Hold on…

Yesterday, upon waking from his nap, my son went about his normal routine. Cuddle in his bed with mom, wander into the living room, beloved blanket nigh nigh trailing behind him like a train, couch flop and request to watch “a little bit of a movie”. The exact order. My husband and I don’t have cable. Now, we’re not pretentious or anything, nor are we destitute, but my husband can’t watch commercials without launching into a rant, and I don’t like TV enough to pay for variations of the same mediocrity spanning hundreds of channels. Our solution is a little box which we stream Netflix and Amazon On Demand through, where we avoid commercials, and where my son dominates the “suggested watch list” with Nick Jr. and PBS shows alike.

Yesterday, he saw in the suggestions a film titled A Cat in Paris. This film — which I knew nothing of until yesterday — looked harmless, read like a silly romp about a cat burglar who was an actual feline, and featured clever animation reminiscent of the classic children’s tale “Zin Zin the Violin”. Fine. I put it on for him, sitting on the couch for a couple of minutes until he sent me off to our kitchen for a snack and milk, with the requested “pweease” and grin.

When I returned, there was nothing at all alarming on the screen, but Sam was no longer reclined or docile. He turned to me and very simply said, “That man killed the little girls father.” I was understandably thrown by this statement and those words leaping from my three year olds tongue. I asked him if we could turn the movie off, to which he gave a bored nod and crunched a graham cracker. I tried to broach the topic over the course of the afternoon, but was met with tempered indifference and requests to put on his Spiderman mask “so he could be Spiderman.”

This morning, as if sharpened somehow by sleep, Samuel (sitting pin straight on his alphabet mat with his Superheroes strewn around him) said, very cooly, “That man killed the little girls father?” And I was at a loss for how to answer him. I considered a few approaches, ranging from feigning ignorance to telling him death wasn’t scary, to trying to ascertain what he knew of death at three years old. I settled on promising that man and that little girl weren’t real, just a cartoon, and therefor he didn’t need to worry about them. He shrugged and handed me Iron Man, but confusion still flickered in his eyes.

My response was in no way a brush off, but merely my acceptance that this subject is too big to sound byte. Ultimately, as a three year old, his grasp of life and death is still very fuzzy. He has never been exposed to great loss, and even if he were, I do not know how concrete a concept ceasing to exist is or how capable he is to hold it in his mind. Those are questions for someone else to answer professionally, with fact and science that tells us when we are able to measure the missing of someone with the memory of them existing and the knowing that they no longer do.

In the span of that moment, watching him fiddle with Iron Man’s moveable limbs, I saw that he had glimpsed something real and confusing and he was not sure why it didn’t make sense. So young, he touched a truth he will someday (because this is a fate none can escape, even if we wish our babies could) face head on, or sideways, or in great heaving breaths. That is a fact, it will not cease because we wish it to. Even after I held his superhero — cast in invincible metal and warding his own mortality away like a plague— I wanted for him to hold onto the time of not knowing. And isn’t that what our heartache, as parents, is built on? Not will they run the car into a ditch when their sixteen, or will they get drunk and end up on YouTube mooning a cop? Because aren’t those very tangible — though no less controllable — concerns born from this very place? This place of knowing the road. And isn’t that why we do it to begin with? Why we keep on doing it?

For me, the time of not knowing ended at four years old, when my mother gave birth to twins who never left the hospital. I do not remember the time of not knowing. I cannot. For Sam, for now, the understanding of true death is still a distant dark cloud on his vast horizon. He is still without the knowledge. For now, that is something for us both to safeguard. Him by his ignorance and me by my understanding. I will keep holding on until the glass shatters, then I will hold him, and tell him what I know, and know someday that will become an answer worth remembering.

(*An aside about the movie: it was an Academy Award nominee, and I actually want to watch it on my own at some point because I think I would rather enjoy it.)

Rainy Day Sam

I love rainy days with my son. Not all rainy days. There are the inevitable rainy days when Samuel refuses to engage in imaginary play, or do a craft, or read for large chunks of the morning. Those rainy days fill me with dread. When you’ve been a mom for a little while, you learn to pick up on the cues in your child’s demeanor that warn you’ll have a long day. One filled with arguments, then weighted down by unreasonable requests, and ending in the bedtime battle. When those days also fall on a rainy day, being trapped with your child inside can lead a person to drink in the afternoon.

Today, as slushy rain falls from the sky above Brooklyn, is thankfully not one of those days. Today he woke with wide eyes and eagerness. He discussed the finer points of Spiderman’s origin story with me over a banana and pb & j. (I had oatmeal. If I’m to survive the holidays without a meltdown, dry oatmeal and raw veggies have to become my new best friends.) We read through a plethora of books and sang. We made a birthday card for our upstairs neighbor, Sophia. He dictated a message to me with enough inflection to warrant this — !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— type of punctuation.

And for the first time in a while we just reveled in the pleasure of each others company. Sometimes I am not the best about this. I can be either too involved, or too distracted, too aloof, or too emotionally available. Striking a balance with my son is sometimes harder work that writing 3,000 words ever thought about being. So when it happens, it’s something to treasure.

However, capturing the moment on camera has mostly illuded me.

Pit or the Palace?

It’s been a few weeks now since I finished my manuscript revisions and set about not editing anymore while it’s being read by an agent (and friend). Thanksgiving has come and gone, Christmas races after it undaunted by my ill-preparedness. I’ve recovered from carb overloads and booze headaches, from family togetherness and separations. I’ve flow from Brooklyn to Texas and back again with a three year old boy and a yorkie.

Before that, on the dreaded and beloved Black Friday, we went shopping. It had been about an hour when I lost my will to live. (I have a low threshold for retail warfare, I’m aware this is lame.) Not sure if it was the 100th over-priced sweater that made me itch or the sunny shopgirl that tried to sell me a pair of jewel-toned skinny jeans with a matching beret. But something sent me spiraling into my own form of introspection that involved a skinny margarita and queso, and a diatribe about why I don’t have a second child. I emerged feeling uncertain and inadequate, slightly bloated and a tidbit vindicated.

This is me.

Then the inevitable pining began. The one I seem to be falling into lately when I realize I’m mostly done with my manuscript and I don’t know how to be away from that world and those characters.

A writer friend of mine told me recently that every writer rides some form of emotional roller-coaster upon completion of a major project. His advice? Begin something new. When he said this, I felt entirely certain he was kidding. And entirely sure that was impossible. So I made him clarify. He said, “Even if it never turns into anything, beginning a new project and distancing yourself from the one out for query, will ultimately help with the mountains and valleys.”

I thought about this for a while. My brain felt zapped. My emotions were ragged. Part of me felt so done with the pressure of characters not letting me sleep, and words not being perfect, and the other part felt voided. As a writer, characters voices, their arguments, their journey provides a certain sense of purpose that nothing else really can.

When I was in my early 20s, I was a receptionist at a title company in Texas. I loathed this job. (I was thankful for stable work and benefits, etc., but overall just really didn’t excel at service oriented work.) When my husband was finishing up his bachelors though, it was that job that paid the bills. After two years of it I began to wonder if my life would only amount to this: a series of jobs and paychecks and living for the weekend. That’s when I began to write again. It was writing that led to accept my job, and then my son’s birth which led me to want more from writing. When Sam was born, I discovered a new part of me. A part willing to try harder for the things she desired, and a part able to define those desires more clearly.

In the years since Sam’s birth,I have taken a lot of the steps necessary to do just that. I have discovered who I want to be and who I don’t want to be. As this year wraps up, the person I am has had to accept she can’t live without characters chattering to each other, or worlds forming, and in turn my loved one’s can never be without them either. I will never be far from the tap of a keyboard or the scribble of a pen. I will never be far from the ebb and flow of creative pursuit. I would encourage you — whatever you endeavor to achieve — to first accept this simple truth. We become the best version of ourselves not by following our best laid plans, but by taking chances on the things we really want. Moving to New York was like that. Having my son was the same. Everyone has those catalysts, and everyone makes those choices. Begin something new, no matter where it leads you. (Or, in other words, get your groove on.)

Groove.

Life Grades

It’s important, in the grand scheme of life and the American-way, not to lose sight of your standards. In NYC, every restaurant is required by law to display an A through C health and sanitation grade. Here is a link explaining how it works, and why it’s awesome and should be taken seriously. In our neighborhood alone there are multiple restaurants with a B (marginally offensive) and a C (terrifying!). As a person who respects my body (though I inject it with way too much caffeine, but we all have our vices) I refuse to eat somewhere that garners such a low score. I also really, very much, hate to throw up.

There is a funny episode of How I Met Your Mother from season six where Marshall and Lily insist on eating at a restaurant with a D (this is not a possible score now, but was at one time) and they both get food poisoning. Of course, turns out, Lily is pregnant — but really, standards people!

Standards are an important aspect to every part of life, not just food, but we’ll get there. I promise. I am always shocked — not necessarily to the point where I stare through the window at the grease smeared counter with a scowl, shaking my finger reproachfully at the non-hairnet wearing cook with his finger up his nose, but almost — by the patrons of establishments shitty enough to get that kind of grade. In a city literally bursting with delectable eateries, why would you submit yourself to a place where you’ll likely get the runs? (It should be noted that these restaurants aren’t any cheaper, though sometimes they have deals on liquor.)

Standards, expectations, imagination. And here I bring in my point. Ready? Have you guessed it? We achieve what we believe ourselves to be capable of. If you decide you are only able to do one meal a day and the rest are peanut butter sandwiches or cereal that’s OK. If you think your kid incapable of sleeping through the night, they won’t. If you believe your craft worthy of publication, and you raise your expectations, you educate yourself, you work really hard, you can do it.

Often, we begin with a grand plan and somewhere in the execution we lose sight of the goal. We let our expectation for success be thwarted by the hardship of the journey. We stop breaking open our imaginations to find the best route to our goal. We give up. We lower our standards to a place that is manageable and comfortable. We eat at the restaurant with the C grade and the waitress who just sneezed in your coffee.

To Prologue or Not? (And other thoughts.)

Sometimes my brain, my plot, and the route to a decision, look like this.

During this last revision process I began to think a lot more about the techniques of storytelling I was employing in my manuscript. In the first draft — which I completed in May 2012— there was no prologue, however there was a brief and vivid flashback which ran rather long. I had this idea that if I did a prologue I would be taking the easy way out, doing something I was seeing in a lot of YA fiction I was reading. I wanted to find a new way to give this aspect of the story to the reader.

In my second draft — which I completed in late July — I wrote a brief prologue. I was never satisfied with it, but it felt necessary. I felt trapped by this convention, a feeling I really hate. For that draft though, there were other, more pressing issues to address.

Come around to the third revision — which I completed in the first weeks of October — and I found myself at a crossroads. Something about the prologue (I couldn’t tell you, maybe the tone?) felt wrong. I couldn’t help it. It read well, it operated as a prologue should operate, but I found myself dissatisfied.

In the midst of this dilemma, I was also trying to steer the novel away from comparison to a certain massive trilogy many of us love and read. The reason for this was twofold: 1) The comparison was being drawn because of setting, and 2) No one needs to try to live up to that. One of my readers helped me understand, in her very brilliant teenage way, just what was doing this in the early pages of the manuscript. Thankfully, I was happy to listen to her critique. (An aside, finding really awesome readers is maybe the most important thing about revising efficiently.)

Solving my prologue issue as well as the unwanted comparison problem turned out to have one and the same solution. I reworked the lay-out of the book and added a world-building scene to set the tone I was looking to set. Now, will there always be comparison’s we don’t want from readers and critics and people who read what other readers and critics say? Yes. Will I ever be utterly satisfied with every decision I make as a writer? Not likely. Can I accept both of those things? With a healthy dose of petulance, maybe, and a full glass of wine, maybe more.

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

— Stephen King, On Writing

In the end, I hope future readers will manage to see beyond the imperfections that are unavoidable, to the great stuff inside. I believe in my story, my characters, and the world in which they reside. I have done my best to convey that. Now I have to wait to see if I’m right.

Road Trip Wednesday #155: Best October Book

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This Weeks Topic: What’s the best book you read in October?

October found me at the end of my third revision on my manuscript and breathing a sigh of relief. I was also breathing to maintain my composure, to wait for my feedback, and to focus my inner critic. Since I had all that breathing room, I also consumed as many books as my schedule (as a Brooklyn Mom, Wife, and writer the schedule can get a little tight sometimes) would allow. These are the books I read during October:

In my opinion the best book I read of the lot was The Crown of Embers. I think Rae Carson did a phenomenal job with her sequel. The addition of the creepy Inviernos guide and the deeply moving love story really kept me interested. But, if I’m being totally honest — and why not be? — the make-out scene sealed it. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet, so I won’t go into detail. However, it made my toes curl. I read it three times. I can’t fully even explain why. Maybe because of how well she built the tension between the characters, maybe because I have a soft-spot for war-hardened men, or maybe because I think Elisa just needed to be kissed, but it was good. Highly recommend this book, and its predecessor, The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Some of my favorite right now.

Here is the Goodreads:

In the sequel to the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.

Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone’s power. That is not all she finds. A breathtaking, romantic, and dangerous second volume in the Fire and Thorns trilogy.

And my rating when I finished it: