I spent the first half of my summer revising a manuscript. It’s in my agent’s hands now. I have nothing new underway. No outline for a novel, no notes, not even an idea. [Read more…] about Not Writing (Yet)
I live in the woods, but there’s enough of a clearing around my little house to let in some sunshine, so flowers and shrubs can grow. Only three trees occupy the clearing: an oak in front and a maple and an ash out back. The ash stands closest to the house, by the screened porch and outside my kitchen window. I’ve appreciated this closeness. For the nearly twenty years I’ve lived here, the ash has been a good companion.
Goldfinches have filled the ash tree’s fine spring foliage, their bright breasts flashing, in fluttery shows of hops, lopes, and leaps. Squirrels have raced along its limbs. My kids have sprawled under its canopy. My dog Mocha, watching the furry and feathered creatures that regularly visit this tree, has enjoyed endless reasons to bark. Waking up on a winter’s day, I’ve judged the nighttime accumulation according to how much snow sits on its branches. And on a summer’s evening, the ash has kept the porch cool, its foliage filtering the late light and casting shifting shadows across the screens.
But this particular summer, the tree makes me sad, sad, sad. Almost as soon as it formed leaves, it began to shed them. What little foliage now remains has browned on the branches, a discordant changing, brittle and frail. It’s strange to see an autumnal ash in July, when everything else is lush with vibrant greens and colorful blooms. The tree’s trunk looks riveted; some of its bark, stripped, sickly. The ash is dying.
All the ashes are dying. [Read more…] about Ashes
When I was a teenager in the late eighties and early nineties, I wore the fragrance Eternity by Calvin Klein. The scent drew me. So did its high price. Eternity was a luxury, and I’d grown up with precious few luxuries. I wanted one. To purchase the perfume, I had to dish out a whole weekend’s worth of income—fifteen hours of earnings!—from my job at the nursing home. I wore Eternity religiously. [Read more…] about It Tolls for Thee
I did a couple of book talks at area schools last month. At the one, a middle school, before I could even say a word about creative writing or my novels, a kid asked me, “So are you a millionaire?” which was so cute and funny and easily answered: “Not even close.” Later, another kid asked, “When’s your next book coming out?” This question made me laugh, too.
I don’t know when my next book will come out. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another book come out. In response to that question, I shrugged and added, “But I am working on a novel.” [Read more…] about The Largesse of the Muse
Last winter, my twelve year old and I finally finished The Lord of the Rings. Now we’re well into The Black Cauldron, the second book of Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, but we miss Tolkien’s books. When we’re out walking our dog Mocha, we still talk about them and mull Frodo and Gollum’s relationship, Sam’s loyalty, the dancing, forest-loving Tom Bombadil (Who the heck is this Tom Bombadil?), and, of course, the ring. We’ve spent a lot of time unpacking that ring, dwelling on its creator, bearer, influence, and fate. The ring’s always starting trouble, and the obstacles born of the ring’s nature and destiny create great conflict. [Read more…] about Trying in Trials
My kids are eleven and thirteen years old, and my current work in progress is a middle-grade novel. Between the kids and the book, I’m up to my eyeballs in middle-school struggles, successes, and changes. It’s no wonder I’ve been thinking about my own tween years lately.
I turned eleven in 1984. When I was in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, a lot happened. Prince’s Purple Rain was released. For the first time, a woman—Geraldine Ferraro—ran on a major political party’s presidential ticket. Scientists identified HIV as the cause of AIDS. I saw Sixteen Candles at the movie theater. Ghostbusters. Amadeus. The Color Purple. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States. Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union. I played a lot of Super Mario Bros. The first .com was registered, and the first version of Windows was released. Pop stars sang together and raised millions to help the starving in Africa. Ordinary people held hands, formed a human chain across the United States, and raised even more money. Planes were hijacked. A volcano erupted. The earth quaked. A nuclear reactor exploded. A space shuttle did, too. The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted. Comet Halley visited our solar system. [Read more…] about We Are the World
If you have kids, you probably can recall something they did or said early on in their lives that seemed quintessentially them, a moment that encapsulated their very nature. I remember visiting my in-laws one afternoon, some months after the August birth of my first child. My father-in-law was trying to make my baby smile by teasing her about her nickname (“Pumky? What kind of name is Pumky?”). She was sitting on my hip—hadn’t, in fact, even started walking or talking yet—and it was clear from her expression, she didn’t appreciate what her grandpa was saying or how he was saying it. As soon as he fell silent, she blew a raspberry. It was a gratifying reaction. You tell him, Pumky. She still has that moxie. [Read more…] about Care for Character
I miss my grandma’s soup. Several times, I’ve tried to recreate it but can’t find a recipe that reproduces it exactly. The results might taste good, but they don’t taste like Grandma’s soup.
The fault could lie with the ingredients, not the kale, white beans, and potatoes, but possibly some missing seasoning or a wrong addition. Maybe it’s the chouriço. The brand I find at the grocery store very likely isn’t the one Grandma kept stocked in her freezer, courtesy of her sisters. Whenever my great-aunts from Taunton, Massachusetts, visited us in Jamestown, New York, they’d bring Grandma plenty of chouriço, along with linguiça and big round loaves of sweet bread. Clearly, not even Grandma could make her soup taste like her soup without the correct brand of sausage. [Read more…] about Yearnings
Of all the damage this pandemic has wreaked and the changes it’s wrought, my kids’ giving up the piano shouldn’t rank high on my list of woes, but the piano sitting in my house these last couple of years, increasingly untouched and ignored, has bugged the heck out of me. As pianos go, it’s on the small end—a spinet. Yet even a small piano is a big instrument, and lately, given its silence and untapped potential, it also seems like a big sad symbol. [Read more…] about Joy to the World
I’m tempted to rename this fall—my fall, anyway—fail. All fall, I have failed. I haven’t planted bulbs for the spring yet, gathered hollyhock seeds, weeded the flowerbeds, cleaned out my bedroom closet, stuck to my diet, stayed in better touch with family and friends, or organized the pantry, all of which I promised myself I’d do. I haven’t even kept to my first-of-the-month blog post schedule. Here’s November’s: late! [Read more…] about We All Fall Down