Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Good (Bye) I.Q.

A recent exchange between me and my six-year old son:

Me: Henry, did you know that I am super, super smart?

Henry (looking somewhat perplexed): Yes. But you've forgotten a lot of things.

That just about sums it up, kiddo.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Knocking on Heaven's Door

It's a Tuesday evening and my husband and I are at The Paris Bistro on 15th Avenue to celebrate our twelfth wedding anniversary. We're seated on the patio, next to a trio of musicians called St. Boheme playing songs from the film Amelie. I glance at my husband across the table and muse on the clever way time has of appearing both short and long at once. I have been married forever, and yet it feels like just yesterday that we were dressed in white and ushered into the Celestial Room of the Salt Lake Temple while we waited for our guests to filter into the sealing room. It feels like just yesterday, and yet it couldn't have been, because I was just three weeks past 20 and he was only 22 and we were both slender and slight and terribly naive. Certainly, we were nervous about the vows we were about to make, but we experienced a hushed moment of peace as we sat side by side, taking in the splendor of a room echoing the promise of paradise.

The story of Adam and Eve has a certain resonance with me, although the symbolism was doubtless lost on me on my wedding day. It is a wonder to me that a story that has been played out countless times throughout history can, for me, feel intensely novel. Still, becoming one flesh is sometimes a painful process. "Committed" can have certain unpleasant connotations. As I look at my husband on the eve of our anniversary, my mind floods with memories of our marriage - some good, some bad. I catch hold of one image in particular, a Sunday morning from the year we spent in London. We were sitting at the table in our studio apartment, listening to REM's "Nightswimming" on the laptop, our first child swimming in my belly. I rested my bare feet on my husband's lap as I skimmed through the pages of the Guardian. Pale sunlight streamed through the open window. We were in the midst of a bustling metropolis, and yet, within the thin, tiny walls of our apartment, we might as well have been in our own world.

"Do you ever wonder," my husband asks, "what you would have done if, you know..."

His voice trails off, but I can fill in the blank easily enough. Do I ever wonder what my life would have been like if we hadn't married that hot August day twelve years ago? Yes, I have wondered, and the answer comes easily enough.

"I'd work at a publishing house in New York," I say. "Or maybe L.A., Sydney."

"I'd sell flip-flops on the beach in Hawaii." My husband's answer is not surprising. We've discussed this before. After twelve years, we've discussed a lot of things.

We fall silent, listening to the otherworldly sound of the accordion. The musician has thick, black-rimmed glasses, a full beard, and a thin white shirt unbuttoned to his mid-chest. He is not your typical Utahn. I, however, am. There is nothing unexpected about the life I've chosen. Marriage. Motherhood. Mortgage. Minivan. There is nothing glamorous or astonishing about my life --- a fact I have to admit I've resented at times.

"Are you sorry?" My husband asks, seemingly reading my mind.

I think about all that I've experienced the past twelve years. I think about that English morning, unremarkable except for its immediate, enviable intimacy. No, mine is not the road less traveled by. But I have promises to keep, promises I made at twenty years old, when I was hardly more than a child. Promises that, if kept, may somehow, miraculously, lead me to heaven's door.


My husband graces me with a familiar smile, and we retreat into our own private Eden.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Memoirs of a Bad Dog

Saturday I made a trip to my mailbox and was thrilled to find the following item inside:

I first met Curtis Moser at the 2011 LDStorymakers Writing Conference. I was lucky to be assigned to the same Boot Camp group as he was. Right from the bat, I could tell that this guy knew a thing or two about writing. After the first participant read her first chapter for the group, we went around the table and each took a stab at offering some constructive criticism. Each of us offered some rather weak comments, but when we finally got to Curtis he whipped out a page of carefully written notes he had made during the reading. Each of us at that table were blessed with the feedback we received from Mr. Moser.

During that conference, Curtis also won the First Chapter Contest for the General Fiction category. Which, after having read the chapter in Boot Camp the previous day, was really no big surprise. After the conference, Curtis and I exchanged manuscripts and I was able to read the rest of the story.  Memoirs is the tale of Bogart, a Bassett Hound who finds himself in some deep doggy-do when he causes the death of his owner's father. That's right. You heard me. The protagonist in this story is a dog. But Curtis pulls it off beautifully, and after I completed the story I realized the genius of it. By exploring big themes like love, redemption, and morality through the eyes of a dog, Curtis manages to bypass being overly didactic and infuses the story with a healthy dose of humor.

Which brings me back to my mailbox. And, of course, you. Because Curtis has decided to self-publish this wonderful story. And, for a limited time, he is giving away electronic copies of the book. So do yourself a favor and visit his website for more details....

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


And now, for the thrilling conclusion to the Hookers and Hangers Blogfest....

I'm not going to lie to you --- I'm cheating a little. My hangers are not terribly, um, exciting, so I needed a few extra sentences to, you know, leave you hanging....

1) But there’s only one problem. My college plans aren’t the only thing I’ve lied about. The skeezy stalker guy? I’m lying about him, too.

2) Even in the synthetic blue glow of the television, she still looks pretty. For once, I don’t envy her beauty. She may have the looks, but I have the brains. And I’m smart enough not to fall for the wrong guy.
3) I wonder if I’ve really snagged a captive audience after all. Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe I’m the one who’s captivated. Because, at the moment, all I can do is stand here and wait for Calvin to touch me again.

And, because today is my 32nd birthday, have some cake:

And now I'm off to party like it's 1999....

Monday, July 16, 2012


Today I am participating in the Hookers and Hangers Blogfest, hosted by the lovely ladies at Falling for Fiction. And, before I get to my hookers (smile), let me plug this wonderful blog. Among the many great posts they feature, each Thursday they offer a critique of a sample of writing. So, if you would like a pair of eyes on your writing, surf over to their site for more info on how to submit a sample.

This blogfest is 2 fold: today participants are supposed to post the first line from 3 or more chapters of their WIP, and Wednesday participants will post the last line from 3 or more chapters. These opening lines come from my current contemporary YA novel, Accidentally Me.

I have a stalker.

I spend the better part of my Friday morning in the zoo’s small animal house with Lonestar, the nine-banded armadillo.

A waiting room is the perfect place to be assaulted by your guilt.

As I wait for Calvin in a booth at Starbucks, I can’t help thinking that there’s a certain poetry in ending this relationship where it began.

 The water tower rises from the ground like a gigantic spider.

 The wedding announcement arrives Tuesday without warning.

 I am stalking my stalker.

That's all for now folks! Now I'm off to check me out some more hookers...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Mind Like A Fallow Field

The past week was one of wind and fire. A stray bullet fired in the wild scorched the earth and draped billowing black clouds over the Salt Lake valley. Everything seems barren; sterile; unyielding. I spend the week preparing for my son's 6th birthday party, which --fittingly--is pirate themed. I hang a banner of skulls and crossbones across my kitchen and rummage through storage for the orange Tupperware container holding our Halloween decorations, retrieving a life-sized cardboard skeleton and tacking it to the wall. Its paper bones rattle in the wind of the incessant, useless ceiling fan.

I am longing for bone-white paper and black ink that runs like marrow, yet I have not written a word in days.

The week is punctuated by the passing of my paternal grandfather. Days before his death, my family gathers in his bedroom at the care center. The walls of the room are adorned with sepia photos of my grandpa as a young man, vibrant color photos of him and his wife, his children --yet he is shrouded in a white blanket on his bed, still except for the breath rattling in his lungs. I press my dry lips to his wrinkled forehead, and bid him goodbye.

The landscape of my mind is barren. I cannot write a word.

On the radio, I listen to an interview with Glen Hansard. He says that it is not necessary to work, work, work all the time. That, sometimes, it is useful to have a fallow period. A time to rest. Reflect. Revive.

This week, despite the sweltering heat, there are signs of life. My children and I inspect a captured spider under a magnifying glass, marveling at its delicacy. We watch the honeybees in the garden collect nectar from the flowers. We check daily on the four hatched triops, a gift from my sister, swimming in a Mason jar filled with water on my son's bookshelf. When it is time for swim lessons, I sit on the bleachers of an indoor pool and, the muggy, chlorine-soaked air notwithstanding, watch in delight as my children become weightless in water.

I am hopeful that this season of heat will not render the field of my mind scorched, but incubated.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The book that (nearly) made me stop writing

Have you ever read a book that was so beautifully written it took your breath away? Well, I have. In fact, after I read this book, I actually could not write for a few days, because my writing efforts seemed so pitiful in comparison. And that book was (drum roll please)...

Have any of you read this yet? If not, I would highly recommend it. Salvage the Bones is the story of an impoverished family from a coastal Mississippi town preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. What made this story so powerful to me was that, initially, the characters were completely foreign to me - Southern, black, poor - and by the end of the book I saw myself in them.

What books have you read lately that knocked your socks off?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Some Fatherly Advice

The man in the booth at McDonald's is looking at me. He is seventy-something, gray-haired, and crumpling the wrapper of his breakfast sandwich compulsively in his hand. We are facing each other in adjacent booths; he alone, me with my two rambunctious children. My kids and I are sharing a Big Breakfast with Hotcakes. I divy up the goods onto the extra Styrofoam plates I requested, and ignore my son when he asks me if the soda pop he is guzzling is good for him.

"Looks like you've got your hands full," the man says.

I look at the assorted corn-based products in front of me and shrug.

"Cute kids," he says.


He looks out the window and I return to the task of prodding my children to eat. We are on our way up to Grandma's to spend the day with cousins  from Iowa. I check my watch and then insist that my daughter have another bite of her pancake. I pretend not to notice that the elderly man is looking at me again. I don't really have time for small talk.

"You have about ten thousand more of these trips to McDonald's before your kids are grown."

I smile politely. At the moment, the thought of ten thousand more of these outings is not particularly pleasant.

"I have one son," the man says. "He's nearly fifty now, if you can believe it. Lives in Murray, near St. Mark's hospital."

I smile, this time not so politely, and look pointedly at my watch.

"I remember the day he started grade school. We walked down the street to the school together. He held onto my hand the whole way. I remember it just like it was yesterday." He looks out the window again, and I follow the direction of his gaze, half-expecting to see the memory he's just shared replayed before us, on grainy black and white film. "Just like yesterday, if you can believe it. The time just goes so fast."

"Sometimes," I say, "a day spent with little kids feels eternal."

"Enjoy it while it lasts," he says. "You only have ten thousand more of these trips to McDonald's, and then..."

My children beam at me, their faces shiny with sticky syrup, and I suppress the urge to cry. Without consulting my watch, I smile a genuine smile at the man across from me and say, "Tell me more about your son."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Writing as Ritual

A few years ago (five, to be exact), I discovered the joy of writing (not to be confused with the joy of cooking. Or sex.) I guess I really should say I rediscovered the joy of writing. I wrote as a child, earnestly - poems, plays, short stories. I loved the sheer possibility of pen and paper. I wanted to grow up to be a writer. But then, as I entered adulthood, I stopped writing creatively. I guess I let myself believe it was something I couldn't do. A pursuit reserved for children and the gifted and talented.

But then I moved away from home and started a blog to keep in touch with my family. For the first time since I was a little girl, I was writing again. For fun. And pretty soon, I became addicted to the process. I started filtering through the detritus of my daily routine for those precious gems of something interesting. And then I started writing more than blog posts. I started writing stories. I finished one story. Then another. And then, the inevitable happened. I began to be tormented. I became plagued with the strange schizophrenia that afflicts writers -- where you simultaneously believe what you have written is complete garbage and the most wonderful thing in the world.  

I'm working on a revision of my third attempt at a novel. I have decided that, once it is polished, I will start the query process. It is difficult to do something that will almost certainly end in failure. It is difficult to balance optimism with realism. It is difficult to allow yourself to be judged - knowing full well that that judgment may entail a crushing blow to your ego.

I am currently reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. There is a passage in the book that particularly resonated with me:

"I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do -- the actual act of writing-- turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward."

I know, I know. We've all heard the platitude about valuing the journey over the destination dozens of times. But when it comes to writing, I think it's true. I think about the way that writing has sustained me over the past few years. About the way it's allowed me to wake up with a sense of purpose. About the way it's allowed me to escape the routine of daily living. About the way it's allowed me to examine the world with new eyes. The past few years, writing has become one of the rituals that defines me. 

I'm not going to lie to you -- I would be over the moon if I ever become a published author. But, slowly but surely, I'm starting to agree with Ms. Lamott. The reward of writing really just might be enough.

***By the way, today the lovely ladies at Falling For Fiction are critiquing my query letter.(I know, I know, I'm not done with my revisions and I'm already thinking about the query.)  Hop on over and leave me your feedback, too.***

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Go Fish...

Last Wednesday morning, my husband announces that Edwin, our pet Beta Fish, has gone missing.
"What do you mean missing?" I say.
"I mean, he's not in the fish bowl."
"What do you mean he's not in the fish bowl?"
"I mean, he's not in the fish bowl."
I raise a skeptical eyebrow. My husband is a notoriously bad finder of things. Unless Edwin has magically sprouted legs or wings, he is in that fish bowl.
I rush into my son's bedroom, family in tow, eager to prove my husband wrong. My eyes search the one-gallon tank atop the bookcase, a one-gallon tank that has suddenly become an ocean.
An empty ocean.
Edwin is missing, indeed.
My children's eyes are wide with worry.
"Maybe he went on an adventure," I say, falling back on the blanket explanation I use when other of my children's things are lost. And then, I turn to my husband. "I just cleaned the fish bowl."
"Well that's what happened," my husband says. "You must not have put the fish back in the bowl then."
This time, the eyebrow I raise is arched with anger.
"Maybe it was the kids," I say. This, of course, is a more plausible explanation. After all, just the afternoon before, the house was filled with neighbors and nieces and nephews, six total, all of whom were largely unsupervised while I sequestered myself in the kitchen and fixed dinner.
When questioned, my children claim ignorance, but still my husband's eyes stray to the carpet. Then, he pulls the bookcase away from the wall and, ever so slightly, gasps. I don't dare to look. He goes to the bathroom and comes back with a paper towel and, on all fours, fishes for the fish. There is something undignified about the whole affair. My daughter squeals, thinking we are engaged in a game of hide-and-seek. When my husband stands with the paper towel concealing the fish's limp form, my son is at the brink of tears.
I think that, as sappy as it may be, we should hold some sort of memorial service; that some consoling word or two should be said before the fish is disposed of. But there isn't time. A horn honks in the driveway. My son's carpool is here. My son swipes at his eyes and I arm him with his Transformers backpack. The horn honks again, the car's idling engine rumbling in the driveway, and I think how life is persistent, tireless, and yet...
"Mom," my son asks as I usher him to the door, "do people last longer than fish?"
His eyes are red-rimmed and injured looking. I can't bear to look at those eyes. And so, instead, I wrap him in my arms, covering his sudden and instant fragility.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mission Accomplished?

Remember this?

That's kind of how I feel right now. Because, Friday night I finished the first draft of my novel. After I recovered from a night of crazy celebrating (a trip to the Nickelcade with the kids), I turned my eyes to my manuscript again and realized this war is far from over.

Editing. Dog gone editing.

Here's to the long slog ahead...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Coming soon to a blog near you...

....Me! After a long (ish) absence, I am ready to re-enter the blogosphere.


I've been really struggling to finish the first draft of my YA novel. I have 3 chapters left and a pretty good idea of what happens in each chapter, but every time I sit down to write, my mind freezes up.

Yesterday, I wrote this sentence:
For Mom, no crisis can compete with the urgency of hot rolls in the oven.
At first, this struck me as just plain wonderful. Then I spent the rest of the day wondering if it makes sense.
I was reminded of a quote by Annie Dillard:

"Many fine people were out there living, people whose consciences permitted them to sleep at night despite their not having written a decent sentence that day, or ever."

Sometimes, I wish I belonged to the that throng of people immune to the afflictions of writing. I could really use the extra sleep.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's not you... it's me

Valentine's Day is the perfect time to reflect on relationships, right? So, is it odd that today I'm thinking about my blog? Because I am. And I'm thinking that, as ridiculous as it sounds, maintaining this blog is stressing me out. My blog and I had a little DTR, and I've decided we need some time apart. I, unlike most of you fellow bloggers, don't have a lot of creative energy. I'm going to focus what little energy I do have on finishing my WIP (thank goodness for acronymns!).  I'm hoping to finish the first draft by the end of April.

So, wish me luck! Hope to be back soon....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recycled Prose


I just returned from a family vacation to Disneyland. Sigh. I am now in the process of returning to a state of normalcy, so I am taking the liberty of re-posting something I wrote for my family blog a few years ago... Now that I'm back to winter in Utah, it seems appropriate:

The problem with winter is it's cold. And dark. It snows. Your skin gets dry and cracks around your knuckles. Hair darkens. Skin pales.
The problem with winter is you're not on the open road, driving home from a summer vacation. Winter can't produce a memory as palpable as this: suntanned bare feet on the dashboard, Good 'n Plenty and lukewarm Lemon Propel rattling in the console, singing along out loud to James Taylor or Counting Crows or Tom Petty. You gaze out of the insect-splattered windshield while I make tiny Xs over the mosquito bites on my legs. My body is exhausted, but in that good, worn, tired way that only comes from a day spent in the water. There is an irritating tightness on my shoulders from sunburn and the slight indentation of swimsuit straps. The landscape is mountainous and arid and empty, the sky impossibly high and open, and we fill the time with idle games of 20 Questions and I'm Going to Grandmother's House. We've forgotten what the N item on our list is, but are certain of Mongoose and Lima Beans.
We stop at a convenience store as the sky bruises into a purplish darkness. The air smells of gasoline and fried food and is just cool enough to raise goosebumps on bare arms and legs. Our flip-flops smack against the blacktop and make dirty half moons on the store's just mopped tile. Ice cubes thunk and clunk into 64 oz plastic cups and the refrigerated cases buzz and the till bings open and shut. The sounds are familiar and oddly comforting. Restrooms are bravely visited, snacks are selected, and then florescent lights are replaced with headlights on the highway.
We are quiet in the car now, the yellow and white lines of the road in stark contrast to our wandering, scattered, patternless thoughts.
That's the problem with winter: you're not on the open road, driving home from summer vacation, the freedom of your undecided life ahead tempered by the safety of the straight, even road vanishing into the darkening horizon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Report

Speaking of journals...

Several years ago a good friend of mine gave me a book journal. It's a small spiral notebook with a hard cover that looks like a library check-out card (remember those?) I use the journal to record the books I've read, keep favorite passages, and write down titles I hope to get to someday.

In honor of 2011, here are some of my reading highlights:

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery:  An ugly, widowed concierge at an upscale Parisian apartment building prevents one of the tenants -a bright, precocious girl - from committing suicide. But really, there is so much more to it than that - a wonderful book about looking past the superficial and expected.

Room, by Emma Donoghue: Narrated by five-year old Jack, Room is the story of an abducted young woman and the child she has by her abductor. Jack has never been out the the room they are locked in - okay, I know. It sounds terrible. But I could not put this book down. And it beautifully explores the boundaries between mother and child.

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave: This book alternates between the perspective of 2 women: a Nigerian refugee and a British woman. Their lives collide during a horrific scene on a Nigerian beach. As a result of this meeting, both women are forced to make difficult decisions that change the course of their lives.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese: I've already written about this book. It is fantastic! It is the story of two brothers born to a Catholic nun in Ethopia... Really, it is about love, forgiveness, redemption. The writing is fantastic, the character are well-developed. I thought this was a marvelous book.

What are your reading highlights from 2011? What's on your TBR list for 2012?

Monday, January 9, 2012

And the winner is...

Me. Or maybe I'm the loser. Because I found the journal, exactly where it was supposed to be - in my nightstand. After a week of cleaning out closests, under beds, and actually going through the garbage ( I know, I know), my husband decided to take the drawers out of our nightstand and there it was, flush against the back of the stand.

So... there you go.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Love's Labor Lost


I have misplaced the journal I keep for my son. I've kept a journal for both him and my daughter since they were born - recording milestones and funny stories and their little quirks. I'm not the best journal-keeper - but I have made an effort to write in these journals on their birthdays and whenever they do something that I don't want to forget.

On New Year's Day, I opened the drawer of my bed stand. There was my journal, and Annie's, but Henry's was absent. I gave my room a cursory rummage to no avail. My husband consoled me, saying it's bound to show up somewhere. Still, days later, I have not found it. It's absence is nagging at me. Multiple times a day I open my bed stand drawers, hopeful that by some miracle the journal will be there, found. I've entertained the idea of searching for it in the strangest places - like the big blue garbage cans in the garage - uncertain if these impressions are the product of inspiration or complete lunacy.

Last night, before going to bed, I opened the drawer to my bed stand again. And then, I started to cry. My husband was more than a little mystified by this behavior. "It will turn up," he said. I cried harder. He made a show of looking for the journal, getting down on his knees and peeking under the bed. "I need to get over this," I said. And I do. It's just that, I've been keeping that journal to remember the things about my son that I'm certain I'll forget. I've been keeping that journal as a kind of portable memory. I've been keeping that journal as a safety-net. I know it's morbid, but I've always thought that if I died young, my son would have a record that I loved him. Proof, in my own hand, that I cared enough to chronicle his life.

I've been thinking about my compulsion to write these past few days. It is an affliction that is not unique to myself. I've been thinking about the way people scrawl their names on bathroom stalls, into tree trunks, on cinder block walls. As if all of humanity is wanting desperately to proclaim "I was here." We feel the need to leave our mark on the world, to leave something that will endure, something that will survive us. Writing is nothing if not an attempt at immortality.

Okay, maybe I'm being too dramatic. But still, I can't help feeling that I've lost more than just a little-lined notebook.