Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I Won't Be Home for Christmas, continued.

So, a week or so ago (maybe longer: kids and holidays skew my sense of time), I posted the beginning to a Christmas themed story as part of a contest. After enjoying the gift-a-palooza this morning, it feels appropriate to continue it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Previously: Gillian was traveling to visit Grandma with her two sons, Steve (10) and Jack (6), when they got snowed in at their hotel . . . .
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Gillian stepped off the elevator into the most chaotic hotel lobby she had ever seen.  Looking at the huge crowd of hotel guests gathered around the desk, she changed her mind about seeking any advice there.

Instead, she slipped into the breakfast area, filled a paper cup with coffee and stepped outside the back door into the patio area overlooking the swimming pool.  She took a few more steps to peer inside. Snow rose nearly to the top of the five foot pool.  Gillian squatted down and cleared a small spot on the edge of the pool, then sat down and dangled her feet into the opening.

She and the boys had stayed at this same hotel on their way to visit Grandma last summer. That had been right after Phillip had accepted the job in New York, effectively turning Gillian into a single mother. She and the boys wouldn't be joining him. At least not at first. Maybe not at all. Phillip talked to the boys about how busy he was going to be and how he didn't want to pull them away from their friends and schools until he knew for sure that he'd be keeping the job, and Gillian had backed him up, but Steven's doubtful face showed that he had heard more of those late night arguments then Gillian would have hoped.

Still, that summer trip had been lovely.  They had arrived early enough that the boys got to swim for three hours.  Gillian had caved and just ordered pizza to eat poolside rather than struggle the unwilling boys into dry clothes and a restaurant.  She had watched the sun go down over the parking lot, feeling strong and capable, happy to be handling things on her own so well.

She didn't feel that way today. She had no idea how to make this work for her boys.  Sighing, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and called her mother. Her mom answered on the first ring and  started talking without even saying hello first. "Oh Thank God you're all right! We've been so worried! Where are you?"

A rush of warmth flooded Gillian as she reassured her mother that she and the boys were safely ensconced at a hotel. She had been so worried about the damage to their holiday plans that she had forgotten to be grateful for their warmth and safety.  Her mother always helped her see through to the important part.

Gillian pulled out her wallet and counted the dollars inside at her mother's insistence.  There was still about $200 of the travel money.  Her mom promised to call the front desk when she could get through and give her credit card information to cover the additional nights of hotel stay.  Gillian promised to call later in the day with the boys so she could talk to them, too.

Too soon the phone call was over and it was time to face the music. Gillian walked around to the front of the hotel and back into the lobby.  It was much emptier now, only a few older guests sitting on the lobby sofas and talking quietly.  Gillian approached the desk and stood waiting quietly for the woman behind the desk to notice her. It was taking a while for her to look up from her computer, and Gillian shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.

"Maxine!" One of the men on the sofas called out, causing the desk clerk to jump. "You've got a guest, honey."

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!" The woman's southern accent was thick and very out of place in the Midwest.

Gillian smiled, "It's okay. You must be exhausted after all that." She gestured at the lobby and Maxine nodded ruefully.  The two women talked for a few minutes and Maxine made a phone call verifying that Gillian and her boys would be able to get breakfast at the diner on the other side of the parking lot. Maxine also said she'd let Gillian know when the credit card information came through to pay for the remainder of their stay. Gillian thanked the lady and turned to head back upstairs.

"Did I hear you say you're traveling with little ones?"

Gillian nodded. "Two boys. We were on our way to Grandma's house."

The man smiled. "We were on our way to see our grandkids." The man introduced himself and his wife. Henry and Louise Balfour, from Colorado, on the way to Tennessee. "We're thinking maybe we should have retired to Florida after all." Henry laughed as he spoke and Gillian couldn't help but laugh, too.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What if the World really did end in 2012, and this is hell?
2013 has not been our year. Warning: page-long kvetching impending.

I know we've been fortunate, when you look at the big picture. We haven't had any big tragedies. No matter how unlucky I feel in any given moment, I am one lucky girl. I try to remember that.

It's hard tonight, after five hours of cleaning up my garage because my washing machine flooded it, but I do try to remember how good I really have it.

2013 will be remembered in our household as the year of death by a thousand paper cuts. I've been a day late, a dollar short, and feeling the Charlie Browniest all damn year.
I'm a teacher in North Carolina. That's the beginning of tragedy by Theodore Dreiser right there. There are not a lot of external benefits in a teaching career, and North Carolina has been gutting all of them. This year especially. I've been a teacher in several other states. They weren't like this.

This was also the year that something was always broken. Cars. Lawnmower. Daughter's cellphone. Dishwasher. Cars again. Playstation. Glasses. Computer. Favorite Mug. Appointments. Fireplace. Getting a phone call back from a service or repair person, let alone actual reliable service, is as rare as finishing a sentence in a house with children.

Someone was always hurt or sick. Colds. Infections. Sprains. Cuts. Severe eczema breakouts. Dental surgery. Ridiculous medical procedures that make you question whether medicine can rightly be called a science.

Whatever I was looking for, I couldn't find it. It's a house that Jack built situation. Each thing I wished to do involved taking seven steps backwards to find a starting place to work my way towards the actual goal.

At some point, it occurred to me that maybe the world really did end in 2012.  It wasn't a spectacular, definite, splendid ending. Just a petering out.

And this is hell. It's not a tortuous hell, either. Not something I can build up a head of steam over and rally the other denizens to overthrow. 

Nope, it's a quiet and insidious hell, full of the promise that things will get better if you just hold on a little longer. Hope can be an instrument of torture, too. That seems far more evil to me than direct and easy to recognize hell with fire and brimstone.

So, here's to 2014. May it wash our papercuts clean and let them all finally heal.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Won't be Home for Christmas (1,000 Prompts Contest Entry)
Gillian first knew about the freak snowstorm when her boys jumped into the bed with her squealing excitedly. "There's so much snow, Mama! Come see! Come see!" 

Reluctantly, she allowed the children to pull her from under the comforter. She hadn't slept well. She never did when she was traveling. It didn't seem to matter how nice the hotel was, or how many of her home comforts she had carried with her. She just couldn't drop off to dreamland and stay there all night unless she was at home in her own bed.

She shook her sleepiness quickly once the boys had tugged her to the window, though. She could see what her children had been so excited about.  There was so much snow that she couldn't even see most of the cars in the parking lot. There were heaps of snow in orderly rows, like someone had made fifty or so large, roughly car-shaped snowballs and left them in a line, waiting for a fantastic snowball fight to begin.

Part of Gillian was as excited as the kids. There was something wonderful about so much snow. But that part was hard to hear over the part of her that realized what impact this was going to have on their travel plans. They weren't going to be able to make the rest of their journey by Christmas. No way.  And going back home wasn't going to be an option either. Her car didn't even have four-wheel-drive. They were in for the duration. 

There was no need to tell the boys about her worries just yet, though. "Who wants popcorn for breakfast?" she asked. She settled the boys with a Christmas movie and the ice bucket full of microwave popcorn and ducked into the bathroom to read the weather reports on her phone. 

It wasn't good news.  Work crews were rescuing stranded drivers, but it would take days to clear out the roads for safe transit.  The Department of Transportation warned holiday travelers to stay put.  Gillian considered her options. They were few. 

Peeking out the bathroom door, she saw the boys cuddled up on the bed she had slept in, still wearing their long-john style pajamas, and stuffing their faces with popcorn. Their uncombed hair stuck out all around their heads.  They were practically an advertisement for Christmas morning, maybe especially Jack, who had a huge gap where he had just lost both his top front teeth. 

And what kind of Christmas morning was she going to be able to provide, here in the hotel? One of the reasons they had been traveling was because she couldn't afford to do anything much this year. Her mother had sent them travel money and had Christmas stockings and gifts waiting for the boys at her house. What did she even have in the car? A few candybars? Certainly no gifts.  What would they even do for food? Popcorn wasn't going to keep them happy for two or three days. 

She decided it would be better to go downstairs and talk to the front desk people and see what they could suggest.  She carefully instructed ten year old Steven to watch out for six year old Jack and locked the boys in the room, tucking the key card into the front pocket of her jeans. She took the car keys with her, too, in case she could find a way to retrieve more of their things from the car . . .

To be continued :-)

This story came from a prompt

303. A giant snowstorm the week before X-Mas has stranded your family at a hotel in the middle of the country. With all the stores closed and all your relatives far, far away, how would the holiday change? Would you still be able to have some fun in such strange circumstances? Why or why not?

The prompt is part of this contest at Build Creative Writing Ideas.  Whether or not I win, I had fun writing this, and avoiding the rewrite on my novel for a little while :-)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Connect 4 Writers: Flash Fiction Challenge, Round 4

So, I'm writing stories with people I've never met this month, and boy is it fun!  So far, I've written about a wistful girl thinking of the boy she might have loved, a man having a very bad day involving a woman named Elise and a lot of blood, and a guy with a Mosquito Gun. After such tight focus for a month on my NaNoWriMo project all of November,  it's a relief to sort of splash around and play in the writing pool again.

All this comes from a Flash Fiction Challenge from +Chuck Wendig. We're in week 4 now, so that means the piece I'm picking up this week was begun by one writer, and continued by two others. With luck, one more writer will pick it up after me and finish it.

So, here's "The Forest Road", parts 1-4.

* * *

“Blades out lads it’ll be wet work with this lot, no doubt about that.” Some faces showed smiles, others grimaced but nowhere was fear to be seen. Eagerly they watched the carriage as it moved unsuspectingly into their ambush.

An arrow thunked into the throat of the coachman and the band flung themselves at the road with an animalistic scream. The horses, rearing in fright had their throats slashed – although they were valuable beasts, it would be too long before they could sell them and make a profit. Flintlocks poked through the windows and a few ineffective shots did little more than fill the carriage with smoke before they were torn from their owner’s hands. The door was wrenched from the hinges and the attackers leaned in, keen to ascertain the nature of their spoils.

“God’s teeth!” swore the leader, and he reeled back in shock, for one of the passengers was not human. Large yellow eyes nictitating wildly in the sudden clamour stared back at them from the being trussed up on the floor of the carriage. Green, scaly skin covered its hide, and the other passengers were torn between watching their charge and dealing with the bandits that now milled in confusion on the road.

* * * 

A blood-curdling screech filled the air.

The leader, Marin, rolled clear of the carriage an instant before a jet of flame engulfed two of his dumbfounded companions and set the carriage on fire. “They’re transporting a dragon!”
Two soldiers burst from the burning carriage, Flintlocks in hand, and opened fire at their scattering foes. Another bandit fell before the pair discarded their spent pistols and reached for the rapiers at their side.

Marin sprang into action, running the first soldier through before he could unsheathe his sword. “Stand your ground lads,” he said. “Surround the wagon.” The second soldier lunged at the bandit leader, who deftly parried the attack then plunged his blade through the soldier’s heart.

As the remaining bandits took up positions around their prize, the air shimmered and became deathly cold. When the flames vanished, the men shifted nervously, looking at Marin with wide eyes. He knew what securing a dragon would mean for his small band. He also knew that the spoils of battle weren’t worth having unless they could be enjoyed. But what he didn’t know was whether his rag tag company could survive a battle with the magician inside the smouldering carriage.

* * *

A petite red-head dressed in a green pelisse delicately stepped out of the carriage. Once she stood, she brushed down her jade satin skirts, settled her hands on her hips, and surveyed the band with bright yellow eyes. She grinned up at Marin. "Thanks much, mates. I was growing tired of the accommodations." 

Marin swallowed heavily. "Milday, you are now our prisoner. Come forth and we'll treat you with all respect. Otherwise, we'll cut you down where you stand."

"Really, heavy-handed threats? I expected more from a group of brigands such as yourselves. How on earth will you hold me? I could transform and wipe you out with a single breath." She picked her way forward around the bodies of the two dead guards. "However, I should be grateful. You freed me from the King's men. How best can I reward you?" She tapped her chin with a forefinger. "How best, indeed?"

His men looked at him and back at the magician, for a magician she had to be. No one had ever heard of a female magician, let alone one who could transform. Marin knew he needed to take control of the situation before he lost his men.

* * *
Part Four: By me :)

Quickly he sheathed his sword, and stepped towards the magician, one hand gliding into his pocket. She cocked her head at him curiously, in a gesture that was eerily like a bird of prey. Trying to look confident, he wrapped his hand around the small stone he had stolen from the old woman in the woods, praying that it was all it promised to be. The stone seemed to warm in the center of his palm, and he grinned lecherously at the woman. 

Pulling her into his arms, he kissed her. As he did, a pulse of energy shot from the stone up his arm and through his mouth into hers. She stiffened, pushing against him for a moment, then went soft. When he let her go, she stood there, looking dazed and fragile. Her eyes had turned brown. The stone had done its work. It wouldn't hold her forever, but it would give him the time he needed to come up with another plan. 

He turned back to the stunned circle of his men, all staring slack-jawed at the dragon-woman-magician who had seemingly been tamed by their captain's kiss. He tossed back his head and laughed.

"Yes, that will do nicely for my reward," said Marin. 

To be continued? Let's hope so!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge, Part 3

So as the holidays descend upon us in full force, I'm taking time to play some non-reindeer games. Writing fun with +Chuck Wendig!

So, here we go, with week 3 of Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge.  Each week for 5 weeks, a group of Chuck Wendig readers are adding on to stories begun by other followers.

For week one, I put out this starter, which I had left untitled. It was picked up by +Mildred Achoch and she continued it here, titling it "Alina and the Boy." I'm hoping someone continues it for week three.

Meanwhile, I continued a story by Wanderer that she had titled Easy Street.

That bring us to now.  I've chosen a whole new story to play with this week: The Mos-Gun by Levi Stribling, Paul Feeney, and me.

* * * 

Mosquitoes suck. Fact. I’m not just talking about their physical abilities, but more of how, well, how sucky they are. I cannot stand the little flying dicks. But I can’t be the only one who feels this way. In fact, I’m going to make sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Because as much as I hate mosquitoes, I hate large groups of people even more. That’s why the mosquito gun is the perfect invention, and I promise, the one I have in the basement is the only one around.

The concept is pretty simple. I’m using something I hate to piss off another something I hate. In this way I can have two things that I hate hating each other at the same time, thereby bringing me joy.

The process itself has taken me long enough – a few years at least; I don’t know, really. I lost count. But I’ve basically just collected a shit-ton of mosquitoes, frozen them and threw them all into this huge vat. Then I load them all up into these tubes, full, I mean chock full – almost like a European mosquito soccer match. They’re all pinned in there, trying to fly around. All they want is to get out. They’re pissed – just how I want them.

* * * 

So, I'm out on the street now, and I'm ready to start using my gun.
My first target wobbles into view. It's that fat obnoxious prick that manages the local supermarket. I've had more than a few run-ins with him. Payback time, now. I level my Mos-Gun and let rip. One fat mosquito squeezes out of the barrel and goes racing towards him. He bats it away at first, but it turns out that thing is pissed!
It zips up and down, darts in and out and pretty soon, blood is seeping from hundreds of little bites and the fat prick is screaming. I feel an excited tightness in my chest and squeeze off more rounds. They surround him in a cloud and soon, his body slumps to the ground.
Fuck me, it works! I wander down the street, indiscriminately loosing more and more mosquitoes at my enemies. People run screaming, banging into walls, cars, falling over in the's wonderful.
Then, on the horizon, a figure appears, the sun at his back. He pauses on the horizon, his fingers twitching over something at his side. My stomach drops as I realise it's a huge can of RAID.

* * * 
(Now part 3, by me)

It had to be Stuart. That fucking weasel is always trying to undermine my plans and schemes. Ever since the time with that girl at the corner pub. She hadn't gone home with me either, but somehow he was convinced that it was my fault she hadn't bought his "come and see my laboratory" schtick. I admit that I had taken some pleasure in watching her dump her beer into his lap, but I hadn't done anything to orchestrate that particular fiasco.

Seeing him standing there with the giant can of RAID that could ruin my carefully laid plans for mayhem and revenge, I boiled with rage. How could he even have known about my plans? I had told no one, posted no blogs, tweeted no hints. But somehow, he knew what I was making? And that today was the day I'd be trying it out?

The shithead had to be spying on me. My hand still on the trigger of my magnificent new creation, I stared down the street at Stuart. If he thought he could stop me this easily, though, he had another think coming, a stinging, itchy, biting think. Gripping the Mos-Gun with both hands, I began to run towards him. At first he stood his ground, trying to look confident, but the closer I got, the more uncertain he looked . . .

To be continued? Let's hope!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Post NaNo Blues: PPD for writers

Monday was rough. Exceptionally rough. I know, I know. It was Monday. What did I expect? This Monday was so rough that it's still rough on Tuesday, though. I'm beginning to suspect it might be a weeklong Monday.

So, at first I thought it was the post-holiday thing. After all, I really enjoying Thanksgivukkah. It took two of my favorite time-with-the-family holidays and melded them in an unprecedented way.  On Thursday, we had the big turkey dinner, followed in the evening by candles, gifts, and dreidel. What's not to love? Coming back after a holiday like that can make a girl a little bitter.

But I don't think that was it. Or at least not all of it.

Then I thought it was because we bought my husband a new car and I had a form of sticker shock, like PTSD of the checkbook. But looking at the pretty new car in our driveway doesn't make me anything but happy. It's so pretty! I'm relieved that the hubby is no longer managing the failing brakes in the old car on his commute.

So, it's probably not the car either.

I'm a teacher, so there's the my-students-are-nuts-on-holiday-candy-and-anticipation factor.  Some people probably got to ease back into their work life a little more gently than I did.  I'm sure some people got to sip coffee while they caught up on the backlog of email, then quietly returned some calls. Sounds dull. I ride the tidal wave of tween and teen manic-depression that we call middle school. Even on Monday, when I wasn't sure I wanted to be there, it was a good ride. When you learn to get atop that energy and surf it, it's a pretty amazing ride.

So, no I don't blame my students. 

But I definitely have some kind of PPD (post party depression). I think I figured out what it is.

NaNoWriMo ended. It was the equivalent of some tremendous athletic event, like a marathon. I trained for it by building a daily writing habit for months, inching it up fifty words at a time. I prepared for it with outline notes and research reading and lots of contemplation. I talked about it with my writing friends.

Then race day (or month in this case) came and I ran (wrote) my heart out. It was exhilarating! It was exciting! It was amazing!

And, it's over.

Just like that.

I'm glad in a way, because I know I couldn't have kept up that pace and my other life commitments for even a day longer. I feel good about the writing I did, and am excited about finishing it next year. But I've got this hungover feeling, sort of half burnt out and half still letting go the restless party energy. I'm having trouble getting focused on the next writing task. It probably doesn't help that the next task is rewriting/editing.  It's vital work, and will be the important stuff that makes my work sale-able, but it doesn't have the glamor of new words on blank screen. 

So, yeah. I think that's it. I've got post NaNoWriMo blues. But, hey---I should be getting my winner's tee-shirt soon. I can wear it to critique group :-)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013: I won!

As of yesterday evening, I am a winner in 2013 NaNoWriMo. For those not in the know NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, or as other people know it: November.  The idea is that you write 50,000 words in 30 days. It amounts to 1,667 words per day if you break out in even pieces. You "win" if you succeed in reaching the target word count.

For some writers, that's a piece of cake. But not for me. I don't get to write full time. I also teach and mom.  Using the Magic Spreadsheet, I've built a strong daily writing habit over the past year or so, but not a 1,667 word a day habit. My current daily goal (outside NaNoWriMo) is a mere 550 words a day. And those can be hard fought on any given day.

Still, I had an idea for a new novel that had been pulling at me for a few weeks. And I'm crazy. And some of my friends were trying it, so I thought I'd try it, too.

For writers like me, NaNoWriMo is marathon running from whatever chair you sit in to write. Athletic. Inspiring. And, for most of us, not sustainable in regular life. It's something you do once, to show that you can. Or maybe yearly to show you still can. It's not business as usual.

I didn't start out really believing I could do it, but I thought it was worth the effort even if it merely goaded me into writing more than I normally would have in one month's time. But Magic Spreadsheet proved that gamification is a very effective way to get Samantha Dunaway Bryant to do something. I guess I have my father's love for measurable signs of efficiency combined with my mother's love for small treats and prizes. The further I got, the more important it became for me to finish. And finish I did! Yesterday. A whole day early, even!

I found I was ridiculously motivated by the statistics and charts. Even when I was tired and frustrated, I'd push through to keep my bars alone the line. I'd pep talk myself. "You can do it, Dunaway" (I still call myself Dunaway when I'm pep talking myself, though I've been Bryant for more than seven years now). "It's only three hundred more words."

It was entirely different than the way I usually write. It forced me to keep on going even when I felt I didn't know where I was going. It forced me to just highlight areas that I'd have to research for later, or make notes of questions I was going to have to answer.

My novel critique group friends can testify that generally speaking, I keep what I write. Some of my writing friends write pages and pages and pages that don't actually make it into the final project. Not so for me. Usually, by the time something is committed to paper (or Scrivener, in this case), I'm committed, too. I might alter it, expand it, or rewrite it, but it's rare that I just cut something entirely.

I'm curious if that will hold true when I go back to finish (50,000 words did not get me to the end of the story, and I'm still not at all sure how this particular story will end) and edit this one. I'm going to put it away for now. I need to do the rewrite on Going Through the Change, now that it's been through critique group, so that's my December project.  Plus, I've found great benefit in letting something sit for a little while and coming back to it with fresh eyes.

That's something that was lost in this pellmell headlong tumble down novel mountain we call NaNoWriMo: time to let it sit, let it breathe like fine wine. It remains to be seen if what I created is worth drinking.

So, was it worth it? Unequivocally yes. 

50,000 words in one month is an accomplishment I feel proud of. Not letting myself sit and think or research turned the story back on itself, making me let the characters lead and show me what they would do.

Is it my new M.O.? Unequivocally no. 

Especially in the last few thousand words that I wrote, I really felt I was flying blind. If I was respecting the process and not just feeding into the game, I would have stopped and read some more about women's forays into the workforce in the 1930s, instead of floundering around trying to write scenes for my character based on the very sketchy knowledge I have of the time period.

Freda was whispering in my ear that I had a lot to learn about the time period. I didn't even have her wearing the right shoes!

There's a difference between necessary research (lines of work open to women in 1930 in Indianapolis) and letting myself get distracted by interesting research that still matters but only in details that can be added afterwards (what kind of shoes she would wear). NaNoWriMo has helped me learn the boundaries between those, and keep myself focused on the task at hand with iron concentration. That will serve me well in my future projects and help make me a more efficient writer.

Efficiency is going to matter. Unlike my mad scientist in Going Through the Change, I'm not getting any younger. And I still have a lot of stories to tell!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge, Part 2

Chuck Wendig is one of my favorite writing-bloggers.  For the next few weeks, he's got some of us playing a game of Telephone.  A writer puts out a story starter of 200 words (Here's mine from last week); another writer picks up where s/he left off, adding the next 200 words. I picked a piece from Wanderer. Here are her words:

Easy Street
        Marcel was certain that the pounding beast in his chest was audible to the entire city as he leaned, panting, against the wall of the alley. Just out of sight, back in the blistering sunlight, the city rumbled on; he could faintly hear the ding of a trolley and the clackety-clack as it thudded over the iron tracks and the intermittent sounds of a saxophonist hawking his street-corner jazz to the tourists. Marcel gulped in a mouthful of the heavy, still air, and slunk further into the shade. It was slightly cooler, but no less humid. New Orleans was seething in the heat, oozing the smell of baked concrete, creole cooking, and the faint tang of the murky Mississippi from every pore.
        Marcel wiped the sweat off his face with the back of one shaking hand, noticing the way the moisture slicked his dark skin—like the flickering mirage off asphalt. He leaned over and vomited, the acidic contents of his nearly empty stomach splattering the alleyway. He coughed at the acrid taste of his own fluids and scooted down the wall, slouching down until he sat on the pavement. He gripped his head in his hands.
         It’s all over.
And now my contribution:

It began as such things do, innocently enough.  Marcel woke in an amorous mood and his thoughts had turned to Elise. Elise had flitted through his thoughts often since he met her a few weeks earlier. Each encounter was more fuel to fire growing between them. But for some reason he hesitated to act on his attraction. Hesitation was unusual for Marcel, especially in the bedroom.

Now Marcel wished he had listened to the still, quiet voice that told him that all was not as it seemed. But, this morning, he had thought only of the way Elise's hair had brushed across her bare shoulders, pulling his eyes and his mind across her flesh. Not giving himself time to think, he called her.

He could see now that Elise was trying to tell him not to come over, to warn him away, but, at the time, he thought she was just playing hard to get, that she wanted him to work for it. He had been so stupid. Now the thought of Elise's flesh was enough to make Marcel sick again. There had been so much blood.  He let his head fall back against the alley wall, his mouth full of the bitter taste of vomit and fear.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge

 So, Chuck Wendig is having an interesting Flash Fiction Challenge over at The idea is to write 200 words, then next week take someone else's 200 words and run with them, then someone else's, etc., etc. until we've all gotten through the holidays and ended up with 1000 word stories. 

I'm intrigued. So, here's mine. It's 268 words. I suck at sticking to specifications apparently. I'm interested to see where it goes.

It was some time before she could think of him without bitterness. Longer than it should have been, probably.  After all, their time together had been short.  But Alina knew that the impact a person had on your life was not necessarily measured in time. Her father, after all, had nearly twenty years to impress himself on her soul, and, in the end, he didn’t matter. She barely blinked when he died.

But, the boy.  He was different. She had spent only a few hours with him at the retreat. She hadn’t even gotten his name. He had introduced himself as the son of one of the trainers. He hadn’t given his name or asked for hers. That hadn’t bothered her at the time. It had felt like a beginning. She was sure they would have plenty of time to learn the details of each other’s lives.

He hadn’t acted like he knew who she was. That was lovely. Was it possible that he really didn’t know who she was?  He had just talked to her like she was a girl. He had asked to share her table, offered to fetch her a hot cocoa, which she refused.  He had complimented her drawing, talked about the walking paths near the lodge that he planned to walk the next day. It was the kind of conversation she had seen many times, but had never been a part of before.

She looked for him, of course, the next day.  And the day after that. Part of her watched for him the rest of the retreat week. But, he never reappeared.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Honey, I'm Writing a Novel OR Not Now! Mommy's Writing!

Dear Husband,

Your writer wife stayed at home with the kids while you were away, so there are a few things you should know.

That is not a pile of horse dung on the porch. It is clay which the youngest dug out of the garden. She's drying it and planning to dye it bright colors and sell it to the neighboring children as playdoh.  Her dress is probably permanently brown now, but I wrote 700 words while she made her first solid entrepreneurial venture. Oh, I should get her out of the bath now. I think it's been two hours.

The broken glassware in the garbage happened when I tried to walk through the big fight scene using our children and the dog as stand-ins for my characters.  The dog does not follow directions well, but we do think it's possible for Leonel to throw Patricia forward in a slingshot motion like they did in that roller derby movie. Next time, though, we're going to set up more pillows.  The bruises will heal quickly, I'm sure.

The smell is because Dr Liu went on this 1200 word rant against the establishment while I was cooking a frozen pizza. Apparently my villain talks louder than the timer on our oven, but not louder than the smoke alarm. I still fed us though.  Both girls seemed pleased with peanut butter spoons and popcorn. The big girl even cooked the popcorn. She didn't trust me to listen for the slow down of popping kernels. I don't blame her.

There was a phone call,  I think. But I didn't answer it.  It wasn't a publisher on the Caller ID, so I figured it couldn't have been that important.  If it was about the car, I'm sure they'll call back.

Oh, you're home! I missed you. Could you put the kids to bed? Yes, they're still up. What do you mean, it's 10:30? Why is the dog sticky? Okay, okay . . . just a few more pages. I love you, too.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Greasers and Socs

There are two kinds of people in this world: Greasers and Socs. Which one are you?

The terms come from S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders. It's a classic of young adult fiction and if you haven't read it, shame on you! There's a movie, too, which I have fondness for in spite of the fact that Tom Cruise is in it.

It's a story of two gangs: The Greasers and the Socs.

Socs take their name from "socials." They are children of privilege with letterman jackets, nice cars, and an overinflated sense of self importance. They are definitely the bad guys. Hinton's sympathies (and the readers') are solidly with the Greasers.

Greasers have it rough. They don't have "good" parents or even any parents at all. Their lives are impacted by need, violence, neglect, and substance abuse. They meet with societal censure for their clothing and homes. They are from the wrong side of the tracks.

It might be a very simple world view, but I think all of us are either Greasers or Socs. Once we are adults, it's more about your life attitude than your socio-economic-status, but the designations hold. Let's talk for just a few minutes and I'll tell if you are one of us or one of them.

Socs have money. They have always had money. They don't know what it's like not to have money, and they don't have sympathy for money problems. If you grew up poor, it's less likely that you will ever be a soc. Because they don't know what it's like not to have something you need, Socs don't appreciate what they have. The worst of them don't even know what it's like not to have something you merely want. Having all the things they want doesn't make them generous. In fact, it makes them hoard what they have, trying to collect more and more and not caring that they have more than they need while others struggle to meet their basic needs. As adults, they drive BMWs too fast and cut off other drivers. They shove in line. They think the rules don't apply to them. They worry about me and mine first at all times.

I'm a Greaser. Compared to some of my childhood friends, I grew up privileged. But I still know what it's like to have to wait for things I need and not be able to get things I want. I've seen ebb and flow in income and know that sometimes you have to look at the long game. You have to sacrifice in one area to do what is needed in another. Because I couldn't and can't have whatever I want when I want it, I have learned to prioritize needs and wants and to appreciate the things I have. I try to help others. Us Greasers are in this together. We support one another.

“That's why people don't ever think to blame the Socs and are always ready to jump on us. We look hoody and they look decent. It could be just the other way around - half of the hoods I know are pretty decent guys underneath all that grease, and from what I've heard, a lot of Socs are just cold-blooded mean - but people usually go by looks.”
S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders 

For this reason, parents, I argue against raising Socs. Even if you have the income to do it, you don't do your children any favors by raising them with a sense of entitlement and self-importance. It's a dangerous road, slick with oils and without enough guardrails. It's easy to veer off the path into questionable morality and then into outright illegal and immoral acts. Socs can go a long time without getting caught, the cost to the soul notwithstanding, but when the consequences catch up to them, it's spectacular. There are washed out mug shots and corpses littering the ground.

We all want our children to do well, but there's a difference between handing your children everything and giving them the life skills they need. Greaser children have empathy. They know that it's important to work hard and do well for themselves, but they also know that their needs might not be the most important needs in the room at any given moment. They understand that resources are limited and that they should go to those in deepest need first. They try to solve problems themselves, and are patient about waiting for help when it is needed.

I'd rather teach a room full of Greasers than a room full of Socs. Soc children will constantly call for my attention over things it is entirely possible to solve for oneself. They want the validation of my attention, even when they are snatching it from another child who needs it more. Greaser children will try to help each other first. Only after they've exhausted their options will they ask for help. When they get help, they remember to say thank you for it.

In fact, I prefer Greasers to the point that I have to watch my bias in my interactions with others, keep myself from assuming you're a Soc on the inside based on the appearance of your outside. I have a basic mistrust of people who are too pretty, especially pretty in a polished, practiced way. It makes me wonder about your priorities. If your surface is too smooth, I doubt you have depth.

“It seemed funny that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders

One of the themes in the novel was the idea that we all watch the same sunset. It's another version of the old saw about all living under the same sky.  It's a nice idea. But I wonder about its truth. Maybe I'm just getting cynical as I get old, but I truly wonder if the Socs of this world really do see the same sunset I do. If we view it and interpret it so differently, is it really still the same sunset?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Friday Mom-a-Thon

Friday has gotten complicated around here. 

The Mom is exhausted from a week of mom-ing and teaching and would like to sit on the couch and stare at the fireplace (with or without a fire in it; it doesn't matter--just so no one asks for anything). 

The Teen wants to go out and is full of wonderful excited energy, but she isn't old enough to drive herself yet (and, thank G-d, neither are her friends). 

The Munchkin shouldn't be allowed to stay up past 8:00--it tends to ruin Saturday if she does. 

The Hubby has traffic goblins to fight and often can't get home at any sort of reasonable time, especially not if stops are need to buy stuff (as often happens).

The end result is a singular athletic event we call the Mom-a-thon.

The athlete in this event is not particularly athletic. She is heavier than she'd like to be and dressed in Mom-jeans and a teacher-geek tee-shirt (because we're allowed on Fridays). It's not as stylish as a sleek uni-tard emblazoned with the flag of my country, but we're all better off if I don't wear such things. Really.

The warm-up is a lovely espresso drink from my local market.  This may not seem like the kind of thing an athlete ought to do to warm up for an extended race, but it's surprisingly effective, better than yoga. It's my reward for having survived the work week. There's one particular gal who usually makes it.  She's wonderful. Besides making great coffee, she knows us (the Teen goes with me) and asks about little things we tell her.  I'm sure she doesn't get paid enough for how much better she makes my day. 

If my brain is firing on enough cylinders, I remember to get cash back when I check out. I'll need it for the Teen's Friday night expenses and Saturday morning guitar lesson. If not, it becomes one more thing to handle between 4:00 and 6:00.

Then, the first event starts: The Kiss and Go Lane. The Kiss and Go Lane should probably be called the "Harried Parents Hurl Your Tweens from the Car Lane." It's almost as dangerous as driving in a grocery parking lot right after work.  There are clear patterns the cars are supposed to follow, but they don't. You never know if the person in front of you is going to stop suddenly, turn in a random direction, or fail to stop when they should. The hubby handles the Kiss and Go Lane for the Munchkin. The Teen goes to the same school I teach at, so we're trying to get around the Kiss and Go Lane to get to the teacher parking. Luckily, espresso helps my reflexes.  We survive and even score extra points for landing our favorite parking place: nearest the exit.

Friday at our school is club day. Thanks to the warm-up of a double-shot latte, I am able to pull off thirty minutes of theater games.  Bonus points because the kids seemed sad when we ran out of time.

The third event is broken into three rounds. I'm an elective teacher, which means I teach all three grade levels at my middle school.  My rounds are called "eighth grade," "seventh grade," and "sixth grade."  This is extra challenging because the energy level of the kids goes up across my day in direct inverse to my own energy levels.

There's a dance tonight, the first one of the school year, so my sixth grade students, for whom this is their first ever middle school dance, are practically vibrating when they arrive in my room.  Teaching sixth graders under these conditions is akin to throwing a threadbare saddle with a broken buckle across the back of a rabid rhinoceros and trying to ride it. I live through it, but feel somewhat beaten and bloodied. On the way out, several kids remember to say thank you and wish me a good weekend. I am buoyed.

The fourth event is the after school run-around. This is a juggling act combined with one of those puzzles where you have to get things across the river without letting the lions eat the lambs. I get an assist in that the teen can be left at home unsupervised.  Still, it was five stops between leaving school and arriving at home. Everyone is eating dinner by 6:00, so the judges award me an extra star.

The traffic goblins are winning tonight, so the Munchkin goes with me to deliver the Teen and her friends to the place with the music and the laughter. We stay for a little while, but I have to get her home before she turns into a goblin herself, so back into the car we go. 

Another hour later, a clean and sweet smelling Munchkin is tucked into bed, only half an hour late. Half points, since bedtime was missed. We'll find out tomorrow how bad that is.  The Hubby has defeated the traffic goblins at last and is left at home to watch over sleeping Munchkin while I go back to the place with the music and the laughter to retrieve the Teen.

I like the place they have chosen tonight. It has wi-fi, coffee, and live music, but I can sit far enough away from it that I can still hear myself think. I write while I wait for hugs goodbye. I try not to get the heebie-jeebies (or at least not let them show externally), when the Boyfriend kisses the Teen goodnight.

On the way home, in the quiet of the car. The Teen thanks me. She says she feels lucky to have a mom who will go to this kind of trouble for her. Some of her others friends aren't so fortunate. That folks is game-set-match. Mom won this Friday Mom-a-Thon. And there are seven days to prepare for the next one!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Writing in the Midst of Life

Like many women (and men, too), I wear a lot of hats in my life. I'm a wife, mother, sister, and daughter. I'm a teacher. I'm a homeowner with a family so that makes me a taxi driver, a cook, housekeeper, pet care provider, academic tutor, maid, an event planner, a sanitation expert, and (sometimes it feels like) all around drudge and flunky.

That's not meant to be a complaint. I've made all the choices that brought me here and I love my family, my job and my home, even if they steam-roll me from time to time.

What it's meant to be is context.  This is the context in which I try to build a writing life. 

When I was a child and young woman, I imagined my life as a writing as full of long quiet hours of reading and contemplation followed by long quiet hours of productivity.  That, of course, is not my life.

But I need to write. I am downright cranky when I don't get that creative outlet.  There's a kind of joy I get in writing that I don't find anywhere else in life.  And, if I kept waiting for those long quiet hours to do it in, I wasn't ever going to write anything.

So I found a way to write in midst of life.  I committed to myself that I would write at least 250 words every single day. And I've done it. For more than 200 days. And writing in these smaller chunks is changing how I write.  I've always been more a pantser than a planner when I write. For those who know me and my infamous color coded google calendar, that's probably a surprise.  But, yes, in my writing, I'm all spontaneity. I don't know what's going to happen until I write and find out.

Maybe it's because I began my writing life as a poet, but novels don't come to me in huge sweeping outlines. I get a scene. A thought. A condition. Then I write to find out what's going to happen. Discovery writing. This is well suited to writing in short periods of time amid the chaos of home. It's almost like reading a serial novel.  I leave myself with a cliffhanger each day and come back the next day to find out what happened. But, I have to write it myself when I get there.

Yesterday, Patricia found out that Dr. Liu couldn't have been her kidnapper. Tonight, when I get to write, I'll find who the kidnapper was. I can't wait!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Jenna's Latest Prince

I participate in a community on Google+ called Writer's Discussion Group. If you're looking for a community of writer's to advise and support and encourage you, I highly recommend them.

A recent addition is weekly writing prompts.  I decided to play along today and give this one a go. The parameters were:
  • Use the picture
  • End with "once upon a time"
  • Use fewer than 600 words
Here's my story:


Jenna's Latest Prince

photo is by Ksenis Sazanovich (aka Otono Eterno)  

Jenna wasn’t sure about the whole cosplay thing.

Sure, she rocked the Snow White outfit as well as anyone could. Her dark locks and pale skin had people making that connection even when she wore regular clothing. She’d used it to her advantage in more than one dating situation. But actually wearing the costume made her feel strange.

It was fun, in a little girl sort of way. Playing dress up, twirling your skirt because you like how it moves. But she also felt sexy, and she wasn’t sure she liked feeling both things at the same time. It put her in mind of Lolita, an inappropriate mix of sex and innocence.   Was it cool? Or cheesy?

Bill was different than any other guy she had ever dated though. Given the mill she’d just been run through by the last guy, another type A corporate mover and shaker, Jenna was thinking that different was good.  There had to be something better out there. Bill’s world was very different from hers and she’d learned a whole new set of words to be a part of it, cosplay and LARPing being the newest.

Of course, she’d studied up on something for a guy she was interested in before. She knew more than she cared to about soccer, old cars, and French literature, for example.  And she really enjoyed many of the things Bill had introduced her to.

The anime festival last weekend was what had launched this foray into cosplay.  There had been lots of people there in costume and Jenna had commented on how much fun it looked like they were having.  So, Bill had invited her to go to a party with him. One of his old friends was having a fairy-themed birthday party and all of the LARP folks were going as characters.  It could be fun.  They could rent her a really elaborate costume at this place he knew.

So, there she was, posing in front of the mirror, a grown up version of the most childish of Disney princesses. She touched her fingers to the little white collar. A Peter Pan it was called. It was a style that adorned several of her childhood dresses. None of those dresses, of course, had featured bare shoulders and strapless blue silk. She also certainly would never have been allowed to wear such red red lipstick or such thick mascara as a girl.

She did like how she looked, though. She should quit worrying and just have fun.

The doorbell rang. She ran to answer it, still in her bare feet. There was Bill, in a white blousy shirt and tight black pants, adorned with a golden-handled sword worn at the hip. She’d only ever seen Bill wear jeans and tee shirts. Oddly, this look suited him. She smiled even more broadly. “You look wonderful!” she said, and found that she meant it.

He bowed, spreading his arms to the side, then stood and held out a bouquet of yellow daisies. “M’lady, I think you might want shoes.”

“Ah! Yes, I might indeed.” Jenna looked around the doorway, but didn’t see the black ballet-slipped style shoes she had chosen. “I knew where they were, once upon a time.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Level 6: TGFMS (Thank G-d for Magic Spreadsheet!)

So, I've written about the Magic Spreadsheet before.  It's a simple concept.  You commit to a minimum daily word count (level one is 250 words) and record your words in a spreadsheet where other writers do the same.

After taking four years to complete a first draft of a novel, I was becoming desperate to find a way to write more.  I have plenty of obstacles and challenges to that goal, starting with two children and a teaching career.  But I wasn't willing to let writing be that someday thing anymore.

So, in March, I found a mention of the Magic Spreadsheet somewhere in my Google+ feed.  I was curious and looked it up. They had a group on Facebook.  I joined.  I started tapping out my 250 words every day.  It was a revolution.

First, I noticed the difference in what I could do with a brief writing session. Since I was writing every day, I no longer needed thirty minutes or more to "get back up to speed" by reading what I had previously written and shuffling through notes.  I was already in the flow.  Between writing daily and taking a piece of advice from James Maxey to stop writing each session before the well runs dry (where you have a good starting place for the next day), I was flying.

It didn't take long to level up. Now I was shooting for 300 words a day, then 350, then 400, then 450. And now, ta-da!, 500 words a day.

Over summer, I could get my daily words pretty easily.  My days were mine to structure. I often wrote 2000 words a day.  I know that may change now that I have to add teaching back into my life-work balance sheet, but even if I can't keep up 500 words a day, I know I'm an addict now. I'll keep writing every day.

Because you know what? I finished the rewrite of my first novel.  Then, I finished the first draft of my second novel.  Now, I'm working on the rewrite of that second novel.  I have three new ideas for novels percolating that I'm making notes for.  I'm more productive in my writing than I have ever been in my life, even when I was twenty-two, mortgageless and childless. 

My ideas are making it to fruition.  One day a time, a few hundred words in a chunk. It adds up fast. And equals one girl who isn't going to write someday anymore. I'm writing now.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not Restful, But Joyful

I don't remember my first trip to the beach. I know that my parents took me to Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach sometime in my later childhood. I've seen the pictures. If we went before that, when I was little, I don't remember it.

About one of those trips, all I really remember is being grossed out because there were millions of grasshoppers everywhere and you had to negotiate among them to get to the sea. Then I was grossed out by jellyfish and seaweed. I think my sister got stung by a man'o'war and I got sunburnt.  I didn't like sand in my shoes, nor the feel of my feet on hot sand or shards of seashells. Of course, I was of the age of not liking things. I wonder if I had any fun. 

But, as an adult, I've grown to love the sea in my own quiet way. I don't surf. I don't even really like to swim.  I don't like crowds or heat or too much sun. In many ways, I seem ill suited to time on the beach.

But I could sit and look and listen to the sea for hours. I could walk for miles along the shore without noticing the distance. 

I love the beach in the morning, when it's quiet and crowds are not yet around, when all you see are a few local people who just nod your direction and leave you be.

I love the beach in the evening, when the heat and crowds are gone, but the sunlight still sparkles in the surf.

I love the beach at night, when it is just a sound in the darkness and the boundaries of earth and sea and sky blend into one encompassing feeling.

I spent the first ten years or so of my adult life living by the sea in Kodiak, then Nome, Alaska.  I would go to the shore to think. It was easy to find space to think because Kodiak and Nome are not huge tourist destinations. I remember pulling up to a favorite spot and finding two other people there, so getting back into my truck and driving a few miles further down for a spot I could have to myself.

The white noise and motion of the waves soothes me at a basic, maybe even cellular level.  I leave feeling clean and fresh, like my troubles and shortcomings have been washed away. It's hard to hold onto stress or anger or anxiety in the face of so much open water. The ocean is a place for quiet contemplation for me. For solitude.

So, when my sister proposed a beach trip for all of us (her family, mine, and the grandparents), I both wanted and didn't want to go. It's a very different thing, being at the seashore with kids and family in tow. It can be more wearing than restful. In the end, though, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I'm so glad I went along!

My six year old daughter couldn't remember the beach. We live about three hours inland. She's been a few times, maybe three or four, in her life, but since that last trip was two years ago, she didn't remember it. After all, two years is a third of her life. If you asked her about the beach, she'd talk about wanting to go to the beach house where we had Captain Crunch. Apparently, being allowed to eat sugary cereal was what remained etched on her psyche from that trip.

My six year old is also a bundle of energy. I didn't see my potential beach time with her as restful. I was worried I wasn't up to it. And I was right. It wasn't restful. What it was though, was joyful.

One of the joys of spending time in the company of children is the infectiousness of their enthusiasm. What they feel, they feel wholeheartedly and express without reservation. When N saw the ocean for the first time, I saw the wonder of it in her face and looked at it with new wonder myself.  Even M, my teenager, who is at a more difficult to impress age, was drawn in. We all ran laughing straight to the shoreline anxious to feel the water on our feet.

Usually, I'm not one to play. I love to do things with my children, but have short patience for "let's pretend." I'm also sedentary by nature. I have to fight to make myself do physical things. But N had all of us running and jumping in the waves, calling out to the birds, stomping on sea foam left behind. For her, it was physical joy.  She ran. She jumped. She splashed. She squealed. She danced. She spun.

And I played along.

No it wasn't restful, but it was definitely restorative. It can be good for a quiet soul to remember how to make a joyful noise. I'm fortunate to have my girls to remind me of that.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Why I Became a Writer

 PW-you-are-a-writer-writing-contest Look at this little girl behind the typewriter. Isn't she adorable? She's the invitation to a writing contest I've decided to participate in on Positive Writer. It's an interesting topic. How did I become a writer? Here are my thoughts:


My first inklings (ha!) that I might be a writer came very early. 

First grade. I had this teacher (so many great stories start that way, don't they?): Mrs. Asdorf or maybe Alsdorf.  I remember thinking she had a weird name. To my memory, she was very short. She had to be because she didn't seem tall to me, and I was in first grade!  I also thought she was very old.  I have no idea if she actually was or not. This is a kid's eye view after all. When I try to picture her, her face is all mixed up with my great-grandmother's face, in the way that many childhood memories are mixed up and distorted. She might have been all of thirty. She might have been eighty. I don't know.

Mrs. Asdorf loved poetry. We had this project where we copied poems neatly (we were still learning the mechanics of writing after all), and made illustrations for them, then collected them in a folder made out of wallpaper scraps.  My first blank book.

I loved this project.  I'd always been drawn to poetry. Before I even went to school, I memorized my Mother Goose book and, thanks to my mother and all our hours in the library, had a love for Amelia Bedelia and Dr. Suess, children's books in love with the sounds of words. I loved writing. I liked the feel of the pen or pencil on paper. I'd get this urge I thought of as "itchy fingers" and have to draw or copy something. (It still happens, though now, mostly I type).

At some point, Mrs. Asdorf came by to check my work. I don't remember exactly what she said, but I walked away with the realization that I could write poems myself, that it was okay to make up your own! So, I did.  I wrote a little set of rhymed couplets about Beauty (capital B Beauty; very high-concept). Here are the ones I remember:

Beauty is in the great, tall trees
Bending over in the breeze
Beauty is in each butterfly
That just happens to flutter by

It ended with one about "smile" and "while" that I can't remember fully anymore.  It was very well received and I began my first career as an occasional poet.   I wrote poems for birthdays, holidays, seasons, thank yous.  They were published in little school newsletters and once or twice in the teeny tiny local newspaper. I read them over the announcements for the school to hear.

After that I always wrote. I kept journals. I wrote poems and stories. After reading Little Women, I thought I could be Jo March and earn money to help my family with my stories. Of course, no one pays children for their stories, but I did get lots of positive attention. In high school, I even wrote most of a novel about a tennis team romance.

By college though, I had been doused with enough realism to know that I needed to do something else for a living. So, I trained to become a teacher.  English of course. And Spanish.  I still wrote. I just didn't think that writing was something I could do for a living. Especially not since my form of choice was poetry. I figured I could still be a writer, on the side.

Then I was off into the world, making my way as a teacher, learning what it meant to be an adult, finding new people, places and things to love. 

As many women do, I hit a lull in my public writing when I became a mother.  My first daughter was absorbing and most of the writing I did at that time was about her.  Teaching and mothering were my top priorities, so writing took a decided backseat, though I still managed to create a few essays and poems and even see them published. Life went on, as it does. I divorced, moved, lost people I loved, moved, remarried, moved, became a mother again, moved. 

I wrote my way through all of it.   The writing was all very personal.  It was how I worked my way through whatever I was working my way through.  How I made decisions. How I cherished things. How I grieved and how I celebrated. It was how I found out what I was feeling and thinking. The thoughts and feelings just whirled around unformed until I recorded them, sorting them out, pinning them down and analyzing them.

Then, after the birth of my second child, with the encouragement of my husband, I joined a group of writers.  All of them were writing novels, so I decided to give it a try.  It was hard, writing something so long.  In fact, it took me four years (not counting the abandoned first novel) to write the first draft of my first novel, another year after that to shape it into something readable, a few months after that to make it good.

It's not published, though I'm hoping it will be someday. It's out there in submission limbo. But regardless of whether anyone ever publishes it, I have written it.  I'm writing another one now, and already have ideas for the two or three after that. I am writing every day, with the intent to publish and be read, to possibly earn my living from my words.

I am a woman who writes every day, who sees the world through the filter of her art, who doesn't know what she thinks until she processes it in words. So, paid or not, I am a writer.

“I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer.” - See more at:
I“I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer.” - See more at:
I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer - See more at:
I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer - See more at:
I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer - See more at:
I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer - See more at:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

This Girl is a Woman Now, or How to Hold on Loosely (But Not Let Go)

It seemed to happen overnight, sometime this past school year, during seventh grade.

It's not that I hadn't foreseen this.  Daughters grow. They become women.  I had seen the signs year by year. I would walk into her bedroom to look on her sleeping face at night. Sometimes it was the face she had worn as an infant still, but, increasingly, I could see her woman's face forming beneath the surface, a shifting of bones and sinews, a remaking.

Still it came as a shock when it happened. She blossomed. Not just her body, but her mind and spirit. 

She's beautiful, of course, in that way that only a girl new to womanhood can be.  Not quite in a woman's proportions yet, with girlish shoulders, but womanish hips.  Her legs seem incredibly long, like a baby giraffe's, and entirely out of bounds with the rest of her. There's a charming awkwardness to the way she stands. It seems impossible that she could move her limbs evenly, yet she is a graceful machine in motion, tearing up the basketball court or the soccer field, head and shoulders taller than the other girls.

She's independent, too. Sure in her own abilities. Creative. Always making something. She's in that in-between world, standing in the center of the seesaw between girl and woman, rocking back and forth, trying to balance new privileges and new responsibilities. It's terrifying and wonderful to watch. I'm proud of who she is becoming and my role in that. I'm more frightened than I have ever been in her whole life.

It's a new world of mothering.  I have to pursue her when once she would have come seeking me. I have to ask to see her art when once she would have pulled me by the hand to get me to come see.  I make appointments to ensure we spend time together. I learn about the oddest things so that I can hold up my end of the conversation.

I make sure I'm the one to drive her where she wants to go, just for the little moments when she rhapsodizes about the song on the radio, or analyzes her relationships, lets me in on what is worrying her.  Time in the car is vital. When I can't look into her face, when I have to keep my eyes on the road, she'll reveal her heart to me in a way that she won't do across the dinner table.

Friendships are so important right now.  As is time alone.  But she still needs us, even when she pushes us away. Parenting is a balancing act at every stage, but this one feels more precarious, like an over-reaction or failure to respond on my part will tip the seesaw permanently, letting her slide away from me.

Like always I need to protect her, but now, more than ever,  I have to protect her from herself. I have to let her hate me sometimes. I have to be mean. As her parents, we have to give her room to develop confidence by making her own decisions without letting her walk into a situation that will have life-long consequences.

I try really hard not to linger too long over news stories (Facebook bullying, sexting, pedophiles stalking Instagram, Steubenville). It can be paralyzing.  I can't worry about all the things that could possibly happen to her. Instead, I try to make sure she has the skills to watch out for herself.  Without frightening her unnecessarily with "what-ifs," I try to guide her thinking, to show her how to watch out for herself and her friends, to make smart decisions, to take measured risks.

So, if when you next see me, you notice that I suddenly look older, it's not your imagination. My hair has grayed. I might have an ulcer. My girl is a woman now (and she has a boyfriend).