Sick Day

I’ve been sick recently. Not the sniffles, but a low-down, deep-aching, feverish mess. It was sudden and strong, and it made me feel powerless. I was a body beneath a truck, a woman battered by waves on rock — I had a cold. I do not normally run fever, so the sensation of dry, blistering skin is not something I am used to.

I had the flu once when I was a kid. I remember how disconnected I felt from myself, and how very far away the voices of my parents sounded through the cloud of that fever. This was the first fever I have had that took me back to that time. My eyes ached against the repulsive sunlight and blue sky from outside my bedroom window. That is, when they weren’t falling closed without my permission, sending me into a fitful sleep.

I dreamed off-and-on in this state, and all I can say, is delirium does odd things to one’s creative flow. There were scenes in my head from my manuscript. Scenes laced with pain and passion that I don’t think I fully achieved in the actual work. There was a moment where I was floating, as if separated from the girl in bed, and I thought, You will use this. It will make that moment so much better. 

Sickness can be an incredible fuel to imagination. It can also give you drug induced dreams about Robert Pattinson’s teeth and out-of-control roller coasters. (These two were related somehow.) I recalled the idea that my fever actually helped me with my prose to my husband earlier this evening. He laughed at me and said, “Now you know why so many people turn to LSD.” Is it the same? God knows I’ll never find out. But there is some truth to his statement. Sometimes, being forced into a state of submission can actually bring out the deeper work hiding under your bravado.

Do I recommend catching the flu as a cure to writers block? Not unless you also enjoy writhing in pain and losing a couple days of your life. But, should you find yourself laid out in a state of forced rest, take the time to let your hidden instinct rise to the surface. That part of you that is pressed down by your stronger sense of craft or the pressure you put on your art to produce, and produce quickly. Sometimes a sick day can be just what you need.

And now, some cartoons for you to enjoy, to humorously illustrate my point:

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Space

There are some moments I hope I never forget. Tonight, Samuel gave me one. We were watching Despicable Me — a truly genius animated movie about a super villain who finds love through adoption — before bed. The main character, Gru, has a flashback to watching the moon landing as a child wearing a cardboard space suit. He tells his mother that he will one day go to the moon. His mother degrades this dream.

Samuel turned to me and said, “I want to go to the moon. To be an astronaut.” I turned and smiled.

“You have to go to NASA.”

“You can come, we can go to the moon together.”

“I think the opportunity for me to be an astronaut has passed, but you still can.” He nodded and looked back at the TV.

Despite the obvious tenderhearted sweetness of wanting to take me to the moon, this moment surprised me with it’s clarity. My son could be an astronaut, this is not a fantasy but a reality because his whole world is laid in front of him unformed. I really could not. I never could have been, even if I’d wanted to (I have a recurring nightmare about floating in space above the Earth. I’m serious, one of my worst and deepest fears. That and the vastness of the ocean. And bugs in food. Not bugs as food, bugs in food.) and that is truly OK with me. That possibility will never be.

We spend a lot of time wasting away in a future we could never have had, or one we believe we could have, had we made a better turn somewhere. Right now, at 27 years old, I am finally tapping the well inside that had been waiting to give water. I could regret not realizing it sooner. Or, at the very least, doing things in an order that makes a little more sense. But, alas, that is not the route I took. I took the route where there are certain dreams that will never be, and certain ones that will be better than the dreams I lost.

When I was pregnant with Sam, I went to NASA with my family. I love NASA. My grandfather worked for them as an engineer during the Mercury and Gemini programs. But it also holds a certain darkness for me too. My grandfather died young, an alcoholic, destroyed by this weakness with much unrealized potential hanging from him like shackles. My mother talks about him, not as the man who died, but as the guy to lived a dream. She doesn’t romanticize his disease, or pretend he didn’t make the choices and walk the bad path, but she doesn’t ignore all that he was or could have been either.

We all need that I think, especially when we examine our lives and wonder what the hell we will ever have to show for it. If you are lucky, you will have more than one thing, more than one dream realized. And likely, more than one dream let go.

Later, when I went into labor with Sam, I was wearing the t-shirt I had gotten on that trip. It wasn’t consciously premeditated, but when I think back on it now, it was slightly serendipitous. Samuel will most likely do something that has nothing to do with space (though, in our family, science fiction is held in high regard as the only true form of entertainment available) and he is absolutely free to do that. But I will never forget a moment where he decided to go to the moon, or what that decision meant to me.

Manuscript One

I will readily admit that I can be a little bit obsessive. Often, this will translate itself into a tenacity and ferocity in the things that I have my mind on. I am a deeply devoted friend, mother, and wife, which can mean anything from worrying about my son’s sleep habits to giving unsolicited advice. This can be nice or enraging.

Last Tuesday evening (as some of you may know from Facebook) I finished my manuscript. I was gleeful. The excitement of having it all out of me and in my computer created wings in my soul. I had a bird inside. I made sure it was backed up and then promptly danced around the apartment with Sam. We looked like this:

Then I realized there was still so much work to be done that my head was maybe going to explode from the pressure. Okay, okay, you can do this. YOU. CAN. DO. THIS. I then looked like this:

My husband’s enthusiasm was not so easily dampened. He began to typeset my manuscript to make it more fun to read. The result was a couple days where I learned the basics of typesetting. (This is fun when there is no pressure, and annoying when InDesign fraks up.) Thursday morning, Sam and I took a leisurely walk through the neighborhood to a copy center on 7th Avenue. This was a fun trip for both of us because the copy center also sold toys. SCORE.

The copy man gave me a discount. He was surprised by the page volume and I guess felt bad for me. Sam wanted dinosaurs. I got a project folder for the manuscript. When the pages were printed and sat in front of me on the counter I felt that rush again. Nerves and excitement, adrenaline and nausea. Now physically in my hands, on paper, looking like a book, I knew a few things even more clearly than before. I knew I would finish the work because the hardest part was already done. The part of pressing through the creating.

I have a full story. No, it’s far from perfect, but it will go through many more stages before it reaches (or doesn’t reach, because there will always be flaws in anything created by human hands) perfection. This too, is OK.

I have been ensconced in editing since Thursday. I’m a little over halfway through the manuscript. I’m cutting words like nobody’s business. There are a few pages — *see below — where I thought, WTF?!? Those pages will become almost unrecognizable. Eventually the words will be right, and then the obsession will turn into something else.

Mothers

What is mother? Am I one? I have a child, I carried him and gave birth to him. I am raising him. Sometimes I am not raising him well, and sometimes I am a lioness stalking those who would try to harm him. Sometimes I feel like a wounded bird when I look at my son, all fluttering wings unable to fly.

My mother is a woman who seems to be cut from the cloth of a mothering shawl. She is wise and daring, she is a world within herself. I would endeavor to be like her, if not for the fact that I don’t seem to be cut from that same shawl. I am good at being mother when mother is who I see in the mirror, but many times I see someone else entirely.

My mirror shows me a girl with wisps of blonde and clear blue eyes, staring at her mother, perplexed by her strength. I am a child who still wants to be held, kissed, and tucked into bed to dream of the woman I’ll be.

My mirror shows me a teenager, slim and lost, wearing a black t-shirt and jeans that don’t fit. I am still her, still finding strength to stand tall in the midst of my changes.

My mirror will show me who I become, it will show me the wrinkles coming slowly in around my eyes. The ones from smiling so big and laughing so hard, the ones from squinting in the sun and searching for my destiny. That woman is wild, she’s brave, an undaunted warrior. She holds the hand of a child, but that child can run ahead of her too, letting her hand fall to a keyboard.

When I see her, looking back at me with green eyes now, hair darkened by age, I’m reminded even mothers are not only mothers. My mother lives in dirt now, her fingernails lined with the dark, rich brown of fertilizer. She is still my mother, still wise and protective like all mothers should be, but she’s changed in my eyes. She’s become something new. A creature who lives for herself and for me, for my brothers, and these children who gave her a new name too. She is more than my mother.

She reminds me with gardening gloves and a hoe, that we can be all of those reflections we see — child, teenager lost, woman aging and proud — each one in the right time, forever. We aren’t one thing perfectly crafted, but a many faceted prism. We reflect the light in our lives, shining even when that hits a piece of black glass.

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A Writers List of Ways Not To Write

Some things I like to do when I’m trying to remember how to write a sentence are, at random:

  • Run through the ABC’s, then try to do it backwards. This never works. I would fail a sobriety test were this actually part of the criteria.
  • Get up, get something to drink, sit down. Get up, get a snack (usually a bagel), sit down. Drink my drink while I stare at the letters on my keyboard that have turned into hieroglyphics. Go to the bathroom because I have drank my drink and now everything that was in my bladder seems to be trying to make room for everything I just drank.
  • Check Facebook. Like a whole bunch of friends status updates. Be unable to update my own status because I can’t remember how to write a sentence. Get annoyed that I don’t have more friends to stalk.
  • Disturb the dog.
  • Turn on the TV and then wish we had cable.
  • Check Zulily to make sure there is nothing I missed when I checked it this morning/remind myself why I don’t need anymore clothes/shoes/stuff for Sam.
  • Text someone. This can be difficult because I am using only symbols.
  • Check on Samuel, who is sleeping if I am writing at home, and wish he would wake up so I could blame him for my inability to get anything accomplished. I don’t blame him to his face, to his face I give milk and fruit snacks.
  • Try to read and then get annoyed that whoever I am reading was able to finish all their sentences. Feel guilty for wanting to beat them over the head with their published book. Promise myself when I have a book published it will annoy some other writer and hopefully motivate them to push past writers block.
  • Think about Anne Lamont and her infinite writing wisdom. Remind myself that most of what I would be writing right now if I could would probably be shit.
  • Sometimes I read a passage from a YA book I like, like this one:

             “I also become a little fixated on his eyelashes, which ordinarily you don’t notice much because they’re so blonde. But up close, in the sunlight slanting in from the window, they’re a light golden color and so long I don’t see how they keep from getting all tangled up when he blinks.”

(*If you know where that’s from then we should chat about how awesome we are.)

  • That usually reminds me that I am also writing something I love, and I can put the words together, even if I have to try a hundred times to get it right.
  • Then I begin to type, and sometimes I lose my grasp on reality, I forget the world exists, or that writers block ever happens to me at all.

Insurgent Review

I don’t particularly like to review books. I feel like it will never matter what you think about a book because ultimately reading — like all manners in which we experience art — is deeply subjective. In other words, we like what we like and that is hard to change. That being true, I am going to review Insurgent because I want to talk about it and maybe you want to read about it.

Insurgent picks up where Divergent left off, quite literally. There is very little second book summarizing, making us responsible to remember what the hell happened at the end of the first book. I don’t mind this, but I think some people do. Most of the plot of Insurgent hinges on the conflict between the Erudite and Dauntless traitors and everyone else. This makes for a sightly disturbing war like environment where teenagers and adults are murdering each other. It also sets us up for the surprising possibility that this world we are in is not entirely what it seems. This is good, but reminds me a little of LOST. When you read it (and if you watched LOST) you may understand what I mean.

Insurgent is better than Divergent in a lot of ways, but it still left me wanting. I like Veronica Roth’s style, it’s clean and clear, and she has a real talent for writing fight scenes with great finesse. Tris, the narrator and main character, is a departure from most female voices. I like her, but I think she would be very difficult to be around. The real draw for me (and many other young women I know) is Tobias. He is an incredibly strong character, perfectly outlined and detailed, and totally sexy. I would read it again just to visualize him.

A conversation with my sister-in-law about Tobias or Four. It went on for a bit. I will spare you.

One of the tests with any piece of fiction is whether you can do anything else well while reading it. Insurgent is the kind of book you’ll set down, thinking you are ready to do something else, and then pick up again ten minutes later. The pacing is fast, the voice consistent, the story deeply compelling. There are problems, and Veronica Roth is the first to admit that, but there are so many truly clever things too that you really do overlook the shortcomings.

I recommend it, especially since writing about it is making me want to read it again. Get it if you don’t already have it. Swoon along with me, and be thankful for characters like Tobias and young writers like Veronica Roth.

Insurgent Book Signing

Last week was a fun time for those of us who have discovered (and it’s a pretty big group) the YA series Divergent . The second novel in the the trilogy, Insurgent was released on Tuesday, May 1. I was excited about the release, and my reasons are three-fold. One: I follow Veronica Roth’s blog (check it here) and think of her as a huge inspiration. There will be more on number one later, and I will probably say too much. Two: Insurgent features Tobias — or Four, as he is known through most of the first book — and I want to eat him up. Three: There was a book signing/reading in Tribeca. I was going.

Tuesday morning, Samuel and I took the train to Barnes and Noble. We could have walked, but it was one of those days that the sky was spitting rain at us as if it had a bad taste in it’s mouth. That is fairly annoying weather for walking with a two-year-old. Sam got an Iron Man toy, sock puppet kit, and a new book. I picked up Insurgent. The signing was that evening and I wanted t be prepared.

I started reading it on the train as I rode into Manhattan. It wasn’t a long ride, so I didn’t get far. When I arrived — at one of the nicest Barnes and Noble’s I’ve ever been to (Tribeca is the most expensive neighborhood in NYC. The B & N was glossy, shiny, perfection) — I made my way to the children’s/YA section where the reading was. I was not admitted. The man at the entrance informed me my book should have been bought here, and he wasn’t sure I would be allowed to come in. You can imagine…that was not going to fly. He called his supervisor over, and I smiled, explaining very genteelly that I had bought my book in Brooklyn. He chuckled and waved me inside. The man at the entrance wouldn’t look me in the eyes.

I sat a couple rows back. I went to the signing as much— ehh, who am I kidding, I was geeking out about the signature — to observe the event for my own education as a hopeful author, as to meet her. There was one particular girl there that I honed in on. She was this incredibly awkward, ugly duckling who came with her very proud and excited father. This girl confirmed why being a YA writer is so utterly rewarding. THAT girl is who we write for, (or that girl inside each of us) because that girl needs a heroine to find strength in, or beauty in, or to recognize her potential alongside. I tried not to stare at her too much, and found gratitude in knowing I am writing someone she will find all those things in.

Overall, the reading, and Q & A was a blast to be a part of. Veronica Roth was as doll — a little self-deprecating, and admittedly trying to overcome her anxiety of crowds and public speaking — and someone I think we would all love to have coffee with. She was also a very kind and mature twenty-three-year-old who probably feels like this is a lot to handle for anyone, let alone someone her age. For me, Veronica Roth was a major kick in the pants about a year ago when I read Divergent. When I saw how old she was, I felt like throwing-up a little. I also felt like I needed to get my not twenty-three-year-old ass in gear. In a lot of ways, she is why I have pushed so hard to finish my novel. Not out of competitiveness or jealousy, but out of the realization that it is very possible to succeed at creating something meaningful that young. And that I had something meaningful in me to create.

I left the signing with a wonderful sense of hope, and also a book signed by the author. Then I got a stomach bug and I was able to lay in bed for a day and a half reading. This was a huge blessing, once I was done wishing I were dead. Next post, my Insurgent book review. For now, some pics from the signing.

RTW Question: My YA Friends

The question for the week is a pretty good one: What in-real-life people can you talk to about YA?

For those who know me well, you will know I have always enjoyed a good book, but until the past few years I wasn’t reading YA much. I had read the obvious (Harry Potter, Twilight) but beyond that, I wasn’t really aware of the genre. I felt like there were so many classics I hadn’t sunk my teeth into yet that I really shouldn’t be wasting time on new works. Also, I went through a historical fiction phase — which I still enjoy — and that can be a little exhausting.

About two years ago I was looking for a new read, and my mom had this middle-age book called Savvy  (check it out on Goodreads) sitting on her coffee table. I zoomed through it in a day, exhilarated by the gentle romance and coming-of-age themes. My mom isn’t really a YA reader, so she’s not one of my people, but I’m getting there. That same weekend I spent time with my sister-in-law Stephanie.

Stephanie is one of the hippest chicks I know. Seriously, here hair was like three shades of red the last time I saw her. She’s up on pop culture references and music, but most of all, Stephanie is a reader, and most commonly she is reading something YA. I mentioned I had read Savvy , and wanted something new in the YA genre. Stephanie was the one to give me The Hunger Games. I read all three books in four days. I was a psycho-zombie-Peeta-groupie. I spent the day after I finished crying like a baby, trying to make sense of what I had just experienced. From that moment on, I was sold, and Steph and I have found yet another reason why we were both so impeccably cool.

This pic features some of my YA friends. Stephanie is the one in purple with the mischievous smile.

Then, through that, I discovered there were a whole heepin’ lot of people in my life who were underground YA readers. Now, as I have said before, I am in the latter part of my 20’s, so you can imagine that most of my people are adults. There are some super clever teens in there too, because I love the teens, which is why I am now trying to write for them. The list is as follows, in no particular order:

Jennifer Petersen

Penny Jackson

Hanah Mayes

Katy Petersen

Anna Howington

Abigail DeHart

Tracey Liggett

Dana Davies

Penny Pierce

Carla Mayes

Erica Schulz

Deborah Drake

Stacie Forest

Thank you to all my YA buddies, you all inspire me to be a better writer, and to write something you will love to read. Keep on being fabulous!