Saturday, September 22, 2018

Riding in cars with boys

I was sixteen. I don't remember the day, or even the time of the year. But I can tell you what I was wearing. My school uniform.

I can tell you I was walking home from school, out early because I didn't have class the last period of the day and I hated school and would rather walk two miles home than stay for an extra period and wait for the bus. 

The boy who picked me up was someone I'd known since freshman year. He was in my homeroom. I was friends with his girlfriend, but that girl and I had had a falling out. Did I want a ride? Sure! Thanks!

I don't remember what we talked about on the ride to my house, but I do remember the boy pulling over suddenly and lunging on top of me. It was weird how calm he was, how insistent. This was what he wanted and it was going to happen. My mind was racing. He was a big guy. There didn't seem to be a way to physically fight him off, so I tried reasoning with him, talking about his girlfriend and how she would feel. Talking about my boyfriend, who I said was waiting for me right this minute and would wonder where I was-- not true--  but thankfully, it broke the spell. 

The guy let me go and I stumbled out of his car. We saw each other in school, of course, the next day and the next. He never acknowledged what he tried to do. I ran into him a few other times over the years and it was the same. Maybe he didn't remember. 

For the record, even though this happened thirty-five years ago, I know who the guy is. I mean, really, do you honestly think I would forget?

I don't tell this story to elicit sympathy. It's just a thing that happened. There were other things that happened, when I was younger, when I was older, things that were far worse. I wonder if that is why I wasn't entirely surprised when the boy jumped on top of me. I wasn't terrified. I wasn't angry. If I had a feeling at all, it was weariness.

Age sixteen, I had already learned that some boys do this sort of thing. Grab a girl because that is what they want to do. No point making a fuss about it.

Thirty-five years later I've changed my mind. Now, don't worry. I'm not going to out the man. Although, I admit I feel a twinge of satisfaction imagining him reading this and stressing about it. I almost feel sorry for him.

Without much warning the world he ruled is shifting. He wonders: Maybe I'm not allowed to grab girls anymore?

Although a case can be made that he can still get away with it. Some men (and some women too) will rush in to defend him, throw out the same tired lines. Boys will be boys. It didn't really happen. Or if it did happen, it was a long time ago. It wasn't a big deal.

But it might be enough to make him pause. He can feel it, the hold he has on the world loosening, even as he scrabbles to cling tighter. He has to work harder to defend himself these days, yell louder. It's almost as if he knows, deep down, his time is nearly up.

The ride, it's over.

















Tuesday, September 18, 2018

On Kindness, Friendship, and Rage: Three Books I Love This Week




Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse, by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken. 

Adrian Simcox tells everyone who will listen about his beautiful horse, but classmate Chloe knows that he's lying and she sets out to logically prove it, only to realize that she's hurt Adrian in the process and that he may have a horse after all...


This book reminds me of the old classic The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, which depicts a similar dynamic-- a poor, imaginative girl trying to fit in with her disapproving, mean-girl classmates. I read that one over and over as a kid, feeling the sting each time when the girls learn the truth and are rightfully ashamed. 

Something nice about the ending of this one: the shame is softened by the possibility of a friendship. 

Friendship is at the heart of Kat Yea's The Way to Bea; specifically, it's the loss of friendship and all of the confusion and heartbreak that go along with that familiar rite of middle school passage. Seventh grader Beatrix copes by writing haikus, listening to her playlists, and reluctantly (at first) joining the school newspaper. There she meets a quirky boy obsessed with mazes.


Lots going on in this one about the awkwardness of growing up and growing apart, some hints at parental neglect (Bea's parents are preoccupied with work and expecting a new baby), the power of words and books, and a fun (and somewhat scary) side plot about getting lost in a maze. 

(Don't worry, it all works out) 
It does not all work out in Courtney Summers' new novel Sadie.


This book pretty much killed me. I read it in two nights, filled with growing feelings of rage and grief. The book begins with a podcast about a dead girl and her missing sister, Sadie. What follows is the story of Sadie's quest to find her sister's killer, alternating with updating segments of the podcast. 

I have to admit that I was skeptical at first that this structure would work, fearing that the podcast would interrupt the flow of the narrative. 

I was wrong. Sadie's story builds with such a ferocity, I found that the podcast gave me a chance to catch my breath. 

And you need to catch your breath with this one. You know how there's this thing lately in the news where suddenly, as a society, we are arguing over whether or not to believe women?

Well, guess what, I do believe women, and I am enraged that we are still even having this discussion. If you are one of those skeptical people who wonders what all the fuss is about, read Sadie. 

And then get back to me. 



Saturday, September 8, 2018

The roof is higher than it was the last time

I was up here. I have a thing about ladders. Going up isn't so bad, throwing your leg up and over. It's the climbing down that gets me. I have to brace myself. Look straight ahead. Imagine myself already on the ground.

In the meantime I stay low, inch my way up to the roof peak and down the other side, keeping in the narrow strip of shade. Did I mention we've picked the hottest weekend of the year to paint the house? Why did we decide to do this again? my husband asks.

(Because we never hire people to do things we can do ourselves)
(Because we're cheap)
(Because we're idiots)

I like this paint color. Brownish gray. Once I get over my initial terror on the roof, I settle into a rhythm. Dip the brush into the can, scrape off the excess, smear it onto the house. I can see all of my drippy mistakes from the last time I was up here ten years ago,

when we'd only recently moved here and the house was royal blue. We went for a more muted tan color, priding ourselves on wrapping up the entire project over Labor Day weekend. This year, I can already tell we won't hit that goal. Ten years from now...

yeah. We're probably going to hire out.

I can see my garden from up here. The asparagus plants I planted on a drizzly cold spring day, my son watching from the porch, laughing when I told him that it might be seven years before we'd have a good crop of asparagus. But I'll be in college by then, he said. I don't know about him, but I couldn't imagine that. Now

he's been through college and out. He lives on the opposite side of the country, not here to eat the asparagus, which truth be told, never took root or spread how it was supposed to. I planted sixteen plants and today there's only two left.

Recently, I cut one perfect stalk and ate it standing right where I'd plucked it. Stretched out around me were the raised beds planted with food that grows way better than asparagus. Lettuce, for example, which is set in rows, now hiding the spot where my daughter once practiced hitting a tetherball.

The spring I planted the asparagus she was obsessed, wanting to master the game the kids at her new school were playing. But it was a brief obsession. By fall, when she started middle school, my husband took down the tetherball pole and built the raised garden beds. I do this a lot

flip back and forth in time

see myself digging asparagus holes in raw drizzle, hear my son's laugh and my daughter's smack of a ball, and me, on a roof, painting over the past, bracing myself for the climb down.





Friday, August 31, 2018

Battling through Writer's Block

I hate to use the word battle. 

I want to be the kind of writer who takes joy in the process and approaches the day's writing as Play. The Julia Cameron Artist's Way writer who pampers my Artist-Child Within by taking myself on solo dates to museums and collecting pretty stones and making collages of exotic travel destinations and  setting up altars to my Dreams and decorating my work space with objects that bring me happiness.

(For the record I have done all of those things.)

And it makes sense on some level that treating your work as play can quiet the editorial voice in your head and counteract your innate perfectionism, 

the perfectionism that ends with you writing and rewriting the same sentence over and over, treading water in the same scene for weeks, unable to move on because it's not RIGHT and what if you can't finish this revision and what if you can't write anymore period and who cares anyway, and

what is the point of this story again? 

But all of this nonsense was leading me into the same dead end place that it's always led me. Exhaustion. Crankiness. Self-pity. Plus, it's boring. 

So, after a while, I realize again what I always realize, which is that I write because that is what I do and sometimes thinking about it as Play (and palm tree collages and glossy stones and coconut scented candles in the office) is just not going to cut it. 

No. Some days it is a battle. It is a War of Art.  It is you sitting down for your day's work. No excuses. No whining. No fiddling or procrastinating. No striving toward perfection. 

And not getting up until the work is done. 


(For the record: I have reworked 20 pages of my manuscript this week. And today I will rework 5 more.) 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Last week I drove my daughter to college

well, okay, she did all of the driving. It was her car and I had an awful head cold, basically plunked in the seat beside her and blowing my nose through an entire box of kleenex.

It's a nine-hour drive to Memphis where she goes to school, and where I went to school once, and I was feeling foggy and discombobulated about the trip, wanting to be there for my daughter as she moved into her dorm her senior year, but also reeling a little, to be honest, at how fast the time had flown by since my husband and I had driven her down to start college, at how fast time had flown by

since she'd started high school
and middle school
and elementary school
and preschool for crying out loud,

and if we're being honest here, since before she was born, because I'd spent the nine months of my pregnancy with her in Memphis, and I have vivid memories of myself waddling around downtown when some random guy walked up and asked if I was about to give birth any moment because it was painful to look at me.

Sorry, random guy for being pregnant and out in public. But I digress. My point is that the passage of time was hitting me, possibly compounded by my head cold, but I was trying to rally, keenly aware of the precious time ticking away, those hours, in the car, chatting with my daughter

about her plans for the upcoming school year and her friends and her boyfriend, all the while blowing my nose, my daughter's playlist playing in the background, an interesting blend of music I'd never heard in my life interspersed with songs I loved when I was in college thirty years ago.

That night my daughter and I uncharacteristically indulged ourselves by staying at a touristy overpriced hotel downtown, the Peabody, an institution in Memphis, a place I'd been many times for parties and to do the touristy thing there, which is to see The Ducks. (These are real ducks that live on the roof of the hotel, and every morning they come down the elevator and march up a red carpet and swim around in the fancy fountain in the hotel lobby.)

Twelve years living in Memphis and I had seen the ducks march and swim many times, but I had never before stayed the night in the hotel or sat in the lobby and had an over-priced drink. But that is exactly what my daughter and I did on the night before she started school, me, with a clump of kleenex in my hand and her, just-turned-21 and suddenly so grown-up.

We perused the menu and ordered frou frou drinks and feeling loopy on cold meds, I asked the waitress to throw in an order of a two-dollar plastic duck, which was served, looking very adorable, on a nest of bar snacks.

The next day, I helped my daughter move into her dorm and it was pretty clear she didn't really need me there. She and her roommate knew how they wanted to arrange things, and later when we went grocery shopping and to Target, I ambled along beside her, a strange feeling coming over me that some kind of transformation had occurred in our relationship,

still mother and daughter, because we will always be that, but what is it when your child becomes an adult in the blink of an eye, and in the next blink becomes

a friend?




Wednesday, August 15, 2018

I wrote a book about Elvis once

It was the second book I tried to write.

I wrote it how I used to write short stories when I was in college. Take something true and twist it. In this case the true thing was my father died and I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years trying to understand why. I was seven when he died and he was thirty-four. He was sick my mother told me, and for some reason, I heard the words Heart Attack.

How Elvis came into it was a weird coincidence. He died on the same date three years later. This was big news even in Connecticut where I grew up. The cause of death was said to be heart failure.

I didn't find out the truth until I was older, that Elvis died of a drug overdose in his bathroom and my father died of an overdose in our living room. I don't know about Elvis, but my father's death was deliberate. That was the thing I was trying to understand. I was mad at him for a long time. And then I was sad. After a while it was a confusing mix of both. I didn't like telling people. I didn't like watching them struggle to come up with an I'm sorry.

Anyway, I wasn't grieving for my father. I didn't know him. If I was grieving, I was grieving for the loss of a father in my life. I had a stepfather, but that's another story. I just wanted to move on from it, but then the date would come around again and there'd be stuff on the news about Elvis dying and I'd end up thinking about my father and wondering why all over again.

This got more annoying when I lived in Memphis. Every year in that city there's a big lead-up to the day. A whole week called Elvis Week, culminating in a candlelight vigil at Graceland where mourners light candles and file past Elvis's grave. The people in Memphis jokingly call the week Death Week.

Somewhere along the way I started thinking there was a potential book in all of this. A girl whose father died the same day as Elvis, set against the backdrop of Death Week. Of course the climax would take place at the candlelight vigil.

The book morphed into something more than I'd envisioned when I started it, as books tend to do. Turns out the dead father had been an Elvis impersonator. No one could explain why he killed himself and the girl spends a lot of time dragging her best friend around to talk to her father's family and friends (conveniently at Elvis Week locations around the city) and with each conversation she comes away with new, conflicting information about why he did it.

It's a big quest for the Truth, but with a sad twist, because with the girl's obsession of figuring out her father death, she misses all of the signals her struggling best friend is sending. The night of the vigil, the friend attempts suicide.

It seemed like a very big important book at the time I was writing it, and I was pretty much consumed with it for three or four years, writing multiple drafts, doing research about Elvis, including attending a candlelight vigil (an interesting experience to say the least), but it all ultimately came to nothing. In the sense that the book was never published.

Sometimes I wonder what the point is of a project like this.

But I already know the answer. It was this book that taught me how to write a book. My first experience with editorial feedback and rejection. My first disappointment at putting a book away and knowing it would stay tucked away, forever unread.

But also my first glimpse of how the creative process works. How you can take pieces of your life,  the dark things you don't understand, the questions that can't really be answered, all of the emotions at the core-- that confusion and anger and grief-- and push through until something new comes out on the other end.

A story.




Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Dude, where's my car?

I am going to blame it on the heat, a busier than usual weekend, house guests? But Saturday, I lost my car and get this...

I didn't know I'd lost it until Monday.

Hear me out. So, Saturday I drove to work at the bookstore. I don't usually work on Saturdays but a friend of mine,  Dr. Kevin Cordi -- writer, professional story-teller, OSU professor--was leading story-time and I didn't want to miss it. (Side note: he was amazing) and then some other author friends, Kristina McBride, Mindee Arnett, Lorie Langdon, and Natalie D. Richards showed up for their YA panel and book signing,

but first we all trooped next door for lunch, chatted about books and writing projects and the dark hole that is the publishing industry and foods we are allergic to and Natalie's daughter who might or might not be winning a ribbon at the Ohio State Fair because it seemed like she'd gotten a cruddy impatient judge, but Natalie wouldn't know for sure until later in the afternoon...

and back to the bookstore where the group did their panel and book signing and then it was only Natalie in the store, and she was heading directly to the state fair and could I please please please come with her, and of course I wanted to support her daughter and see her possibly win a ribbon and I had never been to the state fair

so off we went, in Natalie's car, to the fair where her daughter DID win a ribbon and then a quick swing through the crowded fairgrounds, sweating it out in the heat, past booths selling every-kind-of-fried food and barns filled with farm animals and quilts, and one exhibit depicting the movie A Christmas Story sculpted in butter


and then to my house for dinner

and the next day, which was busier than the one before because my daughter's boyfriend was in town for a visit and for some reason we'd all gotten it into our heads to drive up to Mansfield to tour the The Ohio State Reformatory (a former state prison and the site of the Shawshank Redemption movie and now supposedly haunted)

which we did (in my daughter's car) and I must say, the place was creepy, but not haunted as far as I could tell and I know haunted places,



then a drive back home, a quick dinner, and out, again, this time to see the latest Mission Impossible movie, which was only meh, although the meh-ish-ness of the movie may have been exacerbated by the fact that the air conditioning in the theater had broken down and we were all dying sitting there in pools of our own sweat.

Home late

and the next morning seeing off my daughter's boyfriend and then getting ready for work when I went into the garage to find my car missing,

and for a full three minutes, I literally had no idea why it wasn't there or where it could be until my daughter played the Where Did You Last See It game and I remembered.





Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How to Write a Chapter in Six Weeks OR what to do after you get a seven-page editorial letter



1. Fiddle with the original first chapter for a while, holding on tight, allowing only for a shift of a sentence or two, a shuffling up of a paragraph,

because you spent so much time working and reworking those scenes and if you let them go, then what? A whole new chapter from scratch? no. way.

Set a goal to revise the chapter in a week.
Fail.

(Maybe you can't do this anymore. Maybe the book's no good at the core. Maybe you should write a different book and forget this one.)

2. Realize you've got to let go of the first chapter. The first three chapters, I mean,

because when you set all of that up, you were writing a different book from the one this story has morphed into. Also, since we're being honest here, most of it is backstory anyway, stuff you had to figure out about your character, the things that made her who she is, never mind all of the other characters, the place, the voice.

Set a goal to write a new chapter in a week.
Fail.

(Maybe you can't write this book. Maybe you don't want to write this book. Maybe books are pointless in this world.)

3. Complain to your critique partner, to your writing group, to David Levithan at a publishing dinner party. Nod along as they all basically tell you the same thing. Stop overthinking it. Just write. Play around for a while. Trust the process. (Although David Levithan admits that he has never received a seven-page editorial letter.

Thanks, David Levithan)

Set a goal to play around with the first chapter for a week.
Fail.

4. Imagine an alternate reality for yourself where you quit writing. It involves selling other people's books and walking the dog three times a day and marching against injustice.

5. Imagine the reality where you keep writing this book because that is what you do who are we kidding here

6. Set a goal to write one terrible paragraph. In pencil. In ten minutes.
Succeed.

7. Write another paragraph

and another
and another
and another
and another
and another

until you finish Chapter One.

8. Take a breath. Time to begin Chapter Two.














Wednesday, July 25, 2018

News Detoxing

I've always been a news junkie. Even as a kid I pored over the local paper-- the comics, Dear Abby, the editorials. As a teen, I wrote letters to the editor, once getting into a dueling editorial argument with my history teacher over the Equal Rights Amendment.

(I said we should pass the ERA because women should be treated equally under the law. She said that the ERA would lead to unisex bathrooms, murdered babies, and female firefighters who wouldn't be strong enough to lift her out of a burning building.)

In college I quit reading the newspaper. No time, I guess. And the paper in the commons room was usually missing. Anyway, what was going on outside in the world seemed removed from what was happening in my little campus bubble. But after I graduated, I was back to paying attention. By then 24-hour news and CNN had become a thing. I was glued to the TV during the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings and the OJ Simpson-white-bronco-driving-down-the-freeway show and the subsequent trial.

That craziness burned me out for a while, although I still read the newspapers. But I was yanked back into TV news on 9/11.

A friend called to tell me what was happening and I watched the Twin Towers fall in real time, fully aware and sickened by the realization that I had just witnessed the deaths of thousands of people. In the months that followed I was addicted to the TV. Hearing the survivors' stories. Watching the firefighters digging through what they called The Pile. Freaking out over the anthrax attacks.

Until two things happened that woke me up.

One, my three-year-old child and I were outside playing in the front yard and a plane flew overhead and she asked me if it was going to fly into our house.

Two, I watched an interview on CNN where a reporter interviewed a dream interpreter about Bin Laden. I have no idea why a dream interpreter would be seriously interviewed on TV and I think even the reporter had that realization because she actually started laughing.

And that was when I knew that I had crossed some kind of line with the News and it was no longer about receiving information that might be helpful to me as a citizen,

it was now something absurd, something tragic and sad, a source of anxiety and hopelessness, nevermind, a huge time suck, and by watching, I was participating, the equivalent of every moment slowing down to rubberneck at a car in flames on the side of the road.

So I quit watching and I never went back.

But it's hit me again, recently, that I have reached the same point, but now, in a different form. Social media. Online articles. Screaming matches in the comments. Political memes. Whatever. Some days I feel like I am watching the Twin Towers falling over and over again.

But worse, because I am losing my capacity to feel shock, horror, empathy, and grief at the sight.

Children taken from their parents at the border. The president paying off porn stars (that's stars. With an S) Americans seriously arguing that it's okay for police to shoot someone because the person didn't obey orders quickly enough. A foreign country attacking our election. And it's only Wednesday.

Of course I do want to know what is going on in the world so I can be an informed citizen. I belong to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and Mothers Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and those organizations send periodic emails about upcoming legislation and action that I, personally, can take.

Such as calling my representatives. Protesting. Voting.

But for my own sanity, I think it's time to pull my head inside the car as I drive down the highway strewn with burning cars-- (by turning off news notifications. Blocking political sites from my laptop. Removing myself from Twitter... ) and pay attention to the road.

I suspect it's going to be a long, bumpy ride.









Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Why I'll Probably Never Join a Cult

because I'm skeptical about pretty much everything.

The other day, for example, I got an email with my name and an old password in the subject line (which, okay, did freak me out momentarily) and then I read the email that basically said that I'd been doing something embarrassing online and they'd caught me on my computer camera and if I didn't give them three thousand dollars, they'd show all of my contacts, and don't go to the police and hurry up send the money now, the clock is ticking--

and I thought, Wait, 

what embarrassing thing was I doing? Did walking around in my office in my underwear count? To make a long story short, I forwarded the email to my tech savvy son who told me it's a new phishing scam going around, probably using hacked passwords from a data breach (thank you, yahoo mail),

so no worries, but maybe use this opportunity to change passwords on all of my accounts. Also, it wouldn't hurt to cover up my laptop camera. 

So, I did that, thinking about the people who might be right now freaking out for real and sending money to this joker, which got me thinking how I have never been one of those people.

Even when I was a kid I was skeptical,

like the time I received a handwritten chain letter in the mail from a friend instructing me to write out ten letters exactly like that one and send them to ten other friends, or the chain, which had been circling around the world for twenty-five years, would be broken and bad things would happen to all of us,

and halfway through writing out the first letter, I wondered if I really wanted to curse ten more people with such an inane task. And surely I couldn't be the first person to break this dumb chain in twenty-five years.

Around the same time I read a story about the Jonestown Massacre in a magazine and I couldn't stop looking at the picture on the cover, all of the dead bodies laid out in rows in the jungle, all of those people who'd followed a cult leader down to South America and then, all of them-- over 900-- willingly drank the poisoned kool aid when he told them to. 

Which stuck with me over the years because I couldn't get over it. What would make a person suspend all critical thinking and nod along as some mad man ranted and told you to kill yourself? 

Even as I kid I couldn't fathom being so gullible. 

Maybe because I was living in a house where bad things were going down and we all had to act like those things weren't happening, but I kept thinking, wait, no. This IS happening, and I told a bunch of people (who didn't do anything about it) but whatever, I knew what reality was, and no way was I going to act like I didn't. 

That kind of thing tends to stick with you too.

Something interesting I learned recently about the Jonestown Massacre is that all 900+ people did not willingly drink the poison.

Three hundred or so of that group were children and were given the drinks by trusted adults. Another 300 were elderly people, sick people, people who tried to resist but were made to drink at gunpoint by soldiers at the camp. 

Meaning that when people talk about crazy cults and use Jonestown as an example, it's important to note that only one third of the people followed the madman until the end. 

Still horrifying and impossible to understand, but better than imagining the entire group shuffling up together with their cups. And making me feel somewhat more hopeful about the state of the world this morning.

I guess what I'm saying is that if some present-day madman does end up shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, in all probability two thirds of his followers might toss away their kool aid cups.

If you want to know more about what happened at Jonestown, this book is illuminating:











  

Monday, July 9, 2018

I didn't notice her foot was raised

The one time I visited the statue was on an eighth grade class field trip. We took a choppy boat ride to the island and climbed the windy stairs inside. I wasn't thinking about the statue, the history, the symbols, or give me your tired and poor, I was thinking of my own feet on the stairs because those stairs were scary, steep.

Each step, a grate you could see through with no back to it, so it felt like your foot could slide out the other side. Only room for one person, climbing single file, and once you were on your way up, there was no turning back.

I gripped the railing, kept my eyes on the person in front of me, tried not to look down, but every so often caught a dizzying glimpse of the space around me, the contours of the statue's body, the dress.

I just wanted to make it to the top. I was imagining the spacious crown, the view of the city (my first time visiting New York even though my hometown was less than a two-hour drive away) but when I finally made it, it turned out the space up there was cramped too, the windows in the crown too small to see much of anything. As we filed past, I peeked out, caught a flash of a green arm, the one holding the torch, the rivets holding it together,

and then we were filing our way down, this time scarier than going up because the person behind me kept knocking his knees into my back, threatening to tip me over the rail.

We saw other things on that trip. The stock exchange. The UN building. A stroll around the roof of one of the Twin Towers. I think you could see the Statue of Liberty from up there. But still, I never noticed the raised foot. There's a new book about it, a kids' book that we've been featuring at the bookstore where I work, but one I hadn't picked up until the other day.


A fun story about the statue and who came up with the idea and how it was built, some facts I knew, and some I didn't, like, for example, that for the first thirty years, the statue was brown (it's made of copper and it took that long to oxidize); that the statue was assembled in Paris and stood there for a year before it was taken apart and reassembled in America. 

So, the statue is, in a sense, an immigrant, someone in motion, if you remember her raised right foot. The author of the book makes us think about why that might be so.  

If you stop by the bookstore, I will push the book into your hands. I will also hand you a tissue.



Saturday, June 30, 2018

I don't remember how many people were protesting

ten? Twelve? The group was in the center of campus and I was walking past on the way to dinner. They carried signs and shouted but I didn't stop to hear what they were saying or do more than glance at the signs. Something about Apartheid, which I knew was a Thing in South Africa.

Something bad. But I knew this on an intellectual level only. I want to tell you I felt something more than mild curiosity, something more than Meh Whatever, as I continued walking by. But I can't remember feeling anything. The truth is I didn't care. I was going to say it was because I was twenty,

but the protesters were the same age, so that can't be the reason. Maybe it's because I was a mess, too wrapped up in my own problems to imagine other people's pain. Not a good excuse, but it's all I have.

I don't know when that changed. After having my children? After years of teaching hundreds of kids? Reading books? Studying history? Writing stories and living inside made-up people's heads?

growing up?

Who knows. But back then, there was probably nothing anyone could say to make me veer off the sidewalk and join the group who cared about the suffering of other people.

So I am not going to try to explain to you why you should, except here's a story:

one day, I was picking up my four-year-old son from his darling little church preschool, a place he went to play two afternoons a week.The classrooms opened into a large hall and after the kids raced out, waving their still paint-drippy art projects, the moms would often linger,

chatting, holding our napping younger children, while the four-year-olds darted around our legs. Oh my God I loved those brief conversations with the moms, a moment of adult conversation after hours of incessant high voices, the whining the wailing the crying, the endless making and cleaning up of meals, the never-ending scooping up of strewn toys,

but for those precious few minutes after school, a connection, and this one day, a few of us got to talking, absorbed in who knows what topic, slowly walking along the whole time toward the door and out the door,

onto the edge of the parking lot, our kids still scampering around us, except at some point, I realized that my son wasn't there. (This is not a story of kidnapping or gruesome injuries requiring stitches, okay? So don't worry.) All that happened was

I stopped my conversation and walked back inside the building where I saw my son and he saw me at the same moment, and he ran toward me, hysterical, and I stooped down to hug him and he flailed in my arms and hit me,

which would have been embarrassing for the other mothers to see, except I didn't care

what they thought. All I could think about was what I'd just seen on my kid's face. One moment, terror. Then a moment of pure relief. And then a whoosh of rage, at me, for allowing us to become separated. It couldn't have been more then two or three minutes that we'd even been apart from each other

but my little boy cried all the way home.

Now, twenty years later, I can still hear him crying, still see his terrified face, and I don't know why. I don't. I don't. But here it is, that face and somehow it's imprinted on other faces, 2342 faces and counting,

the children taken from their parents at the border, but those kids have not been reunited (yet?) with their parents, and if, when, they are, their suffering will not be over.

I am not so naive to think that holding a sign will make a difference, but I sure as hell know that walking by without a glance is no longer an option. 





Monday, June 25, 2018

Four bookstores in four hours in New Orleans

The one where Mardi Gras beads dangle from the tree branches outside and across the street's a cemetery with white and gray tombs, which you'll wander between in a moment, 
but first you thumb through the vampire books you were obsessed with in college. 

(Why are the books stacked like this? Who knows?) 







The one where all the books are French children's books. (Fun fact: there are several French immersion schools in this city.) 

A porch swing inside. A loft. Small tables, each one set with paper and markers and while your friend buys a Harry Potter book in French, you sit doodling in every color. 


The one that used to be a boarding house where Faulkner lived for eight months and wrote his first novel. This store is small but the books reach up to the ceiling. The only clerk tells you stories about New Orleans in the 1920's, which somehow leads to a political discussion because isn't everything a political discussion these days.

The one where the books are stacked in teetery tottery piles and you can only wind between them single file, afraid a quick turn could lead to a domino-toppling disaster. But the guy working here, buried behind books, somehow knows where everything is.

Outside, a band playing in the courtyard. You wade with your bag of books through crowded humid streets, already planning your escape. 





Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Every day I walked across the bridge

to the castle on the other side, the orange roofs, the towers, the church steeples. Sometimes I touched the blackened statues, angels, saints, the guy who was thrown off in chains--

he's the oldest statue on the bridge, his body gold from people touching it for luck. I don't believe in that kind off thing, but still, I admit, I touched him, stopping to look out at the river, imagining for a moment the man hurling toward the water, and all of the people over the years doing the same thing I'm doing,

strolling, rubbing statues, wanting to believe.

(The St Charles Bridge, Prague, one year ago today)
Around me tourists ignored the beggars, examined jewelry for sale while musicians played The Moldau or Mamma Mia, and I was thinking how weird it was to be moving in a crowd but feeling apart from them at the same time. Maybe it was all the different languages,

none of them mine, alone with my own loud thoughts. On a mission to explore the place on my own, wander through hidden gardens, eat street food, poke around churches.

No pictures, said the signs, but I sneaked one anyway. Some ancient church and inside, another church, and inside that one, a beam of wood that my guidebook said came from the house of Mary. Yes, that Mary. The mother of God. It looked like an ordinary piece of wood but for some reason I was teary-eyed.

And choked up again watching the people in wheelchairs bless themselves at the altar under the Baby Jesus of Prague, basically a china doll dressed in a poofy ornate gown and why would anyone think this would work, but still I take my turn and kneel. No one gives to the beggars on the bridge. They have a particular stance here, crouched, face down, their arms out, so no one has to meet their eyes.

Some of them have puppies. In a garden I find what I think is a good place to write, tucked behind bushes on a stone bench, but apparently, it's a popular wedding photo spot and two by two, the brides and grooms troop by, pose, set up their shots, the red roof backdrop, blue sky.

One of the photographers takes my phone, snaps a picture. We arrange this transaction without speaking. It's amazing, when you think about it, how we much we can understand each other when we want to.

Back across the bridge, the sun setting, the boats in the river, the statues, some of them 600 years old, a teenage boy drops a coin in front of a beggar, so quickly even the beggar seems surprised. A young couple dances past, the song lovelier than any I have ever heard.



Thursday, June 7, 2018

Both Summers Someone Drove Me To Work

the summer I was twenty, on the verge of turning twenty-one, and living, as some said, "in sin" with a boy-- an archaic and silly rumor because we were always only friends, but whatever, people are going to think what they're going to think--

and what I was thinking was great relief at being one thousand two hundred fifty miles away from home, playing the part of a grown up with my best friend, living in a cool apartment (okay, the apartment was filthy and infested with flying cockroaches and I had to sleep on a futon where I tried not to think about them landing on my face in the middle of the night)

and working two jobs,

an internship downtown at Memphis Magazine, fact-checking articles, talking on the phone with PR departments, fetching coffee for editors and writing a few of my own articles (one was about flying cockroaches. Shockingly, they did not publish it.)

and a waitressing job at Perkins Restaurant where I always had way too many tables and for some reason the trend was to tip the waitresses with religious pamphlets instead of money, and one of the most ridiculous pamphlets said: WHAT DO JANICE JOPLIN AND JIMI HENDRIX HAVE IN COMMON?

THEY'RE BOTH ROCK STARS AND THEY'RE BOTH DEAD!! JESUS IS THE ONLY TRUE ROCK.

But I digress. The point is that someone drove me to work.

The boy I was living with is the unsung hero of that summer, basically acting as my chauffeur because I had no car and he was a nice guy, dropping me off at my internship downtown promptly at nine and picking me up at noon and then driving me to Perkins at four and picking me up after midnight, and in between he drove around delivering pizza,

so maybe he enjoyed driving? I don't know, but I do know that I hated that ride to Perkins, how we'd listen to the same cassette tape every afternoon, Best of the Moody Blues, and we'd only make it to song number three "Ride My Seesaw" before I'd have to lurch out of the car, tightening my side ponytail, bracing myself for my collection of quarter tips and inane religious tracts that promised I'd burn in hell.

That summer was a kind of hell, now that I think about it.

But I am digressing again, because what I really wanted to write about is this summer and how it is exactly thirty years later and someone else is driving me to work each afternoon, but this time the person is my daughter, who is twenty, on the verge of turning twenty-one, and my job is in a lovely children's bookstore,

something out of You've Got Mail, but hopefully not like the one that Tom Hanks will put out of business because I really love working there, touching books and talking about books and chatting with customers and my co-workers, one of whom, at least for a few weeks, is my daughter,

home for part of the summer before heading off to Rome. We don't listen to the Moody Blues when we ride together into work and I don't have my hair in a side ponytail (not sure what that was about. A possible clue to the religious pamphlets?) My daughter wouldn't be caught dead with her hair in a side ponytail.

She is way cooler than I was at her age. Possibly not having to sleep on a futon and whack at flying cockroaches in the middle of the night will have that effect on a person,

or who knows all of the things that add up to who we are, what makes some of us condemn frazzled waitresses to eternal damnation and others drive them to work,

what makes time fly so fast that one moment you're twenty-going-on-twenty-one and the next

you're not.






Thursday, May 31, 2018

One True Way: An Interview with Shannon Hitchcock

I am so happy to have Shannon Hitchcock back On the Verge!

I'm a huge fan of her work. Her debut novel The Ballad of Jessie Pearl is a favorite-- a girl's coming of age in 1920's rural North Carolina after a family tragedy, and Shannon's take on school integration in Ruby Lee & Me is heart-breaking and thought-provoking. Her new novel, One True Way, skips forward in time to more recent history, 1977. It's a story of friendship and first romance-- between two girls-- set in a period when the country was nowhere near ready to accept, or even acknowledge, homosexuality.

The subject can be touchy for some people even today, but Shannon's a pro at creating three dimensional characters and believable, compelling plots, so I knew I would love the book. And I did!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jody: Shannon, something I've learned working at a bookstore is how important it is to be able to sum up a book in a sentence or two in order to grab a potential reader's attention. What's your ten-second pitch for One True Way?


Shannon: From the moment, Allie Drake meets Samantha Johnson at Daniel Boone Middle School, she knows there is something special between them. But Allie never knew a first crush could be so wonderful—or cause so many problems.

Jody: I love that. It perfectly encapsulates the book. Your other novels were inspired by events in your family history. Is that the case for One True Way as well?

Shannon: The idea sparked at a National Council of Teachers of English. I was attending a diversity panel and the librarian/moderator said what she really needed were more middle grade books that deal with homosexuality. She went on to say that’s the age same sex feelings emerge, but there were very few books available.

That resonated with me because many years ago a person I love came out to me. Because we’d both been raised in conservative churches, it was gut wrenching for both of us. I knew immediately I wanted to tell that story.

Jody: There's been a pretty big shift, I think, in the last decade, on how we as a society talk about and view homosexuality. I've noticed that there was a shift even between the years my own two kids (who are four years apart) were in school. When my older son was in college, several kids he knew came out and it was without much fanfare. Only a couple of years later, kids were coming out in my daughter's high school. Now, kids are coming out in middle school.

Your book feels essential for those kids who are thinking about their own sexuality-- coming out or on the verge of coming out, but also for their classmates, and let's face it, for adults who haven't caught up yet with the kids! Were you thinking about any of these issues when you were writing One True Way? Have you gotten any push-back from readers or gatekeepers (teachers, parents, etc.)?

Shannon: The problem with writing a novel with LGBT content is you’re never sure if a negative review is because your writing stinks or the reviewer does. I suspect lots of the push-back for One True Way will be silent censorship. Educators who simply won’t buy or use the book. I agree with you that adults haven’t caught up with kids on LGBT issues.

A recent article in the NY Times reinforced that for me:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/books/george-alex-gino-controversy-oregon.html6.

Jody: I haven't read George by Alex Gino yet, but I know exactly what you mean. A few years ago I teamed up with a librarian to present on silent censorship at an American Association of School Librarians conference. We called our presentation "Two Boys Kissing Is Always Missing" because my librarian friend realized that while she carried that novel by David Levithan in her school library, no child every officially checked it out.

Still, the book was never where it was supposed to be on the shelf. Kids were slipping it out of the library to read. David Levithan himself spoke about that. He acknowledged that kids might be afraid to check the book out or buy it, but just that fact that it existed, that it was on a book shelf, made them feel less alone.

Which is what I think homophobic people are most afraid of when they hear about books like that, and like yours. There's an element of If we pretend homosexuality doesn't exist, then it won't, or something like that.

Shannon: This is true, sadly. In my experience, the prejudice many homosexuals face stems from religion, so if I really wanted my book to make a difference, I needed to examine the source of it. Three books were invaluable to me: Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of love Shook the United Methodist Church by Franklyn Schaefer, Crooked letter i: Coming Out in the South by Connie Griffin, and When Christians Get It Wrong by Adam Hamilton. I also worked with my minister, the Reverend Vicki Walker.

Jody: I'm glad you brought religion up. It's a huge part of many kids' lives but it's rare to see characters in children's books going to church or talking about church. You do a great job depicting different kinds of churches in the story. There's Sam's church-- a fundamentalist church, and there's Allie's, a more progressive one.

Shannon: That was something I worked on and thought about a lot. The readers I am most trying to reach are the kids being raised in conservative churches. I want those kids to know not everyone interprets the Bible the same way, and that it’s important to be true to who they are.

Jody: Something we haven't talked about yet is the setting. This book takes place in the 1970's and reminded me of books I read in the 70's -- books by Paula Danziger and Ellen Conford, books about divorce, friendships, gentle romantic relationships, school interactions...

Did you read those kinds of books when you were growing up in the 1970's? Did you think about books like that when you were writing? What other kinds of research did you do before/when you were writing the novel?

Shannon: Yes, I read those kinds of books, but I didn’t really think about them in writing One True Way. I started by reading YA LGBT books and making note of what content was appropriate and inappropriate for a middle grade audience. I read Boy Meets Boy, Two Boys Kissing, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Annie On My Mind, and many others.

What those books taught me is the emotions are the same whether the relationship is between two boys, two girls, or a boy and a girl. The difference is in the way society reacts to it.

Jody: I've read those books too and they do what the very best books do-- drop the reader into another person's shoes and get them walking around for a bit in a different life. And now we can add One True Way to that list.

Before I let you go, Shannon, I'm excited to hear what you are working on now.

Shannon: I’ve been revising a novel called Callie In Color. I had decided it would never see the light of day, but then received feedback that Callie needed a subplot. I don’t know whether Callie will ever be published, but adding the subplot has reinvigorated my enthusiasm for it. That old adage about not revising in a vacuum turns out to be true.

Jody: I have no doubt that you will figure it out! Thank you, Shannon, for joining me today! Dear readers, if you'd like to learn more about Shannon and her books, see below.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Shannon Hitchcock is the author of the critically acclaimed One True Way, Ruby Lee & Me and The Ballad of Jesse Pearl. Her picture book biography Overgrown Jack was nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. Her writing has been published in Cricket, Highlights for Children, and Children's Writer magazines. She lives in Tampa, Florida.


You can find her online here:
www.ShannonHitchock.com
Facebook
Twitter
Cover to Cover Bookstore
Barnes & Noble
Amazon





Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation

The air in the southwest is nowhere near as humid as it is in central Ohio (and as a person with normally out-of-control/mad woman in the forest curly-hair, I appreciate that).

The Grand Canyon is a must-see in real life. (Pictures do not even begin to capture the view). But here's one anyway:


I like the contrast of red rock against bright blue sky. Georgia O'Keeffe knew what she was doing, living out in New Mexico, painting red rock formations and bleached animal bones and skies so blue they make your eyes burn.


She also painted churches.


There are tons of old churches in the southwest and one of them, the Santuario de Chimayo, has a special room tucked away behind the altar where you are invited to scoop out sacred dirt.

Which I did. Into an empty pill bottle.


Because you never know when you are going to need some sacred dirt.

And speaking of old churches, they are not nearly as old as the Native American towns you will pass through. Pueblos carved in mountains. Multi-storied adobes. Mud-brick foundations dating back to the 1000s, some still occupied by nations you've never heard of, and you think as you wander through some of these places how ignorant you were,

thinking that old places like these exist only in other parts of the world. Europe, for example, where you've see the foundations of Roman walls and all of those ancient churches, the bones of saints behind glass or buried under the slate floors.

Ignorant, because you didn't remember the civilizations here, in America. Ignorant, because you thought most of these people were gone. But here you are at one place where the people still live, their homes situated around buildings their ancestors made one thousand years ago.


You haven't read or looked at the news all week, but somehow it leaks in anyway. Another mass shooting in a school. More corruption in the administration. Something about yanni and laurel. Oh, and the president of the United States of America called immigrants animals.

The sky is so blue and the landscape is so red and you know the terrible things that have been done here to other human beings, that are still being done, this moment, and how very lucky you are to have passed through this world mostly unscathed,

to be on vacation.

Later,

when you are walking by what looks like a bookstore/barbershop in Durango, Colorado, and the bearded clerk asks you what book you are looking for and you start to walk away because the place looks super sketchy, with its two barber chairs and only one bookcase filled with dusty books,

but your husband walks closer and says, "Young Adult novels?" and the clerk says, "We have that for you right here," and then he opens the bookcase...

and there's a room glowing on the other side.

Go in.



You'll be glad you did.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Favorite Children's Books This Week

(in no particular order) 

Brand new by Mac Barnett: Square

It's hard to create something perfect but Square is determined to try! This is a fun read-aloud with a lovely message about friendship and creativity. 

(side note: Mac Barnett visited Cover to Cover, the bookstore where I work, and we all adored him. Somehow 100+ people packed themselves into our very small store and Mac read stories and held babies and was an all around awesome author guest.) 


Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. 

Twelve year-old Amal dreams of being a teacher, but when she accidentally insults a powerful man in her Pakistani village, she's sent away as punishment. Basically, she's given to the wealthy family to pay off the debt and expected to serve in their household forever. But Amal is resourceful and figures a way out. 

Riveting and inspiring story of a young girl finding her voice and fighting back against injustice. 




The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley 

This book won the Newbery Honor a few years ago but came on my radar because the sequel is now out and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. 

Ten-year old Ada is neglected and abused by her cruel mother and hidden away in an apartment in 1940's London. When war is imminent and transports of kids are sent to the countryside, Ada sees her chance to escape. Taken in by a crochety older woman, Ada finds happiness--  making friends, learning to ride a horse, and experiencing real nurturing for the first time in her life. 

But will it last... or will she be sent home when the war is over? 

The sequel, The War I Finally Won, is up next on my TBR list.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

High school junior Jade knows she lucky. The honor roll student and artist has a scholarship to attend an elite private school in the suburbs of Portland. But it's not always easy navigating her different worlds.  

Watson does a masterful job exploring class, race, and sex in 2018 America. What does it feel like to be a black girl in a mostly white school? To be the smart girl in the neighborhood? To be an artist?

This book blew me away. A must-read. 














Sunday, May 6, 2018

Assisting the Re-Sisters

I am not entirely clear what this get-together actually is, but when I hear the name Re-Sisters, I am intrigued enough by the invite from a friend of a friend to quit my revision work for the day and venture out of my comfort zone to attend.

The group's already assembled when I arrive, late, and peek through the doorway, a group meeting in a private room in a bar. They're talking loudly, laughing, drinking wine and writing... postcards?

They look up and I have to laugh. I know half the people in the room.

They're teachers at my kids' schools, writers in my SCBWI writer group, regular customers at the bookstore where I work. I have a weird thought that here I've been interacting with these people all along and had no idea what their political opinions were, that they even knew each other, never mind that they've been meeting up regularly since the Women's March in DC. Actively resisting. Making phone calls for candidates, raising money for progressive causes, working on schedules to drive voters to the polls.

An agenda on the table shows that they'll be "decompressing and venting" for 20 minutes and then, a visit from Rick Neal, a Democratic candidate for Congress hoping to win the primary next Tuesday so he can run against incumbent Steve Stivers in November.

I am All In with this group already (not with the venting part. I am tired of venting) but with the ordering a glass of wine and grabbing a stack of postcards to fill out part. The gist of the postcard (which I copy out multiple times) is a reminder to vote on May 8 in the primary election because the Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted likes to remove people from the roll if they don't vote in every election. (Not cool,  Jon Husted!)


I drink my wine. I write my postcards. I chat with the women around me while they decompress and vent. Did you hear what [fill in the blank with the name of a corrupt Administration member] did today?!

Yeah, oh yeah. I heard.

And then Rick Neal strides into the room. He tells his story. How he's never run for office before because he's been busy being in the Peace Corps and fighting humanitarian crises overseas and standing up for marriage equality in Ohio and raising his two adopted little girls with his husband. How angry he was at the tone of the new administration, their attack on healthcare and their huge tax break for the wealthy that will widen the income inequality gap even more.

And how ticked off he is at our congressperson, Steve Stivers, who's not only standing by while Ohioans are hurting, but who is refusing even to meet with his constituents. I squirm a little in my seat because I voted for Mr. Stivers, one of the dumber things I've ever done in my life-- throwing away a precious vote on a guy who later called me a paid agitator.

Okay, he didn't say that to my face. (Because he doesn't meet with his constituents, unless they also happen to be big donors.) But he did say it in the Columbus Dispatch. 

I could vent more about this, but, noooooo, I am past the venting stage. I am in the Action stage. The stage where I drink wine and write postcards and attend meetings and make plans to campaign for the guy who --even if he can't take Steve Stivers down-- can at least give him a solid run for his money.

The guy, Rick Neal, has a plan to make healthcare affordable for all, ideas on how to combat the opioid crisis, (Ohio is currently ranked number three in opioid deaths out of all states), how to improve education, and how to make pancakes.

Just checking to see if you are still reading. Yes, Rick Neal can make pancakes.

I'm voting for him on May 8th so the Secretary of State Jon Husted won't remove my name from the voting roll. If you happen to live in Ohio, I highly recommend that you do so too.

But first, watch Rick Neal make pancakes.



And if you live in the Columbus area, come visit the next ReSisters meeting. We'll drink wine and write postcards and decompress together.



Monday, April 30, 2018

May sneaked up on me

today when I was walking the dog and noticed that many of the trees on my street have those yellow buds, the ones that usually last only a few days before unfurling into full-blown green leaves. Most years I miss noticing the yellow bud stage.

Writers are supposed to be more aware of what's going on around them. I am not that kind of writer. I am the kind that takes a walk with my dog and makes up stories in my head and the next thing I know I am rounding the corner toward home. Sometimes I stumble over a bumped up sidewalk square or get yanked off my feet when my dog darts unexpectedly after a squirrel. Life can be dangerous for the live-inside-your-head writer. 

Today I liked looking at the yellow buds for thirty seconds and then I thought of the line from Robert Frost's poem where he says "nature's first green is gold," and that got me trying to remember the rest of the lines of the poem, ("her hardest hue to hold, her early leaf's a flower, but only so an hour")

which, naturally, I heard in Ralph Macchio's voice, because he was the actor in the movie The Outsiders who read the poem out loud before he got third degrees burns trying to save the kids in the fire, which reminded me how I used to teach that book to my tenth grade students and then we would watch the movie in class and the boys would snicker when the poor kids roamed the street at the end, punching their fists into their hands and vowing that they would Do it for Johnny. 

Do it, meant "go beat the crap out of the rich kids," I guess. Not that that would make any difference. The poor kids would still be the poor kids and the rich kids would still have everything even if they did lose a fight in a playground one night, and that is the saddest line in the book, I think. Sadder, even than the part where Ralph Macchio dies from his burn injuries after reciting the Robert Frost poem about how nothing gold can stay.

I need to do a better job staying in the yellow bud stage. Do what the poet I heard yesterday at the library say about capturing the moment. Slow down, he said. 

Look hard.

Look slowly. 

This weekend my daughter is coming home for a few weeks before heading off on another adventure and I am busy dusting her room and making up her bed. Only a few moments ago, it seemed, she was packing up for her first year of college.

Today she is finishing her junior year. 

I turn the corner down on her bedspread. Fluff her pillow. Fill a vase beside her bed with yellow flowers. 



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Natalie Richards is in my head

okay, not literally, but it feels like that this week as I delve back into the revision I've been working on since last summer.  Natalie, for the record, is my critique partner, and how critique partners work, for those of you not blessed to have one, is they read your manuscript and offer suggestions for how you can improve it.

Natalie knows that I am a big baby when it comes to taking criticism, so before she sends me her notes, she calls me. You've totally got this, she says. Don't get nervous when you see the number of comments.

Um, how many comments are we talking? 

Pause. Maybe 400?

400?!

But most of them are tiny things. And the rest sort of boil down to three slightly bigger issues. But you're totally going to be able to whip it into shape. It will probably take you two, three weeks at the most...

And then she launches into the slightly bigger issues, which honestly sound a tad bigger than she is suggesting. For a few days I am afraid to peek, (also, in my defense, I was out of town. See: Adventures Getting Coffee in Connecticut) but Monday, I take a breath and scroll through.

I have a five stages of death and dying thing going on with my approach to revision. First stage, I deny I have to do anything. The book is good! Exactly how I wrote it! I'm sending it to my agent today!

Second stage. WHAT DOES NATALIE EVEN KNOW? SHE PROBABLY DIDN'T EVEN READ MY BOOK CAREFULLY! SHE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND MY BRILLIANCE! I AM NOT CHANGING A WORD!

Third stage: Okay, what if I just take care of the tiny things she was talking about first?

Fourth stage: This whole book sucks.

I call Natalie. I explain to her that I think my whole book sucks.

Stop being a baby, she tells me, and go back in there.

So I do. Which leads to where I am now with it. After a few days of timid fiddling, I am moving right along. This is the thing about a good critique partner: when they know what they are doing, their comments and suggestions are a guide.

Natalie asks me questions in her comments.

Why would the character do this here?
Wait, who is that person again? You haven't mentioned her in like, fifty pages.
Would the mom really say something like that? It doesn't sound like her.

She leaves smiley faces when she likes something. Adds an occasional LOL. Whenever I read one of these comments, I smile and lol myself.

Moving through the story with these notes scrolling along on the side, something weird begins to happen. I am not alone in my book. I am having a conversation. I argue with some of the points. I give up on others easily. How did I not SEE that? She's exactly right!

I call her and thank her profusely. Oh, shut up, she says, laughing. You do the exact same thing for me.










Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Riding in Cars for Coffee: (A pathetic comedy in four parts)

Part One

I am visiting my brother for the week,

and this morning as my niece and nephew head off to school and my brother heads off to work, I prepare to make coffee in his lovely newly renovated kitchen... and find, to my horror, that while my brother owns many small appliances, including a Crème brûlée maker and not one, but two juicers, he does not own a coffee maker.

On the plus side, there are approximately 543 Dunkin' Donuts in the area, and before my brother leaves for work, he throws me a set of car keys.

These do not look like any car keys I have ever seen. As in, they do not include keys.

Part Two

I go out into his massive three car garage and sit inside a massive red car with the keys on my lap,  knowing that I am supposed to push a button?

I push many buttons. Nothing happens. I consider going back into the house. But, no. I need coffee. I can figure this out!

I push more buttons. I wave the key-less key around. Nothing.

I call my husband. I send him multiple pictures of the steering wheel and dashboard. He offers advice. None of which works. But, one clue. I thought you said the car is a Range Rover, my husband texts me.

Yeah, so?

Well, the picture you sent me shows Ford Explorer written on the steering wheel. 

Part Three

My brother has two red cars!! The other red car is a Range Rover or Land Rover or some kind of Rover? It is tucked behind a wall on the other side of the garage!

I sit inside it. I push buttons. Nothing happens. I text my husband. I send him more pictures of the steering wheel and the dashboard. He offers helpful advice. None of which works. I text Natalie, my critique partner, mostly to joke to her that I am an idiot sitting inside a car with no idea how to start it. Also, I NEED MY COFFEE!!

Part Four

Natalie sends me a youtube video entitled "How to Use the Land Rover Ranger Rover Keyless Engine Start."

I watch the video three times.

And wah lah! The car starts!

Now, all I have to do is figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers.

The End.


(*note how many doofballs had to watch this video.)



Thursday, April 12, 2018

The World's Gone Mad but--

I am not thinking about it. Instead, I spend my days chatting with my critique partner about the notes she's given me on my manuscript --the muddied up character arc and the inevitable info-dump in the first few chapters,-- and working in the bookstore -- the story-times with toddlers, the unpacking of boxes of new book--

my mind mulling over pressing issues, like, what if I can't figure out this revision, and how do I keep my dog from letting herself outside and getting stuck in the muddy backyard while I'm at work, and what should I make for dinner tonight?

Meanwhile, there was a nerve gas attack in Syria and entire families died in a stairwell, men and women clinging to their babies, their eyes glazed over, their ashen faces, and how terrified it must've been for them in those final moments.

I can't make sense of it.

Last year I read the book A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45, because I am fascinated by how people grapple with the world during dark times. Lindgren, who wrote the Pippi Longstocking books, kept a diary detailing her experiences living in Sweden during World War II.


Most of the diary is day to day stuff like what she's making for dinner.

Which surprised me because when I think about people living back then, I imagine the war as being more present and all-encompassing.

Okay, Astrid Lindgren was lucky --and she knew it-- living in Sweden, a neutral country during the war, and therefore, mostly unscathed by the events. Sure, she read the newspapers and listened to the radio and was appalled, of course, by the atrocities, but for the most part, she was writing her Pippi Longstocking story and taking care of her kids and mulling over the food selection at the market, which wasn't bad, considering. She had a hard time making sense of it.

Yesterday I unpacked a box at the bookstore, a stack of new books, Indestructibles, they call them. A new invention to me. Books that your baby can crumple and chew. They're non-toxic! You can throw them in the dishwasher!

I marvel at these features, remembering my own babies chewing the corners of their books and there I was, clueless, allowing it, not worrying that the paper they were ingesting might be poisonous. Who knew this was even a pressing issue.


I wish I could ask Astrid Lindgren.

How is it that we live in a world that for some people ends with them clinging to their gasping terrified children in a stairwell, and for other people, the largest worry is the drooly bitten corners of a book?