Friday, January 30, 2015

This is Not a Good Day to Be Sick

but I am.

Wednesday evening I was trying to pay attention to the Notre Dame/Duke basketball game but I was very sleepy. The moment it ended (yay, ND!) I went to bed. Yesterday started out just fine--work, yoga, lunch with my husband--but then, as soon as lunch was over (I am not blaming lunch) began to disintegrate. I was ridiculously sleepy. I very nearly fell asleep while having my hair cut, and then I went home and went straight to the couch, which is not like me. As I was pulling the blanket from the back of the couch over my ears, I thought, when my daughter gets home she'll think I was sick, the way I'm acting.

Yep, she did. Because when she got home from after-school tennis practice, I apparently woke up, spoke to her, and then fell back asleep in the middle of a sentence. I slept for three hours, and woke up even more tired. Did the barn chores--by this point my daughter was off at another practice--and ate the dinner my husband had delivered. Then I read a little bit. Finally I said, "What time is it? I think I'm ready for bed."

My husband said, "8:46."

We agreed I would sleep in the guest room so that I wouldn't spread whatever germs were putting me to sleep this way. I went up to the guest room with my book, but--again, not like me--didn't even open it. I fell asleep, and slept until--ready for it--1:18. Pm, not am. The next afternoon.

Now it's an hour later. I've had instant mac-n-cheese for whatever you call the meal you eat midafternoon in your jammies from the night before. I'm now staring at my desk in a somnolent state of horror. I need to pay bills. I need to email the pony club. And I need to finish my speech, the speech I'm giving on Sunday. I'm getting on an airplane in less than 20 hours. I need to be over this.

Then I need a nap. I'm really tired.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Voice That Tells the Story

Day before yesterday, I finally received the audio version of The War That Saved My Life. I listened to it in the car yesterday while running errands. That took me up to the start of chapter 3, so I haven't heard the narrator read any of Susan's voice yet, and I'm dying to.

The narrator is named Jayne Entwistle. I don't know her. It consistently surprises people when I tell them how little control I have about various aspects of my own book. I don't, for example, have anything to do with the cover illustration, other than to tell my editor if something is factually wrong. ("Her clubfoot is her right foot, not her left.") For the audio of Jefferson's Sons I got some small say in the narrator (Adenrele Ojo does an amazing job, I could not be happier with her reading) but for TWTSML I mostly got none. My editor emailed me and said, we want Jayne Entwistle but she doesn't have much time available so we've had to go ahead and hire her already, do you object? I asked if she were British. They said yes. I said I didn't object.

It's really odd to hear my stories spoken aloud by someone other than me. I never could stand to listen to the audio of Weaver's Daughter. I like the narrator, but her voice was so different from the voice I imagined for the characters that it nearly made me anxious. Adenrele's voice, on the other hand, felt like honey on hot biscuits, so perfect for Beverly and Maddie and Peter. And Jayne's voice is perfect for TWTSML.

I don't write in dialect, for several reasons, but I try to write dialogue in a way that suggests dialect, if that makes sense. My narrators pick up on that. So, "You're nobbut a disgrace!" becomes "Yer nobbut ah disgrace!" ("Nobbut" might be considered dialect. But it's such an excellent word--British for "nothing but.")

Funnily, I didn't fully realize how awful Mam is, in my book, until I heard her read by someone else. She nearly makes my skin crawl. Many of the reviews comment on how detestable she is, and I thought, well, really, she's horrid, but not that horrid. I get it now.

Jayne's reading won an Earphones Award from AudioFile. It's like getting a starred review. That's pretty cool news, but even cooler is the message I got yesterday from a bookstore owner in Moscow, Idaho:  ..." My 8 and 10 year old boys are waking up and getting their lunches packed, dressed, teeth brushed, chores done and eating breakfast all by 6:30 a.m. so that they can spend the next hour listening to this audio book before catching the school bus. Nothing else has ever motivated them in this manner..."

Music to my ears!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"A Touch on Lesbianism"

Last week my editor said she'd get to the draft of my next book (sequel to TWTSML) "next month," which means I really need to get off my duff and start the book after that. It's about Egypt, and now that I've finally named the main character I'm nearly ready to roll. On the other hand, I'm speaking in Chicago on Sunday (the American Library Association conference at McCormick Place, 1-2 pm on the Pop Talk Stage, if you're interested) and I need to figure out, and possibly even write down, what I'm going to say. I don't worry about speeches too much--I have a surprising ability to open my mouth and just keep talking--but for ALA one hopes for a touch of professionalism.

So I've been trying to decide what people want to know about TWTSML. I've come to realize that a few readers question the veracity of the horse stuff. Let me tell you, the horse stuff is damn straight. I could go on at length to tell you why, but I'll spare the details and only say that as a child I myself was perfectly willing to climb on any horse in the universe and take off galloping in open space--helmetless, in sneakers, with no knowledge, training, or supervision at all--I could tell you stories--so there's no reason to think my character Ada couldn't do it--anyhow, the horse stuff is straight.

It amuses me no end when people refer to it as a "horse book." To me, the horse stuff is almost incidental. I mean, sure, there's a horse--well, mostly a pony--but a real horse book would have about five times the horse details, and very little else.

One of the commentators on Goodreads, ironically named Becky, gave the book five stars but also said, "I wonder if there wasn't a touch on lesbianism that some parents would worry about?" The phrase "a touch on lesbianism" has amused me for days.

Susan, the primary adult character in the book, is gay. At the start of the book she's spent nearly three years mourning the death of her partner, a woman named Becky (hence the irony above). The fact of her homosexuality, while in my opinion not "touched upon" but perfectly obvious to any adult and most child readers, is never explicitly mentioned, because: 1) to do so would not be historically accurate; 2) the protagonist, from whose point-of-view the story is told, could not only care less but never even thinks about it at all. Ada is a child who knows very little about any sort of love. She's too busy fighting to survive to care if Susan and Becky got naked together years before she arrived on the scene.

The other thing that struck me about the Goodreads comment was "some parents would worry." Because I don't believe that children will worry. Not a whit.

Have you talked to teens and middle-schoolers recently? The fight for gay rights may not be over, but the war has been won. We're past the tipping point. Equality has prevailed; all that's left now is tamping out the brush fires and skirmishes. The other day when I had to drive my daughter to her high school, I was stopped at a crosswalk to let a herd of teenagers cross the road. They looked like teenagers the world over, slumping off to class. A few couples casually held hands. I realized that one of the couples was two boys. They were holding hands, walking together, completely calmly and unremarked in the crowd. This could not have happened when I was in high school. I don't know why not, but it couldn't have. It would have been unthinkable. But thirty years later, here in this very conservative part of the country, heart of the Bible belt, it wasn't. It wasn't even a Thing. It simply was.

Many of my friends in our small town have children roughly the same ages as my own. They've all grown up in one bunch; they aren't all friends, but they're interconnected by schooling or sports or holiday picnics or pony club. A few of them have come out as gay. One, who used to babysit my kids, is transgender. Here is the total reaction of the entire group of children to the news: oh. Or, yeah, I kinda guessed that. Moving on. Or--in the case of the transgender child--oh. So did he change names? Okay, cool.

No outrage. No disgust. No change of opinion about anyone's character, morals, or fitness as a friend. The person's sexuality registered at the level of hair color, sartorial taste, and ability to do calculus, treated as part of a sea of facts, no one more important than another.

I'm so pleased by this, I can't tell you.

So, yeah, there's a lesbian in my story. Her name is Susan. She's an Oxford graduate with a degree in maths, daughter of a clergyman, clinically depressed. She doesn't like horses, loves to sew, takes her tea with sugar, recognizes in Ada's prickly offensiveness a bottomless well of grief, and, in the end, throws her whole heart into fighting for that child. She's the hero of my story. Her sexuality serves a literary purpose: it ties her to Ada in that both of them have been expected to feel ashamed for something beyond their control. It means that Susan understands at a core level why Ada still longs for affection from her abusive mother. It's part, but only part, of what makes my story work.

The children won't mind it at all.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Notre Dame, Our Mother, and My Son

This is going to be a good day for yoga because I woke up with so much noise inside my head.

I got a piece of fanmail from Karen Cushman yesterday. Karen Cushman.

I need to start writing something. My editor isn't ready to discuss my submitted draft yet. I've got the Egypt book swirling in my head, but I need real research before I start it. I've got a new character for a new book showing up and saying stuff. I've got all these words, all this mental chatter.

Yesterday a kind woman at Faith in Action--an infrequent volunteer--was full of ideas about stuff I could write about. There's never a polite way to say, "Please be quiet, I am so full of my own ideas I can barely stagger," but I swear I'm going to find one.

I'd like a place of inner peace and stillness. So let me tell you about the day my boy and I went to the Notre Dame bowl game.

When the news came that Notre Dame had accepted an invitation to play in the Something-or-other-Mortgage-Company Music City Bowl, my son was very happy, because it was in Nashville, which is only about five hours if I drive or four and a half if he's driving away from Bristol, over Christmas break. He was eager to go. The game was on a Tuesday afternoon. My husband couldn't get away from work, but I could. I was thrilled, too, to have a day just with my boy.

It was cold and bright. My son drove, since he actually likes driving, and we got into Nashville early, before lunch. I thought we'd need GPS and all that, but we didn't; the stadium is down by the river, right downtown. I go to Nashville pretty often but not the downtown part. We parked and walked around, bundled up in boots and coats, among all sorts of other football fans. We ate lunch, moved the car, which turned out to be pointless (they'd converted the main bridge across the river into a pedestrian walkway, for the game day only, so you couldn't actually park close to the stadium), then went to the stadium early and wandered around. I met some of my son's friends, who play in the band. My son had bought our tickets at school, for cheap, and we were right next to the band, in a section full of students and their friends and parents. This was fun for me--the band plays all the time, and the students have songs and dances and arm movements that go with everything they play. This is how the students keep from freezing during the games--it's like football aerobics.

That, and the students never sit down. Not once during the game, except halftime.

I have watched football my whole life without understanding any of its nuances. I know the basics, but could never tell you, say, how a cornerback differed from a nickelback, if in fact they do. My son, on the other hand, knows everything about watching Notre Dame. He knows who all the main players are, by name, he knows what they're supposed to be doing, and he can usually guess what's going to happen by how they line up, or move, or something--I don't know, but it impresses the heck out of me.

Even for a relative neophyte, like me, it was one heck of a game. Notre Dame was widely expected to get shellacked by LSU. Instead, they ran down the field and scored right away. LSU answered, Notre Dame answered back, and the score flip-flopped like that all the way until the final four seconds, when Notre Dame kicked a field goal to win.

All home games at Notre Dame stadium end with the football team gathered on the edge of the field, facing the student section. All the students, both on the field and in the stands, put their arms around each other, and they sing the school's alma mater, "Notre Dame, Our Mother." When they won the bowl game, the team ran out onto the middle of the field, and it was clear they were doing some sort of required television ceremony, handing the two head coaches guitars (Music City Bowl!) and blah blah. The students in the stands weren't sure whether to stay or leave; the band messed with their instruments, confused.

Then whatever it was on the field concluded. With a roar, the football team rushed toward the student section of the field. The students in the bleachers roared back, and the band jumped up, and then everyone had their arms around each other, everyone was singing, and so was I, and so was my son.

I am so happy to have had that day with him, and so glad he has the chance to study at that school. And writing this down was like a tonic, clearing all those pesky words from my head.

Love you, son. Have a great day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The State of the Union is Strong. Farcical, but Strong

Last night at dinner I observed that the State of the Union address would be broadcast that evening. I was about to say that maybe we should give PBS a try, or check on this Netflix thing I've been hearing about, when my daughter told us she'd been assigned to watch the SOTU for school.

"Look, you don't have to watch," I said. "I'll tell you what's going to happen. The president will slowly come down the center aisle, mobbed by other government people who want to be shown shaking hands with him on TV. Then he'll start by saying, "The State of the union is strong." The Democrats will all cheer wildly, and the Republicans will scowl and sit on their hands. The Supreme Court and Joint Chiefs will attempt to appear politely interested.

"Then he'll make a lot of sound-bite statements about how he's made our country. The Democrats will cheer wildly; the Republicans will scowl and sit on their hands.

"He'll introduce some ordinary Americans, who just happen to be sitting next to Michelle Obama, and tell the touching story of how they found their piece of the American dream. The Democrats will cheer wildly, and the Republicans will sit on their hands, UNLESS the ordinary American happens to be a member of the armed forces, at which point everyone in the room, even Anthony Scalia, will cheer wildly. No one wants to look like they don't support the troops.

"Then the President will say a bunch of things he'd like to do, that he doesn't have a prayer of actually doing, but that sound good on tv. When he's done the Republicans will get on tv and talk about what a lousy President he's been.

"That's it," I said. "It's the same every time. When a Republican is president the sides switch."

My daughter shrugged. "I have to watch and take notes for my government class."

"But it isn't government," I said. "It's theater of the absurd."

We watched it, because she's such a conscientious student, but really we didn't have to. Behind the president, Biden nodded like a grinning bobblehead, and Boehner, who'd had some funky kind of spray tan, scowled. Once we rewound the tv to see if Ruth Bader Ginsburg really had fallen asleep, but she was just getting kind of blinky.

Every year I feel more frustrated with politics. I hate the way Democrats spend money. I hate the way Republicans approach most social issues. It makes me crazy how they all seem to value style over substance, how they preen for the camera and say the stupidest things known to humankind.

Obama's speech was fine, for the circumstances. But I long for the days of Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote his own State of the Union address, typed it out, and had to sent by courier to the Senate, where some lackey read it outloud to a joint chamber completely devoid of television cameras. Take a way the visuals, and the President might have to say something meaningful.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ann Patchett and Writing For Publication

My daughter's high school English class has each student doing a special project on a specific American author. The list of allowed authors was fairly extensive, and more modern than I expected; it pleased me. I gave my daughter a minimum of advice--"stay away from Nathaniel Hawthorne"--then shut up, because she was glaring at me. She picked Ann Patchett, not for her novels, which my daughter has never read until now, but because Ann owns Parnassus, the wonderful bookstore in Nashville.

I went and fetched the books by Ann Patchett I currently have on hand. (I own her two most recent, State of Wonder and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, but they're out on loan.) In addition to some of her early novels, I have Truth and Beauty, Ann's memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, a writer who died at age 39. I shelve it beside Lucy Grealy's memoir, The Autobiography of a Face.

This weekend I reread them both. I also made an early Saturday morning trip to our Starbucks, which is way out by Exit 7. I don't consider Starbucks enough of a treat over the coffee I make a home to drive that far to get it, but Saturday! Oh, Saturday! Starbucks was the one place in Bristol we judged would have copies of the weekend Wall Street Journal, and they did, and there on page C8 was a lovely review of The War That Saved My Life. (My publicist had alerted me of its publication.)

The Wall Street Journal is a big deal. Trust me. All sorts of cool things have been happening for TWTSML; it looks like it's going to be my breakout novel, the one that gets my name a little farther out there.

It's my sixteenth published book.

Ann Patchett is, in my opinion, one of our finest living novelists. She has extraordinary talent and she understands her craft. That said, when I reread Truth and Beauty, what struck me most was how hard she worked, how determined she was to become successful as a writer, and how long it took for her to do so.

After college she did an MFA in Iowa, which is almost stereotypical, really. She taught at a small college for a year, then retreated back to her mother's house, lived in the guest room, and worked as a waitress. She snagged a few stays in writers' retreats--you have to be pretty talented to do that--and she finished a novel. It was published to very modest success. She taught. She wrote magazine articles. Her second novel bombed. She taught. She wrote. Her third novel sold decently well in hardcover, then, inexplicably, became a paperback best-seller. That was Bel Canto. 

Suddenly Ann Patchett was an overnight success. At age 39. Eighteen years after she seriously started trying.

When I tell people it took me 9 years of continuous writing before I published a book, they look at me as though I'm not nearly as talented as they thought. Truth is, I'm plenty talented. You have to have some talent to write for publication, and you have to learn the craft, but after that it's pretty much hard work and the ability to withstand rejection.

My son told me yesterday that a guy in his dorm, a Creative Writing major, heard that I was a writer and asked my son what I'd done to get published. My son told him that I'd written a story worth publishing.

That's really all there is to it. Except that you've got to be patient, and you've got to work, and it helps a lot if you enjoy writing for its own sake, enjoy the process of becoming slightly better most days. That Starbucks is a long way away.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Reason #53,807 why I Love My Husband

I was rummaging through the freezer looking for dinner possibilities when a package of antelope meat fell at my feet. "Antelope Noisettes," it read. I'd forgotten it was in there, but I remembered buying it: months ago, I needed several pounds of venison for a fancy dish I was serving at a party. When I went to order it from a game farm online, it turned out that shipping was wicked expensive, but you got free shipping once you'd ordered a certain amount of meat. Essentially, for the same amount of cash, I could either get the venison I wanted, or I could get the venison I wanted plus some frozen antelope and a package of teeny tiny frozen quail. Seemed like an intelligence test.

"Noisette" is French for hazelnut, I think, but I examined the package carefully and I'm pretty sure they're just small antelope steaks, not antelope nuts. I draw the line at eating reproductive organs.

Anyhow, when my husband came home I was setting ingredients out on the kitchen island. "What's for dinner?" he asked.

"Antelope," I said.

"Antelope?" he said. Pause. "What's that taste like?"

I said, "No idea."

"So," he said, "umm--Shiraz?"

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The New Cat Story

My son is back at college and wants to know why I haven't blogged about our trip to the bowl game. My daughter just left for school, but wants to know why I haven't blogged about her cat. Since it was my daughter's birthday yesterday (she's 17!) I'm going to give her dibs.

To start with, you have to realize that we are required to have at least one cat. I'm sure somewhere there are barns without cats, but I don't understand them. When we first built ours, and moved the horses in, it took about ten minutes before we were inundated with mice. They ate the grain the horses spilled from their feed tubs, they nibbled seeds out of the hay, and they just generally danced around and made nuisances of themselves. I might not have minded so much--mice are kind of cute, and I always wanted a pet one, as a child--except that mice can carry diseases and also I was afraid that small rodents might lead to larger rodents, rats and such, which I was totally not ready to deal with.

I told my vet, Tige, that I needed a cat. An adult cat, neutered, with all four sets of claws, prepared to live outside. Tige's office is also the county animal shelter, so they nearly always have animals available for free. Tige told me he had just the cat I needed. When I showed up with my four-year-old daughter in tow, Tige came out with this teeny tiny kitten nestled in his palms.

I said, "Tige, that is not a cat."
Tige said, "but it will be."
My daughter said, "She's BEAUTIFUL!" and I lost.

That cat, Hazel, is indeed beautiful. She's also ferocious, nearly feral, and queen of all she surveys.

Until last Saturday.

Despite the fact that we also have a barn cat named Scout, who showed up in our bushes several years ago, and who my daughter loves, when her friend's cat had kittens my daughter started angling for a whole new cat.

I didn't really mind the idea--I'm pretty much always going to err on the side of getting another animal--but I wasn't going to lose points with my husband over a cat. I need to save those for animals that matter, such as getting-another-horse or look-free-pony. So I told my daughter it was my husband, not me, she needed to convince. I figured there was no way in heck. My husband's default value where extra animals are concerned is to say no whenever he can, because all too often he doesn't get a choice.

He said yes.  What he really said, I believe, was, "It's going to live in the barn, right? Then I don't care, I won't have to deal with it."

(I have bad cat allergies and asthma. All cats have to live in the barn.)

My daughter brought home this scruffy mostly-white kitten with black angel wings marked on his shoulders and a black dot on his nose. She named him Bucky, which is some sort of literary reference I don't understand. For a few days, until he'd gotten his shots and until the weather warmed above single digits, we kept Bucky in an old dog crate in the garage, with frequent outings for exercise, which is why my car is now covered in itty-bitty paw prints.

On Saturday we moved Bucky to the barn. He scampered about delightedly. Look! More cats! The other cats growled at him. He backed off, a step or two, then cavorted right past them. He got smacked. He didn't care. He ran up the steps to the loft and overall seemed very pleased with his new digs.

Sunday all three cats came running at the snick of a cat food can. Hazel dove into her can, only to be pushed aside by young Bucky. She started to move to another can, then suddenly came to the realization that she was giving way to a kitten who weighed less than two pounds. She reared back, howling, and brought both of her front paws hard onto the top of Bucky's head. Wham!

Bucky didn't flinch. He didn't even break rhythm chewing. Hazel, horrified, moved away.

That's the new cat story.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lauren Kieffer and My Twitterversary

Today I got an email saying that it was my Twitterversary. Apparently I've had a Twitter account for exactly two years.

With two years of practice you think I'd be better at tweeting, but I'm not. My children refuse to--well, it's not friend me, that's Facebook--ah! follow me. My children refuse to follow me on Twitter. Despite this, I am up to a whopping sixty Twitter followers, which felt like a lot to me, until my son casually checked his phone and said, "Huh. I've got 278."

I did an online interview as promotion for TWTSML, and one of the questions was, "What's the funniest thing you've ever tweeted?" I could not think of a single funny thing I'd ever tweeted. Not one. So I wrote down the truth: "my children don't think it's funny that I tweet."

Meanwhile, looking at my Blog Year in Review, it's clear that if I want to be more popular I should write more about Lauren Kieffer: the two posts I wrote about her finished in the top 3 of my blog posts, ever, for readership, with "Nine Years To An Overnight Success," being my most-read blog post by a factor of four.

I tried to say it went "viral," but my children put a stop to that.

Meanwhile, 2014 turned out to be a pretty good year for young Lauren. After her triumph at Rolex, she had some sort of snafu at the final World Equestrian Games selection trial--she was vague as to the details, except that her horse tripped while warming up, and she fell off, and somehow they ended up not competing.

Horses trip surprisingly often, and people fall off in warmup pretty often too--ask me how I know--but, unlike falling off in competition, falling off in warmup doesn't disqualify you. So I figure Lauren landed on her head, or hard on her ass, or something that kept her out of the saddle, which stunk, but there you are. That's horses. So she didn't get named to the WEG team, but she did get a competition grant to travel to France in the fall, for Pau, a big four-star (like Rolex), where she and Veronica, her horse, absolutely killed it, finishing I can't remember, top ten somewhere and the best American.

She had a slew of other good results on other horses at other levels. At one show she won all four divisions of Preliminary (which, unlike how it sounds, is actually pretty damn difficult. I aspire to Preliminary.) on four different horses (duh), all four finishing on their dressage score, which is just insane.

Last year--2013--I went to the United States Eventing Association's annual meeting. I'd never been before. I ended up sitting at the same table as Lauren for the very long awards dinner. I was sitting next to some very earnest strangers, who weren't very fun, and I grew bored and therefore childish, and started texting Lauren from across the table during the presentation. She texted back, and we amused ourselves thereby, while also drinking some wine. So, this year, when I knew it was the night for the annual meeting awards dinner, I texted her: "Happily drinking wine with husband this year. Are you sitting at the big kids' table now?"

She texted back, "LOL just ordered more wine and was thinking about you." Note she didn't respond RE: the big kids' table. It wasn't until I tuned into social media the next morning that I realized Lauren had been named USEA Lady Rider of the Year, a great big whopping deal, and her horse Veronica Horse of the Year.

So she's doing pretty well, that kid named Lauren Kieffer. After her dressage ride at Rolex, I said to her, "Someday I'll be able to say I knew you back when--"

Forget that. I know her now.

Monday, January 12, 2015


My friend C's father died yesterday. C's wife put up a photo on the internet, with a note that he had "transitioned suffering."

I was struck by the use of the word transitioned. I found it so perfectly apt, yet so unusual. Here in Bristol, where the local obituaries are a prominent feature in the newspaper, and I read them every day as part of my writerly education, I've never seen that word in context. In Bristol most folks can't bring themselves to say "died." They might use "passed," or its sisters "passed on," and "passed away," but it's much more likely they will invoke their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to describe a loved one's death. "Went to heaven," is too vanilla; instead it's "was received into the arms of Jesus," or "was welcomed through heaven's gate," or "flung off this earthly body and received robes of glory."

I'm not being comical about it. The words, phrases, describe both people's beliefs and how people feel about their beliefs.

In writing a transition is the paragraph or two of nothingness that separates big events--it's a stepping stone. In riding a transition is a change of gait--not speed but the rhythm of the horse's footfalls. In chemistry a transition is a change of phase--moving from solid to liquid or liquid to gas, or, in rare cases, solid to gas, or back again.

Life itself is transitory, and death is certainly a change of phase. I believe in Jesus, but I've always told my family that when my obituary is printed in the paper, I want it to say, "died." Not "put on her golden crown." Died. But now I've changed my mind. When I die, like C's father, I want people to write that I've transitioned.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Amazingness of Being Five and Fifty-Seven

Yesterday was my eldest nephew Huey's fifth birthday. Birthdays are a very big deal when you haven't had many of them. "I'm FIVE," he said to me. "I can run faster now."

"Of course you can," I said. "Five-year-olds run much faster than four-year-olds."

Yesterday was also the book birthday of my new novel, The War That Saved My Life. Book birthdays, also known as publication dates, are really only a big deal on a large scale if you're J.K. Rowling and the book in question is the last Harry Potter novel. Otherwise, the only people who care that it's your book birthday are: 1) you; 2) your publisher; 3) your family, because you tell them they have to.

I always walk around feeling special on my book birthday. Yesterday was my sixteenth, so you'd think I'd get used to it, but I don't. I feel a certain glow. I probably can run faster. But nothing changes in my everyday life. I don't suddenly have more money--the first opportunity for royalties for this one would be in October, and that's unlikely. I'm not more famous. I'm not thinner or smarter or more industrious. When my brother, Huey's dad, asked me how I was enjoying my special day I had to admit that I was headachy and itchy from my allergy shot, had gotten into my pajamas early, lost a game of cards to my son, and heated up leftovers for dinner. It wasn't glamorous.


Because you never know what could happen. Certainly I didn't expect what happened, not in a million thousand years. I put down the book I was reading and checked Facebook, as I usually do before going to bed, and there was a post from an elementary school teacher friend of mine, congratulating me on having a book included in Time Magazine's list of the Top 100 YA Books Ever.

Let that sink in. Top 100 YA Books EVER.  You know, Harry Potter, Charlotte's Web, The Hunger Games. Oh, and For Freedom, by, um, me.

As soon as I read the Facebook post, my husband, son, and I all got online and started to search to see if it was true. We found the list, but had to page through the results, one at a time. And there were ads! My son got there first. "Number 57!" he said.

It was true. Right after The Hunger Games. For Freedom, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

It was such a bucket of awesome sauce it felt crazy. My mother called up this morning giggling, asking if she could have my autograph. My husband's first words to me were, "Fifty-seven." My son said, "It's not even your best book."

I've said before that the only tattoo I think is cool is my friend Karen's Olympic rings, placed somewhere discreet. If I were badass enough to make an Olympic team (or, like Karen, five of them) I might also get that tattoo. But now I'm thinking, hmm, 57...somewhere discreet, of course.

And I'm pretty sure I do run faster.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Blog is Back! (Long Live the Blog)

Hello. I think this is the longest gap ever between posts since I started the blog. I've been on holiday.

We didn't go anywhere this year, other than a nice weekend at our place in Linville. No big trips. My son's 18th birthday had been celebrated on a boat on the Nile, but his twentieth, last week, came right here in Bristol, and a lovely day it was.

The whole of Christmas has been lovely. There was a time when all the mess and decorations would have started to irritate me, but not anymore. Our main tree was up from the first Sunday of Advent until Epiphany; the nativities are still up, because those wise men just got there and I want them to have a chance to visit the baby. The outside lights are still up, because it's been too wet to take them down, but we're only using half of them now.

I've been reveling in the time with my family. I get it now. I know this phase of my children's lives won't last forever, so I'm enjoying every meal we have, every cookie-decorating, every game of cards.

Work-wise I've felt no shame taking this vacation, because all the publishing houses take one too. They simply shut their doors the weeks of Christmas and New Year's. Their emails started up again yesterday, letting me know that 1) my video about TWTSML is nearly done (I saw a rough cut); 2) they got my answers to an online interview that's going out to librarians (? not really clear on that part); 3) not to forget my Skype interview tonight. The Skype interview is going to become a podcast. I'm not sure who listens to podcasts, but whatever, I'm in.

This book--tomorrow is it's release date--is generating more interest than any of my other 15. It's been fun. It also makes me check Goodreads every single day, in case there's a new review posted, but I figure, now that it's back to work time, I'll start another novel to distract myself.

Meanwhile I have a word for 2015. I've read about this for the last couple of years--people choosing a single word to be their focus for a year. I always thought it was a cool concept, but never felt called to participate, until this year, when a word popped into my head a few weeks ago and seems to have stuck around.

Heal. That's my word for 2015. I don't know why yet, but when I find out I'll let you know.