Archive for August, 2012

Writing for yourself…

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

There are plenty of moments– in drafting or revision– when an author thinks of her readers.  She must.

I’ve wrestled with this a lot over the years, in making the transition from thinking of myself as a poet first, to thinking of myself as a children’s author. There’s some vague sense, in poetry-land, that one should NOT think overmuch about one’s readers.  As a poet, I felt like I was supposed to be inventing new ways of playing with language.  Communication was not the primary goal.  Certainly not in any clear way. I was not supposed to be concerned with people “relating” to me.

Or I felt this way, in any case. Maybe it wasn’t true. But it felt true.

Obviously, one does not write a book for five year olds in an attempt to confuse.  This is not to say one cannot offer complexity, multiple readings, surreal images, odd twists.  But on a very surface level, a book for kids has to appeal in some basic way–if not in narrative, than in sound or image or character. Maybe I can say that there needs to be at least a veneer of simplicity.

But oh, reader: DO NOT MISTAKE SIMPLICITY WITH EASE! They aren’t the same at all. Simplicity can be difficult to execute. And often difficulty is easy. This is something I wish I’d learned sooner, accepted sooner.

I digress!

Point is– I think more now about how my readers will approach my work. I respect my readers deeply, and while I hope to challenge them in ways, for reasons that may or may not always be clear–I’m not looking to arbitrarily confuse them.  As I write, I think first about what I want to write/say. Then I think about whether that will actually come through, and about whether it’s what I should say.

So usually, the book I end up with is mostly the book I intend for you to read.

But part of what’s so hard about this book I’m now finishing, Seven Stories Up, is that there’s a goal for this book that nobody but me will ever care about.

Is that weird?  I want to talk about that, for some reason…

You see, my previous book, Bigger than a Bread Box, is set in 2012. Rebecca, the main character, is struggling with her mom, Annie.  And in this book, set in 1987, the main character  is Annie!

Now, the plots are largely unconnected.  Obviously, you don’t have to read one to understand the other. They don’t link up directly– any more than one summer in your mom’s childhood would link directly to your childhood. Readers of the first book will see things new readers don’t. Small details, objects, references.  But the books don’t share a clear narrative.

Still, there is all this other stuff– all of these tiny things that have to make sense, that pertain to character, that I’m wrestling to make right.  Because I know so much about Annie as an adult, and am working backwards.

What kind of kid might grow up to leave her husband suddenly–in terms of childhood personality traits? What kind of events might contribute to a southern-born but agnostic Christian marrying a Jewish man?  Becoming a nurse? What would Annie’s relationship with Ruby (her own mom, Gran in the first book) have looked like in the “past” knowing what I know about the “future.”  There are a million of these details, and I’m forever dodging or interrogating them.

Time travel is HARD, it turns out.  Getting all the details right, the back and forth, the “past changing the future” stuff.  It’s the hardest writing I’ve ever ever ever done.  I’m years behind schedule with this book, and I just did a full rewrite.  I hereby challenge any writer to try it.

But for me, the hardest  part is the personality stuff.  Annie-as-a-kid has to turn into Annie-as-an-adult, and Ruby-as-a-mom has to become Ruby-as-Gran, and the personality of the family has to change too, as a whole, because I’m making a major shift in that family’s fabric. And yet, I can’t let the family change so much that Rebecca wouldn’t be Rebecca in the “future.” Nature/nurture, and all that…

I’ve trapped myself between time travel and a distant sequel.  It’s nuts!

So that’s the work I’m doing. The work I can’t expect anyone else to notice or appreciate. The work they WILL NOT notice, if I do my work right.

But it’s critical to me, because I believe so much that this is how families are. A mother affects a daughter. A change in a mother, at a young age, would affect the daughter she grew up to raise. A major shift in the life of a grandmother, fifty years back???  You see where this leads?

So I thought I’d ask you guys– is there any writing you’ve done that you JUST HAD to do, knowing full well nobody would ever care, but you?


At last, routine…

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Which is to say, “ritual.”

Shabbat Shalom, and may the force be with you…




Lewis is starting kindergarten and Maeve Binchy is dead…

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

So… on Monday morning… everything will change.

Well, not everything.  But on Monday  morning, everyone in this house will wake up and get dressed, eat breakfast and brush teeth.  And then everyone but ME will leave.   Because Lewis is starting kindergarten. Kindergarten!

Time is a slippery thing. I don’t get it.

For instance, it feels like only a few years ago, maybe five, that  I was finishing college, then heading to Iowa for grad school.  At the same time, it feels like I’ve been living in this house for about ten years. How is that possible?

Most especially, it feels like I’ve always been a mom, and yet… it feels like moments ago, moments, that I was bringing Lew home from the hospital.

And now he’s five, and he has his own damn Star Wars thermos, and he’s going to leave me, to spend half his waking days with people who aren’t me.

This is, of course, AMAZING and AWESOME and I will (I hope) write my little fingers off, and (more likely) have lunches with friends, and occasionally exercise or clean my room or brush my hair.  But I really can’t get over the idea that he’s done being a little thing. My little thing.

As he will tell you himself, he is now “medium sized.”


So I’ve been thinking about this, naturally, and feeling all melancholy (it goes well with my sinus infection).  And then I read this stupid article about mothering (not parenting) and writing, which basically asserts (among other things) that children transform you, and give you access to extra-special sparkly emotional depth, but also that each kid sucks four books out of you. Four.  It’s nice how they have that all worked out.  This meditation somehow springs naturally from the author pondering what Maeve Binchy might have written if she’d had kids…

Now, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I love my kids. I LOVE being a mom.  I absolutely have been transformed by my children, and most parents probably feel the same way.


You (whoever you are) have been transformed too. By your cancer diagnosis or your gender reassignment or your overdose in college or your religious conversion or your divorce or your realization that you want to be a pastry chef or your work with Tibetan refugees or growing up on a farm or being very very rich or poor, or living in Manhattan for decades or learning to drive at the age of fifty, or losing your spouse, or being homeless or regaining the ability to walk after ten years or struggling to have a child and not getting it. NONE OF WHICH I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED.

Seriously.  SERIOUSLY.  We all have different emotional landscapes, informed by the experiences we’ve chosen to have, and the experiences we’ve had thrust upon us. And the beautiful thing about writing is that we get to hear the diversity of those voices. I hate the idea of everyone having the same experiences. Books are how I experiences all the other things, the things I didn’t do, and won’t get to do, because I was TOO BUSY HAVING KIDS!

Is having kids transformative? Duh.

Is it more transformative than losing your sight?  I dare you to suggest such a thing.   And if it isn’t, should we all then go pour bleach in our eyes so that we can gain this particular emotional insight too?  What would that do?

What we experience is one thing. How we choose to process that experience, and what we do with it, and who we become as a result is another.

Also– four books a kid?

Hell, I’ve written 12 (published) books in the six years I’ve been a mom.  I think that’s plenty, thanks.  If I hadn’t become a mom, I doubt I’d have written any of my books.  Because however tired I am, and however limited my time, for me (I only speak  for me) parenting has not sucked the work out of me.  On the contrary, being a mom has been largely about learning to be efficient, making every quiet moment count.

But of course, that’s not what it is for everyone.  I’d never try to reduce the experience that way, suggest I know what it means to anyone else.

Which is funny, because heavy-handed reductionist essay/rant blog posts are KINDA MY THING.