Frog

She’s not afraid of you, not afraid to touch your moist skin, not afraid to even pick you up. She’s gentle, too, her chubby fingers curling around you just enough so you can’t jump out. Not that you would, of course. You have to follow the story, the tale, the fairy tale, whatever it is. In  second she’ll start crying about the golden ball she lost in the pond and you’ll assure her that you will find it, and you will, and she’ll be so very, very grateful, that she’ll cradle you next to her bosom and carry you inside and let you eat from a golden plate and sleep on her soft pillow and then she’ll kiss you and then–

“Mark! Come look at this ugly frog I found! He’ll make good bait, won’t he?”

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Obstacle Course

I’ve really been struggling with writing this week. Usually I get up early—4:00-4:30—and have an hour or so to write. Well, that hasn’t been happening. Most parents have experienced that thing—the thing where your child almost supernaturally hears that you are awake and gets up herself, no matter how late she went to be or what’s been her normal time to wake up. It seems suspicious when a child goes from waking up at 7am to 6:30 to 6:00 to 5:45 to 5:15. Is this some nefarious plot to keep MiMi from writing? I believe so.

 
What is the solution? I’m not a night owl, I’m a lark. I like mornings. I like the quiet, the sunrise, the quiet time. At the end of the day, it’s noisy, busy and full of kids, definitely not conducive to productive or any kind of writing.

 
I’ve been grabbing time whenever I can find it, like right now. Noisygirl is watching Elmo while MiMi types. It doesn’t work for deep thinking or editing, or trying to figure out if Jack’s going to die or if Jeremiah has finally lost his mind and what about those things driving that big truck? These are only a few questions plaguing my WIP that I really need to work out.

 
There are ways around this obstacle—mind writing (I do this a lot), making notes while at work (guilty! I wonder what my coworkers think I’m writing? They probably don’t even care, hello), keeping the laptop on and grabbing a few minutes here and there. Still, it’s a good day when I can spend a good hour writing. I doubt my family considers that a good day, as things like cooking and the like get a bit neglected, sort of like when it’s time to work on the garden.

 
Life is a bit frustrating right now, but I’m not going to quit; there’s been too much of that already. I can’t let circumstances stop me from writing—it’s a part of me and when I suppress it, it’s not a good thing.

 
(Written with Noisygirl on my lap)

The Importance of Back Story

I’ve been doing a lot of writing the last week or so—nothing serious, and not on the manuscript I want to will finish this year. I have an old (like, seriously old) story that I play around with off and on—a crime story, with close friends who love the same woman. I started of in her POV, but then did some scenes in each of the male characters—one the ‘good’ guy and one the ‘bad’, and have discovered that it’s a lot more fun to write the bad guy than the good girl.

And he’s not really ‘bad’, more like morally conflicted and complex. As I was writing along, he kept saying and doing things that weren’t strictly according to his character—yes, the character started schooling me on his character. Happens, sometimes. And this made me wonder why? Why would he have second thoughts? Why would he act this way, say that when he’s supposed to be ‘bad’?

The way a writer answers those questions is called back story. Back story is just what it sounds like: a character’s background, as detailed as possible. Most of these details won’t appear in the story, but they are important nonetheless, because they form motivation. Did the character have a bad childhood? Write out the details and learn. How did that last breakup go? Write about it. How did the two male characters meet? Dream it up, and write it.

Maybe all these details feel like wasting time—it’s not. It’s important, not only to the story or book, but to you. It’s writing. It’s putting words on a page. It’s writing, because you’re a writer. I say poopoo to those snobs who insist only published writers are truly writers. Get over yourself. Stop killing people’s dreams, all right? Putting words into sentences into paragraphs into stories, long and short—that’s writing, isn’t it? And if you’re writing, for yourself, for others, in private or for the public, you’re a writer. And writers write.

I’m a writer.

When Winter Comes–V.A. Shannon

Nearly everyone has heard of the Donner Party–that doomed group of pioneers who unwisely chose a shortcut through the Sierra mountains and paid a tragic price. Almost 200 years later we look back on that situation and wonder how they could have been so stupid as to trust a pamphlet that extolled this so-called shortcut rather than the well-established trail to California. After all, we never would have done that, right? I don’t think it is possible to say with surety just what any  of us would have done in that situation. Desperation changes people and makes them do things they never would have imagined.

Mrs. Jacob Klein came to California thirteen years ago, but the how and why she has kept to herself; not even her husband knows the true story and he has promised never to ask. Now, though, through the gift of a journal, she cannot help but relive that harrowing time.

Basically raised by wolves, our fifteen-year-old heroine (we never learn her name) runs away from her abusive home and manages to attach herself to a German family, the Kesebergs, travelling in a wagon train. Where better to start anew than California?

What begins as a neighborly, tight-knit group soon reveals itself to be anything but friendly the longer the trip progresses. Jealousy, envy, accidental death–all of  this and more makes each day a struggle.

Familiar names populate this story–Mr and Mrs Reed; Mr and Mrs Keseberg; Mr and Mrs Eddy, and more. The main character is fictional, but she could easily have been a real person.

This is the first book that I’ve read on this subject that goes into detail about the unsavory practice some of the Donner party partook to stay alive. Of course my first thoughts were, “Disgusting! I could never do that, no matter how hungry I was!”

All of us think that, but is it true? Those people were starving–they were not hungry. They were so needful of food that they ate their shoestrings.  Think on that for a moment. I don’t believe any of us can say for certain what we would or wouldn’t do in any situation–especially this one. All of us are capable of anything.

I enjoyed reading this book, although it proved a hard read at times. It’s a skillful writer that can draw in the reader like Ms. Shannon does in this novel.

Fall is here

 

Leaves change, seemingly instantly, from green to purple, to yellow, to brown.
The leaves crunch underfoot, yellow and brown, red and orange, curling up not long after drifting to the ground, a crispy gift for children.
Colors abound, one last burst before the monotone of winter, when only cardinals and blue jays brighten up the endless white and gray.

 

expectation

 

When will you get it together
You can do it
Don’t procrastinate so much
Just do it
You’ve got too much talent
Don’t waste it
What if you die and
You’re never published
Would that be so terrible
Don’t self-publish
That smacks of desperation
It means you’ve failed
Find an agent
Make your query letter personal
Awesome
Amazing
It’s been twenty years
Loser
Failure
Just quit
Just write
It’s not hard
Other people do it
Write bestsellers while
Parents die
Babies are born
Working
Taking care of family
You can do it too
Don’t be a wimp
Just sit down and write
Anything
Whatever comes to mind
But what if nothing will come
What then
Just keep on keeping on
Write
Write
Write
Even if no one ever sees it
Write what you want
What you need to write
But what is that
How do you know
You won’t know unless you write
Write
Write
Write

 

 

Late-Night Purchase

The man stands in the self-checkout grocery line, his two half-gallons of Breyer’s ice cream cradled in his arms. His demeanor is a bit abashed, as if he knows, being slightly overweight, that other shoppers could think that the ice cream is for him only, when in fact it is for his children waiting at home for their late-night sugary treat.

His too-long dark hair falls in unkempt curls across his forehead, and his untrimmed mustache tickles his wife’s mouth when he leans in to kiss her. The untucked red plaid shirt camouflages his middle-aged belly, while his jeans sag so much one might think for a moment he is emulating the rapper look, but he wears his pants like this purely for comfort. It’s an unpleasant feeling wearing jeans belted around his waist. Plus, this looks better.

Finally, it is his turn, and he carefully scans each half-gallon, checking the price on the screen before placing each in a plastic bag. He uses his middle finger to punch the screen, the usual pointer finger unresponsive since his days in the army, which he prefers not to think or talk about. The army took away more than enough; he needn’t give that time of his life any more brain power.

The payment thing beeps, and he pulls out his debit card and puts it away, returns his imitation leather wallet to his back pocket. Before leaving his spot, he double-bags the ice cream, and exits the area, keeping his eyes averted from any overly-friendly employees who are required to tell him to ‘have a nice day’ or ‘have a nice evening’ with those fake smiles that make him angry.

If you’re going to tell someone to have a nice day, you should mean it. Otherwise, you’re a liar. He has always placed a high priority on truthfulness, and if he hasn’t always lived up to that, well, it’s not really anyone’s business, is it? His life is his business, not the nosy bags watching him check out, not that busybody old lady in the trailer next door. Besides, if you have something to say, come out and say it. Don’t talk about somebody if you’re not willing to say it their face.

The lights in the parking lot illuminate his way, which is a good thing, because he’s forgotten where he parked his vehicle and it’s another good thing that the lot is so sparsely filled at this hour at night, because he finds his brown two-door without much trouble.

He hasn’t bothered locking it, because who would bother breaking into a rust bucket like this? The locks don’t work anyway. The interior smells of his wife’s cigarettes, and he stares at the pine-scented freshener she’d hung from the rear view mirror a day or two ago. Fat lot of good it does.

Setting the grocery sack carefully on the passenger seat, he inserts the key and turns it, holding his breath, hoping this temperamental car will for once start right up, because there’s ice cream, he didn’t bring a cooler, but it’s not that warm tonight and he shouldn’t need it anyway, but still, it’s a concern.

Luck is with him; the engine turns over with a sputter. This lifts his spirits a bit, and to celebrate, he leans over to open the glove box, his fingers closing over the spoon he’d stashed in there the last time he made an ice cream run.
Nestling one of the half-gallon ice cream containers in his lap (Fudge Ripple, with nuts), he pries off the lid and tosses it behind him where it joins several others. He makes a mental note to clean the trash out before his wife takes the kids to school in the morning. It will take fifteen minutes to get home, twenty if he drives the speed limit. Just enough time to finish this ice cream and then impress his wife with his will power when he declines a bowl with her and the kids.

Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen

Published in the early 2000’s, this book tells the story of Caitlin, younger sister to the fabulous Cass, her parents’ dream child. When Cass runs off with a boy, Caitlin is left behind and decides to totally change her life. This includes becoming a cheerleader, and hooking up with stereotypical bad boy Rogerson, whose most noted feature is his hair, upon which he continually remarks.

While Caitlin’s emotional distress about her sister and subsequent focus of her mother’s blinding attention is believable, the trajectory of the story is obvious and disappointing.

Caitlin starts a relationship with Rogerson,  a very flat character about  whom we learn nothing  during the course of this short book. Perhaps that is the problem, that the story needed fleshed out. At any rate, it would have been refreshing to have Caitlin stand up for herself and tell the jerk that ‘No, you won’t hit me again, jerk’ and break it off with him.

It is so tiresome, and definitely  not empowering to read about these girls who let their significant others hit them. How can a book like this empower girls who might be in this situation or help them avoid it? Answer: it can’t. And that is a shame.

I would never recommend this book to anyone, and I hesitate to read anything else by this author, but I believe in second chances. It may just be a while.

 

Wasteland, by Francesca Lia Block

This is a strange little YA  book. It’s written in three different POVs, and the tense is all over the place. Add obscure wording, a taboo subject (you aren’t really sure if that’s what’s going on until near the end, or at least it took me that long) and a heartbreaking ending, and you’ve got Wasteland.

Block’s use of language is gorgeous, and that’s what kept me reading, because it is a difficult read, for several reasons.

Lex and his sister Marina are inseparable, a loving relationship that is too intense to bear. Now Lex is gone, and Marina must put the pieces of her life back together, if she can.

A mature read, I give it four out of five stars, mostly for the prose.