Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

To Young Women Everywhere

I came across a photograph of my friend Claire and I from the summer of 1969, the summer we spent touring Israel. I was sixteen, newly graduated from high school, and Claire was eighteen, almost nineteen.  Because I had skipped two grades, all of my friends were older. I was fortunate that I was always physically mature for my age because it made it easier to fit in with my peers. The photograph was taken at Eilat, Israel’s southern most city, located at the northern tip of the Red Sea. Claire and I are horsing around in the water. I am perched on an inner tube, wearing a skimpy black and white bikini, and a huge smile. My wet hair is plastered to my head. I appear to be trying to help Claire onto the tube as she struggles in the water. She is laughing. A golden tan makes her look especially alive. We both look very happy. We had been camping on the beach for several days with my cousin and her friend, both Israelis. Eilat was incredibly beautiful. We were incredibly beautiful. When I stared at the photograph, I remembered my reaction when I first saw the photograph more than forty years ago. In those pre-digital days, you had to bring in the film and wait for the pictures to come back. I didn’t want anyone to see this particular picture because a little roll of fat was visible at my middle. I remember thinking that I looked “so fat.” In fact, I look remarkably healthy and sexy in the way that only a buxom (does anyone use that word anymore?) sixteen-year-old can look.

In those days, I was always trying to hide some part of myself—my large breasts, my full thighs, my something, anything. Several years later, a friend in graduate school told me that I look like a “Renaissance porno queen.” I laughed, but the description made me uncomfortable. While I never had any shortage of male attention, I never really felt beautiful. Certainly, most teenagers feel awkward and self-conscious, a lamentable condition that continues to perplex me.  I carried my doubts into young adulthood and while I knew my friend’s apt description was meant as a compliment, I was embarrassed by his observation. I was foolish where I should have been proud. What I would give today for that former body of mine… there are no words. And that is why I have a message for young women everywhere. I want you to look in the mirror and marvel at the tautness of your skin, the way your breasts stay high on your chests, and the lovely and luxuriant thickness of your hair. Stand naked in front of a mirror and appreciate your beauty, savor it, and celebrate it. It merits your admiration.

These days I often think of all the times I was self-conscious about my appearance. I wanted to look like Claire. She was the perfect Sixties girl—tall and thin, long, straight, dark hair, and legs that began at her neck and just kept going. I had a crown of wild, curly hair. I also had a formidable chest, and curves that belonged on an older woman. It was a body that emerged when I was fourteen.  I bemoaned my appearance every time I allowed myself to take a peek at my naked self. Shopping was difficult. My mother was adept at letting out the darts in blouses and dresses that were invariably tight. I straightened my hair, wore clothes that hid my full breasts, and dieted constantly, even though I was not fat (What I regret is not learning to exercise early in my life and taking some form of exercise into adulthood. Stand warned all you young beauties: exercise will prolong your beauty, and whether or not you believe me, you will be sorry if you don’t learn to exercise now). I wanted to look like Twiggy or Cher, the role models for beauty in that era of peace and love. I wasted so much precious time on that hopeless fantasy.

If I could go back to those years, I would flaunt my voluptuousness with abandon. I would never have straightened my hair. I used a horrible smelling product, Curl Free, that made my hair coarse and lifeless. At night I would pull my hair up into a ponytail, roll it backwards onto an empty frozen juice can and secure it with long, metal clips. For good measure, I often ironed my hair on the ironing board, using my mother’s iron and a damp towel. My poor mother would monitor this process, fearful that I would set myself on fire!  I would have looked more kindly on my body instead of wishing for thinner thighs, longer legs, and smaller breasts. The good news is that I have finally come of age. In some ways, I am the woman I wanted to be then even though I still do not resemble even a vague proximity of Cher or Twiggy, or even my friend Claire.  The main difference is that I am now comfortable with myself, a remarkable achievement. I practice yoga six times a week, and I ride a stationary bike at least three times a week. I feel fitter than I did all those years ago.

I write about women like myself because it is what I know and love best. We are friends, and wives, and mothers, daughters, and sisters. The women in my novels, WILLING SPIRITS and THE SINNER”S GUIDE TO CONFESSION are also the woman I am still becoming. I am ever mindful of how times passes, how much I have yet to do, and how grateful I am that I no longer straighten my hair. Of course, I am still critical of body, but I express that criticism with gentleness and humor. I know who I once was, and I know who I am now. It was good then, and it’s better now.  Still, I wish I had been s bit wiser, a bit more aware of how ephemeral youth is… I wish I had enjoyed my body rather than pass judgment on it with such harsh eyes. I wish I had loved myself more.


August 8, 2010 Posted by | Sinner's Guide to Confession, Willing Spirits | , , , | 2 Comments

The Beginning, Not the Middle

When I was in my early teens, I was at my friend Claire’s apartment one evening. We were getting ready to go out, and Dina, my friend’s mother (who passed many years ago) was watching. It was the Sixties, and I was a hippie-type, not in the least familiar with make-up or anything that smacked of the “establishment.” Dina was Cuban and extremely glamorous. She had gorgeous, long legs (something I never had and always wished for) and a beautiful figure. She used a cigarette holder, wore skintight capris, and always heels, typically mules that I found incredibly sexy even when I was only ten.  She must have been younger than I am now. I idolized Dina. She looked the other way when we smoked cigarettes and made us wonderful, strong, dark coffee.  I thought Dina was spectacular. That evening, she studied me as I brushed my hair. Cigarette smoke swirled around her head, and she smiled at me through the haze. “I can’t wait to see you when you’re thirty,” she said. “That’s when a girl really becomes a woman.” Of course, I had no idea what Dina was talking about, but I never forgot her words. Thirty seemed so old to me then. Now, I wish I had a chance to go back and truly appreciate the ripeness of the beauty that those years bestow on a woman. I know a number of young women in their thirties. As I was, they are all busy with newborns and toddlers, juggling many different roles at once. There is no time to savor in the fullness of their womanhood; there is hardly time for a shower and clean clothes. From the vantage point of my fifty-seven years, I relish the smoothness of their taut, unlined skin, the thickness of their hair, and the speed with which they chase after their children. These thirty-something women seem like exotic creatures to me now. I am happy to merely be in their presence, but I am neither envious nor sad when I am with them. This is their time. I’m having my own time, and it’s called, rather blandly, middle age.

I don’t think the term does this time of life the justice it deserves. I do not feel as though I am in the “middle” of anything. On the contrary, I have the sense of being on the beginning of yet another journey. I have the battle scars: my knees often ache, my hair is not as luxurious as it once was, and my skin, well, what middle-aged woman doesn’t pull back her face just a little as she glances in the rear-view mirror, remembering what it was like to look like that. I think back fondly on the years when I couldn’t walk down the street without creating a stir (and that was in just jeans and a tee shirt and absolutely no make-up), but I don’t mourn my youth. I have too much to celebrate now to waste time dwelling on the past.

In the last year, I have committed myself to yoga practice with intensity unparalleled to anything else I have ever done except for my writing and, most importantly, raising my almost twenty-six-year-old son. He is my greatest achievement. I did a good job, and I am proud of that. However, yoga practice has taught me to care for myself now in a way I never have in the past. This fifty-seven-year-old body can now do a split, a full wheel, a shoulder stand, and a myriad of other poses that I would not even have attempted until now. I think the confidence and determination that I have developed in yoga has inspired me to try poses no matter how difficult they seem to be. I know that eventually I will succeed. I want to do well in yoga. I want to be stronger. And I take pleasure in how persistence pays off. This all translates to other areas of my “middle-aged” life. I don’t feel the same sense of urgency about everything that I did in my twenties and thirties. I have more trust in myself and in my wisdom. I recognize the person who looks back at me when I gaze in the mirror, and I feel more kindly toward her. I see a body that gave birth (and has the stretch marks and pouch to prove it), a face that has known much pain and loss, and eyes that have shed tears of sadness and joy. I have lived, and I plan to live much more. I continue to feel sexually vibrant, intellectually curious, and eager for new experiences. I do not believe that middle age suggests that I am unable to know the thrill of passion or the satisfaction of being understood and valued by another. I anticipate the wonders of being a grandmother some day. I have more novels to write, more countries and cities to visit, and more people to love. And I believe it will all come to pass because I will make certain it does.

In my novels, Willing Spirits and The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, I write about middle-aged women who are wives and mothers, daughter and sisters, lovers and friends. The “friends” part is really important, especially as we move through these years. I would be lost without my girlfriends. I know all the women I write about because I am all these women, and I have had all these roles, managed them in spite of their clamoring for equal attention. But these women are also struggling, (as I have and continue to do) to sustain happiness and to make sense of their lives. They want to know more passion; they want to be more of who they are, never less. Sometimes, they succeed; other times, they crash miserably with devastating consequences. I love these women because they always keep trying, Just like me. I feel very certain that if Dina were still alive, she would tell me from the vantage point of her advanced years, that I will never really come to know myself as a woman until my fifties… my middle age. And she would be quite right.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | Sinner's Guide to Confession, Willing Spirits | , , | 2 Comments

Oh, Ye Of Little Faith…

Because I believe that lasting desire results from how someone make you feel, I think it the responsibility of each person in a relationship to make sure the other person feels pretty damned good.  But what happens when that stops? Infidelity is always tempting, always an option. There is nothing new about infidelity, a fact that leads me to wonder if perhaps it isn’t just a tad unrealistic to expect people to remain monogamous to one partner forever.  I recently had a conversation with a South American woman who wisely questioned why Americans are so obsessed with confessing their affairs. She noted that in her culture, when an infidelity occurred, it remained private and everyone looked the other way. In fact, I once read that in France, women recognize that they need one man to be a father figure, another to be a friend, and one to be a lover.  It seems like overload to me, but I understand the point. However, I also understand the lure to cheat.

In my novel Willing Spirits, the protagonists, Jane and Gwen, are victims of their husbands’ infidelities. I used the word “victims” carefully and with intention. Neither woman is prepared for the betrayals that end their marriages. Gwen is a young mother when her husband Theodore has an affair that catapults her into a new life. Jane is in her forties with a daughter in college when Arnold beds a young assistant, an act that propels Jane into action that she most likely should have taken years earlier. Mostly, I see Gwen and Jane as victims of their husbands’ insensitivity. Theodore is positively loathsome in his cruel mistreatment of Gwen while Arnold is entirely indifferent to the consequences of his gross misjudgment. In the aftermath of Theodore’s affair and his subsequent abandonment of Gwen and their children, Gwen is left to rebuild her life. Jane, on the other hand, already has an established life, but she must find ways to live as a single woman after years of marriage, albeit unsatisfactory years. In some ways, the infidelities that confront Jane and Gwen turn out to be catalysts for better lives. However, when Gwen falls in love with Daniel, who is married, she must contend with the emotional and spiritual fallout of her own behavior. Their relationship takes her on a painful and soul-searching journey in which she must confront the impact of her relationship with Daniel on his wife and grown children, as well as on her grown sons. Although Gwen is aware that her relationship with Daniel causes others pain, she is unable to extricate herself. It is a conundrum that is ultimately resolved, but not without heartbreaking cost to many.

In The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, infidelity is a central and inescapable theme of many of the relationships. Kaye, an upright and solid wife, mother and daughter, falls in lust with Frank, an unlikely suitor, who arouses her middle-aged sexual sensibilities and makes him impossible to resist. The sex between Frank and Kaye is at once tender and passionate—a combination that women of any age find irresistible. In fact, it is so irresistible to Kaye that she rashly decides to leave her marriage for Frank. I understand Kaye. Frank is her last chance at the sort of ardor that was once the exclusive domain of the young. Fortunately, it no longer is, and women in their fifties and sixties continue to celebrate and flaunt their sexuality with abandon. However, when Ellen realizes that Bill, the husband she adores, is having an affair with a younger woman in his office, the damage is irreversible. Ellen is traumatized by Bill’s betrayal, but she eventually rallies and is able to move forward with renewed clarity and vigor as she finds the daughter given away at birth.

Whenever my parents went out for the evening, my father always gave the same commentary the following morning. “You should have seen how many beautiful women were at the party,” he said, pausing for just the right number of seconds, adding, “But not one of them was as beautiful as your mother.” Then, he would reach for my blushing mother and kiss her or squeeze her bottom. They were a couple in love, and a couple who managed to stay in love until my father’s sudden and premature death.  My mother was flirtatious, and my father was charming. They made a nice couple.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I asked my mother, long after my father had died, if she ever suspected him of cheating.  She laughed and said it was not something she had ever worried about much, but she admitted, “I wouldn’t put my hand through the fire for any man.” An apt description of the ultimate test of faith, and she was not excluding my father. I stopped asking questions.

I am not an advocate of infidelity, but I do believe that it is best to reserve judgment before jumping to conclusions about why people cheat. I certainly do not support serial infidelity, nor do I believe infidelity is a panacea for an unhappy relationship. Still, I contend that an infidelity can be a medium for long overdue changes in relationships. That is, of course, if the perpetrator is found out, or if he or she reveals the truth. And although women are catching up to men in record speed, I think my mother had it right. I wouldn’t put my hand through the fire for any man… or any woman for that matter either.

June 3, 2010 Posted by | infidelity, marriage, Sinner's Guide to Confession, Willing Spirits | Leave a comment

Men and Love, Or Not

I knew from the start that Marva was unique.  She took care of my mother for several years and was, as my mother always said in Yiddish,a Gutte neshumah (goot-teh nesh-uh- mah): a good soul. A decent person with a good heart.  I had a phone call from Marva this week. Marva is at least ten years younger than I. She is also the mother of five, a grandmother, and the person who taught me more about patience, kindness, and good humor than anyone else I ever knew. One day, in the early months of my mother’s first serious decline, we brought her back to her apartment from yet another hospitalization. I was already weary, and I had no idea what was ahead, how really bad it would become in the months and years to follow.  After we got my mother settled, I left to do some errands. When I returned, my mother was resting. She looked so sweet, so vulnerable, curled into herself with her head resting on her folded hands as though in prayer. Her skin was flawless as it remained to the day she passed. She opened her eyes and smiled at me. I had this sense of knowing that I would never again have my mother whole. I lay down beside her, curved my body around hers, and placed one of her hands on my cheek, flattening her palm with my own. I cried softly for no other reason than I was sad and exhausted. And then Marva sat down beside me on the bed and stroked my back, soothing circular strokes, murmuring in her lilting Jamaican accent that, “It’s gonna be alright.” I believed her.

After my mother passed, I stayed in touch with Marva because she had become part of my life. Still, lives get busy, and sometimes months go by before one of us calls. She phoned me last week, and I was so happy to hear her sweet voice. She said, “Oh, Phyllis, I had a longing to hear your voice and your laugh.” And, as always, I was moved by Marva’s sincerity, her ability to speak from her heart. We talked for quite some time, and at the end, she said, “I love you.” And I told her I love her, which I do. After we hung up, I began to think about how women express their love. In Wiling Spirits, I describe the night that Gwen and Jane, the two main characters “fall in love”:

Yes, women do fall in love with each other. Differently, of course, than they fall in love with men. Falling in love with a man is a feverish experience.There is little control. But falling in love with a         woman is much more serious. It guarantees so much more for the investment. For it is from other women that women are nurtured. It is from other women that they hear what they hope to hear               from men. I understand. I know how you feel. I’m sorry for your pain. I care about what you think: Words that need no prompting. In that circle, women tell each other things that men and                   women tell each other first with their hands and lips and tongues before they can tell each other with words. Women comfort each other with touch that is meant to heal, rather than to excite. The           mysteries of love are less complex between women. The hidden passages are easier to negotiate. And the dangers do not seem as great as when the same journey is taken with a man.  Around each         dank and frightening corner, women hold out their hands to each other and form a human chain that is, quite simply, spiritually different. The lucky ones find men who (and it is a deep and well-           kept secret between women) are more like women.

I have a circle of women friends who sustain me, keep me sane, remind me of my worth, and reassure me that I am treasured. We say, “I love you,” at the end of every conversation; we sign off our emails with the same words, and when we see each other, we embrace and affirm our love. I think it is because women spend so much of their lives nurturing—their children, their husbands, their partners, their ailing parents, their students, co-workers, the list is endless—that they understand the words are a gift, a promise. The words are a reminder to those we cherish that they are not alone, that they matter.  I know a woman who was my student many, many years ago. P. was in my tenth grade class when I was a twenty-three-year-old English teacher. Her life story was incredibly sad and painful, not unlike the stories of many of the students I met along the way. I became a presence in her life, and we stayed in touch. After she graduated from college, she visited often. I welcomed her into my family, called her frequently, sent her money when she was in need, and told her that I love her at the end of every conversation. My son, now twenty-five, recently overhead me say, “I love you” to her and asked, “Do you really love her?” And I said, “It doesn’t matter.” I tried to explain that the words were a balm to P.’s soul. She knew she could rely on me for that bit of normalcy in her other otherwise complicated and often lonely life. My words were an offering that asked for nothing and gave everything. In fact, I do love P., but I wanted my son (who always, always, says, “I love you too” when I say, “I love you” to him at the end of every conversation) to understand that expressing love is not a threat.

In Women are Just Better, Anna Quindlen quotes the observation of a friend who says, “Have you ever noticed that what passes as a terrific man would only be an average woman?” And that’s when, as Quindlen describes it, “A Roman candle went off in my head… What I expect from my male friends is that they are polite and clean. What I expect from my female friends is unconditional love, the ability to finish my sentences for me when I am sobbing, a complete and total willingness to pour out their hearts to me, and the ability to tell me why the meat thermometer isn’t supposed to touch the bone.” Hence the title of her piece, Women are Just Better. One of my good friends, a sane and clear thinking Midwesterner once had the following to say when I complained about my son’s evidently male behavior, “You wouldn’t want him to act like a girl, would you?” I know what she was saying, but sometimes I’m not as sure of the answer.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized, Willing Spirits, women's friendship | , , | Leave a comment

Ellen from Sinners’ Guide to Confession by Phyllis Schieber

It would always be miraculous to Ellen how one sweet moment could offer a reprieve from loneliness and suddenly illuminate a life. She opened the door and looked into Joy’s eyes. They were the same color as Ellen’s, and they were framed by the peacock lashes that she recognized from the photograph.

“I love your eyelashes,” Ellen said.

It was so not what she had planned on saying that she couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“They’re not mine,” Joy said.

And then, she was equally speechless.

“That went well,” Ellen finally said, laughing. She opened the door wide and said, “Come in. I’m sorry. Please. Come in.”

Joy nodded and walked in. She was wearing a red coat, not unlike Ellen’s own winter coat.

“May I take your coat?” Ellen said.

Ellen took her hand. Joy was small boned, like Ellen, and her fingers were long and thin, like Ellen’s. Joy was wearing a thin gold wedding band and no other jewelry except a watch and a pair of silver earrings, tiny clusters of grapes, or so they looked. Joy put out her other hand, and Ellen took that one too. They held hands, shyly at first, and then moved with more confidence toward each other and into an embrace. Joy was a good four inches taller, bringing Ellen’s nose even with Joy’s neck, allowing her to inhale her lemony scent.  Ellen wanted to say something memorable, something that Joy could retell when she spoke to others of this day, but nothing came to mind. Ellen had questions and more questions, but she kept them to herself. Did you feel my love every day? Do you know how sorry I am? Have you felt how much I missed you? Have you been loved? Have you been happy? Will you forgive me? Instead, Ellen wrapped her arms around Joy and concentrated on not squeezing her too hard. They held each other like that for a minute or so, silent, awkward, full of need and uncertainty. It was Joy who pulled back first and, taking Ellen’s hands again, said, “You’re so young. I never expected you to be so young.”


It would always be miraculous to Ellen how one sweet moment could offer a reprieve from loneliness and suddenly illuminate a life. She opened the door and looked into Joy’s eyes. They were the same color as Ellen’s, and they were framed by the peacock lashes that she recognized from the photograph.

“I love your eyelashes,” Ellen said.

It was so not what she had planned on saying that she couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“They’re not mine,” Joy said.

And then, she was equally speechless.

“That went well,” Ellen finally said, laughing. She opened the door wide and said, “Come in. I’m sorry. Please. Come in.”

Joy nodded and walked in. She was wearing a red coat, not unlike Ellen’s own winter coat.

“May I take your coat?” Ellen said.


Since the day she turned twelve, Ellen had not left the house without false eyelashes. What began as an act of rebellion turned into a trait that distinguished her in ways she could not have predicted. In the coastal Connecticut town where she grew up and later in rural Vermont where she attended college, people made assumptions about her based almost exclusively on those eyelashes. The eyelashes gave her confidence and, at twelve, confidence was in short supply even if prettiness was not.  The eyelashes made her feel glamorous. Glamour. That was what Ellen was after. Her mother, ever critical, insisted that Ellen always looked as if she were on her way to a costume party.  “Are you going as a tramp?” she asked. But Ellen thought the false lashes completed her. She batted them at herself in the mirror, standing sideways and then looking over her shoulder. The eyelashes never seemed anachronistic to her twelve-year-old self. Soon her life was divided into two periods: before the false eyelashes and after them.


Effortlessly, she told him the secret she had hoarded all her life. It was the secret that had taught her restraint; the secret that had made her suspicious of love. Bill wrapped his arms around her and listened. Bill had secrets of his own, and he shared them with such relief that Ellen cried with him as he confessed his transgressions and his sorrows.  In those early times, he tolerated her endless stream of questions about matters that might seem obvious to others. And never, ever once did he say a word about her eyelashes even as he watched her peel them off at night and reapply them first thing in the morning. He seemed to anticipate her needs, bringing her a blanket before she shivered, a cup of tea before she asked, a back rub just as she was about to stretch. And when he finally asked about those silly lashes (that’s what he called them, but lovingly) all he said was, “How have they changed your life, Miss Ellen?”

And that was why she could not believe he did not love her anymore.


It was a girl baby. And even though everyone advised her not to, Ellen held her. They would not let her nurse her daughter since it was only a matter of days before she would be whisked off to an eager family in some unknown location. Ellen signed countless forms, relinquishing all her rights and agreeing to a closed adoption. She was only sixteen, and her parents made it very clear that unless she complied, they would have nothing to do with her. Of course, that was incentive enough to refuse to go along with their wishes. But she was too young and too afraid to be brave.


She kept her promise not to talk about The Baby. (They never referred to her as Faith.) And Ellen never broke that promise until she met Bill. The tenderness of his response when she divulged her secret unleashed a lifetime of sadness. He clucked his tongue, just like a woman would, and kept repeating how sorry he was for her loss. Loss. The import of that statement made Ellen reel.  In Bill’s arms, she cried for her lost baby as if years had not passed.


And now she was alone. Ellen did not mind being alone. The humiliation of Bill’s betrayal still smarted, but she refused to hate him. When she looked in the mirror, she was not saddened by the lines around her eyes or the slack in the skin on her neck. Bill used to tease her that being pretty was more important than anything else in her life. Bill had been wrong about that too, of course. Nothing had ever been as important to Ellen as finding Faith. Not then . . . and not now. Not ever.


Ellen had questions and more questions, but she kept them to herself. Did you feel my love every day? Do you know how sorry I am? Have you felt how much I missed you? Have you been loved? Have you been happy? Will you forgive me?

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Sinner's Guide to Confession | Leave a comment

Barbara From Sinners’ Guide to Confession by Phyllis Schieber

It was not till after Roger’s death that Barbara began to write erotica. She took a sobriquet. Delilah. Just one name. Like Cher. Delilah. Barbara kept her identity secret; she told no one, absolutely no one. At first she rationalized that secrecy was necessary to protect her career. After all, the women who bought her books would have been mortified to learn that their favorite romance novelist wrote erotica.  The secrecy was never supposed to extend to Barbara’s inner circle, but she kept putting off telling. She worried about how her children would react. The longer she waited to tell, the harder it was to find the right moment. And then she stopped looking. She wanted the stories all for herself. Cock, pussy, clit, dick. Eventually, her hands stopped shaking when she wrote. She sat up straight. My, my, my Delilah, she always thought as she wrote. My, my, my.


In the expanse that Roger’s death had left, Barbara found a nagging reminder of all that she had taken for granted. Roger had taken care of her, and she missed that. He made sure that her car was serviced, and that the gutters were cleaned. He stopped for milk on the way home, picked up the pizza in the rain, glued the stone back in her earring and hung the new mirror in the foyer. And the children, their children. It was always Roger’s first question when he called or came home. He always wanted to know if she had spoken to any of the kids.


In Roger’s absence, Barbara worried about what would happen if she woke in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in her chest. There was no one on the other side of the bed to rouse, no one who could call an ambulance, no one to offer reassurance that it would all turn out fine. The apartment seemed hollow sometimes as if she could not fill it up fast enough with new memories to soften out its edges.


Without any curtains or shades, she was free to gaze and did just that as she sipped her second cup of coffee and pretended she was smoking. An incomplete manuscript was waiting for her, and she had already ignored the last message from her editor about the urgency of getting her next romance, Beneath the Silk Coverlet, done by the month’s end. She was late with the first draft. But Barbara was more interested in working on Delilah’s latest piece, Paradise Found. Aimee, the heroine of Paradise Found, was far more interesting, far more provocative than any of the characters in latest romance set in Victorian England. When Barbara had last left Aimee, she was servicing Victor, the doorman, on her kitchen table.

Aimee’s legs were wrapped around Victor’s trim waist. She was gripping his buttocks, kneading his flesh with just the right amount of pressure when. . .


July 22, 2009 Posted by | death of a spouse, motherhood, Sinner's Guide to Confession, women's friendship | Leave a comment

Kaye from Sinners Guide for Confession About Finding Happiness

In this excerpt Kaye reflects on how happiness is not really all that difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, she wonders why happiness continues to elude her. When she tries to include her husband George in her musings, it only alienates them even more. When she allows him to make love to her later that night, it seems to Kaye that they will never be able to close the gap that has widened between them for no other reason than that they are so very different.

Because Kaye often used anecdotes as a way to communicate with George, she was mindful of tales with import.  Therefore, when Kaye read about a young New York couple visiting with family in California who were forced to take the northern route back home after an ice storm shut down I-40, she was immediately intrigued.  The story was really about how some people just knew how to make the best of a bad thing. When the young couple stopped at a gas station on I-80, the attendant suggested they take advantage of the detour and get married in Reno. Since Reno was better known for quickie divorces than for marriages made in Heaven, the would-be groom picked a number between one and ten. If she guessed correctly, the wedding was on.  She guessed it.

Within hours, she found a gown and a veil on the clearance rack of the local department store, opting to wear her hiking boots since they were so comfortable and no one would see them anyway. He bought a tuxedo, a shirt and a purple cummerbund and a matching bow tie. His black Converse sneakers would do just fine. Rings were easy to buy since pawnshops were in abundance. She would carry red roses tied with a ribbon, and they bought a cake at the supermarket and had it inscribed with their names inside a red heart.  They consummated their marriage at a roadside truck stop and spent their wedding night at a cheap motel.

What Kaye loved most about the story was that the new bride wore her wedding dress for the remainder of her five-day journey back to New York because she wanted to see the reactions of strangers.  In Wyoming, a hunter asked to photograph the bride, so his wife would believe him that he had really seen a bride pumping gas; children clapped when she made snow angels, and a trucker congratulated them, promising them that marriage was filled with rewards. He said he should know since he had been married for twenty years and had eight children.

Road trips, any trip for that matter, could be seen as a tired metaphor for marriage. Kaye was very much aware of that. However, it was the comment of a checker in a 711 in Nebraska who commented that the bride was spreading happiness wherever she went simply because she was wearing her wedding gown that struck a cord with Kaye. It suddenly seemed so easy to make others happy that Kaye wondered why so few were ever good at it.

The story about the bride seemed to completely throw George. From the onset, he was confused about the story’s intent. As Kaye recounted the events of the new bride’s journey from California to New York in her wedding dress, he sporadically interrupted, peppering her reading with a few isn’t that somethings and one or two that must have been a sight. Encouraged by this response, Kaye said that she wished she had been driven by such exuberance after their wedding, eliciting an agreeable nod from George. But when she said she thought it would be grand to put on her wedding gown and set out on a similar adventure, George looked entirely baffled.

“Didn’t you borrow your wedding gown from your cousin Paula?” he said.

She stared at him, watching him blink.

“I think you’re missing the point,” Kaye said.

“Why do you say that?” he said.

“Because it has nothing to do with the wedding gown, and you know it.”

“How would I know that?”

Kaye was always the one with regrets. Regrets about everything.  Instead of the fish, she wished she had ordered chicken. The salad instead of the soup. The dress that looked perfect in the store suddenly looked too tight when she tried it on at home. And the chair for her living room that had to be special ordered in the plaid she had so wanted looked out of place when it finally arrived. She came to believe that her decision to marry George was just another example of picking the wrong blouse or ordering the wrong meal. If she had only given it more thought, she might have chosen better.

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“That’s your problem,” he said. “Well, what is the point of the damned story?”

They were getting ready for bed. He was untying his laces. Instead of taking off one shoe off at a time, he untied each shoe first. Then, he took off his left shoe. Always his left shoe first. So many routines. So many habits. Always the same black socks. The same hairstyle. The same breakfast every morning. Shredded wheat and raisins with skimmed milk. The same foreplay over and over. No eggs or butter. No rear penetration. Nipple manipulation followed by oral sex followed by some perfunctory kissing. No conversation during sex. No bacon. No joy.

“The point is that it takes so little to be happy that I wonder why we fail at it so miserably,” she said.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” he said.

The same answers for everything.  He stood and undid his belt, unzipped his pants and stepped out of them. Once she had loved the long leanness of his thighs. Now, she turned away and sighed. His hand on her shoulder was a surprise, and not only because it was unexpected. It was heavy with sadness.

“What?” she said.

“Why do you always think the worst of me?”

It was such a sincere question, and she had no answer for him. She remembered her Aunt Rachel saying that she knew her husband did not love her anymore when he started to complain about her cooking. Nothing tasted right to him. Everything had either too much salt or not enough salt. Or the meat was too dry, and the rice too wet. Kaye had been stunned at the nuance of her aunt’s observation. But her aunt and uncle stayed together; her aunt always laboring in the kitchen, believing that if her cooking improved, her husband would love her again.


She patted his hand, and he moved toward her, taking her in his arms. Once she had savored his touch, hungered for it when a day passed without him. She rested her head on his shoulder and tried to relax as his hand reached under her nightgown. It had been weeks, maybe months, since they had made love. It was almost as if she wished she felt shy instead of tense. But she was tense. His touch seemed invasive, and her face burned with the shame of that truth. And still she allowed it because not to might have invited some dialogue and the idea of talking was unbearable to her right now. They would have talked in circles. Circumlocution. SAT word. When she had tested Ruby on her SAT words, Kaye played a game with herself, grouping words that applied to her marriage and to George. Circumlocution, evasion. Saturnine, sanctimonious, punctilious, illusory. So many words. Charlie used to make up the definitions when she tested him. He never studied. He would repeat the word after she said it as though he were a contestant in a spelling bee. “Bucolic. Let’s see. Bucolic. An alcoholic who has made progress.”  She always laughed, which only encouraged him. Words drifted through her thoughts now, arable, askance, avuncular, atavistic, arcane  . . . George’s heavy breaths grew deeper and shorter as he moved inside her, and she rested her hands on his damp back. Braggart, blithely, cloying, cogent . . .

July 22, 2009 Posted by | marriage, motherhood, Sinner's Guide to Confession, women's friendship | Leave a comment

Kaye from Sinners Guide to Confession by Phyllis Schieber

Kaye studied her reflection in the mirror. Yesterday’s haircut had been a really bad idea, and the true motivation for this trip to the cosmetics counter. She must have hoped that if she cut off all her hair, she would be young again. She would go home to find Ruby in her cradle, and Charlie with his peanut butter breath eager to divulge absolutely everything about his day, punctuated only by kisses and unsolicited promises of his eternal love. Sadly, none of that happened. She was still herself. Her children were grown. She was still married to George and in love with Frank


. . . .she straddled him, rocking gently first, tasting his sweat for the first time as she licked his shoulder, and then forgetting everything as he moved her hips with such need that in the end there was nothing more they could do than sit, wrapped around each other, silent and exhausted. Finally, she found the energy to ask, “Why me?” He wrapped a strand of her hair around her ear and shook his head in disbelief. Kaye was suddenly acutely aware of everything she stood to lose.


There was no reason not to leave George. Their marriage was muddled by history, weakened by unresolved bad feelings. But from time-to-time, George seemed as if he were fighting his way off of his own dimly lit planet.


George did not say his lack of courage was probably the source of all his failings. But then, there was no real need to. Kaye understood, and she stroked his hand. He smiled sort of vaguely, lost in his own reverie, absent to her once again. Nevertheless, Kaye counted it as a small victory and enough of an offering, not to explain why she stayed, but to explain why she did not leave.


Sometimes Kaye wondered what her children would think if they knew what she was hurrying off to in the middle of the day. She imagined the horror they would feel if they could hear the words she whispered to Frank. Faster, harder, more. Once, while Frank expertly held her hips, she had moaned, urging him on, and then turned and asked him what her children would have thought if they saw her.


Kaye imagined herself moving along the sun baked walk that twisted up to the ancient stone-block structure that housed the tomb of Rabbi Yonatan. Joining the throngs of young hopefuls who had never found love or who had missed opportunities, as well as parents who worried that their children were still alone, Kaye saw herself draping a scarf from one of the olive tree branches. Tucked inside the scarf were several written notes. The first was a plea for Ruby, a hope that she would recognize true love when it came her way. The second note was for Charlie, for a good woman who would love him. And the third note was for George, an entreaty that he would forgive her after she left him.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | infidelity, marriage, motherhood, Sinner's Guide to Confession, women's friendship | Leave a comment

Read Reviews for Willing Spirits by Phyllis Schieber

Willing Spirits Cover

Praise for Willing Spirits

“Willing Spirits is like a string of pearls—one familiar, fragile moment linked to another and another to form the rope of women’s lives twined together. Beautifully written, full of wit and wisdom and heart—read this one with your mother, your daughter, or your best friend.”—Jodi Picoult


“What a warm, oh-so-human account of love and women’s friendship! These are women I know, and I’m recommending the book to all my female friends and students.”  Rosemary Daniell, author of Sleeping with Soldiers


“Women are still from Venus and men from Mars in Schieber’s strong debut, a paean to the healing power and enduring strength of female friendship.” –Publisher’s Weekly


I want mothers to read Willing Spirits because there’s a readiness to forfeit everything about yourself that only a mother can know.

I want daughters to read Willing Spirits because they have a mother that they know nothing of.

I want women to read Willing Spirits because there’s a perceptive sisterhood that only woman understand.

Willing Spirits is what I’d label an intuitive novel. Not the sort of novel that comes from the heart so much as from the gut.

Jane & Gwen have been friend for many years, sharing the joys and sorrow Willing Spirits of life. We enter their story at one given moment in a long line of moments. Jane’s husband has finally proven to be the cad he’s always threatened to be; Gwen’s lonely single motherhood has been altered by an affair.  Both of the women have children on the brink of adulthood, a phase much more trying than nose-wiping days past. A simple story of two women friends.

Yet, Phyllis Schieber’s pen makes this simple story glow. Her understanding of the complexities of human emotion illuminates the everyday life of her characters. Affairs, divorces, unplanned pregnancy, death, birth, love, sex …. Keep naming it; it’s all in there. PS paints her characters with a watercolor brush of sin and virtue, blurring the line between good guy and bad guy, a canvas of two women’s lives.  In the end, you’ll know someone with a friendship exactly like Jane and Gwen: quirky, accepting, honest and true. And I hope that someone is you.

Recommended for book groups galore! Also for readers interested in understated, exceptionally insightful, stories about our everyday life.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Books By Phyllis Schieber, reviews, Willing Spirits, Writing | Leave a comment

Meet Jane from Willing Spirits by Phyllis Schieber

1. What is the name of the book where we would meet you? What genre is it?

Willing Spirits. The genre is Women’s Fiction.

2. Who wrote the book?

Phyllis Schieber

3. What do you think of the author? You can tell us the truth.

I think she is complicated. She writes from her heart, and I like that about her. She wants to write books that she would want to read. Sometimes she meanders and strays from the plot, but I relish those interludes. They have a dreamy quality that reflects her thought process.

4. Tell us a little about yourself. How would you describe your appearance?

That’s more than just really cute or drop dead gorgeous. Give us enough detail to get a clear idea of how you look.

I’m only five feet one. I would have liked to be taller, but I’m not. I’m not skinny. I have to watch what I eat. I have curly, brown hair that is going grey. I dyed it last year, just a rinse. Gwen didn’t like it. She kept calling me Lucy. It was so silly, but I stopped using the rinse. The grey is sort of interesting.  I’m not as striking as Gwen, but I’m attractive. When we are out together, no one ever notices me. My lips are my worst feature. They’re too thin, but I know how to make them look fuller. Make-up is a blessing. I have good skin and nice eyes even if they are just brown.

5. What character are you in the book? Are you the hero, the best friend, the side kick, the hero and heroine’s child or someone else?

I am the “other heroine.”

6. Is there a specific reason why you’re in the story? Don’t give us any story spoilers, but you can share some teasers if you want.

I am the story. Gwen and I share the spotlight in Willing Spirits.
7. What time period do you live in?


8. Where are you from?

New York.
9. Do you live in the same place now?

Yes, I do. I am a born and bred New Yorker.
10. Tell us about your hometown and your current home.

What’s to tell? New York is New York. You either love it or hate it. I love it.

11. Tell us how your hometown or your current home affects you, the things you do and how you feel about life?

I’ve never lived anywhere else, so I don’t’ know anything different. I love New York, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

12. What special skills or abilities do you have?

Well, I’m an elementary school teacher. I don’t know that I have any special skills. I’m a good friend, a good mother, and a good teacher. I thought I was a good wife, but apparently my soon-to-be-ex-husband didn’t share that feeling.

13. How do those affect your part in the story?

Throughout the story I am a betrayed wife, a mother and a friend, as well as a teacher, so I would say the entire story is affected by my roles. I bring something to each of those roles.
14. Are you happy with the story?

The story was hard on me from the beginning. In spite of that, I love how I grew. I was allowed to take risks, make mistakes and become a stronger and more independent person. I like that. So, yes, I am happy with the story.
15. Do you have some ideas that the author should consider about the story? You can share them with us. We’re all friends here.

Well, sometimes I think I come across as a bit provincial. I’m not all that interested in the same sort of ideas that seem to intrigue Gwen. She loves all those esoteric religious and philosophical concepts. I resist all that. I think in some ways, Phyllis took advantage of my lack of sophistication, but I’m a good sport, so I went along with it. Until Arnold’s infidelity, my life was fairly routine. His betrayal forced me to reevaluate. I think Phyllis was often less sympathetic toward me than she was toward Gwen. Is it possible I remind her too much of herself?

16. Tell us about your past. Can you share one really good experience and/or one really bad experience?

I know that bad experiences can be tough, but it would tell us more about what you’ve been through.

You would think I would immediately say that finding my husband in bed with a girl practically the same ages as his daughter, would be my bad experience, but it was really my good experience. That single event really compelled me to question the authenticity of my marriage, as well as to face my own unhappiness and do something about it.

I think the hardest experience I had was learning that my daughter Caroline was pregnant. She’s so young and so not ready to be a mother, and I had so hoped for her to have a different life than the one I had. I think I really rallied after I found out, so while it was a bad experience, I think I rose to the occasion and surprised everyone, including myself.

17. Who is the most important person in your life? Tell us about them.

Caroline is the most important person in my life. She is my daughter, and I adore her. Gwen is right behind Caroline. I don’t know what I would do without Gwen.

18. Is that person in the story we’re talking about?


19. How does that person impact you and your life?

Motherhood is the single most defining experience of my life. Everything I do and don’t do affects Caroline, so I am mindful of that. Still, I had to evolve. It was important for both of us.

20. Do you have any children?

My Caroline.

21. If you do, tell us about them. If you don’t have any children, you can tell us why not – but, only if you want to tell us.

Caroline is a college student. She is a giflted artist. I think she is willful, impulsive, and quick to judge, but I also know her to be loving, kind and supportive. She is the love of my life.

22. What do you see in your future?

I see change, and I believe that is good.

23. Do you think your author is going to write another story about you? Or, are you part of a series?

Oh, definitely not!

24. Do you like being a character in a book?

I didn’t realize I was until just now.

25. If someone ever decides to make a movie based on your story, who should play you in the movie and why?

I love Marcia Gay Harding. She could play me. We have the same coloring, and we must be about the same age. She is emotional, but she is also strong.

It’s been great to talk with you. If you want to tell us anything else, feel free. Also, tell us about a website where we can learn more about you and where we can buy the book. If you have a picture of yourself, feel free to send it.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | divorce, marriage, motherhood, Willing Spirits, women's friendship | Leave a comment