Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Addicted to Revenge

It’s Wednesday and this fall that means one thing: the latest installment of my guilty, TV-watching pleasure—ABC’s new soap-opera-y, over-the-top drama Revenge comes on.

I love this show and I’m only a little embarrassed to say so. Yes, I’ll admit there is a part of me that likes looking at attractive people cavorting around the beaches and mansions and yachts of the Hamptons. And I enjoy the ridiculous plot twists and over-acting and shocking hook-ups. My teen daughter and I pop a bowl of popcorn and curl up on the couch together, excitedly gasping during commercials and trying to pull the other members of the family in. (Typically, husband is at the computer, but he occasionally looks up when there’s a climactic shift in the music to ask what the heck is going on. Or son ambles in with his nightly bowl of cereal to make a derogatory remark about inane TV shows. My daughter and I roll our eyes. This show is GOOD, we insist.)

In case you haven’t tuned in, I will say here that it is not too late to jump on board. You can watch the earlier episodes online and catch right up with us. And now I will attempt to analyze the appeal. Because I am a writer who prides myself on having some taste in entertainment offerings. And because watching this show is a kind of assignment for me. You see, all of the necessary aspects of a story are present in Revenge, and watching it religiously can therefore improve my own story-telling abilities. (If I keep telling myself this, I might eventually believe it.)

It starts, I think, with a proper hook. The minute we meet the main character Emily Thorne (spoiler alert—this is not her real name) we are introduced to her quest. Emily’s father was framed in a spectacular way by his wealthy and powerful friends for a terrible crime he did not commit. And now Emily is out to seek revenge on every last one of them. She’s got a photo of the smiling, smug group and each episode she takes one down in a satisfying way and marks an X across his face.

So that’s fun.

The first episode began at the end, in a kind of flash-forward. A man is (possibly) shot on the beach during a Labor Day/engagement party. It’s Emily’s fiancé and we watch her react to the news and then we rewind back to the beginning of the summer when Emily is just moving into the Hamptons and setting her diabolical revenge plan into motion. I love this framework for a story because it gives the sense that the writers know where the plot is going. I’ve gotten sucked into complicated programs before (ahem, Lost) and the build up of sub plots and introductions of characters, etc., works up to a certain point in grabbing the audience’s attention. But eventually there has to be a pay off equal to or greater than the building up section. It’s nice if the writers have some idea how they’re going to tie everything together. Otherwise you have the sneaking suspicion they’re making it up as they go. Not a great tactic, by the way, for any kind of story creation.

No story, no matter how cleverly plotted, can last long without interesting characters. True, the ones in Revenge are exaggerations (I hope) of reality, but these people are much more complex than you realize at first. Take “Emily.” We are rooting for her to destroy her father’s enemies, but there are many times when she seems to go too far. And we don’t know her true feelings about anyone, including the clueless boyfriend/fiancé Daniel. The main antagonist in this drama is Daniel’s mother, Victoria Grayson. You really really want to hate this woman, but somehow in every episode there’s a little glimmer of humanity glinting behind her smirky smile. It’s like that with all the characters. One week we applaud Emily’s destruction of former supermodel, Lydia. But a few weeks later that poor woman is thrown out of a window and somehow survives. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her when Victoria keeps her bedridden and drugged in a back bedroom.

The writers could’ve rested on their laurels with the cool premise and complicated characters, but each week they up the ante, introducing more potential enemies for Emily and flashing intriguing pieces of the past at us. Victoria was having an affair with Emily’s father. Da da dum! And Emily’s reform school roommate, the one she switched identities with, is back, after murdering the Grayson’s evil security guard. Da da dum! And Daniel’s best buddy from Harvard is really a sociopathic lying hustler. Da da dum!!!

Each show is more brilliant and funny and ridiculous than the last. And I for one will be eagerly watching it all unfold tonight. (Pen in hand. To further conduct my story-building research. Not.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not Just Sitting Around Eating Bon-Bons

One of the best things I ever got out of attending a writing workshop was a new friend. It was July 2008 at the amazingly inspirational and life-changing Children’s Writing Conference at Chautauqua and I was pretty much at a crossroads in my writing life. Did I want to keep writing for children? was one of the many questions I had going into it. That conference is on the expensive side and it was hard to justify spending money like that on myself, specifically on a hobby that didn’t seem to be going anywhere in the career sense.

I clicked with a lot of people that week, some just dipping a toe into the writing pool and others already treading water on the deep end. I was searching for a person somewhere in the middle, maybe one who was ready to pull off the floaties and dunk her head under. I found her waiting in line at a porta-potty. Donna was an aspiring picture book writer, and she had a couple of novels under her belt too and they sounded interesting to me. We had a few things in common. Kids sort of the same age. (But she has four!) We’d both been English teachers, and we were spending our child-raising years as uber-PTA volunteers. We nervously exchanged manuscripts that day.

I say nervously because there is always this element of fear when you first look at someone’s writing (and know she is evaluating yours too). The biggest worry is that you won’t like it and how will you tell her without hurting her feelings? Ideally, you’d both be at a similar level and looking for the same kind feedback. Up to this point I'd never found someone like that, so I wasn’t holding my breath.

But, whew. What Donna wrote was pretty darned good and apparently she thought my stuff was worthwhile too. After the conference we started emailing each other and this correspondence quickly turned into a twice daily check-in. Every morning we email each other our goals for the day and every afternoon we write what we call our "accountability." At the end of the year I scrolled through all those emails and found that they were a record of Donna's and my writing journey and our friendship. There are our goals, of course, but also snippets of daily life, books we’ve read and errands we’ve run. Stuff we make for dinner. Funny and/or annoying things are kids and hubbies do.

Once Donna wrote that a friend of hers wondered what she did all day at home. The implication was that Donna must be sitting around eating bon-bons. She certainly wasn’t out working. Or cleaning her house. That accusation became a joke to us. Yes, we were sitting around eating bon-bons all day. That’s what writers do. For a Christmas present that year I compiled all of our emails and had them printed and bound on one of those self-published book sites. I titled the book Sitting Around Eating Bon-Bons and even used a picture of bon-bons for the cover art.

Now it’s an annual tradition, that correspondence book. I’m editing Book Three this week and it’s inspiring to see how far Donna and I have come since we met. I can’t count how many times we’ve talked each other out of quitting. And when one of us has any kind of success, the other feels it just as much, if not more so. Writing can be such a lonely activity. Also frustrating and exciting and heartbreaking and amazing. It’s a million times better when you have another person to share the journey with. All I can say is thank goodness Donna and I had the same inclination to head for the porta-potty when we did.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part (or not)

I wasn’t going to write about this, the potential book deal, PBD for short, that’s been pulsing in the back of my mind for weeks now, flaring up here and there during quiet moments or simmering on the back burner when I’ve been distracted by out-of-town visitors. But there are no distractions now. The visitors have departed. The carcass of leftover turkey has been picked clean. Yesterday I threw out the remaining plop of congealed stuffing because no one in my family could bear to look at it anymore. Today hubby is at work, and children are at school, and I am back in my office/guest room and there is nothing much to do but THINK about the PBD while at the same time trying NOT to THINK about it.

I wasn’t going to write about this because I have the niggling, superstitious feeling that writing about a possible dream-come-true may jinx, curse, doom (insert you negative verb here) the whole thing and I will be left looking like a fool/hopeless dreamer/naïve beginner. It seems silly to talk about something that hasn’t happened and possibly won’t happen. Don’t count your chickens, etc. So I was going to wait and not discuss it and then if/when IT happened, I could just burst out with the good news and cry happy tears on my keyboard and say thankyouverymuch to my supporters, yadda yadda ya.

But I started this blog because I wanted to create a picture of what life is like for an unpublished, persevering writer. I envisioned a person like the Me of fifteen years ago reading it, a person just starting on the journey and not knowing what she is getting into. And I think that person should know what it feels like at this point, when there is a PBD glimmering just ahead.

It feels like you're a nervous, pessimistic wreck.

I’ve heard stories from people, writers who came soooo close and then watched their chances slip away. I can imagine what this feels like. I was putzing around the grocery store the other day and I had a vivid flash of myself getting the call, but it wasn’t the one where your agent tells you there’s an offer on your book, it was the call where she says they changed their minds. Actually, this would probably happen in an email now that I think about it. Which is why I dread opening mine lately. In the supermarket I let the whole vision unfold. My few minutes of frustrated tears. My day or two shuffling around the house wearily wondering if I should just quit for good. The well-meaning reactions of family and friends. (They’re comforting yet also sort of like, yeah, that sucks, but did you really think this was going to happen to you?) And then I saw myself plunked out in my office opening up a new file and starting another book. Because that’s what I do in the face of rejection. I write. This whole vision flashed at me in the grocery store aisles and I went through the entire gamut of emotions and came to the check-out feeling completely fine. It hit me that I know exactly how I’d react because rejection and failure have happened to me before. Been there. Done that. I keep writing anyway.

But success. Now that is something I have no real experience with.

Seemingly pointless digression: Last year my son got cut from the lacrosse team at his school. It was a very discouraging experience for him, to put it mildly. He’d worked hard, attended grueling practices, done all of the things the coach suggested to get better. The way they tell the kids if they made the team or not is they have all of them come to the gym and then the coaches call each kid in one by one to have a little talk. It seems excruciating to me, that wait out there in the gym, the guys all looking at each other and wondering who’s in and who’s not. But my son told me the moment the coach called his name wasn’t too bad. It was the moment when he still had a chance to be on the team, so there was this feeling of expectation and possibility and hope and he could see himself in the uniform and running out onto the field in front of the cheering fans.

He got cut. But that moment right before he found out was the closest he was going to be to being on the team so he let his dream in and he basked in it.

I have no idea what’s going to happen with the book deal, but at this moment I think I’ll bask in its potential glory. And I promise from now on I’ll share every gory and/or delicious detail with you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

When a "Problem Book" Transcends Its Problem

I hate to admit this but I kept putting off reading my advance review copy Emily M. Danforth’s debut novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I’d read the back cover, so I knew what it was about, something to do with a girl coming to terms with being a lesbian. Several months ago there was a big discussion in the YA publishing industry about this very topic. I won’t go into all the details here, but the gist came down to this question: how much of a market is there for books featuring gay characters? The issue exploded when an agent (there is dispute about whether this actually happened or not) suggested to a writer that a manuscript would be more palatable to readers if she changed a gay character into a straight one.

From a business/marketing perspective, I suppose that’s a safer choice. On the other hand, controversy can be good for sales too. There are some books that are called problem novels. I imagine them being cooked up in a marketing department. Someone throws out a hot controversial topic. In the past it might have been abortion or anorexia or incest. More recently it might be meth abuse or cutting. The books that are created this way are rarely good. The issue is the whole point and often it’s handled in a lurid, sensationalistic way. Sometimes these books sell very well but they quickly disappear from the shelves.

So this is what I was afraid of with Cameron Post. That it would be one of those books with a tag line like, “an important book on an important topic, blah blah.” Then I was hesitant when I read the first page and realized that it had that nostalgic-adult-looking-back-on-defining-teen-moments tone to it. You know what I mean—a book that’s not a YA book at all but more of a memoir. But I got past that because the voice of Cameron was so real and honest and funny.

When we meet her, she and her best friend Irene are hanging out like they always do in the summer in Miles City, Montana. Swimming at the lake, watching reruns of Murder She Wrote with Cam’s grandmother, daring each other to do crazy stunts like swipe a pack of gum from the minute market. Later they share a kiss in Irene’s barn, and it surprises them both. But what really turns Cam’s world upside down is the death of her parents. When her ultra conservative Aunt Ruth moves in to take care of her, you can guess that life is going to get pretty stifling for Cam.

Here’s another confession: I thought the book was going to disturb me. And it did. But not because of the occasional girl kissing a girl. What was disturbing was worrying about Cam. Her crushing guilt that her actions were somehow responsible for her parents’ death. Her heart being broken. Her struggles to conform. Her earnest attempts to change herself.

This book isn’t about homosexuality.

It’s about growing up. About fitting in (or not fitting in). About the painful and horrifying realization that sometimes the people in charge truly don’t know what’s best for you. I hope that kids who struggle with this “issue” will find this book. And I hope that others will read it for the reason that they would read any book.
Because it’s really really good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Joy of Cooking Gets All Snarky about My Turkey

Maybe it’s strange but I love reading cookbooks. Flip through one and you get so much more than a collection of recipes. Old cookbooks are glimpses into the past. I’ve got a 1960’s book that tells me how to talk to my neighborhood butcher. It also contains cool, quirky photos of dishes that would look at home on the set of Mad Men. My favorite is a “crown roast” constructed out of hot dogs.
Many cookbooks have a voice. I’m thinking of course of Julia’s Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I can’t make her potato and leek soup without hearing her distinctive accent in my ear. Julia seems so imposing and authoritative. When I do her beef bourguignon I close the book when I come to the part where I’m going to skip steps. I just don’t want her to know that I can’t be bothered sautéing mushroom slices in small batches or that I’m too lazy to towel off my beef chunks.
The voice in my Victory Garden Cookbook, which I’m assuming belongs to the author, Marian Morash, is more forgiving.

Marian, going by her picture on the cover, is so happy and perky surrounded by massive heads of lettuce in her farmhouse kitchen. She’s always referring to her husband Russ, who I imagine is out in the garden doing the sweaty stuff while Marian follows behind with her big basket collecting the bounty. Marian makes beets sound so good I decided to grow them even though no one in my family including me likes beets at all. FYI: They do have pretty purplish leaves you can use in salad.
One of the funniest cookbooks (yes, funniest) is Being Dead is No Excuse by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays.

Sandwiched around super-rich, cholesterol clogging casserole recipes are tidbits about small town Southern life. And death. My favorite story is about a Southern girl who left home and returns after many years for a funeral. She rolls her eyes at the table laden with cream of chicken soup soaked concoctions and says something snarky like, “who on earth brought that canned pea casserole?” To which her mother replies, “I did.” The girl, without missing a beat, grabs the ladle, plops a big helping on her plate and says, “And Mama, don’t you ever stop.”
Snark is not something you often find in a cookbook. So when you do come across it, it’s always fun. Take Joy of Cooking by Irma. S. Rombauer. Many Thanksgivings ago I was using the book as a reference and I came across this little passage:
Today “roasting” (turkey) in aluminum foil has become popular because no basting is needed. So, if you decide, despite our Cassandra warnings about this method, that you’d rather clean the attic, improve your serve, or write Chapter IX of the Great American Novel than to baby-sit a bird, go ahead with the foil and take the consequences—which will be steamed rather than roasted.

You can almost hear Irma muttering the word, Idiot, under her breath.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Bird, the Brain, and the Meaning of Life

I read two good books over the weekend that are still spinning around in my mind. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley and an advanced review copy of Fracture by Megan Miranda (pub date is Jan., 2012).

Seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter in Where Things Come Back could be the millennial generation’s Holden Caulfield. He tries to be upbeat about his life in rural Arkansas, but it’s tough. At the beginning of the summer his cousin dies of a drug overdose. His younger brother Gabriel, a sensitive, brilliant oddball, is grief-stricken. But life goes on, Cullen wryly observes. He’d like to be a writer someday, but all he’s been able to muster so far are potential book titles. When a weird guy from out-of-state shows up proclaiming that he’s seen an extinct woodpecker in town, Cullen has tons of comic material to work with. The “Lazarus” bird, as it’s called, gives the dying town hope. Also new marketing possibilities. Cullen’s mom, for example, the local hairdresser, creates a Lazarus bird hairstyle that becomes all the rage for the middle school boys set.
Then Cullen’s brother Gabriel disappears and nothing in Cullen’s life makes sense anymore.

Spliced around this story of a mysterious bird and a missing boy, is another one, the tale of a floundering teenage missionary attempting to please his impossible-to-please father, and his friend, a boy obsessed with the Book of Enoch. If you don’t know this book, it details the fall of angels in the bible and the angel Gabriel’s battle against them.

These two seemingly unconnected narratives collide in a surprising way and allow the author to explore the timeless question: how do we find meaning in life?

The novel Fracture tackles the question too. Be warned: this book is a page-turner, so clear out your schedule for a few hours before starting. In the first few pages Delaney Maxwell falls through the ice of a pond near her house and “dies.” When she wakes up from a coma, to the surprise of everyone, she seems completely fine. No long-lasting physical injuries except for a few broken ribs due to CPR. No apparent brain damage.

Except Delaney knows there’s something wrong with her. In the hospital she is sure that she sees a shadowy figure lurking around her room. And there’s a strange tugging sensation in her head whenever she’s around someone who’s about to die. She’s got other problems too. Her parents are plying her with medication fearing she’s psychotic. The boy next door, the one who pulled her out of the icy pond, is alternately concerned and distant. And there’s another boy who shows up out of the blue, someone who’s also been in a coma and shares Delaney’s “talent” for sensing impending death.
But is he helping Delaney or is he out to hurt her?

What was interesting to me about this novel was that the author took it beyond the level of straightforward thriller, asking readers: if you knew a person was about to die, what would you do? And how do you live your life when it is surrounded by death?

Two great books by two new voices in YA literature. Be sure to check them out.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Musings on Cleanliness, Procrastination, and Italian Grandmothers

Today I need to clean my house. Relatives are coming in from out of town and eighteen people will be sitting down to dinner next week on Thanksgiving. So there is a lot to do and I must get right on it.

Or, I could delay all that and write about cleaning my house. I read this article once that Italian women are the best cleaners in the world. I think it was sponsored by the company that makes Swiffers or whatever they’re called. You know those mops with a cleaning cloth latched on for quick-dusting floors?

Apparently, Italian women weren’t buying that product at the same rate that other women were. The Swiffer people discovered that Italian women really get into cleaning, spending way more hours a week than anyone else. They have a different, cleaner, definition of clean. So the company began to market the Swiffer as a mop that would polish your already clean floors and their sales went up in Italy.

I don’t know if it’s true that Italian women are so much cleaner. I’m half-Italian, but that doesn’t seem to mean much, which you would see if you visited my house. My grandmother was extremely clean. The saying went that you could “eat off her floors.” And this was before Swiffer was around. 

I think my grandmother would’ve loved Swiffer (but only for post-cleaning, buffing purposes, of course). Once, I went to visit her and talk came around to her favorite hobby. She went through her weekly cleaning schedule with me. One day a week, for example, she emptied her kitchen cabinets and dusted them. Another day she washed out her washing machine. That was interesting to me.

I confess that I have never cleaned my washing machine. I guess I trust that it happens whenever I wash a load of clothes.

But I was feeling the pressure of my ethnicity several years ago when my Italian aunt came to visit. I went on a cleaning rampage through my house dusting corners that had never been dusted and scouring nooks that had never been scoured. It was then that I noticed that the mini blinds in all of the windows were filthy. (Possibly because I had never cleaned them.) This wasn’t the kind of dust you could simply Swiffer off.

I got online for mini-blind cleaning tips and the very first website I came to recommended throwing out your dirty mini blinds and buying new ones. Well, the half-Italian in me had a hearty laugh about that.

The next site was more helpful. Soak them outside in a baby pool was the advice. It happened to be like 100 degrees when I did this. I had sixteen mini blinds soaking and then drying out on my driveway. It took me all afternoon. It was a major sweaty production, to put it mildly, but I was committed. When they were all dry, I went to hang them and found that several of the mini blinds had broken during the process.

Long story short, my husband bought replacements that didn’t match the color exactly of the others, and in the end we bought ALL new ones.

They were only a few bucks apiece.

I don’t know what the moral of this story is. But I suspect my writing-a-blog-to-delay-cleaning tactic is drawing to a close. So with that I will sign off and begin the search for my dust cloth.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Books with a Twist

I’m a sucker for books that trick me. I remember the first time it happened. I was ten and my friendly neighborhood librarian handed me a copy of a book called The Truth about Mary Rose by Marilyn Sachs. It was published in 1973; it’s not in print anymore, which is a darn shame because I think the story holds up for today’s kids.

The narrator Mary Rose worships her namesake, an aunt who died in a fire when she was twelve years old after saving all the people in her apartment building. The first Mary Rose was clearly a heroine, and our narrator is enamored with the details surrounding the aunt’s death, so enamored that she and her cousin like to act out the night of the fire, with our narrator in the starring role. The aunt seemed like such a cool, creative person. The only thing that survived the fire was a shoebox filled with her collection of handmade stuff, paper rings that narrator Mary Rose adores trying on. Supposedly there were tons of those shoeboxes, but on the night of the fire, the aunt thrust that one box into the arms of her baby brother, pushed him out the door to safety, then returned into the building to knock on every door and wake the inhabitants. There’s a newspaper picture of her, arms waving from the window of the burning building right before it collapsed.

I was totally caught up in the story, adoring the original Mary Rose myself. So it came as a complete shock to me when the narrator discovers that her namesake may not have been such a noble heroine after all. Throughout the book, her parents reprimand her for eavesdropping on conversations, and at the end she learns her lesson: the little brother who ran out of the building with the shoebox has a different version of the night of the fire. He says Mary Rose was a terrible, bossy, vicious girl who literally pushed him out the door with her precious belongings and returned inside only to save the rest of her stuff. I won’t tell you his other revelations about that night, but the narrator Mary Rose and I were both stunned.

I read the book again and again, caught up each time with Mary Rose’s point of view and struck by the fact that there could be an opposite, equally compelling version of the same events. When I was an adult I came upon another book that had the same effect on me. This one, coincidentally, also had the word truth in the title, so you would’ve thought I’d be ahead of the game.

But The Truth about Loren Jones by Alison Lurie ended up tricking me too. The narrator Polly is recently divorced and feeling bitter about males in general. She avoids them, interacting only with women if she can manage it, and even flirting with the idea of being a lesbian. Meanwhile she’s busy with a new project. She’s a biographer and her present subject is the brilliant, misunderstood painter, Loren Jones. Polly’s thesis is that Jones’s legacy has been tarnished by men, and she sets out to prove it, interviewing one guy after another and threatening to expose them.

I was mentally patting myself on the back the first time I read this book. I was in grad school working on an MA in English so I was no newby to unreliable narrators. Plus, I had The Truth about Mary Rose tucked somewhere in the back of my mind. I just knew that Polly’s thesis was going to be wrong. She’d discover that Lorin Jones was a lunatic or a bitch or fraud or something, and then wouldn’t she feel like a big fool.
Polly is tricked all right. But the funny thing was that I was too. I’m not going to give this book’s secret away either, except to say that Polly’s revelation at the end was mine. Very cool book that I also read several times, trying to figure out how the author managed to pull it off.
Maybe it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that my own novel—the one currently winging around the editorial desks of NYC—has a similar twist. Here’s the only thing I’m going to say about it (at the risk of jinxing the whole deal): writing one of these novels with a twist is just as fun as reading one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Don't Neglect Your Gall Bladder

Sometimes I have the tendency, particularly when I’m not writing, to be a tad anxious and high strung. Cue: guffaw of hearty laughter from family and friends. Over the years I discovered that writing every day is an antidote. I think it has something to do with the “falling into the dark pool effect” (I’ve written about this before in my post “Caution, Writing May Be Hazardous to Your Skin.) The gist of it is that writing, like any activity that a person can throw himself into, can be absorbing. And by absorbing I mean that it’s like a drug to me. I know this makes me sound like a loon. The point is I get caught up in what I’m writing, and I lose track of time and my surroundings. Climbing out of that spell can be disconcerting. In other words, I need an antidote for my antidote.

Enter: yoga. Let me preface this by saying that I am not what anyone would call an athlete. When I was growing up I didn’t play sports. Unless you count kickball or dodge ball. And I didn't do these activities well. I was the stereotypical last kid chosen for teams in PE. Yes, they still did this when I was in school, and it ranks right up there with the most humiliating experiences in life. To say that I am not a physical person is putting it mildly. But a few years ago I found yoga. Or maybe….duh duh duh…it found me.

It came in the form of a dvd at the library (which I have since purchased. The dvd. Not the library). I liked the workout immediately because it was something I could do alone and was deceptively rigorous. It also, strangely, helped me work through plot holes. Every morning I write for a few hours then break for yoga, and any walls I’ve bumped into in a story fall away. It’s magic. Or not. I’ve read studies that show that switching from an intense mental activity to a physical one, such as taking a walk or washing dishes or even taking a shower, can improve creativity. Not sure how this works, and I don’t care.

Yoga, at least the kind I do, which is called Kundalini, is very new-agey. There’s lots of breathing and meditating and concentrating. I confess that all of this felt very over-the-top weirdo to me when I first started doing it. I am not an expert in chakras. I don’t even know what they are. But I can say with some degree of confidence that if mine are not balanced daily, I am in trouble.

So I no longer roll my eyes or snicker at the dvd instructor’s directions. He’s an adorably poetic guy named Ravi who introduces exercises by saying stuff like:

This next one isn’t easy but it’s glorious. Go for it and be victorious.

Stretching is your body’s way of receiving new information.


This is for your pancreas, gall bladder, and spleen. Let’s show these organs we care.

Ravi also wants me to care about my fascis muscles, and in one meditative exercise he asks me to float three feet off the ground.

And get this: I DO.

Maybe I am a new-agey person after all. And with that I will leave you, faithful readers, to don my yoga garb (this is a lie. I am wearing my yoga garb. It is my pajamas.) head up to my yoga studio (my bedroom) and strike a pose. As Ravi likes to say, "Sat nam."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do You Like My Hat? No.

I forgot what it was like to read to little kids. And then I visited my brother and his family for a few days (See my post “Tips for Surviving the Snow Apocalypse” for other highlights of that fun trip). The first morning when we woke in a cold, powerless house, I heard my two-year-old nephew crying, and feeling virtuous and a little nostalgic about the time flying and the fact that my own once two-year-old was now eighteen and on a college overnight visit, I told my sister-in-law I’d get up and take care of him. After changing his diaper (another skill that immediately came back to me), little nephew and I snuggled up under the blankets of his sister’s bed with a book, Go Dog Go, the classic by P.D.Eastman.

I read it to my nephew fifteen times and probably would’ve read it again except by then everyone was up and my sister-in-law and I were on our mission to find coffee.

It was amazing to me how quickly I remembered that book. And when I say remembered, I mean that I can probably recite it to you now. It was my son’s favorite book too. My husband and I read it to him so many times that eventually we HID the book after my husband said he would lose his mind if he had to look at it again. I’m not sure exactly why it’s such an attractive book to two-year-old boys. Well, maybe I do know. It has dogs. Lots of them. And it has cars. And it has dogs riding in cars. It also has a cool tree with a secret dog party going on up in the branches. That’s a page you and your two-year-old can study for a long time. By which I mean about a minute.

Still don’t remember the book? Let me give you a few highlights:
  1. The first memorable line: “Big dog. Little dog.”
  2. The clever use of prepositional phrases: “One little dog going IN. Three big dogs going OUT.”
  3. And colors: “A red dog on a blue tree. A blue dog on a red tree.”
  4. The drama of the potential car accident where a line of cars is about to run over a clueless bird crossing a busy intersection: “Stop dogs. The light is red now. Stop!”

And of course, the recurring subplot of the budding romance between two dogs and the female dog’s persistent attempts to attract the male dog through her increasingly absurd hat choices. The first time we meet this adorable poodle she is wearing an ordinary hat. “Do you like my hat?” she asks, and the male dog says simply, “I do not like it.” Every few pages we see the couple again, the hats growing more and more ridiculous.

My little nephew LOVED these hat interludes, and we quickly developed our own dialogue.
ME: (pointing at weirdo hat) Do you like my hat?
LN: (shouting with glee) NO!

The two of us also shared a hearty laugh every time we came to the page where a miserable dog swelters on top of a house while the big yellow sun beats down on him. Meanwhile there’s a cool-looking dog sipping lemonade under the house. My nephew and I both agreed that, given our freezing cold lack of electricity situation, we would much rather be the dog sweating on the roof.

Not to go off on a whole books vs electronic media tangent, and maybe I’m like one of those troglodyte people at the turn of the century who insisted that horse and buggy transportation would never go out of style, but I just can’t imagine a world where we snuggle under the covers with our kindles. Books are so tactile. And durable. They can get drooled on. And chewed. They even have a recognizable odor. That Go Dog Go book actually smelled like my son’s copy. And the page at the end displaying the dog party was worn and wrinkled just like my son’s was. (You’ll be relieved to know that my husband’s and my moratorium on The Book did not last long. We gave it back to our son a day or two later and only half-reluctantly returned to the familiar saga of the dogs and their cars. And their hats.)

In case you're worried about it, in the end it all works out for our dog couple. The female dog wears a hat so idiotic, complete with flowerpots and spiders hanging off it, and the male dog shocks everyone by saying that he does, in fact, like that hat. Then they drive off together in his car.

My nephew still stuck with his line, "No." Then we turned back to the beginning and started the book again. Because that's what you do with two-year-olds.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Team Trixie

Long before there was Team Edward vs. Team Jacob there was Nancy Drew vs. Trixie Belden

Okay, I totally just made that up. That competition existed only in my mind. When I was growing up every girl I knew (who read) liked Nancy Drew, while I was firmly (alone) in the Trixie Belden camp. Trixie Belden, for those sadly out of the loop, was a mystery series published from the 1940’s into the 1970’s, when I discovered them.

Sure, I tried reading a couple of ND’s but she was too old, too perfect, too….boring. And I didn’t like her boyfriend Ned who reminded me of a Ken doll. Only more bland. And what was with her girl friends, Bess and George?

Trixie, on the other hand, was real. She was thirteen and outspoken and sarcastic. She struggled in Math and whined about chores. She didn’t like her looks, always complaining about her “unruly curls,” and enviously eying her best friend Honey’s shiny, sleek hair. She also sometimes salivated over Honey’s super wealthy lifestyle in the gorgeous mansion up on the hill. But she was smart enough to realize that Honey didn’t have it all, especially the stuff that counted, like cool older brothers and understanding, involved parents.

Yeah, it might be nice to own horses and have servants (sigh) but living on a farm wasn’t that bad. Even if you did have to dust the house and weed the garden and babysit for a bratty little brother.

Trixie Belden was a girl “sleuth” (does anyone actually use that word anymore?) who solved what my childhood self thought were complicated, thrilling mysteries. But what I really liked about the books was the world Trixie lived in. Late at night, curled under my covers, cursed with insomnia and anxiety, I’d open one of those books and disappear. There was loving Mom in the kitchen perpetually canning tomatoes (Trixie called her “Moms." I don’t know why.) And Dad coming home from his job at the bank and stretching out in the living room to read the paper (this was truly the Leave it to Beaver era, I guess, before Mad Men came along and showed us the dark underbelly of three-martini lunches and apartments for mistresses in the city).

I so much wanted Trixie’s friends. Two older brothers who teased her but would always defend her; loyal Honey; ditzy but sweet Di, and most important: Jim, the red-haired, “husky” orphan that Trixie saved in Book One.

Now that I think about it, Jim is probably the model for ideal manhood in my mind. Smart and resourceful and ambitious (he vowed to one day open a camp for underprivileged boys like him). Also strong and handsome and proud (too proud to ever take charity, thank you very much. If Jim wanted something, he was going to earn it, gosh darn it.) One of the highlights of my middle school years was reading (over and over) the passage where Jim gave Trixie his ID bracelet right after they’d solved a particularly complicated mystery.

Jim: You know what this means, don’t you?

Trixie: Tell me

Jim: It means that you’re my special girl, Trixie. As if you didn’t know that already.

Trixie: I do. Oh, Jim!

My eleven-year-old self swooned.

I read every book in the series. Multiple times. For some reason they didn’t carry them at my local library, but luckily I had a generous aunt who would give me a Trixie Belden book or two every few months until I’d collected the whole set. I lost track of the books when I went off to college but one day years later I was in a bookstore in Lexington Kentucky and saw them lined up on a shelf. I am almost embarrassed to say that I burst into tears. I bought them on the spot. They’re lined up numerically, bindings cracked and torn, right now on the bookshelf in my office.

These are not the best-written books on the planet. Not classics like Charlotte’s Web or Anne of Green Gables. But something about them still draws me in. Maybe because Trixie’s world is so tied up in memories of my own childhood. She was a real person to me and the place she lived, Crabapple Farm, nestled in the Hudson River Valley, was real too.

When I pull one of them out and open it up (like I did to find the above passage, marveling that I knew just where to find it: last page of Number Nine Trixie Belden and the Happy Valley Mystery) all of it comes back. The adventures of Trixie and Honey and Jim.

And the anxious and day-dreamy little girl I was who believed that the world of a book was just as real, maybe more so, than the one I lived in.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When Rabbits Lived at the Library

I can’t remember why I won the contest. But since it happened at the library, it probably had something to do with books. A summer reading quest. Or maybe they just pulled my name out of a hat. Whatever it was the prize was something I don’t imagine many kids today would get too jazzed about: you and a friend get to pet a rabbit. Also, you win a pack of bird cards. The six-year-old me was thrilled. And a little anxious. Here, take a look at the pic below. I’m the one holding the rabbit and reaching out for the bird cards while my sweet best friend Kimmy shares in the momentary limelight.

We’re downstairs in the New Britain Connecticut Children’s Library. They do not build buildings like this anymore. I know, I know, our country is broke. But I just poked around online and discovered that the children’s library in NBCT was built in 1931, not exactly a heyday in our country’s economic history. Don’t worry, I won’t go off on a political tangent here.
What I want to talk about is how much I loved that library. I haven’t been there in years so I’ll try to reconstruct from memory. It starts outside with the wall that wrapped halfway around the block.

You can’t see the wall from the picture (and the library shown here is the adult library. The kids’ library is farther down the street. I couldn’t find any photos of it.) But the wall in my imagination was HUGE, great for walking on while carefully holding an adult’s hand, of course. Or maybe that was just the anxious kid I was.

Inside the library, in addition to the stacks and stacks of books, was an enormous fireplace, the perfect place to curl up in front of and read. At the other end of the room were stairs going down to the basement, which housed a museum. This is where they kept the rabbits. I don’t remember what else was down there, (fish? A guinea pig?) and actually they closed the basement up not long after I won my contest. They built a separate museum next door, something with a cool 1970’s artsy/funky look to it. I didn’t like it.

I have to give a shout out to my mother for taking my little brothers and me to the library every week. We walked there (no car) and were allowed to check out as many books as we could carry home. I was on a first name basis with the librarian. She knew exactly what I liked and each week she’d have a stack of books waiting. She’d hold up each one and give me a colorful book talk about it. I always liked her choices. When I was ten or so that librarian told me she was leaving her job. I was devastated. And here’s something that seems strange and sweet to me now. She took me out for lunch as a sort of farewell gift. At a restaurant around the corner we ate sundaes and she talked to me like I wasn’t a ten-year-old but just another fellow book lover.

And about those bird cards, I didn't care much for birds, but for some reason I really liked flipping through those cards. They were like baseball cards but instead of baseball statistics each one had an illustration of a bird and a list of fun facts. I read them over and over, and one of the highlights of my first grade year was when my teacher Mrs. Carlson asked if she could make a bulletin board outside the classroom using my cards.

By the time I was twelve I had read nearly all of the books in the middle grade section of the children’s library and all of the books in the very meager YA section. One day I stopped going into that big room with the fireplace and the closed up museum in the basement, and started picking out books from the adult library next door. By then I had stopped walking on the wall outside. My favorite librarian was long gone. The rabbits, if there were any, lived in the funky museum across the parking lot. I lost track of the bird cards.

Today I went onto the New Britain Public Library website and found that they are having a contest. One of the prizes is a Kindle.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Book Deal Game

Here’s how you play:

1. Imagine that you have a book deal

2. Role play The Call from your agent/editor

3. Brainstorm the terms of your contract

4. Daydream the inevitable book-signings/school visits/conference presentations

5. Spend the Advance

Today my game piece is presently parked out on Number Five. I’m a tad embarrassed to say that I’ve landed on this square many times over the years. I remember vividly taking a walk with my husband when I was pregnant with child number two. (To give you a hint about how long ago this was, said child is now in high school.) My husband and I were trying to figure out if we could afford to live on one salary after the baby was born. I drew the card for Spend the Advance and read my line: “Well, if I get a book deal….”

The hitch was I hadn’t exactly written a book at that point. In my defense I think I had started one. Didn’t matter. The game box was open. My piece was on the board. The dice were clicking together in my hand. (How long can I keep this inane metaphor going?)

Flash forward through the years:

Should we splurge on a cruise for our anniversary?

Send a child to an expensive summer program?

Buy a new car?

A house?


Say it with me: "Well, if I get a book deal…"

Here are some funny things about this game (and by funny, I mean kind of sad):

1. I have spent the pretend book deal $$$ many times over

2. Advances for YA authors are small. (think used car)

The truth is the game, while occasionally fun to play, has absolutely nothing to do with the day-to-day life of being a writer. I know that. You know that.

But still, here I sit this morning fighting the urge to go out with my husband and buy a flat screen TV. Our present one just went kaput. (And here’s a nice little aside: I bought that one many years ago with the money I earned from a short story.) Also, my car needs a tune-up, the microwave is broken, our twenty-year old washer only works on one cycle, my laptop has several band-aids pasted on the knobby protruding busted keys, and the paint is peeling on the side of our house. If I got a book deal, we could….

Daughter from the other room: Don’t forget the toaster!

Yes, my whole family plays the Book Deal Game now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What Scares Me

I’ve been following this very cool blog by Nova Ren Suma, the author of the gripping and beautifully written novel, Imaginary Girls. Lately Nova’s been inviting other writers to guest blog on particular topics. In October she posted a series called "What Scares You" where writers described their favorite scary books/movies. I wasn’t asked to guest blog by Nova (sigh) but reading all those posts got me thinking about what books have scared me over the years.

You can’t talk about scary books without mentioning Stephen King. The first “adult” book I ever read (back in seventh grade) was The Shining. It scared the crud out of me. I also really likedThe Stand and It. But I think King’s scariest book is Pet Sematary.

When I read it I wasn’t a parent yet but the idea still chilled me to the bones. The premise of the novel is a young doctor and his family move to a small town in Maine. Life is looking swell for them—nice house, sweet little boy, precious little girl, a cat…The only downside is the very busy road in front of the house where monster trucks zoom by. One of those trucks kills the pet cat and the little girl is devastated. The doctor finds out there’s a pet cemetery, the remnants of an old Indian burial ground nearby. Supposedly if you bury a pet there it will come back. It may not come back quite right, warns the elderly neighbor across the street, and it’s probably not a good idea to mess with the dead, but of course the doctor, concerned about his daughter’s grief decides to bury the cat up there anyway. And it does come back. Not quite right—so not quite right that the daughter is horrified by the sight and smell of it. Life goes on for a while and those trucks keep rushing by the house and one day the little boy gets killed. Well, you just know what the father is going to do.

What’s scary about this book, I think, is not the gruesome gotcha stuff but the impulse most of us can relate to: What parent wouldn’t want to bring his dead child back if there was a way?

King has some interesting things to say about what scares people in his book Danse Macabre. Many of the examples are out of date now—stuff from the 1950’s and 60’s that King grew up on—but his ideas are thought-provoking. One, that in a good horror story there is usually something psychologically terrifying behind the obviously scary premise. Take The Exorcist. Pretty darn horrifying novel/film about demon possession, but King says that what’s really at the core of it is every parent’s fear that her teenager will spin out of control. I recently watched the movie What Lies Beneath, a ghost story about a dead girl haunting a woman. It’s a creepy movie with lots of scary moments, but I think what’s truly scary is the woman’s floundering state of mind. Her only child’s gone off to college and she’s not quite sure what to do with her time. When the ghost starts coming around, other people, including her husband, are patronizing, thinking the woman’s just lonely and bored. There’s a common theme in horror that the person being haunted is simply losing her mind. And what is scarier than thinking that you might be going crazy?

Something that interests me as a writer is how horror writers build suspense. King says that the scariest stuff is the unknown. He uses the example of the heroine in a creepy house where everyone knows the Scary Thing is behind a door at the top of the stairs. The entire book/movie is really the suggestion of whatever that Thing is and the plot is the character walking up those stairs and getting closer and closer to that door. Many writers are good at the building up of tension part, but where they usually fail (and King admits it’s where HE fails too) is when the hero has to finally open the door and show the audience what’s inside. There’s nearly always a letdown. It’s a zombie or it’s a vampire or it’s a giant spider, etc.

Whatever it is, it rarely lives up to what we imagined.

So tell me, faithful readers, what scares YOU?

Friday, November 11, 2011

My Nano-Style Blog-a-Day Kickoff

I’m floundering. This pretty much always happens when I’m between projects. For the record I just finished a revision of a novel, something I’m really excited about but trying to push out of my mind while feedback from my awesome first readers trickles in. I also have TWO very cool potential ideas for new novels but don’t feel the timing is quite right to begin either one of them. Thanksgiving and our hosting of an annual (growing) family dinner is just around the corner. And then there’s December. Do I really want to throw myself into a new project? This could be lazy, resistant me talking, but the answer, I fear, is No.

But I know myself well enough to know that I can’t NOT write just because the holidays are coming up. What to do? What to do? Or perhaps more to the point: WWSKD? By which I mean, of course, “What Would Stephen King Do?” I surely know the answer to that one: he would write his 2000 words a day regardless. And here’s another thing that I almost hate to put down in words because it might jinx things: I’ve got a teeny tiny nibble on a manuscript that’s been floating around the NYC publishing world for the past two years. Such a teeny tiny nibble that it could easily drift away or disappear or pop like a bubble in the glaring light of reality.

So I’ve come up with a plan that will (hopefully) keep my mind off Things Outside My Control, give my writing muscles a workout, provide a challenge for my goal-oriented self, and most importantly allow me to retain my sanity as I navigate the busy holiday season. I’m not joking about the sanity part. When I don’t write every day, I quickly become an anxious, (b)itchy mess. Ask anyone.

In the spirit of WWSKD, I have devised the following challenge: Write five blogs a week for the next four weeks, sort of a Nano-esque Blog-a-thon. (For the uninitiated, Nano is short for NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month, in which participants pledge to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. I’ve “won” Nano every year for the past four years. Maybe this is another reason I’m floundering at the moment. Because I didn’t sign up for Nano.)

So my dear and faithful readers, please join me in my quest. Sign up to “Follow me” and/or to get email posts (See the handy dandy tab on the left hand side for instructions.) Keep reading and find out if I can sustain this blog’s usual high level of entertaining, humorous, inspirational value you’ve grown to expect. Plus, there will be pictures…

Monday, November 7, 2011

Too Bad There's No Such Thing As Teleportation

I’m not what anyone would ever call a world traveler. The truth is I don’t really like traveling. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy exploring new places. This seems like a contradiction, I know. What I don’t like about traveling is the actual traveling part. Planning. Packing. All the stuff dealing with airports/flying. For instance, why do you have to put all your little liquid bottles in a plastic baggie? Do plastic baggies somehow thwart terror plots? And why must you go through security with your shampoos and mini toothpastes, etc., in the baggie, but then are free to buy all that junk (at ridiculously inflated prices) in the airport shops? My son pointed out during a recent trip that he wasn’t allowed to pack a razor in a carry-on bag, but he could buy a seven-buck one and carry it on the plane in his pocket. What’s up with that?

But I’m digressing. The point is that traveling itself stresses me out, but once I get to my destination, I nearly always have a great time. Some of the coolest experiences of my life occurred in a place far from home. Singing in a piano bar with my best writer friend in New York City. Sipping sangrias at an outdoor restaurant in Barcelona with my hubby. Floating lazily down a mangrove lined river in Mexico with my two kids. And coming home, although stressful too, what with the potential bed bugs in my suitcase and the loads of laundry to wash, and the mail piled on the counter, there is always a new story to tell about the trip. (See my last blog: Surviving the Snow Apocalypse for just such a story.)

And speaking of traveling stories, I just read a great one, Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard. On the surface it’s your typical hero takes a journey tale. Eighteen year old Bria is traveling to run away—from her grief over the end of a bad relationship, from her ever-arguing, preoccupied parents, from her failed dream of being an artist. The opportunity to travel to Central America seems like a blissful escape from an upsetting past and depressing future. But day one in Guatemala with the tour group of timid, middle aged women is just as depressing. When Bria has the chance to jump off the beaten path with a very cool backpacker brother/sister pair, she takes it. Rowen and Starling seem like everything Bria wishes she could be: spontaneous risk-takers, unafraid to plunge into new experiences.

You know that things aren’t exactly what they seem with those two. And you know that by the end of the book Bria will learn new things about herself and life through traveling, but the book is surprising in the telling it takes to get there. Bria’s voice is fresh and funny. Rowan is complicated and insightful, a boy also running away from his past, but for all his constant traveling, he yearns to settle down. Plus, he’s cute. A bonus in these YA books. Bria starts drawing again and here we get what I think are the author’s own pencil drawings throughout the book, quirky renderings of wildlife and local people and one special one of Rowan after Bria finally realizes she’s fallen for him. By the end of the book, I was almost ready to pack my bags and seal my little baggies and head off to parts unknown.

Almost, I say. I’m still reeling from last trip.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tips for Surviving a Snow Apocalypse (hint: Must. Have. Coffee.)

I’m going to preface this by saying apparently I am a big baby who wouldn’t last long in an apocalypse. The funny thing is I’ve been reading so many YA books about the subject lately I thought I was an expert. Go north, is one of the tidbits I learned. Because everyone else will be heading south and you want to avoid the mass chaos. This, from Ilsa’s Bick’s brilliant zombie disaster novel, Ashes. There’s also this little gem from Mike Mullin’s gritty, realistic, page-turner Ashfall: get your hands on a good pair of cross-country skis. You’ll need these to traverse the volcano ash landscape. Good idea, too, to have a safe house to hole up in, such as a school. (Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts.) And a large selection of canned goods and blankets are essential. (Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer)

Unfortunately, none of these books prepared me for the College Road Trip from Hell that happened to coincide with the freak snowstorm that attacked New England last weekend. My son and I planned this excursion around his fall break, thinking we might fit in some pretty leaf-peeping action. Okay, that was my thought. I don’t think my son cares one way or another about fall color. Anyhoo, we were staying with my brother and his family (lovely wife and four little kids) in their beautiful new house in a gloriously wooded area of central Connecticut. Remember the gloriously wooded part. It plays an important role later. We knew snow was heading that way but my brother assured me we could make it up to Williamstown, Mass, tucked away in the Berkshires near the Vermont border, and back before it hit.

We should’ve known when we got lost on the way there, that trouble was ahead. Here’s a handy tip for the Apocalypse: Carry a map. The paper kind. Instead of relying on your car’s GPS. GPS’s don’t do well when it comes to detours and road closures. Not many alternate routes around the beautiful North Adams area of New England. I know this because we doubled around that sparsely populated, hilly, windy-road section of Massachusetts for most of the day, prompting my frustrated brother to say: "All roads lead to North Adams. But NONE lead out of it."

The college was great. When we finally made it there. Bucolic town. Friendly sweet students. Good food at one of the local eateries. And good thing we ate before we left. Cue: ominous music.

The snow was just starting to fall when we left. And promptly got lost again. In near white-out conditions, my calm-on-the-outside brother drove us around those same windy, hilly roads. Within minutes there were two or three inches of thick snow on the ground. And on the car. And building up around the windshield wipers. Another helpful tip: treat windshield wipers with care. When my brother reached out the window to tap the caked snow off, the left wiper broke and he spent the remainder of the five hour drive leaning across the seat, his face inches from the windshield. Trees creaked and fell around us. We came within an inch of hitting a guardrail once. We couldn’t see if the road went up or down or curved until we were right upon it.

It took three hours to drive seven miles. But at last we made it to the promised land: I-91. And we breathed a sigh of relief. Until my sister-in-law called to say that they had no power at home. When we crossed the border into Connecticut, it looked like a bomb had gone off. Driving into my brother’s lovely wooded neighborhood was one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had. Trees were literally dropping and snapping power lines as we crawled past.

I will skip ahead to say that we survived. And when I say we, I mean my son and me. My brother and his family are still out there, still surviving in that decimated landscape. Trees down everywhere. Wires dangling over the roads. Few stores and gas stations open. Halloween cancelled. (Yes. Sadly for the four little kiddos.) And worse, only a handful of Dunkin Donuts open and shining like beacons to the caffeine addled junkie refugees lined up in the street to get their morning coffee fix. None of the apocalyptic books I’ve read have mentioned coffee. It’s a stunning oversight. Aside. To the clueless woman in line who wanted her toddler to decide which kind of munchkin she wanted—honey, do you want the munchkin with sprinkles or the chocolate one or how about that silly pumpkin one?—while the line snaked out the door filled with people contemplating double homicide: For the love of God, Woman, choose a damn munchkin for your kid and move the bleep ON.) 

The final night my brother got a hotel reservation for us at the airport. My sister-in-law drove us and the weary, bath-deprived little kids up there, and we talked up the place like it was a Club Med. (Lights. Warmth. A TV!!!) Unconscionably, the hotel people failed to mention that there was no power at the hotel. My traumatized sister-in-law decided to take the kids back to my brother’s office for the night, but I had her drop my son and me off at the dark airport hotel. There we paid for a pitch-black (but warm!!!) room. We lurched around using our dying cell-phones as light and avoided the cold showers. It was the best money I ever spent in my life.

The next day we flew out of battle-scarred Connecticut, bleary-eyed survivors of the Snow Apocalypse, coffee cups gripped in our shaky hands.

PS. I’ve sworn off apocalyptic literature. I’ve lived it.