, what else helped?

Madeline: It’s a long list: I spent time with friends and family, went back to my aerobics class, pampered myself, attended Survivors After Suicide meetings, found a job outside my home, and we were respectful of each other as a family: we stuck together, moved through our grief in our own way and in our own time, and we came out the other side as a family closer than ever before.

Martha: Your poetry always stays with me, Madeline. If you could only write one haiku to sum-up your path back to life, joy, and hope, what three lines would you write?

Madeline:             I walk on the beach
                          follow the straight sun-lit path
                          eyes always forward

Martha: Last but not least, what two pieces of advice on how to access or re-kindle joy after devastating loss would you like to offer fellow grievers?

1. Take your time – don’t let anyone tell you that the time for grief should be over.
2. Pamper yourself: stay in shape physically, get massages and facials, eat healthy, meditate, be open to new friends and new things to take your mind off of your loss.

Martha: Thank you so much, Madeline. I know your memoir will make a difference in many people’s lives.

Martha and I also collaborated on another piece for The Compassionate Friends newsletter in the Summer of 2001. Her piece "I'm Not Contagious" included my poem "Aftermath."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A new month, a new song by Paul Sharples

Please go to the second page of this blog and scroll down to play another song by Paul. 

And read his story and ours in: Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide.

The book is now available on:


Barnes and Noble: