Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

Big Babies

The subject of grown children is one that I have explored in Willing Spirits, as well as in The Sinner’s Guide to Confession. It is a subject I revisit because motherhood, in all its dimensions, is a subject very dear to me.   I know motherhood. I remember each of its stages, and so I can convey this in ways that other women, other mothers, can relate to. Just as we mothered our infants, then our toddlers, and then each successive stage, we now mother our grown children.  The women in my novels are all mothers.  These are the women I understand best.  I explored what it was like to be the mother of a grown child in my writing before I was ever in that position. I allowed my characters to make mistakes, just as I continue to do.  And I allowed them to grow, just as I have.  Parenting a grown child may not be as filled with the wonders of getting to know a newborn, but parenting a grown up is equally rewarding, and often more interesting.

There is a Yiddish proverb that says, “Little children disturb your sleep, big ones your life.”  I always find great wisdom in proverbs, and this one is no different.  My son suffered from colic and chronic ear infections the first year of his life.  I dreamed about sleeping.  My husband and I quickly learned that the only way we would sleep was if we brought our baby into our bed.   And so began our covert journey to a family bed which, in retrospect, resulted in some of the sweetest moments of early parenthood. Aside from all of this, Isaac was a delicious baby, and I mostly treasured my time with him.

As he got older, the demands on my time increased proportionately, but I continued to take my role into stride, writing while he napped, first with him strapped to my chest and later in furtive spurts between drop offs and pick-ups, preparing meals, teaching, and everything else that mothering entails. I was consistently happy in my position.  Motherhood suited me, and I was blessed with an easy child. He was a serious student, an enthusiastic learner, a creative thinker and always curious. He challenged me daily, but he was never combative or difficult.  We sailed through his teen years with none of the scars so many families must endure. When Isaac left for college, I was initially overwhelmed with loss. I wept inconsolably, peered longingly into his empty bedroom, and felt adrift for the first time in eighteen years. He was on the road to adulthood, and I felt abandoned.  I wanted my baby back. I wanted to feel the weight of his sturdy little body against my chest as he slept. I wanted to put my lips against his downy curls and inhale the scent that was uniquely his. I was bereft. Nothing had prepared me for how it would feel to let him go and to reconfigure the spaces in my life. I cried in the grocery store, when I did the laundry, and after I opened the door to an empty house. The adjustment was daunting, but I succeeded in embracing my new life with considerable pleasure. I contribute a large part of that transition to accepting that my son no longer needed me the way he had and to welcoming that change for both of us.

My son is almost twenty-six, an age that both delights and mystifies me. Sometimes I can see the traces of the little boy in the way he laughs or in his expression when something delights him. But he is no longer a little boy.  There are boundaries now (as well there should be), and even if I occasionally step too far over or indulge an impulse to stroke his bearded cheek or plant a stray kiss on his forehead, he has moved well into another phase of his life. I am privileged that he continues to ask for my opinion, that he comes home often, brings his friends, and now his girlfriend (a choice that confirms my sense that I did, indeed, do a very good job of raising him).  I feel a sense of calm in his presence because he is a man I know I will continue to be proud of no matter what he does.  Parenting a grown child can be delicate. I offer advice when I am asked though I have also been known to provide an unsolicited opinion here and there in spite of often deserved objections. I know that what I think matters to my son, but I also know that he is often right where I am wrong, and I do not hesitate to acknowledge this.  Our relationship continues to evolve, and I continue to know that there is nothing that could wedge itself between us, mostly because I would never allow it to happen.  He is my son, albeit my adult son, and I grow with him, ever mindful of how lucky I am for that journey.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | motherhood | 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. . .

“Mom?”

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

Phyllis Schieber Talks About Motherhood

As I was considering topics for this post, it occurred to me that one of the subjects I have neglected is how motherhood figures into the subtext of The Sinner’s Guide to Confession. As a preface to that discussion, I feel the need to address how motherhood figures into my life. I am the mother of a twenty-four-year-old son. One of my dear friends, the mother of five daughters, once told me that, “It doesn’t matter how many children you have. Once you’re a mother, you’re a mother.” I believe that is true.  Motherhood empowered me as nothing else in my life ever did. Nevertheless, women artists are typically placed in the unfortunate experience of having to choose how to divide their time between th Many years ago I read an essay by Alice Walker, “One Child of One’s Own” that had a profound impact on me.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | motherhood, Thoughts From Phyllis Schieber, Writing | 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.

“Kaye?”

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

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?

Contemporary.

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?

Yes.

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