Dear Journal,

I hit it every weekday: a two mile stretch of traffic that slithers to and from our short drive to school. I don't love it, but I've learned to embrace it because it's the one time during the day I am forced to slow down and absorb the world outside my mini-van window. Sometimes I focus on the people in the parallel traffic. Lots of texting, make-up application, newspaper reading. It stuns me that hands are not positioned ten and two on steering wheels, eyes straight ahead. (And I'm guilty. I mean, I'm surveilling people, so my eyes aren't as straight ahead as they could be.) This morning the mini-van in front of me housed a drop-down screen of a cartoon. The child inside roamed the cabin while my judgmental antennae crowned and peaked. On the side of the road (no sidewalks), a man engaged in his daily walk. I've heard that he's in cancer remission. He walks every day. Same route. Up until last year, he'd walk with a Discman held in his flattened hand like a small silver tray. He's switched to an mp3. I see him so often I want to park the car and walk with him and get beyond the hearsay of his story. On the opposite side of the road, two women take their daily walk in tandem with two leashed dogs. The shorter, more pale woman always totes a fogged-up clear plastic bag of poo. Her dog is no-doubt regular.

It's this regularity that reminds me of my own. Not poop regularity, but the table of contents within each day. There's a litany that engines my day from waking at the same time each morning to tucking-kids-into-bed ritual. I have always feared monotony. Still do. I try to inflict some spontaneity on each day whether it be in a classroom, on the written page, or in the open mouth of the soup pot. Still, each day is a similar rendition of the day that came before it. Yet all that's framed inside of it grows. The garden. The children. Life. And maybe, and hopefully, me.


Book Signing Chocolate and Sunday Crepes

Dear Journal,

Spent yesterday in the company of YA authors Barrie Summy (of the I SO DON'T DO MYSTERIES fame), Laura McNeal (she writes with her husband, Tom McNeal, and has a new book she wrote solo called DARK WATER), and Laura Peyton Roberts (her newest novel, GREEN, is about a girl who gets abducted by Lepracauns!). We had a signing at the fabulous Yellow Book Road children's book store in La Mesa. A lively panel discussion ensued ranging from our personal quirks to how we come up with book ideas. It's always so fascinating to me how different authors gather inspiration and how each person's process is unique.

Also met Erin Z. of Random House who co-authors a blog Random Acts of Reading where interesting topics are showcased as well as book buzz.

Barrie has a new book in the works...I SO DO CHOCOLATE and as a result, gifted us chocolate ensconced in wrappers bearing our book covers...

These came in handy this morning when the kids suggested chocolate topping on their crepes (my kids SO do decadence). The result:

None for me, but I enjoyed watching from the sidelines while the kids were in the throes of eating what looked like dessert for breakfast.

Sunday, Lovely Sunday,

Commissioning Art from the Inside

A while back my friend Maria said something that immediately glommed onto my psyche and has come to be an integral part of my belief as a mother. She was talking about the expectations we place on our children to "become" something. That as a child she felt pressure to "become" that which her parents expected of her: the good student, a college grad, a journalist, etc. She said that in her own mothering, she was taking a new stance: that she acknowledges who her children ARE; right where they're standing. Instead of telling her son that he's going to be a great scientist someday because of the way he hypothesizes, she acknowledges that he IS a great scientist. He embodies this gift right now, in the present.

I love this. Our children are who they are and although it's our responsibility as parents to nudge our kids and expose them and teach them and all, we can't ignore the gifts that are inherently theirs.

That said, my daughter is an artist. I've been longing to have the art of Margaret Kilgallen on my walls and this past weekend, I reminded myself that I live with an artist. She's nine and she's incredible. So, I showed her some of Kilgallen's art and she obliged me with some paintings. I've got my art. I've got my artist.


Keys and Doors

I had this dream the other night about keys. I was locked in a corrugated tin warehouse and in my mind’s eye I could see people on the other side--my sisters, my old elementary school principal, Mr. Laponis (in his strikingly memorable light blue suit, no less), my whiskery husband, and my children--jangling keys outside the warehouse as if they were all backup singers shaking tambourines to the tune of my panic. I was stuck inside, sweating it out on a bare twin mattress, wondering how to get out and get a gasp of the blue sky. And then, I noticed a door. I walked barefoot across the cold concrete floor and opened it. On the other side, I was outside with my band of key janglers and in the middle of some racetrack. (I blame the racetrack cameo on my husband’s recent purchase of a Need For Speed! video game--help me.)

To be a bit circuitous, I’ve been a demanding reader, lately. Selfish. I want to be moved. Jolted. I keep coming back to memoir, which makes me think about why the craft of it is so important to me as a reader. It has a lot to do with triumph of the spirit, yes. But there’s also something to be said about memoir as a mirror for my own life. That reading someone else’s experience catalyzes something inside of me to live life more profoundly. I’m inspired by these authors of memoir. Like Liz Gilbert, Kathleen Flinn, Julie Roberts and others who decide to to something off-key and off the “normal” path with the life they’re given. As I become petrified of becoming more petrified inside the walls of my own life, these voices provide doors for me to catch a glimpse of life’s potential. And I need that right now. Doors. Keys. Mentors. Muses. Unlocking and discovering. What moves me the most is that these writers make a conscious choice to change their lives. It's not like they were flung into their situations. They declared these choices as such and through diligence and open mindedness, they were led to a more enlightened path and a truly authentic life. They listened to something inside of themselves and trusted that voice. THEY themselves created the path.

Books literally hold the same shape as doors. Each page read is the crossing of another threshold, a footstep that leads you further into the story. An entire book read is an experience vicariously lived, but more importantly, an inspiration. That’s the bottom line for me right now in my selfish quest to read books that kindle a flame inside of me. I want meaning. I want to find it. At some point, though, I’ve got to stop stealing the fire from these books and create my own experience, my own meaning, so I can be outside the warehouse, with my own tambourine of keys jingling in the vast sky, drowning out the sound of the whoosh and rush of the cars on the racetrack.

Back to School

The kids are back at school today. Days like this remind me how fast they're growing. Whoosh. I'm achey inside.

Flip side: time to write!

A little Cinquain book summary of a recent read:

Derby Girl
by Shauna Cross
YA Fiction

Beauty pageant victim caged in Bodeen, Texas
Risking, breaching, metamorphosing
Roller skating toward salvation

Writing with Crickets

The crickets outside are busy catching up on recent happenings: the death of the fig tree, the infestation of gophers in the yard, the for sale sign across the street, and the lady inside the house who woke up at 1:00 with the need to write. I love when this happens! When my character pulls me out of sleep with the secret she's been all too stubborn about keeping. I'll be tired tomorrow, but some things are worth the loss of sleep. Back to writing...

Out! Out! Out! & SCBWI

Dear Live Journal, second novel, Girl to the Core, is out! Yip! Yay! Joy!

Second, spent this weekend at the SCBWI conference soaking up the inspiration. A few highlight quotes:

Sherman Alexie: "Honesty works."

The following quotes culled from a panel discussion of editors queried on the secrets of a successful book:

Jordan Brown: "The author writes the story because she has no f-ing choice."

Courtney Bongiolatti: "An author takes a typical story and puts a spin on it."

Ari Lewin: "An author creates scenes in a cinematic way."

Jennifer Hunt: "The secret is that there is no secret." "Authors need to have tenacity and a dedication to excellence."

In a separate session, Jennifer Hunt who works with Sara Zarr and Sherman Alexie recommended three things that writers do:
1. Take yourself very seriously. It's not about being in an inside clique; it's about being dedicated to what you do.
2. Respect your audience--don't dumb it down and give them something to step in and up to.
3. Be willing to hustle!

Author Betty Birney on what makes a good series:
1. Character
2. A well-defined world with rules
3. Adventures that require characters to face danger
4. There should be reoccurring characteristics in each book

Eve Bunting (EVE BUNTING!!!): "I always ask myself 'Is this worth saying?'" On what makes a good picture book: "The story should be able to stand alone without the pictures."

Kadir Nelson: "A story should speak to a personal and universal truth." "Know your truth."

Karen Cushman (!): "Make your own rules." Four things she recommends, though: Show up. Pay Attention. Tell the truth. Let go of the outcome.

Jenn Bailey on Social Media:
1. Be accessible
2. Be relevant.
3. Be timely.
4. Inform. Educate. Entertain.

Ellen Hopkins (!!): She talked about how authors who publish do so because of talent, perserverence and luck. "Luck is something we create."

Editors Krista Marino and Anica Rissi talked about the teen movement and how kids don't want to be in their world right now, they want to escape it.

(I've got a child tugging at me...must go, but hope the aforementioned gives folks who didn't attend a taste of what was in the SCBWI air...)

Tootles and happy Sunday!

(no subject)

The kids have been out of school for two weeks in honor of spring break, during which I’ve realized that I have been on my own break for quite some time. I admit my life broke a little when my grandma died this past fall. There’s something about losing someone that makes you hold on tighter to the people who are still here.

I finished my second novel at the end of this past summer. For the past couple of years, I’ve viewed the kids’ school year as my own “writing year.” Them being in school offers me structured time each day to write. It seems most logical that each school year I should be able to write a novel and then spend the subsequent summer revising. It’s a tidy timeline that should keep me task oriented.

Except when I started my new novel in September, after the kids had gone back to school, the writing felt slow. Really slow. The story keeps expanding and contracting as I work through it because I’m not slamming my foot on the accelerator. I’m spending time in my kids’ classrooms when I could be writing. Last year I tried to keep a firm boundary on how much I was going to spend time at the school. Time spent there equals less time to write. Except my lack of being there last year has created a need for me to be there this year. And it’s been wonderful. The kids’ teachers have allowed me to teach poetry, the kids have responded and it’s really feeding the former English teacher within me. I’ve enjoyed working with these young emerging poets. What’s suffered, though, is my writing. I just haven’t spend as much time each day doing it.

Now it’s April and I only have about fifty pages of a novel. Rough draft. On top of that disappointment, last night I read author blogs and caught up on Facebook, and now realize what a failure I am at reaching out to cultivate a community for myself. I’m an author. I’m supposed to be getting myself out there, right? Connecting!

Except--I’m at this point in my mothering where I’m beginning to realize how fast time is whipping by. My children are growing up directly in front of my eyes. Yesterday I had hoped to spend some time writing while the kids played. Except my daughter wanted to snuggle. My son wanted to play doctor. I completely obliged because I know that in the coming years, they’re not going to want to do these things. I also remember my own parents not being able to do these things with me when I was a child because they had to work. I, on the other hand, have a choice. I can be there for them.

I need to write, it’s part of who I am. But I’ve pulled back in order to be more fully present as a mother and wife.

I remember reading an interview with author Anne Tyler. Someone had asked what happened after she finished a book. She had said something to the effect that she steps back in to her life, into her garden and when a new idea enters--whenever that organically occurs--that’s when she gets back to writing.

This year has felt like that for me. The whole stepping back into my life. I feel that last year was about writing a book and this year is about being a wife and mother. I risk sounding subservient here because I’m supposed to be able to do it all, right? But it seems that the scale has tipped and might stay at this slant while my kids continue to grow. I have to accept that my stories, as slow as I may be going at this pace, will eventually get written. The need to write is ever present and I pay tribute to it daily. It’s just that I’m not in the fast lane.

When my kids are older and need less of me, my writing will get more of me.

Online Karaoke Confession

Dear Live Journal,

I've got no right to engage in illusions of grandeur when it comes to singing. I've a collapsable voice incapable of carrying a tune.

Tonight, my husband figured out how to set up Karaoke on the computer. My girl yodeled out Annie's "Tomorrow," my boy sang a Killers tune and then, when they all left the room for bedtime stories, I tried it myself with Chaka Khan.

I wanted more, so I kept going and garbled with Donna Summer, Johnny Cash, Steely Dan, Nancy Sinatra, and the Broadway cast of A Chorus Line. Mine was not a glitzy, cordless microphone like the one Cher used to hold on the Sonny & Cher show. No, I had to use one of those 1-800-Dentist microphone things that practically has to be inside of your mouth to work. Most of the Karaoke music sounded more like a midi-concert gone bad than actual instrumental accompaniment, which consequently made my warbling sound better and galvanized me to keep going.

I got sucked into the world of flash-in-front-of-you lyrics. I was in it, man. And it's wrong because Karaoke is in the same league as eating birthday cake or running in a three legged race--you just don't partake in these things alone. Oh, but I did.

La, la, la!

Dog Collar

Dear Live Journal,

When I think of Shakespeare I think of classic literature, universal themes, iambic pentameter, sonnet 130 and his classic collars. Last night I went to retrieve my dog from the backyard and he was wearing a collar of his own. A collar of POOP. I'm not quite sure how he logistically pulled it off, but whatever he did while rolling in poop, he did with consideration of getting it no where else but his neck--the one place I rub when we greet each other. It's always pretty much the same salutation: he attempts to sniff my crotch, while I divert him with a good rub on the neck.

Long story short, had to hose him off outside with freezing cold water. We both shivered--him from the snake of hose water, me from the spray of water he continued to shake off as dogs do in water repellent mode. I'm sure I was a bastion of beauty under the stars with my flip flops, saggy cotton shorts, bra, yellow latex gloves and wool cap. My thighs hurt today from having to wrestle the dog into the shower afterwards in order to warm him and make him feel more dignified.

It was a humiliating experience for both of us, but today, he's been unusually attentive. His brown eyes look at me like little sonnets. Yes, I'd be exaggerating to say that his tail is thumping against the floor to an unstressed/stressed beat, but it is nonetheless more poetic than annoying, which is not normal. I dare say we've had a cathartic experience.