My Journey to Book Publishing

Today is World Book Day and Shakespeare Day, so I’m dedicating this week’s post to my journey into book publishing and writing. It’s also day 37 of self-isolation, and I haven’t been feeling very creative these past few days. I took advantage of last week’s inspiration boost to get ahead on my new writing project and to get last week’s personal essay out of me, but this week I feel drained. I know I’m not the only person feeling drained for a variety of reasons, but I also know I’m not the only one in need of a distraction, of something else to focus on however briefly from this chaotic new normal.

It’s also good to reflect, though, and that’s the approach I’m taking here: self-reflection on where I’ve been to figure out where I’m going.

Stay sane and happy reading!

I hope that one day I stop feeling ashamed that my journey with writing started with Twilight. I was endlessly teased for it in high school, but I can promise you I never wore the t-shirts (to school) and only stuck to bracelets, necklaces or keychains. I never had a Twilight-dedicated blog, YouTube channel or fan account, and my Facebook updates at the time were only about how excited I was to go to a midnight showing of the new movies (yes, I did do that but I never, never adopted the Twihard title).

For all the teasing, Twilight the book had an effect on me, because it was the first author I looked into beyond the backflap of the book jacket. I’d spend an hour or two on the family computer researching Stephenie Meyer and her own journey into authorship, and it struck me that she fell into the job. Granted, Twilight came during the YA boom of the late 2000s early 2010s, when heroines with book sagas and movie deals came out every month, and it could be argued that Meyer was lucky enough to send her book proposal to an editor who read it through dollar-sign-colored glasses. She loved books, is what she said in many an interview, and I distinctly remember her saying she studied English literature in college because she could read books and get a grade for it. That sounded perfect, except that simplistic view of majoring in English Literature lasted me only until my second semester of freshman year.

I mostly enjoyed my literature classes, but my creative writing classes didn’t always feel like work, and I always did the reading for those (I was supposed to read Far From the Maddening Crowd once and I couldn’t even bring myself to use Spark Notes). Workshopping my stories didn’t always feel daunting, and editing and providing feedback on my classmates’ work was enjoyable and a one of my strengths. I’d always feel confident on an edit and prided myself on my instincts, and while that made me the ideal candidate for a book editor career, I had a few turns to my story left.

After graduating college and spending a year in an awful job that at least allowed me to save up, I started graduate school. That decision was the main plot point in my story, and it came about accidentally, too. The novel-writing program that accepted me effectively rescinded their offer but offered me a place in their hybrid creative writing and publishing program, which was shorter and (they promised) just as valuable as the two-year course I initially applied for. I figured that if I was going to write a book someday, I might as well learn about the actual process of getting a book published.

Like my undergrad degree, I enjoyed my creative writing classes more, but that’s as far my creative writing career has gotten for me (until the start of this blog). Like the best stories, mine took a turn from the most unexpected place: the publishing part of my degree. 

I interned at a publisher while I was wrapping up my degree, a publisher I still work for today (three job titles up from intern, thankfully). It’s not a fiction publisher and I don’t read all day every day and get paid for it, but I do have an understanding of how books work. More than that, I enjoy it. I’m not an editor, but I never saw that career path for myself anyway and never worked toward it. I don’t blame anyone who thinks that’s all there is to book publishers, though, just authors and editors. It’s more complicated than those two roles, but I think learning the in and outs would ruin the magic for a reader. Lifting the curtain. It’s not always a glamorous industry, and I haven’t met anyone famous yet or have connections that will make publishing my own as-yet-unfinished book easier than it would be otherwise. 

I somehow ended up right in the middle of the industry, working with books every day and seeing the work behind the scenes. I’ve learned heaps, from how I’d like to be as an author, what I’d like to have in a publisher and (reluctantly but realistically) that there isn’t a lot of money in books unless you’re J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or Suzanne Collins, or you put in double the amount of work it took to write the book to promote it and yourself as a brand.

I didn’t know when I signed up for my master’s that this is where I’d end up, and mostly saw myself writing every day, and I very much didn’t see myself here when I started reading Twilight or watching author interviews on a family PC. What hasn’t changed is the fact that I love books, reading, the written word and storytelling, but now I know that’s not enough to “make it” or make a living out of it, but it’s a start.

A London Love Letter

Where are you from?

It’s a question that gets more complicated the older I get. Does it mean where feels like home? Where does it feel like I’m from? Where was I born? Where I grew up? Where I grew into myself?

The older I get, the more those answers vary, and to spare you the memoir-length answer to the first two questions, I will start with the easy ones. I was born in Quito, Ecuador, but I grew up in Silver Spring, just outside Washington, DC. I only just starting saying “I grew up there” because, as of two years ago, I’ve spent more time outside of where I was born than the time I actually lived there.

When I talk to other people who have spent a significant time in another place than where they were born, the common theme is the fact that where they were born no longer feels like home because they’ve been out of it for so long. By those terms, I’m from here, the DC-Maryland area.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral pictured from the top of One New Change. It’s my favorite place in the world.

That logic gets tricky when I’m in the US, to no one’s surprise. When I’ve been outside the country, most have no issue believing me when I say I’m American. After all, I sound American with the non-regional accent I developed while learning English as a second language (and after I shed my Latino accent tell that only surfaces when I’m nervous or tipsy). Although it’s less common to say I’m American when I’m in the US, the few times I’ve said it in front of my family, I’m quickly berated with “You’re Ecuadorian!”

But am I?

I no longer identify with core cultural principles of the country (except an infatuation with potatoes in all forms), I know next to nothing about the current political outlook and I would get lost if dropped off on any street and told to go to the house I grew up. The last time I went back was 2008, and even then I didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore, and now that it’s twelve years later, I often experience the feeling that other “Others” feel when contemplating belonging: I’m too much of THIS to be fully That, and I’m too THAT to be fully This.

That’s a feeling I took with me when I moved to London, but sadly I didn’t spend nearly enough time there to deserve the coveted “I’m from here” badge and had to settle with “I live here.” I grew into myself in London, and for that it will always live in my heart whether it wants to or not.

London is my three-year love affair. My geographical true love. Through disappointment, heartbreak and loss, London never lost its charm. During tough times far away from home, some people are quick to point the finger at the city, its unfriendly people, rodents in the underground transportation system or extortionate rent prices. Not me. London never let me down.

Leaving London was heartbreak in its own right, the kind of heartbreak that comes when you say goodbye to someone you love because being together isn’t that simple. When saying goodbye is the only option because the alternatives are too complicated or downright impossible. So you part on the best of terms, the friendliest and most loving break-up you’ll ever have.

London further complicated my sense of belonging, because my answer to “Where are you from?” had even more layers, not least because there was never a box I could check off in demographic information forms. There, “Other” was my go-to, the characterization I always avoided at home because it felt harsh, because I had boxes available to me at home. 

Yet, that characterization of “Other” provided added opportunity, the air of “mystery” (but never exotic – I’m not a fruit) that allowed certain foibles that I was ridiculed for at home. Like in college, when I was talking about study abroad to incoming freshmen and how my choice was influenced by my priority of wanting to go to a place where I spoke the language. When I said my native language was Spanish, the response was “I thought I could hear an accent in there.”

Or more humiliating yet, when my answer to “Where are you from?” was betrayed by pronouncing words wrong, like fun-gee instead of fun-guy when describing a mushroom in science class, or saying words that are not correct like “dumbly” or “indignated.” An answer further betrayed when phrases from my native language fit a situation perfectly but there’s no translation, or when my brain beats me at translating and comes up with a word that’s not incorrect but it’s wrong. “Babe, we need a balance in the bathroom, to weigh ourselves.” Because “scale” in Spanish is balanza

But for every foible allowed, there was a microaggression, or a remark I chose to take as well-intended because the alternative was too contentious (too contentious for a former almost-mother-in-law, anyway).  Where are you from? A question that some think allows them to see my culture as a party trick, something to relate to me when they introduce me at a party. “This is Vanessa. She’s Spanish.” How to even begin to correct that?

That’s one of the reasons I love London, because it posed me with challenging questions, but challenging in the way someone you love challenges you so you can find the answer yourself and be better for it. London gave me so many questions, situations and decisions I needed to overcome to arrive at who I am today, and for that, I’ll love it forever.

Taking Flight

Although today in particular we may be looking for laughs or pranks, anything to distract us from the current world situation, this week’s post will provide a sideways distraction, of sorts. Unreliable narrators aren’t necessarily April Fool’s pranksters, but they are the closest thing in the literary world on a day like today – aside from court jesters or tricksters that belong in a different genre.

Happy reading! I truly hope this provides a distraction from any awful feelings or thoughts you may be having in the current climate.

Image of shallow focus photography of people inside of passenger plane.
Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

“We will now be boarding rows 30 and on, as well as any other boarding groups we’ve already called.”

Finally! Marcy and Cody are right behind me, their carry-ons lugging behind them and their neck support pillows on their shoulders. I bought them those neck pillows at the airport, so we were sure they would fly and not get taken away by flight attendants before boarding. I would have loved one too, but budget for this trip is planned to the T, and today’s incidentals budget went on the pillows.

“Mr. Sonny Johnson?” The flight attendant glances at my boarding pass then at my face before scanning it in. The machine light goes red then green before she waves me through. I stand just behind the woman while Marcy and Cody give their boarding passes, their faces barely containing their excitement. They’re keeping a straight face, but that’s probably so they don’t come across a hokey or touristy.

Once they’re scanned, we walk down the jetway, stand in line again for a bit behind another family, one with a toddler who keeps glancing around and flailing. I check my watch – our departure time is ten minutes away and there are at least fifteen people standing in the jetway. Luckily we’re the last ones to board, and Marcy and Cody are so excited to go on this trip with me, they’ll be seated and strapped as soon as we find our seats.

We finally step onto the plane when another flight attendant puts her hand on my arm. “I’m sorry, sir, we’re going to need to check your carry-on luggage. We don’t have any more space in the overhead bins.”

“We’re not paying for that,” Marcy says.

“It’s complimentary, ma’am,” the flight attendant says. “You can pick up your items at baggage claim at your destination.”

“Fine,” Marcy says and hands over her rolling bag before I give her mine. Cody only has a backpack and his fanny pack. My girl is always looking out for us and my boy is always ready to go. Care and practicality.

“Now we’ll have to pick up all our stuff at once!” I say as we walk our way back to the plane. “It’s probably better that way.”

“My shawl was in my carry-on,” Marcy says. “I’ll be freezing before we even take off.”

“You can have my sweater, honey.”

“Why did you even bring that? We’re going to Florida in April. There’s no need for a sweater there.”

Always thinking ahead.

We get to our seats but there are people already sitting down in our row. “Excuse me,” I say, “But I think you’re in our seats.”

“Sonny, leave it,” Marcy says. She probably doesn’t want to cause a scene or make the flight even later than it already is.

“We’re 32A, B and C,” I say. “Could we see your tickets?”

“Dad, leave it,” Cody says. “I’m on 34A and Mom is on 34E.”

“That’s not right at all,” I say. I checked the purchase almost ten times, and I made sure we all got the same seats.

“Just sit down,” Marcy whispers as she squeezes past me, then Cody does the same and she asks her seatmates for space to get in.

Well, that’s okay. We have two weeks together in Tallahassee, so five hours apart isn’t that big a deal. Beaches, parks and drives. And seeing Tessa too – it’ll be great.

Marcy and Cody were excited for the trip too, and their constant questions about money or time off work were fully about me and my well-being. We’ll figure it out, but as long as we’re together for two weeks. Since Tessa had gone to Florida State University, we hadn’t seen her except for holidays, and anything longer than Thanksgiving break, she’d go see friends or stay with her boyfriend. Liam? Or is it Rodney now?

Now we’re surprising her with a trip just before her spring break. She hasn’t said what she wants to do for the week that she’s off, but I didn’t say anything in case she stresses about trying to fit a family visit and a vacation into one week. We can even drive to Disneyland for a day. My $20 per person per day may just stretch that far.

Every half hour or so, I look back at Marcy and Cody. I can only see the top of her head, so Marcy could be reading. Cody has the aisle seat and he’s watching something on his phone, not using his neck pillow. Maybe he doesn’t feel like taking a nap yet.

**

I avoid Dad’s glances every time he turns around and keep checking on Mom. How they’re both coping without headphones is beyond me. Mom at least has a book, but the people around us are being loud and I haven’t seen her turn a page yet. Dad just stares ahead, watching the shows on the headrest TV. All of them keep glitching and the picture freezes often.

I tried telling Dad that Tessa doesn’t want us to come visit, that she’ll make it up to West Virginia eventually. But he insisted on surprising her and taking her to Disneyland, thinking we can show up and buy a ticket like it’s Six Flags. As soon as we land and find our hotel, I’m finding my way to Florida State, saying hi to Tessa quickly then tour around the campus. It’s a big enough campus for the two of us to never run into each other, but close enough should we ever need anything from each other. But then Dad would have an excuse to come down to see us.

Unless I tell him that I’m going to Florida State College in Jacksonville…

**

I’ve read the same sentence for the past hour, not knowing where I’m even at in the book. I grabbed one off the shelf last night as I packed my bag, fully convinced this trip would be cancelled at the last minute. I think I started reading this around Christmas, when I picked it up at random in Target.

Sonny has not stopped talking about this trip since January that Tessa said she wouldn’t be coming home for spring break, taking it as an opportunity to go see her rather than listening for signs that she did not want to see us. Or Sonny, really – it takes a saint to not be overwhelmed by Sonny a day or two after meeting him. It’s not the slow-burning entrapment of annoying personalities, or the secret Type A that lurks until something flips their switch. With Sonny, you got to a day where his mere breathing bothers you, the feeling of his presence a heavy fog. When he walks into a room, you immediately stop talking for fear that anything you say would send him into a dumb joke spiral he goes down to avoid reading the discomfort in the room.

So I continue to stare at the same page, hoping the drum of the engine and the flight will be numbing enough to let me read more pages, then hopefully finish it and start it again over the two weeks and again on the flight home if necessary. Anything to not talk to Sonny and kill time until we’re back in West Virginia and I can leave. I don’t even want a divorce – I just want to leave. I can’t think far enough down to divorce proceedings, splitting the stuff or fighting over who gets which car. Cody turns 18 at the end of the year then is off to college too, but I cannot wait that long. If I hear one more dumb joke, I will scream.

What Does Writing Block Feel Like? A writer vs someone who writes

Ah, writer’s block. An indulgent excuse or a legitimate obstacle? When is it a legitimate hurdle and when is it something we hide behind when we can’t bear to keep writing?

You’d think with the mandate to stay home and avoid people, I’d have endless time to write now, to be inspired to keep at my new work in progress. And yet, despite not having to commute to the gym or the grocery store, I seem to keep dancing my way around writer’s block and running out of ideas. What does it feel like for me? It actually feels quite a few ways.

Image of yellow and black smiley wall art
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Sometimes it feels eerily like inadequacy. I think about the stories that I love, love for different reasons. I think about the plots, the characters, the voice, the detail; I think about the talented genius who wrote them and wonder, “How do they make it look so obvious and easy? Of course that character would make that choice and the plot would unwind that way – why can’t I think about my own story the same way?” Looking at my favorite stories that have been out in the world for a while, I wonder if I’m cut out for this after all. I can think I’m a writer all I want, but if I can’t deliver what I can see in my head, am I not just another someone who writes?

On another day, writer’s block feels like ennui. Complete lack of inspiration that makes a blank page or screen look like a wall instead of clay to be molded into the picture I see in my head. This version is the one that’s most commonly associated with writer’s block, the lack of ideas, the lack of good ideas. The typing, deleting, retyping and deleting again, but not in the satisfying way that helps one build and carve out the story. This dissatisfaction version of writer’s block goes hand in hand with the inadequacy version, because why would you write, delete and retry unless you felt it wasn’t good enough? At least, that’s the case for me.

The third version of writer’s block for me is the two previous versions turned up to the max. Anger, frustration and hate that verge on rage. There have been times when I hate the story and everything about it so much that I can’t continue writing. I hate everything that comes out, each development point feels unbelievable and it makes me wonder who would read this if I can’t even stand to write it. Sound familiar? It should, because I’ve already written about it.

All three versions of writer’s block for me have their different “cures,” lest they mutate and I have even more excuses to not write. When I feel inadequate, I take a step back and confide in someone who has read my writing before for an ego boost. Vain, but it helps. Reassurance and support go a long way when I feel I shouldn’t be doing this to begin with, because it reminds me that if I don’t write the stories in my head, if I don’t flesh them out and develop them into a decent shape, someone else will. Or, even worse, nobody will and the story will remain untold. If the story isn’t worth telling, why did I think it up to begin with?

Ennui and lack of inspiration are fixed by reading. After all, the best writers are also readers, not just because they’re scoping out their competition, but because it reminds us why we started writing to begin with. Writers are inspired by other writers – don’t we all remember the exact line and writer that inspired us to write in the first place? (For me, it was that scene in Ratatouille when the mean food critic writers his glowing review of the dish – don’t judge me.) When I’m feeling uninspired, I go back and read for a bit, take a break from creating. At the moment, I can’t wait to start reading My Dark Vanessa and Corazon, one for narrative inspiration and one to get me out of my usual tastes.

How do I get past the rage version of writer’s block? A combination fix of the other two, predictably. I get angry at myself for thinking I could write in the first place, so I reach out to my support network and really take a step back from the story I’m attempting, sometimes abandoning it altogether. It took some soul searching, but I’ve taken breaks from certain stories for various reasons over the years, and taking that time away can be cathartic – I often come back with new ideas and new angles from which to tackle the story.

Writing the novel I started when I was doing my master’s has caused me to experience all three types of writer’s block over the years, most recently the rage version. So I’m pivoting – I’m choosing to take a long and conscious break from writing that particular story until it is ready for me, as opposed to the other way around. This choice came partly after a painfully obvious suggestion from a friend – if I hate it so much, why not take a break and write the story I actually want to write? I was very much missing the forest for the tree.

I don’t doubt this new story will present itself with a new type of writer’s block when the time comes, and with the current situation that version will most likely be due to the current world crisis and the fact I can’t leave my house. Until that time comes, though, I will ride this new creativity wave, and try to remind myself that I am not just someone who writes – I’m a writer.

Rips and Scrapes

It seems I double-booked myself for this week’s post, so I’ll do something I haven’t done yet: taking a previous prompt response and going further. I was surprised how easy “Grape Juice” came, so I tried extrapolating. I’m not too confident about this piece, but it’s a first draft, and I’m surprised, again, at how easy it came along.

This week I also had guest post published with The Wacky Writer on admitting I’m not good at writing description of a place and why that’s not such a bad thing. You’ll notice I didn’t do much describing on this week’s post either and focused on dialogue to move along the story – that’s what I enjoy about writing, moving along the story.

Happy reading, and please do pay The Wacky Writer a visit.

From that first sleepover on a school night, Milo and Kenny ate lunch together every day. When Milo brought a can of La Croix in his lunch box one day and let Kenny try it, Kenny had made a face like when Milo had asparagus.

“It kinda tastes like when I burped grape juice at your house that time.”

Milo had laughed and taken a sip of the drink himself. “You can’t say that! This flavor is my favorite!”

“Want to try mine?” Kenny handed him a green can with golden letters. The can was cool and the bubbles tickled Milo’s nose as he took a sip.

“That’s gingerale! But why does it taste funny?”

“Funny? That’s what gingerale tastes like.”

“That’s not like the one we have at home. You can have some today if I can find it in the garage.”

Kenny smiled and said, “I’m bringing Hungry Hungry Hippos.”

“You don’t want to play Sword Escape? I can’t pass the dungeon level.”

“But you said you’d never played Hungry Hungry Hippos!”

“It just sounds like a game for little kids.”

Every day since that first sleepover, Kenny came over Milo’s house. He didn’t come over on some weekends, except for that one time Mom had gone to pick up Kenny from his house to take them to the zoo. Kenny had brought his address and his mom’s phone number written on his notebook the day before. Mom had called Kenny’s mom to ask if Kenny could come to the zoo.

When they’d gone to pick him up, Milo was looking for houses and yards, but he only saw buildings with lots of doors and windows on them, with stairs in the middle. The very top of the buildings were pointy like Milo’s and his neighbors’ houses, and when Mom was parking, Kenny came out one of the doors, jumped up and down and waved. He looked funny bouncing behind the banister.

“Stay here, honey. I need to talk to Kenny’s mom before we go.”

“Can I go too?”

“No, you stay here.” Mom left then, and the doors of the car clicked. Milo couldn’t see much from the backseat, but the top of Mom’s head showed on top of the railing and a lady’s face outside the open door Kenny had come out from. After a minute, the door closed and Mom turned and walked to the stairs in the middle of the building. That’s how you get up there.

Milo was worried Kenny couldn’t come out after all because he hadn’t seen him behind the railing, so when he came down the stairs next to Mom, Milo smiled and scooted to the next seat so Kenny could climb in.

“Hi!” Kenny said and grabbed onto the door to climb inside the car.

“Hi, Kenny!” When both boys were sitting and had their feet dangling off the seat, Milo said, “Mom, can I come over Kenny’s next week?”

Kenny started bouncing on his seat and clapping his hands. “You can finally see my room!”

“Seatbelts, both of you, please,” Mom said and turned on the car. “Kenny would need to ask his Mom first, and you have really slacked off your piano lately, Milo. You need at least two days next week, and both of you need to do homework. Mrs. Myers has already called me to say your homework is always only half way done for math, and you haven’t spent much time outside.”

“We can be outside when you’re over my house,” Kenny said. “There’s some grass on the back and we can play catch.”

“We’ll see,” Mom said. “Now, seatbelts, or we’re not going anywhere and they’ll be out of popcorn and ice cream at the zoo by the time we get there.”

It took two weeks after the zoo visit for Milo to be allowed to visit Kenny’s house. Mom said they couldn’t have a sleepover that time, but that they could have dinner before he got picked up.

Kenny’s room was smaller than Milo’s, and his bed wasn’t as comfortable. He had posters on the walls, of video games and basketball players, and he had a laundry hamper in the corner of the room. His computer had a bigger screen than Milo’s, but it was black and not gray and Milo’s had a white apple on the back. Kenny’s desk was brown and had chips on the corners, and the chair looked like the ones in Milo’s backyard.

‘So what do you want to do?” Kenny asked.

“I dunno. What do you usually do when you’re here?”

“Change my clothes before going to your house.”

“What other games do you have besides Hungry Hungry Hippos?”

“All the other ones have missing pieces or they’re boring, like Uno,” Kenny said and sat on the floor. “We could play catch?”

“I don’t know. Mom told me not to go outside.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. She said we could play catch at my house next time.”

Kenny didn’t say anything and plucked a thread from the carpet. He pulled and pulled and there was a rip.

“Oops,” he said. “Crap. My mom will kill me.”

“Put the laundry hamper on top of it,” Milo said. “Then just carry the laundry down and don’t let her come into your room.”

“We carry laundry to the car,” Kenny said. “Then we drive to the laundromat.”

“What’s a laundromat?”

“It’s a place with a lot of washers and dryers where we do laundry. We use quarters.”

Milo stayed quiet and watched Kenny pluck out more threads. There was brown floor peeking out and dust coming off every thread. 

“You know how in your house there’s only one of each? In a laundromat, there are rows of them on top of each other. My mom lets me ride around in the carts sometimes.”

“Why are there carts?” Milo asked.

“To get the laundry around,” Kenny said and looked up. He suddenly stopped plucking and he looked at Milo. “There’s a cart from Giant in the back! We could go ride it!”

Milo smiled and was almost off the bed, but he stopped. These were his favorite jeans that Mom let him wear to Kenny’s, and he didn’t want to get them dirty.

“C’mon!,” Kenny said. “It’ll be fun. Then we can have pizza bagels.”

“I’ve never had pizza bagels!” Milo stood up and followed Kenny. They went out the front door and down the stairs Mom had come up the day of the zoo. Then they ran to the back and saw the grocery cart.

“Get in,” Kenny said. “I’ll push you down the hill.”

Milo climbed in and twisted so he was sitting cross-legged in the basket. Kenny was at the handle, pushing, but the cart didn’t move much. Milo was bouncing inside the basket once Kenny got it going, but it was fun. They made it to the small hill facing the parking lot where Mom parked and Kenny let go. Milo rolled down and let out a scream. Kenny couldn’t have heard him, but Milo’s scream was cut off when the cart suddenly stopped and tipped forward. He felt a pain on his knees and hands, and when he tried turning around he couldn’t for the cart on top of him.

Kenny was next to him, trying to lift the cart off him, but he couldn’t, and Milo started crying. He couldn’t hear what Kenny was saying, but then the cart was off him and Milo got up.

“I’m sorry, momma,” Kenny said. “We wanted to take turns down the hill.”

“What if I hadn’t pulled up just then, Kenny?” Kenny’s mom was yelling. “My shift ended early and I come home with dinner and you’re out here with your little friend.”

Both boys looked down and sniffed. Milo wanted to go home.

“Get inside,” Kenny’s mom said. “Wash up and set the table. We’re having fried chicken.”

On the way up the stairs, Kenny asked, “Have you ever had fried chicken?”

Milo shook his head and wiped at his eyes. His t-shirt was dirty and his jeans were dusty. His palms had scrapes, and when he walked up the stairs he saw the rip on his jeans and little tiny rocks on the cut. Milo wiped at it but it really hurt his knee.

“Ow!” He yelled and the tears started coming again. “My mom won’t let me come over again.”

“It’s okay, Milo, don’t cry,” Kenny said when they had walked through the front door. “We’ll wash our hands and I’ll wipe down your jeans. I get dirt off jeans all the time – I always roll down that hill.”

“Okay,” Milo said and wiped his nose and rubbed his hand on his t-shirt. At least fried chicken sounded good. Mom didn’t let him eat anything fried.

On Honesty

I’m back to my usual this week, with another post from a prompt born out of 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

That’s what the prompt is, “on honesty.” It’s one of those prompts that can be intimidating because you don’t know where to start, but it can also be exciting because it’s a writer’s blank canvas.

So here I humbly present my musings on honesty. Let me know what you agree and disagree with in the comments.

Image of broken blue ceramic plate
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Honesty is one of those things that get more difficult as we grow up. Not because it’s harder to be honest as we grow up, or because we find more ways to be dishonest as time passes, but because honesty loses its simplicity over time.

When we are kids, we are told to tell the truth when a vase breaks while we play with a ball inside the house or how our faces got smeared with chocolate when our t-shirts are covered in crumbs. When we begin getting crushes, we can’t be honest with them and tell them how we feel because we don’t know what would happen if we do. We can’t tell that one girl we don’t want to be friends with her anymore because we don’t like how she talks to us in front of other girls because we’ll be the weird person who sits alone at lunch.

When we’re adults, we can’t always be honest with our partners about a choice they make for worry that it’ll make us sound selfish and hurt their feelings or make the choice more difficult. That silence is dangerously close to lying, and a lack of honesty here snowballs into resentment over there.

Honesty, it would seem, grows with us. It gets more complex as we get more complex, as our desires, goals and fears evolve and have layers on top of each other and interconnected branches and roots. Even with this complexity, we’re always expected to know when “honesty is the best policy” and deal with the consequences of our choices either way. What if we don’t know if or when honesty is the way to go, or if we don’t know what the consequences will be either way?

Perhaps the hardest kind of honesty is being honest with ourselves. It’s not impossible to lie to ourselves, to pretend we know better than to stop or start a behavior or thought pattern – until we dig ourselves into a hole and honesty just gets more complicated. There’s less accountability, more bending around the consequences. So how can we ensure that we’re always honest with ourselves?

So maybe honesty doesn’t need to be complicated, but being honest can sometimes be complex.

Dogs in Bed

It’s International Women’s Day! 

This post is my contribution to the day: empowerment in a relationship. This topic is too often played out, but it’s still an important one. Empowerment does not always have to be about proving the other person wrong, spreading one’s wings and flying away from a toxic relationship into one’s version of happiness. There can also be wisdom and empowerment in choosing to keep moving forward and working on something important to you while it’s sustainable and healthy.

This week’s piece was a bit experimental… I tried dictation for the first time.

I’ve never been the writer who needs to stop on the side of the road to jot down an idea lest it escapes, but I just had to use the Voice Memos app this time to record something that came to me. It also came to while I was listening to The Moth Podcast, which made me want to try something that sounded like it was spoken out loud.

Happy reading! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Image of two penguins kissing at daytime
Photo by Paz Arando on Unsplash

A few years ago, I had a divorce scare. It’s kind of like a pregnancy scare, but even scarier in your late 30s.

My husband and I have been married for 5 years and have been together for 8. We met on a dating app over a weekend and did the whole dance of how we were going to make this work. I should mention at this point that he lived in New Orleans and I lived in Boston, and we met while I was swiping to avoid going home alone at the end of the night when vacationing with girlfriends. I also wanted to sleep somewhere else that wasn’t loud with “Whoos!” and “Dirty 30! Dirty 30!” chants at 4 in the morning.

What followed were a couple of years of back and forth, missed FaceTime calls and double-meaning text messages that graduated to disappointing conversations about one of us moving to the other or meeting in the middle. All the practicalities of long-distance relationships and long-term relationships that happen to be long-distance.

He eventually moved here and we got married. We moved into our own place and we were happy. 

He’s perfect: he’s handsome; he’s tall; he is an amazing professional. I am so proud of him and to be with him, and I count myself lucky to go home with him at the end of the night. The only thing that made him imperfect was his reluctance to letting me get a dog. At first. One day, he finally gave in and let me get a dog. The big, floppy-eared and shaggy German Shepherd I’ve always wanted. Something that feared me and loved me in equal measure.

We are a childless couple by choice. This dog, Adonis, in addition to our two cats, Kelsey and Rico (who he did want from the beginning, by the way), consumed my everyday life. I didn’t know how to have a dog or how to raise a dog, but I did know I wanted him to be the best German Shepherd in the world: I wanted him to protect me and play with my husband; I wanted him to cuddle with me and play with the cats like in those cute “unlikely friendship” videos on Instagram.

Adonis would sleep on the bed with me when my husband was away or would stay out late. Every time without fail. When my husband was home, Adonis wouldn’t even come into the bedroom. My perfect German Shepherd would respect my perfect husband as the man of the house, almost like saying, “You’re here with her. I’ll be in my bed.”

One day, my dog slept with me longer than usual, and my husband got home in the middle of the night, but, like always, Adonis knew his place and got up off the bed and left. I quickly fell back asleep, making a mental note to talk to my husband about coming home at 4 a.m. on a Friday.

The next day, my husband tells me, “You and Adonis looked so peaceful, cuddly and adorable in bed last night. I loved the way you looked so much.” Me, not the dog, because he has a stepdad-stepson relationship with the dog. “I finally realized that I don’t want to leave you.”

I looked at my husband then, waiting for the punchline. Because there has to be a punchline when your husband of 5 years tells you, in no uncertain words, “I’ve been wanting to leave you. I just haven’t done it yet.”

It’s kind of like a pregnancy scare in that it still brings out the immediate reaction of, “That was scary. What would we have done if that had happened?” Except with a divorce scare it’s about, “How do we move past this? I thought we were very happy, and that I was showing how grateful I was that you were patient while I devoted my life to training a dog you didn’t even want in our home to begin with.”

How do we keep going?

I suggested we try couple’s therapy, which, of course, he was reluctant to try.

“Whatever happens between us or is wrong with us can be fixed just between us.”

Obviously not. 

“You just said you wanted to divorce me. Or leave me, which is worse than a divorce, really.”

He didn’t get that one, how leaving me would be worse than saying he wants a divorce. To me, the image of one spouse leaving the other is getting home and finding them on the couch with their bags packed next to the front door. Maybe it’s the preamble to a divorce, the first painful step to the process that sets the stage for how divorce proceedings will go. Will the wife who got left be pleasant during the process to get it done or will she hold a special collectible hostage until the leaving husband agrees to 20 percent more alimony? 

I wasn’t going to be either wife, because I wasn’t going to get left. And not because he changed his mind.

I told him that if he could change his mind about leaving me, he could change his mind about therapy.

Yes, I was that wife.

So me being the person that I am, we weren’t sitting on the doctor’s couch for 5 minutes when I asked the question that had been on my mind since that first morning after snuggling with Adonis: is it someone else?

My husband said no, and while I was relieved, I was angry at him because I felt relieved. Like, thank you very much for doing the bare minimum in our marriage and being faithful.

That was at the beginning of our journey, and I’m happy to say that was the last time I was enraged at couple’s therapy. After that day, I was just sad. Then, of course, all the usual feelings of guilt, inadequacy and concern followed, but it turns out that my husband was just building up years of homesickness.

He had conflicts and guilt of his own with missing home but feeling like he should have been happy that we were finally in the same place. Turns out that he even had some self-hatred going on – yes, he’s okay with my sharing that – when he thought he wasn’t happy when he should be and wanted to be home.

So him being the noble guy that he is, he wanted to leave me because he thought it would be better for me.

I know. I understand how he made that leap, but I don’t understand how he made that leap.

We’re okay now. We’ve gotten to the point where home is where we are with our three furry babies, and I no longer feel the anxiety of coming home to find him with his bags packed – or not home at all. On days like that, when I worry and feel sad again, Adonis hops right into bed with me, and he will not get off until my husband gets in and pulls me into a tight hug and says, “I’m not going anywhere, babe.” I don’t know how I trained him to do that, but I think my husband might be behind that one.

So, thank you, Adonis, for keeping your parents together.

Down By the Lake

This week’s post was a last-minute change. Same prompt, but completely different product.

Although this piece reads more like the background story of a larger work, it’s a good place to start a new work-in-progress. Like my novel, Xander’s story has also been with me for a few years, and I’ve scribbled parts of it in my iPhone notes, on scraps of paper, journals, etc. I may or may not be starting a new project altogether, and I’m grateful to this blog for giving me the push to come out with it, and because I finally seem to be getting back into the writing mindset – this week’s piece came as naturally as last week’s post. I looked up and had something I was more or less happy with that didn’t feel like pulling teeth.

Happy reading! Stay tuned for more snippets of my works-in-progress, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Trigger warning: Suicide, gun violence, self-blame.

Image of grey canoe on calm body of water near tall trees at daytime
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Her dad was her secret obsession.

The kind of obsession that comes from realizing you didn’t know someone as well as you thought you did. When everything you thought you knew about someone is flipped on its head and you question even the smallest detail of the most inconsequential memory of the most mundane day. A yes suddenly means no, or maybe or nothing at all.

The obsession then breeds questioning, the endless quest of answerless circles to arrive at the why, or at the very least at the moment where the front was up. The only available answer is that you’re the one to blame, for not picking up on the discrepancies sooner. You’re the one to blame for trusting them in the first place, for being blind to the red flags.

Her dad was her biggest blind spot, or maybe the smallest – maybe that’s how he slipped past her. It was cliché to describe him as the man she’d known and loved the longest in her life, but it was true. They weren’t the same person, but they complimented each other because they weren’t, and yet they could have the nastiest arguments that lasted weeks. Her mom would say that he’d married her only so she could give him the true love of his life.

And he was the love of her life. The man that was so frustrating and impossible to deal with at times, and the one she could still not forgive for naming her Xander and not have it be short for Alexandra. The man was so impossible that, with a name like Henry with a wife called Nancy, he chose to name his only daughter Xander. He was impossible, and yet he was the man she was utterly unprepared to live without. So when he died, her world came down.

Xander hadn’t had any special name for him other than Dad or Father when she was upset at him not giving into her way immediately. She also didn’t call him before making a decision, big or small, college choice or different coffee order. But she did ask him once why boys didn’t seem to take her seriously, why she got stood up by yet another guy.

“Maybe I’m the problem,” she’d said.

“You’re not the problem, Xander,” he’d answered. “You’re the solution.”

So what was his problem? Why had he taken his own life at the lake? The same lake they’d gone to together since she was a child? The same lake where she’d asked him what college she should go to and where she’d talked him out of filing for divorce. Hadn’t she been his solution too?

Xander knew her dad inside out, and she’d prided herself in that even when her mom pulled rank. She could get through to him when her mom or others couldn’t. She knew how he hated when the hem of his dress pants came loose or how he’d indulge in a coke Slurpee from 7/11 when he had a hard day. The easiest way to get him fired up was to give him a wet willy, but the easiest way to put him out was to give him a white chocolate Kit Kat.

Why the lake? Obviously it wasn’t as special to him as it had been to her. It wasn’t just that he polluted their special place with his last thoughts and the squeeze of the trigger, but he’d forced others onto their hallowed spot. After that day, the paramedics, police, firefighters and coroner were privy to the place where they shared their deepest secrets and earnest conversations.

But he obviously hadn’t shared all his secrets. 

Worst of all, her mom had gone to their spot too, and that was the worst betrayal of all. After she had stopped going to their camping and fishing trips, Xander had put it in no unclear terms that she didn’t want her mom there, that it was Xander and Dad’s spot. Even when it stopped being wholesome and started being annoying, her mom knew it wasn’t her moments to share. So why would Dad make a choice that he knew would ruin Xander’s favorite place for the rest of her life?

Obsessed with answerless circles, Xander decided to leave behind her favorite place in the whole world in favor of a chance at some answers. She did have one though: it was her fault for not knowing soon enough to talk him out of it.

What I Hate About My Novel

Another exercise from my undergrad days (last week’s post was also a writing exercise from one of my first writing professors). Back then, I was working on my undergrad thesis piece, also about motherhood, and I found it incredibly frustrating at times, mainly because I felt whatever progress I made was useless and not good enough for a variety of reasons. So my thesis adviser told me to write about the writing. By free-writing everything I hated about the work, even asking questions or brainstorming about the plot as I went, the hopes were that I would get some direction.

I eventually finished my thesis. Maybe I’ll find and post a draft of it some day providing it survived the great motherboard disaster of 2015. Hopefully one day I’ll finish this novel?

Image of yellow crumpled papers in and outside a gray wire wastebasket
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I hate how long I’ve been working on it.

I hate that I picked a topic that I can’t relate to and won’t ever relate to, and now I have to actively research and doubt myself at every step of the way for fear that what I write is inaccurate. I hate that I don’t know my character inside and out like I was advised to, like I would want to, which makes writing her incredibly difficult.

I hate that I have to travel back in time to a place I don’t know very well to write about a topic I know nothing about. I hate that I have to get to know my main character, her sister, the relationship she has with her mother and the relationship she has with herself before I can start writing. I hate how this story is keeping me from another one I actually want to write about, one I can actually relate to. 

I hate that I can’t picture my character or the story when I sit down to write, when the blank page is staring at me or when yesterday’s word count fluctuates 100 words out as I type and delete, type and delete, type and delete… I hate how I can’t organize my thoughts around the plot, how every attempt at structure feels wrong.

But mostly, I hate how this story is so hard to write now. Where I once had direction, purpose and drive, now I have a blinking cursor and white space. Besides a woman who wants to carry and love the two babies growing inside her, who is she? Is she a vegetarian? Does she have an aversion to seafood? Does she hate the smell of cinnamon but craves pumpkin spiced lattes when she’s pregnant? Does she love bagels and lox but can’t stand the smell of dairy during her second trimester? I need to know this person as well as I know myself, so that narration comes as easy as writing a diary entry, and description becomes clear, concise and impactful.

The story now feels empty, kind of like my main character. Empty of importance, of reader appeal, of substance. She’s just an empty shell until I get to know her. Writing this story doesn’t feel like a shout into the void necessarily, but mostly like there’s no point in writing the story because it’s not important. I don’t doubt my writing (not on good days, anyway), and I don’t doubt that it won’t be one of the first stories told on the topic, but I have doubts about whether it will turn out successful. I’m so desperate to finish it, that I’m afraid once it’s finally done it won’t even be good. Kind of like when you’re in a crowded bar, desperately waiting for a drink, and when the busy bartender finally makes it to you, your beer is warm, flat and the bartender clocks out.

The story feels empty of not only substance and importance, but of appeal. If for me, the writer, the story doesn’t have that initial attraction, the attraction that made me want and need to write it in the first place, will it have any appeal for the reader? It is my job to create that appeal, but I hate that it’s such a hard story to write now that I don’t know how to keep going.

Two Lies and a Truth

For today’s writing doodle, I tried something I haven’t done in a long time: writing with pen and paper. Writing with pen and paper, not worrying about red squiggly lines under misspelled words or editing as I write, allowed for a true flow of thought. Whether it led anywhere or not (or if it even made sense), it really allowed me to let my thoughts flow and create a true writing doodle.

I have to confess, however, that I was a bit loopy on nighttime cold medication when I wrote this… so the flow of thought may be very disjointed, loose and, well, flowy. I did enjoy writing this entry, despite the haze of cold medicine, but I’m slightly worried I didn’t make a point by the end of the doodle, or if it’s even a good one.

But, in the spirit of sticking to my purpose of sharing my writing, I’m choosing to look beyond perfection and just keep writing. Maybe nothing will come off of this doodle, but maybe the next doodle will be better.

This entry is a response to the following prompt, taken from 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco’s Writers’ Grotto“There are often three reasons for something: the reason we tell others, the reason we tell ourselves and the real reason. Write about the war among the three.”

Enjoy! Let me know what you think of these thoughts in the comments.

Writing on white lined pages.
What this entry looks like in my journal. Can you spot the horrendous typo?

The war among the three. The war is really about courage, courage to know the difference between the three reasons, and the implications of each one.

The war among the three is about empathy, how the different reasons, that are really a game of two lies and a truth, would affect others and our relationship with them.

Even for the most mundane of circumstances, every circumstance that requires an explanation, the implications vary. It could be as simple as why you changed your coffee order one day: “I was in the mood for a change” versus “I really wanted to try a different drink today” versus “I feel like my life has lost excitement and is getting out of my control, so this new coffee order will provide a change of pace that will inspire a bigger, more fulfilling and profound change in my life.”

What about the less pedestrian circumstances that require an explanation?

Why don’t you get the same sense of relief and happiness when you see your partner walk through the door of the home you share at the end of the day? “I saw them just this morning before we both went to work” versus “I didn’t miss them today” versus “I’m feeling suffocated and unfulfilled, and I don’t know how long I’ve been feeling like this, but  I don’t know why I don’t miss them when I don’t see them anymore.”

Especially when it comes to change, no matter how seemingly insignificant or infinitesimal, there is never harmony among the three reasons (the two lies and one truth) behind the change. Each reason then requires its own examination into their own two lies and one truth, and once we get to the inevitable center of the spiral, the real reason, the real truth behind a particular change, we can finally arrive at harmony. The truce of the war among the three.

This examination, of course, takes courage. Courage to not only ask the questions in the first place, but courage to answer each one truthfully within ourselves. Is there wisdom in knowing the difference? Is there wisdom in getting to the center of the spiral?

Would it be a cop-out, a cowardly dodge to the courage that it would otherwise take, to have the three reasons, the two lies and one truth, be concentric circles instead? They do, after all, exist within one another, for two have to always be lies for the one to be the truth.

This assumption then begs the question, which reason could be the truth? What degree of courage would it take to recognize we’re lying to ourselves? Which lie would be easier to tell?

So, as long as there’s change, there will always be a war among the three, because one of the three will not be like the others, and only with courage will we be able to, honestly, point to the real reason.