Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Living Outside of My Comfort Zone by Maggie Barbieri

Maggie Barbieri is the author of the Murder 101 series published by Minotaur Books.  The sixth book in the series, PHYSICAL EDUCATION, will be out on  November 23rd.  The first book in her new series featuring Maeve Conlon—THE COMFORT ZONE—will be available some time in 2013.  Maggie lives in the Hudson Valley of New York State with her husband, two children, aforementioned Westie, and intrepid Maine Coon, Diego.


by Maggie Barbieri

Thank you, once again, to the incomparable Kaye Barley for inviting me to post on her wonderful blog.  Every year, posting with Kaye gives me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about what is to come for the new year.  This year has been an exciting one:  I appeared in Good Housekeeping in a story about overcoming Stage IV melanoma, I found out that I will be writing two more books in the Murder 101 series, and I also was offered the opportunity to write a new series about a soccer mom/vigilante (she only kills bad people, folks!), something that makes me giddy with excitement.

It was a chance conversation with my wonderful editor at Minotaur Books that set the wheels in motion.  I wondered aloud if I was capable of doing anything beyond the Alison Bergeron series.  Since I began work on Murder 101, lo those many years ago, life had been a bit complicated, first with one cancer diagnosis that involved chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and the more chemotherapy and then a second diagnosis that was so dire that a prognosis wasn’t even discussed.  I threw myself into writing about a college professor with a propensity for finding dead bodies, desperately trying to write myself back to health by focusing on the one thing that I loved more than my family and my life.  As I’ve often said, I credit writing—along with some amazing medical support—with saving my life.  I didn’t have time to think of much else during that time but I always had time for writing.  There were regularly scheduled treatment visits, two children to raise and a house to keep running, not to mention the very emotionally needy West Highland Terrier who let her wants and desires be known every moment of every day.

About four years after I started treatment, I started feeling better and then I started doing things that I never would have dreamed of doing B.C. (before cancer).  On a whim, I rented an apartment in Paris for a week and packed the family off for the trip of a lifetime.  I bought a ridiculously small car that the kids hate but that makes me smile every time I see it, its shape and color reminding me of Nancy Drew’s “little blue roadster” from the books of my childhood.  I stopped saying “yes” even though the answer was “no.”  I told the emotionally needy West Highland Terrier to quit bellyaching because her life would never get any better than it was living with us.  And somewhere in the process, I started thinking about the future, something I had not allowed myself to do for a long time.

What was it that I loved? I asked myself.  Writing.  I love writing.

And when there was more room in my brain, a brain that had spent far too long thinking about cancer and treatment and side effects, my brain started telling me that there was another woman, a woman who wasn’t Alison Bergeron, who needed to get her story out.  Her name was Maeve Conlon and she had a complicated past, a past that wouldn’t let her go, wouldn’t let her breathe.  A past that was keeping her from living her present.  A past that needed to be acknowledged.

My complicated past is different from Maeve Conlon’s but thinking about how my brain had been filled with something that I finally allowed myself to let go of allowed me to understand this complicated woman. I guess you could say that writing about her has encouraged me to get out of my writing comfort zone, in the same way that cancer did for me in terms of my personal comfort zone.  I wouldn’t recommend facing down a serious illness as a way to explore who you are and what you want to do, but I am all for getting out of your own way, so to speak, and letting your mind take you places that you normally wouldn’t allow it.

You’ll be amazed at what you find out about yourself.


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Maggie, Hi and Welcome!

I love this piece. You, my friend, are a major inspiration to me and so many others. and I thank you for just being you.


Una Tiers said...

Hi Maggie, I agree that writing teaches us about ourself and it can surprise us too.
Una Tiers

Patty said...

Maggie, thanks for sharing your story. I love your books and can't wait to read the new series. I've not faced cancer personally but if I ever do, I hope I can handle it with as much grace and courage as you have shown here.

jenny milchman said... about taking lemons and...

I absolutely love the idea of a vigilante soccer mom, and I am raising a glass to your renewed health, your new series, your family--and your outspoken dog :)

lil Gluckstern said...

Thank you for this moving post. I'm so glad you are writing the books I love, and look forward to the vigilante mom. No one messes with my chickens :) I wish you good health, and the chance to enjoy your family, and dog, and to give us pleasure.

Author Peg Herring said...

Bravo, Maggie!
I think most writers will attest to writing's encompassing effect, which just might relieve the stresses of "real" life. As we write, we become the story, and that awful other story, however real, is in the background for a while. I think it lets the body take over and do what it does: heal itself.

Wendy said...

Maggie, my customers love your books and will be VERY happy to learn there's a new series. Sounds like it's been quite the journey. Also, you may have finally scotched my decade-long obsession with getting a Westie! LOL!

Wendy Bartlett

Maggie Barbieri said...

I sit here at my desk, in my lonely attic, with tears in my eyes. Thank you to Kaye for allowing me to write this post and thank you for your gracious responses. Life is good. And I continued to be humbled by these everyday graces and the kindness I'm shown from people I am likely to never meet. I can't wait for this next chapter in my life, the one in which writing plays a more prominent role. (And Wendy, get the Westie...she really is a love, a trait that outweighs the neediness.) Maggiexo

laura said...


You are a very special person with the kind of grace that touches people. I admire that about you.

I'm glad you found your way to writing and to celebrating YOU.

*raises glass* To Maggie!

jean scanlon said...

Hi Maggie - glad I stopped by...otherwise I may not have known you're introducing us to Maeve! Congratulations on that. I love the "getting out of your own way" sentiment...words to live by! Can't wait for next week to see what Allison is up to! Be well!

Anonymous said...

Maggie - Can't wait to read about Maeve! Kathleen Williamson

Maggie Barbieri said...

Laura, Jean, and Kathleen, thanks, friends! Three people from three different times in my life; how great to have you all together in one place. Maggiexo

Meredith Cole said...

So lovely to hear you're working on a new series! Very exciting. And it's so inspiring to hear how you're tackling life head on.


Teresa Minnaugh said...

Maggie, Dear, You have always been one of my favorite people in the world (and I KNOW you think the same of me, right?!) and I am a HUGE fan of Murder 101. I cannot wait to meet Maeve and see what life throws at her. I am inspired by YOU to live outside of MY comfort zone...perhaps soon you will have another friend who is also a "writer"...we shall see :)

Eve Barbeau said...

Super post. I decided last week that it was time to abdicate the throne. I no longer want to be the Queen of Responsibility. It's way harder than I thought it would be -- this leaving the throne. Now I'm working toward being the knave who stole the tarts, or something equally light-hearted.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Love you,Maggie! oxxoo

Maggie Barbieri said...

Teresa, how could I not love you? We were separated at birth!

Go, Eve! Yes, once you abdicate the throne, life is delicious. I posted over at Stiletto Gang about how A.C. (after cancer), I now don't attempt to make gravy on Thanksgiving. Too stress inducing, what with the mother and mother-in-law standing watch as I try (unsuccessfully) to make a roux. Forget it, I say. (Or, because I'm a native NYer, fuhgeddaboudit.)

Hank, love you, too, sister. Maggiexo

Lucy Burdette said...

Wow, Maggie, you're an inspiration to all of us! Congratulations on the new series and here's to many many years of writing and good health!

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