Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

Lorene Burkhart–Sick of Doctors? Then Do Something About It!

On June 7, I will be hosting Lorene Burkhart the author of Sick of  Doctors? Then Do Something About It!

Lorene’s book is especially important for women 35 and older who have found themselves unable to effectively communicate their needs to their physicians. Please stop by to talk to Lorene and to ask questions that could easily change how you receive and manage your healthcare!

This is Lorene’s fifth book, with two more book titles scheduled to be published in 2010. For more information, visit

We look forward to seeing you!


June 3, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

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

The Tour Begins… Infidelity…

June 2, 2010 Posted by | infidelity, marriage | Leave a comment

Aging Defiantly

I always took sex for granted. I was always curious, always interested, and an eager and willing student. In my fifties, little has changed, except I no longer take sex for granted.  The changes in my sexuality surprised me as much as my first period, my first orgasms,  the loss of my virginity, and childbirth. My reaction to all these events was consistently the same: did my body just do that?”  I was eleven when I got my first period. It was hot. Probably the end of June. I was wearing sky blue Wrangler shorts. My mother asked me to go to the grocery store. I remember waiting at the corner of Ellwood and Nagle for the light to change. I felt nauseated, and I had a headache. I had never had a headache before.  On the way back from the grocery store, I felt faint. Once I got home. I put the milk in the refrigerator and the bread in the breadbox. When I pulled my shorts and underpants down in the bathroom so I could pee, I was mildly surprised to see blood. I knew what had happened. I just never knew it would really happen to me. I went to get the sanitary pads and belt that I had sent away to Kotex for on my own and clean clothes. I soaked my shorts and underpants in the tub and went to tell my mother. In keeping with European tradition, my mother slapped me on the cheek and said, “You’re a woman now.” I didn’t feel like a woman, but I was pleased. My father brought home roses for me that night, and my older brother grunted something indistinguishable at me. Nothing seemed to have changed.

Orgasms were another story entirely. I welcomed them with ardent enthusiasm though I didn’t really understand the mechanics of this almost out-of-body experience. Still, I loved that my body could experience them—with or without a partner.  In retrospect, there may have been nothing sexier than all those years of making out and groping that I enjoyed with my high school boyfriend, and then later with the boy I almost lost my virginity to before fate intervened. The doorbell interrupted us at the definitive moment—a lifelong regret that still leaves me wondering.  I could have kissed him for hours. All those years of preparation offered the promise that orgasms would always be available. Then, of course, once I was no longer a virgin, orgasms took on a different, even better context.  It never occurred to me that there was anything my body could not achieve.

I don’t remember my first orgasm, but I do remember the day I was no longer a virgin. I’m fairly certain everyone remembers his or her first time.  Mostly, I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror after it was over and wondering if anyone would be able to tell. I didn’t feel any different, and I certainly didn’t look any different. Nevertheless, I had passed a milestone. My body had obliged, forfeited its status, catapulting me into alleged womanhood. I applied myself with intensity to my new rank and enjoyed each new discovery. I was a college freshman, but I was only sixteen, still very young to play at womanhood in spite of my body’s impatience.

Childbirth was remarkable for any number of reasons. However, after twenty-two hours of labor and a forceps delivery, I looked down between my legs and seeing the screaming, bloody head of my son and feeling somewhat stunned that he was emerging from my body. It seemed impossible that this creature was not only mine, but that I had carried him around for over nine months in my swelling body. The separation was profound. When the nurse placed him against my chest, I wondered how it would feel to move through the world without him inside my body.

None of these events, however, could have prepared me for menopause. In my own way, I mourned the end of my periods. I know that might seem strange to some women, but the loss confirmed the inevitable—unwelcome changes that would require some commitment.  I was not ready to abandon my sexuality, so I initiated a campaign to circumvent the realities. In the process, I developed a kinder, gentler attitude toward my body. Perhaps, for the first time in my life, I am less critical of my body. It’s a perfectly fine body for a fifty-seven-year-old woman. Indeed, it is flawed, but I so foolishly thought that the fifteen-year-old body I once had was also flawed even though the boy I then loved told me that I looked like an angel.  Mostly, my body still works. It works differently than it used to, but it works. I have finally come to understand that desire is about how someone makes you feel. It’s such an easy lesson that I wonder why it too me so long to learn it. The women in my novel The Sinner’s Guide to Confession are still looking for love and still enjoying sex.  They are strong women, women who acknowledge the changes that cannot be ignored, but I know that any one of them would be happy to go back to those long days of endless kissing and fondling with a boy who made her heart skip a beat each time he looked at her. And any one of them would agree that here and now is still a good place to be.

May 21, 2010 Posted by | relationships. women, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

My Women Friends

Yoga has been an extraordinary journey for me. I leave every class with something new, something I did not have or know before. Mindfulness. It is such a powerful word. When I am mindful of my breath, when I focus on integrating my breath with my movement, I can always deepen my pose. Mindfulness. It is what I take out of the studio and into my life that makes me appreciate yoga even more. The physical and spiritual strength I hone in yoga is carried into my writing. Like my writing and like life, nothing moves in a straight line. Some days, my balance is better than others. Some days, I can hold one leg out straight in front and grab my toes. Other days, I feel unable to hold myself upright. It is the same with my writing… an unpredictable journey.

I had an amazing yoga class the other day. During class, my teacher stood behind me, placed her hands on either side of my head and moved them down as though she were outlining my entire body. For a moment, I couldn’t be certain if her hands were on me, or if was simply the heat of her proximity. Regardless, I felt energy radiate from her presence. Then, in the final meditation, she sat behind me, back to back, still instructing the class, as she breathed against me. I was mesmerized by the sensation of her breath against my back, and almost immediately, my breath fell in sync with hers.  I felt nurtured by her touch, and then by her breath. The Hamsa mantra asks: Who am I? Soham provides the answer: I am that. Ohm Hum So Hum. If you say it over and over, it declares I am that I am that I am that I am. It seems so simple.

Yoga nurtures me.  The touch of my teachers nurtures me. I believe this is the essence of what women give each other: touch that nurtures. In Willing Spirits and in The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, I explore the relationships between women and how these relationships define me. The women in my life sustain me as nothing else can or does. The touch of another woman nurtures me, anchors me to the present. In Willing Spirits, my protagonists, Jane and Gwen, take comfort in each other as a way to weather the disappointments of their lives. When their children are young, the two women take their toddlers to the park, watching them play. Yet, Jane and Gwen are often confused about why their lives did not work out as expected:

They had obeyed the prescribed customs. They had obeyed the prescribed customs. They had carried out the rituals, and they were still bereft of the love they had been promised.                                               They talked of witchcraft and sorcerers and speculated about the future.

I always found this an especially poignant passage. It is sort of startling when we realize that our lives do not always fulfill our expectations. At this point in my own life, I understand the value of the Hamsa mantra in a way I never could have appreciated in my thirties or perhaps even in my forties: I am that. Ohm Hum So Hum. If you say it over and over, it declares I am that I am that I am that I am. The characters in Willing Spirits transition throughout the novel, but in this particular flashback, they are in turmoil, a state eased by their friendship and the comfort their presence gives each other:            They had sat quietly, holding hands, watching their children and wondering why they couldn’t find men whom they loved as much as they loved each other.

It’s an important question… and one I believe many women ask themselves. I wish I had the answer. Perhaps Anna Quindlen offers one of the closet explanations in her essay, The Company of Women in which she describes the difference between her conversations with her husband and with her female friends: “He was oxford cloth, I embroidery. We simply weren’t in the same shirt.”

I am that I am that I am. Ohm Hum So Hum. Right now, it’s a good place to be… thanks to my women, the embroidery in my life.

May 11, 2010 Posted by | relationships. women, Uncategorized, women's friendship, yoga | 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

The Literary Life… Answering the Call

Writer’s Digest (May/June 2010) published an interview with Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird). She said, “…I really believe people are called to a literary life like others are called to a theological life or a religious life, but [publishing is] a business that is really hard. Hard on your heart. Hard on your soul. Hard on your everything.”

My first reaction to Anne Lamott’s words was that if she’s having a hard time, what does that mean for the rest of us? Once I got past that, I realized that not only hasn’t she always been “Anne Lamott,” but also that publishing is always hard, even for Anne Lamott. The process, the compromises, the doubts, the fear of never having something new to write about, the reviews (those friggin’ critics–who do they think they are?), the dreaded NUMBERS (if my much loved agent tells me one more time that my “numbers” aren’t as high as they could be… even though I wonder how an unknown author like myself sells any books at all since the publisher expects good sales, but does absolutely NOTHING to make that happen… also, if you spend all your damn writing time writing blogs how is the average person supposed to write AND make a living? I digress.. . there must be a half-dozen possibilities for other blogs in that last rant alone!) Sometimes I think about walking away from all this. I would be free of blogging, free of the anxiety that takes hold when the writing is slow, or not happening at all; free of how hard it really is on  the heart, the soul, the everything, just as Lamott says. I could spend even more time practicing yoga, read more, take longer walks, anything at all, really. I think about it, but I know I could never do it. I’m writing even when I’m not writing. I would have to become someone else instead of the woman who scribbles in a notebook or on a napkin or who has been known to shout to her son if she had no  immediate access to a pencil and paper, “Can you just write down ‘remembers the phone or  ‘saw him through the window’?” Sometimes just a word or a name. My son always obliged without question when this happened, and I always loved him even more for this. I would have to stop turning everything into a sentence and adding “he said” or “she said.” I would have to stop cutting out articles from the newspaper or tearing out pages from a magazine in a doctor’s office. I would have to be an entirely new person, and I don’t want to do that. I hate being a writer, but I love it more. I hate it because publishing is so hard and so arbitrary. It can be so disappointing, so demoralizing. I could go on forever about why it often feels as if it would be easier not to answer the call than to summon it. However, I love being a writer so much more. I love that I can sometimes, as John Updike once described it, I can make the words dance across the page. And when that happens, it’s such a rush. I can still experience the wonder of being able to do that… to put words together in a way that touch someone, reach a place inside, make someone laugh, make someone cry. I can really do that. How cool is that?

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 4 Comments

Another Child of the Holocaust

I am a child of Holocaust survivors. It is a unique legacy that has informed my life in some extraordinary ways, yet I have never really written about how it feels to shoulder the responsibilities, the burdens, and even the surprising joys of all that has shaped my consciousness. I’ve skirted the edges of my history, but I’ve never actually taken it head on and allowed myself to explore the truths of what it means to grow up as a child of survivors. Both my parents are gone now, and in some way I believe this has freed me to consider the possibilities of tackling a piece of fiction in which the Holocaust and its generational implications figure in the lives of the children and grandchildren of a dwindling population.  As my new novel begins to take shape, I certainly find myself drawing on experiences from my own life, experiences that seemed ordinary to me as I went through them. In retrospect, however, I know the opposite is true. Surrounded as I was by other children whose parents had equally remarkable tales of courage and survival, it seemed quite commonplace to me that the Holocaust was not the background music of everyone’s life. Perhaps the turning point in my understanding of how this event had shaped me came about after I read Children of the Holocaust by Helen Epstein. For the first time. I realized the import of my legacy. And for the first time, I opened up conversations with the people closest to me who had similar backgrounds and began to explore exactly what was expected of us.

I know that this a legacy I now pass along to my son. He shoulders the burden with irony, but he shoulders it nonetheless. It is inescapable, and he senses that with profound understanding. We often hear that we should write about the things we know… and I know this subject well. I have taken it into my heart. Now it up to me to do it justice.

April 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments

The Journey

I apologize for my obsession with everything yoga, but it is impossible not to let yoga cross over into my writing life. In class today, my teacher said that “every position is a journey.”  She encouraged us to move slowly into each position, with concentration and mindfulness. Breathe she reminded us over and over.. encouraging us to move from four breaths in and four breaths out, to five, to six, maybe even to eight, as we made sure the breath was part of the posture. Visualizing the breath as it moved up from my pelvis to my chest to my head and down again made it possible to experience the journey more fully. Each time I write it is a similar journey. I have to breathe, absorbing all that there is to see and feel. I have give myself fully to the journey, trusting my instincts. allowing myself to enter the process, to be open. At the end of class, my yoga teacher explained that when you sit with your hands palms upward, you are expressing your readiness to receive. My palms are upward, my breath mindful, and my heart open… I am ready to receive.

April 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Writing to Meet the Market Demand or Not

The other day a good friend told me about her recent experience at a YA conference in Manhattan. She went there to get a better understanding of what the chances are of her agent making a sale. Apparently, unless you can write a novel about  a mother who is a witch and father who is a werewolf and their vampire child, you’re screwed. Serious fiction is out. My poor friend was disillusioned. She even suggested, half in jest (or maybe a bit less), that we collaborate on such a novel. We shared a good laugh, but her information about the conference led us into a discussion about writing to meet the market demand…. or not. I would add or never. I did it once in the height of the Babysitters’ Club series. If you didn’t already know I write a YA novel a million years ago. Strictly Personal. It’s actually a very sweet book. Anyway, I write a really good series about a group of middle school girls who called themselves The Other Girls because they weren’t the popular girls–they were the other girls. Get it? It’ a good thing no one reads my blog. I don’t have to worry about someone stealing my idea and making a million dollars! It was a terrific idea, and the characters were great. It’s in my dead books cemetery now. And I’m writing whatever I want to because it just doesn’t matter, so I might as well  please myself. My friend who went to the YA seminar said that one of the BIG editors said that everyone was waiting for the next  Twilight series, but no one knew yet what it was going to be. That makes sense. It could be any of us.

April 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 3 Comments