Thursday, June 22, 2017

Walking, Map-less, in Venice

I walk without looking at my map.

It's folded up in my pocket. Useless, because I can't find myself on it. The words are too tiny. The road I am on doesn't seem to exist. This church. This square. I can't find them on the page. It's okay. I've stopped caring about where I am, where I'm going.

Instead I look. I see.

It's possible that I am seeing for the first time.

Red dishtowels pasted against a blue sky. Ivy growing through window grates. A sign for cappuccino. The price is something I don't understand and I am too tired to calculate it.

Turn a corner and I am the only one walking down this alleyway. I look at my feet shuffling over 500 year-old cobblestones. Look up, at walls that Mozart might have trailed his fingers over on his way to conduct a concert. Up higher, a sky so blue it can't be real.

I can walk all day. Winding down passageways and over bridges. Admiring expensive clothing and glass and leather in store windows. Swirls of chocolates and pastries and bread.

This way leads across another bridge. This way, a dead end. A building. A locked door. Men selling masks and key chains. Statues. Ancient wells. The water shimmering in a canal.

A massive church rises up unexpectedly.

I move through a mass of people and I am one of them and somehow not one of them.

I don't know how I came to be in this place. I don't know where I am going next.

A split in the road, and I choose one of the paths with little thought because it doesn't matter which way I go. The truth is, I can't really get lost here. Even without a map. I've figured out that I can follow the signs painted on the sides of buildings, arrows pointing the way to the rail station. Or to the Rialto bridge. If you know these two places, you can trace your way to anywhere.

On a whim I stop to buy a gelato. I sit on an ancient wall and watch pigeons peck at the soggy roll that someone's dropped in the canal, at people taking selfies on a bridge. A burst of song from a roving acappella group. They sing faster and faster, the words in a language I don't know.

This gelato is the most delicious food I have ever tasted in my life. These pigeons are the cleverest birds I have ever seen. The people smiling at their phone screens are heart-breakingly beautiful.

This song, this song. How do I keep it inside me forever?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Churches, Cemeteries and Beer

*Trying to write this blog from my phone so bear with me if it's wonky.

The beer in Prague, they say, is cheaper, than water. This is true. Too bad I don't like beer.

Correction: I loathe it. I was joking to my friend on this trip that I haven't had a beer since I was seventeen years old, but the truth is that first beer probably doesn't count. I took one sip. Put it down. Walked away half gagging. I was at a party where I only knew one person and was feeling extremely self conscious. Later I overheard people mocking whoever it was who left behind a beer un-drunk.

I mean, who the hell would do that? they said, appalled.

When you travel, when you walk through an unknown city, miles from home, when the conversations going on around you are in a multitude of languages and none of them are your own, you tend to have thoughts like these, flashes of memory, long ago humiliations in your non-drinking beer past.

I walk into so many churches here they begin to morph into one another. The church with the massive chandelier hanging over the pews, the cloister with a bearded woman statue nailed to a cross, the small tomb-like church with a statue of a black Madonna, the church that displays what they call "The Holy Infant of Prague," something that looks like a china doll wearing an elaborate poofy dress.

People around me pay coins to light candles. They kneel at the altars. They bless themselves and pray as they have prayed, in many of these churches for hundreds of years. I am overwhelmed in these sacred spaces.

Is it my once upon a time Catholic school girl upbringing? The cloying scent of incense drifting in the air? The familiar feel of holy water on my fingers as I bless myself? The prayers buried in the recesses of my brain leak out and I whisper the words I thought I'd forgotten.

Oh my God these cemeteries. Ancient tombstones falling over in the Jewish ghetto. The neat rows of raised garden beds behind an old Catholic Church. Someone is still putting out fresh flowers on these graves, dropping small stones, lighting candles.

I feel weepy walking back and forth over the Charles Bridge, the snippets of music playing. The heartbreaking "Moldau." And, weirdly, one night, a joyful rendition of "Mamma Mia." Beggars kneel, bent over, heads bowed, elbows on the pavement, holding out their up turned hats. No one gives them money. Some of them have dogs. Every dog makes me want to cry, and what does that say about me that I tear up for the dogs and not for the men?

I decide I am getting a damn beer.

I hear a band outside a pub playing Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." I listen for a while with the crowd on the street and then I force myself to go inside. The man sitting by the only empty stool speaks English. He knows the owner, he says.

I tell him I haven't had a beer since I was 17. He smiles and says,  So, two years ago, right?

Haha, this guy is a funny one.

He recommends a beer, and it is enormous. I brace myself and take a sip.

Not like I remember. More... wheat-y?

Turns out the guy sells Aloe Juice. Whatever the hell that is. He's from England. He owns a factory in Bangkok. The band has veered from playing Led Zeppelin to monologuing about oppression, something something about how we're all being brainwashed by Abrahamic theology?

I am lost.

Half of the enormous beer finished, and it hits me that this aloe juice salesman may possibly be hitting on me.

He blabbers on about the dark turn the band has taken and how aloe juice can apparently be found in your upscale supermarkets and how much he hates hippies.

I finish my beer (!!!!) and then excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I sneak out another exit and walk quickly through the crowded streets, freaked out at first that the creep hippie-hating aloe juice guy will follow me, but he doesn't.

I walk the crowded streets, buzzing with my first beer, listening for random snippets of music, people prattling in every language but my own.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

That Thing Where You Agree to Go To Prague Without Actually Realizing You've Agreed to Go to Prague

Last month I was out with a group of my writer friends and we were going around the table how we do, sharing stories of our latest writing projects, when one of the writers jokingly, I thought, mentioned that she needed a traveling companion for a trip to Prague, and I jokingly, I thought, said I'd love to be that companion, and then she jokingly, I thought, asked if I snored and I assured her that I did not, and we digressed for a moment about how annoying it is to share a room with someone who snores and we all laughed and moved on to another topic.

Side note: I've been a part of this group for three years, invited after my book came out by one of the women whom I'd met at a book festival. The members are all young adult fiction writers who live in the central Ohio area. We call ourselves OHYA (for Ohio YA authors). We're not a writing critique group (although we've all read each other's works) but more of a support group, meeting up for dinner once a month to pick each other's brains about writing and publishing, commiserating with each other when things are not going so well and celebrating when they are. 

For months now (maybe a year?) Lisa Klein's been giving us updates about her novel Ophelia (a brilliant and gorgeously written re-imagining of Hamlet from his girlfriend's point of view) being made into a film.  I know several writers whose books have been optioned for film and through their experience I've learned that it is a REALLY LONG AND DRAGGED OUT PROCESS and 99% of the time the film never actually gets made. 

I confess that this thought was what was going through my mind when Lisa Klein would share her monthly updates about the Ophelia film. The producer would tell her they'd settled on a script or they were toying around with casting or they were scouting locations and considering filming in Prague or whatever, and it all seemed very precarious and likely to fall apart at any moment...

until, a few weeks ago when Lisa Klein called me and asked if I was serious about being her travelling companion because as it turns out, her novel Ophelia is really and truly being made into a movie, and the producer invited her to come to the set in Prague, and seeing as how I do not snore, she would love for me to join her on this trip. 

Oh, also, she was planning to do some research on another book in Venice.

Flash forward to TWO DAYS FROM NOW and I am boarding a plane to Europe to catch a glimpse of Daisy Ridley dressed up as Ophelia and apparently Clive Owen is in this movie too? and also the guy who plays Malfoy in Harry Potter. 

So yeah. This is happening. 

I will keep you posted on the adventure. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Off Path

It's been a while since my first book, Thin Space, came out. Four years and eight months, to be exact. Not that I am counting.

Okay, I am counting.

The first couple of years were a whirlwind of promotional travelling. Book festivals and bookstore signings. Library and school visits. This was my dream come true: Published Author, and I was loving it. In the meantime I was writing new stuff and submitting it, hopeful, sure, that I was set firmly on my much longed for career path, that I'd have a new book out the next year and the next and the next--

But then time kept ticking by and my path took a few unforeseen detours, and suddenly I woke up to find myself wandering around in a random field.

A few weeks ago I was invited to watch a Battle of the Books competition. This year Thin Space was on the B.O.B. list in central Ohio, which meant that I had another round of kids reading it-- and being quizzed on it. Fun fact: when I was a teacher in Lexington, Kentucky, I was the coach for my school's B.O.B. team. A librarian friend and I selected the books and wrote many of the questions. The interested students read all of the books and practiced buzzing in on a quiz show style competition, and let me tell you, the competition was serious. Many of the kids read each book two or three times. They attacked their buzzers with surprising ferocity.

Fun fact #2: my school's team was really good. One year we won first place in the entire district. Another year my team competed against the school where my daughter went and she was on the team and I told her I hoped her team would win, but secretly I was rooting for my own team. (Please don't tell her!)

Anyway, it was a surreal experience to watch a bunch of kids in Ohio buzzing in and answering questions about my book, especially when there were questions that I couldn't answer. (This is a side effect of having a book come out four years and eight months earlier.) After the competition I spoke to the students, answered questions about the book (what I could remember!), and signed their copies. I hung out with one of the teams and the kids asked me if I'd ever thought about writing a sequel.

Fun fact #3: I did write a sequel. Before I sold Thin Space, when I had no clue if the book would ever be sold, I had a cool idea for what might happen next. I tend to struggle writing a book (if you read this blog with any regularity, you will find this statement a comical understatement) but this book was relatively easy to write. It practically scrolled out of me. Who knows why. Because I knew the world of the story already? Because I understood the characters and heard their voices speaking plainly in my head? Because I had sorta given up on the idea of publishing and was writing purely for my own amusement?

In any event the sequel turned out better in many ways than the original. But it's clear to me that it will never be published, at least not traditionally. I'm okay with that. Apparently, the whole write-a-book-purely-for-your-own-amusement thing has an upside.

The kids at the B.O.B. competition were excited about the sequel and wanted me to email it to them. The librarian did them one better. She took my digital copy and printed off and bound copies for her team. She came by my house the other day and asked me to sign them-- a special parting gift for her B.O.B. team-- and she left me with a copy of my own.

It's the only hard copy I have.

I flipped through it later, and the story I wrote many years ago came back to me. The joy I had writing it, that came back too.

Some of my writing friends --the ones who had debut books come out the same year as Thin Space-- are releasing their fifth books this year. It bugs me sometimes, to find myself so far off the path I thought I was ambling along on, to find myself wandering in a field.

But here's something I realize now:

The path may be gone, but this field's a decent place to be. It's got colorful flowers to sniff and lots of nooks and crannies to get lost in. Trees along the edges to climb. A creek to splash through. Birds twittering, and--um...

how long can I keep this extended metaphor going? What's my point again?

Oh, yeah. This place, off path, what I'm trying to say is most days I'm happy right where I am.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Light at the End of a Graduation

Last week I went to my nephew's high school graduation. The school was in York, Pennsylvania and it seemed like a very nice school. Example: when my husband and I parked in an overflow lot and began our long trek toward the building, a woman holding a baking pan and a spatula welcomed us to the school and offered us a brownie. I mean, come on, homemade brownies in the parking lot? How lovely is that?

I get teary at graduations. The band playing Pomp and Circumstance. The kids lining up in their caps and gowns. Their young faces are radiant. You can practically see the emotions scrolling across their features, a mix of excitement and hope, anxiety and fear, but mostly, it's joy. (Okay, I used to be a high school English teacher, so I know that some of that joy is related to them thinking: Woo Hoo! Thank God I am finally finished with high school!!)

My husband and I high-fived our nephew as he walked past and then settled in for the program. Introductions by the principal. Speeches by select students. This is the time, I confess, when I typically tune out and peruse the graduation program, reading the names of the students and seeing what honors and awards they've received, the plans they have for after high school.

The president of the student council stepped up to the microphone and gave the first speech. It was the usual speech you hear at these things. A rundown of fun stuff the class had experienced together over the years, how hard they'd worked, how ready they were to move on to the next chapter in their lives and make the world a better place.

I love the optimism of teens, the sense that the future is bright and their generation won't muck things up like the previous ones have. I want to believe them.

But I am struggling.

The night before the graduation the man running for Congress in Montana physically assaulted a reporter who asked him a question about healthcare. At the same time, over in Europe, our president who was attending a NATO conference, pushed the leader of Montenegro out of his way. I am trying to imagine any other president we have ever had in our country doing this--physically laying his hands on another world leader and pushing him. Obama, Bush, Clinton, the other Bush, Reagan... I can't visualize it.

Something is different. We've taken a dark turn as a country.

My son, who graduated from college last year with a double major in history and computer science, argues with me on this point. Our country has never been perfect, he reminds me, and this particular time is no darker than any other. We went to war with each other once, for example. We've chosen despicable leaders before. In 1856 a congressman from South Carolina beat a Massachusetts congressman on the head with a walking cane.

So yeah, I guess we are somewhat more civilized now.

In the small town of York, Pennsylvania, the leaders of the class were still making their speeches. One by one. The vice president of the student council. The valedictorian. The salutatorian. The class president. The vice president. They were all teen girls.

The valedictorian told a story about switching schools, moving from the city school district to the suburban. Apparently, there is a large income disparity between the two districts, even though the high schools are only two miles away from each other. She talked about how the city kids have art and music classes in a hallway because there isn't enough classroom space, how they have fewer sports and honors classes than their counterparts here, at York Suburban. It's time to acknowledge the unfairness, she said, as members of the audience squirmed uncomfortably, and resolve as a community to do better.

The salutatorian had just came back from a science competition in Los Angeles. She spoke of the amazing projects she'd seen, the many talented scientists she'd met. As a person of color, she was inspired she said, to meet such a diverse group of people from all over the country and the world, already playing a part in tackling the challenges we face.

The class president spoke passionately about a book she'd recently read called Chop Wood Carry Water about the long, arduous, behind-the-scenes and often thankless process that must take place if we want to become experts in our fields. Trust the process, she told us. In the end we will achieve greatness.

Speeches over, the students filed up to receive their diplomas.

The next day, that man running for congress in Montana was charged with assault. He also won his election. The American president practiced his bizarre grippy-tug handshake on the president of France. Meanwhile, in the suburban district of York, Pennsylvania, the newly graduated students woke up to the first day of the rest of their lives, defiantly hopeful.

Remember these names. You will hear them in the future:

Parker Faircloth-Henise
Elizabeth Kuree Huh
Alexandra Jane Babinchak

Thursday, May 18, 2017


The day before Mother's Day my daughter left home to head back to school, a nine-hour drive, alone, one she's done several times before, but still sets my mom-nerves on edge. I dug around in my garden to keep my mind busy, poking green bean seeds in the ground and transplanting seedlings, every hour or so, my husband calling out updates of our daughter's progress.

He's got some tracking thingy on his phone, and yeah, I know, there's a creepy/stalker-y element to this, but we can't help it. We want to picture our child in the driver's seat, coasting along on her journey, the closest we will get to being in the car with her

she's crossing the bridge in Cincinnati 
she's approaching Louisville
she's an hour outside Mammoth Cave

I go back to my digging and poking and mulching, relieved for the moment that she's safe and that much nearer to her destination. For the last few years I've been planning my garden ahead of time, drawing the plots out on graph paper, no longer content to randomly throw things in the ground.

There's a weird comfort in setting the borders, arranging the plants. Each year my plans are more elaborate, more structured. One large bed grown into two, and then grown into four. And now I've got side beds filled with herbs, a rock garden, corners stuffed with potted plants. In winter I checked out a stack of garden design books from the library and read them like they were novels.

Something cool I learned: my four square garden pattern can be traced all the way back to monastery gardens in Medieval times. What is it about this particular structure, about any structure--

she's nearing the Tennessee border
she's on the other side of Nashville

Something sad I learned: My daughter has been away at school for two years now, and even though I am fully adjusted to empty-nester life, each time she comes back and then leaves again, it's a fresh loss.

I draw a line in the dirt for my marigolds, trying to envision them blooming like a flowery fence in front of my tomato plants.

she's outside the city
she's there, she's home

The dog trots out to bask in the sun as I nudge the seeds into the ground. I know how it goes. Mid summer and these bare beds will be dense with plants, the reality different, despite all of my planning, from what I can imagine today. Plants tangled up with other plants, some overgrown, some drooping. Weeds working there way through despite all of my mulching.

A pumpkin (did I even plant a pumpkin?) poking up in an unexpected place, hopping over the perfectly drawn border into the grass beyond.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

Dispatches from a Reluctant Activist

The hardest part is the drive downtown, the navigating of interstate changes, the search for a parking garage.

Confession: I live 12 minutes from downtown Columbus. As far as city traffic goes, it's on the light side. But I am such a baby when it comes to driving places, going places, I should say. Last month my husband's car was out of commission and he took mine to work for a week and I didn't even notice. I spend my days in one room for the most part, changing out of my pajamas and robe only to walk the dog.

And lately, to drive downtown to protest or to attend meetings or to speak to my state Rep or to my Congressperson or to pass out flyers. Ever since I marched in the Women's March in Washington DC, I made a resolution to Do Something each week.

Last week, for example, I wheedled my husband into marching with me in the Science March. Talk about reluctant activists. This march was a gazillion miles out of the man's comfort zone.

Also, I made it worse by giving him a sign to hold:

People came up to him, strangers. They said it was their first march too. They slapped him on the shoulder and thanked him for coming out. They asked him if they could take his picture.

It was excruciating for me to watch his discomfort, and finally, I offered to hold the sign, and people stopped me instead and my husband would squirm and say, "Actually, that's my sign."

But anyway, back to why I was driving downtown. It was for an Advocacy Day organized by Freedom of Choice Ohio. When I signed up to go, I had no idea what it was-- some all day meeting?

Turned out, it was a education session of sorts, where different groups spoke about issues affecting women and children and families in Ohio and the impact that legislation would have on them in the coming year. After we had the information, we would march over to the Ohio Statehouse and pair up with a buddy, and meet two-on-one with an Ohio representative to share our personal stories.

The day was alternately inspiring and crappy.

Inspiring, because the speakers were so smart and caring and dedicated and I believe in this cause, that women have the right to make their own medical choices without politicians interfering, that we have the right to plan our families, deciding if and when we will have children, that even the poorest among us have the right to our own bodily autonomy--

and crappy, because it all feels like such a long slog and who knew the democratic wheels turned so slowly, with so many layers and hoops to jump through.

I walked with my buddy, an older woman who seemed very quiet and reserved and stereotypically grandmother-ish, but oh wow, she surprised me when we met with our representative, how knowledgeable she was, and how passionate.

The rep himself, was a very nice guy-- thank you, Steven Arndt for taking time out of your day to listen to us, for sharing your own story and for hearing ours -- My story, for the record, boils down to Me, age fifteen, walking up to the Planned Parenthood in my neighborhood (yes, I really had a PP in my neighborhood-- a ten minute walk away) where I went for medical advice and to obtain birth control, because, oh my God, I was fifteen and sexually active, which is crazy to me now, what a messed up mix of contradictions I was back then-- an honors student at a private Catholic high school, a damaged girl clinging to a doofball boyfriend, scared enough to know that I did not want to get pregnant-- like the girl in my class who was publicly shamed for doing the "right thing" by having her baby.

That girl almost died of pre-eclampsia during her labor. I don't know what happened to her after, what kind of life she's led.

But I know what happened to me. I had opportunities-- college, graduate school and upper middle class life. Eventually, children, who were planned, wanted, loved. Still, I can't forget the poor sad girl I knew and the poor sad girl I was and how different circumstances could've been for me, and how lucky I was to be aware that there was a place I could go, somewhere safe and welcoming and non-judgmental.

All this I told Mr. Arndt and he nodded politely, but who knows how he will vote in the future on these issues, if it was worth his time or mine to have our conversation, if it changed anything.

I didn't know it yet, but the very next day, the Republicans in the House of Representatives would vote to take away healthcare from 24 million Americans. Part of their cruel proposal restricts the right of poor women to choose where they go to receive medical care.

Done for the day, and my new buddy and I walked back to our cars and paid for our parking. (another area of stress for me. How do I get the damn parking ticket to go properly into the slot?!)

We exchanged business cards and smiled at each other. Maybe we'll meet up at another of these things, my new friend said.

Most definitely.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Things I Did This Weekend Instead of Writing a Blog

Goal this weekend: Write a blog

(side note, I write four blogs a month. It's a goal I set for myself a few years ago and for the most part I do it. It's a weird goal because I mean, who cares? I don't get paid for these blogs. Nothing bad will happen if I don't post one, but still... it bugs me like a little itch when the end of the month sneaks up on me and I haven't yet written my fourth blog.)

Instead of writing a blog, I did this:

*Made a turtle out of clay

with my friend Natalie at this pottery place where we were supposed to play around with clay and make cups or bowls and decorate them in a whimsical way, and I started getting panicky/perfectionist-y, how I always do when it comes to arts and crafts, but I kept playing with the clay, joking that I'd let it speak to me and tell me what it wanted to be, and weirdly this worked. 

It wanted to be a turtle. 

*Caught the tail end of Mindy McGinnis signing her fifth book

at Cover to Cover Book Store and got my book signed and talked to the owner, Sally Oddi, about how she is going to retire and sell her bookstore!!! --something that is killing me because Cover to Cover is an awesome bookstore (one of the oldest, continuously operated, children's bookstores in country-- 37 years!!) If you want to buy it, please call Sally. 

I'm serious. (614) 263-1624

*Went out to dinner with Natalie because we realized it was our three year Friend-a-versary, and if that is not a thing, it should be.

*Read most of the book Dreamland by Sam Quinones

which is a really horrifying examination of the opioid epidemic and how Big Pharma pushing pain meds and misleading doctors about how addictive these drugs are was happening around the same time a group of men in Mexico started selling black tar heroin in small towns across America.  

*Helped my neighbor paint some trim on his house

Because last summer he helped my husband and me paint our back porch, and I was like, No problem, I can totally climb up onto your roof and paint that small stretch of trim. This was scary but I inched up and down the roof on my butt and fell into a zen-like place of painting and thought about the time when I was nineteen and got hired on by my boyfriend's painting crew to paint the trim of all of the McDonald's in the Central Connecticut area. 

*Tore a hole in my shorts from inching up and down the roof on my butt.

*Mulched my flowerbeds

*Helped my husband lay a brick patio

 Oh. And I guess I wrote a blog. 

The end. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Battling the Yips

For the past few weeks I've been slogging through my day's writing work-- NO, I DO NOT HAVE writer's block, maybe more like writer's cube if that is a thing. Anyway, each day, as a reward for completing my goals, I've been listening to the Fresh Air podcast.

I love tuning in to hear interviewer Terry Gross talk to actors, artists, directors and authors. The app is cool because you can skip around and choose the episodes you want to listen to. 

I almost skipped today's episode: The 'Phenomenon' That Changed MLB Pitcher Rick Ankiel's Life because I never heard of Rick Ankiel and I'm not much of a baseball fan. But before I could turn it off and switch to another episode, the interview started. Rick Ankiel, apparently, used to be this awesome pitcher and now he's got a new book out, a memoir called Phenomenon. 

When he was only twenty years old, people were raving about how good he was and he knew it. He skipped past college and signed a million dollar contract to pitch in the major leagues. It looked like he was on the road to having a great career, but suddenly, during a playoffs game, he threw the ball and it didn't feel right. 

He had this nightmare game, unable to control his pitches, the ball shooting off in random directions, and all of this happening on live TV, with announcers commenting about it and the crowd booing him. When the game was over, he told himself it was a fluke thing and figured that with a rest, he'd be back to normal. 

But he wasn't. 

He couldn't seem to throw the way he had before. He tried everything he could think of to fix the problem. Going back to the mechanics, he called it. Practicing. Watching what other pitchers were doing and trying to copy them. Resting. He couldn't tell if this was a real physical issue, he said, or maybe it was the yips. 

(the yips?? This was me, listening to podcast and wondering what the heck the yips were. A pause here, while I looked it up:

The yips is the loss of fine motor skills in athletes. The condition occurs suddenly and without apparent explanation usually in mature athletes with years of experience.)

Back to poor Rick Ankiel... 

The yips were destroying his life.

He lost his place in the majors and was dropped back down to the lower levels, whatever they're called in baseball, until he finally ended up on some rookie team, all the while his anxiety about his inability to pitch building and building. He'd drive around watching little kids play baseball and think about how easy they made it look and wondered why he couldn't do it anymore.

Baseball, he said, had been his thing. He'd grown up in a messed up family, his father abusing his mother and eventually going to jail. Baseball was the one thing he really did well. It was his refuge. His escape.

And now here he was hitting this weird psychological wall.

On the farm team, he performed okay. No TV spotlight. No one commenting on his performance for the most part, but he was unhappy. Whatever joy he'd once gotten from baseball seemed gone, and after awhile he decided to quit the game. 

Which is when a funny thing happened.

His agent suggested he start playing again in another position. This (I guess?) is not the typical career path of a baseball pitcher? but Rick Ankiel thought about it and said he could envision himself hitting a home run and just the thought of that made him feel excited again. 

He became an outfielder and a good one. He hit 47 home runs before retiring to spend more time with his family and write his memoir. 

So, anyway, this is why I decided today that I am going to quit writing.

Nah. I'm just joking with you. I don't have the yips

I don't have the yips

I don't have the yips.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ode to the IKEA Catalog

In this world
everything is sleek surfaced and brightly lit,
an array of welcoming rooms
where women dance in kitchens
and children lick wooden spoons
and a man tells us to embrace what's wrong
as he garnishes the clams with garlic
and lemon.

In this world everything has its place.

The children put away their toys
and your friends come to dinner early
and always always help you
bake the meatballs.

They say we can make things better.
They say the days of "have to" are over.
They say that playtime can happen anywhere.

And we want to believe them.

We do.

So we set the sofa in the center of the living space.
We move our backyard inside.

We arrange and arrange and arrange, finding beauty
in a tealight holder
in a bed canopy
in a plant pot
in a clear lacquered bamboo knife tray.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An Interview with Mindy McGinnis

I’m thrilled to have award-winning YA writer Mindy McGinnis On the Verge this week. Mindy, if you haven’t read her yet, (and if you haven’t, I’m not sure why!) is the prolific genre-bending author of the dystopian Not a Drop to Drink, the gothic historical A Madness So Discreet (which won the Edgar Award), and the dark contemporary The Female of the Species, (hands down, one of the best books I read last year).

And now she’s got a new book out, the fantasy Given to the Sea. Last weekend Mindy and I caught up at the Ohioana Book Festival and I had the chance to ask her all of my burning questions.


Jody: On a recent panel you talked about where your ideas come from. Not a Drop to Drink you had an image of a girl holding a gun and A Madness So Discreet started with your interest in the old insane asylum in Athens, Ohio. I’m curious about your new book—which is the first fantasy you’ve written—about the inhabitants of a dying island world.

Mindy: In a lot of ways Given to the Sea is a montage of many different thoughts that have come to me over a period of fifteen or twenty years.

The first scene that ever occurred to me was a star-crossed lovers type of situation, with an Ivanhoe-esque turn with the female refusing to cave to her own desires to be with the male, to the point that she's willing to pitch herself from a window to save her pride. That scene doesn't actually exist in the book now, but it planted the seed that told me I wanted to write a fantasy.

A combination of many things came together for everything else: an interest in Huntington's disease (also called the "dancing sickness"), the idea of genetic memory, and rising sea levels.

Jody: It just occurred to me that the rising sea level idea is the flip side of your first book. Not A Drop to Drink was a world with no water, and here, with this new book, you’ve got a world with too much water… Was the process for writing these books the same?

Mindy: My process is always the same. I sit down and write the book.

Jody: You make it sound easy.

Mindy. Not easy, but you just do it. With this book I thought I had all kinds of freedom because I was building a fantasy world.

Jody: So, you're thinking anything goes...

Mindy: Except it doesn’t. You have to keep track of your own rules that you're making, because you made them in the first place.

Jody: And sometimes you write yourself into a corner. What do you do when that happens? Any tricks you can share?

Mindy: I think a lot while I'm driving. I live in the middle of nowhere so if I'm on my way to an event I've usually got at least an hour each way, and the drive might give me some room to sort things out.

Jody: You've recently started writing full time. Has that changed how you write?

Mindy: It's harder to make myself write. Before I was on a very tight timetable. If I had twenty free minutes, then I needed to crack out some words. Now, I've got all day... and I know it. I'm learning how to budget my time better, which is weirdly harder when you have more of it.

Jody: What kinds of scenes or stories do love writing most and least? 

Mindy: I love writing biting dialogue, insults, stuff like that. Least, action scenes. Writing a battle scene and trying to keep it as "realistic" as possible while still making it thrilling and fun is challenging.

Jody: You write in different genres... from dystopian to gothic historical fiction to contemp, and now fantasy-- what makes a Mindy McGinnis book a Mindy McGinnis book—besides the fact that at least one of the characters is probably going to die?

Mindy: That, and a definite layer of grit and realism overlying everything. That's my approach with any genre. If this WERE going to happen, how would it unfold? No drama. No fuss. Just, give this thing some room and see what happens. Usually nothing good, because it's a McGinnis. :)

Jody: This is on a totally different note, but I know you've launched a podcast recently. What got you interested in that?

Mindy: I started listening to podcasts while I was running, and I started on the high end of production value - Serial, This American Life, Cracked, etc. I burned through those and started listening to others that were suggested to me and, most of the time, was not impressed. I thought to myself, "I could do better than that." Then I thought I should put my money where my mouth was.

So I did, literally. It's a time investment for me, since one of my biggest complaints about other podcasts was that they needed heavy editing (lots of filler, dead space, inside jokes, side rants).

Jody: And your podcast doesn’t--

Mindy: I don't make my listeners listen to anything I wouldn't want to hear.

Jody: I'm guessing there's some money involved. 

Mindy:  For hosting and distribution. I'm hoping to at least break even with it, if not make it financially productive, by the end of one year (I paid for one year of hosting up front). If it's not lifting its own weight by then, I'll have to pull the plug. At the moment I spend more time on the podcast than I do on my writing, which economically makes zero sense.

Jody: True. But hey, what does make sense in this business?

*(Check out one of Mindy's podcasts Here)

Okay, time for the lightning round. What kinds of things do you do for fun?

Mindy: Oh, God. I'm such a geek. Genealogy. Seriously. I found an ancestor (female) that I'd been looking for for ten years a few weeks ago and I almost cried. I also love old cemeteries and will just stop the car and go visit one if I see one that looks interesting to me.

Jody: Last good book you've read?

Mindy: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

Jody: TV show you've binged?

Mindy: Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I'm catching up!

Jody: What's up next for you?

Mindy: Given to the Sea will have a sequel (it's a duology) in the Spring of 2018, titled Given to the Earth. I have another contemporary, This Darkness Mine coming October 10th of 2017 from Katherine Tegen Books.

Right now I'm working on a story I'm mentally referring to as "Drunk Hatchet With A Girl," about a teen lost in the Appalachian region.

I'm sure marketing will retitle that.

Jody: Probably. But wouldn't it be awesome if they didn't? Hey Mindy, thanks so much for chatting with me today! And dear readers, if you'd like to know more about the dark and brilliant mind of Mindy McGinnis, see below:


Mindy McGinnis is an Edgar Award-winning author and assistant teen librarian who lives in Ohio. She graduated from Otterbein University with a degree in English Literature and Religion, and sees nothing wrong with owning nine cats. Two dogs balance things out nicely.

Where to find her: 

Where to find her books: 

Friday, March 31, 2017

I don't have writer's block I don't have writer's block I don't have writer's block I don't have

writer's block.

I write these words in tiny script so as not to give them more power.

writer's block

I know what I am supposed to do:


Put my butt in the chair each day, regardless of whether or not I am feeling inspired, and write. Let the story go where it wants to go without forcing it. Set down some words. Any words. Don't put pressure on myself to make it perfect. It's about quantity not quality, or so says Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way.

And I want to believe Julia. (I do!) But still, no matter how hard I fight it, sometimes my critical inner editor, my demanding annoying former English teacher/perfectionist self takes over and I am floundering once again in Writer's Block land

Writers' guides are filled with helpful advice on how to tackle writer's block. 

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic speaks soothingly to writers, cooing in our ears to be gentle with ourselves. Frustration is part of the process, she whispers. Creativity is wonderfully difficult and you're doing the best you can. There, there, sweetie.

Steven Pressfield in War of Art takes the opposite approach, shouting like a drill sergeant at us to fight Resistance with everything we've got. Quit whining about how tough it is, soldier! Park your lazy ass at your desk and get to work, damn it!

Daily, sometimes hourly, I pinball between the two opposite poles of Liz and Steve. I show up at my desk with the best of intentions. Set a word count goal. Set a timer. Pound out my words with a sledge hammer. Punish myself when I slow down. That's it! No more bathroom breaks until you hit 1000 words, you amateur!

I sprawl out on my bed and doodle with colored pencils in a notebook. Who needs a word count? Why stress myself out with a timer? I know, I'll do a character sketch! No, I'll build a stage set of this pesky scene out of papermache! Forget that. Let's pause to sing Kumbaya.

And then it's back to my desk and a new word count goal, a frenzy of tapping on my keyboard.

I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have-- 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fun Times at a Meeting with My Congressman

I am way out of my league at this meeting.

The other women carry binders of statistics, folders of research, handwritten letters and testimonials. Me, I've got nothing. 

Until a few months ago, I didn't know who my Congressional representative was. (Steve Stivers) Until a few weeks ago, I didn't know what my district was. (Ohio District 15) Until I programmed the address into my GPS, I didn't know where this office was. (3790 Municipal Way, Hilliard, Ohio, office phone: 614-771-4968)

Now I'm sitting here in a reception room with a handful of very prepared, professional-looking women, who are waiting to meet with Steve Stivers' District Director. His name's Adam and he's young enough to be my son. He asks us to sign in and one by one we do, with me wondering what they'll do with these names and addresses.

(Hey, I've read a ton of Dystopian fiction! Someone could be building a list of troublemakers in District 15. Next week they'll round all of us up and make us fight to the death in the Hunger Games or dress us like handmaidens in the Handmaid's Tale. 

That, or Steve Stivers' office will email us a bland, yet nice, form letter thanking us for visiting his office.) 

I decide to go with option C.

We sit down in comfy chairs in a room that looks like a boardroom. Again, I am having flashbacks to school board meetings, except this room's got a nice picture of Steve Stivers on the wall. He seems like a nice guy. Adam seems like a nice guy too. He opens the meeting by asking us to go around and introduce ourselves and share our concerns and he'll gladly pass those on to the congressman. 

Since I'm sitting next to Adam, I go first. I start out okay, I think, saying that I'm new at this-- the whole activist thing. I don't know the proper way to go about expressing my dissent with the new administration. The letters, the phone calls, the town halls that my representative (Steve Stivers) doesn't attend--these don't seem to be making a difference. 

And you know what? I'm angry after reading in the newspaper that Steve Stivers called me and people who've been writing and calling "paid protesters." It's not true. And it's disrespectful, I say, my voice rising.  I voted for Mr. Stivers and now, truth be told, I'm ticked off at myself for doing that. I don't feel like he's representing me.

Also, I don't know even know why I'm mad, I say. None of this affects me. I'm probably not going to be hurt by whatever new healthcare plan is passed. I don't have to worry about losing contraceptives. My kids are now out of public school.

Other people will be affected, though, and this matters to me.  

My voice keeps rising. I can feel my face burning and my voice getting thick. What the hell is this? Ugh, am I going to cry? 

Adam must think so. He's shifting uncomfortably in his seat. His head's bowed and he scrawls something on his notepad. (Possibly: ooooh kay this one's a lunatic.) But he says, nicely, that the congressman wasn't talking about his constituents when he said that thing about the paid protesters. He was talking about the people in Utah. 

This is  a lie  debatable, and I debate him, but then I quit and let the other women have a turn.

They speak, one by one, as Adam dutifully nods and occasionally writes something on his notepad.

One has just come from the hospital where her husband is recovering from expensive surgery. She's grateful for Medicare and is terrified it will be taken away. She has a letter she reads about the importance of the ACA.

Another woman opens a file and begins quoting statistics. She hopes that Steve Stivers will take a look at her research and Adam assures her that he will.

Someone tells a story about her nephew who was born with a congenital disease, how he suffered and died and this was before the ACA and the family struggled with medical bills. She starts to cry as she speaks about how we can't go back to that as a country, where people go bankrupt and have to rely on charity fundraisers to pay for catastrophic care. 

Adam interjects now and again to explain the congressman's thoughts, that healthcare is not a right but a responsibility, that the Republican goal is to keep costs down, that the new plan will help with that.

A woman points out that we'll save money if we keep the ACA. Isn't it better (and cheaper!) she asks, to pay for prevention-- things like birth control, drug addiction treatment, vaccines, medications, regular checkups with the doctor, rather than expensive trips to the emergency room?

Sure, Adam says, but Steve Stivers thinks people should be working to pay for their own health care.

But the working poor are the ones most using the ACA, the woman with all of the research folders points out. And not everyone can work. Children, for example. And elderly people in nursing homes. And people with disabilities. These are the people who will be most harmed by the repeal of the ACA.

An hour goes by and I am losing my will to live desire to sit any longer at this meeting.

It's such a sad, bizarre mix of passionate anger and boring procedural stuff, so that one moment someone is talking about the raging opioid epidemic in Ohio (The state is tied with Kentucky, in the top three of overdose deaths this year.) and the next moment, we're discussing the protocol for how the office handles constituent mail. Also, how many mean phone calls Steve Stivers gets each day. (A lot, apparently. But Adam assures us that Steve Stivers has a thick skin. Whew.)

After the meeting, the women hand Adam their letters and folders of research. Another office worker takes our pictures with Adam. He shakes our hands and offers us his card. He really is a nice guy. 

And it really is nice that Steve Stivers opened his office up to us, that he pays nice guys like Adam to answer the phones and read our letters, that he gives his constituents an opportunity to vent their anger and terror in meetings like this one. 

Steve Stivers is going to vote for the new healthcare law that guts the ACA anyway.

I know this. The women at the meeting know this too. I drive home from the meeting wondering why I went. I have no idea what to do next.

So I do the only thing I can.

I write about it.

Steve Stivers, the nice Congressperson of Ohio District 15

Saturday, March 18, 2017

When you have the attention span of a goldfish, sometimes poetry is the only thing that can save you...

Who knew there were so many poets?

Every day, a new one, a person I've never heard of, pops up in my email and whispers as I blearily brew my first cup of coffee.

These are the first words I hear each day, words that make me smile, words that confuse me, words that crush me. Always they make me pause as I swallow my coffee, make my foggy brain think hard, send me off on wild tangents before I begin my day's work.

Who knew I needed this so much?

A few months ago, drowning in waves of distressing news, caught up in the outrage and fear being shared by friends and strangers on social media, I was floundering around with my own words, struggling to settle down to write.

I was even having trouble reading books.

I heard an interview with Adam Alter, the author of the book Irresistible by Design, that our continual reading of stuff online has changed our brain chemistry. We used to have longer attention spans. Ten years ago before most of us started carrying our phones around with us, the average person could focus for roughly 12 seconds. Now, with our near constant jumping around from topic to topic, we're down to 8 seconds,

which is less than a goldfish.

Wait. Wasn't I just talking about poetry?

haha, so anyway, in December, I made a New Year's resolution to start my day, each day, by reading a poem. Okay, maybe my jumpy anxious mind couldn't handle full-blown novels, but surely I could read a page-long poem! Also, I once worked on an MFA in Poetry and I'd let all of that go and I missed reading poetry and wondered if I even could anymore.

I was thinking, too, that if nothing else, it would be a good way to start the day.

I have tons of poetry books on my book shelves, but seeking an even easier way to fulfill my resolution, naturally, I scrolled around online. Wouldn't it be cool if I could get an email of a poem every day? A poem, right there, in my inbox...

And wouldn't you know it? There IS such a thing! It's called Poem a Day and it's brought to you by the lovely people of through the Academy of American Poets (funded, partially, by the NEA, which is on the chopping block by our new regime, but I digress, again.)

Every morning before I read the crap news of the day or check in on social media, I open up my email and read a poem-- or, listen. (Some of the poems have audio files of the poets reading!) These poets are a smorgasbordof diverse voices-- young and old, brand newbys to multiply published, men and women, people of all backgrounds. I had never heard of any of them.

(News flash, and because I think 8 seconds has just passed: most poets are not well known. They play around with their words in relative obscurity, publish poems in magazines few people read, make very little money-- if any)

But I love reading the poems by these people. I love knowing they're out there somewhere writing and thinking and playing with words, sending their poems off to the Academy of American Poets--whatever their submission process is-- and that someone at the place is reading and choosing and putting together the email entry, recording the audio file, sending the day's selection off to the subscribers--

and me

so I can face a new day, with new words:

For a moment, I stand with ghosts
and the framed ancestors surrounding me. 

The best movies begin with an encounter 
and end with someone setting someone free. 

how the trash man paused with the storm glass,
holding it, making himself into a frame, a single frame—
all poets wonder if this is enough. 

*lines from poems by Parneshia Jones, Diana Marie Delgado, and Joy Katz

Saturday, March 11, 2017

(Not) Just a Girl: The Messed-up Floundery Yearning Teen Creations of Carrie Mesrobian

When you read a Carrie Mesrobian book, you meet the kids who tend to be overlooked and ignored in other young adult books. 

And in life. 

These are the kids who slouch in the middle rows of the classroom. The C-student kids who work after school at thrift stores or in restaurant kitchens or at the local tanning salon. They're not the star athletes, the popular kids, the valedictorians. They don't know where they want to go to college. Actually, they're not sure they want to go at all. The future is vague. 

Hell, next week is vague.  

What's there to do, if you're one of these kids, but live in the moment? Hang out with your friends. Go to beer-y parties after the Friday night football game. Hook up with a girl friend or a boy friend. Or both. 

Rianne, the main character in Mesrobian's newest novel Just a Girl is underestimated by everyone. She's used to living in her high achieving older sister's shadow, being lectured to by her mom, and overlooked by her dad. Her friends are cool and close, but lately they're growing apart as senior year grinds on and everyone's gearing up for what they plan to do after graduation. Rianne has no idea what she wants to do after graduation. 

It's not helping that she's been told explicitly, and implicitly, that she is bad --a reputation that dates back to a sexual experience with an older guy her freshman year and is solidified after another boy Tells All. Rianne never tries to refute it or even explain.

Like a lot of girls, I suspect, she internalizes the views her peers have of her, and simply goes on. 

She's dating Luke, a kid also known for his "bad" reputation-- but lucky for Luke, boys don't get the same crap for stuff like that. Anyway, he's a fairly decent guy. Maybe Rianne will end up with him. Maybe she'll end up sticking around in their small town, a place that feels more and more stifling.

Or maybe she'll jump on an opportunity that no one, including this reader, saw coming, and even now, weeks after I've finished reading the novel, still disturbs me. 

It's so hard to explain this book-- and all of Carrie Mesrobian's books-- because nothing really happens. There are no easy answers, or even any answers. It's the questions that get you, that tunnel around in your head while you're reading and long after. 

How do you recover after violent trauma? What do you do when your friends abandon you? How do you cope when your parents tell you it's time to leave home, now, even though you're not ready? What do you do when your boyfriend breaks your heart? 

Where do you go when no one expects you to go anywhere? 

*Just a Girl is out March 28th, 2017. If you, dear reader, are a librarian or teacher and would like a signed, advanced copy of this most excellent, disturbing, heartbreaking, beautifully written novel, post a comment below. I'll pick one at random, and send it your way. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Write in the Morning/Protest the Regime in the Afternoon: Notes from the Resistance

Except for the signs people are waving around, this could be a PTA meeting.

The group is chatty, friendly in the way that we know we all have something in common.  I bump into acquaintances. I introduce myself to strangers. And then it's down to business. When you go to a town hall for your congressman, there's an agenda. Speakers. Laughter when someone mentions she's not being paid to be here. She's holding a wriggling child.

If I was being paid to be here, she says, I would've gotten a babysitter.

Our congressman doesn't show up. Maybe it makes him feel better to imagine that someone is paying us to talk to him. Maybe he's afraid we're an angry mob.

Spoiler alert: we are not.

I don't ask any questions at the town hall. I don't raise my hand to speak. I listen. I'm curious about how all of this works. I am new to protesting. Until a few weeks ago I didn't know what a town hall was. I barely knew who my representatives were. Now I have all of their numbers saved on my phone.

I have no idea if it makes any difference when I call them, leaving voicemail messages or every once in a while, getting through to chat with a harried intern.

When my kids were in elementary school, my husband used to joke that I was a full-time volunteer. Too bad you don't get paid for this, he said. This is like a job.

I was elected to serve on a site-based school board for five years. I edited the school newsletter. I was on the PTA board. I can't even count how many meetings I went to. Some were contentious. A few were stressful to the point that I thought about quitting. I commiserated once with a fellow volunteer and she shrugged off my weary outrage.

Just remember why you're doing this, she said. Because you care about your kids. You care about everybody's kids.

A few weeks ago at the Women's March in DC, I walked around for hours holding a sign above my head. I was so fired up I felt like I could hold that sign up forever. When I returned home, I wanted to keep on marching with it. Maybe I'd carry it with me when I walked the dog around the block.

I imagined my neighbors' raised eyebrows, and drove downtown to protest outside my senator's office instead.

This was totally out of my comfort zone. I had to plug the address into my GPS. I had to park in a creepy parking garage. I climbed the stairs up from the underground garage and wondered how in the world I would even find the protest.

No worries. It was the group of 150 people or so gathered across the street. I joined them and raised my sign overhead. An hour later I got lost trying to find my car. I paid five bucks for parking and laughed thinking about how I had basically just paid money to protest.

It's weird, and sad, that my president says that I, and people like me, are being paid to show up at town halls and to march at rallies. Besides the fact that it is an easily provable lie, it's disrespectful. He's making the assumption that I wouldn't DO this-- care passionately about something-- unless I was being paid.

At one of those contentious school board meetings, I spoke out against the principal's proposal to do away with foreign language classes. This was a middle school that housed a Spanish Immersion program for a small group of students (including my son). The proposal was to get rid of foreign language for the kids in what they called "the neighborhood." The gist of the principal's argument was that foreign language classes (and later he'd throw in stuff like art and music) were extras, frivolous, especially when you took into account that many of the neighborhood students were struggling in reading and math. Anyway, it didn't affect my kid, so why was I even opposing his plan?

At the Town Hall of our absent congressman, someone speaks about the importance of being involved in the community, of reminding our representatives that they work for and serve their constituents--us. Another person speaks about the environment, how she was raised in the shadow of a coal plant, how she's now fearful of the administration's rollback of environmental regulations. Another person speaks about her experience as a Muslim American, how she's lived in our community for ten years, how she volunteers at her mosque to serve meals to the poor, how she is hurt and afraid by the tone of the president about fellow Muslims.

One by one people in the room stand. They're terrified they will lose their healthcare. They worry about the dismantling of public education. They're sad about the disparaging comments made about women and minorities and the disabled.

The morning after the election, a friend rolled her eyes and asked me, When are you going to get over this?

She may as well have asked me, When are you going to stop caring?

I didn't answer her back then, but I will now:


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On Bears, Camus and a Mutual Love for Emily Dickinson: Interview with Jenny Torres Sanchez

I'm so happy to welcome Jenny Torres Sanchez back to On The Verge. Jenny's novel Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia made me a fan, and later led to our friendship (I mean, who else can I talk to about my love for Emily Dickinson?) At a recent writing retreat Jenny and I learned we had other things in common, besides Emily D. We were both English teachers, for example. Also, we both have a weird fascination with bear attacks.

Jenny's latest novel, Because of the Sun is a glorious, heartbreaking magical-realism blend of a dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship with the hypnotic, dream-like tone of Camus' The Stranger.

Plus, it features a metaphorical (and possibly literal) bear.


Jody: Okay, so you know that I am obsessed with Sid Fleischman's Two Sticks Theory -- that just as it takes two sticks to build a fire, it takes two ideas to spark a story. What were the two ideas that sparked Because of the Sun?

Jenny: There were actually four sticks: An old short story about a girl and her mother I started when I was about twenty years old, but never finished and that just kind of followed me around all these years. There was the unrelenting Florida sun as summer approached. There were headlines about several black bear/human encounters near where I live in Florida. And definitely, definitely there was The Stranger by Albert Camus, which I read in high school and have always loved.

Jody: I read The Stranger a million years ago. I honestly don't remember anything about it except that I felt like I'd fallen into a dream when I was reading.

Jenny: I had a similar impression. I’ve reread the book a few times over the years but I had just reread about a year before I started writing this novel. That book was so weird to me when I read it in high school, but I was completely fascinated by the main character. Meursault is so . . . weird! And interesting. I felt then like I didn’t quite get him, but I wanted to figure him out. So I thought about that book a lot over the years, and reread it several times, and it ended up inspiring this book in so many ways.

Jody: I can see the similarities. There's this feeling of dreamy detachment in the voice of your main character Dani.

Jenny: Yes, and Meursault's lost his mother too. And there's the blazing hot sun that makes you do/think crazy things, and the question of what it means to have or-- not have hope.

Jody: What was your process for writing this book? Was it different from other books you've written?

Jenny: I was kind of in a weird writing place. A book I had worked on for a while and struggled with, but finished, was on submission. It didn’t look like it was going anywhere and I knew I needed to get myself into a new project or I was going to drive myself crazy. So, the weather had been really hot. I was thinking a lot of The Stranger because the sun always kind of makes me think of that book. I was also thinking of that short story I told you about. I remember vividly sitting down at my kitchen table and playing around with the concept of that short story and getting some opening lines down.

Jody: And then the bears came into it?

Jenny: Ha! Yes. The headlines of bear encounters had been on the morning news lately and when I started writing, all these things started clicking into place. Each time I sat down to work, Dani’s story kept coming together. There wasn’t a whole lot of frustration with this novel. Maybe there was more than I’m remembering, but I think it was less than I’d felt with my previous books. This book felt like it’d been waiting to be written and now was the right time.

Jody: That's a nice feeling.

Jenny: I know. I read or heard Sara Zarr talk about one of her books once (I think it was How to Save a Life) where she said that book felt like a gift. That’s how I feel about this book. It came together strangely and kind of quickly.

Jody: Those days when it's more difficult though, or with other writing projects that are more of a struggle, do you have certain activities that help you to push through?

Jenny: I like to sit outside and think about the story and try to get into my characters’ minds. I like to read poetry and wonder how it might relate to one of my characters. I also like to take short drives while listening to music (usually songs that are related to what I’m working on because I make a playlist for each book I’m working on). Short drives because I usually need to get home and take some notes. All these things help me a lot. I feel like they’re a way to tap into my characters better and get to know them and how they feel.

Jody: Your books are very character-driven rather than plot-oriented.

Jenny: This is true. I love to write the small quiet moments, when a character is very reflective, almost inside themselves wondering about something or discovering something. Those are my absolute favorite scenes to write. Which I guess explains why action scenes aren’t really my thing. They’re not terrible to write, but I don't enjoy them much.

Jody: Switching topics a bit--  you've got three kids, including a little one at home... how do you balance writing and being a mom? Any tricks of the trade you've learned along the way? Is this an unfair question? I mean, would I have asked this of a man? hmm...

Jenny: I don’t actually think this question is so much unfair as I think it’s a question that should also commonly be asked of men. Writing is difficult and it is done at all kinds of hours and for any writer who has a family, it can be a challenge. For some fathers who write, perhaps it’s as much of a balancing act as it is for some mothers who write. And for some, it’s not and they don’t even realize the vital role their spouse has in their ability to do what they do. I think men should be asked to reflect on this as much as women. As for me, yeah, I definitely have to balance work and family like any working parent. But my family understands writing is my work. My husband and kids respect that I’m a writer and writing is my job. So, they get it. That makes the balancing act easier.

Jody: And we have to balance other aspects of our lives too. I know you're concerned about social justice and care about the potentially scary turn in our country's politics. How do you balance writing with being a human in a dark world? Does it affect your writing? Does it show up in your work?

Jenny: I observe. I let myself feel the emotions that stem from it all, my emotions and those of others, the anger, the fear, the hopelessness and hopefulness. And then I use it all, even if what I’m writing might not deal directly with social justice issues (though some of it does). The darkness of our world definitely shows up. In some way or another. And it inspires me to seek answers and solutions and find beauty and light.

And I try to balance all of that out with other creative pursuits. I like to take photos, and listen to records, and paint (I do this very badly, but it’s still fun).  I collect things but nothing specific. Just little trinkets and cool little items that seem interesting to me.

Jody: Such as Emily Dickinson postcards...

Jenny: Yes! I was so happy that you sent that to me. I pinned it up next to the photo I have of her tombstone.

Jody: Favorite good book you've read recently?

Jenny: I’m reading Idaho by Emily Ruskovich now and it seems exactly the kind of book I’m going to love. I read Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl In Pieces this past summer and that is an amazingly raw and painful and beautiful book. Also, I love Edwidge Danticat’s Untwine and was really excited to read a YA novel by her because I’m a big fan of her work (Claire of the Sea Light is another one of her books that's a favorite of mine). The story of those sisters in Untwine broke my heart and I loved the way she weaved in the Haitian culture. I also recently read Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson and that is a powerful, hopeful punch in a very slim book.

Jody: On a lighter note, any guilty pleasures? What's the last TV show you've binged?

Jenny: I don’t binge on tv shows much. I mostly watch the news these days and get angry and a little depressed before making a plan to call my senators. Then I watch reruns of The Golden Girls and King of Queens. I’m the life of the party, Jody.

Jody: I see we have even more things in common!  Before I let you go, can you share something about your next project?

Jenny: It's called Crows Cry Emilia and due to publish in 2018 by Philomel. I am so, so excited about it. It’s a story about sixteen year old Emilia who thinks she’s over her tragic past until it comes back to haunt her. Having survived a brutal attack on her elementary school’s playground when she was eight years old, she is caught off guard once more when the police reveal they’ve convicted the wrong guy for the crime. The story follows Emilia as she comes undone and we see the lasting effects of the past on not only her, but those she loves most. My editor, Liza Kaplan, is amazing and I think this book will be better than I ever could have imagined because of her guidance. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world.

Jody: I am so looking forward to that, Jenny. Thanks for chatting with me today, and dear readers, if you'd like to find out more about Jenny Torres Sanchez and her work, please see below.


JENNY TORRES SANCHEZ is a full-time writer and former English teacher. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has lived on the border of two worlds her whole life. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and children.

Twitter: @jetchez