A year buds, swells, blooms, dies.

All things considered, I really dug 2010, despite its rather inauspicious beginning at which I learned that my book, originally slated to slide into the world in the fall of 2010, was to be delayed until 2011. That was a blow, and a crushing one at the time. Looking back on it, though, I don’t disagree with it and am actually pretty happy about how things have turned out. In the meantime, I was pretty productive this year – finished some projects, started some more, met some good people, tended my family, read some books, and generally had a pretty nice time. Here is a list, in no particular order, of some of the things I managed to get done this year.

1. Wrote two books. One will come out in 2012, the other I have no idea.

2. Sold a short story collection.

3. Caught a fish. My first one. Likely my last.

4. Learned a bunch of cool stuff at an astronomy workshop in Laramie, WY.

5. Hung out with lovely, amazing and ridiculously smart nerds. Will love them all forever.

6. After a lifetime of longing, I finally loaded the family into the car and headed northward to Canada and the Winnipeg Folk Fest, where I spent five glorious days in dusty squalor listening to an amazing array of musicians, and my kids managed to delight all who saw them with their dancing prowess.

7. Sent my baby to Kindergarten. Cried a lot.

8. Sent my other baby to Middle School. Cried even more.

9. Grew bushel-loads of vegetables in the garden. Ate very, very well.

10. Camped on an island in the middle of the Boundary Waters. Saw the Northern Lights reflected on the surface of a windless lake.

11. Showed the children how to find Jupiter. Listened to them gasp as they located it with their binoculars, seeing that bright red spot winking like a ruby in the dark night sky.

12. Welcomed a Brother-in-Law into the family. Learned of an impending Sister-in-Law.

13. Swam in the ocean. Did not get eaten by a shark.

14. Saw wolves. Two of them, and they were huge and wild and wonderful. They haunt my dreams.

15. Met more writers this year than I ever have in my life, thanks to Launchpad, Kidlitcon and World Fantasy. This is good, because the disparate jobs of writing and mothering makes me sometimes feel very alone in my work life. Or that my world life must always happen in the margins. Or something. In any case I just have never had a lot of opportunities to connect with other people in the same work as me – the people for whom the building of stories is a daily vocation, the people who sweat and groan under the construction of sentences, who mine words like precious stones. It was astonishing for me; a revelation. It’s nice to have colleagues, even if you only see them once a year. It’s nice to know we’re not alone.

 

As for 2011 – this year I become a novelist, and while that thought makes me so nervous that I think I might barf with these incessant jitters, I’m very, very pleased as well. My little book! After fits and starts, revisions so severe that only a sentence or two survived, after begging, pleading and ultimate despair, my book will finally live. Grant you sure feet, my book. Strong legs. Clear eyes. Feathers. Wings. In the end, our books really are like our children: we conceive, we nurture, we labor, we tend; and in the end they fly away. Grief, pride, relief. Is this normal? I hope so.

 

In any case, hello 2011! Welcome. We’ll do our best to make you beautiful.

In Which I Engage In Competitive Storytelling With My Son And He Totally Wins.

Leo, my six-year-old juvenile-delinquent Kindergartener, has bested his mama at Stories. Look, I can admit when I’ve been beat. It takes a big man – or woman, in my case – to concede the fight. Leo! You win!

Here’s what happened:

This morning, at the breakfast table, Leo was begging for pancakes and I was avoiding pancake-making. So I picked up a folded piece of paper from the table and held it up like a book. I peered at my son over the rim of the paper and cleared my throat.

“Once upon a time,” I said, “there was a boy named Leo who met a magical bunny. He asked the magical bunny for some pancakes, but the magical bunny said that pancakes had ceased to exist. So Leo had cereal instead and was filled with happiness. The end.”

I put down the paper with a smack and raised my eyebrows. Leo picked it up. Cleared his throat.

“Once upon a time,” he said, “there was a girl named mommy who went into a deep, dark forest looking for a magical bunny. She was chased by the Knights Who Say, “Ni!” and then was eaten by wolves. The magical bunny turned itself into a pancake. The end.”

He slapped the paper onto the table and folded his arms with a grin. I picked up the paper, opened it up, and started to read.

“Once upon a time there was a boy named Leo who found a pancake in a deep, dark, forest. He was about to eat it but the pancake started to cry, because it was secretly the magical bunny. Leo screamed and ran out of the forest where he was captured by the Knights Who Say Ni, who forced him to purchase a shrubbery. The end.”

Leo guffawed. I was on the ropes and he knew it. He approached the table at a swagger and picked up the paper.

“Once upon a time there was a girl named mommy whose eyeball fell out of her head and onto the floor. It stayed on the floor for one year where it rotted. Then, Leo picked up the eyeball and threw it into the trash, and it exploded. The end.”

He cackled.

I picked up the paper.

“Once upon a time,” I said, “there was a magical fairy princess who came to a boy named Leo in a pink cloud. ‘Leo,’ she said, ‘I did not like the story about your mommy’s eyeball one bit. I am going to turn you into a toad.’ And so the fairy princess turned Leo into a toad and everyone lived happily ever after. The end.”

“Hmph,” Leo said. He picked up the paper.

He stared at me over the paper’s edge. His eyes narrowed. He cleared his throat.

“Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit,” he said, “ribbit, ribbit, ribbit. Ri-bbit.”

File:Cane-toad.jpg

AAAAAANNNND, that’s Leo for the WIN. Nice work, buddy!

And another thing……

I just finished reading Genevieve Valentine’s glorious novel Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, and HOLY HECK. That novel knocked me out, down and sideways. Now, I’ll write more about it when we get closer to its release date (in May, I believe. I got to read it early because I am SOOPER SPESHAL), but in the meantime, take a look at that gorgeous cover. Then, hop over to Amazon and order you up a copy of your own. Seriously, you’ll thank me for it. And, you’re welcome.

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti

On Birthdays (mine, specifically)

Tomorrow, I turn thirty-seven. I’m particularly excited about it.

Now, I’m typically excited about birthdays – that prospect of newness, that feeling of standing at the cusp of limitless space, that sea of possibilities. (Except twenty-nine. Turning twenty-nine sucked immensely. In retrospect, I think that twenty-nine – as an age, as a concept – can go screw itself) Anyway. In general, I like the age that I am, and always have. It has never occurred to me to lie about my age or to pretend myself older or younger. I’m proud of every blessed day I’ve had on this earth, and I will wear them like a badge.

Still, there’s something significant about the step between thirty-six and thirty-seven.

When I turned thirty-six, I was ridiculously thrilled about it because thirty-six is a unified number – a square that is also the product of squares. It is solid, amenable, and sure-footed. It gets along well with others. Thirty-six is wide hips and floured hands and words spoken carefully at a PTA meeting. Thirty-six carries weight. It fits into pre-existing groves and keeps things moving along. Thirty-six is a team player. It is an integral piece. Thirty-six is an age that isn’t likely to get kicked around. And while it hasn’t been perfect, I’m very happy with thirty-six. All in all, it’s been a good, good year.

But.

Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven is prime. It cannot be cut, diced or broken. Thirty-seven is a singularity. It asserts itself, announces itself, and does not bow. Thirty-seven accepts its edges – sharp, jagged, and lovely. Thirty-seven resists classification. It is shadowed, inscrutable, and vaguely dangerous. Thirty-seven is both promise and sting; it is a curve and a blade; a beacon, a comfort, and a threat. I think I’m going to enjoy this age.

Yes. I think I’m going to enjoy it very much.

Photo

Resolution: No More Car Accidents. AND I MEAN IT!

I was nearly in another car wreck today.

I had a carpool’s worth of kids in the back (I always have a carpoolsworth of kids) and we were negotiating our way down Ford Parkway, across the high span over the churning ice chunks of the Mississippi, and along the tight curve where the bridge fits against the riverbank. We were moving slowly, hemmed in my other cars moving slowly, but the traffic moving opposite us skated along the curve, their rear ends fishtailing in a wild joy of motion, the thrill of chaos.

I found it annoying.

I found it irritating.

And I was afraid. We inched forward a little more.

And then, I saw the car.

It was, of course an SUV. Drivers of SUV’s in my state are notorious for failing to notice the clues of their surroundings, for failing to mitigate their driving behavior as the weather spits snow or wind or rain. This car – it was the color of pearls – took the curve too fast and blossomed into a slide.

And it was beautiful.

It moved at an angle, its full, broad side swallowing the road ahead of it, plumes of salty snow unfurling around its wheels like banners.

It was headed right for us. I couldn’t move. I say this without rhetoric – though, even if I wanted to move, I doubt that I would have been able to do so. My hands gripped the wheel. My heart leaped at this vision of motion and power and grace. The poetry of fear and violence.

I could see the face of the man who was about to hit us. He was young and beautiful. (Of course he was young. Of course he was beautiful. Carelessness is the birthright for the young and beautiful.) His fingers were as white as bone, his mouth was soft and open. His eyes had snapped to wide, round stones. They did not blink. His gaze hooked into my own.

I’m sorry, said his wide, round eyes.

I know, said the tight muscles in my set, fearful face. I braced myself for the hit.

It didn’t come.

If it was a fortuitous patch of ice, or a handy chunk of snow, or a well timed jerk on the wheel, or simply the mechanations of a Universe not currently set for my own destruction, I will never know. What I do know is this: the rump of the car shuddered sweetly, then swung the other way, sending the car spinning in place. Despite the heavy traffic, despite the ice, it spun, righted itself, and continued on its way, without hitting a soul.

I breathed.

He breathed.

I could feel him breathing. I could feel his breath in my mouth and my breath in his. And if we ever meet, it will be like meeting a long-lost relative – a twin separated at birth. I know you. I have always known you. I will always know you.

I blew my fear away, clouding the window next to me, feeling the hum of my car’s motor, the regularity of its gears. I flicked my eyes to the rear-view mirror.

“Everything okay back there?” I asked.

The children looked up from their books and their homework and their wordfinds and their hangman games.

“Of course it is,” they said, the assumption of safety glossing their beautiful faces. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

I swear, I could look at this all day

And one more thing to put in the file titled My Book Actually Exists! are these two little pages from the 2011 catalog at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Which means, currently, at the Barnhill House: more joyful squeals; more dancing about the room; more wild abandon.