Entries in Writing (19)


It's Not A Race. Unless It Is.

Last month, I went on vacation to the beach with my family. Half my family. There were twenty of us.

I have a big family.

Also, it was awesome.

Anyway, that first morning my mom came upstairs to the breakfast room and asked the table of us who were eating pancakes and sipping coffee and looking like people generally on vacation if any of us would be up for a walk on the beach.

I should backtrack a second.

When I was growing up, my parents’ idea of vacation was to do two mountain hikes a day. Also, my dad played soccer until I was in high school and he had to have back surgery. Also, my mom played softball until she broke her wrist sliding into home plate after an in-the-park homerun. I watched her do it.

Also, I am not athletic.

Let me backtrack even further: I used to at least be in decent-ish shape. I’d been a distance runner (it was the one sport I could do, even with my appalling lack of coordination), and even though I stopped running, I was pretty much in some sort of shape until Kid #2 was born. Not now. Today, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I’d probably die first.

So anyway, back to that breakfast table… we all kind of grunted into our coffee, knowing what a walk from my mom meant (it means speed walking and arm pumping and her kicking your ass, which isn’t really my thing, if I’m being totally honest).

So we all grunted various versions of hell no, and then my mom leaned over and whispered in my ear, so nobody else could hear, “Are you scared you won’t keep up?”

Okay, actually, that’s a lie. What she really said was, “Is that your second plate of pancakes?” But I heard what she meant. So that first day, I pushed back my chair, saluted, and said, “I accept your challenge.”

And my aunts all kind of gave me this look, like, “You are such a sucker.”

But then I left them home with my two kids, and all I could think was, “You guys are a bunch of suckers.”


That first day, I kept up okay. We took our flip-flops off and speed-walked (really freaking fast, I might add) half in the water, half on the sand. My mom even patted my shoulder after and said, “You didn’t suck.”

Okay, actually she said, “I hate sand.” But you get the picture. I find the compliments where I can.

So, the second day, my mom issues this challenge, and my dad stands up and says, “I accept.” They both give me The Look, like they’re thinking, Is this seriously our kid? Where did we go wrong? I scrape the remaining eggs into my mouth, salute them again, take a really long time finding my flip-flops, and meet them out front.

My dad falls behind. Not far behind, but enough behind that if we were counting (which we totally were), he’d be the loser. So here’s the thing about my 64-year-old father. He can run. Which he starts to do. Right then. Yes, as my mom and I are realizing that he’s totally losing and is going to be the loser and ha ha ha aren’t we in better shape than him, he starts to freaking run. He blows by us both, and my mom curses under her breath (she does not run), and I think, you have got to be kidding me, and I start to run.

This is how it works in my family.

I have not run, honestly, except for the phone, since I graduated high school. I am 31. It’s not pretty.

So we leave my mom in the dust, and we’re running, and I’m thinking, Ugh, running hurts. Since when did running hurt? Oh crap, I’m out of shape.

My dad keeps giving me these sidelong glances, and I am giving them right back. We are dying. Both of us.

So obviously he says, “Faster?”

So I try.

I do not go any faster. My legs will not physically turn over any faster, so I say, “My legs will not physically turn over any faster.” And he grins. He leaves me in the freaking dust.

He wins.

But at least I don’t lose.

Meanwhile, my mom steps on a sea urchin, thus putting an end to all morning challenges.

Thank God.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this recently. I’ve been a long-time-believer in mind-over-matter, back to the days when I actually ran distance. Mind over matter gets you to the finish line.

But that run on the beach was like this great cosmic message for me. You can mind-over-matter yourself to finish. But you can’t mind-over-matter yourself to get there any faster.

I guess I’ve been thinking about this as I throw out draft-after-draft and have finally found myself more than halfway through a draft that, I’m pretty sure, will stick. I can sit at the computer every day and hit a word count, but I can’t get to the heart of a story any faster.

But today, I am more done than not done. I can see the end. I can hear the last line, waiting to be written. In the meantime, I've just got to write everything between here and there.

(Also, for the record, even when I was in the best shape of my life, I never beat my dad in a race.)


A Typical Writing Day...

One of the most common questions I get in blog interviews is something along the lines of “What’s a typical writing day for you like?” Usually I end up saying, “I mostly write at night.” I say this because I figure most people that ask only want to hear about the writing part of the writing day. Or I assume they have this vision of a writer alone in a room, thinking writerly thoughts, or going for walks, thinking about writerly things, and I don't want to ruin that vision. It looks so calm and peaceful in my head.

But I think a lot of writers are like me—they have jobs or kids or jobs and kids or other responsibilities that they work their writing around. Me? I have kids. The day I documented this, they were 5 and 1-day-shy-of-4.

So, right, I planned to document my writing day. Partly because of this question, but also because I was kind of curious….I mean, what do I really do all day? So I set this past Monday as the day to document because Kid #2 is in preschool that day, which means it’s technically a “writing day.” At least more so than a Tuesday.

I currently have copy-edits for my 2013 book. I had already finished one pass and was ready to address the items that I had sticky-noted. On Sunday night, it looked like this:

Sunday night, it also became obvious that Kid #1 would not be going to school (for reasons I shall leave to the imagination). I thought about postponing the blogging, but then I realized that since January there’s pretty much been a 50% chance that one kid would be home from school/get sent home from school/be of questionable disposition. So I guess this qualifies as “typical.” So. Here goes.

The upside of not having to get Kid #1 to the bus stop before sunrise is that I don’t have to wake up at 6:20. I turn off my alarm.

Kid #2 wakes up:

Kid #1 wakes up:


7:15: The kids want breakfast. I assume that the fact that Kid #1 wants breakfast is a good sign. I give them breakfast. I answer emails.

8:10: Kid #2 announces he wants to be a “seeker” when he grows up, which, according to him, is a person who looks at other people and runs away when they see him. I inform him that the word he is looking for is “creepy,” and he cannot, under any circumstance, be creepy when he grows up. This quickly deteriorates into an argument over whether or not he can, in fact, be anything he wants when he grows up.

8:40: We get in the car.

8:41: For reasons I will spare you (but let’s just say that Kid #1 wanting breakfast was actually NOT a good sign), we get out of the car. When we get back in the car, my daughter is carrying a plastic bag. I actually did take a picture of this, but I feel like in about 6 years she might find this blog post, and if she doesn’t hate me by then, this might push her over the edge.

But you can imagine.

As I’m taking this picture that I’m choosing not to post, I flash back to driving with my grandpa who would make my cousin (who had a history of carsick-ness) wear a plastic bag with the handles over his ears. I start to giggle. I don’t stop giggling until we arrive at preschool. Kid #1 is not amused.

Drop Kid #2 off at preschool. Preschool starts at 9. It would appear that we are 7 minutes late. But I’m usually 10 minutes early, so really it’s more like 17 minutes late. I hate being late. Deep breaths.

9:30-11: I put a movie on for Kid #1 and plow through 60 pages of copy edits. Not bad.

11:15: I research pay phones (it’s relevant to the manuscript, I swear)

11:40: Leave to pick up Kid #2 from preschool. Kid #1 carries a plastic bag.

12:24: My mother texts me with some News and to discuss her feelings about said News. It’s a situation very near and dear to our hearts, and we’ve been following the coverage closely over the last few weeks.

Notice she’s on a first name basis with Peyton Manning. Notice also the typo.

Early afternoon: attempt to keep kids separate so Kid #1 does not infect Kid #2, especially since Kid #2’s birthday is tomorrow. Tell Kid #2 not to touch Kid #1 because if he does he’ll get sick and he won’t get to eat birthday cake. Kid #2 says he already touched her and starts to cry. Attempt to take back words while simultaneously explaining probability to a crying almost-4-year-old. Fail.

Kid #1 says, “I don’t get cake?” Cries.

2:30: I research tox screens (also relevant to the manuscript) through the crying

Take kids outside. Kid #1 sits on my lap because she can’t do much else at the moment. As the youngest, Kid #2 is used to getting first dibs on the lap.

Kid #2 retaliates by pulling the tulips from the garden:

I retaliate by throwing out his lollipop (lest you think this shocking display of immaturity is a one-time thing, sadly, it is not)

Kid #1 falls asleep. I research signs of dehydration (not relevant to the manuscript)

Dinner, baths, bed.

7:30-10:30: I work on copyedits. Then I realize Kid #2 is going to be up at the crack of dawn for his birthday and I need to have my game face on. I stop working.

Not bad. Not done, but not bad, all things considered.

So. There it is.

How about you?


Plots, Logic, and the Tooth Fairy

Kid #1 lost her first tooth last week. This is relevant, I swear (or, at least as relevant as anything else I write on here). For the record, I never told her there was a tooth fairy. I also never told her there wasn’t a tooth fairy. Mostly because, like everything else, I couldn’t decide on the right thing to tell her, so instead I said nothing. Which in turn makes my parenting like one weird social experiment.

But anyway.

Her world is full of books and shows and other kids, and so there is knowledge of a tooth fairy. And here’s where things get interesting, because she’s kind of at that in-between stage. Like, she doesn’t just believe things. She’s at that stage where she’s trying to reason out the world around her. It’s like watching evolution or something, but not.

So she’s sitting in the backseat of the car, looking at her tooth inside a Ziploc bag (because we were mooching dinner off my parents at the time of tooth-losing (also, at what age does one become too old to do that?)), and she starts in with The Reasoning. It occurs to me that The Reasoning is pretty similar to deciding which kind of book to write:

“So I’m going to put this under my pillow, and then there will be money.” *insert look of terror* “Do you think the tooth fairy checks my pillow every night?” (Horror)

“Or do you think the wand has money inside of it, and she points it at my tooth and zaps it into money?” (Fantasy)

Then, after some more thinking…

“Hey, I think you need to practice. If you want to be the tooth fairy.” AHA! She’s got it. Also, I’m a little proud. (Contemporary)

Then: “But can you practice on another tooth?” (Okay, she doesn’t quite get it) Right. Because obviously I’m out of practice and my magic might screw up the whole turn-her-tooth-into-money thing. (Magical realism)

But hey, that works, too, right? Just a different kind of book. As long as the logic is consistent….

“No, I think there’s a fairy that flies around outside and all the teeth turn into money.” (Paranormal)

Okay, we’re going with that.

So, yeah, we put the tooth in a bag so I’d be able to find it and stuck it under her pillow. And while she slept, I took the bag away and put money in its place.

Except the next morning she examined the money, narrowed her eyes, and said, “Hey, what happened to the bag it was in?”



At The Beginning

Every time the kids and I cross over the highway in our car (which is pretty much every time we’re in the car, since said highway is only a quarter mile away), Kid #2 points out his window and says, “That way to Disney!” He’s not wrong or anything. He is pointing south and all, but it’s not exactly right down the road.

And then I start to have heart palpitations because that trip takes us two days. TWO DAYS strapped in a car with two small children. And then I’ll remember the last time we made the trip, when we didn’t even make it onto the highway (yeah, the one that’s only a quarter mile away) before we had to make our first stop.

And then, while I’m recalling the time that Kid #2 screamed at the top of his lungs for the entire first hour of the trip, Kid #1 points out her window in the opposite direction and says, “And that way to New Jersey!” Also not wrong. ALSO a long trip.

And then I’ll remember that trip, which is always an adventure. I’ll remember the storm that rolled though Virginia when we were stuck on a road with no way off for miles, and everyone pulled off onto the shoulder, and it felt like this weird claustrophobia, even though there was nothing in sight for miles. And I’ll remember how I started to panic that we were sitting ducks for a tornado or something. The Husband explained why that was highly unlikely, but it didn’t matter because I’d already thought it, so I couldn’t unthink it.

Or I’ll remember the time when we cut through the mountains and every car had to put their flashers on because the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see three feet in front of us.

Or when we finally, finally, crossed the border into New Jersey and traffic stopped dead (because that’s what happens when you cross the border into New Jersey) and it took another two hours to go the last 20 miles.

But then we get there. And it is wonderful. (YES, I said NJ is wonderful). Later, we'll tell the story of our adventure to get there. We’ll roll our eyes, but we’ll laugh.

But each time I start out, it’s like I’m looking down this road of a million different possibilities, equal parts excitement and terror.

Which is how I’m feeling now, about to start in on a new project. Like I’m starting a long drive to some place I can’t wait to be. And I’m wondering if I’ll have to stop, or if I’ll make a wrong turn, or whether the kids will cry, or maybe they’ll sleep, or maybe they’ll sing the ABC’s 734 times in a row. And maybe there’ll be traffic, or maybe a storm. And will I know what to do if a tornado comes through? And what if the fog is so thick that I can’t see what’s right in front of me? And maybe we’ll have to pull off the road for a while. But maybe we won’t.

I don’t know yet.

But right now, I’ve just got to get on the highway.


Writing Trip. Also, Bears.

So, I just got back from here:

Coincidentally, I have an idea for a story that takes place here. Okay, so really this isn’t such a coincidence after all, since I planned the trip after the idea. And even though I’ve been to the mountains and I’ve gone hiking before, I haven’t been hiking in these particular mountains, and I definitely hadn’t been hiking recently.

Anyway. I quickly remembered some stuff about the mountains.

Like that you can hear the wind coming.

And that the temperature feels at least ten degrees cooler.

And that you shouldn’t hike without bug spray.

And that I am seriously out of shape.

I learned a lot of new things, too. Of particular note, I learned about bears. I wasn’t planning to learn about bears. But there had been a lot of recent sightings nearby, and even though I was pretty sure black bears didn’t typically attack humans, I was still concerned. Very concerned.

Because animals do not like me.


Name any animal. Ten bucks says it doesn’t like me.

(Side note: a wild turkey once attacked me. Completely unprovoked. Before that day, it had never even occurred to me that such a thing could happen.)

Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally given the increased bear sightings), there was a pamphlet in our room outlining what to do in the unlikely event that a bear seems *overly interested* in you. This made me happy.

Rule #1: Do Not Run.

Crap. Historically, this has always been my plan of action when it comes to animal encounters.

That wild turkey attack? I ran like hell.

Anyway, back to the pamphlet.

There was this whole series of steps for avoiding a bear attack, and each subsequent step was like, But if THAT doesn’t work, slowly back away. And if THAT doesn’t work, make yourself appear bigger and yell or growl or something… And the last step, if none of the previous things worked and the bear did, in fact, attack, suggested that you fight back. Aggressively. You know, just in case you were getting attacked by a bear and thought, maybe I’ll just gently tap it a couple times and see how that goes.

Anyway, I digress.

It was a productive trip. The writing idea grew. And so did my repertoire of “animal encounter” tips. Run like hell. In the event of failure, defend self.