Back to Normal

The children are back in school. My hands are raised to the heavens. My mouth sings hymns of praise. I have cleared away the debris on my desk (there was beach sand on my desk. And a flip flop. And nine snail shells. And a note from my daughter demanding her own room) and I have gotten back to work.

There was a time, when my kids were small, that my only time to write fiction was between the hours of four and six in the morning. This is a scenario that I cannot recommend. During those years, I would haul my shaking carcass out of bed, stumble to the stove and light it. Sometimes I would forget to put on the kettle, and would, instead stand in the darkened kitchen, staring at the cold blue of the hot flame. Once I burned my hand. Another time I singed my bathrobe. Honestly, I’m astonished that I didn’t – not once – burn down the house.

Or maybe I did. In a different universe. I’ve been obsessing with universes lately.

In any case, I would stumble, tea in hand, sloshing it all over my damn self, and lean into my desk chair and start to write. I wrote a grown-up novel that collapsed under its own weight (I had actually started that one in college), and a young adult novel that was so dark and so upsetting and so violent that no one in their right mind will ever want to read it (all copies – I’m pretty sure – have been destroyed) and a mystery novel that wasn’t horrible, but still wasn’t particularly publishable.

It was an important time for me, but it wasn’t a time of producing good work. Just work.

But then – oh! then! – my kids went to school. No more collapsing at keyboards! No more zombified visage! No more potential disasters with fire! Instead I was rested, rejuvenated and organized. I planned out my writing day the night before, and worked in time to read. I had time, each day, to plunk words on the page, and the words – while not good, per se – weren’t terrible. I had graduated from Sucky to Mediocre. I was on fire!

But here’s the thing about the school year – it’s only nine months. Like a pregnancy. And like a pregnancy, it ends with interrupted schedules and lack of sleep and crying fits (mine, mostly) and bouts of vomiting and sticky surfaces and howls of rage. (Also mine). It is almost impossible for me to work during the summer.

Now sometimes, one has to. Deadlines, after all, exist, and boy did I have one. I needed to get the new version of Iron Hearted Violet to my beloved editrix, and I fear that I tried her patience, alas. My time was interrupted, and the work was slow, and the deadline began to creep, and bend, and topple forward. If I lived in NYC, I think she might have strangled me.

Right now, I miss my kids – I really do. The school day is long, and I’m lonely without them, but I need the time away from them in order to make fiction. Right now, my house is quiet. Right now, my heart is quiet. And right now, my new book is taking shape – even as I write this post, even now – under my hands. It presses on my skin. It whispers in my ear. And now, with the kids blissfully at school, it’s quiet enough for me to hear it at last.

My First Review (sort of)

This may be a violation of protocol, but my kid has reviewed my book. Or, more specifically, my kid used my book – or at least an advanced copy of my book – for her required Reader’s Response journal. The way the Reader’s Response Journal works is that each child is expected to read for 15-20 minutes every day, and then write one or two sentences in response to any from a list of questions.

(Actually, this is my favorite so far of all of the teacher-created we-want-the-kids-to-read-every-day-and-show-that-they’re-reading strategies. In past years, the kids had to keep logs showing how many pages they read each day and for how long. I can see how that would be useful for the children who are reluctant readers (setting goals, showing progress, etc.) but for those of us who have voracious readers, it sucks. If you have a kid who reads all the time, at different times of the day, it’s actually a HUGE pain in the butt to keep a record of it.)

But, I digress.

My eight-year-old decided to use my book for her reading.

“Are you even allowed to use your mother’s book?” I asked.

Cordelia shrugged. “Why not? It’s not mentioned in the rules.”

She had a point. Still, I persisted. “But it’s not even official. It’s not a real book yet.”

“It’s a real book if the reviewer says it’s a real book. I’m the reviewer. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” and she went off to read.

So here are some of the questions and her responses. (Warning: Possible spoilers. Also, possible cuteness.)
In response to the question: Why did you choose this book? Cordelia wrote: “I chose this book because my mom wrote it. Also because the cover is cool. But mostly because my mom wrote it.”

In response to the question: Who is your favorite character? Cordelia wrote: “My favorite character is Wendy because she is so tough and determined. I am also tough and determined. That is why I like Wendy.”

In response to the question: What are your predictions? Cordelia wrote: “I predict that Mr. Avery will stop being so bad and will turn good. Or, he will turn badder.”

In response to the question: What surprised you? Cordelia wrote: “It surprised me that Wendy was sitting in a chair, and that it was a chair and a hand AT THE SAME TIME!!!”

In response to the question: What was a funny part of the book? Cordelia wrote: “I thought it was funny that Clayton has tests that prove he really does get less smarter every year.”

In response to the question: What do you find interesting in this book? Cordelia wrote: “I find it interesting that the voices in the dark think it’s interesting that humans can bleed. What else would they do?”

Another prediction: “I predict that Jack and Anders will save Wendy from the bad lady. Or, that the bad lady will win. Or that Wendy won’t need to be saved and will save Jack and Anders instead. I can’t really tell yet.”

That’s my girl! Even-handed, open-minded and beautifully literal. And honestly, I might be done reading reviews. I hope to get some, obviously, but I think it would be better for me if I pretend that they’re written in a language I don’t know, or that they’re about a book I’ve never heard of. Because I can see myself obsessing. I’m an obsessor.

Cordelia! Thank you for your kind attention to my story! I think you might have a future in book reviewing.

Today, at Outer Space Camp…. (Or, How my Middle Child Revealed Herself To Be Made of 100% WIN)

A mere week after I returned from Launch Pad, my eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son have headed out to a week of outer-spacey goodness of their own. For this week at the rec center at Lake Hiawatha Park they are learning about outer space, playing dodgeball, doing art projects about outer space, hurling water balloons and eating cheese puffs (which, incidentally, look as though they’re from outer space).

Today, they came home with their very own planets of their very own design. Deedee’s planet is carefully painted green with a large red circle in its lower hemisphere and a small blue circle in its upper hemisphere. It has two moons – attached with skewer sticks – hovering just over the equator.

“This is the planet Boone,” Deedee explained carefully. “It’s seventy million light years away. It has a humanoid population. They are green, though their lips are purple. They have a language that sounds good to them, but to us it just sounds like jibberish. They love poetry and art. They use hot lava to cook and eat and bathe. This right here,” she points at the large red circle, “is their most famous lake of lava. Everyone goes there to visit. Only rich ones can live there though. They spend all day in their lake of lava until they are tired and then they go to bed. This here,” she points at the small blue circle,” is their volcano. It is always erupting. They write poems about their volcano and they believe that the universe was born in their volcano.”

I listened, mouth open, heart pounding in my throat. I love you, I thought. I love you, I love you, I love you.

“It’s wonderful,” I choked. Love in my eyes. Love in my hands. Love in my pounding heart.

Then, Leo chimed in.

“This is my planet,” he said, proudly pointing to his planet covered in scribbles with pipe cleaners erupting in crazy curves from point to point.

“It’s lovely,” I said.

“It’s called the Planet Fart. It’s called that because people go there. And then they fart.”

Yes, my darling,I thought. I love you too.