In which some Cub Scouts take me down a notch or two.

Last night, I had my career, my integrity, my professional efficacy – nay, my very Self – called into question by a bunch of rowdy, eight-year-old Scouts.

Usually, my darling husband (eagle scout, voyageur, jack of all trades and man for all seasons) is in charge of taking my son to Cub Scouts, but last night he was doing his duty as a Princeton alum and was interviewing a young, bright-eyed, starry-futured applicant, and I, therefore, was in charge of The Boy.

So, with his neckerchief and his badges and his belt loops, his official uniform shirt and Wolf Cub seed hat, we set off into the slushy wasteland of Winter Minnesota and walked into the chaos of a Scout meeting. The boys were running around, jumping on chairs, wrestling, hitting balloons in the air, play fighting, engaging in fart contests, taking flying leaps across tables,  and so forth, when my son suddenly said to a group of boys, “That’s my mom. She’s an author.”

The boys were not impressed.

“A real one,” Leo clarified. “She writes books. Lots of ’em.”

Now, I wrote about this a couple months ago when my kids expressed their very strong aversion to allowing anyone (and, specifically teachery anyones) to know that I wrote books for a living. Because it’s embarrassing, apparently. And it makes teachers assume things about them (wrong things, my kids said). Fine. So you can imagine my surprise at my son’s sudden blabbing about my chosen carrer.

The boys stopped their playing and regarded me.

“Is that true?” one boy said. He had very tall, very curly brown hair.

“Yep,” I said.

“Real books?” another boy said. His hair had been shaven close to his head, what was left was as dense as moss. “Like with words and pictures.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Some have only words. Others have words and a few pictures. Others have  words and mostly pictures. It’s a mix.”

“Like what?” another boy said. This one had glasses.

“What pictures?” I said.

“No,” said the big boy with the short, dense hair. “What books?”

“Well,” I said. “I wrote The Mostly True Story of Jack.”

The boys gave me a blank look. “I’ve never heard of it,” said the boy with tall hair.

“Well,” I said. “You’re pretty young. It’s mostly fourth and fifth graders who read that.”

The boys all crossed their arms and gave me a look that said, yeah. tell me another one.

I changed the subject. “Did you guys have a fun time at Winter Camp?”

“Did you write The Magic Tree House?” asked boy-in-glasses.

“No,” I said. “But I wrote a book called Iron Hearted Violet.

“That one has a dragon in it.” Leo said.

“OH!” said the boy with mossy hair. “Is it How to Train your Dragon?” his eyes were wide and bright. He glowed.

“No,” I said.

“Oh,” he said, crumpling, his face sinking into a skeptical expression.

“Did you write Goosebumps?”

“Alas, no,” I said.

Dr. Seuss?”

“No,” I said.

Stink?”

I sighed. “No.”

There was a long pause. The boys looked – well, not mad; just disappointed.

“You’re not a real writer, are you?”

I gazed at the ceiling. Because, you know? It’s not like I didn’t agree. This thing about legitimacy verses fraudulence, this assumption of the fakery and poseury? This is a thing that I fight every day. It eats me up sometimes. And I’m not alone. Hell, it might be eating you up. Right now. Every day we have to fight against it in order to return to the page. And, for my part, I’m not always successful.

“I think I’m probably not,” I admitted. Leo, I could see, was disappointed. I didn’t blame him. I was not nearly as impressive as he though I would be. I’m sorry, I mouthed at my son, but he wouldn’t meet my eye. “Let’s go make cupcakes,” I said to the boys. And so we did.

And it was wonderful. I got milk on my shoes and flour on my butt and egg in my hair and batter up my nose and a large chunk of frosting in my purse (that part remains a mystery; my purse wasn’t even in the kitchen; the boys have assured me they are blameless; they told me with wide eyes and angelic expressions. Little stinkers.). Later, after the boys ostensibly washed their dishes, some of the parents stayed behind to re-wash the dishes while the rest of the parents and Scouts went upstairs to the scout room to discuss the upcoming pinewood derby.

Twenty minutes later, the Scouts came thundering down the stairs.

One of them held – I swear to god – The Wee Book of Pee.

“Did you write this?” tall-haired-boy said.

“Yes,” I said.

“I TOLD YOU,” Leo said. “DIDN’T I TELL YOU?”

The boy looked at the book, examined the name and pursed his lips together. “I like that book.”

“We have that book in my school,” glasses boy said.

“So do we,” moss-hair said.

“WE GO TO THE SAME SCHOOL,” glasses said.

“I don’t” said tall hair, “but we have it too. In the library.”

“It’s part of a series,” Leo said. He was beaming. He was sparkly. He could hardly stay in his shoes. I was astonished. “But it’s the best one. I told you she was a real writer.”

“Are all of your books about pee?” another boy said. He was shorter than the others, with very large, brown, solemn eyes.

“No,” I said.

“Well,” he said, his voice very serious, “they probably should be.”

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.