Category Archives: i have issues

Writing exercise, or something like it

Given as long as it’s been since I’ve made a blog post, this feels a little like when I was in elementary school, and would return to class after a long summer. It was almost tradition for a teacher to assign a “what I did over summer vacation” assignment, much to all of our dismay. The teacher would suggest picking one activity or incident that happened over the three month span rather than try to talk about all summer, as if we, as eight and nine year olds, had done so many exciting things it was difficult to choose just one to write about, rather than the fact that the majority of us just learned at what time and what channel we could find every rerun of our favorite shows from six in the morning to midnight.

Even as a child, I understood the exercise. It was, of course, to get us back into the habit of writing after such a long break, to jog our imaginations– and what better way to do that than to talk about something we liked? Focusing on the self is one of the easiest ways to get back to writing, given you need no other opinion or experience but your own. And so that’s what we’ll be doing here.

As a grown up, I don’t have much in the way of summer vacations anymore, outside the part where I don’t have to drive kids to school and monitor tedious homework in the evenings. I still go to work, still have to shop and cook and pay bills. This summer, though, was chock full of strange and stressful things, as well as interesting and fun. My kids are at an age where they’re both self-entertaining, and also hilarious to talk to. We had storms that did major damage to our city, a death in the family, and even a surprise surgery on yours truly. I’ve never been fond of talking dramatics in my own life, though, so, instead of my appendectomy, I’m going to tell you about my chicken.

If you’ve been following along for any length of time, you’ve probably gleaned that I love animals. As a child, I was the one who went looking for cats in peoples’ houses and had to be restrained from running right up to strangers’ dogs on the street. I went to zoo camp and still tell people the story of feeding a giraffe out of my hand. When I got older, I had to have outside influences prevent me from collecting pets– I’ve often told my husband he’s the only thing standing between me and being a crazy cat lady.

When I was writing my first novel, one of the main characters had chickens. There is a specific paragraph describing how gently he handles his chickens, and a later scene where he and his son are cleaning up their coop and preparing for winter. Given my love of research, I did some on chickens just for these passages, and fell in love with the idea of having my own flock.

At the time, we lived in a townhome, with an 5×8 slab of concrete for a backyard, and an HOA that had been known to come over with a tape measure to make sure your trees were the right height. A year and a half ago, we bought a house with, frankly, too damned big of a yard. This meant, however, I could finally get my beloved chickens.

We bought a coop kit off the internet, and some 12 week old hens from an acquaintance at work. It was everything I dreamed of, except: the chickens didn’t really like us. They scattered and ran when we came out, and wouldn’t let us pick them up. If you’ve ever known an animal person, this is devastating: all you want is to cuddle all the animals of the world!

The following spring, we decided to buy chicks to hand-raise. We got four, one for each of us: four little balls of puffy feathers, cuter than even the cutest kitten by a long shot.

One of them, Springtrap (named by my son), developed a condition called “pasty butt” which is basically exactly what it sounds like. It also requires that the keeper monitor the chicken’s backside, and keep it clean so the poo doesn’t cake together and block the vent, thus killing the chick.

I’m nothing if not obsessive, particularly when it comes to the health of my pets (though, you know, with my kids I’m a big fan of “if you’re not bleeding, you’re going to school”). I checked on her throughout the day, wiping her butt when needed, drying and warming her to keep her from catching cold. She was our runt, our littlest chicken for the duration of their tiniest phase. Despite “my” chicken being a different one named Lady Mary, I became attached to Spring through these treatments, and was proud that she not only survived this hiccup, but grew into a lovely large chicken with the feathered feet of her breed.

Recently, she started acting strange. She spent all day in a nest box and made growling, trilling sounds when approached. The internet informed me: she was broody. Because we have no rooster, as they are not allowed in the city, she would have no babies. She had to be broken.

A note on chickens: they are not like cats. They possess a tiny, lizard brain that makes them both forgetful, and constantly convinced that the next second is their doom. While they can be convinced to be cuddly, it almost seems as though it’s under duress. Every day is their last. I’m obviously just hiding an axe somewhere to come after them when they least expect it.

According to advice, we put Spring in a metal dog crate up on blocks of wood to “air out” her nethers. I felt terrifically sad for her, and would take her out in the afternoons, after the other chickens had laid eggs and I could close the coop. I thought I was doing her a favor. She acted as though I were the cause of all her anguish, and started taking to chasing me when I came out into the yard, pecking at my feet when I fed them, and, on two occasions, bit my arm hard enough to draw blood.

She earned the name “Bitch Chicken.”

The chicken seemed unbreakable. Every morning, I’d haul her out of the coop and put her in the crate, where she’d huddle right back down and give me angry glares anytime she saw me. In the afternoons, I’d shut up the coop and let her out, and she’d mostly behave like the others but, at night, when the coop was reopened, she made a beline for it, threw herself in a nest box and hissed at anyone who came near.

I thought for sure she would be broody forever. I’m not above hyperbole, ever, but she definitely seemed as though none of our efforts would prevail. I started sneaking in when it was dark and putting her on the roosting bar so she would forget where the nest was. In one dramatic and ill-conceived plan, we filled the kitchen sink with cool water and dunked her backside and chest in. The entire room got wet, including me. She kept chasing me through the yard while my husband cackled from the doorway.

And then, she stopped. One morning, I opened the coop and she was the first out the door. She spent all day scratching and pecking and wandering, and then seemed protest going to bed that night. She was cured. The chicken gods had finally smiled on us.

So that is what I did with my summer vacation. Oh, I wrote, too, a book that apparently has decided it’s never going to end, or will actually be three books, I haven’t decided. I’m hoping to finish it by 2030.


Questions No One Asked Me: Part One

Sometimes, you see, I do this thing. It’s usually in the shower but, from time to time, I do it in the car, or even while walking the dog. I don’t usually talk about it, but I don’t think I’m the only person who does it.

I interview myself.

What, you were expecting something else?

It comes from watching the early days of Oprah, maybe, or too many awards shows. I was an avid reader of Seventeen and YM in my youth, and my favorite parts of the magazines (besides the “horrible things happen to me too!” fake write-in columns) were always the interviews where the questions were bolded and the star replied. I like a good list, after all, and I even more like hearing people talk about themselves. Maybe it’s a character study, or I’m really into self-absorbed people, who knows? But I do love a good interview, even when I’m the one who has to interview myself.

Thus, today, I intro “Questions No One Asked Me.”

Today’s question: “Lorrie, we all already know your stance on writing, and writing schedules, and taking responsibility for your writing output. But, really, what if you force yourself to write, and it sucks?”

Thanks for asking!

It’s a very real fear, that you commit yourself to writing, want to be writing, even, and find out that the words you put on the page are, for a lack of a better descriptor, utter crap. It would come as quite a shock, wouldn’t it, to find that even though you’re willing to make the effort, it’s in vain because your skills are on par with a donkey who backed into a typewriter while drunk. After all, you make the effort, you put in the time, shouldn’t that account for something?

If only!

The truth of the matter is: you will write crap. You will write crap more often than you write anything good, or worthwhile, even. You will write pages and pages of crap, sometimes for an entire day, sometimes every time you sit down at the computer, sometimes for weeks. You’ll have your brighter days, of course, where everything you type is golden and beautiful, but these days don’t last long, and almost never come consecutively.

Sitting down and writing is quite obviously made that much more difficult when you introduce the threat of shit writing. Staring down a computer screen with that devil on your shoulder, telling you you’re going to fail can cause even the most determined, and even skilled, writer to balk at bothering at all. After all, if you don’t write, you can’t suck, right?

Every day, I write. I know many people with other methods, but the most popular way to get through the process of writing, even the bad days, is, simply, write. Write when you don’t feel like it, write when you’re tired, write when you’re stressed, write when you feel like you have nothing to say. The truth of the matter is: most of those times, that is when you will write your worst. It’s a ridiculous cliche that you must be having some intense emotion or life experience for your writing to read truthfully, or have any depth. The majority of writing comes from people who are, for the most part, pretty okay with themselves, and their lives. After all, if they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t get much out, if just because they might not make it that long.

How, then, do you survive writing all that crap? How can you still be happy when you have pages of prose you can never use, passages that couldn’t fit into your story if you took a blowtorch to them?

To begin with: bad writing does not make you a bad writer, just as one burned meal doesn’t make you a terrible cook. No one is “on” every last day of their lives. Even a genius wakes up with a case of the Mondays.

Second: writing, any writing, is good, even the bad stuff. Why? Well, of course, you’re writing, but, even more importantly– this can, and often does, lead to the good stuff! Sitting down and rambling out six pages of characters wandering aimlessly, conversations that go nowhere, action that falls flat, can not only clear out the muck that’s weighing you down, but can also jog your brain, and help you work your way through troublesome scenes, plot holes, and questions about motivations. Right now, you may be writing a too-long description about the horrible meal a character’s aunt has cooked, simply because you can’t think of anything else to write, but suddenly you know why he wants to go to Cambodia, or how to bring in that phone call that will tie Character X into Character A’s story.

The most important thing to remember, though, is: bad writing days will not last forever. The more you fear them, and let them control you, the longer and harder they stick. Making the effort to power through them, to refuse to let them control you, can only bring you out the other side, where you’ll be a better writer for them.

And then you’ll get to do that imaginary red carpet interview while you shave your armpits, too!

Stay tuned for more Questions No One Asked Me!


On being social

I’m not afraid to admit it, nowadays: I’m an only child. Back when I was a child, in the 80s, it was a sort of novelty, us singular children– most of my friends had at least one sibling, and some had two or three more. It wasn’t until I was 10 that I even met another only child.

I didn’t mind being an only child, and it was only romanticized notions of siblinghood I longed for– the fantasies I had of a sister always revolved around the idea that she was close in age to me, and had my exact interests, and also thought I was super cool. I could have dug a sister like that.

As it was, I was one of those people who learned, early on, how to entertain myself. The kids on my block, my easy-access friends, had to go home for dinner just as I did, they went out of town, and church and the like, and so I was alone often. I like to differentiate between “alone” and “lonely.” Certainly I was the latter from time to time, but, truly, it was a rare occurrence. I was a voracious reader, and my parents were happy to indulge the obsession. I had bookshelves full to bursting, and was taken on frequent trips to the local library. I wrote, even from a young age, making friends of characters, and creating worlds and experiences for them.

I am an incredibly shy person. I’m not sure if it’s due to this alone-ness, or if I would have been naturally disposed to this personality even with a passel of siblings. At any rate, it is far easier to be shy when you’re okay with being alone– I can’t imagine being an extrovert who is painfully shy, the agony of wanting and needing social contact to feed your energy, yet being terrified of talking to others. That I garner my energy from quiet and solitude makes my shyness mostly inconsequential: it’s easy to never learn to swim when you live in a desert.

I have to say, though: all of this makes it hard to be sociable. I’m good with a person or two– I have a small group of good friends, people I feel know me well and I know them. I’ve met them through various channels– online, in class, at work, and living above me in an apartment. The thing is: it took awhile, and I am very poor at it.

Oddly enough, those who meet me tell me I’m outgoing and bubbly, talkative, and can’t believe that I’m painfully shy. I have been told pointblank that I’m not an introvert, that it’s not possible, because of how I react to people (which leads me to wonder: what is the appropriate behavior for an introvert in a social setting? To scream and duck? To sweat profusely and refuse to speak? I’m fairly certain, as an attribute, introversion would have fazed out of our DNA if it was truly that difficult to endure, but that’s a different topic). I’m a good actor, I suppose, or my anxiety drives me into some kind of stand-up comedy. I give a killer punchline while convincing myself that you hate me.

The internet is a blessing for people like me: you can meet people on your own turf and have time to figure out what to say and how to say it! No one can see you! You’re a genius with spellcheck! In the early days (back when we paid for AOL by the minute), I hopped into chatrooms and bulletin boards, and was quickly treated to my earliest dose of internet attacks. I was young, though, innocent still, so that I plugged along.

There was Diaryland, and Blogspot, when I got older, and then Livejournal. I participated on a couple boards for young and radical mothers, joined up on forums for writers and role players. I was, dare I say, POPULAR.

However, in the past few years, things have shifted. Perhaps it’s my age, and my inborn tendency to be stubborn, slowing me down. I feel like the crotchety old lady waving at the kids on her lawn. I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE NEW SOCIAL MEDIA. I can roll with Facebook, but apparently that’s for grandmas anyway. I’m okay with Twitter (and have some absurdly low join number, making me either elite or pathetic), and I’m moderately capable at Tumblr. Past that, I suck.

Social media is all about conversation, but, it feels to me, like walking into a room of strangers and having everyone stop and turn to look at you and wait for your introduction. “Hi, I’m Lorrie! My favorite book is… uh… I have one, I’m sure. Favorite movie? Um, that one, with the blonde…?”

My husband hangs out on Reddit, which appears a little like a crowded bar where the drink names are in a different language, and I can’t find the bathrooms. Goodreads groups confuse the hell out of me, with huge threads where the replies overlap and I’m genuinely afraid of making a fool of myself with my poor memory for what I’ve read in the past year, let alone my life (intellectual cred is much more difficult to fake).

I’m making an effort. I’m seeking out blogs now, something I’ve avoided over the years as the internet seemed overrun with them. It seems less threatening: even on blogs that garner a lot of comments, it’s as though I met up with the writer in the corner of a party and we’re sharing a laugh. It’s calming.

Being social on the internet is apparently one of my jobs now, in this writing and publishing gig. I feel a bit like I did when I changed schools at ten: nervous, and kind of nauseous. I’m myself, but also a brand, and I really REALLY want people to like me.

Hey, how about you leave some links for blogs you like in the comments? I’ll bring you a glass of wine and we’ll hide out by the garage door for a bit, take a breather from that party. I hope you like my jokes.


Hipster call to support indie publishing!

Now, listen here, you hipster. You put down that caffe crema and turn off that Dandelion Hands album, stop stroking your beard and reading Teju Cole, and focus on me.

You’re not a bad guy, Mr. Hipster. You like to support the indie spots in town – you visit the coffee shop that has no siren on its sign but prices even higher, with a pierced barista who refuses to smile; you still buy vinyl, from the punk store that employs the barista’s clone; you patronize the ancient barber down the block for your weekly hot neck shave; you even take your dollars to the bookstore run out of a decaying storefront that keeps a cat and sells more used books than new. You’re conscientious about how you use your money, to whom you pay, and what you support. You’ve contributed several Indie Go-Gos, Kickstarters, and GoFundMes for filmmakers, artists, bloggers and nostalgia generators alike. You’ve got good taste. Better than any of your friends.

So why are you still only reading books from the big six publishers? Go take a look at your bookshelf and jot down the names of the publishing houses for me. I’ll wait.

You’ve got Random House and Penguin on your list, don’t you? HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster? You missed Hachette and Macmillan, but my point is: out of those books you glanced over, only maybe one was from a small house (nope, that one you just wildly defended? That’s an imprint of Penguin). I’m not judging your reading selection – those are some really great books, and every writer deserves an income. That you pursue such a wide variety of authors and genres is quite commendable.

However (you knew there would be a however, right?), you’ve missed a beat. Where you strive to spend your dollars with businesses and people who, you feel, embody your beliefs more closely, by shopping locally, organically, and ethically, by giving more money directly to the producer of your goods, you’re not doing so with your reading.

There are more writers than books, truly, and definitely more than books that are published with the aforementioned publishing houses. For every book on the shelf by Jonathan Safran Foer, there are about a thousand other people typing madly in their ill-lit apartments and on their work latops, in coffee shops and on college campuses, in cushy studies and between two squalling babies. There are more stories than books published, too, more stories about fantastic new worlds and the drudgery of the same life troubles, characters with no vowels in their names and at least 654 named Mary.

But, you say, self-publishing has no regulation for quality! Any dumbass can write something and have it uploaded to Amazon in minutes, complete with a shitty cover and no editing!

Right you are. But, if you’ll remember, big name doesn’t equal quality. Remember Twilight? Remember 50 Shades of Grey?

Like anything indie, self- and independently-published works have a wide variety in quality. Indeed, some people finish a 50 page Word document, save it, and hit upload on Amazon with nary a thought for formatting, editing, or even spell-check. They make a cover in Paint. This appears on searches next to best-sellers, next to meticulously-created works.

Music the same way. Anyone can record a song on an iPhone nowadays, on a computer, and have it on the web in a few minutes. A Facebook fan page can be arranged before the file is finished formatting. A BandCamp site can be created with just a login and a credit card. This, of course, doesn’t mean that every band on BandCamp is shitty – far from it. Are there awful albums on the site, terrible sounds that can hardly be called music? Well of course.

Generally, you’re happy to give a band a listen, right, Mr. Hipster? If it’s not in the Top 40, you’ll check out a sample, maybe even throw in a buck to download. Indie bands and musicians helped change the face of how we listen and collect music as we know it. Napster, and everything that came after, made it easier to access bands that might not be able to afford a van to come to your state, or press CD’s to sell at shows, let alone ship to stores hundreds of miles away. The sounds of the world were suddenly in our reach. Big record labels were terrified.

Now we have hundreds of indie labels, ranging from companies created to curate some of the best rock bands, like Frenchkiss Records, to labels created specifically for a single artist to maintain and control their own vision of their music, like Ingrid Michaelson’s Cabin 24 Records.

Indie labels are celebrated in music. So why not your books?

Of course you’re going to have to sift through some stinkers. Not everything brought to print or digital is going to be worth your time. And of course it might take more time and effort than going to your local bookshop (even that one with the cat, hipster) and picking up whatever cover catches your eye. But isn’t some of the glory in finding something truly special, in being the person just that far ahead of the curve?

Writers, like artists, like musicians, work – long and hard hours crafting and creating engaging stories, and then even more time polishing them. Self- and independently-published authors continue working: in formatting and graphic design, in coding and advertising. From start to finished product, and well beyond – after all, once the book is published, the work of getting people to read it has just begun.

To appeal to your egalitarian side, Mr. Hipster, I want you to know: I hold no bitterness against the traditionally published, or, even the publishing houses that take them on. A large amount of the books I read, myself, are from those very lists. There is, indeed, often a reason these people were picked by Random House, by Penguin: they’re usually pretty damned good (and profitable, but that’s a different subject). You’re welcome to read them just like, in the securely closed confines of your house at night, you’re welcome to crank up your secret Maroon 5 albums. No one is taking your hipster cred for that.

But you’re going to lose points if you don’t put your money where your mouth is. Indie means indie, means supporting those who are doing the work, and getting more of your money to those creators. Indie means fostering the new and the interesting, and the weird, and demanding your right to it.

Think of it this way: would you be happy listening to only what the radios want play? Why should you be happy only reading what the publishing houses want to print?

You can get back to your espresso and iPod now, Mr. Hipster. I believe in you, even if I think you need to lose the beard.

This blog entry is mostly a work of satire, and should be taken tongue firmly in cheek. When I say mostly, I mean I wildly support the work of Teju Cole and other authors of his ilk, and I’ve been known to drink Starbucks. But I really do hate beards, and think you should buy more independent and self-published authors if you believe in supporting artists and progressive thought. Because duh.


On doubt

I want to talk about doubt.

Last summer, we had to put one of our cats down. Otis was about 18 years old, and had been suffering from a thyroid disorder for a number of years, a disorder that left him just a few pounds in weight, dull-eyed and prone to peeing everywhere.

We loved Otis.

oanda2

Shortly before my birthday, we took Otis to the shelter where we’d adopted him 15 years before so they could help us put him to rest peacefully. We were taken into a room to spend his last few minutes with him before we had to let him go into the back for the injections with a volunteer who told us she would hold him the entire time. We cried like babies.

Doubt set in. It was no question that Otis had been ill for a long time, and was likely to continue to suffer if we kept him alive. He couldn’t control his bladder, and we couldn’t leave him alone for more than a few hours at a time without him peeing on everything in the house.

But, I thought, what if the people at the shelter took him into the exam room and decided we were too hasty? What if they didn’t give him the injections, and instead had decided to remove him from our custody and find him a better owner?

I started looking on the shelter website daily, searching through the “older cats” section for his scruffy face. I imagined the bio they would write: Handsome senior cat removed from a home that didn’t see good years left. Lots of love to give. I imagined finding him and rushing to the shelter to claim him back and them declaring me an unfit pet owner. I might have gone so far as to imagine a pet version of CPS coming and removing our other two cats and our dog.

It’s crazy. I’m aware. But even a year later, I still have this inkling of a fear that Otis is still out there, and I’m a horrible person.

Doubt is a hard thing to shake. I do believe it’s a beneficial feeling, and certainly, day to day, it probably keeps us from any number of disasters and missteps. Doubt, though, can trip you up and send you sprawling in the dirt if you allow it to accompany you for too long.

I like to think I don’t spend too much time doubting myself (outside obsessive cat kidnapping thoughts, naturally). There are moments when a second look or hesitation is necessary, but I tend to be maybe stupidly confident in a few areas, including my writing.

This is not a luck of the draw; I am not a naturally confident person. In fact, it could be argued that I have rather low self-esteem and tend to be self-crippling, denying myself even easy success because I’m quite sure I don’t deserve it.

How, then, do I manage to get out of bed at all, let alone sit and type and send out work and face an inbox full of rejection?

Effort. Sheer effort. It’s always struck me as funny that people think I’m naturally bubbly, cheerful, and outgoing. Effort, my friends. I wake up most mornings to some fashion of career rejection, either by low sales, silent agents, or canned rejections in my email. There are certainly days I’d rather curl up in a ball and give it all the hell up.

Effort. It’s always amazed me that people think anyone successful, or confident, lacks any doubt. It’s like it’s a superpower: DOUBTLESS GIRL, ABLE TO SMASH THROUGH FEAR AND ANXIETY IN A SINGLE SLASHING MOTION OF HER HAND AND BACK AGAIN (there’s a reason I don’t write catch phrases). There is no such thing as a person who does not doubt themselves, one time or another. Doubt is like a mosquito: it is there, and the more you scratch it, the more it itches.

I doubt myself a lot. I certainly doubted my cat’s death, my culpability in the whole thing. I doubt my worth often – what truly confident person worries their cat is resold?

Doubt is not a personality trait that is ingrained in us from birth. Doubt is not a birth mark, doubt is not a state of being. Doubt is transitory, and it is defeatable.

I don’t have any advice, though, on HOW to defeat it. My friend and I tend to throw around a phrase: Fake it till you make it. It means smile even when you want to scowl, it means getting up when you want to lay on the ground, it means believing you’re doing the right thing even when you think you aren’t. You fake it, and, when you fake it long enough, you, most times, start to believe it.

This doesn’t always work, of course. I have dark times, I have moments of desperately wanting to give up – on writing, on my career aspirations, on even getting up and washing my hair. Doubt crawls in when I let it. Doubt always looks for the opening.

I’ve managed. I will manage again. If you want to, you can manage just as well, too.


No place like home

This afternoon, I drove past the house I spent my first ten years living in. It’s not far from where we’ve moved, and since my job moved downtown, I can pass the end of the block on my commute. When I spied a dumpster out front, I had to do a swing by.

I’m not sure what’s being renovated, as I decided pulling a super creeper and stopping dead in the center of the street to analyze the contents of the dumpster was not how I wanted to spend my lunch hour. Suffice to say, the bin was full of wood, and so my mind has gone wild.

Is it the all-wood staircase with the carved banister? The hand-scraped hardwood floors from the basement? Could it be the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of the study?

Those stairs are where I slipped and fell, biting through my lip, when I was four. I’d seen a Shirley Temple movie that morning and decided to try tapping my way up to my bedroom… in socks.

The basement is where I had my playroom, with the weird tree silhouette wallpaper, pot-belly stove, and stained-glass window. It was the scene of many My Little Pony debaucheries.

Those bookshelves are where my tree frogs lived, left over from a science presentation on the life cycle of frogs. I had three of them: Croaker, Croaker Junior, and The One Who Died Before I Could Name Him.

Don’t these people understand this is MY house?

It’s been noted that I have a certain romantic attachment to the house I grew up in. We moved when I was ten, just to the other side of town, but I remained attached to the first house in a way that bordered on fanatical for a number of years. My life’s ambition, besides being a writer (and actress, and singer, and doctor, and artist, and journalist and and and), was to move back into my childhood home at the soonest possible moment. The house changed hands twice since my parents sold it in 1989, and the neighborhood became rather coveted. Still, I insisted I would live there again some day.

Not everyone has the same attachment to a house they spent only the barest amount of cognizant time living in. I grew up with kids from military families, who lived in ten houses before they hit fifth grade. I held a deep resentment against my parents for years because they made me leave that beautiful house.

It was an angst that was hard to explain. The house, as it was, was lovely, but hardly any more remarkable than any other house. The kitchen was renovated in the height of the eighties, and so bore orange countertops and brown tiles. There were only two bathrooms, one upstairs where the bedrooms were, and one downstairs, off the kitchen. My closet was the size of a shoebox.

The house is absolutely not my style, either. Built in the early 1900’s, it is somewhat Victorian, crossed with Craftsman, with lots of wood and leaded glass windows. My husband and I bought a house built in the 50s, and our style leans towards Mid-Century, and contemporary. My credenza would stick out like a sore thumb in my childhood home.

I don’t know why, exactly, I love the house so much and cringe at the thought of it being gutted. I spent far more time, and had many more formative experiences, in the house my parents bought after it – I lived there from the age of ten until I was twenty, I spend hours there every week, I’ve been taking my children there weekly for the past ten years. I’ve known that home for nearly three-quarters of my life (I did the math!). Wouldn’t it make much more sense to be abnormally attached to it?

Memory is a funny thing, I’ve found. I can remember the feel of those wood steps under my feet as surely as I can the carpet that is currently under them, thirty years later. I’ve made a map of the house in my head, complete with furnishings, that hasn’t changed in decades. It’s perpetually 1988 in that old house.

At this point, if given the chance, would I even want the house again? I know it’s been remodeled – real estate photos from the last time it was sold show that – and the foyer that used to house our antique coat rack has been closed off and given a closet. The potbellied stoves that I so loved as a child were replaced with gas fireplaces. The vast garden plot my father fervently protected from squirrels was torn out to build a garage in the parking-competitive neighborhood. And now, of course, whatever they’re ripping out and dumping, unceremoniously, into the bin at the curb.

I suppose I’ll keep inhabiting the house that’s in my head, complete with the impressions of a very young child, keeping the height of light fixtures well above my head and the backyard endless up like a field. The memories are mine, and those can’t be renovated out my head.

I suppose, first, though, I really need to stop driving by and gawking. Baby steps.


On Reality vs. Realism

One of my favorite stories to tell about my childhood is about the night a cow ended up on our lawn.

I did not grow up in a rural area – I’m a city girl, and the closest I’ve ever really gotten to nature was the yearly overnight at the Girl Scout camp in elementary school, where I rode a horse named Snowflake. I’ve never been interested in country life: I need places that are open late and grocery stores minutes away. I’m spoiled. We don’t have cows.

Except one night when I was thirteen. It wasn’t really late, about 8:30, but the house was shut-down, all of us in bed reading. When the doorbell rang, my father jumped from bed and I followed from down the hall – we lived in the city, but it’s a pretty safe city. Excitement could easily come from a doorbell after dark.

On our porch was a man in his late thirties, breathless and holding a rope. “There’s a cow on your lawn,” he informed my father, who stared at him, stupefied. The man gestured in the direction of the bushes that lined the edge of our property; I squeezed up next to my father to look.

A cow. I am no expert, so I have no idea what kind, or if it was a large cow, impressive for anything besides being a cow on a city lawn. But, at any rate, it was a cow, on our lawn, that had never seen anything larger than the neighbor’s golden retriever.

“We saw it on the road,” the guy reported. “We followed it up here.” Out on the street behind him were two cars, with several other men standing beside them. These were not cowboys in the least: they wore jeans, but they all had the giddy look of people who were embarking on a random adventure.

My dad looked between the cow and the man. He grew up on a farm, knew from cows, but the whole thing was so out of place, so utterly out of context, he was speechless.

“Can you call Animal Control?” the man suggested, and my father nodded.

I listened in on the call. “A cow.” Pause. “Yes, a cow.” He rattled off our address and there was another pause. “A cow. On the lawn.”

Ultimately, the cow moved on. The majority of our neighbors were unaware of its presence as the cowboys in sedans followed it along our block, back in the direction from whence it had come. The next morning, I examined the lawn for any evidence of the cow visit the night before and found nothing; it was disappointing, in a way, until I realized I would always have this fantastic story to tell, about the cow on my lawn.

There is, of course, a ridiculousness that makes it sound like I’m full of it. Telling the tale of a squirrel launching out of the fireplace and my cat chasing it around the house sounds far more authentic: more people have experienced a wayward squirrel in their chimney, a cat who believes it is a greater hunter than, perhaps, it is. 

The point of the story, of course, is in the telling. A story that sounds untrue will jar you right out of it, out of a conversation, out of a novel. A cow on a lawn in metro Denver? I don’t downplay the best details: there were four men, two cars, all of them completely out of place with a rope that was clearly for tying a trunk closed when moving a bookcase or bicycle. The cow seemed utterly uninterested in the lot of us. My father was dumbfounded.

I love to tell this story because, coming from me, it’s weirdly plausible. Why would I lie about a cow on my lawn? Who cares where the cow came from, why she was roaming our neighborhood? THERE WAS A COW ON MY LAWN.

Realism in fiction is often strangled to death. There seems to be a fine line, in the eyes of critics, between representing life accurately and representing life in fiction. I’ve been surprised more than a few times to hear complaints about some of my favorite books not being “real enough.” 

What is real enough? No one’s life gets broken up by laugh tracks and act breaks. Something dramatics happens and… everything keeps going. A bomb is dropped, and you still have to feed the cat, do the laundry. Characters rarely go to the bathroom, fart, burp, shave their legs.

There is a difference between reality and realism. It’s in the depiction. In my story about the cow, there are elements left out because… it matters little to the telling of the story. No one cares that animal control never showed up or that we never did find out where the cow went off to, what happened to the intrepid Tuesday night cowboys. The story loses wind when I report my parents live a mile as the crow flies from a still-functional farm acting as a museum.

I worry when I hear people criticize dialogue as unbelievable, of situations being too dramatic. While there is a line that can be crossed, it rarely actually is. Reality is not the same as realism. Reality is our world, with its fits and starts, its long, boring interludes, its clogged toilets and cows that come and go. Realism gives the human emotion and condition without the lagging, half-hearted arguments over who forgot to buy coffee. 

Who doesn’t want a cow on their city lawn? Who doesn’t enjoy a dramatic end to a chapter and a start to the next where the heroes awake with the tension of the day before that ended so much earlier? Reality, it is said, is boring, and that is no truer than in fiction. Realism outlines reality in a sharper line, gives it boldness and shape, gives a viewer or reader a place to explore their perceptions and opinions. 

I miss the cow sometimes. I want to give her an ending, though I know hers was, ultimately, too realistically boring. In the telling, my hand shapes your view of her. I have always hoped to do the cow justice.

 


On how to decorate in an egalitarian household

Last week I bought a house.

No, really. I (and, I suppose, the husband) bought a house, on Thursday. I suppose it would be more accurate to say we bought 30% of a house, which, I think, means we own the bedroom, part of the hallway, and at least half of the staircase. Given that I’ve never owned more than a car, and a large number of Benihana mugs, I’m going to say that’s pretty impressive.

It was our ambition to own a house by the age of 36. We started poking at the idea this summer and, this fall, started reading a few house listings here and there, checking out neighborhoods we liked, looking into the price ranges we could afford.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that, naturally, the most we could afford was a place with a door. Most of a door. The NOTION of a door.

We’ve lived in the same house for 7 years now. My parents bought it as a sort of investment property: i.e. investment in us not paying some random stranger rent for a house entirely too small for 4 people. The house, as it is, has served us well, but it is not our ideal. Being a spoiled only child, and my parents having absolutely no intention of dying in the next few years, they offered to help out.

It totally looked like we could afford a whole door.

Image

No shit! A real door!

In the end, we found a lovely house, newly remodeled, in the neighborhood I’d spent my first ten years and to which I’d always vowed to return (the neighborhood, not my childhood though, at this rate, I’m going to say that would not be a poor idea, either). We put a bid on the house December 27th. Haggling commenced, and a contract was drafted New Year’s Eve. Inspection was January 9th, and we closed on January 30th. 

We do things fast in this family. The husband and I were dating a mere year before we moved in together, another year before we got married. I was knocked up before our first anniversary. Waiting is not our forte.

Owning a house seems like a massively grown-up thing to do. This is difficult, because the husband and I have a combined maturity age of 25 on our best days. On our worst, it’s also 25, but I account for something like only 6 of those years. I am completely untrustworthy. I like glitter too much.

Given the husband did the majority of the loan handling, and freaking out about said loan handling, our combined maturity age has been somewhere around 32, where I behave like a seven year old. I love packing, but I also love planning and plotting. I also have several large collections, including, but not limited to, the aforementioned Benihana cups, 80s Happy Meal toys, and knee socks. I am, in essence, an elementary school student with a broad vocabulary of curse words. 

As the husband’s maturity age is currently hovering in the very adult category of mid-twenties, he is hoping for an Adult House. I have repeated to him that owning a house does not change my personality. I planted my skeleton flamingos in the front yard the day we closed. I have plans for the arrangement of my Russian premiere nesting dolls. I named our house The Silver Devastation on Foursquare.

Yesterday found us with a hammer and nails for mounting artwork. I pointed at my favorite tile in our bathroom, a piece we bought in Taos years ago, of a skeleton on the john, reading a newspaper. I have a large collection of Day of the Dead artwork, in the range of “cute” to “outright tacky.”

The husband shifted uneasily. “Are you sure you want that in the upstairs bathroom? What about the kids’?”

I huffed. “You can’t shunt everything I like to the basement!” *cue foot stomp*

We bought a lovely, hand-woven rug. We bought a couch, and curtains. We put up shelves. Today, I carried around my tea cups from the 70s, emblazoned with stoned-looking animals. It hasn’t come to pass that my husband has broken my cherished items “on accident” to save himself from their presence, but I’m keeping an eye on him.

He will never lay hands on my glitter “ho” sign.

 


Ms. Writinglove or: How I learned to stop procrastinating and just write dammit

I write this with a sore wrist and a body rather severely lacking sleep. I am not sure where the former came from, but the latter seems to be my condition the older I get. It’s genetic, to a degree, but also the inability of my brain to just shut the F up and let me sleep already.

Being as it is the end of the year, sore wrist and sleepiness aside, I thought it appropriate to do a bit of a recap of the last year – or, at the very least, a bit of waxing on months past. I have a rather poor memory, so I may rely heavily on poetic license. I promise I’ll try to avoid claiming a close friendship with Beyonce.

I wrote a lot this year. Given the current status of my publication career (read: very small), I know it is difficult for people to see, let alone understand, the sheer amount of writing I’ve done this year. It’s a little frustrating to know the number (that’s right, I went and totaled it*) and have people still need to ask “Where have you been published?”

The truth is: this is my reality. I’m not going to claim that it hasn’t been a hard slog this year. I did not have the kind of success I would have liked (and maybe, in my wilder “interviewing myself while showering” fantasies) once I really buckled down and made an effort in my writing career. Submitting my work had mixed results, most negative. I have, for the first time in my life, earned some version of an income from my writing, as small as it is. I have seen my work in print, and had readers give me good reviews.

Still, it’s hard. This year alone, I’ve gotten around 50 rejections, most of them form, and completely unhelpful. The few times I (and often in conjunction with Laila) received a rejection that strayed even slightly from form, it was rarely anything concretely constructive – for the same manuscript, different reasons for rejection were given, and none of them were something necessarily fixable, like style, like setting. There is a sort of burning that comes with multiple rejections. You start to chafe a bit.

Still, I wrote. I had a spate, here and there, where I would double down, hide out, and refuse to write, like a child who thinks refusing to do homework will punish her teacher. I contemplated giving up, finding a career that involved leaving the house – or just moving to the mountains and becoming a goat herd. I pouted, I tantrumed, I berated myself.

I went back to writing. I say that it’s the only thing I’m good at, but it’s also the only thing I like doing. Writing is a joy, and writing is my job. It’s difficult to escape either, or give them up easily.

This year, I wrote collaboratively with Laila and, together, we wrote one novella, and three full-length manuscripts, including one that we are furiously editing as we speak, in order to release through independent press means next year. On my own, I wrote two full-length adult fiction novels, one young adult magical realism story, and nearly two dozen short stories, both mainstream and erotic: one, “Steps,” appeared in Anything She Wants; “Invincible” was included in The Dying Goose Fall edition. In the next year, I will be appearing in (among others not currently listed): Best Bondage Erotica 2014, Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers, and A Princess Bound: Naughty Fairy Tales for Women.

I suppose the biggest, most important lesson 2013 taught me was the thing I’ve been saying all along: write. You have to write. There is a success in writing despite all odds, and there is a success in believing in what you are doing, despite any concrete, sharable outcome.

And, really, when you do finally have that outcome, it is all the sweeter.

2014 is already setting up to present new challenges and opportunities alike. I’m excited, even as my more negative side already wants to hide under the desk. I’m setting myself some new goals, and looking forward to the many plans I’ve made.

I hope your last year was as bizarrely enriching as mine was. Or, at least, that you got to drink a lot during it. Peace out. I’ll see you next year.

*In totaling my word count for the year, I only included finished pieces. This excluded a half-finished novella, the start of two different sequels, an abandoned novel, and at least 6 unfinished short stories. Taking that hit into account, my finished work, this year, totaled 465,455 words. BOOYAH.