Thursday, October 30, 2008


Let's count it down. There will be a quiz, assuming I can figure out how to work the little polling feature on this blog.

What's the scariest thing right now?

1. The Authorial Mom attempting to utilize 'new' technology, in this case, a polling feature. If you hear a loud "BOOM" in the near future, that will be the sound of me exploding my laptop. Or my head. Possibly both.

2. Ghosties. I mentioned recently that the toddler is going as a Construction Ghostie - a tablecloth with eye holes and a construction hat. Well, now we are locked in one of those age-old mother/son battles, namely: Do ghosties have eye holes? He's insisting that, no, they don't, and I'm insisting that ghosties without eye holes do not get to walk up and down the sidewalk and get candy. And let me tell you, nothing strikes fear into my heart like a three-year-old temper tantrum from a kid who didn't go trick-or-treating because he didn't want eye holes. Can you imagine the years of therapy needed, just for that thing alone? It's going to be bad enough when we go to a Halloween party tonight and he sees all the other boys in the nice, expensive store bought costumes. You know those spreads the parenting magazines always have on cute Halloween costumes you can make? Total b.s. Loving parents go and drop 20$ to 45$ on any one of 8 different models of Spiderman. (You think I'm kidding? I counted 8 completely different Spidermans last year - three with built in muscles.) My kid is going to get one look at a Spider/Iron/Super/Bat Man tonight and realize that I'm the meanest mom ever. And then I'm going to eat his Reese's peanut butter cups.

3. Candy. Two years ago, we handed out Flaming Hot Cheetos. Last year, we did Pop Tarts. I figure that, if we give out cool, different candy, our pumpkins won't be violated. Stands to figure. But I forgot the other, primary reason we started doing that when I let my hubby buy the deluxe chocolate mix - two huge bags worth - at our new local club store. There is CHOCOLATE in my house - worse, it's in the form of Reese's peanut butter cups. AND if there is chocolate in the house, I will eat it. And that has lead to the horrible specter of even more jiggly cellulite haunting my nights. It's terrifying.

4. The Presidential Election. Good Gravy, is this thing over with yet? And I don't even live in a state in play! I live in Illinois. I'm a white woman with a Master's degree, in English Literature, no less. We have compost bins by our garage (yes, that was in the plural) and we eat arugula whenever possible. If you haven't figured out who I'm voting for yet, let me just mention one more thing. I drive a Prius. So no one has much bothered us, but we live on the edge of the state with Missouri, and we are getting a lot of blowback from the Missouri races. I'd vote against some of these people just for irritating me if I could, but then I'd be arrested for voter fraud, and no one wants that. I mean, seriously! Last night, I had to watch a Political INFOMERCIAL, for goodness sake!!! PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP!!!!!

5. When Politics and Halloween Merge. Oh, there is nothing quite as horrifying as when your 93 year old grandmother calls you up because she's had a flash of inspiration. Frankly, any flash of any kind from Gram is mildly alarming, but the flashes of inspiration can be downright devastating. I knew I was in trouble when she started giggling. "I was watching t.v.," she began, and I knew I was doomed. "I was hearing about this man who that Palin is always talking about - what's his name?" Oh, I already knew the answer to this question. "Joe the Plumber?" I asked, knowing that things were already halfway down the hill. "Yes!" she replied, giggling again. Not that my gram isn't a happy kind of senior citizen, but this impish kind of giggle is not her normal mode, and it's unsettling. "I think you should go as that Palin woman and Jason should be that Plumber!" Ouch. That one hurt.

And finally, 6. The Evening News. Aside from 9/11, I've never been so terrified of the evening news as I am right now. It seems to be the penultimate combination of all of my deep worries into one convenient talking-heads segment. Tainted food and candy. Politics 24/7. That stupid Joe the Plumber. The economy trying to excise a cancerous mortgage/debt growth. Death, pain, and suffering. You'd think, given that I spent my entire morning taking my hero through the painful process of sobering up and taking responsibility for his actions while drunk that pain and suffering wouldn't get to me, because I live it in my mind with my people over and over and over again. But it does. At least when my people suffer, it's in my power to fix their problems and give them a happy ending. When it happens in real life, there's not much I can do. I'm only all powerful in my head, after all. I think that may be the most scary thing of all.

So, what scares you these days?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Lucky One

No, this isn't a blog about the editor. But nice optimistic thinking!

What is luck? Is it as simple as right/wrong place, right/wrong time? Is it the ability to do something stupid and still walk away? Is it the foresight to avoid doing something stupid entirely? Is it fate, karma, angelic/divine intervention, or superstrings stretching? (No, I don't understand superstring theory. But extra bonus points if you know what it is!)

Exhibit 1, or The Ability To Do Something Stupid and Walk Away: My boss yesterday related the story of how he nearly chainsawed his knee off about 20 years ago. Complete with visual aid of the 6 inch scar tissue. "I was lucky," he said as I focused real hard on not throwing up in my mouth. "I could have lost my leg."

Now, really, the man cut down several inches with a chainsaw into his own leg. My father would say that being lucky would have been not needing six LAYERS of stitches in the first place, but my boss knows he's lucky he can walk.

Exhibit 2, or Right Place, Right Time: Freshman year of college, I signed up for a general world lit class, and after the first class was informed by the teacher that, as an English major, I couldn't be in a general lit class, didn't I know that? I had a bad two days of feeling somewhere between a fool and an idiot not cut out for college before I found a professor who was willing to let me into his junior level Victorian Lit class. Talk about intimidating - I was the only freshman, and the prof, one Dr. Woodcox, had a Ph.D. from Oxford.

I seriously thought my luck couldn't get any worse. I knew I was going down in flames, in front of upperclassmen no less. Ugh. I began imagining my life as a Wal-Mart cashier. Not pretty.

Except that the total opposite thing happened. Dr. Woodcox was one of the more brilliant teachers I ever had, and he eventually forgave me my chronic dependence on the passive voice. Not only did I take five or six more classes from him in the next three years, I worked as his office assistant, helped him prepare papers and presentations, and edited a collection of essays he was working on. More than any other person, he prepared me for a life of academia and beyond (thank God for the beyond part). He even came to my wedding. Plus, extra bonus, I met one of my long-time guy friends in that class, and he introduced me to his social circle. These are people I still count as my closest friends, 13 years after the fact. Some of the best luck of my life, all because I was dumb enough to sign up for the wrong class.

Exhibit 3, or Wrong Place, Wrong Time: I was having a pretty pissy morning this morning. Had a lot of trouble falling asleep last night due to that darned persistent joint pain. Toddler wandered into our room at 4:30 and 5:15, and then had to be dragged out of bed at 6. Never did go back to sleep after 4:30 because the hamster in the wheel that is my brain woke up, and my body hurt. Toddler was whiny. It was raining.

As I said, pretty pissy morning. But stay with me here.

So I was struggling to get the toddler out of the vest he'd spent 5 minutes trying to zip up himself and into the raincoat when there was a huge crunch. Made me jump, and stunned the toddler out of the whine he was in. I looked outside, but didn't see anything, so I figured it was the city using the bulldozer to scoop up leaves from the gutter (yes, they do this at 6:30 a.m.). So, raincoat mission accomplished, we head out to the garage. And that's when I notice that in the front of our house, there are headlights pointed at a tree across the street. Even if there was a car parked in front of our house, the lights wouldn't be pointed at this tree.

"What?" the hubby asks as he straps in the toddler.

"I think there's a car in our front yard," I reply. So we hurry into the car and drive up front.

Sometimes, I hate it when I'm right. There's a truck in our front yard, with a not-nearly-as-hysterical-as-I-would-be woman sitting in the cab, calling 911.

"Are you okay!?!" the hubby and I ask in unison.

"Did you see who hit me?" she replied, looking slightly dazed. "He didn't yield - didn't even stop to see if I'd been hurt. Didn't even stop!"

My neighbor Joe - a registered nurse - came out and began asking nursy questions, but the woman really didn't seem hurt. A cop showed up, and began to take stock. The back end of her truck was a sight to behold. The axle was more pretzel than car part, and even though the hubby and I helped the cop look for her wheel, we didn't find it (it was dark and raining). There were bits of bumpers and wheel fragments all over the intersection, and the fire hydrant was a good 10 feet away from its base.

But talk about luck - the cop did find a license plate. The non-yielding, non-stopping, non-caring car's license plate.

So, having my point of view successfully realigned, I got the heck out of my pissy mood, because this is just one of those times when I feel lucky.

1. The woman was not seriously hurt. She's going to be sore, but she narrowly missed being t-boned, narrowly missed our sizable ash tree, and probably narrowly missed being rolled over and trapped in that truck. Sure, her truck is not going anywhere anytime soon, and this was a really crap-tacular way to start a Thursday, but it could have been so much worse.

2. We live next to a nurse, who's a great guy. There's something about having a competent, trained medical professional within earshot that makes me just a little bit more relaxed.

3. The sucker who hit and ran - less than three blocks from a jr. high where about a third of the students walk home past my house, on a corner where five kids and two dogs live within 15 feet of the intersection - is going to be caught and charged with felony leaving the scene of the crime.

I don't want to think of luck as a zero-sum game, and not in the least because I'm not too sure what that concept entails, but in this case, the woman's bad luck turned out to be not as bad as it could have been, and the sucker's luck is just about to get a whole lot worse.

That's the kind of luck I can live with.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The First Kiss

Ah, the first kiss.

If you read enough fiction, you know that this electric moment when lips meet is the most important moment in the whole story. The first kiss is when the electricity starts to crackle, the blood begins to surge, and these two people realize there's something deeper going on. Sure, they might not know each other, or maybe they don't even like each other, or the set-up for the kiss is forced and contrived ("Oh no! My old boy/girl friend is coming! I can't let them think I'm available! You! KISS ME!"), but it's that moment that boils down to a physical love at first touch upon which the whole rest of the book is based. And frequently, girls who grow up and find their true love still fondly remember their first love, their very first kiss. It's a moment that lasts a lifetime.

It's a damn shame it doesn't work like that in real life.

My son is three and a half, and I know he's had at least four serious girlfriends. The first was High Maintenance Girl, but she moved to Arkansas. Then The Girl Next Door, but he moved into an older class and met The Tomboy (my favorite one so far - takes one to like one), so The Girl went on the back burner. Then The Tomboy's mom decided to stay home, so the next best available choice was The Princess. The toddler and the Princess were real tight for a while, but The Girl Next Door recently graduated up to his class, so he's back in a love triangle of epic toddler proportions. Tuesday on the playground, The Princess seemed quite miffed at him. It may be over. Or not. All may be forgotten by next week.

And I can't help but wonder, how many of these girls has he kissed? I know I'll never find out, because he won't remember.

I certainly will never remember my first kiss. The only reason I know it took place is because my mother has photographic proof. The story has far outlived the experience.

Here's what happened. I was two - towhead, quiet, and fond of exploring the forest we lived in. Timmy was two, too. He had reddish hair that curled. My parents were good friends with his parents - our fathers taught at the same school. His parents may have even been my godparents there for a while, but I'm not sure about that. In any respect, our families were close. And I just know that our mothers were hopeful that the family bond would only grow with time, much as I thought it would be nice if The Tomboy, whose dad raised horses, would be a nice addition on a permanent basis to the family. (And yes, I'm embarrassed to admit I see weddings for kids who are two and three. I'm a mother. So sue me.)

So one bright, warm day, Timmy's family came over to hang out. There was probably a barbecue going, and beer around, but that's not what concerned Timmy and I. No, what had our attention were the sandy dunes exposed on the hills behind my house. See, these sandy dunes were a popular night spot with the local frog population looking for love, and frogs aren't too focused on birth control, if you get my drift. So there were easily hundreds of little froglets - no more than half an inch long, if that - hopping all around in the moist sand, testing out those new legs and lungs they'd just grown.

See? See how I'm not a normal girl? I was back there with Timmy, grubbing around in the sand for slimy frogs, for crying out loud! The Princess and High Maintenance Girl would have run screaming! (The Tomboy would have been fine. Not sure about The Girl Next Door.)

Well, I wasn't having any froggy luck. I couldn't catch those squirmy little guys for the life of me (another future indicator - not graceful or smart enough to outwit amphibians with a brain the size of a pinhead). And then, according to my mother, the magic began.

That's right. Timmy gave me one of his frogs.

These days, I expect something more along the lines of diamonds, or at the very least chocolate, but I was two, and Timmy had me at "cchirrrrrrp!"

So I kissed him. And my mother had a camera.

And the story has never faded from anyone's memory. Anyone's, that is, but mine. I don't think Timmy remembers it either, but in the few times we met at social events as we grew up and our lives went in drastically different ways, he always looked just as uncomfortable around me as I felt around him. I always got the impression that before my family showed up anywhere his family was, his mother rehashed the tender, touching frog scene for him. Each and every time. I've heard it so many times that, as you can tell, I can tell it like I do remember it, but this whole thing is my mother's story.

And can you imagine? Having to learn about your first kiss from your MOTHER? Luckily, mortification is a pretty natural state for me. Like breathing air.

There were other first kisses. Playing house at daycare lead to a lot of kisses, not just for me, but for just about every kid there at some point. It's true there was a really long drought between about first grade when I discovered boys had cooties and maybe ninth when I realized they didn't and my father unchained the lock on my room and let me out. (TOTALLY KIDDING. Dad's Great! And he survived raising three daughters, God bless him!) There were a few boyfriends in high school, and The High School Sweetheart. Maybe three boyfriends in college, none in grad school, and then I met my hubby.

Frankly, his first kiss is the only one that matters anymore. The rest just wash away into the absent-minded stream of my brain, never to be seen again.

Except for the one my mother keeps framed on a desk.

The first kiss. For a frog.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Point

So, what's the point?

I've had a few new readers (I LOVE new readers, even if they email me constantly) reading the blogs and the short stories on the website. And more than one person has read the short stories and asked me, What's the point? People generally seem to like the stories (DO NOT READ THEM AT WORK. THEY ARE "SAUCY," to quote a friend), and want to know why the stories are there, and what happens to the people in them, and why they aren't books in development.

In other words, what's the point?

The point is, I got this idea that wouldn't let me go, and it spiraled out of control. Here's what happened. I packed up my posse for a road trip to the Lake of the Ozarks. My posse was, at the time, my 92 year old grandmother and my 2 year old son. That's how I roll. I bring the party with me where EVER I go. So we drove down, stayed with some family friends, had a great weekend, and headed back just before a toddler's nap time. Now, Gram doesn't hear as well as she did when she was 80 or anything, so the radio playing really kind of bugs her (unless it's a Cardinals game. She likes Mike Shannon.), so I had a long 3 1/2 hour ride before me that I hoped was going to be silent. (Gram never naps. She just rests her eyes.) With the toddler and the Gram hopefully recovering from their crazy weekend of fun and no radio to hum along with, I knew I'd need major help.

Yup. Mountain Dew.

I drink a Dew maybe once every 3 years, because I personally feel it tastes like malted battery acid. But desperate times call for desperate beverages, so I drank one and packed another for the road.

I daydream. A lot. I take situations and spin them out, and then get distracted and my mind races off somewhere else. Always have. So I was daydreaming while hopped up on Dew in a silent car speeding through the back hills of Missouri, trying to stay awake.

And I thought of two people fighting in the rain. Why were they fighting? Because they loved each other. But why were they fighting, I wondered. Because they weren't supposed to be in love. The scene with the hero (hunky, of course) grabbing the heroine (delicate, of course) and kissing her really resonated. But why weren't they supposed to be in love?

This was the caffeine. Usually, my daydreams meander aimlessly with no point. But I wanted to know why these people were locked in this important battle. And frankly, I had another 2 hours to go, so why not think about it? And then I realized he was her brother-in-law. And he was a lot younger.

Things got interesting. I spent the next two hours imagining the farm they lived on, the reasons behind their complicated relationship, and how it would all work out. You can imagine a lot in 3 1/2 hours on two cans of Dew. A Lot.

So I finally deposited the 92 year old back at her house and tucked my 2 year old into his crib and tried to forget about the interesting tensions between these nameless people in the rain (and no, it wasn't raining on the drive home) as I told my hubby all about our crazy road trip. Usually, the daydream would be gone by morning. Ethereal things, daydreams. And I don't have the short term memory to hold onto much, more or less imaginary people. Hell, most days, I can't remember how old I am. I have to count. (Typical internal conversation when someone asks me my age: Okay, I was born in '76, and it's - um - 2008? Yeah. So that's, uh, that's 32, right? I'm thirty two?)(No, I'm not exaggerating.)

But they weren't gone in the morning. They were still there, waiting for me when I woke up. And the next day. Those people waited around all week for me to get off my duff and think about them some more.

So I decided that I had to get them off my chest. If I wrote their little story down, my OCD mind would stop obsessing about them, right? Sure. Twenty pages became 60, 60 became 200, and 200 pages spawned 548 freaking pages of love and loss and love again in the middle of the Great Depression. When I hit 300 pages, I realized I had a book in there, a real book with a beginning, middle, and end, and it was coming out whether I liked it or not. And then my people had kids, and hell, they got their own books, and the grandkid did too. Seriously. Nearly 2,000 pages of one family's saga in just over a year.

Now, the website. I thought about my hero's parents. I even started a prequel book for them, but I couldn't make a beginning for them that wasn't both dull and depressing. (When it bores me, why would anyone else read them?) But the actual action was pretty interesting, so I decided to do it as a short story - straight to the point. The result is "The Widow of Emerson Farm." And then I thought that the stories might be a good way to capture readers and drive them to the site - readers like me, who never bought books, but checked them out from the library. So I asked a good friend (same guy whose house I roadtripped to and from with my posse - same guy who provided the all-important Dew) to build me a site. And I love it. He's bravely going to teach me to maintain it some myself so I can post my own stories without bothering him (he hates it when I say that).

But the point is, the stories are extras. The stories on the website didn't make it to book form, and they probably never will. Instead they are rewards for people who liked the books enough to look me up online. And they are a marketing tool. That's why you have to enter your name and email address. I save those, and you lucky people then get emails about blogs and - I'm optimistically confident here - future book publication announcements.

It's really backwards. The stories are meant to be read after the book, because they fill in several blanks the books leave open. But, currently, no one but select family members and the Lovely Mary, Grammar Goddess, have read the books. And everyone has access to the stories on the website. So I understand your confusion. And I remain optimistic that one day, the blanks will be filled in. Hopefully soon, because natural patience is not something I have in abundance. But I'm working on that whole Zen and the art of waiting thing. Really. Ohm.

So stick with me. Things are getting interesting.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fall, Fell

Okay, I'm busy cleaning house (again - amazing how once is never enough with a three year old around). All of us in the house are feeling better and looking forward to houseguests this weekend, thank goodness! So I'm just going to do a quick and dirty list here.

Reasons I Love Fall:

1. Long Pants. On a toddler. I have spent the last three months chasing down a screaming kid who's just skinned his knees (again), wrangling him as he screams even louder three inches from my ear because he doesn't "want me to touch his boo-boo," liberally applying antibiotic creams (more screams), and applying cartoon character bandaids to make it all better (none of which ever stay on long enough for anything to actually heal). While cooler weather doesn't mean he won't keep kissing the ground at top speed, it does mean that there's that all important layer of fabric between unforgiving concrete and too-forgiving skin. (I don't even want to talk about how my knees weep in sympathy to watch his joints tangle with every solid surface. That's another blog.)

2. Jackets. I'm what you might lovingly describe as "all woman" - as in, shopping in the Woman's section of department stores. And while I've really come to grips with most of my body issues (who has time to obsess when bandaids have to be reapplied?), summer is not my best fashion season. There are lots of people in this world who look really good in shorts and a tank top. I am not one of these people. But give me some well-cut trousers and a structured jacket, and I'm ready to take on the town!!! (and yes, I love "What Not To Wear." Love it!)

3. The Impending Death of Mosquitoes and All Their Blood-Sucking Relatives. Oh, I know, they don't really die, they go into some cruel form of hibernating stasis, because they have to come from somewhere on that first day the temp hits 70 in the spring. And they all come to me. This year was spectacularly bad with all the flooding on the Mississippi (Second only to the Great Flood of '93, by less than an inch) (Have you donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund yet?). Seriously, it was 60 degrees out last night, I talked to my neighbor putting up his Halloween decorations for five minutes, and got two mosquito bites. Plus, they discovered the toddler this year, so we were both miserable. Nothing says "hot" in a tank top and shorts like open sores that itch. And yes, it was that bad.

4. Halloween. Yes, they started putting out candy three months ago, before even the back to school sales got really going, but now it's time to get serious. And serious is the toddler insisting he's going as a "construction ghostie" this year (a tablecloth with holes a la Charlie Brown, but jauntily topped off with a hard hat I found at a yard sale for a quarter.) It's like Bob the Builder died and came back to haunt me this year, and I can't wait to share that with the world. And I can't wait for the toddler to share some of his candy with me. (Oh, come on. You know you do this too - rifle through your kid's loot. You spy your weakness - mine's those big Reese's Peanut Butter cups - and unilaterally declare that you're kid isn't old enough to eat the big kid candy. And then you eat them all before that poor kid notices you swiped five of them.) (You do too!)

5. Fall Color. This is an obvious, obligatory mention, but I really do groove on maples that explode in reds and oranges over night. And then I rake the leaves with the 'help' of a toddler who's none-to-clear on the concept. And then I throw him in the leaves. And repeat until bath time, because by then, we've both got leaves in our underoos.

So there you have it. Reasons to love fall.