it’s the best story pitch, the best, everyone thinks so

Press releases! As an arts writer for the Times Union, I get a million of them a day. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. I get 796,321 of them a day, of which I manage to read only 239,547, principally because 431,446 of them get quarantined and classified as spam. And so, inevitably, stuff gets missed. Whenever a publicist asks sheepishly if I mind being approached a second time with a reminder email or a phone call, I reply OH GOD YES PLEASE ALWAYS I BEG OF YOU THANK YOU BLESS YOU. The squeaky wheel gets the grease!, I always add, laughing. They laugh, too. But this is dead serious business, trying to get a journalist’s attention.

Thus it was with unchecked dread, pitched anxiety and no small sense of cosmic ironic payback that I composed a press release pimping myself out for interviews. The reason: A story I told for “The Moth” is being published in a new collection coming in March. Plenty of other (MUCH, MUCH, MUCH BIGGER) names are also included in the collection, including Tig Nataro, Louis CK and John Turturro, and any self-respecting reporter or editor in his or her right mind would naturally seek out an interview with any of those people before ringing up some random regional-arts-writer-cum-suicide-memoirist (AND WHAT A FUN COMBO THAT IS) based in Smalbany, New York.

But what the heck, right? Maybe I could drum up a few more sales for my book (INSERT SHAMELESS LINK TO ‘FIGURING SHIT OUT’ AMAZON PAGE RIGHTY HERE). I mean, maybe not;  the thing was published more than two years ago, which might as well be 2,000 in the literary cosmos. (“Hi, would you like a copy of my recent book? The Emperor Tiberius loved it!”) But, ya know. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

So here goes. With no further ado, I present my first-ever stab at a press release. (And, yes. I sent it.)

Greetings, journalist! I’m one, too, so I know how this works: The chance of your responding to a cold email hovers somewhere between 2 and 5 percent. The chance of your actually writing a story on the topic being pitched is roughly .08 percent. That said. . .  

 I’m an author and speaker on suicide loss. I’m also one of the 45 folks whose stories for “The Moth Radio Hour” were selected for a new collection coming March 21 from Crown ArchetypeThe Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown. The link:
My story, “The Weight of a Ring,” tells of my navigation through widowhood following the 2011 suicide of my husband, author Christopher D Ringwald. If you’re curious, and you have 11 minutes and 11 seconds to spare, it’s right here:
If you have a little more time on your hands (not too much more — it’s short), I’d be happy to send you a copy of my book, Figuring Shit Out: Love, Laughter, Suicide and Survival, released in 2014 by Behler Publications. It tells of the rough year following Chris’s death, and it’s a fast, raw read, full of MAJOR EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS IN ALL CAPS and plentiful foul language. That link:
And now, to reward you for making it this far, I present several more links: 
*My blog, which also features MAJOR EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS IN ALL CAPS and occasional foul language:
*My TEDx talk, “You’re Still Here: Living After Suicide,” in which I repeatedly exhale loudly:
*An interview with me in Widows & Widowers magazine, in which I discuss the term “shit magnet”:
*My author’s bio:
*Some links to my current work as an arts writer and columnist for the Times Union in Albany, NY:
*Some links from my former life as a Hearst movie critic:
*Finally, the Amazon page for my late husband, who wrote authoritative, erudite, poetic books on faith and addiction:
Aaaaaand that’s about it. If you’re interested in my book, just let me know, and I’ll mail or email you one at warp speed. I am also available for interviews, be they short and sweet or long and prolix. I am capable of either.  
Thank you for reading my email to the end! We both survived! Good luck clearing the thickets of your inbox, and may you have a lovely day. 
Best regards,
Amy Biancolli 



on gratitude, the memoir, ‘the moth’

sample 2B
It’s an odd thing, this gratitude I feel for so many gifts that have come my way since Chris’s suicide. How can I be grateful for a book I wouldn’t have written had he not jumped? How can I be grateful for a story I couldn’t have told? How can I give thanks for the new people who’ve entered my life in the aftermath, the new surges of love I’ve felt, the new places I’ve been with my kids, the new adventures I’ve had since his death?

But I am indeed thankful. And yet this bizarre and blessed I-am-thankfulness doesn’t diminish the horror of what came before or the pain that still throbs because of it. This is the yin-yang of our messy, mashed-up, miraculous human lives — the push of living that sends us forward, the pull of death that makes us grieve.

What a job we have ahead of us when we’re born! “Hey kid,” says Whoever’s in charge at the gate. “Squeeze through this tube, pop out and scream, then shit all over your parents. Then scream some more. After that, laugh. Be sure to howl in agony at life’s exquisite torments. But don’t stop laughing. And keep shitting. Do this until you die. Now, off you go! Have fun! Don’t forget to write!”

If anyone explained all this to me at the outset, I honestly don’t remember. Took me a while to figure that out. It’ll take me a while longer to figure out the rest. Maybe we can help each other do that; I certainly can’t do it alone.

In the meantime, because I know I have to plug myself no matter how badly I suck at self-promotion, here’s the link to my story for “The Moth.”

And here’s the obligatory Amazon link to my memoir of life after my husband’s death, “Figuring Shit Out: Love, Laughter, Suicide, and Survival.” 

Even better, here’s a link to the book on, where you can find a local independent bookstore. And if you click here, you can order it via indiebound from The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Or, if you feel like a drive in the snow, I’ll be appearing at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, NH, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19: click here for that.)

That’s about it from me for now. If my memoir or my story helps a few people struggling with grief to feel a little less alone, then it’s served its purpose. I’m grateful for that, too.

warning: read before reading

fso cover
Now that my wacky book has been sort of kind of maybe apparently published (the official pub date is Oct. 21, but I’ve heard reports of its thudding arrival on doorsteps), I want to share a few guidelines for reading it that you should know going in. Some of these guidelines are the same paranoid and obsessive directives I’ve been repeating ad nausinfinitum to friends and family. Others I’m making up right now, pretending as though I’ve put great, brain-crunching thought into them. But all of them are important.

The first guideline: NO ONE HAS TO READ THIS BOOK. I will not take offense if you don’t. If you’re my pal and you don’t read it, you’ll still be my pal. If you’re my dental hygienist and you don’t read it, you’ll still be my dental hygienist. If you know someone who knows someone who knows me and you don’t read it, you’ll still know someone who knows someone who knows me. And if you don’t know me at all? But you’re thinking you ought to read it the way you ought to have a colonoscopy when you turn 50? Well, you ought to go ahead and have a colonoscopy before you read my book. The point being, THERE IS NO OBLIGATION WHATSOEVER TO READ THIS BOOK, BE IT MORAL, SOCIAL OR ENDOSCOPIC.

Second, if you do know me personally and you do choose to read the book, YOU MUST PROMISE TO KEEP TALKING TO ME AFTERWARD. Because, you know, I embarrass the shit out of myself in a couple of chapters. I’ve actually considered drawing up a legally binding contract on this point –- as in, “I, the undersigned, vow to maintain communication with the author of [Figuring Shit Out] even if some of the sentiments and personal revelations contained in [Figuring Shit Out]prompt me to spit and choke violently on my roasted garlic hummus.”

Third, speaking of sudden gag reflexes in response to aforementioned book, YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LAUGH AT MUCH OF THE WEIRDNESS DESCRIBED THEREIN, and you mustn’t feel guilty about it. In a related corollary, IF YOU DON’T LAUGH AT SAID WEIRDNESS, YOU MUSTN’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT THAT, EITHER. I’m fine with any response to anything anyone reads anywhere in the book; consider yourself now empowered to laugh, weep, roll your eyes, snort in disdain, howl in abject terror or grind your teeth to small, powdery nubs. Seriously. Just so long as YOU PROMISE TO KEEP TALKING TO ME AFTERWARD, we’re good.

Finally, REST ASSURED, AS YOU READ IT, THAT MY KIDS AND I ARE OKAY. In fact, we are more than OKAY. Life is ekshually pretty darned wonderful at the moment. It still has its dips, it still has its turns, it still has those moments when I’m folding laundry in the basement and my tear ducts suddenly discharge saline and my schnozz discharges snot, and soon I’m wearing flowery rubber rainboots and plashing through a flood of my own salty outwash. Three years after my husband’s suicide, it hits me sometimes. But even when it does, I am more than all right. The moment ends. And life is huge. My kids and I are still here, and we’re still loving and laughing, and that’s what counts. I’ll be just fine, SO LONG AS YOU KEEP TALKING TO ME .

wait, what?

i wrote this? seriously?

no way. way! no way. way!

Yesterday, a large cardboard box weighing somewhere around eight tons dropped on my porch. It was addressed to me, and so, after hiring a crane to move it into my living room, I opened it. And there they were: Dozens of books with the word “shit” in the title (OH NO, THE COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION IS AT HAND) and my name under it. This was a surprise. I was like, I wrote a book? And then I was like, I must have written a book, because I know of no one else named Amy Biancolli in this house. And finally I was like, HOLY BANANAS FLAMBE, which, by the way, I have never eaten, I GUESS I WROTE A BOOK.

This happens to me on a regular basis. Not the book-writing; that’s only occurred three times in my life, unless you count that awful roman-a-dreck that I wrote in my mid-twenties and started to use as scrap paper until I confessed this to William Kennedy, whose response was a shocked and horrified OH NO NO NO AMY, DON’T DO THAT, at which point I stopped. I don’t mean I stopped talking to William Kennedy, who is a very nice man in addition to being a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. I mean I stopped using my misbegotten fiction manuscript as scrap and crammed what’s left of it into a drawer somewhere.

No, this is what happens to me on a regular basis: I disconnect from things that I’ve “done” and “accomplished,” perhaps because the whole concept of “doing” and “accomplishing” things is still so foreign to me, even at the age of 51. Especially at the age of 51, at which point any sense of authoring my own life has flown out the proverbial patio doors. You know that epic Talking Heads song, right? “Once in a Lifetime”? The one where David Byrne wobbles his voice ominously: And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile! . . . And you may ask yourself, Well, how did I get here?

That’s me. Minus the large automobile. (Instead, You may find yourself behind the wheel of a Japanese compact with a janky, taped-on fender!) I often regard the events and blessings of my life as Things That Just Sort of Happened to Me, forgetting, for a moment, that maybe I might have had something to do with making them happen. (Examples 1-3: my children.) Sometimes, looking around my home, I think, HOLY CRAP! I OWN A HOUSE!, and this remains true almost 21 years after living in it. I see my byline in the Times Union and think, HOLY CRAP! I WRITE FOR A NEWSPAPER!, which, given the nature of the industry, is even more surprising now than it was 32 years ago.

This sense of disconnect — this suspicion that I’m not quite the author of my own life, just an actor who responds to outside agents and forces, ducking stinky tomatoes, juggling large feral cats– is even stronger and stranger in the face of tragedy, bringing out the darkly nutcase surrealism of extreme loss. As in: HOLY CRAP! I’M WEARING BLACK AT MY HUSBAND’S FUNERAL! THIS MAKES ME A WIDOW! (There is no more freakishly disembodying revelation, take it from me.)

So the eight tons of booky-wookys that touched down at my house seem to have been written by me, and they seem poised for publication in a few short weeksThe memoir wasn’t my idea, not really. I only wrote it because my friend Bob wouldn’t leave me alone until I did; it’s HIS fault, NOT mine, understand? In a way he’s as much the author as I am. So maybe when he sees it, he’ll howl, in a Byrne-like fit of existential New Wave noodling: Am I right? Am I wrong? …. My God! What have I done!

fart it out

shameless plug

this, too, is a shameless plug

I was wondering again, the other day, what made me want to be a writer. I often wonder about this. The fact that I have a memoir coming out in a few weeks (SHAMELESS PLUG WITH LINK RIGHTY HERE) might have something to do with this, or it would if I never ever ever otherwise thought about this shit. But the fact is, I think about this shit constantly. As in: WHY do I write for a living? I ask this question because writing is REALLY HARD. And IT REALLY DOESN’T PAY THAT WELL. And THERE REALLY ARE OTHER CAREERS I MIGHT HAVE PURSUED INSTEAD, although I can’t seem to come up with any at the moment. (Ummm, “Star Trek” convention planner? Thumb contortionist? Professional klutz? — “Oh, hey, did I just trip and accidentally shatter your priceless Ming vase? You’re welcome. That’ll be $79.99 plus tax, please. And yes, I take all major credit cards.”)

As a gainfully employed newspaper lass, I am reminded of this zany decision of mine to become a writer every time I fire up a computer and try to piece together a few words in the wild hope of expressing a cogent thought, which SOMETIMES ACTUALLY HAPPENS, although not as often as I’d like and not always the one I intend. A wise and worldly professor of mine, although can’t recall which one (I said wise and worldly, not memorable), once noted that a writer has to expel a whole lot of junk to produce those rarest and most beautiful nuggets of shining literary greatness. And I think this is true. I know this is true, because, as any humble scribe will tell you, those nuggets are a hard time comin’. You think coal wants to turn into diamonds? It hurts.

So when an irked Times Union reader noted, last week, that I had “farted out” a couple of grafs in a hurry, I had to laugh. A) Because he was absolutely correct. And B) Because he had just given me an awesome new way to describe what I do for a living. Yes! I fart shit out! Exactly! Thank you, Mr. Perspicacious Snark-A-Lot! This is not to be confused with figuring shit out, although I’ve been known to fart out plenty of shit in the often laborious process of figuring. But they do not always go side-by-side: one can fart out a stinking verbal nimbus that contains no redeeming and nutritious figured-out content whatsoever. The toxic vapor could kill you. I’m serious. Back away.

But I do it. Of course I do it! What choice do I have! The urge to fart out copy is deeply ingrained within me, emitting painful gases on the verge of sudden and hair-singeing cataclysmic detonation.  Better out than in, my people, at least for me. Anyhow, my father was a writer (ANOTHER SHAMELESS PLUG WITH LINK RIGHTY HERE), not that this is a simple matter of genetic programming, of nature in cahoots with nurture to produce some dynastic journalistic army of clones. (Cue clacking robotic voice: I. Write. Because. My Daddy. Wrote. ZZZZeerrrrrrrrr.) It’s more a matter of need. I need to make sense of this life. I need to peer at it, shove my nose in it, sense its meaning, find some way to comprehend it and channel into something else.

Ultimately the urge to write — any urge to create — is the urge to keep moving, to push outward and upward with our minds while our hindquarters sit tight for hours or years at a stretch. Lovely paradox, that. But it’s all forward motion, this compulsive farting-out of words on a page, and it’s as much an expression of hope as any plans we make or dreams we secretly nurture.

This is why finishing a book (or a play, or a poem, or a sentence) matters less than starting it. It’s the moment of inception, and that first, optimistic waggle of the fingers, that reboots our faith in the future. You could write that book. You see yourself writing that book. Once you sit and compose the opening sentence, you are writing that book: the present indicative takes hold, and you’re on your way. It doesn’t matter which pains drag your down, which worries sag your spirit, which doubts nag and nibble at your confidence. The act of creation pitches us forward. It’s happening, baby. Fart it out. I farted out mine.

UPDATE: win yer own copy of my book!


fso arcs - cropped

UPDATE: The contest is now closed, and we have our winners. The mushy mystical powers of have selected three. They’ve all been contacted. Unless they change their minds, and tell me to beat myself about the head with my own book, I’ll be shipping their copies out to them posthaste. To all three I say: Congratulations! Or possibly: Condolences! God only knows how badly they’ll be traumatized by reading it.

And to everyone who kicked in a comment I say: Thank you! What marvelously scatological suggestions, one and all. I’m grateful to have so many fellow travelers on the path of F.S.O.


OK, guess what! The Advance Reader Copies of Figuring Shit Out (due for release Oct. 7) have arrived, and I’d like to give away a few in my first faint stab at promoting my own book. I am not good at promoting my own things. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I’m not good at owning things in general. Maybe in some past life I was a Byzantine monk who lived in the desert and ate sand.

Anyways. So. My book. It concerns my husband’s suicide and the life my kids and managed to live in its wake —  the first year or so, in all its tears, snot and moments of blessed levity. The subtitle is Love, Laughter, Suicide, and Survival. The length is short. Very short. About 200 pages. Small pages. You could read the whole thing, maybe twice, on a plane to Oxnard, even though I have never heard of anyone flying to Oxnard (I checked; it has an airport). I only used Oxnard as an example because the word sounds like some kind of weird soup or geographic formation (“the glacial oxnard can be found in the outwash of sandy topography occupied by monks”).

Another thing to recommend my memoir: I make an idiot out of myself. I really really do. In fact, I make such an idiot out of myself that anyone who wants to read this book must sign a legally binding form promising not to look at me funny or stop talking to me entirely afterwards, whether you do your perusing at home, at the beach or on the plane to Oxnard. I want to be sure you understand this. It’s important, because I don’t want anyone to stop talking to me, even people whose conversation I don’t actually enjoy, although it’s possible I might begin to regret that someday. I chose to make an idiot out of myself; it was an act of empowerment. So be with me. Talk to me. Please.

With that in mind, if you want a chance to win an an early, uncorrected ARC of Figuring Shit Out: Love, Laughter, Suicide, and Survival, answer this question in the comments below: What should I title the sequel? Of course, this assumes I’m going write a sequel, and I hope I don’t, because I’m greatly looking forward to a tragedy-free life from this point on. A boring few decades for me, folks! NO MORE MEMOIR FODDER FROM THIS POINT ON! HURRAY! But in the event I do write some deadly dull follow-up, my son suggested We Get Rid of It For A Reason as a title, which I rather like.

What do you think? What would you call it? Comment below by 5 p.m. Wednesday. I will NOT be judging these responses on their literary merit; instead, I’ll assign numbers based on the order of posting and then use to pick three winners.

Answer away!

to plunge is to live

fso coverLately I’ve been proofing and putting the final touches on my book, and it’s madness. I’m cracking up: fixating on punctuation, agonizing over details, doubting every choice.

Then again, writing a book is madness. If you’re not crazy when you set out to write it (Hey! I know what I’ll do with all my free time! I’ll sit on my fat ass and try to squirt cogent thoughts out my ears!), you’re crazy by the end. Because, as I’ve said before and will probably say a shitillion times more, you never really finish a book. You just stop writing it. It’s the hardest thing one could ever possibly do with one’s time, and that includes: running a marathon; running a business; running a political campaign; running a carnival midway; and running a country. Please note I have never done any of these things, so you might well accuse me of talking out my ass (were I not actually sitting on it at the moment).

What’s made all of this harder than usual is the fact that my book revisits a not-so-carefree period in my life: the first year or so following my husband’s suicide in the fall of 2011. In many ways I’m still grieving and always will be (closure is twelve kinds of bullshit, you know that?), but working, re-working and re-re-working the manuscript has forced me to go back there, down there, WAY, WAY down there, far inside the stinking, brackish sinkhole of snot-infested early mourning. Am I mixing metaphors yet? Not quite? OK, well howzabout I throw in a nice lobotomical reference: Whenever I do something with the book, even if that something is as small as adding a comma, I unscrew the access plates on my skull and spoon out my deepest wounds.

But it’s good. Yes! It’s all good. I’m grateful to be doing this. And yes, that’s batty. Just as you have to be crazy to decide to write a book, you have to be more than a little crazy to embark down that career path at the start (“Mommy! Mommy! When I grow up I want to specialize in a recondite, intensely isolating and time-consuming field with almost no hope for financial recompense!”). But once you’re there, once you’re hunched over a keyboard in some attic or basement, you know what? Writing is not a bad way to figure shit out. It equips you well for the process of long-term crap evaluation that takes up an awful lot of life. Sticking around in this perplexing mortal realm means having to sort through everything that happens while we’re here, and that’s true no matter what you do for a living.

As I writer, I just have a habit of putting it down in writing. And it helps. It helped after I lost my parents and sister during a short, awful run in the early ’90s. Writing “House of Holy Fools” allowed me to frame what happened to them, turn their stories into narrative with paradigms and some poetic sense. I saw them as beautiful and brilliant eccentrics; I saw myself as richer for having known them, more alive for having told their tales.

I’m richer for having known Chris. I’m more alive for having told this tale — his, mine, our children’s.

And so, in these last gasps of proofing and editing my small, strange memoir of grief and pushing forward, I grieve and push forward again. Again I comprehend all that I lost when my husband jumped to his death; again I mourn his passing; again I look up, into the light of this moment, this day, this belated but radiant spring, and thank God for the gift of being here. Grief won’t die, but hope won’t, either.

i love the smell of email in the evening

At 6:19 p.m. this evening, I hit “send” on the latest manuscript for my upcoming unhinged memoir, complete with a fresh round of edits/fixes/tweaks/trims/adds. I mention this for two reasons. First, because as Chris always said, “There are so few triumphs in this business, you have to celebrate each small victory along the way.”

And second, because I’m reminded that WRITING IS BLASTED HARD. I wonder sometimes why I do it. It’s not as though it’s gets any easier with practice, like whistling, kissing or algebra; au contraire, in some ways it’s gotten harder, as my standards have risen (and my tolerance for dreck has declined). I would compare the anguish involved to pulling out my own teeth one by one with rusty pliers, except that at some point in the last thirty-plus years I would have run out of teeth.

And writing a book: you have to be nuts to do that. Speaking of comparisons, having a baby is one analogy I’ve heard here and there — but as a woman who has endured both processes on three separate occasions, I can confirm that book-writing takes way longer and hurts way worse. Also, no book is anywhere near as cute as a newborn, although it must be said that a book doesn’t puke on you, either.

All the same, I breathed a big, sighing gulp of relief tonight. I wouldn’t say the manuscript is finished, because that’s up to my editor to say — and no manuscript is ever truly done. You don’t finish writing it. You just stop, satisfied that you’ll never be satisfied. Then you drop in a boneless heap next to your bloody keyboard, spent but triumphant.

i plunge, therefore I am

photo (25)

Proof positive that I found the right publisher for my nutcase little memoir coming out in September: this very gewgaw, a plunger from the island of Lilliput that arrived on my doorstep courtesy of Lynn, my editor at Behler Publications.

You’ll note a resemblance to the rubbery implement employed on the cover (and suggested by my daughter Madeleine):

sample 2B

Clearly, my book is in good hands. I don’t know what I love more, the wee tchotchke or the accompanying letter (“I saw this and thought of you!”), which suggests that I now remind people of shit and all devices related to its disposal. I’m the shit lady! Yes, I am! I wrote a whoooole book about the nature and disposition of poop, most of it figurative, emphasis on “most,” and then I started a blog about same. As a result, next time you see a plumber’s snake, your first thought might be that congested toilet you bravely unclogged with your bulging forearms at Thanksgiving, but your second will be me. Yup. Me.

And strangely, I am okay with this. No shit.

launching exclamation points . . . now!

sample 2B
I have a publisher! Behler Publications, outside Pittsburgh! That really happened! And not only do I have a publisher, I have a cover! That happened, too! I know, I can’t believe it, either!

And not only that, both the publisher and the cover happened within less than a week. Four days, actually. About the time it takes to fly to New Zealand and back, which I’ve never done but would like to, someday, although I’d prefer time to chillax between the the two days there and the two days back.

When I told my dad (meaning Dan, my current father, as opposed to Louis, his late predecessor), he let out a celebratory whoop before reminding me that not so long ago I’d called him up at a low ebb and announced, flat-out, in the grating, nasally monotone of a woman who has gazed so far inside her navel she got her face stuck, that the book would never find a publisher. Ever.

“Remember what you said?” he asked me. “You said you were stupid for even believing it could happen.”

I know, I said. I remember.

“And remember, I said you were being an asshole.”

I remember that, too.

He smiled. He gives me such vast amounts of shit, and the more he gives me, the more I love him.

Even at that nadir, I was glad I’d written the book. Writing it was a gift. Writing it was restorative and transformative, profoundly so. I became someone new as I wrote it: freer of worry, fouler of mouth. Having lost my sister Lucy to suicide in 1992, I knew about grief in the aftermath, but I knew squat about losing a spouse and raising three kids alone. After Chris’s suicide in 2011, I was forced to reconfigure myself, suddenly and dramatically, in ways I could never have imagined. I still can’t imagine them all.

So the book has found a home. It’s due for publication this fall. And for the record: that classic rubbery plumbing device on the cover came straight from the fertile mind of my daughter Madeleine. We were plowing through Indian takeout, and between bites of chana saag, she said, “Mom. They should put a plunger on the cover!”

They should and they did. That really happened, too.