Heck on Heels (Wagner)

Heck on Heels:  Still Balancing on Shoes, Love & Chocolate!
Mary T. Wagner, 2009
206 pp.
ISBN-13: 978148202208


I thought briefly about packing the shotgun, but the car was nearly full and I was exhausted with 120 miles yet to drive. I also left the chain saw behind. Not that I'm sure I couldn't find a use for it.… Squadrons of geese flew overhead, and a hawk soared over the interstate, utterly unconcerned with the myriad human dramas unfolding below him at seventy miles an hour on six lanes of traffic. I was headed back to Chicago, my home town, for the worst of all possible reasons.

Following in the spike-heeled footsteps of Wagner’s critically acclaimed debut essay collection, Running with Stilettos, this amusing, touching and heartfelt collection of inspiring and empowering essays unfolds in a voice described as “bed time tales for grownups" and "the Midwest’s answer to Carrie Bradshaw. It also includes several dozen of Wagner's nature photos, combining to create a "portable serenity zone" within its pages.

Wagner (once a journalist and now a prosecuting attorney) writes for the modern woman who deftly juggles career, family, love and chocolate all at once...and still sees the whole stack come crashing down from time to time. Weaving tales of humor and heartbreak, triumph and tragedy, Wagner brings her readers along as she savors the post-divorce view from the back seat of a Harley, reflects on the maternal importance of “theme” cupcakes, gets back on a horse after a terrible, life-changing riding accident, and keeps a vigil by her father’s deathbed. She also shares her inspiring journey from stay-at-home soccer mom to arguing cases before the state supreme court…after an accident that put her in a body cast for three months.

For every busy woman who's asked herself "is there one more goal I can shoot for?"...and then answered "YES!!" (From the author.)

Author Bio
Birth—won't say; will admit to "north of fifty"
Where—Chicago, Illinois, USA
Education—B.A., J.D., Marquette University
Currently—lives in southeastern Wisconsin

Mary T. Wagner is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who changed careers at forty by going to law school and becoming a criminal prosecutor. Her legal experience has ranged from handling speeding tickets to arguing and winning several cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

A mother of four and a recent grandmother, she lives in rural Wisconsin, where she draws much inspiration for writing from daily walks in the countryside with her dog, Lucky, and the cat who thinks he's a dog...The Meatball. While she was still a full-time "soccer mom," Wagner balanced diapers, dinners and driving duty with freelance writing about public broadcasting programming. Her PBS interviews ran the gamut from Fred Rogers and Captain Kangaroo to legendary conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr.
Wagner's slice-of-life essays have appeared on her signature website, "Running with Stilettos," as well as at Flashionista, More.com, Shortbread Stories, RedRoom, Open Salon, The Front Porch Review, Growing Bolder, and The Write City.

Her third essay collection, Fabulous in Flats, was named "Published Book of the Year" in 2011 by the Florida Writers Association.

Life experience includes motherhood, and stints as a girl scout troop leader, truck stop waitress, office temp, judicial clerk, and radio talk show host. She counts both wearing spike heels and learning to use a cordless drill and chainsaw among her "late blooming" discoveries, and would be hard pressed to surrender either her favorite stilettos or her power tools." (From the author.)

Visit Mary on Facebook.

Book Reviews
Brilliantly entertaining and enjoyable. Heck on Heels is the second book from award winning author, Mary T Wagner. The journalist turned lawyer turned to blogging after an accident and Running with Stilettos was born. Before long a collection of the essays from the blog were gathered and a very successful book by the same name emerged.

Heck on Heels is the second installment of essays from Mary and she has recently repackaged them into an e-book to create what she calls "some lovely `take me away' moments."  And they are lovely. Not to mention often funny, sometimes sad, and very inspirational. Whether she is talking about munching M&Ms while trying to stop her promotional poster being blown away at her first book fair or removing a dead mouse from the hood fan over the stove, Wagner is entertaining and down to earth at the same time.

Non fiction can be tricky to write; it often ends up either cringingly self lampooning or so deadly serious it is depressing (which is not to say that it always does, simply that there is that risk). Wagner has deftly sidestepped both pot holes and produced a wonderfully entertaining series of snapshots of her life that will leave you wanting to read more.
Angelique Jurd - The Kindle Book Review (5 stars)

It's hard to live life at full speeds when you have to delicately balance your feet. Heck on Heels: Still Balancing on Shoes, Love, and Chocolate! is a humorous memoir from Mary T. Wagner as she presents her own pursuits in life and faces everything thrown her way. Charming wisdom any woman would peruse, Heck on Heels is a very highly recommended and fun read.
Midwest Book Review (5 stars)

Fascinating Read! Once I started reading this book, I almost could not stop. Which is kind of important when you must do most of your reading on your break time at work. I found myself so fascinated and involved in what I was reading, well, the time just flew and I had to go back to work. Could hardly wait to get back to where I had left off. Absolutely would recommend this book. Especially to anyone who has had to balance a job with taking care of elderly relatives. Mary had me alternately laughing and crying and sometimes both at the same time.
V Jo - Amazon Customer Review (5 stars)

Discussion Questions
1. Mary has often been described as “living in the moment,” letting serendipity guide her choices and experiences.  Do you enjoy that as well in your own life…or does that “make it up as you go” quality drive you bonkers? Why or why not? Would you trust Mary to pack your suitcase before a trip abroad?

2. In “Makeshift Christmas,” Mary contrasts the holiday—overshadowed by distant but pressing family emergencies and short on shopping and decorating—with the year before, when she had modeled herself on Martha Stewart, apparently compensating for her recent divorce. What family holiday traditions would you throw overboard if you were thrown into a crisis mode? Which would you try to keep and why? Are there any you would absolutely insist on?

3. In this collection of essays, Mary includes several dozen of her nature photos. Do these add to your connection with her or not? Which photo is your favorite, and why? And which essay is your favorite, and why?

4. Discuss the book’s structure and Mary’s use of language and writing style. Does it draw you in and keep you engaged? Is she someone you would feel comfortable sharing a cup of coffee with?

5. The book’s subtitle is “Still Balancing on Shoes, Love and Chocolate!”  What are the “must-haves” in your life that keep you going through the rough stretches? What does each of them bring to you that makes you strong? Is there value just in the thing itself, or is there some history that you draw from as well?

6. Discuss Mary’s relationship with her children. How has motherhood defined her? Can you identify with her perspective in “Love in the Time of Cupcakes”? Is there one thing in your own experience that is a time-honored symbol of love?

7. In the essay “The Volcano Diaries,” Mary confesses to abandoning her quest to reach the summit of a mountain because of her fear of heights…but eventually realizes that she has still gone farther than she thought she could. Is there a time you have “fallen short” in your own life’s journey that still feels like a success of sorts? Is it true that people learn more from failure than success?

8. Do you think that Mary’s introduction to gardening has made her grow as a person? Why? What does her flower garden symbolize for her? Do you have a similar experience to share of taking a wasteland and bringing it to life? How did it make you feel? Were there any surprises along the way?

9. Stepping off the beaten path back into the forest is clearly one of Mary’s “recharging” zones. What have you done, or what would you like to do, to step out of your “pressure cooker” life? Is nature a replenishing place for you, or do you prefer the surroundings of a mall…or a spa? Why?

10. In “Disconnected,” Mary severs nearly all ties with the “wired” world for a few days on a road trip to Michigan, and feels absolutely transported. Do you ever disconnect entirely from your cell phone and email access? Is it easy to do or does it leave you anxious? Discuss how our reliance on technology at our fingertips makes life and parenting different from when you were growing up.

11. Mary is also a criminal prosecutor, and describes her emotional reaction at a sentencing hearing for a young man convicted of rape, fearing that she will never be “tough enough” to do all that her job requires. What combination of factors in her life do you think converged at that moment to bring her to tears? Do you think that was a sign of weakness, or do you think that emotions and experience have a valid place in that position? Would you view her emotional response and perspective that day differently if Mary was male?

12. In “Pelican Lessons,” Mary writes of ignoring her first instincts while standing in the marsh, watching a trio of enormous white birds descend, and the eventual discovery that “logic” had proved wrong and her gut feelings about what she saw were right the first time. Can you think back to something similar in your own life? Is there a single experience that has tipped the balance for you in terms of trusting your instincts in the future? Or do you rely more on logic and caution in making decisions?

13. Riding on the back of a Harley during her “post-divorce” dating spree was clearly a “first” for Mary in her life and relationship history. What do you think that going out with the guy with the bike symbolized for her? Was the act of getting on the back seat just colored by a fear of falling off, or were there deeper fears at work? Do you agree with her “take me away” characterization is a good one? Do you think there’s a wee bit of lingering “rescue fantasy” in her mindset, despite all the competence she’s gained with her power tools?

14. In “Rabbit Season,” Mary describes buying a pet rabbit after going to the county fair, but finds that this was a pet that just did not fit well with the family. Have you ever found yourself in the situation of having to give an animal away after buying or adopting it? Was it an easy or hard decision? Was there an element of guilt that you had to wrestle with? What was your final tipping point in taking that step?”

15. Mary clearly tries to “go the extra mile” for her children, to provide them with at least some of the stability growing up that she lacked. Is this just a one-way street, or does she draw as much or more from her children than she gives? Discuss the complicated ways that parenthood changes the parent as much as the child.
(Questions provided courtesy of the author.)

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