My son took this at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Miles driven yesterday: 547

Times I heard the song “Wide Awake” come on the radio before I switched stations: 52

Words written in my novel so far: 28,101

When I was four years old, I liked to swing out on my Candyland-painted swingset and sing songs of my own making.

One day, when I came inside, my mom was not happy with me about something or other. I cried and said they should make a movie about my life.

“Well, it would be a really boring movie,” my mom said.

My first novel, now sitting in a drawer (shelf) in my office, shows how oddly prescient my mother is. When I follow that oft-repeated advice, “Write what you know,” agents tend to fall asleep.

Hence, the second novel… the one that will knock their socks off. Or something.

Thank you to JM McDowell, who offered me the opportunity to talk about My Novel That Does Not Yet Exist in its Entirety. Here are the interview questions she doled out and my somewhat evasive answers.

1. Which genre best describes your current WIP (work-in-progress)? Women’s fiction.

2. Who do you consider the audience to be for your work? With women’s fiction, clearly I am writing for women of any age. But as with any writer, my goal is to capture universal truths, something men or women, young or old, will find relatable.

3. How did the idea for the work come to you? I learned my lesson with the first novel. Agents want something fresh, different, something they haven’t heard before. I mulled over many different concepts before I dug into this one because I realize now how important the concept itself is… agents aren’t interested in how well you write if the concept itself isn’t AMAZING. BAM!

4. Are you an organized outliner or a “pantser” when  you write? I am somewhere in between, but closer to a pantser. I find that if I outline, I try to fit things into a very pat outcome. To avoid that, I like to start with a concept, have an idea of the major plot points, and let the characters start to tell their stories without forcing the issue. I’m afraid I would miss something wonderful if I had everything all figured out already.

5. Is this book part of a series or a stand-alone? I think this concept would do best on its own.

6. Did your research for the book lead you to new twists or scenes for the story? Okay, see, I’m still researching. One thing I can say is that part of the book takes place in Santa Barbara, California, and I am starting to think that only vampires, hobgoblins and surfers live in Santa Barbara. Do any real people live in Santa Barbara? I am highly doubtful. Please discuss.

7. Some agents suggest comparing your work to that of a published author. Can you think of a good comparison for yours? I was able to do this with my last novel. I think I will have to be finished with this one before I know for sure. I started out thinking it was going to be very funny, and it seems to have a darker undertone than I’d imagined. So the author comparison will have to wait.

[I am skipping a couple of questions here about my agent “pitch” because my novel is “high concept.” This is a snooty, high-falutin way of saying, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” Are you intrigued or just disgusted?]

8. When the book is published, how will you celebrate? I plan to take my husband on a two-week spa vacation to Tahiti. Oh. Writers don’t make enough money to go on vacations to Tahiti? OK. I will buy a photo of a beach in Tahiti and post it in my kitchen. Then we’ll go to dinner and split an entree. I get my own glass of wine, though.

I also want to put in a pitch for the South Carolina Writers Workshop fall conference. My writer friends and I have attended the past few years, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ll be volunteering this year, and I would love to see any blogging friends who are out pitching their books, learning more about writing or meeting with agents.


Dog Days of Summer

My dad took this at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Miles run today: 8

Meals my mom has cooked for us this week: 3

Meals my mom has cooked for the dogs this week: 3

We never had a dog when I was growing up.

My dad was not fond of pets, so we snuck in cats and rabbits and hoped he wouldn’t notice too much.

Then, when my sister was post-college, she got a dog. And my dad decided that maybe dogs weren’t so bad. My parents also apparently missed the stress and agony of taking care of grumpy dependents after my sister and I moved away.

So my parents got three dogs.

Not all at the same time, of course, but the pack grew. Each dog brought his or her own neuroses to the pack, and my parents nurtured them and addressed them with anti-anxiety medications when necessary.

Today, my parents also cook chicken for the doggies, feed them in three courses (humans in our family get by with one), get up from the dinner table to let their dog babies go outside when and if the whim strikes them, apply eye drops eight times daily, worry over their seasonal allergies and even wander around with them in the middle of the night as if they are newborns.

I call my parents’ pack (now down to two dogs) The Grand-dogs.

My kiddos and I are visiting my folks this week, and the kids are treated very much like The Grand-dogs.

While my parents expand my kids’ brains by taking them to every museum within a 60-mile radius, The Grand-dogs are having the artistic sides of their brains expanded by listening to classical music streaming through the TV. Dickens prefers Debussy and Spanish guitar pieces. Vida is hard of hearing and gravitates to something with cymbals and grand percussion.

Although my sister and I were allowed roughly one soft drink every six months while growing up, my kids will come home after an outing with my dad carrying a 62-ounce Dr. Pepper each. The Grand-dogs are allegedly on a strict diet, but they cluster around the dinner table as we eat. Why? Because they are partial to homemade bread, and pieces of it “drop onto the floor” on a regular basis near my dad’s chair.

Last year, while we were at the beach, my son had gone on an early-morning beach walk with my dad and The Grand-dogs. My dad had allowed The Grand-dogs to “be free,” resulting in one of them rushing the (empty) street at the end of the walk. They were fine, but my son was horrified. I told him that at least The Grand-dogs didn’t suffer from being pent-up. We wouldn’t want to add claustrophobia and its cure to the psychotropic list.

Three years ago at the beach, my dad took the kids to a pirate-themed mini-golf course. The rest of us lolled about the beach house in naive certainty that the group was playing an orderly game of mini-golf.

I get a call from my dad about an hour later.

“We’re going to play another round,” he says.

“Okay. How’s it going?”

“Oh, we’re fine, but your son plunged into the pirate pond a little while ago.” Chuckle, chuckle.

“Hahaha, Dad. Well, you kids just keep having fun out there.” Click.

An hour later, my kids and Dad walk in. My son is soaked from head to toe.

“What happened to you?!?!” I shriek.

“I told you he fell in the pirate pond,” my dad says, with a ‘duh’ tone to his voice.

“Yeah, but I didn’t think you were serious!”

“Well, I told him to stop standing on the rocks, and he didn’t. So….”

I call this grandparenting at its finest.

All I can say is that if you’re gearing up for reincarnation, you could do worse than to put in a request that you come back as one of the future Grand-dogs.

The Five Stages of Self-Promotion

Our son got second place in the adults’ portion of the mini-triathlon! Do you hear me bragging about it? Heck, yeah.

Miles run today: 4

Words written in my novel in the past four days: 0

Hours driven yesterday: 9 1/2

My mom didn’t believe in bragging about her kids.

I begged her to brag about us, just a little. As a Leo, I didn’t mind the extra attention.

I mention this in order to show that she did the best she could in encouraging humility and modesty. In some ways, maybe it took. In others, not so much.

Now that I’m older, I struggle with the need for self-promotion and the inevitable eye-roll from other people when you try to promote yourself in any way. How arrogant is it to write lots of things on a blog and then think they are so good that other people might want to read them? Pretty darn arrogant, I think.

And if you’re writing a book, you may not believe that your book is the next To Kill a Mockingbird, but you have to have a certain belief that someone, somewhere, is going to enjoy reading your stuff.

For those of you who want to promote yourselves to land that new job, conquer that big mountain or market that new book, I have prepared a self-help-style primer for you to remind you that you are not alone:

The Five Stages of Self-Promotion

1. Denial. If you are trying to get word out about how wonderful you are, about your amazing accomplishment or your super new blog, you may sit in your office and think to yourself: “My book is wonderful. I am sure that because I have written something so good, everyone will simply find this gem without any work on my part. Oprah may find my work on Amazon for 99 cents and go back to her old talk show just to promote my book.”

This is called denial.

Sometimes people have these same feelings about something big that you have to train for, like a marathon. They don’t train and think they’ll be just fine running for 4+ hours. We call these people stupid naive.

2. Anger. Rail against the universe. Stand outside in the rain and cry and scream. Sometimes, if your spouse is in a cooperative mood, you can yell at him or her because he/she made the bad choice to get married to a writer.

Just like in the creepy Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about the little girl and The Red Shoes and she kept dancing and dancing and couldn’t take them off… Sometimes writing feels like that, doesn’t it? Don’t lie. I can feel your lies through the computer screen.

Get mad all you want. But your word count is still stuck at the same place. Move on.

3. Bargaining. If you are a seriously introverted writer, a.) you are not alone and b.) you probably don’t relish the social events necessary for self-promotion.

“If I write more things, maybe more people will stumble upon my writing.” “If I sit in front of the computer a lot, maybe my friends, family and co-workers will get the hint that I’m writing my tail off and take pity on me.”

Don’t count on it, my friend.

This attitude is akin to reading a whole lot about running. But not running. The marathon itself requires running. And self-promotion, unfortunately, requires self-promotion. Some might call it bragging. But in today’s world of reality TV and blogs, we call it self-promotion.

4. Depression. By the depression stage of the game, you may be lolling around, playing computer solitaire or Angry Birds Space or reading unrelated blogs and telling yourself that it constitutes “research.”

Did you tell one person today that you’re writing a novel or have finished a novel? No? Then your work here is not done.

Remember, 92 percent of self-promotion is convincing yourself that you have something to promote.

Did you get dressed today? Really look at yourself. Be honest. Pajama pants and a tank top don’t count.

5. Acceptance. Now you are fully self-actualized, whatever the heck that means.

You are in the stage where you tell everyone you know that you are writing a novel. This is mostly so they will ask you the next time you meet, and you will be too embarrassed to admit that the last time you wrote ten words was at your Aunt Esther’s house for the family reunion five weeks ago.

Shout your self-promoting words to the rooftops! Someday, you will have fans and people who can’t wait to read your next words. Until then, become the person you yourself most want to read.

And find someone other than your mom to help you spread the word about your writing. She remembers, in vivid detail, all the years you made her wash your clothes and then got mad at her when the burgundy dye ran on your favorite sweater. And you got annoyed with her.

Sorry, Mom…. did I tell you that I’m writing a novel? Let me tell you about it…

When a Million Gigabytes Isn’t Enough

See that little guy in the middle? My daughter spotted him.

Words written in my novel so far: 27,383

Blades of grass that are still green in our yard: 2

Visits from an old friend in the last 24 hours: 1

In sixth grade, I stood in front of the orchestra each day before class and sang “Rhythm of the Night” by El DeBarge. People heard me.

There. Now I have no more secrets left in the world. My life is officially an open book.

The good news is that people I knew in middle school still act like they want to be my friend. I know. Weird, right?

So a good friend who I knew in middle school but didn’t get to be awesome, amazing, lifelong friends with until high school stopped by last night with her kids. Every single time I see her, she mentions something that makes me realize that my memory is not as wonderful as I previously imagined.

Possibly, between the two of us, we could reconstruct, hour by hour, each sordid day of high school in excruciating detail. This is why we can’t live too close to each other, because the horrible mundaneity (made-up word?) of our high school lives would cause us to self-destruct.

This visit’s revelation: I don’t remember junior prom.

We went to prom as a group but also with guys we had already broken up with. I mean, the important parts of the evening were already written in stone: the gorgeous dresses, the limo rental, the dinner reservations, the prom tickets. The boys were incidental… arm candy, really.

And, well, hindsight is 20/20, but I could have done better on that front if I’d been a little more creative.

We were on the junior prom planning committee. Our truly creative colors: black and white and silver. Our venue: a hotel in downtown Atlanta. Our dinner: I don’t remember a second of it, almost as if it never happened.

There were the photos on my friend’s front lawn, the limo ride, BLANK HERE, and more limo riding. I remember being back in the limo and my date and another guy arguing about whether the Porsche 928 or 911 was cooler.

Now, a psychotherapist might suggest that something horrible happened at dinner that I have wanted to block. I would suggest that absolutely nothing memorable happened. And I mean: nothing.

My husband, my friend and I were sitting around after dinner last night, and the subject of prom came up. She said, “Yeah, remember dinner at that Japanese steak house?”

Blank. Nothingness. Black hole.

I must state that alcohol was not involved in our prom experience. Though truthfully, alcohol would have been a heck of an improvement.

“Japanese steak house?”

“Yeah, you remember, the one called… shoot. I can’t remember.”

Since that part of my life never happened, at least for me, I didn’t try to pretend I knew. “Was it Kyoto?” Well, maybe I tried a little.


So we were talking about it and remembering the guy she went with who went on to move to San Francisco and have three kids and turn out all respectable and stuff, and then I brought up bowling after prom.


“Yeah. Don’t you remember? We went over to J___’s house and had brunch and watched movies and went bowling.” I remember the bowling because I hate bowling and never manage to get above about 25.

“Did we change clothes?”

All I could think about was us in our long dresses and silly bowling shoes, but I assured her that we did. The guys kept their bowties on for a special flair.

(It must be noted here that none of us got married to each other at any point in the future, and the bowties may have played a role.)

My friend also brings up people’s names who am certain never existed. Sometimes I accuse her of making them up. She says they have become Facebook friends, but we all know how easy it is to create a fake persona on the Internet. Shameful, really.

I read or heard a report a few years ago about the memory capacity of a human brain. I remembered it–ha! See? I can retain information–and looked it up just now in Scientific American. The human brain can potentially hold about a million gigabytes of information.

I have no basis for comparison for what one gigabyte is versus 20 trillion, so I am going on the assumption that one million gigabytes is pretty a-okay.

My brain is so full of useless details, muck and drivel that I may need to do a spring cleaning.

Apparently, junior prom dinner was cleaned out a few years ago in a similarly hopeful sweep. I probably needed the memory space for things like how to make pesto or how to teach a child how to blow a bubble or something.

If anyone remembers anything notable about prom night, please email, Facebook or call me. I probably said something very smart or provocative or premonitory. That’s why that gazillionth of a gigabyte exists no more.

The Accent is the Thing

The stuff of Arthurian legend.

Miles run today: 4.5

Words written in my novel so far: 27,262

Accents employed in the novel I’m reading to the kids: at least 12

My parents bought me a tape recorder for my 10th birthday.

I remember the moment I got it: we were sitting in the dining room, eating birthday cake, and when I opened it up, my mom told me to hit “Play.” She was singing Happy Birthday to me on the tape.

I had one blank tape and rewinded it and recorded over it millions of times. Once, when the tape got tangled and mangled, I brought it in to the summer day care camp counselor, and she used her abnormally long fingernails to fix it for me.

My tape recorder was the ticket to fun. My friends and I would do nonhumorous comedy skits with characters like Malter Tondike and Baba Wawa doing news stories. We would go to the wood floors of my foyer and use a high heel shoe to mimic the sounds of someone walking, then incorporate those sounds into a raucous commercial for Fantastic Shoes, complete with a jingle exactly as lame as the jingles used in real commercials. We were certain we would be hired to write jingles as adults. And sing them, too.

But the one thing I could never do was accents. This made me very sad.

I realize now that the reason I could never do accents was that I didn’t know anyone who had an accent much different from ours.

Sure, there were our friends, the Italian New York transplants across the street… they said things like “Shut the lights” when everyone in Atlanta knew that we turned off the lights. They made exotic things like lentil pasta and chocolate pudding cake and had their very own pool.

Their accents were about as exotic as it got.

But as I got older, you may be shocked to hear that I met people with different accents. I loved them. I especially loved how these people from far-flung places like Germany and South Africa and Alabama didn’t even have to contort their mouths to make very different sounds come out.

And then I met my future husband. He was from England, and we all know how English accents can make people sound smart.

To this day, I cannot mimic his accent. His has become bastardized by the Southern American accent, and the blend of the two is too complicated.

But I realized that I could pretend I had cotton balls in my mouth, or marbles, and approximate a posh London accent. Or rough it up and sound like I had lived life on the mean streets, looting and pillaging and rooting for Manchester United.

We got to know some people with Latin American accents, and all of a sudden, I had an Antonio Banderas vibe.

I mimicked California surfer dudes and Russian diplomats and yet had to ask my husband to translate for me when we watched “Trainspotting.” But overall, I started to get the hang of listening and approximating.

When our kids were born, and we started reading to them, cowboys took on a Midwestern/Texas twang, and the Country Bunny with the Little Gold Shoes spoke with a South Carolina-smooth voice.

We used to take turns reading to the kids, but once we got into the Harry Potter series, a.) my husband kept getting horizontal and falling asleep in the middle of chapters and b.) the kids decided he didn’t do a satisfactory English accent.

1.) In case you’ve missed it, Harry Potter and his friends are English.

2.) My husband is English.

3.) My husband was not up to the challenge of speaking with an English accent. He is a bit miffed about it to this day.

So it’s up to me to make all of the villains English, harsh and imperious, and the poor protagonists gentle and Southern. You might call it brainwashing.

Unfortunately, I fall into the trap of making the leaders in Insurgent English, smart and in-control, and everyone else pretty basic. No matter that the whole thing takes place in future Chicago. Four/Tobias is the owner of a deep, gravelly voice and no particular accent, not even a Chicago one.

When I forget which character has which accent, the kids are so keyed into the plot and the sounds that they get confused.

“Wait a second. Did you say Therese or Evelyn? I think you’re doing the wrong voice,” my daughter will say. And then I have to go back to the paragraph before and start over.

Tips for accents: if you want to do a voiceover for something posh American people want… say, a Lexus, or a Mercedes, or really expensive toilet paper… learn a great English accent. You will be rich.

Or if you want to read to your kids, they probably won’t know the difference between a rough English dude and a female Russian spy. But it might help you have more fun at bedtime.

Extra points if you take that little rectangular tape recorder and catch it on tape. Even better: YouTube it for posterity and tell me how to find it. I can always use another good accent.


Books I Can’t Forget or Why I Have a Secret Desire to Go Camping in the Wilderness

I may look tough, but I’m actually scouting for the pool boy and nearest 1000-thread-count sheets.

Miles run today: 10

Things accomplished today: 0

Mediocre book I am currently reading: 1

Some of my friends don’t read.

I know!!! Pick your jaw up off the floor.

This is as alien to me as it would be to you if I said that I don’t follow any sports teams. Any.

I know. Some people think I’m pretty strange, like when I was five, and my mom took me to a birthday party at Pizza Hut and had to tell the mom that I didn’t like pizza. The mom immediately nominated me for Weirdest Kid Ever and wouldn’t let me play with her daughter anymore. Or maybe I did, but I didn’t get invited back to Pizza Hut for years.

Since then, I’ve eaten a lot of pizza. A lot.

Anyway, sometimes I wonder what those friends and I talk about. I mean, if you missed The Time Traveler’s Wife, maybe you need to pick it up and give me a call afterwards. And I don’t mean see the movie. I mean, fall in love with Henry and Clare in print and get back to me.

If you can’t stop thinking about a book, I think the writer has done his or her job. I thought I would share some books I’ve read in the past few years that I can’t stop thinking about.

1. Man/Woman vs. Nature vs. Self

I am intrigued by a single person up against the odds. Walking, running, swimming, pain, torture, overwhelming odds… and they make it.

I am also the person most of my friends and family would nominate as Least Likely to Embark on a Solo Camping Trip Through the Mountains. And yet… I cannot stop reading about people embarking on solo trips through the mountains.

I read the historical novel Follow the River by James Alexander Thom several years ago… I can’t forget it. Based on a true story, Mary Ingles was kidnapped by Shawnee Indians from her home in Virginia in the 1700s. She walked a thousand miles, making some horrendously difficult choices, to get back to her husband and former life. Without a GPS.

I finished Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail just the other day. Her memoir starts with her mother dying and a painful divorce and involves hiking and quite a few toenails falling off. I couldn’t put it down.

Both Mud, Sweat & Tears by Bear Grylls and Ultra Marathon Man by Dean Karnazes aren’t memoirs to read for exquisite writing. But if you want to feel inspired by the journey of two extraordinary people pushing on in the face of pain and exhaustion, these are the books for you. They’ll make your little thirteen mile run look like a comfy soak in the tub.

I am fascinated and forever changed by books I’ve read about World War II and the Holocaust. You will thank me if you read Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. Not only is the true story of Louis Zamperini riveting, I can’t say enough that I bow down to Hillenbrand’s way with words, superior narrative nonfiction and impressive research skills. Any other book you read will pale in comparison. Really.

If you read only one book about the Holocaust, let it be Night by Elie Wiesel. We read it a few summers ago for book club. I took it to the beach with me and read it almost in one sitting. I can’t recommend it for ocean-side happiness, but Wiesel’s life has forever changed mine.

2. Crush-worthy Women’s Fiction That’s “Quiet” (gasp)

I admit it: I have a writer-crush on Elizabeth Berg. She has small moments of genius everywhere in her work. I love her novels, but one of the books that made me love short stories again was her collection called The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted. She writes as if she has been inside your home, thinking your thoughts and talking to your husband.

Much has been said to writers about “quiet” books. As much as I love Hunger Games and Divergent and things that blow up and self-destruct and are wonderfully “high concept,” I wish agents and publishers would listen to readers: many of us enjoy “quiet” books. One that is a favorite for me is The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. If you are a writer learning how to say a lot in a few words and develop characters that readers will love, read this book like a bible.

I love all of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. When Alexander McCall Smith writes about Africa, you escape into a different way of life. I especially love to read about Mma. Ramotswe in the dead of winter. I almost start feeling warm again.

3. Narrative Nonfiction that Made Me Love Nonfiction

Perhaps you are one of the only people in the world who has not yet read the memoir The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. So read it. You won’t be able to look at bacon, candy bars or poverty the same way again.

What is the What by Dave Eggers defies categorization and perhaps isn’t exactly narrative nonfiction… but I saw into another way of life, the struggles of refugees who live their entire lives in camps in foreign lands. I used to think that one day, they would go home. This book opened my eyes and changed my worldview.

4. Page-turning, Epic Fiction

What could be better than vampires, witches and age-old secrets? A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness connects us to a reluctant witch, her sexy, intelligent vampire scientist love interest and a manuscript sought by witches, vampires and demons alike. I can’t wait to read the second book in the trilogy, recently released.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett made me remember why I loved castles, kings, cathedrals and epic tales. My lifetime favorite book, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, has a similarly epic vibe. And castles. And kings. Evil and heartache, destiny and heart.

5. Humor

I’ve read a lot of great memoir/humor in the past few years. But The King of Humor, David Sedaris, remains king for me. If you haven’t read it already, check out Me Talk Pretty One Day.

My husband won’t allow me to read Sedaris’s stuff in bed anymore, because I get hysterical and can’t stop laughing and get that annoying gasping sound and start pounding on the bed when he’s trying to calm down and go to sleep.

What are the best books you’ve discovered or rediscovered in the past few years? What do I need to put on my to-read list? Which books have changed your life… as an adult?

Mooootivational Costuming




Words written in my novel so far: 26,107

Miles run today: 3

Baby bunnies spotted on a trail at our local park today: 1

Some people like to wear costumes.

I can’t explain this, just like I can’t explain flux capacitors, why they haven’t yet found the Loch Ness Monster, and why some people in our community would choose Dairy Queen over Goodberry’s.

But I digress.

Last night, I mentioned to my daughter that some friends of ours were dressing up as cows to go to Chick Fil-A today and get a free meal. She seriously couldn’t sleep because she was so excited: for her, it was like Halloween and Christmas in July.

My husband felt the same way.

Give the two of them a costume opportunity, and they are all over it. My husband believes that costumes should be homemade, 100 percent. (And also, he heard the words “free meal.”)

As long as there’s sewing involved, I’m on board. If there is any part of the costume that requires craftiness, you will find me cowering in the pantry. There is not a crafty bone in my body.

So before work today, my husband drew and cut out hooves, manufactured construction-paper ears on a headband and cut out not just round circles for spots, but unique, cow-like spots.

Costuming prowess: why nothing is allowed to happen to my husband. Well, that and the $11 flux capacitor.

As I stood braiding her hair, my daughter asked about my Halloween costumes when I was a kid.

“Hmmm. Bunny, witch, Indian (er, Native American), witch, clown. My mom made me an awesome clown costume.”

“That’s it?” she said, looking at me in the mirror.

“Yeah… I guess. What do you mean?”

“I mean… what about all the other years?”

I wanted to tell her that before the era of Monica Lewinsky costumes and before the year I dressed up as a Black-Eyed Pea (before the Black-Eyed Peas existed) in college with all black clothing and black eye pencil around one eye for the annual college get-crazy-in-the-middle-of-downtown-Chapel-Hill Halloween party, costumes used to be strictly for kids.

“I stopped dressing up in about fifth grade,” I said, twisting a ponytail holder around her hair.

She gave me a horrified look in the mirror. “What?!!?!”

She is going into fourth grade this year.

But then I think about my grown-up husband’s Ghostbusters suit and when he was the Tin Man with silver face paint and a box around him rendering him incapable of using the restroom without completely dismantling all components.

“But look at Daddy. He still dresses up,” I said.

Her face relaxed, and she smiled.

Phew. Crisis averted.

And eight to thirty-one more years of costuming that my husband and daughter get to enjoy together.

What about you? Would the idea of dressing up like a cow make your heart go pitter-pat? Do felt and glue and cardboard keep you awake at night? Would you enjoy a Chick Fil-A meal so much more if you were eating it wearing spots and a braided tail?

El Traje de Bano

She is fortunate she does not have to shop for el traje de bano.

Words written in my novel so far: 25,398

Miles run today: 4.5 (in the rain! Heaven!)

Bathing suits bought yesterday: 0

I remember sitting in the Language Labs at college, playing and rewinding conversations in Spanish. On a tape deck.

“Cualeselnombredesuperro?” “Jose.”


“Cualeselnombredesuperro?” “Jose.”

And rewind again.

See, the problem was not that I was horrible at Spanish, but that the people talked so darn fast. Speedy Gonzales fast.

And my brain needs some processing time, muchacha. Even in English.

I had taken Latin in high school, and I remember it to this day. I remember a lot of Spanish words, too. Just not strung together, like in a cohesive sentence.

My Spanish I grad student teacher had a big head, long dark hair in a ponytail and a serious manner. She couldn’t have been more than eight years older than I, but the gulf between us felt insurmountable. It was clear she had been too busy speaking Spanish and writing dissertations to join the rest of us in the 1990s.

The fact that twenty-five real live people sat in her classroom each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8 a.m. seemed to surprise her each time. She spoke the real Spanish Spanish, none of that foolish Mexican stuff for her. So each “denada” morphed into “thaynathah.” It was very proper, but I couldn’t help feeling like I’d developed a lisp.

One day, a few weeks into class, we got to study something I could wrap my head around: la playa (the beach). The textbook had lots of children’s storybook illustrations of sand and sun and buckets and towels. I was in my element.

After our teacher introduced us to these fun, new beach words, she arrived at our next class with a box of beachy things. She attempted to overcome her schoolmarm rep by jumping into the room with a beach ball and shouting, “Pelota de playa!” and tossing it at an unsuspecting boy. She pulled out all sorts of la playa-ready items: a beach towel, sunscreen, a bucket and shovel… and passed them around the room, with each of us repeating the Spanish words aloud.

And then she pulled out a bathing suit.

“El traje de bano!” she shouted.

We all sat in horror as she passed the bathing suit to the boy in the first row. “El traje de bano,” he muttered, trying not to touch it too much as he shuttled it down the row.

The boys held it gingerly by one strap, tossing it like a hot potato, but I was fascinated. Did they really make bathing suits with busts that big? Without exaggeration, my bikini top could have fit into the bust of that suit seven times over.

It was mesmerizing.

As the suit got passed to me, I marveled over the almost-steel-plated bra part of her traje de bano. It could serve as a bullet-proof vest in a pinch.

Fast forward to yesterday.

My kids were fighting, and I was done, done, done with the mediation. Punishment: no pool. And: they had to go shopping with me. At the mall. For bathing suits. Because, as every good shopper knows, this is the time to get a whale of a deal on bathing suits.

So we headed to the department store bathing suit area.

You can now start calling me a Tweener, because here were the two types of suits: El traje de banos that are too matronly for my 84-year-old grandmother, and bikinis that only pretend to cover parts I’ve managed to keep private, lo these many years.

There was angst. There were suits examined in M, L, even XL. The XL ones appeared to have no more actual fabric than the M ones, just a band that stretched farther in a horizontal fashion. Do they think people who require an XL bikini bottom have three foot hips and no bum? I am mightily confused.

My kids stood outside the dressing room, and I emerged to find them inside a rounder of beach cover-ups. I wanted to join them.

We were much more successful at the LEGO store.

All of the LEGO figures were wearing more fabric than a traje de bano.

Conclusion: I will require more traje de bano fabric if I buy a 50-percent-off bikini roughly the cost of completing three freelance articles. I shepherd dos ninos to la piscina each day… help a Midlife Tweener out, el traje de bano designers!


Captured on film for Eternity.

Words written in my novel so far: 24,111

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Days until my 40th birthday: 38

A couple of nights ago, I had a dream that all of my hair went gray overnight. And I’ve been chased a lot in my dreams lately.

I have had more dreams than I can mention where I am running a race, and the course isn’t marked well. In one, runners were expected to crawl through a hole the size of which only my nine-year-old daughter could fit through.

I didn’t fit.

Is it my 40th birthday looming? Other stressors? I don’t know.

Like I’ve discussed with friends: aging isn’t so bad if you’ve checked off all of the things you’d hoped to accomplish.

If not? Well, welcome to some funky dreams, my friend.

Back in college, my cute Psychology professor dude talked to us about Eternity Projects… what you hope to leave behind when you’re gone. Perhaps it’s that you birth an amazing kid who goes on to save the world by finding a cure for cancer. Or you create a modern-day equivalent of The Statue of Liberty.

This may come as a shock to some readers, but I was not totally concerned about my Eternity Project at age 20. The end of my life seemed comfortably far in the future.

At age almost-40? Not so much.

And in the immortal words of Prince, or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or [Place Symbol Here] or Prince (again): Forever is a mighty long time.

I suppose I have to come out of the closet at this point and say that as I consider my life and my future, I am almost completely an Intuitive sort of person.

You may now play new age music, burn incense and chant with me.


But much has been written on fellow writers’ blogs lately about choices and self-doubt. I posit that this is simply the human condition.

But amid all the weirdo dreams and daily white noise, we all need to get in touch with that incense-burning, whole foods-eating, chemical-free part of ourselves and follow the signs.

I had a cool affirmation this morning! After waking up slightly off-kilter, definitely questioning if I should change the setting of one part of my novel, I started researching more and found a “thumbs-up” kind of sign for my original setting. It was just the sign I needed to move forward and stop worrying about crawling through holes that weren’t my size.

Do you have times when you question your choices? How have you resolved those issues? How much do you trust your intuition over research?

And lastly, a plea for research help: does anyone know a person who a.) lives in Santa Barbara, California or b.) has lived in Santa Barbara at any time over the past 20 years? I’d love to speak with him or her!

Jokes Aside… Let Me Tell You a Tale

Orange you glad I didn’t say apple?

Words written in my novel so far: 22,633 (yay!)

Bunnies spotted on our Friday long run: 2

Jokes I remember: 1

Do not ever ask me to tell you a joke. I am Queen of the Non-Joke Tellers.

If you tell me a joke, I will laugh. Then I will promptly forget said joke. You can tell me the same joke a week from now, and I will remember I’ve heard it, but I won’t remember the punch line.

My dad passed the Non-Joke-Telling Gene down to me. Once, back in the ’80s, he went to lunch with some co-workers and started telling a long, involved joke that included Pollocks (folks, it was the ’80s… and we’re part Polish, so sue me) and a vacation at sea. When he got to the punch line, he couldn’t remember it.

Smart phones weren’t invented yet, so when he got back to the office, he had to call my mom. Then he had to walk around the office and tell everyone the part he’d forgotten.

Never let it be said that I don’t learn a lesson. When I realized I had the same faulty gene, I gave up on joke telling. I was nine.

Jokes are pat, they are written by someone else, and they have a manufactured feel, I tell myself.

But for us writers, there is much to be learned from both jokes and seat-of-the-pants storytelling. There is pacing, the spinning out of details to keep the reader interested, and the payoff at the end.

On the other side of the family, my mom’s side, there is the Storytelling Gene. I pray I have it. It might make up for the fact that I can’t tell a joke to save my life.

My great-grandmother had a head for details. She could tell you how much she paid for a metal sieve back in 1937. She could tell you a story about a train wreck that happened on the tracks just across from her house forty years earlier. And she had the sweetest chuckle when something tickled her fancy.

Her daughter, my grandmother, could meet someone and find out her deepest family secrets within the space of six minutes. Some people might call this gossip. They are the same types who pooh-pooh People magazine and forget to ask you about how your cousin’s father’s sister is doing after her lobotomy.

But my grandmother was an unofficial reporter years before I got my journalism degree. People wanted to tell her things, and she collected their stories lovingly like she collects glass and ceramic Christmas trees.

She can tell stories about learning to drive a car across the fields near her home when she was only ten years old that will leave you giggling. She tells about chewing gum in school, getting caught, and then sticking another piece of gum in her mouth before the teacher could turn around again. She can make me laugh until I cry.

Every day brings new stories for my mom. When I was growing up, the dinner table was a story-telling proving ground after her days in the chemistry lab or as a customer service rep at the bank, or later, as a piano teacher. Think of the most boring job possible. If my mom worked there, I promise you, she could tell you riveting stories about her fellow employees and the work day.

I have much to learn, sensei.

But years later, I watch someone as he tells a joke. I listen when she tells a story about a mundane, workaday event. How do they do it? What makes one story work and another fall flat?

In the meantime, do you want me to tell you a joke? No?

I’ve got a great one:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?


No? You want me to stop? You already know how this is going to end, don’t you?

Well, then, let me tell you a story…