Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Random Thoughts

A good storyteller, like a good photographer, is able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary...

... find the treasure among the mundane...

... and turn a rainy day into something worth waiting for.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

And Then Came the Birds

Spring is here. The leaves on the tree came out sometime between Friday and Sunday. The azaleas are in full bloom. The ants are making mountains out of anthills in the grass that is finally growing. And the birds have moved in.

I love birds. I even set up a bird feeder in the backyard to lure them away from the neighbors. My husband calls it my socialist welfare system. It worked.

I have a family of cardinals that moved in last year. Just a girl and boy with an egg. We watched the hubby come to the feeder, get seeds, and take them back to the tree and place them in the wife's mouth. This year, they have a little girl with them.

I have two tufted titmouses, two pileated woodpeckers, a couple chickadees, one morning dove, and some goldfinches. There's also two wrens, some sparrows, an undetermined number of ruby-throated hummingbirds, and a family of seven blue jays that must live on the left side of the driveway because every time I drive down it they all fly to the right side. (I always want to ask them why, if the right side feels safer, they built their nest on the left side)

I know I built this little fiefdom for them, but today as I watched them take over yard I began to think that a little bit of etiquette on their part wouldn't be too much to ask.

I layer the feeder with two kinds of food: bird seed mix, and sunflower seeds. That way, everyone is happy. Except that today, when the chickadees came to the feeder, they apparently wanted sunflower seeds, but on the top post only the seed mix was available. Rather than flying down a notch to get what he wanted, he proceeded to pick out the stuff he didn't like, dropping it on the ground, until he got what he wanted. Over and over.

The squirrels sat happily under the feeder and ate everything the chickadee didn't want.

I'd chase them all away, but I'm too busy taking photos!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

If You Have a Choice, Choose a Strong Voice

BookEnds has a guest post today about voice. Voice seems like that ever-elusive, hard to capture but easy to spot element that can absolutely sell a book. And the lack of which can sink a book, even one of strong character and plot. I recently read an article about how to write well takes a devotion much like method acting: become your character - get inside their skin.

My own opinion is this is easier with first person than with third person.

With the book I am writing, I deliberately chose first person to allow Bab's quirky side and very Texas roots come through. By taking her voice instead of my own, the story has come alive much more than my first book, in which the narrator is really a outside, objective, and frankly, a boring storyteller. Try as I might in that first work, I had the hardest time infusing personality into a narrator which was only a disembodied (and uninvolved) voice.

Editorial Anonymous addressed that this week in a great post on voice as well. She answered a question that I've been pondering a lot lately: Is it possible to have a really strong voice in the third-person narrator?

Her answer: absolutely! And to prove it, she gives excerpts from books with strong third-person voice. My favorite is this example from Ivy and Bean, one of my daughter's favorite book series:

It all began because Bean was playing a trick on her older sister. Bean's older sister was named Nancy. She was eleven. Nancy thought Bean was a pain and a pest. Bean thought Nancy was a booger-head.

That one word, booger-head, sets a tone, and essentially establishes the side the narrator will take. It places the narrator more at Bean's level of maturity instead of an adults. It is playful. It's exactly the kind of book a seven year old girl would love.

This post, especially with all the examples, focuses on how important word choice is. It's important to know whose side you are on as the narrator. Writing novels isn't like writing the news (or at least how the news is suppose to be: objective!). As writers, we can choose to identify with a character. Even if we do it as a third person narrator.

The most difficult part for me as a writer is to let go of who I am and to allow myself to be someone else. There are times I start to write things and stop because it is not something I would do or say. If it goes against my own beliefs, for example, or if it is harsh, or mean, or emphatically politically incorrect. Babs, for example, uses the word fat a lot. For people. To their faces. She isn't trying to be mean, but she just "calls 'em as she sees 'em."

Of course, that one only made me wince a teesy bit. There is a whole element of the story I am approaching now that deals with religion. I find myself not wanting to step on anyone's toes. Not offend anyone. And then I realize, this isn't about me. It isn't me saying these words; it isn't my history - my baggage. If I write it the way my life is, or the way I think, I completely lose Babs. Her voice disappears. And frankly, my own voice isn't that interesting.

For all the agents that write about queries, I wish there were equal amounts of posts on voice, because it seems to me that if you can capture that, the rest will fall into place. Including the query.

Do you think first person is easier than third person to create a strong voice?
What books do you know that have strong voices that drew you in immediately?

Friday, April 25, 2008

From the Blogosphere

I actually wrote this early in the week, and blogger made it disappear. This info is probably old news now, but just in case anyone hasn't discovered them, I thought I'd go ahead and try to repost it.

Cool new blogs (or old ones I've just discovered)

Agent Janet Reid dissects your query letter at
Ms. Reid is direct, specific and spot-on in her assessments in what could be the most helpful website on getting the query thing right. If you are brave enough, you can submit yours to her for an "insider's" evaluation.

Folio Literary Management now has their own blog, Folio Lit is one of my top 3 agencies, and every one of their agents is amazing. One would do well with any of them. I'm sure their blog will be a treasure trove of insights.

I've mentioned her before, but Elizabeth Jote deserves her own shout-out here. She's blogging at, in what she describes as "random thoughts and loveliness from inside the publishing beast." What I like about her blog is that she makes me think, and sometimes reevaluate the writing process. That, and she makes me laugh sometimes too.

Rachelle Gardner, an agent at WordServe Literary, is blogging at Her blog isn't new, but I'm new to it, and I've found lots of very helpful advice, doled out very politely. She is unique, too, touching topics I haven't seen in other agent blogs.

Moonrat is self-described as a "recovering editorial assistant" on her blog, She's just plain good, and funny. Check it out.

Later: author blogs I just like

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

Today when I walked over to the library to write they were having a book sale. Thousands of books, a buck or less a piece, waiting for new homes.

Hey, I have bookshelves now. Why not?

I ended up with only five books, two of which I've already read but don't own (Krakauer's Into Thin Air, which I've read many, many times and finally admitted I needed to just buy, and Anita Shreve's The Pilot's Wife), and three that I've been wanting to read but didn't want to spend the money on them (The Kite Runner, A Million Little Pieces, and The Victors, by Stephen Ambrose).

While perusing one of the tables, a man across from me kept plucking out books and adding them to a dangerously high stack he was carrying, all the while making very satisfied sounds. He finally looked up at me, a wide smile, and said, "Isn't this great? If I could breathe books I would!"

Amen to that!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Rant That Isn't Mine

It's good to know sometimes I'm not the only one.

Of course, my lack of eloquence on this matter make me question my qualifications for being a writer.

A new day...a new blog...a new book

I'm over my rant from yesterday. I realize I might have come across a bit harsh, but I just can't stand authors bashing other authors. As if it isn't hard enough for all of us... even those who are well known. They, after all, have high expectations and a few targets on their chests. And how quickly readers turn from, "hey, this is the best book ever... she is the best author ever," to "wow, she's so over paid and overrated."

Well, I thought my rant was over.

Okay, now it's over.

New things:

Folio Literary Agency just launched it's new blog. Monday was their inaugural post, a good one about queries, which seems an apt place to start with a new blog, since that seems to be the things most new authors are interested in.

Folio is one of my favorite agencies, even though they didn't have a blog before. They were one of my top 3, and one of the three that requested a partial from me. They have a number of ace agents, any of which would be a great agent for those of you collecting names.

Agent Jeff Klein posted a query he recently received about a book told from the point of view of a dog, called The Art of Racing in the Rain. Janet Reid also wrote a post about it today, and it looks like the book is soon to be published. I am always excited to hear about successes like this. Even though this isn't Garth's first book, even though he had an agent prior to Jeff, even though he had plenty of credentials, I'm excited that this might be the book that really skyrockets him. I hope it is. I know I'll be in line to buy it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Bee in My Bonnet

Nathan Bransford had a very interesting post today, one that brought home an issue I have been meaning to blog about recently, and so this seems like maybe the right time.

I suppose what makes Nathan's blog so often interesting is that he sometimes just presents a question that is a springboard for others to comment, and sometimes the real blog is in the comments themselves. This was the case today, when he asked the question: What book did you just not get?

He didn't ask about specific authors you didn't like, but particular books, which not everyone adhered to, and he did limit this to dead authors, and I was glad of that, because I have had a real bee in my bonnet lately about the want-to-be-published writers slamming other writers. It seems like there is always someone ready to slam some other writer, mostly published ones, and mostly ones of some fame or success. It seems like the more money a writer makes, the more books he or she publishes, the more other writers want to talk about how untalented they are, or how lousy the writing is, or how underdeveloped the plot or characters are, or... anything!

Am I the only one who realizes that reading is a completely subjective thing?

I know that the books I love are not necessarily the kind of books my friends will like. That's okay with me. And just because I don't like some of the books they like, doesn't mean they have terrible taste in books.

In college we had what we called the Faulkner/Hemingway wars. Everyone loved one or the other, but not both. And everyone felt passionately about which style was GREAT writing, and which was TERRIBLE writing. And it was never even about the stories themselves, but about the way in which they were written.

These authors were well dead by then, and I never considered it bad form to debate the topic, especially because it seemed like less a personal attack on them and more like a debate about what constitutes good literature. And because these conversations took place in classrooms, and occasionally spilled over into diners or the student union, but never on the internet or the wider world.

But lately, on many wanna-be blogs and in comments on many agent blogs I have seen a definite personal attack on writers. Not, as Nathan says, an "I didn't get this" moment, but a "how in the world does this person get published because he or she is a rotten writer." And not just the dead writers, which I am less likely to get upset about because they are not likely to take it personally, but also because their books were published in a very different world, and are being published today for different reasons than new authors are published. They mostly slam new writers, and most definitely living writers.

Okay, I'm going out on a limb to say they are published because their work sells. Someone is making money on the books besides the author. And when their work stops selling because the quality of writing declines so much that readers say, "this isn't the author I use to buy and love anymore," then they will stop being published. Until then, I keep my own mouth shut and wish I could sell that many books as well.

I am not some Pollyanna. Really, I'm not. I wish ill on the squirrels that steal my bird food. I occasionally lie to telemarketers to get off the phone faster. But I do hope that more writers get published, and I do hope they sell lots of books. Even the people who write stories I don't necessarily like. Even science fiction, which I don't read. And thrillers, which I gave up when my kids were born and I wanted a better outlook on life. And fantasy, which, unless you are C.S.Lewis or J.K. Rowling I probably can't get one paragraph into. And yes, even commercial/literary fiction, which is where I hope to break in and someday share a shelf. I hope there are enough readers for all of us.

I enjoyed Nathan's question, and the answers, today, because they didn't really step on my toes. Some books I love were mentioned as ones others hated. I'm okay with that. What I'm not okay with is when people say there is no redeeming quality to those books.

And if you've started 50 books this year and haven't managed to finish one of them, maybe the problem isn't with the writers. Maybe it's you.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is First Person the Kiss of Death?

In all of the stories I have written over the years, from short stories to partial novels to the novel I just finished, I have only written one in first person. It was a short short written from the point of view of a little girl when her sister dies. I liked it because the voice was so clear, all innocence and self-centered in a childish kind of way. That particular story would not have been a story at all in third person.

But over all I am a third-person writer. I like the ability to narrate in language my characters might not use; to see things from several perspectives; to know things they don't, which allows the reader to know things the characters don't. There is more flexibility, but also more tendency to drift off topic, or to get bogged down in detail and lose the action. It's harder to establish a voice, I think, but easier - almost lazier - in so many other ways.

That's what I thought until I read this post by Elizabeth Jote, an agent with Objective Entertainment. From what she writes, it sounds almost impossible to publish a first novel with a first person narrative. She sees first-person as self-serving and lazy. An easy way for a writer to get around investing in good narrative and fully developing other characters.

I wouldn't have given this article more than a cursory glimpse a month ago. After all, I could pat myself on the back and say, "See, I'm not lazy after all!"

Except my new book is in first person.

I thought long and hard about this before I started it. It's an uncomfortable realm for me. What tipped me over the edge was that this main character of mine, the narrator, is very unlike me. I'm not writing from her point of view because it's easy, or using her as a veiled form of myself. It's sometimes a struggle to write the way she thinks and not the way I think. I am limited by her vocabulary (she is not a high school graduate or a reader) and by her cultural upbringing (rural Texas). And she is not one to sit around musing about the beauty of the sunsets or the worn path in the dance floor at the local two-step place. So I am losing a bit of the beauty of language and setting, which is one of my strong suits. On the upside, I have a great voice, and the story moves more quickly.

I looked around before I started writing my own work at other first-person books. Jodi Picoult often writes in first person, often in multiple first persons. I recently read Patricia Wood's Lottery, which would be a completely different (and lesser) book if not for the point of view of her protagonist. One of my favorite books, one of the most beautifully written books I've read in recent years, is Blue Water, by A. Manette Ansay and is written in first person, as are all of Emily Giffin's novels.

I think some books need to be written in first person. And from the list of first novels by the authors above, obviously some agents agree. What do you think? Is writing in first person handicapping myself? Do you write in first person? How do you decide?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Out of the Smoke

It's still Friday, but barely. The kids are tucked in bed and I am sitting next to the fire in our backyard enjoying a beautiful clear night, serenaded by some very loud toads, a few crickets, the popping of the logs and a chorus of dogs in the distance, one to my east, one to the west, and one to the north, barking in what I can only imagine is a very intense dialogue about how annoying the frogs and crickets are now that spring is upon us.

We had a great dinner outside... a first for us in this house, and it was no small feat considering we own no patio furniture and had to move chairs and tables along with all the food stuff down two flights of stairs and into the backyard. But it was well worth it.

That fire in the back is where we cooked our s'mores. And where, in the complete dark, I am sitting now. Smelling like smoke. All the stress of the week seeping out of me. This week's episode of Survivor waiting for me. It doesn't get much better than this.

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

It's Friday. I'm at the library and I should be working on my book. I have been writing for the last hour and a half, and now I hit a snag, so I thought I'd try to do my Friday post first, then see if the creative juices come back. Otherwise, I'll trudge through thick writing that I will no doubt have to chop and rewrite in the future!

So what am I thankful for this week?

1. 80 degree weather. After lots of cold days, it finally is warm. I think we'll
eat outside tonight, light up the fire pit and have some s'mores. Sit around late into the night with my husband drinking wine and talking, listening to the crickets and the frogs down in the woods, enjoying the privacy that comes every spring when the leaves come out and cocoon us in our own little piece of heaven.

2. The zoo. Is there a more fun place to take kids when they have a day off school? Monday they had a teacher workday so we drove into D.C. There are times NOT to go to the zoo. Spring break is one of these. Anytime in the summer. Christmas break. Normally, anytime the weather is hot or many kids are off school. But we live a ways away and no one close to D.C. was off school, and the weather was 55 degrees and the animals were all out, waiting for us to admire them. We saw every animal in the zoo. Walked until I was in serious pain, hobbling on my bad foot, but smiling every moment. We ate lunch over looking the two pandas (who were also lunching, on some bamboo). And while the parking is not free, the zoo is, so it was a great day of little cost, and for the first time, I actually got us there without getting lost!

Here's my favorite guy:

And some more:

Are we having fun yet?

3. GPS. After said trip to the zoo we decided to drive downtown (the other side of downtown) to pick my hubby up for dinner. Instead of totally freaking out over driving in the city in rush hour traffic, I calmly put in our coordinates into the GPS and let it direct us. Of course, it took us to Constitution and 14th NE instead of NW, which I didn't even know was possible until I sat at a stop sign looking up at the street sign while the female in my car satellite kept saying, "You are are your final desitination," and I said, "I am NOT at my destination! I am surrounded by row houses and the Potomac and I am suppose to be in the middle of office buildings!" But then I punched in new coordinates and wa-la! She took us right to the corner where my husband stood waiting for us. In my old car, with no GPS, I would have been having a coronary and panic attack rolled into one about a block away from the zoo.

4. New clothes. Even if I haven't lost a pound, I feel better in new clothes.

5. Friends who call long distance at eleven in the morning just to talk.

6. Rearranging furniture. It makes it feel like a whole new room. It satisfies my need for change and my longing for roots at the same time. (We use to move every year... there wasn't any time to change furniture around. We just moved it from one house to another. Good for my need for change, bad for my need for stability).

7. A husband who understands my need for moving furniture.

That's it for now! Off to enjoy the great weather here. Have a fun weekend!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Phone Call I Received Tonight

Me: Hello?

Them: Hello. We represent a non-profit charity that you support. We realize that we made this call but there is no one to speak with you at the moment. We'll call back at a more convenient time. Thank you.

Me: ???????

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Faith and Writing

I have always had a strong faith in God. When I am doubtful and wavering about myself, my Christianity is not one of the things I wonder about. In middle school and high school I made no secret of my love for God and my desire to seek Him first in my life. I read my Bible often, often in public. I incorporated my faith in my writing: creative, compositions, even science papers.

But I didn't choose to go to a Christian college, and I got a lot of questions from people about that. I think it seemed to others the natural course for me, but my decision was based on my belief that if all Christians went to Christian schools, who would be salt and light to the students who didn't know Him at public universities?

I was not afraid to stand for God at Penn State. I have not ever been afraid to stand for God.

So why is it in my own writing, I find myself wondering how far to go?

In my first novel, the characters were not people of any faith, who found themselves facing difficult decisions with moral dilemmas. I chose, before I even put a word on the page, to have the two main characters do the right thing at the very end, even though it was not the thing they wanted to do, not the thing 90% of characters in books would do. I wrote it that way, not just because of my faith, but because I am tired of seeing movies and TV shows and books depicting people as puppets of their own desires, without the ability to see right from wrong, to choose right even when it is hard, to face the consequences that come from immoral choices. I am tired of affairs being no big deal. Affairs rip families apart. They desecrate a person's ability to trust anyone, for a very long time. They lead to lies and guilt and rage and depression. I wanted Caroline to stand on the brink of this canyon, consider the jump, play at it a bit, see all she has in life on the edge of disintegrating, and choose to take the right path, even when her heart is longing for something else.

This decision was not a hard one for me, until I began to wonder if it put the book in a no-man's land. It isn't a Christian book. Moral, maybe, but not Christian. It's not something I would hunt out a Christian publisher for. But maybe it's a little too straight-laced for the secular publishing industry. I find myself wondering if it's possible to be faithful to my faith, and be competitive at the same time. Who wants to read a book about an affair that never happens? (The book is about so much more than that, but I can hear an agent picking this out as the sticking point).

Even more surface than this, though, is language. People in real life swear. I know. I hear it all the time. I hear it from the mouths of kids who learned it from their parents. But I don't swear. I have never, once, even said so much as damn, or God, in a swearing manner. And it bothers me to read books with a lot of language in them. My writing teacher told my class back in college, when it seemed the students wanted to sprinkle generous doses of language through their stories just because they were in college and now they could, that seeing a word on a page is much more powerful than hearing the word, and you have to be careful how you decided to use it, and how often, because even people who talk that way may find it abrasive to see a lot of it in writing.

It seems like every book I pick up these days is strewn with it, so I'm not sure if what he said is true, or if the publishing industry hasn't figured that out yet, but it does bother me. I read a great book last week that I won't be buying for the three people I usually buy books for because I know the language would be offensive to them. Even though the story was really good. And don't even get me started on the language in books that are aimed at the middle grade and youth market. What agent - editor-publisher decided it was okay to put language that makes a movie an R-rated movie in a book aimed at middle schoolers??

But I know people do use language like this. And my characters are people. And sometimes, not people who would care so much about swearing. So what do I do then? Although in my own world I might say, "Oh my gosh!" or "Holy cow!" or "what in the world?" these statements sound hollow and funny on the page. In the first novel, I managed around this, sidestepping these moments like land mines. I've heard others deride cuss words as a lazy way of talking, using the easy words rather than finding the specific ones. This is definitely true in writing because, in choosing not to use the swearing or the easy, lazy alternates I sometimes use, I was forced to choose good, specific words. Lively words. Better words. I think the writing is stronger because of that, although I wonder if someone will actually read it and say, "hey, there's no cursing here.... this isn't realistic!"

This book that I am working on now faces the same struggle. In a crescendo of crisis, in the flow of the dialogue, Travis says, "What the hell?" I hesitated before I wrote it. I know some of you are laughing at that, but for me this was a big deal. There was nothing better to capture this moment - his surprise and shock and anger. I left it, but I have revisited it several times, wondering if I should write something in the book that I would never say myself. These people are not me, not by a long shot, and yet I am still the author. It is my name on the cover (someday, I hope). And what I believe in my personal life colors every part of my life, including my writing.

This book, in contrast to the first one, is a bit about faith. It's faith clashing with science. There is a church community that plays an important role, although not necessarily always a positive one. And they are Texan, so there are lots of other great substitutions for language. "Oh sugar" is my favorite one so far.

Still, I wonder if the aspect of their faith, and my own, will make this a less viable book. And I feel like I am in no man's land again.

Friday, April 11, 2008

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

This week has not been a great word count week, but it has been a great writing week. That is, although I haven't amassed thousands of words in my document this week, I have put quite a bit of time into the process. I've plotted, I've outlines, I've organized, I've gotten to know my characters better, including all their motivations and the baggage they bring to the book.

I have also done quite a bit more research into treatments for diabetic comas and stem cell research and systemic allergies to insulin. These medical details are the things which, later down the road, could hang up my writing, and I'd hate to get to a glitch and then have to rethink my entire plotting. These are good things to have under my belt in the early stages.

Also, I have contacted two individuals who are part of the Oxford Graduate Program as professors, one of whom is a judge and one of whom is a doctor, who both have agreed to read the finished manuscript and advise me on the medical, legal and ethical details of diabetes and stem cell research (which are their specialties). This is a hugely good thing!

And as for the rest of my life, these are the things this week that I am especially grateful for:

1. Old friends who have become new friends. You once were lost, but now are found. Friends are a very good thing.

2. Music. When I am sad, it comforts me. When I need a lift, it is there to raise my spirits. When I am happy, it gives me something to sing and dance to. It brings back memories. It creates new ones. It is a very, very good thing.

3. Johnny Depp days at Heidi the Hick's blog. I'm not a Johnny Depp fanatic, although I think he is incredibly talented, but you can't help but love him for all the enthusiasm Heidi shows for him. It's fun to know on Friday, though, you can almost always rely on some Johnny love at her blog!

4. Libraries are a good thing. I may have said that before, but I am having a serious love affair with the library now. Free books. Quiet writing room. No distractions. Wireless internet. A couple gorgeous cherry trees blossoming out the window I am sitting next to. Tons of windows. Comfy chairs. This is tax money well spent.

5. Smiles. From me. Directed at me. With or without laughter. Smiles are a warm-you-up-inside good thing.

6. Emails. Remember when you use to look forward to mail time, because you always hoped there would be something personal in it? A letter, a postcard.... something other than bills and advertisements. Email is better. It comes at any point in the day, often during the day, sometimes at night. You get to wake up and turn on the machine and there it is: a friend waiting to say hi. Sure, they miss the distinct handwriting that makes a letter feel personal. But still, they are pretty cool.

7. New bookshelves. To say this is a good thing is a gross understatement. It is an amazingly awesome, phenomenally terrific good thing. There. Two adverbs and three adjectives in a nine word sentence. And they are worth every modifier!

Off to actually write, now. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Things I Lost in the Storage

I am relentlessly cleaning out my storage area this week, going through boxes and boxes of old stuff, mostly from my long gone teaching days, and throwing out pounds of paper. Hundreds of pounds. But in the most unexpected places I find treasures. Letters from old friends I'd stuck in a notebook; tapes of my favorite music from 1991; poetry scribbled in the margins of my child psychology notes.

I thought I had all my poetry in a binder, but I keep finding random bits, some not even finished. Thoughts jotted down to keep me awake in class.

I don't write poetry much anymore. No time, mostly. I'm too busy writing prose, and I find my mind only focuses on language one way or the other. But I love the poetry because it is a snapshot of what was going through my mind, what was on my heart at a moment of time in my life, in a way that writing fiction cannot.

So on January 31, 1990, I wrote this:

Sometimes His voice
comes calling
like rolling thunder,
like driving rain.
Sometimes His voice is quiet,
and we wonder if
He knows our pain.
But He who spoke peace
to the waters
cares more for your life
than the waves.
And He who said
"You're forgiven,"
still says
you're forgiven today.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sick Day

Yesterday's word count: 1,441

Today's word count: 300

Today my youngest woke with a terrible cold. We took a sick day, which included me having to ditch most of my writing time. A tiny part of me is frustrated with this, but mostly I think, this is what is great about being a writer and a mom. I get to do both. And be one more than the other if necessary. Today it was necessary to be more mom than writer.

I did spend an hour with some new emails from parents who wrote me about their experiences with their children's diagnosis, which were extremely helpful. These parents continue to amaze me with what they go through every day, and the incredible trauma before diagnosis. If my children ever develop diabetes, I will be so, so thankful that I have it; that I will know the signs before it gets too bad, and that I can say, "I have been there. It will get easier, and feel more normal, and you will survive and live a great life." I tell some of the moms who write me this, who only know what it is like to have a child with the disease and see only the uncertainty of the future and the frustration and fear in each day.

Is it bad that I really want this book to make a difference in the world? That I want, through a story of one fictional family, to educate many, to give hope to some? To let people know it can be life altering, but not life ending? That crisis can make you stronger? That faith will sustain you, even when your friends won't?

I spent my precious little quiet time today reading about children who almost died before being diagnosed, whose pathetic, arrogant doctors misdiagnosed or undermedicated or simply didn't care enough. I wrote back to parents who wrote to me about their fears of their children seizing and dying in the night while they were asleep.

Then I went and held my daughter on my lap and watched Little Bear and wiped her tears and read her books, and thanked God all she had was a terrible cold.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Today I start writing again...really.... I promise

Last week my pathetic writing amounted to about 3,ooo words. For the first time in seven months I took three days off writing during the week to save my sanity. My youngest daughter has a birthday party on Saturday and the weekend before my husband and I finally agreed on bookshelves for the living room (which we now call The Library). Ordinarily, this week would have been an extremely bad week to put up bookshelves seeing as how ten families with small children were about to descend upon us: the house needed serious cleaning, a cake needed to be baked, a pin-the-tail-on-Eeyore needed to be drawn and birthday presents needed to somehow be bought on the sly. Completely overhauling the one room you see the most when you enter our house was probably not a smart idea.

However, my husband and I have been going around and around this for the last three years when we gutted the kitchen and knocked out the wall and bookshelves in the adjoining loft to create an eating space. He promised more bookshelves even as I packed my beloved books into many, many boxes and hauled them to the basement. He's promised bookshelves for three years, but has very distinct ideas about what he wanted them to look like, which, incidentally, did not jibe with what our bank account wanted them to look like. So around we've gone, me periodically digging into the boxes in search of some book I have to have, complaining loudly every chance I get.

My books are in boxes, folks. This is not a good thing.

So when last week I showed him my new plans for bookshelves, explained the layout, where to get the materials, and expensed it down to the penny for less than one-quarter our last estimate, he nodded and said, "Let's do it."

Seriously? says I, totally not believing it. But when we go to look at the materials and he wants to bring the truck, I start to hope. And when he looks at them and says, "Okay. Do you want to start with one wall or with the whole room?" I quickly calculate the six days until the party and balance it against the very real possibility that tomorrow he will change his mind, and I opt for insanity with bookshelves over a productive week with three more years of books in boxes.

So I neglected my walking. I neglected my writing. I stayed up until past midnight every night drilling and hammering, baking and cleaning, and, about an hour before the party, finished it all.

So here is the cake:

And here are the bookshelves:
And here are some more:

Eventually I will get all the books on the shelves and they won't seem so bare, but for now I am unpacking slowly, enjoying finding the right place for each book. Hoping someday my book will be there too.

If I ever get around to finishing it.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Too Many Choices

I realized today why I love shopping at Sam's.

Yes, I am a club shopper. Sue me. I have a family of five. If I had to buy toilet paper rolls by the four pack I'd be at the drug store every two days. And we'd be living on the curb if I had to buy fruit at supermarket prices. We can go through two pounds of strawberries and six apples in a sitting. A gallon of orange juice in two days. Four gallons of milk a week. You get the picture.

But I didn't know why I liked it so much until tonight, when I had to head out at ten o'clock to get eggs at the local supermarket close to the house for a cake for my daughter's birthday. Eggs. At Sam's I go to the fridge and grab the pack of eggs. There's the package of 32 white eggs or... well... that's it. I've forgotten there's more out there.

At the supermarket I'm standing in front of the fridge section staring at an impossible selection. There are half dozen, dozen, or eighteen. There are white and brown. There are medium, large and extra large (is this like the drink options in fast food, where we have just dropped the small option?). There are card savings and organic and natural.

Seriously, I stood there a good ten minutes staring, trying to do the math in my head to figure which is the best buy, trying to decide whether or not it matters which size I pick. Too many choices!!

I love Sam's because there is no choice. There are eggs. I've never even seen a broken one. No brown. No medium or extra large. I go down the aisle, open the door, grab the eggs and run. Same with flour and sugar and sour cream and milk and broccoli and chicken. You can get the fifty pound version of the only brand they carry or nothing. And I'm okay with that.

I realized tonight I have enough decisions in life without standing for ten minutes trying to figure out which eggs I should buy.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Romantic Side of April Fool's Day

Today is April Fool's Day. I love this day. Not because of the fool part of it (I am way too gullible to enjoy that part of the day). I love it because fifteen years ago today, my then boyfriend proposed.

Yes. I got engaged on April Fool's Day.

My husband likes to say that he asked on April's Fools so that if I said no, he could say, "I was just kidding anyway."

So every April first I get to revisit one of my favorite stories: the engagement story.

He'd been asking me to marry him almost as long as I'd known him. It was a joke between us, every time he asked, that I would say, "How am I going to know when you are serious?" He'd always answer, "You'll know because I'll come riding up on a white horse." He was in the army when we met, just back from the gulf war, so the idea of being a knight in shining armor wasn't too far from reality.

So fifteen years ago today, we both arranged to take the day off work and spend the afternoon together. He'd been working in New York as a broker for a few months after leaving the military and had been back in Austin for a few weeks, feet to the grindstone, so to speak, and we'd barely seen each other since before Christmas.

He didn't tell me where we were going, but packed a picnic for us and picked me up midmorning. We drove out into the hill country to a horse ranch where he had arranged a day of riding for us.

The hilarious thing is he'd spent a month combing the Texas countryside for white horses, and couldn't find any. Not one. Seriously. There are no white horses in central Texas. Finally he finds this place and goes to visit ahead of time to pick out the horses, the picnic spot, and ask the owners to spray for ants (how thoughtful can a guy get???). So he sees this white horse way out in the field. He's not being ridden by anyone, or in the stables with the rest of the horses, but the owner's assure him that "Wild Thing" is good for at least a few more rides.

Let me set the scene here. I am five-three. At the time, I weighed about as much as a few feathers. My husband is six foot four. And he has really broad shoulders.

When we arrive, they bring out my horse: a huge brown stallion that I literally use a step-ladder to get on. My feet are a good three feet off the ground.

Then they bring out Wild Thing.

Wild Thing is two days away from a glue factory. He is no bigger than a mule. He is sway backed, severely. My husband can throw his leg over his back without his other foot even leaving the ground. He looks like a thirteen year old on a toddler's bike. His knees are in his chin. When we go up the rocky trail, he almost has to get off and carry Wild Thing up the hills.

I turned around and pointed at Wild Thing, totally clueless about this set up, and say, "Hey, look! A white horse!" I think my husband laughed, although it might have been a choking sound. I wonder the entire ride why I get the huge horse and my boyfriend is on the one that clearly should be retired.

The rest is simply romantic. A picnic by a babbling brook, not an ant in sight; a gorgeous ring in a Cracker Jack box; a poem he read on one knee. The usual.

But now, everytime we pass a white horse, I make sure to point it out. Especially the big, strong ones. Look at all these white horses! And you're telling me you hunted and hunted and the best you could come up with was Wild Thing? And he always rolls his eyes and says, "Yeah. Wild Thing looked like that from a distance too."

Maybe. Or maybe he just wanted to make sure I knew he'd keep his promises, even if he had to ride a 100 year old horse to do it.

And who could say no to that?