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November 2016

Book Launch: Support Your Writing Friends

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In the past week, two dear writing friends celebrated book launches. Writers are often portrayed as loners and although that’s certainly true sometimes, it’s at a book launch that you get to see the author at her most social and shiny. Because yes, writing is lonely work. Revising is lonely work. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for a book to sell and then waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the book to go through production and finally land on bookstore shelves is also lonely.

But a book launch is a party!

A launch for a first book is especially special. For so many years, often since childhood, a writer wonders if she really has what it takes to be an author. Yes, getting an offer is exciting, as are signing a contract, seeing your cover, receiving your ARCs, and planning the launch. There’s no feeling like it in the world, though, when you see people from every aspect of your life all gathered together to celebrate your dream.

Jill MacKenzie’s book launch of her first novel, Spin the Sky, was an elegant party held at a favorite local hangout in Ft. Lauderdale, Warsaw Coffee. Half the space was roped off for her guests, which gave it a V.I.P. feel, and there was a delicious spread of treats and drinks, including clam fritters because in her book, the characters go clamming.

Jill and Me

Jill wore a stunning a dress, spoke a few words of thanks to her guests, and happily signed books for all those gathered. You can see in the photo how happy she was that night, and it’s my hope that she stays that happy for years!

 

Buy Spin the Sky Now

 

 

Happy HomecomingA few days later, Stacie Ramey launched her second novel, The Homecoming. A second novel is also a reason to celebrate. The first book is a dream come true, but the second book means you’ve got what it takes to make writing a career. Because of the title, Stacie planned her book store event around a Homecoming theme. Guests were encouraged to come dressed for Homecoming, and even though I was unable to attend, I joined in the spirit on social media. Stacie Signs

Guests participated in a float decorating contest and a Homecoming King was crowned. More importantly, Stacie used her event and the Homecoming theme to raise awareness and money for Big Dog Ranch Rescue, an organization that rescues, rehabilitates, and re-homes dogs, because “everyone deserves a good home.” You can read more about it here on the Tuesday Writers blog.

Buy The Homecoming Now

Whether an author has a traditional book store launch or a themed party, the important thing is to show up and support your writing friends. Buy a book. Leave a review. It’s just good writing karma.

17 Years of Marriage

17 Years of Marriage in One Conversation

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Me: I’m going to ask your opinion in a minute, but I really just want you to agree with me. You don’t have to, but that’s what I want.

Michael: Ok.

Long Pause

Me: I want to throw the comforter away. It’s so old; I’m afraid to wash it. The dry cleaners won’t even take it. They said it will fall apart.

Michael: So don’t wash it.

Me: Dog Puke. Three times. Remember? We can just get a new one. What do you think?

Michael: Ok.

Me: Do you really think it’s ok? You’re not just saying that because I told you to agree with me?

Michael:

Me: I’m throwing it away.

Days go by.

Me: (Doesn’t throw the comforter away. Washes it and it doesn’t fall apart.)

 

The End

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First Writing Conference: A Student View

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You know what they say: You never forget your first conference. My guest post below is from a new creative writing student of mine who recently attended her first conference. Her report was so funny that I asked her if I could share it here, and she generously agreed. Enjoy!

 

A Beginner’s Traipse Through The Writer’s Digest Conference

By: Jessica Rae Pulver-Adell

 

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016: 11:46am

I’ve deleted 47 and a half recordings from my iPhone’s voice recorder. The half? That’s when I stopped recording midway through and burst into tears and laughter- in equal measure. Rehearsing pitching to literary agents and editors for a book I’ve wanted to write for years, without the final book proposal? No sweat. No pressure. Those three other book proposals I want to crank out before I board the plane at 6:00am on Thursday? No problem.

It’ll be fun. I’ll test my resolve and stretch my boundaries. Like when I wrote my first play, Hounding Elias, in three months. Or when I wrote the first draft of my book, Holistic Healing for Addiction, in a month in a half; a work I swaddle as a newborn and rage against as fervently as any parenting an unruly teenager.

I’m qualified. I can do this. I have several weeks- within the course of 24 hours. I have all the books. I’ve done my research- I know exactly who I’ll pitch to at the slam session I spent an extra $100 on- because who needs to eat when anxiety will make you wretch anyway?

First Writing ConferenceI’ve worked on my proposal for Crystal Pendants – the third title iteration- for a week, precisely five days over the deadline I gave myself, and I only have a partial first draft, with the gaping maw of a “suggested table of contents.” Not to mention sample chapters.

That’s okay. I still have 21 hours and 14 minutes to kick out proposals for Hounding Elias– the novel- and Natural Healing for Addiction- a quasi follow-up to my first book.

Maybe just one sheets, then?

Work? You want me to work right now? Okay boss guy. I will not read interviews featuring the agents I’m going to meet in a handful of hours. No siree.

I’m lying. I’m sorry. You should probably fire me.

I’ve packed and unpacked. And I’ll pack again when I get home. I don’t know why I’m so nervous about this. Fledgling writers don’t get agents to represent them. Not me anyway. But I’ve got to try.  I have the business cards- the custom bookmarks, credit card sized USB flash drives to give agents when they request my proposal the second they do. I even ordered stickers for them. Working in the marketing department has paid off after all.
They’re all beautiful. Except of course where I screwed up the PNG upload, and my dragon-laced logo isn’t as sharp as I know it should be. Every person I ask keeps saying no one will notice. But I notice. I know it’s there- or rather, not all there.

I know my proposal is too long. 31 pages of desperation. Fumbling fingertips continue blithering on because I’ll edit it later dammit. Oh and the Hounding Elias proposal? I know you’re not supposed to pitch unfinished manuscripts- but I think I’ll pay myself the enervating honor of being laughed out of the pitch slam.

Maybe I’ll switch back to the larger suitcase so I can bring more books home.

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Friday, August 12th 6:44pm

I only have eight books so far. But it’s only the second day of the conference. I have faith in my Barnes & Nobles Mastercard.

Thus far the Writer’s Digest Conference has been an incredible self-study like experience. Sure, the lectures are from 9:00am to 6:00pm, but every minute spent in those halls of wonders makes light in the far-reaches of my terribly wanting self.

Saturday, August 13th 6:52am

Today I pitch Crystal Pendants and Tissue Paper Skin: Self-Harm and Mental Illness Unearthed. I think I’m puking. I’m definitely puking.

Saturday, August 13th 6:54pm

Bleeding from the pathetic nibs that were my fingertips, I waited in line to the Pitch Slam chanting: Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Red blotches of skin dethroned my milky hues. That’s just a nice way of saying instead of my normal too-pale skin, I was a lobster. With no claws.

Armed with one-sheets, the pitches I nearly memorized- giving way to casual conversation- I met with seven literary agents. I realized agents and editors are just flesh. Powerful flesh, to an aspiring author, but flesh nonetheless. Warmly greeted, and overall well-received, five out of the seven agents I met with requested manuscripts for both books I pitched. (That is, I pitched either one or the other to each agent.) But I’m still puking. This isn’t happening- and somehow, it’s still not good enough.

girl-872149_640Is this what shock is? It can’t be. Everyone’s work must have been requested. I know there must be a conspiracy between editors and literary agents who tell writers not to get their hopes up for an invitation of a proposal or manuscript. Is this a product of extensive research? Undoubtedly. I thought being invited into the secret crevices of literary agents’ inboxes would fill me with joy– but I’m mostly filled with dread. What if it’s not good enough? It’s definitely not good enough. But even though I know I’m a little girl playing dress-up with mommy’s scarlet lipstick and flowered kitten heels, I can’t stop smiling.

 
Bio: JessiRae is a freelance writer and editor, author of Holistic Healing for Addiction, and cat enthusiast. You can connect with her on her website.

In Praise of Series Books, part I

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In 2013, inspired by The Books that Mattered by Frye Gaillard, I blogged about books from my childhood with the intent of adding to it every few months. It turned into more like two and a half years, but here’s the next entry in my personal books that mattered series.

Fourth grade. Scholastic Book Fair. What book lover doesn’t remember the thrill of the book fair? So many books, so many choices, so many exciting erasers and pencils and posters! I’d never heard of C.S. Lewis or the Narnia books. Had no idea what they were about. But I saw them at the book fair, a beautiful boxed set.

Oh, the perfection of them. Problem: it was something like $20 whole dollars to buy the set. More than my parents had given me to spend. So I did what every kid does during book fair–I went home and begged for more money. I promised I would read and reread them until they fell apart. I described their beauty and how dreadful my life would be without them. What parent can truly say no to more books? But there was a catch. I had to use my own money, my carefully saved $1 or so per week my dad called “good” money, to buy them. That’s what money’s for, my mom told me, you save it for something you really want. It was a test. Did I really want these books? Oh yes, I did.

Owning them was as glorious as I’d imagined. I read them all, then read them again. I became convinced I was the only person to have every figured out the Christian symbolism embedded in the books. I became convinced Narnia was real, and that if only we had wardrobes in America like they did in England, I, too, could go there. My whole world was transformed by the idea that there was a secret, magical other world that only kids could access.

Loving one series led to love of many others.

The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley was perfect for a girl growing up in Norco, CA with her own pony. My favorite was the one pictured below, The Black Stallion and the Girl, where Alex falls for a girl who can’t be tied down. She moves on at the end of the book, breaking his heart. It was the most romantic thing I’d read since Cinderella.

 

I was so obsessed with The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander that I made my mom read them, too, and we would joke about needing our “munchings and crunchings” every day.

Series books are magical, whether fantasy based or not, because they bring you into a singular world and with each installment of the series, bring you closer to the interesting characters and deeper into the intricacies of the fictional world. When I love a book deeply, the saddest part is always the last page. The best part about series books is that it’s never truly over. One chapter of the story has ended, but there’s always more to come.

Ah, but don’t all series eventually end? Technically, yes. In my imagination, though, by the end of the series I know the characters and world so well, that I continue the adventures in my mind. Maybe this is how I became a writer, falling asleep at night, spinning out fan fiction in my head until the stories I loved became part of my very dreams.

Roberta, I’m Sad

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I don’t remember exactly when I met Roberta, just that it must have been in Joyce Sweeney’s Thursday night writing critique group in Ft. Lauderdale.

Roberta was blond and had cancer. I knew about the big C before we ever said hello because she’d clearly had a mastectomy. She didn’t have reconstruction or even a fake cloth breast to stuff in her bra like my grandmother wore. Her t-shirt, a bright color I’m sure because nothing makes me think of Roberta more than a happy shirt, was flat on one side.

Roberta attended the same workshops and conferences I did. We saw a lot of each other over what probably spans more than a decade.

In 2014, when I inherited Joyce’s Thursday group, Roberta continued to come and read from her middle grade novel in progress, a quirky and moving story of a boy who sneaks a ride in a pudding mobile to track down his run-away mother in New York. Roberta wrote slowly, often coming to group with only two pages. She always apologized before reading about how crappy her work was. We told her not to do that so many times because her book wasn’t crap. It was delightful, full of humor and emotional truth, and well, Roberta.

Roberta’s cancer came out of remission every so often. She would get more chemo or more shots and be fine for awhile. Again. She never complained. Instead, she cracked jokes at her own expense.

On the last Thursday that Roberta attended the Thursday group, it was her birthday. Sara, another group member, had thoughtfully arranged for us to have a small celebration. We ate chocolate cake and laughed together. We stopped laughing when she told us that her latest numbers weren’t good. In fact, they were very bad. At the end of the night, she hugged me good bye because she was going to her home in New York for the summer.

She never made it. The next day she was hospitalized. A little over a week later, I got a call from her sister, Sherri. It was bad. Very bad. Fast and aggressive and in the bones now. Roberta would not be going home again.

girl-1246525_640I rushed to the hospital, abandoning a friend staying with us for the weekend, and thankfully, luckily, meeting up with another of our group members, Irene, in the hospital lobby. We found Roberta’s room together.

There were already people visiting, on their way out as it happened. Roberta was in bed, a strange yellowy-orange color the result of the cancer being in her liver and giving her jaundice. She knew we were there. She didn’t know we were there. She squeezed my hand and said, “Hey girl, what’re you doing here?” and I just cried.

There’s more that I can’t yet type about, but after awhile I went home. Resumed my life. And Roberta died a few hours later.

I’ve had losses before—beloved pets, grandparents, and the hardest one of all, my mom. What I’ve noticed is that every loss brings back the others, that each lost loved one evokes all the others, and the grief is for Roberta, absolutely, and for Travis and Nell, her characters who will never get to New York now (or not—she never was sure how she wanted to end the book), but I feel the weight of all the grief.

Something new that Roberta’s loss brought to me is that grief holds within itself an element of rage. At least for me. So instead of working on my writing or catching up on some things for school that need doing or really talking to anyone about how I feel except to say, “I’m sad,” I started a demolition project.

When we moved into our house a year and a half ago, we vowed to undo some of the more atrocious redesign elements that had been done to it in the decades since its glory days in the early ‘60s. One such thing was hideous wood paneling on the wall between the dining room and kitchen. We’ve been talking about ripping it down to see what’s underneath for over a year.

Four days ago, I found out. With a crowbar and a lot of rage-fueled grief, I ripped those giant panels off. Something about the sound of nails ripping out of the wall felt good. When the panels fell on me, and I had to yell to my husband for help, I liked it. When I tossed the old wood into a heap in the front yard to be carted away, I was ecstatic.

The rest of it—patching the very normal underneath and painting—was good, but not grief-relief good.

Now, I’m peeling up the linoleum tiles in the kitchen, one at a time. I’ve been at it for three days and still have 107 to go. It’s time consuming and detail-oriented. The adhesive is no joke, and I’ve been through three different kids of adhesive remover and still am not completely happy with the results. It’ll be another trip back to Home Depot, for sure, but that’s okay. Today is Roberta’s memorial service, and without this project, I don’t know how I’d get through such a difficult day.

Apparently, demolition is how I grieve. And Roberta, I’m grieving for you.

The Dancer

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Writers have a reputation as reclusive introverts whose sensitive artists’ souls need solitude in order to create art, and okay, yes, this is absolutely true for me, as are many other stereotypes of writers like having a book buying addiction and a love of research and grammar memes. What is not often talked about, though, is that sometimes a sensitive artist needs to get off her butt and dance.

This past weekend, I was at the 15th annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Miami. I connected with old friends, made new ones, had a wonderful aha! moment in Lorin Oberweger‘s workshop about my current work in progress, and generally left all inspired to write, write, write. I’ve attended all 15, and the best part of every conference for me is always the Saturday night costumed dinner dance. Because costumes!

scbwirabbit
Pictured here with the fabulous Steven Dos Santos and Linda Eadie
scbwiunicorn
Here I am with the lovely Pascale Mackey.
 ducky-shincrackers
Check out these Ducky Shincrackers (that means good dancers in 1940s slang): with Debbie Reed Fischer and Alex Flinn

I’m not a particularly good dancer, but I am a very enthusiastic one—which confuses people and prompts them to tell me that I’m a good dancer when really what I’m good at is singing very loudly along with the music and jumping up and down. Enthusiastically.

In spite of the many hours of ballet, tap, jazz, hula, ballroom, swing, salsa, and belly dancing lessons I have taken in my life (thanks, parents!), when on a dance floor at something like, say the annual SCBWI Miami conference, it seems that something close to 70% of my moves were learned from the dance scene in The Breakfast Club, particularly Claire (played by the coolest girl of the 1980s and possibly of all time, Molly Ringwald).

Fully another 20% can be attributed to multiple viewings of Saturday Night Fever

and Grease.

And yet another 1 or 2% seems to be related to the years I spent studying sho-to-kan, which is actually a form of karate, not dance—these are perhaps dangerous movement genres to conflate.

Conferences, and writing, require a lot of sitting. They often involve eating and drinking. They hardly ever involve vigorous calorie burning. Dancing makes me feel like, yeah, bring on the cheesecake and I will indeed have another glass of wine without fear that my scale will explode tomorrow.

But the most important reason to dance is joy. Joy at being together with a tribe of writers; joy that I get to spend my time writing and talking about writing; joy that the setbacks along the way haven’t defeated me. On the dance floor, I don’t have to talk or remember names or listen (because boy is it hard for me to listen to a full day of speakers!). I can laugh and sing and bounce around, imagining that I look exactly like Molly Ringwald.

And dear Friends? If the truth is that I look more like this on the dance floor . . .

. . . please don’t tell me.

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First Poem: A Guest Blog by Kathleen Driskell

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My new book Next Door to the Dead (University of Kentucky Press 2015) includes many poems I’ve written about living with my family in a Civil War era country church that is directly “next door” to a humble graveyard. We’ve lived here for over twenty years, and since then the poems I’ve written and published do concern religion, spirituality, mortality and grief, but the truth is I’ve been writing about mortality and grief since I was a child. In Next Door to the Dead, because of that, I thought it important to include this poem:

 

Child’s Poem for Sgt. Horace Mitchell, Jr. 1946-1968

War is bad.

It makes me sad.

When my uncle gets home

from Vietnam,

I will be glad.

 

If you’re a teacher, as I am, I want to tell you something most of my readers don’t know. Though it’s not one of the most complicated poems I’ve ever written, it may be the most important, because I wrote it when eight years old, in response to my third-grade teacher, Miss Walker’s request that we write poems!

I scribbled mine, handed it in, and went out to the playground to swing with my friends. When I arrived at school the next day, as I hung my little yellow coat on its hook along the wall in our classroom, Miss Walker called to me. She said I was going to read my poem over the morning announcements.

book-759873_640She held my hand and led me down the hall and into the principal’s office where I was sat in a chair and scooted up to a heavy oak desk. A squat silver microphone rose up in front of me. Miss Walker laid my poem on the desk. I can still remember how plump and creamy her hand looked as she smoothed out the paper.

There are so many moments that can change the course of a life, it seems impossible to point to a specific instance and say that’s it, that’s the place thereIf that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be me. But I’m absolutely certain reading my little poem to the entire school caused my life to veer into an unpredicted direction. After that day, I was going to “be” in the world in a different way.

And though my direction, eventually, was to become a published poet and teacher, and likely not many of your students will be interested in becoming professional writers, they will leave your classroom to become citizens of a world that is often inexplicable. When you teach them, at any age, to read and write poems you give them a way to be more wholly human, more creative, and those qualities are necessary when caring for the sick, defending the accused, or trying to figure out what is actually the bottom line.

Two years after I handed in that poem about my uncle, two tall men in Marine uniforms pulled up in a dark car and knocked on my grandfather’s door. Those were hard times. I’m grateful that Miss Walker had already given me a way to begin working through that new deep grief.

You can buy Kathleen’s new book on Amazon.

http://kathleendriskell.blogspot.com/2015/10/next-door-to-dead-more-q-with.htmlA little bit about Kathleen:
Award-winning poet and teacher Kathleen Driskell is Professor of Creative Writing and serves as the Associate Program Director of Spalding University’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2013, she was awarded the honor of Outstanding Faculty Member by the trustees of Spalding University.

Her newest collection of poetry, Next Door to the Dead, was published as a Kentucky Voices Selection, by the University Press of Kentucky (2015). In addition to the nationally best-selling Seed Across Snow (Red Hen 2009), she is the author of one previous book of poetry, Laughing Sickness (Fleur-de-Lis Press 1999, 2005 second printing), and Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem (Fleur-de-Lis Explorations 2012), as well as the editor of two anthologies of creative writing. Her book of poems Blue Etiquette will be published in 2016 by Red Hen Press.

Kathleen’s poems have appeared in many nationally known literary magazines including North American Review, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Cortland Review, and Rattle, and in The Kentucky Anthology, What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets, as well as online on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and American Life in Poetry.

Kathleen lives outside Louisville with her husband and two children in an old country church built before The American Civil War.

Hamster Brain: July 2015

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Hamster Brain

 The book of my heart is out in the world, awaiting judgment from agents and an editor. In the past, I have valiantly tried to manage my expectations, to shield myself from the terrible low that comes with rejection. This time, though, I decided, no, I will not pretend to not be hopeful. I’m going to hope. I’m going to imagine the best happening. There is every reason to be optimistic, and I’m going to enjoy this beautiful time of believing dreams come true.
This week, I’ve noticed an unexpected side effect. I call it Hamster Brain. Here is a perfect demonstration of what it’s like in my head while I wait. And wait. And wait.:

And wait.

You can imagine how hard it is to do anything–like write or create syllabi or even clean the flippin’ bathroom–with such energetic hamsters trampling all over my synapses. Seriously, I have the attention span of a second grader, a fact I can state with confidence because I used to teach second grade and used to play The Hamster Dance song for my students. It was always a big hit. There’d be dancing and laughing and a general reluctance to sit back down and practice multiplication tables.

I am in the general reluctance phase. A general reluctance to do anything that requires more than a twenty minute commitment. Even a movie seems like too much right now. Writing this blog post is hard, people, and I’ve had to take several breaks to watch various versions of the Hamster Dance on YouTube to make it this far.

Whatever it is, this Hamster Brain time of my life, I’m grateful for it. It’s a whole lot better than my usual anticipate-with-dread approach to the publishing world, that gloomy layering on of protective coating over my much too sensitive skin in preparation for the worst. If the worst does happen, it’s going to suck and pretending like I didn’t expect it to happen anyway won’t make it suck less.

So, my writing life advice is: enjoy the waiting. Enjoy the anticipation. There’s nothing you can do to circumvent it, so you might as well have fun while you’re in it.

The Trouble with Mother’s Day

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I hate Mother’s Day. Let me present my case:

Exhibit A: The many arts and crafts projects of elementary school, brought home in all their messy glory and presented in hopes of pleasing her–cards, paper flowers, cards, other kinds of paper flowers, and oh yeah, cards. It was stressful. My mother didn’t like flowers, never seemed particularly impressed with the cards. I knew it. She knew it. Yet still every year, I was forced to make them, and once made, present them. I pretended she’d be surprised. She pretended she liked them. It cemented in me the feeling that the whole holiday was a fake.

Exhibit B: Real flowers. Everything about Mother’s Day is decorated with flowers. It’s practically Christmas without a tree or Easter without eggs to not have flowers on Mother’s Day. My mom, though, was allergic. Severely allergic. What is the equivalent of giving flowers for Mother’s Day? In my child’s mind: nothing. And it was all her fault that I failed in my daughterly duty to supply flowers, like she chose her allergies on purpose to disrupt this most sacred of days.

Exhibit C: Traditional Mother’s Day Breakfast in Bed and/or Fancy Brunch: I never made her burnt toast or spilled orange juice on her bed while presenting a home made breakfast on a tray, complete with a single rose bud in a vase. She was a woman of unpredictable sleep cycles, but the one thing I could count on is that there was no way I could ever wake up before her. Besides, she just wanted to go to Denny’s. So we did. Like so many other days of the week. Denny’s, it was our kitchen-away-from-kitchen.

Exhibit D: Mother’s Day 2006. I called her, like I’m supposed to, but didn’t feel like talking much. Besides, I had plane tickets to go visit in her two weeks. Well, not really visit her. Fly into Phoenix, stay a few days, then borrow a car to drive to a friend’s wedding in California. Drive back to her house, drop off the car, fly back to Florida. But I was going to spend some time with her, right?
Then she said something–I don’t remember what–that made me mad. I was proud of myself, though, because I didn’t get into it with her. It was Mother’s Day after all. I could let it go, be the bigger person, not let her get to me.
I know I said I love you when we hung up. I know because my grandmother trained everyone in the family to always say it when you hang up. You never know if it’s the last time you’ll talk to that person again. My grandmother, so morbid, right? But it was the last time I spoke with my mother. Mother’s Day 2006. She died four days later.

Exhibit E: Mother’s Day 2007-2016. Pure suckage. Sure, there are lots of things out there about the mothers we’ve lost–sappy, sentimental poems and well meaning memes about how much our mothers loved us. My mother did love me. Fiercely. And I loved her just as much. But since the day my hormones kicked in, it wasn’t easy. We weren’t flowers and candy and I-love-you-no-I-love-you-more mother and daughter. We were complicated. Or maybe a better word is complex. Probably like a lot of mothers and daughters. But the pressure of Mother’s Day to pretend to be all-American Hallmark card versions of ourselves makes me feel every May like I’ve disappointed her, keep on disappointing her, will always disappoint her because on Mother’s Day 2006, I was impatient. I wasn’t careful. I can’t remember what our last conversation was even about.  All I know is that it was on Mother’s Day.

And I hate Mother’s Day.

Peeling Away at Writing: August 2014

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The realtor said our windows needed a good cleaning to let in more light. She wasn’t wrong. We’ve lived in our condo for fourteen years and the last time I even attempted to clean them was during our first few months of residence. What I discovered that first, unsuccessful time was that our windows had a solar coating on them, a plastic film meant to insulate the condo and keep utility bills down. In those days we were poor, like going bankrupt poor, so saving money on utilities sounded good to us. The fact that the film can’t be cleaned, that any attempt to remove water build up from the constant summer rains resulted in scratches that looked worse than dirt, seemed a small price to pay for lower electric bills.

We’re not poor anymore. (Hooray for the real job that starts next week!) Michael said, “Why don’t we try removing it?” With a little Google-foo, he discovered they should peel right off. He used a razor blade to loosen up a corner, and voila! The film peeled off in a couple of big strips. Light flooded into the kitchen. It was a beautiful sight.

Not so beautiful was the entire pane of adhesive left behind. Google-foo had also revealed that if you have plastic film on your windows, you should replace it every two to three years. Oops. We don’t even know when the film was first put on, and fourteen years of no maintenance had convinced the film it had nothing to worry about.

Two and half days and many, many razor blades later, we’d shaved the adhesive off of all 48 window panes. Yes, 48. Gotta love jalousie windows. I can’t even explain which muscles hurt because they were muscles that I didn’t even know existed. The satisfaction, though, of the clear bright windows was tremendous. The palm trees! The sunlight! It was gorgeous.

This was not my first experience with peeling. A previous owner had painted all the tile, the bathtub, and the toilet in our bathroom. The bathroom colors are original to its 1953 construction–turquoise and peach. It’s understandable that someone would want to paint them, right? Except the person painted everything, you guessed it, turquoise and peach. It took almost a week and many different chemical concoctions to undo the paint damage, but much like with the windows, I was quite pleased when the whole thing was done and the tiles were restored to their 1953 glory.

(Sadly, the turquoise toilet’s plumbing was too old to update and so the whole fixture had to be replaced. I only spent like two days scraping the paint off it, so no big deal. At least we still have the turquoise tub!)

There’s something very satisfying about peeling. As a kid, I loved to get a good sunburn so I could peel the skin off, one strip at a time. I like peeling price tags off purchases–the stickier the better. Paint, parking decals on my car that need to be replaced, fingernails, anything that I can grab an edge of and then pull in any direction is a pleasure.

Perhaps I enjoy the challenge. Once you have an edge and start pulling, a couple of things can happen. One, all the material can come off in one pull. So satisfying! Alas, that dream rarely comes true. It is more likely that the peel will start off wide and strong and gradually taper, taper until it comes to a point and ends. Then, you have to find a new way into the material, a new edge, a new corner, and start the process all over again.

Techniques can be developed to help narrow peels widen back out again, to keep a nice peeling strip from ending too soon. You can apply pressure at the edges of the strip, encouraging it to widen. You can pause, reassess, and apply pressure at a different angle. You can employ tools like a paint scraper or razor blade to sharpen your focus. Sometimes, one technique is enough to keep a strip from tapering off. Sometimes, you do everything you know how to do, and it doesn’t matter. That strip won’t peel. It’s going to peter off into nothing no matter how diverse your approaches.

In the two and a half days I spent peeling adhesive off my window panes, I didn’t write a thing. I didn’t write for weeks afterwards, either, because prepping a condo to sell is time consuming and exhausting and mighty, mighty anxiety provoking. But last week, I finally reentered my new novel-in-progress, a project I’ve been working on for about a year. I was going gangbusters until I ran into a wall of I-don’t-know-where-this-goes-now. I took a break until a scene opening bubbled up in my mind. I wrote it, ran out of steam. Had to wait for a new bubble.

I followed my scene bubbles where they led. Some resulted in fantastic new scenes. Some didn’t go much of anywhere, no matter how I massaged them. That’s when it hit me: Writing is like peeling.

The story is a whole piece, but in order to get to it, I’m looking for a way in, like my vision is obscured by all the paint and adhesive left behind from previous construction projects. So, I look for a bubble. A crack in the surface. Then, I grab an edge and pull, pull, pull. Sometimes I get a whole, glorious complete chunk. Sometimes, no matter how many razor blades I use, I only get flakes. Tools, chemical concoctions, techniques–I apply them all. My goal: reveal the beauty.

Like both my window and bathroom projects, the key is perseverance.You don’t know what each strip will reveal or how long it will last. You only know that you have to search for that edge, that way in, and follow it for as long as you can. That, my friends, is both the joy and frustration of peeling and writing. Both are addictive and activate that little part of my brain that leans toward OCD, but there’s no better feeling than peeling back layers to reveal what a piece was meant to be all along.