Monday
Oct132014

thanksgiving.

Let's just stop and be grateful.  

 

For what?  

 

Well, look at the leaves.  The leaves are unbelievable, how they do that, transforming from green to gold to orange to brown, sometimes all on one leaf.  At the same time!  I mean, come on.  The leaf isn't saying, "You know what?  I'm overwhelmed.  This is just too much."  The leaf just does it.  Be a leaf.  Be a pumpkin spiced leaf.   It's fall in North America.  Put some nutmeg on that and be grateful.  Wear boots.  Leather, preferably.  Maybe a soft caramel brown.  Knee high.  With laces?  Why not.  Skinny jeans.   A too-big sweater.  Some kind of knitted hat.  Smile a lot. Kick those beautiful leaves with your boots, which are now water stained, and let them shower up around you.  Hope that someone takes a picture.  Hope they put it on facebook.  Hope that someone else sees it and says, "Wow, look at that girl with the nice boots, kicking up her heels in the fall."  Be holding a pumpkin spice latte at the time.  Be eating pumpkin bread that you made yourself.   Have new eyeshadow on that is the exact colour of decay.  Fall is decay.  Pumpkin spiced decay.   Put the whole thing on Pinterest.   Put yourself on Pinterest.  Count your re-pins.  Assume that the number of times you've been re-pinned is your value.  Your value is 2.   Those two people are actually just Pinterest spammers.  Look at yourself on Pinterest next to a picture of some tires and a really idyllic looking lakeside cabin in a photo that's been edited so much that the lake is glass and the cabin is a toy and nothing is really real.  

 

Re-read that paragraph and wonder how you feel about fall, for real.  Or the internet.  Or Pinterest.  Or Facebook, for that matter.  "You love Facebook," says your son.  "You love it more than me!"  "I don't even like it," you say, but he doesn't know that that is true.  You can't explain how you look at Facebook and then look at it again and suddenly it becomes compelling because you are writing something that's really good -- maybe the best thing you've ever written -- and now you can't look directly at it because it hurts your eyes and your heart, like staring at the sun, leaving a sun shadow over everything else you see.  So you look at Facebook and you think, "I should be writing!" And then you hate yourself.  The self-loathing is your shade and somehow that balances out the fact that this thing that you're writing, you love.  Maybe no one else will love it.  That happens.  The reviews say, "This didn't work."  The reviews say, "This missed the mark."  Sometimes the reviews are good.  Those ones count as validation.  Pin that.  Pin everything.  Pin the life you wish you had and sit and stare at the screen, comparing your actual life in your uninsulated, ratty house to the life you could have if somehow you had the money for the subway tile that you don't even like.  It's a metaphor.  Everything is a metaphor.  You see people with subway tile and you feel sad for them.  How's Pinterest? you want to say.

 

Add up the hours you spend on Pinterest.  Facebook.  Twitter.  

 

Judge yourself for that.  Judge everyone.  You are the judge.  Be the judge.  Hate yourself for being so judgemental.  Make a pithy comment about that on Facebook.  Count your likes.  



Be grateful that you can turn it off.   Just close the computer.  Walk away.  Here's what you should do:  Go for a walk in the woods.  Go alone.  Try not to be afraid of the strange man you sometimes pass who shouts.  He probably doesn't even have Facebook.  Neither should you.  You should quit that.  Quit everything.  What matters is the words.  The book is good.  You know it.  Just typing that has tempted fate.   "Good?" laughs Fate.  "It's terrible.  No one will buy it."  Wish that you hadn't typed that.  Wish you hadn't put that out there.  "I think this is good," you whisper.  "NO," says everything and everyone.  Maybe you shouldn't write it.  Maybe you should.  Come on, you need to insulate the house for winter.  It's cold in here.   Get to work.  

 

Anyway, walk.  

 

Under your feet, the leaves are decaying, becoming dirt again.  In the spring, the trees will green up, so they can go through this abscission once more, twice more, forevermore.  Say the word "abscission" out loud.  God, it's a good word.  Breathe deeply.  That's real air, in real life, heavy with moisture and the smell of decay.  Say the word "decay" over and over again.  If your laptop could smell like something, it would be pumpkin spice.  Somewhere a clothing manufacturer is trying to figure out how to make sweaters smell like nutmeg.  You don't know why suddenly people have forgotten this, the real smell of fall, the leaves and the cool dampness of everything, the world becoming fertile again, waiting to burst forth, for no reason other than that's how it always is, how it's always been, how it will be forever while you sit inside, looking at hairstyles and kitchens, ordering a new pair of jeans, not even opening the back door, not even going outside.


For God's sake, go outside.  Write an ode to the fall.  Do not mention that god damn pumpkin spice.  

 

Well, you did.

 

I know, but I can't help it.  It's just there.  It's ubiquitous.  (That's another terrific word, no?)

 

Shut up.


Be grateful.  Get on your knees on the ground.  It all goes away.  Everything you thought mattered, you won't remember at the end.  You'll remember the feel of the rain on your skin, the way the wind lifted your hair, the way you walked in the woods and the woods changed around you, evolving and evolving and evolving.  You won't even know that you bought that sweater, it will long since have been donated, which is worthy enough in itself, but give me a break:  Stop buying things that you'll be happy to get rid of one day.  Stop looking at Pinterest and feeling like nothing measures up.   Trust me.  I will if you will.  I have.  I did.  I never even had Pinterest.  I lied about Pinterest.  I can't even bring myself to sign up.  I already know that nothing is good enough.  Things could be better.  Shinier.   Photographed from a better angle.  Prettier, in general. 

 

Look, everything is a metaphor.   Pumpkin spice is a metaphor for the way the corporations have won.   That's all I'm saying.  It's a conspiracy theory.  It's not even a theory.  It's probably a conspiracy.   

 

Conspire in a different way.

 

Go outside.  

 

That's where I'm going, the dry leaves crunching under my rubber boots, the path slippery with mud in places, water starting to flow down the hill.  The mountain is waiting for someone to climb it, for someone to see the magnificence that it's been making while we've been at Starbucks, waiting for another cup of chemicals to wash down the whole season, propelling us to Christmas, where we will have to remember to buy all the things, to insulate ourselves against everything that isn't good enough while making us feel like if we buy enough, we'll get there, to that place where Pinterest will be us and we will be it and a million re-pins will let us know that we won, we got it all, we have the best, so we are the best.  And meanwhile, the trees on the mountain will cycle through again and again from green to gold to orange to red to brown and we will blink and miss it and at the end of the day, who is the happiest?  

 

It's not a contest.  Nothing is. 

 

The leaves turn brittle and turn to dust.  But they don't mind.  They aren't ruing the loss of themselves.  They aren't moisturizing and painting themselves green.  They fall gleefully.  They fall unemotionally.  Don't be ridiculous, leaves don't think.  They just are.  They just do what they do.  Green, gold, orange, red, brown.  


I'm content in the woods, my body moving through the overgrown scrub, the water from the last rain lurking on the leaves and soaking through my cable-knit sweater, the one with the toggle buttons.  My legs in their perfectly distressed skinny jeans carry me to the summit.  

 

This is fall.  This is what it is.

 

I'm grateful for that.  Thank you, I say.  Thank you.  No one hears me.  No one else is out here.  Everyone is at work.  Christmas is coming.  There is so much we'll need to buy.   There is so much more we need to get.   It's going to be a new season.  It's going to be time to flavour our clothes with eggnog.  It's still nutmeg, dogging us through time, reminding us who we really are, consuming and consuming and consuming.

 

Nutmeg is poisonous in large quantities.

 

This was meant to be about thanksgiving.   Let's give thanks for the leaves.  Let's give thanks that we're here.  Let's give thanks for all we don't have, that we're better off without.  Let's give thanks for the damp, decaying earth and how we can kneel here, grateful.  

 

Then Pin it.  Someone else will want it.  Someone else will put it on their board, those leaves all around on the ground, your knees pressing into the cold wet dirt, the colors edited to perfection, the moisture shining on them like diamonds, like a fortune.    

Thursday
Sep042014

my mama said there'd be days like these

There will be days when you'll be brilliant.   Let's say you're in a tent, the pillows bunched up behind your neck and back, the laptop balanced on your legs for so long that it will leave a hot tattoo of itself on your skin. You'll think fleetingly of cancer and you'll listen to waves crashing on the sandstone beach and the way the wind lifts the tarp and slams it back down again, but mostly you'll just write and everything you write will fit, just so, and you'll feel complete and whole in your skin and good.  You'll feel good.

 

On other days, you'll be too hot and the freezer will break and your kitchen will smell like slightly thawed chicken and you'll hear a pipe gurgling and those damn rats will start chewing somewhere on the exterior wall and then the school will call because someone has thrown up and you'll realize, actually, that it doesn't matter because the book is terrible, you are terrible, everything is terrible, and what does any of it matter, whether you write or not or take a day off to wipe melted popsicles off the scratched bamboo floors?  

 

That's how it goes, mama said.   Except not your mama.  Your mama didn't say things like that, not to you. Maybe it was just implied:  Some days are better than others.  

 

The skylight is open and the trees are rustling and still green.  Someone is cutting their lawn and it smells like the waning of summer, damper than August but still verdant.   The sky billows its blueness everywhere like a painting that's leaking out the sides of the frame.   There are light shadows on the wall that move left and right in the breeze.   What could be wrong with today, after all?   It's just a day.  The floor is clean now and the freezer is empty and the words are still there, saved in two places, just in case, and tomorrow when you read them, you'll remember how you were moving through the story, driving in a car, forgetting something in a motel room that will turn out to matter, later.  

 

You sat down in the first place to just write a blog about summer and how it felt to write and how it felt to not write and the exact way the barnacles felt when they cut into your foot as you climbed the rock to jump in again and how the salt water blurred your contacts and how you walked so many miles every day that at night your hips ached in that good way that only happens when you rarely stop moving, when you're never inside.  So why don't you write that?

 

You were going to write about the blackberries and how quickly they sagged into juice and seeds in the empty margarine bucket.  You meant to write about driving and forgetting and remembering and finding the end of the novel you didn't know yet that you'd written on the top of a mountain on the Oregon coast.  You wanted to mention how singing, loudly, in the living room to Simon and Garfunkel songs with the kids, was actually the answer.  You tell them, "Remember that YOUR mama said to sing, OK?"  You had something to say about bad dreams and childhood fears and the movie, Frankenweinie.  You wanted to write about how The Bun cried when you played the YouTube video of the funeral of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, the boats all filling up the bay and the joy of his music floating them all along.  

 

But maybe tomorrow.  It's time to go.  And anyway, there's all of this, in any one day -- all this possibility, all this promise, all this cleaning up.  

Saturday
Jul262014

travel, time

Here's some advice:  Read several books while on vacation. 

 

Reading will make you feel as though you've been gone for longer, much longer.  And further, infinitely far.  

 

For example, sitting on the back deck of the rented house in Manzanita, you read Shine Shine Shine.  And now you've been in Manzanita, the sun laying down a burn in two perfect ovals on your thighs, the mist-heavy wind whipping at you from the ocean with its chilled breath.  But you've also been to the moon, the earth falling away through the window, the cold hand of space buoying you up and away through fear and death and back to earth, bald and beautiful, a baby in your arms.

 

Sitting on the sand, which didn't look wet but still instantly soaked through your towel and shorts, the kids leapt over the breaking surf and shouted in shock as the water hit them, pulled them, and pushed them back in.  You pretended you weren't freezing and you read Remember Me Like This. And now you want to leash your kids, attach them to you, so that they are never gone, so they are never taken, and there you are and there is a dolphin swimming slow sick circles around a pool.  Your son is gone and you feel empty inside, devoid of life, and sick, always sick, and wait, no, not YOUR son. Not your dolphin.  A book, a book, another book.  

 

Finish it.

 

Open another one and there you are, awkwardly adolescent, somehow jumped into the cool kids circle at summer camp, your awkwardness lifting off you in sheets like a skin condition.  You scratch your arm.  A train goes by.  It's midnight.  Another one, it's 1:00 am.  You lie in the clean-smelling sheets of an attic room not unlike your own at home, the trains shaking the house so hard that pictures are moved to crookedness on the walls.  Finally, silence, or as silent as it can be with the river thundering by in the backyard, that river that swept your daughter to her knees and took her green Croc downstream, never to be seen again, although, not for lack of looking.  The whole rest of the trip, you kept one eye on the water expecting to see it floating by, punctuating the trip like a period at the end of a sentence.  Your shoe!  I found your shoe!  In the novel, the pretty girl marries the ugly boy who is rich from animating his dysfunctional childhood and you feel annoyed that girls are always pretty and boys are always buying that and keeping it for their very own, and anyway, it's time to start driving north again.

 

Stopping and starting.  

 

Waiting for your kids to finish their rickety ride on an ancient airplane ride that is held together with rusty springs and hope, your own novel unfurls a few lazy sentences in your head, glittering in the distance like a mirage.  You try and type the edges of the words into your phone at the same time as taking pictures of the kids, their laughing faces, the way the ride sways, pitching them up into the sky.   

 

This is vacation.  This is what it looks like when you're a reader.

 

Be a reader.

 

Go further.

 

 

When you get home, you click the app on your phone that holds the key to what you were thinking, the dirt under your feet sending up clouds of dust as you hiked to the top of Mt. Neakhanie, the beach dizzyingly far below you, the ideas you didn't want to leave there amongst the trees and shrubbery and falling-away paths.

 

This is what your phone says:

The way your eyes adjust after coming in from the sun.

The shine of the dog's fur; those particular colours.

Beach plastic.

Her legs are the exact same size and proportion as your arms.

Everyone has a gun but plastic bags come with warnings.  

 

You see that your kids have added some notes of their own:

Will the earthworm be eaten by the seagulls?

I'm on a different phone, silly.

Scaredy cat.

 

Nothing has to make any sense, after all.   That's the first rule.  

 

 

You sit down at home to write, your lower back pulling in a tight spasm from all that driving, all those days with your foot hovering between the gas and the brake, the Pacific Ocean looming on your right or your left, depending on if you're coming or going.  Why are there no guardrails?  This drive used to be less scary when you were in your twenties and your kids didn't yet exist and you were simply waiting to fall in love and for things to start.  Now it's different.  Your daughter wears a t-shirt that says "Love is For Suckahs".  Suddenly, you have a lot to lose.

 

At your desk, there is no ocean to fear and admire, there are no cliffs.  The words are right there for you to pull out of the air, out of yourself, syllable by syllable, like crabs emerging shyly from their sandy holes.  It's very quiet without the river.  There is no rickety ride, no laughing euporic kids demanding your attention.   There is nothing to take a photo of or to remember.  But still, your clothes smell faintly of sand and a stranger's detergent and you can't stop thinking about that trip to the moon. 

Write it down.  Write it all down. 

Do that, at least.

Just type.  

Listen, someone has to do it.

Start with a firefly and the long grasses that grow in the dunes along the shore.  

It's just a beginning.  

Don't worry, it will become something else soon enough.   Something bigger than what it looked like when you started, clicking the keys on your computer, conjuring up memories and characters, the people you are and the people you can only imagine being.  

Sunday
Jul062014

what a wonderful world. 

The thing you must know about summer by now is that even while the afternoons stretch long and hot into the pink-skyed evening, already the leaves are yellowing and drifting slowly down from the trees.   It's not like this is new, so really, you should get over the surprise of it:   Autumn starts coming the minute that summer takes hold, whispering cool threats into the wind, infecting the air with the oncoming scent of decay.  That's the way it is.  It's the way it has always been.  The way it will always be.  

It all overlaps.  Everything.   The weather.  The seasons.  

You.

 

You stand at the edge of the raft and you promise yourself that even though the water is murky and bottomless, there is no creature there, waiting.  You are forty-four years old.  You know there is no creature in the water.

(Although what do you know really?)

You force yourself to jump, adrenalin tickling your throat and lightening your head, and in that moment you are every age you have ever been.  The sky doesn't see the wrinkles that splay from your closed eyes, the crepeing of the skin on your upper arms.  It holds you up gently, like a mother, it's ok and it's ok and it's ok and then it lets go, laughing, dropping you into the cold sea, gasping from the shock of it.

You come up, wiping the water from your nose, shaking your wet hair out of your eyes.  From the wharf, your daughter suddenly flies up, the sky's embrace, the splash, her eyes wide.  Your son hesitates on the edge.  He can't, he can't, he can't, he can't.  

"Don't splash me," you cry, in mock horror, and then he's flying, too, and falling, and what is age anyway, everything is the same as it ever was, the same as it never was, the same is it always is:  the sky and the sea and the raft bobbing there as it always has been, forevermore.

"One more time," says your daughter, so you do it.  

And so on.

And again.

Like that.

 

"Do you believe in God?"  she says.  "Because I don't know how he can be everywhere.  That's just crazy."

"OK," I say.  "Maybe not crazy if you think that God is just a complicated idea of love."

"You're weird," she says.

"Sure," I say.  "So are you.  Weird is the best.  Anyway, I just mean that maybe God isn't an old man in the sky, making us all dance to his songs.  Maybe he's just in us.  How we love.  Like that."

"You don't love anyone," she says.

"Not true," I say.  "I love YOU."

I think of all the people who I love and have loved and my eyes fill up.  Who have I forgotten?  Who have I stopped loving?   Why?  

I don't even think that's true, about God being love.  It's just something to say that is easier than what I think.

On the rocks, you see the shape of a seal.  Your brain does the math:  Too high above the tide line, too small, too still.

 

"Up ahead there is a dead baby seal," you warn your son.  "Don't freak out."

 

"Why?"  he says, freaking out.

 

"OK," you say.  "It's OK.  I mean, it's not.  But that's life.  Sometimes things are dead.  I don't know.  Never mind."

 

You get closer.   The baby seal moves.

 

"It's not dead!" my son says, triumphant.   

 

"Don't touch it," you say, out of habit.  "Its mother might come back."

 

Its mother doesn't come back.

 

In the morning, the baby seal is ferociously sad.   You have a number you can call, so you call the number.  You pick up the baby seal.   The baby seal is so tiny and light, you are surprised in the same way limbs are surprised when casts are removed and suddenly they float upwards, without authorization.   The baby seal stops barking and looks affronted.  Stop that right now, he seems to say, before he begins baying again, but he presses his body into yours, for warmth or protection or both.  

You put the baby seal in a box with a pink blanket.  You bought the pink blanket for $3 at K-mart.  The pink blanket belonged to your dog.  Your dog has long since passed.   You can't think why the pink blanket still exists, without the dog, but it does.   The baby seal, wrapped in the pink blanket, looks disgusted and commences the hard work of climbing out of the box.

 

"No, Baby Seal," you say.  "Stay."

 

The baby seal does not stay.  


"We should sing," says your daughter, and she starts with how the trees are green and red roses, too, which you sang to her in her incubator.  Your heart swells up so far that you think probably you will die, too.  Things do.  It happens.  Sometimes, there is death.   Skies of blue, clouds of white, bright blessed days, and dark sacred nights.  The Baby Seal lies down in the box and goes to sleep, just like your babies did all those times, all those hundreds of nights, all those times you sang that song, through all those seasons, all that weather.  That song, that one song.   

 

Your hand rests on the sleeping body of the baby seal.  You can feel it under your palm.  Alive.  A baby.  Like that.  Like all those nights, your hand on their chests.  The singing.  This is a baby.  Another baby.  Does the baby seal yet know that it's a seal?  

 

Your son waves your white shirt on a pole at the shore line, as instructed.   Everyone waits.   Your daughter whisper-sings.   The seal sleeps.  You wonder if he's dreaming about his mother.  What the hell with seal mothers?   They do this all the time, the vet said, matter-of-factly.  You look out at the reef, covered with seals, and think, "Which one of you did this?  What is wrong with you?"  

 

"They're really saying, I love youuu," your daughter croons. 

 

The helicopter lands.  It looks like a toy.  The idea of it is preposterous.  For a baby seal.   What is enough to warrant a helicopter?   A baby orca?   A baby human?  A baby what?  "It's for you, Baby Seal," you tell it, and it barks at you, still ferocious but no longer trying to get out of the box.  The helicopter's presence makes you feel lopsided, crookedly heroic.  It's something to do with the way the blades beat the air down around you, as though it needs to push off, using you to brace itself. 

 

Then the baby seal is gone.

 

"I miss the baby seal," my daughter says.

 

"Me too," you tell her. 

 

She runs ahead on the hot sandstone, jumping from rock to rock, her hair flying up and back.  Your son gives you back your shirt, which he's accidentally dropped in a tide pool.   Out on the reef, the seals turn over in the sun, like tourists on a Hawaiian beach, trying to even out their tans.   Everything settles back to how it was, the pink blanket in the box rests emptily on the logs, missing the baby seal.  

Goodbye Baby Seal, you say to nothing, to no one.  

 

 

Later, lying awake in the tent, the wind lifting and lowering the rain fly enough that you catch glimpses of trees and stars, you think about what you said earlier about God and love, that tired old thing that you say because it's an easy answer.  You think about the baby seal.  Suddenly, you want to wake up your daughter, asleep beside you, her mouth open in a smile that occasionally leaks out a sleepy laugh.  "Wait," you want to say.  "I was wrong before about God."  Because you just finally understood something about rescue that you want to tell her before you forget.   Something about rescuing someone and about allowing someone to rescue you.  

"You rescued," you want to tell your kids, "You're rescued."  But they're asleep, and anyway, there's some kind of creature rustling near the wall of the tent.  A raccoon, probably.  Well, hopefully not a cougar.  But you're forty-four now.  You know there are no creatures in the night.  At least, probably not.   But better to pull the sleeping bag up over your ear for protection, just in case, the dark air sweeping in through the vents, caressing your cheek as you fall into another summer night, same as it ever was, same is it never was, same as it always is: the stars falling in white streaks, the clouds rushing to cover the moon, the sky reaching down as it does and always has, forevermore.

 

 

Friday
Jun202014

i missed my stop!: the blog tour

There are a few questions and I said that I would answer them, and I will.  I'm not very good with questions.  I like to turn them into other questions.  There are the answers to the first question which makes you think of the second question which brings you to a third, which is, really, does the vastness of the night sky make you feel small and insignificant, or like a giant who is able to hold massive numbers of stars in your hand at once, and maybe even the moon?  That question makes me sound so incredibly pompous, I can't believe I typed that.  I'm not pompous.  I just always have wondered at people who say the universe makes them feel small and insignificant, when really, stars look pretty tiny from our vantage point.  

I don't know about questions.  I never ask what I really mean, I like to ask around the edges of a thing, to find something else.   I am an interviewer's nightmare.  Ask me some questions then.  Go on, do it.  Oh, there are already questions.  Well, let's do this.  The answer to all of the questions will be A SECRET ROOM.  More about that later.  

 

What am I working on?

 

I am working on answering these questions.  I am working on rat-proofing my house, unsuccessfully for the most part.  I am working on figuring out if the knot in my chest is a sign of impending doom.  I am working on a YA novel about murder and YouTube that's written in the second person.  I am working on a middle grade book about an abusive friendship.  I am working on remembering the bad parts of my marriage, like pressing a bruise over and over and over again until finally, you do it out of habit, not because you feel anything.  I am working on my feelings.  I am working on my garden, which is alive with bees.  I am working on myself.  I am working on the extra weight that has crept up on my abdomen:  the obtrusive padding of age.   Or maybe I'll keep it.  It keeps me warm in the winter.   I am working on teaching my kids to be brave.  I pay them to go to the bathroom by themselves.  They are right to be scared.  There are rats and hidden rooms here.  It occurs to me that the rats and hidden rooms are a metaphor and by letting go of my past, I will release the rats.  The hidden rooms are places that maybe, if I pay someone, I can have finished and turned into storage spaces.  That may not be a metaphor.  It may just be that I need more storage spaces.  Everyone needs a place to put the things that they don't use anymore but that they aren't ready to get rid of quite yet.  I am thinking about writing a book for adults.  Most adult books are about relationships.  This would be a book about relationships that also has long grasses and a long stretch of sandy beach, but not tropical:  foggy.  It would also have a murder and a loss and a recovery of sorts.  Has that already been written?  Probably.  Everything has.  We used to have a poster of David Lee Roth on our rumpus room wall that was a picture of him in red spandex (no shirt) and a quote that said, "God doesn't just reach down and go, 'here's a brand new idea, kid'.  There's no such thing as a brand new idea.  Everything has already been written."  I'm paraphrasing.   Mostly, I remember how unflattering those pants were.  But still, everything's been done already. 

How does my work differ from other work in its genre?

I think everyone's work differs from everyone else's because writing, at its heart and soul, is like tapping a sugar maple.  Sugar maples are big, knobbly trees, not picture-perfect, and mostly ... old.  I don't know why I think they are old, but I do.  Actually, I've never seen a sugar maple.  But when I picture writing, I feel like people are being tapped and the words flow out.  Every person is different, so every voice is different.  I suppose that stops being true when you start to try to write like someone else, in someone else's voice.  I don't know how to stretch the sugar maple metaphor to fit that truth.  In fact, the sugar maple metaphor is terrible because all maple syrup tastes much the same, regardless of the tree.  I like to think my syrup is different.  

The metaphor does work a little bit though, because the process of making syrup from sap is approximately as arduous as turning a first draft into a novel.  At least, I hear it's very time consuming.  I might be making that all up.  I don't know anything about syrup making beyond what I heard on Vinyl Cafe once.  I think Dave fell asleep and overcooked the syrup.  You can't do that.  Just like you can't over-write your book.  Is there a jail where writers get sent for abusing metaphors?  I should probably be sent there.  I hope nobody hits me in the head with a sock containing a lock.  Slocking is something I've learned about on Orange is The New Black.  It's a ridiculously satisfying word to say out loud.  Wait, what was the question?  

 

Why do I write what I do?

Honestly, I think I'm working out every issue I ever had as a young person.  I find youth fascinating because -- due to brain development -- you have no perspective.   Most adults can call up highschool humiliations much more quickly than adult failures.   This is because your brain at the time of the incident was calling whatever was happening a five-alarm fire, when really, with a little perspective (age and time and a frontal lobe), you'd know it wasn't a big thing, you'd throw some water on it and move on.  But at the time, you were like WE SHALL PERISH AND BURN TO OUR DEATHS!  WOE!  (Because you spoke in Olde English back then.) Adults aren't as interesting.  Our perspective (and frontal lobe) dulls the richness of our experience.   

Plus, I get interested in things and then they fall into the books, almost without my consent.   I just finished a YA (called GREAT WHITE ME, which just sold to FSG, yay!) that originally was about an old amusement park but then it became a book about sharks and also about grief and mental illness and about all the ways in which people are broken and the ways in which the oceans are broken.   This is how it happens.  You start with one thing and other things leak in.  The syrup metaphor doesn't work at all there, so don't try.  I just did and it wasn't pretty.  I took out the amusement park. 

 

How does my writing process work?

I don't know. It's magic?  I feel like it's magic.  You think I'm joking but I'm not joking.  When I sit down to write a blog post, for example, I budget about 30 minutes, no do-overs.  I sit down and I write for 30 minutes.  Sometimes I have no idea what I'm going to write about.  The other day, when I sat down to write a post, a crow flew by with a baby robin in its mouth, so I wrote about that and it turned into something about gun violence.  (That may have been too subtle for you to notice, but that's what it was about to me.)  It was so interesting.  After I've written my post and posted it, I re-read it and I think, Huh, that's wild, how this thing led to that.  It shows me what I've been thinking.  It peels back a layer of what I thought I was thinking and reveals something more interesting underneath.  

My 'process' (that word makes me so uncomfortable) usually involves me coming to the table with a character and something vague and a cup of coffee.  Then I start writing and it becomes something else, so I guess my process is to just let it go.  I don't have any expectations of my books (or my posts), I just write them and then see what they are like, what they have to say.  I don't write to an audience, not really.  I try not to overthink it.  Certainly in edits, the audience is taken into account, but not during the first draft.  I write a character of a certain age and stage of life and then it becomes what it is.  

I write in circles around things, and pull the circle tighter and tighter until suddenly there is a thing I didn't know I was writing about.  That's why I love writing.  It's constantly like finding a secret room in your attic when you are looking for the place where the rats get in.  

Sometimes I go for really really long walks in the woods and listen to Podcasts.  Everyone should be required to go for long walks and listen to This American Life or Judge John Hodgeman or whatever you like, because you will learn things about people and everything you learn about people can apply or not apply to your characters.  I think the entire North American workforce would be more productive if people were allowed to get up and go for a walk whenever they felt like it, when they were stuck or just uncomfortable from sitting, or just need to get away from the rats.  Did I mention my house has rats?  It does.  Rats are an expensive problem.  I try to pretend they are cute, but let's face it, rats are not cute.  See what I did there?  I tricked you into listening to my whining about rats.  Well, luckily they revealed a secret room.   That's a fiction writer's dream, having a space they didn't know existed.  There's almost certainly a metaphor in that.