Monday, December 6, 2021

It's time to just turn the papers in

 My students have found themselves up against a deadline, and some of them have not accepted the reality of this situation. I had many emails last night about barriers to paper submission.

Though I love my students very much, I had a hard time lovingly reading these missives. There was plenty of time to draft the essays in class. I made myself available for hours upon hours for consultation and moral support.

We have reached a time now when the girls just have to submit their gd essays. They should just do it. I know they'll feel better afterward.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Status Report

Health: I have a cold! It's my first real cold since Covid because I've been pretty great about mask-wearing. But, Shef went to visit his pal in New Haven and came home with a doozy. I know it's a cold and not Covid because Shef and I each tested twice for the latter. The rest of the family also tested. It's just snot.

Running: We have to credit running with my continued (marginal) sanity. During the long lockdown of 2020, it's only because of running that I functioned, I'm pretty sure. Running, the love of my family, and perhaps the SSRI that I took on the daily. 

During this time of Covid, I bought a new fancy treadmill and also joined an online running team. The team was lovely. I enjoyed the workouts and accomplished personal adult records in the 5k and the half marathon. Sometimes I chatted with my comrades on an online message board. Lately, though, with the teaching, I haven't had time to engage with the cyber team, and I decided to switch to a local coach who writes workouts just for me instead of a one-size-fits-all plan for 80. The coach is the same Maggie who guides Shef and Mac, and they ran pretty well last season. Shef finished second in the whole state, so surely, I'm also on my way to expanded and boundless greatness.

Dogs: There are three of them here, as you may know. Ripper hides and dodges when it's time for a walk. Instead of chasing her, I've decided to teach her a valuable lesson by leaving her at home if she darts under the table rather than acquiescing to her leash. It worked once before, at least for a good while. We'll see what happens on today's walk. If I don't walk the dogs, things get a little hairy in terms of activity level, and for Skip, emissions in the house. Gross.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Setting the Crystal Free

I probably have mentioned that I'm really into crystals now. I just like them, and if I like them, then that's fine. Who are you to judge me for my interest in and affinity for shiny rocks?

Anyway, each week, I choose some to put on my desk, and then some students are drawn to them, and we talk about them. Sometimes, a kid will hold on to a crystal during class. My intuition told me to give a tiger's eye quartz to one student who then won a bunch of swimming races. So, we can all agree crystals enhance our lives and our powers.

Yesterday, a student came to see me during Flex time. She was experiencing grief and overwhelm, and since I'm not a professional counselor, I suggested she might want to hold on to crystal for the rest of the day. (I also, for the record, encouraged her to wander down the hall to see a professional counselor, which she then did.) From the crystal dish, the student chose a Botswana agate. We looked up its special properties and were amazed to discover it was good for grieving people! Crystals for the win!

At the end of the day, the student came back to me looking distraught. "I'm so sorry!" she shrieked.

"For what?!" I felt momentarily alarmed.

But then, it turned out that all that had happened was that she'd accidentally thrown away the crystal with her lunch garbage as if it were a retainer. No biggie. The crystals are actually rocks that I buy from a website for a nominal bulk price.

"You know," I told her, "crystal people would tell you its a sign that you no longer needed that particular one, that it had served its purpose." I arched an eyebrow.

"But, it happened like five minutes after you gave it to me." I could tell the student felt bad about bursting my bubble.

Yesterday, I couldn't make sense of the crystal loss, but now I think the purpose of the whole thing was to give the student and me something to laugh about together. And also to provide fodder for this exact blog entry.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Pit Stop

Just the other day, I wrote about how the solution to GCMB (Golf Course Murder Book) was going to be to write from the beginning, ten thousand words in a row.

But then, I had happy hour with my friend and story editor Chadd, and he told me that what I actually had to do was write the murder scene as committed by each of my seven suspects. He said, "Don't write this as Kathleen West, Author. Just write bullet points."

I did more than bullet points, but it's just an outside story about why each of the people in my novel would have killed Kit, how they got the means, and then what they might have actually done. Golf club to the head? Golf cart rolled back and forth over her neck? Shotgun from outside the fence? 

While I've been working, the exact place of the death has also taken on some significance. I might write some backstory today about Hole 6 of the Harmony Valley Golf Course. None of that, obviously, contributes to my first ten thousand words, but also? I'm learning a lot about the story. I think and hope all this thinking and bad writing will hasten my process down the road.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Getting Serious

I'm getting serious about drafting my next novel. To be completely frank with you, I should have been serious about this a few months ago.

It's not that I wasn't serious about it at that time. It's just that other things took up a lot of space in my brain and also I'm trying to do something new. That's always just hard. I generally write totally out of order in the beginning, and then when I have like 40 or 50-thousand words, I start to put the story in order.

But for this mystery? With the golf course murder? I think I might have to go from the beginning. A mystery requires quite a great deal more plotting than my other fare. 

So far, I've written about 20-thousand words. Just a couple of days ago, I started to go chronologically. This means cutting and dragging some stuff around, and also just writing new stuff.

I'm starting to think I can do it. Time will tell. When I get to 10k, I'm going to edit it and polish it and send it to some critique partners and then my agent. I've never sent stuff in such a small chunk before, but I think that's how it has to go.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Status Report

It's that time again. How's it going?

Teaching: The new job is a blast. The girls are funny and engaging and smart. The curriculum is fascinating and familiar. My teaching partner is a genius. 

Basically, I hit the jackpot with this gig. The downsides of my one-year part-time substitute position are very few. One is the students' tendency to have cool nails. Acrylics? Stickers? Elaborate polish? I'm not even sure how they accomplish these, but they make me feel insecure about my own chewed-up fingertips. 

Also, there's a faculty hazing ritual involving a holographic framed picture of White Jesus that appeared next to the 2009 encyclopedias in my classroom. This Jesus is labeled "Shepherd of the Shelf" and came with handwritten instructions to relocate him after a week. 

But, to whom should he go? This decision is causing some consternation. 

Running: I'm about two-and-a-half weeks out from a half-marathon. My training has been so-so, but also adequate. I'd like to run the race pretty fast, maybe the fastest I've ever run the distance. Still, if I don't, we all know it won't be the end of the world. Like publishing goals, running ones are best held loosely.

Writing: Stop it. Don't even go there. I'm taking no questions at this time. 

Ok, but, I am committed to writing 10k of my new mystery in order. This has started today. I have 500 words so far. 5% done. I'll report back.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

It's Homecoming Week

At my new school, there's a tradition called dodgeball. The girls (it's an all-girls' school) dress up in their house colors and then try to obliterate one another in dodgeball. 

It's the traditional dodgeball where people run to the center of the gym, retrieve balls, and whip them at one another while showing no mercy.

The whole tournament was slightly terrifying to me. First, you have to consider the noise. It was constant roaring. It was girls in tutus maybe experiencing catharsis through screaming, which reverberated from the gym rafters.

Second, there were the cheating accusations. Just imagining someone coming after me with their finger out, yelling about how I'd broken a rule--to be honest, it made my heart beat fast and sparked an urge to cower.

Third, I was struck by the contrast of the school's stated values and DODGEBALL. We're about kindness and gentleness and optimism, and apparently also about annihilation and humiliation. 

Perhaps more suprising than all of this was the girls' demonstrated affection for the tradition. I polled my afternoon classes about how they'd rank dodgeball on a scale of 1-5, with five being "awesome." I'd say the average score was 4.

So, there you have it. Watch out for the flying balls. It's possible I just don't understand. Yet.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

I Don't Want to Write Today

So this is my warm up.

My goal this week is really manageable. It's just 400 words per day. If I start, I'll be finished. But I feel tired and slow, and I don't want to start.

I should be riding high. I showered this morning and got dressed and left the house before Mac's alarm rang at our ideal departure time. A victory!

But after I dropped him off, I touched my face for a moment and realized I'd forgotten to put on any makeup. I do this about once per year, usually when I get ready in an out-of-order sort of way.

We wear masks at school, so it's almost no big deal to forget one's make-up, except I think a little mascara goes a long way, and I'm new to my job, and I want to make a good impression.

There's a Walgreens near the building, and I teach in the afternoons while writing in my classroom in the mornings. So, what was an extra ten minutes to stop by and pay thirty dollars for the concealer, eyelash curler, and a new Voluminous? I did the touch up using the sunshield mirror.

Nothing bad happened except it continued my discombobulation, and now I don't want to write. 

But it's just 400 words, and it's my job.

I'll do it.

I'll do it.

I'll do it. 

(Cue Cameron Frye in his car wanting and not wanting to let Ferris boss him around.)

Thursday, August 26, 2021

A Magic Carpet Ride

We're in a new reality now where I am a schoolteacher at my alma mater.

Yesterday, I stopped on my way home from school to walk with Nicole. I told her it had been a million years since I really sat down and worked on GCMB (that's Golf Course Murder Book. Book 4), or really on any writing.

But then, I realized that statement wasn't true at all. I turned in my final revision of Home or Away at dinner time on August 15th, about 15 hours before I was due at this new teaching job for my week of workshops. In between, I've written a couple of thousand words and thought about which of my suspects might actually be a murderer.

Sometimes, when I feel like I've been lazy, I really haven't been lazy at all.

And, in the meantime, I've learned a new course management system, planned a month of lessons, organized my classroom, reacquainted myself with Catholic ethos (the school is Catholic and all-girls), and optimized my cheery disposition. 

So it's not like I've been lazing around.

But still, routine is good, so I'm excited to slide into it on Monday. I teach in the afternoons, so I'll be writing in the mornings. Although I only teach afternoons, I have well-lit and comfortable classroom to myself all day, so I'm going to use it as my office. Noise-canceling headphones and a desk and I just know GCMB is going to flow out of me.

I actually do think it will. It doesn't hurt to practice joyful optimism. In fact, it's one of our "little virtues" at school, so it's sort of my job.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Olympic Champions

It's time again to write on my blog. I will tell you the story of the new first chapter of Home or Away, a book I wrote that will be out in March of 2022.

A few things happened:

First, my two pals Bradeigh and Alison read the second-most recent version of the novel, and each felt Chapter 1 wasn't quite right. They offered the same potential solution (convenient!). I attempted it.

"Not quite," said Alison when I showed it to her. I made a few of the additional changes she suggested and then handed it in.

Next, my editor read the newest Chapter 1 and said, "I think we need a slightly different tone." She did some cutting of some hockey jargon, but left me a note that it still needed a magic something.

Lee then also read that version and said, "I do not like Chapter 1. I started liking the book in Chapter 3." You can see now that we have a theme here. Chapter 1 cannot stand as is. Lee offered another strategy, but I couldn't quite figure out how to make it work.

I discussed my predicament with Nicole. It was our whole topic for "stretch and talk," a time on the days when we work together when we simultaneously--you guessed it--stretch! and talk! "Ok," Nicole said. "Let's think about the promise you're making to the reader in Chapter 1 and why that's not working." She asked for some themes of the novel. Competition, I said. Forgiveness. Sisterhood. Commitment. 

Nicole offered another possibility for the chapter based on my answers. I attempted it. Breaking news: I have now sent Chapter 1 back to Lee and Nicole now for review. We can only hope I'm on the right track. If not, the team will go back in the dugout for some more strategizing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

I'm Doing Okay: A Status Report

 Here's how it's going:

Revisions on Home or Away: This is my third novel. It's a massive departure from books 1 and 2, and I'm proud of it, tbh.

Also, the process of writing this book has more or less decimated me. It was ridiculously hard to write, and I needed countless pep talks from various friends. I think it was so hard because there was no way in this story to skirt vulnerability and emotional depth. 

My usual fare, quips and banter, require a little less of me in terms of resilience.

Anyway, we're doing one last round of revisions, "we" meaning my editor and me. My goal is to be done in two weeks, and I think I can do it. There might be some crying, but I actually think I might be past that part. Anyway, it's all part of the process.

Progress on Book 4: This is the one I'm calling "Golf Course Murder Book." It's fun and different and there's a dead body. I'm going to learn a lot while writing this because plotting a crime requires more planning than does a suburban dramedy.

Also, it's weird to talk about "usual" since I've only written three books so far. "Usual" seems more like a ten or twelve book thing.

Chores: I don't make the children do chores. But, it's nice when things are picked up. This afternoon, we will all pick up for 7 minutes or so at the same time, and I believe our kitchen family room will look nice after this exercise.

Update: Only one child did the clean-up, and I would say his attitude could be described as "reluctant."

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Writing Is Easy and Fun for Me

This is a little mantra that comes back to me from time to time. I'm sure I've written about it before. 

(I just checked, and yes, I wrote about it and my guffawing high school English teacher in 2007.) 

"Writing is easy and fun for me," pops right into my head when I'm struggling. I'm currently struggling, and let me now enumerate the ways:

I'm working on a new idea and getting to know new characters. I'm writing lots of scenes that will hit the garbage can. You would think that knowing I'm going to throw it all away would free me, and in some ways, it does! But other times, it just feels daunting. Because I know I'll have to write 200,000 words before I land on the 90,000 right ones.

But, also, I worry that I'm not finding the right ideas or learning the right things about the characters or exploring the right facets of their personalities. Maybe I identified the wrong "five pivotal life moments" that I'm now excavating for the first of five or six main characters. Maybe I haven't gotten the right connections drawn between one character and another.

The young woman I'm writing about right now isn't coming to life in all the right ways yet. One problem is that her name is Felicia. I should probably change that immediately because #ByeFelicia.

I just paused the writing of this blog entry to watch a video about the origin of the expression "Bye Felicia." I had no idea, and it's possibly appropriative for me to use since it was originated by Ice Cube's character in the movie Friday.

So, this is a lot of struggle. Let's start with the easiest problem and rename Felicia. I'm going to switch it right now to Victoria. Do you think that'll help?

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Water Heaters. We Have Two.

Just yesterday, I was bemoaning the publishing pay structure. You don't get paid on a bi-weekly basis. Rather, you get largeish sums of money at irregular intervals, the frequency of which is mostly beyond your control.

I was thinking about how I hadn't been paid in a while, and then I had the thought, "Well, at least we don't have any pressing home repair projects at the moment."

Everyone knows what happens next. 

The goddamned water heater imploded not two hours after I had that thought. It was the right water heater. We have tandem ones because our house is big and old. In any case, both of them are beyond their life expectancies, and so both are getting replaced today. If I didn't do it that way, you know I'd be calling back in seven days or less for them to do the other one, paying an additional visit fee and also losing my double-heater discount.

To be frank, this whole blasted operation is costing a pretty penny. There are four guys here doing the work. It's ruined my day. I had plans. I can't execute them. I'm dirty because we had no hot water last night. Dan Facetimed with the guy to turn it off, lest it continue to leak all over the basement floor. I wanted to go running. I can't. The dogs are upset and loud. I was supposed to go write in Nicole's studio. I didn't. 

With my overly sensitive nose, I detected a natural gas smell. 

"I'm surprised you can smell it," the guy said. "I replaced the connection, and opened the door."

I can, in fact, smell it, even though I've been assured I'm not going to blow up. It's giving me a migraine. Everything sucks.

Well, not everything. But, this water heater situation for sure.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Summer Status Report

 I like to update on various things sometimes. This is one of those times.

Hydration: I need to be doing a slightly better job of drinking more water on a daily basis. This is a constant struggle. I've tried to solve my water problems by getting cuter water bottles and fun flavored things to dump in them. I've also tried cute stickers for my cuter water bottles. All of these things work somewhat.

Mechanical Keyboard: I bought a mechanical keyboard for Mac for his birthday. Mac is a keyboard expert and addict and enjoys the various sounds and feels of different types of machines. Right now, I'm using the keyboard I bought for him because I love it, and because he is indeed very generous. It does this wonderful clackity clack thing and makes you want to just keep typing forever. Combine the mechanical keyboard with some good ole comic sans draft font, and I'm churning out a thousand words in no time flat.

Novel Writing: I turned in my third novel for the second time. The honest to goodness truth is that I'm exceedingly proud of it. I need to hold on to that feeling. Now, I'm starting something new and completely different. "Departure" doesn't even cover it. But, just this morning I typed a thousand words of it with the aforementioned clickity clackety magic keyboard. There's murder and revenge and wacky personalities and Lili Pulitzer, I'm pretty sure. 

Dog Ladydom: I'm still a part of it. Three dogs. Can't escape; can't go back.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The College Visits

 Have you ever even heard of having a kid old enough to go to college?

When I started writing this blog, I had a six-month-old baby. That child has now identified first, second, third, and fourth choice colleges. We're in the airport now waiting to fly home from the visits. The whole thing was extremely fun. 6 days, 5 states, 10 schools, and a couple of interludes with BFFs and family members.

And now it'll be back to the real world with a book due once again in a week.

It's scary, but I can probably do it. I've done it before, and this time I have crystals. 

(I'm into crystals now, FYI. I've been carrying amethyst in my pocket for a week and sure enough, there was clarity and solid decision making. The crystals work wonders.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Cute Workout

The other day, Mac had to miss track practice for a doctor's appointment, and so I supervised his workout. This is rather an unfortunate admission, but I consider myself something of a Dwight Schrute to the boys' running coach. 

The Assistant (to the) Regional Manager, or whatever. Basically, I have assigned myself a made-up title that doesn't mean anything except for an occasional pathetic ego-boost, and a pity back-slap from the coach that she doesn't even know she's delivering. It's a little like dance captain.

And it's sad when you think about it, I guess, but anyway. 

I supervised Mac's workout in my quasi-official capacity, and after he understood how the reps would proceed, he said, "Cute workout."

It made me laugh, and it occurred to me that it characterized my feelings about writing these days: "Cute effort." I've got my marching orders on Book 3. The novel needs significant, but not overwhelming, revisions. I'm easing my way back in. The blind commitment to productivity that has defined most of my life to this point has sort of evaporated in the wake of Kevin's death.

But anyway. I'm putting some adorable effort in. Little cute bursts of effort, broken up by pink Starbursts and those weird bite-sized Tootsie Rolls with the candy coating.

Onward? The revisions are due July 5.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Book 4

I have been noodling around with ideas for Book 4. Today, I send a long list of bullet points to my agent about what the idea is and who the characters are.

When I was in middle school, my friend Patti and I made up soap opera characters. We wrote about their exploits in spiral notebooks we'd pass back and forth. We'd cut out photos of these people from catalogs and paste them into the notebooks. The characters had ridiculous names like Dirk McDiggory. Their names were pretty much exactly like the ones I made up for my Book 4 characters yesterday. Some of these names will absolutely have to change, but so far we have:

Kit Sheffield

Felicia McIntyre

Shirl Lovelace

I already changed that last one because really. Enough is enough.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

A New Idea

 It's time to start writing my fourth novel.

I've been sitting with that single sentence hanging out by itself up there for quite a long time. I have an idea noodling around now. My agent likes the idea. Little branches of it--shoots, if you will, to borrow a tired metaphor--keep zipping out of my subconscious as I do other things like drop Mac at school, pet one of my three dogs, or think about my brother Kevin's languishing bank account.

I had this great plan about sitting at my desk for a couple of hours each day and making progress. That got torpedoed with Kevin's death, but now I'm supposed to be back.

Yesterday, though, I started the day by drafting an obituary, and to be honest, when I was finished with those 700 words, I felt depleted. I still worked a little, but I also just thought about my sore hip and a boundless future.

Random crap like that.

Anyway, it's time to start writing my fourth novel. I'm going to do it now.

Monday, April 19, 2021

A Detour

 I lost a week of work because my brother died.

My brother died! 

Who can even believe that. Kevin was only 40 years old, younger than I am. 

He was a good person with many excellent qualities. He also struggled a lot with his health. There have been a series of shocks over the past week, each one rippling its way along through my muscles and capillaries and triggering headache and tightness of jaw and you know, devastating sadness. Basically, I've felt terrible, sometimes having that eerie feeling of watching myself from above. There's that meta voice, the one that's like, "Oh wow, she's currently coping with her grief by having a second M&M cookie!"

Other things have happened, too. Like now, I have Kevin's dog, Skip. Skip used to be our dog, and then when his anxiousness about other people's children became too much, he lived with Kevin. He's had a homecoming of sorts and seems to be settling in well with his canine brother and sister.

So, in addition to being someone whose brother has died, I'm also definitely a dog lady. Three dogs a dog lady makes.

And one brother dead at 40 makes me... a person in a sad and heartbreaking club. We'll be okay.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Is Anyone Actually Good at Living in the Moment?

I am not that good at being in the moment. And especially not today. My attention span is about two seconds long, and I'm all about the future at this time. I'm thinking about:

A new job for next school year.

A new book to write that I've only just begun to brainstorm.

The sun damage that I had blasted with a super powerful light that will darken and then fade next week.

Nothing is about sitting in my chair and doing the work, word by word. I don't want to do my two hours here today. I might not do a great job. But sure enough, I'm here doing it.

So far, I read the prompt in a book called Write it! 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire. I do not then write poetry, but I visit PoetryFoundation.Org, type in a keyword from the prompt (today it was "smell"), read another poem (today it was a great one called "Smell is the Last Memory to Go" by Fatimah Asghar), and then do some journaling (today it was about juxtaposition and hopes for the future). It's been good, I guess. It hasn't been bad.

And now I'm here doing this writing. This counts as writing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Enough is Enough

 To be honest, I'm feeling a little queasy at the moment. It's not because of the cyber sickness which has dogged me for many days, but rather because I was trying to drum up some mystery ideas by reading a chapter on the decomposition of remains.

I drew the line at reading the details of bodies in the desert and also ear prints. I mean, gross. My stomach started to turn as I read about bodies in the water and the weird fatty substance that develops. 

I decided that should I need to know these details for whatever plot I develop, then I will learn then. In the meantime, there are enough gross things about being alive and living with three boys and two dogs.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Derringer

 In my quest for the perfect idea for book four, I've been thinking a lot about guns.

Well, that's not entirely accurate. I've been reading about guns this morning (and only this morning) in an oudated book about crime scene investigation.

Specifically, I'm thinking about derringer revolvers, cute little handguns like the one in the purse of Miss Scarlett in the movie Clue.

Your grandmother might have such a revolver if she's the gun-toting sort. And what might your grandmother have done or do with said weapon? That's exactly the kind of thing her granddaughter will have to investigate, don't you think?

Monday, April 5, 2021

Perennial Lessons

There are few lessons I have to learn over and over again in my life.

One of them is HOW TO JUST BE TIRED. Sometimes, life gets away from me, and I require a major or minor medical event -- face infection, migraine, unrelenting motion sickness, or strained hamstring to remember that I should take a break and rest.

I remembered and learned that lesson again last week when I had the migraine, the motion sickness, and the hamstring problem. Then I lay around all weekend and dozed, and now I think I feel better. We're having gorgeous weather today, and I feel hopeful and optimistic about what's next. 

Here's a preview:

  • In April, I'm spending two straight hours per day at my desk writing or thinking about writing. I'm doing that right now. The blog will probably benefit. I cannot count other tasks like working on renewing my teaching license as part of these writing-specific two hours. 
  • I will also be renewing my teaching license, a task that will require additional hours per day. Should I have spread this work out over five years? Yes, indeed. Did I? Nope. Not even a little bit.
  • I might be joining TikTok and making content. Lord, help us all. I have mixed feelings about this because I've been listening to a super great podcast called Under the Influence by Jo Piazza. Makes you think twice about your online personal brand, but at the same time as an author, I need an online personal brand.
  • I have been big on body positivity messages lately. Here are a couple of my favorites: "It's okay for your body to change," and "Think about what your body can do, rather than how much it weighs." That's random, but it's on my mind. As are Cheetos and their healthier alternative, Peatos. I'm eating the Fiery Onion Peatos right this moment. They're not kidding with the fire.
  • Track season is underway as of this afternoon. It's time to reboot InstenseTrackMom.Com, my fake website for my intense sports momming alter-ego. I just turned in a book about youth sports, so I'll be paying careful attention to this gal in the coming months.
I think that's it. I'm cruising. Working. Rewarding myself with stickers.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

We Just Need 10 Quick Ones. Finishing a story-a-day.

 This premise challenge was pretty hard. But, today I'm getting it done:

1. A city gal goes to college and falls in love with a guy who wants her to then move up to live on the Alaska homestead with his family. They have a reality television series, and she needs to be on it. And have a pit toilet and hunt bears.

2. A woman puts an app on her kids' phones that lets her read their every text without them knowing. She accidentally finds out way more than she wants to know about her son's friend group and their weird friend-hazing cult type thing. She tries to stop bad stuff from happening and ends up in a compromising situation.

3. A woman hates her stepfather. She's always just had a bad feeling about him. When her mom dies and the woman starts cleaning out the attic, she discovers that her stepfather is actually much worse than she imagined...and her mom might have been complicit.

4. An animal-lover can't stop getting animals. She has many dogs and cats, plus a couple of fish tanks, four guinea pigs, a handful of gerbils in separate cages, and a tortoise. It's hard to explain this situation and the accompanying smells when she starts to date.

5. It's the 100th year of a summer camp. There have never been deaths at the camp before ever in the camp's history, but this time, there are two in a boating accident. The trauma turns up other secrets of the camp from past and present.

6. A woman enters a writing contest and doesn't make the finals. This snub puts her over the edge, and she starts to stalk every finalist, turning up in their towns and at their online events to heckle them and make their lives miserable. This isn't a good career move.

7. A kid plagiarizes a paper, but it turns out his dad is the one who helped him with the plagiarizing. And the dad is the headmaster at the school.

8. A woman was on The Biggest Loser back in the day. She has since learned that The Biggest Loser is very bad... it messes with one's metabolism in a way that makes it impossible to maintain a healthy weight long term. Plus, the trainers yelled at her so much that she now hates every single thing about herself if she's not working out. She seeks revenge on the trainers.

9. A woman wishes to buy a vintage typewriter and finds one on Facebook Marketplace. She drives a half-hour to pick it up from a stranger. The stranger is odd and wears ill-fitting clothes. When she gets home and types on the keyboard, fantastic words and sentences spew forth. It might be haunted.

10. A woman has not seen her father in many years, and when she does see him, she's stunned by his youthfulness. He might have discovered a secret and dangerous drug to prevent aging. She launches an investigation.

Quick and dirty. And Done.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Four More Dead Bodies. Catching Up.

Well! Here we are a few days behind. In my defense, we got a new president. Joy cometh in the morning, and the reign of terror is finally over. Also, it has become clear that a major tenet of my marketing plan for my second novel (out March 16th from Penguin Random House) is me contacting everyone I know and asking them to preorder my book. 


Please preorder my book. Do it from this place, and then you get access to my launch event with Nora McInerny. This is very important. I will also sign your book before the shop ships it. Nora is a BFD, and you're going to want to see her. Besides her brilliance, she usually looks very striking and has a bold lip.

Ok, moving on. Really quick, here are four more dead bodies that could turn into novels.

There might be a dead body in the back room of the bookstore and here's why: An author moved from central Minnesota to New York City when she was 22. She hadn't written a full novel yet or secured an agent or a book deal. She had a chapbook of pretty good poetry and started an online journal. She had three other jobs she did while also trying to make it as a writer, including one in a sandwich shop. After a few years, she gives up on her impossible life in the big city and crawls back to her small town. People think she's too big for her britches. She tried and failed, and now she should pay. She gets a job in the independent bookstore, and two weeks later, she's dead in the back room.

There's a dead body in the locker room at the Super Bowl. It's not a player or a coach. It's a woman who was very vocal about fighting against the rampant sex trafficking that happens at the Super Bowl.

There is a gal who has been a life-long student at a prestigious all-girls Catholic school. This young woman is a star at that school: she has top grades, zero uniform violations, and also she has prayed the rosary with the Archbishop of the Diocese as a representative of her school. And then one night, she's caught in the monestary with a cocktail of questionable drugs on the same evening one of the elderly nuns has been found dead.

One more.

A popular progressive news host on a channel very much like MSNBC disappears after uncovering documents that link a conservative general to war crimes. She had been warned not to release them, but she did anyway, and now there's hell to pay... maybe by people who've been sworn to protect her safety.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Two Dead Bodies. Stories Fifteen and Sixteen.

 My last post was misnumbered. After today, we'll be up to sixteen. And, both of these premises will be about... MURDER.


Sarah Smith went to a state school in Wisconsin in a beautiful small town adjacent to an idyllic river. "Stay away from the river when you're drunk," her mother warned her before she left for her freshman year. Every so often a kid would drown in icy water in the winter after doing something stupid on the way back to the dorms after a party. During Sarah's first year, a kid did just that, and the victim happened to be named Sarah Smith, just like our protagonist. 

It was just really weird and kind of creepy for our Sarah that someone with her same name suffered this horrible fate. For at least a year afterward, people kept telling her they thought the victim was her. Professors, students, strangers, friends from high school. Five years after she graduates, our Sarah starts finding strange posts on her social accounts, things she hasn't posted, about what she's done and where she's gone. She changes her passwords, and it keeps happening. Then, she gets a letter in her mail one day with a return address from the same small town in which she went to school. "It should have been you," the letter says. And Sarah starts to investigate.

Now, here's story #16:

Lauren James always wished her dad was dead. He was not such a great guy and impossible to get a long with. Him dead would have been easier to deal with than their weird estrangement. The last time Lauren sees her dad is at her high school graduation. Her dad looks awful there, wearing a baby blue suit several sizes too small. He criticizes Lauren's appearance, pointing out her round cheeks, her thick upper arms. 

On the way to the graduation, Lauren wishes again that he were just gone. 

But, Lauren didn't kill him. She's suspect number one when he's found soaked in blood and vomit in his condo. Lauren didn't even know he lived in town, but her jackass older brother fed her as a suspect to the police. He showed them text messages about how much he hated him. His replies, equally as damning, were conveniently deleted from his feed.

The police don't have enough evidence to arrest Lauren, so she starts investigating. She's only 22, but she's scrappy. Her bitchy grandmother on her dad's side is her first suspect.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Two Stories about Substitute Teaching. Twelve and Thirteen.

I subbed yesterday. Certainly, that's fodder:

Fresh from student teaching, Darby keeps hearing about a teacher shortage, but at the same time, she keeps getting passed over for the jobs she applies for. It's December, so most of the openings are actually filled, but still. "You were our second choice," the principals keep saying when they call her to say that someone else will do so-and-so's eight-week maternity leave. Eventually, all of the first choices will already be hired, and then she'll actually get a job. In the meantime, she'll sub. 

It's a dystopian nightmare from the start. No lesson plans, kids who throw chairs, one who defecates in the corner, and worst of all, a guy from her graduate school program who just happens to end up at the same schools she subs at each day, even when she district-hops midweek. What's with this guy? And what's the definition of stalking?

That's one. Here's another:

Ingrid lands a long-term sub job. She's pumped because she's been out of the workforce raising her kids for a few years, basically going crazy watching spit-up dry on receiving blankets and shaking rattles above their wobbly heads. But now the twins are in Kindergarten and the next one can do daycare. Ingrid's husband wonders whether the daycare investment is worth it, but Ingrid insists. "What is the price of my fucking sanity?!" she demands. He lets it go.

Little does Ingrid know, she's walking into another nightmare. The teachers in this place are unbelievably competitive. They hide lesson plans from one another, steal each other's recess spots, and trash-talk each other's contributions to mandatory workplace potlucks. Ingrid's got to not only manage her rowdy class and keep them quiet in the hallways, but she also has to navigate this grown-up bullshit. A week or two into the job she discovers one teacher's shocking secret, and suddenly the power dynamics start to change.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Two Stories Today. Eleven and Twelve.

 I'm obsessed with mysteries and detectives right now. Maybe I should write some books with dead bodies? Here are some ideas:

Louise Marmaduke is a young woman who has just scored her first position as an investigator in a suburban police department. The main guy, Jerome Saint Ruf, is old and craggy, and Louise is young and fresh. It's a dichotomy. On her first day on the job, Louise almost quits because Saint Ruf is mean and not that innovative. Their first case is about tagging at the local park, and the guy basically terrorizes a few pre-teens who are maybe or maybe not responsible for a little spray paint. Everything changes when Saint Ruf sends Louise over to the high school on her own after a weird call from the police liaison officer. When she gets there, she quickly realizes ole Jerome probably should have accompanied her because there's a dead body in the oven in the cafeteria. It's a despised teacher of Advanced Placement United States History.

Not sure that one has legs. What about this one?

A dog trainer (I've met a few, and they've all been interesting sorts) is doing the boot camp program for her dog training school, See Spot Sit. Her livelihood and freedom are threatened when one dog at a time from SSS starts to die. Someone is poisoning the dogs. It's not the trainer! But, it's someone who hates her quite a lot. The suspects include a disgraced former employee who was found to have used small shock buzzers on unknowing animals, the trainer's mother who really wants her to do something different with her life, and a total weirdo from her high school class who feels it's his mission in life to marry her.

Also not the best. But, we all know that you just have to write the ideas and sometimes they grow better as you edit and think.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

A Story a Day. Ten.

A woman is just making her way through life, trying to be a good parent and wife. One of her kids is usually humming or singing lightly, little non-tunes, under his breath. The tunes are high pitched and loosely melodious. She doesn't think he even notices he's doing it, and is generally pretty pleasant.

One day, the song the boys hums takes a shape that is uncomfortably familiar to the woman. It's the same damn song her dad used to sing to her when she was little. It makes her spine tingle. Something messed up happened when she heard that song. "Where did you learn that song?" she demanded. She hasn't seen her dad in more than 20 years, either because they're estranged or he's dead.

It turns out the song came to him in a dream. The dream is that a guy who resembles the woman's father whispers in the kid's ear. Maybe he's singing to him from outside the window.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Two Stories Today. Eight and Nine.

As many have noted, this is a hard challenge.

Here's what I've got today:

A girl goes to a small liberal arts college in a remote area. I guess it would most likely be in New England, right? Where all those elite small liberal arts colleges are located? But, I kind of want this one to be in Montana. In any case, the girl has been pretty lucky for her whole life -- plenty of money and food and opportunity, adoring parents and teachers. She tries to contact her assigned roommate over the summer. There are Facebook groups for it, and she reaches out on social to no avail. When they finally meet, something is a little off about the roommate. She has three or four outfits total. She smells a little off, not BAD exactly, but also not like the usual soap and shampoo. As time goes by, there are weird calls to their room and odd packages, and then near Thanksgiving, her roommate filches a paper the girl is working on and hands in an identical one to their ecology professor. Later, a card from the girl's mom lies open on her bed with the twenty-dollar bill that's normally inside missing. There's other stuff, and then it gets worse. I'm thinking there's also a bear attack. That's why I wanted it in Montana.

Speaking of Montana, this next idea takes place in some of the USA's National Parks:

Some parents are divorced, and the dad moves away to another state. It's an unusual choice, but there were circumstances. The divorce decree says the kids have to spend six weeks in the summer with the dad because they don't see him hardly at all during the year. They're teens and they hate this. They miss their sports and their friends, and they don't really like their dad that much. He's not the world's most spectacular guy for reasons that will become clear in this novel through flashbacks, etc. For the second summer (after the first one was a spectacular failure when he signed the teens up for a bunch of lame-ass park league activites), the dad decides on a several-state road trip to see our National Parks. Endless calamities ensue -- falls off cliffs and into geysers and such. I haven't decided the tone of this story, yet, so I don't kow exactly what happens. But, this is the premise.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

A Story a Day. Seven.

If you go to a certain vending machine in a certain building on campus and press E1, a secret code drops with your Snickers.

If you use the code in a particular computer in a particular lab, you get access to a top secret news document that has all the latest research from the university.

If you know the right people with the right contacts, that kind of innovation can be worth a lot of money.

That's all I got for today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

A Story a Day. Six.

Each night, a middle-aged woman tries to remember to treat her unfortunate age spots with some kind of miracle cream. She remembers about one of three nights, which is probably why she still has the age spots despite the proven efficacy of the cream.

The reason why this lady can't remember the cream is that she's very preoccupied with a family of rats that has taken up residence in the little utility room off her basement. She let just one of them in just one time because it looked cold in the snow. Its little nose kept twitching and it asked so nicely for just the slightest of reprieves.

And then after she let the first rat in, they kept coming. It was warm in the house, and the two boys in the household never put away their food or dishes. There were plenty of places to scurry about and frolic. It was quite pleasant.

Except that it wasn't because rats are totally gross.

I almost forgot to do this tonight, but then I didn't.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

A Story a Day. Five.

The family enters the tenth month of quarantine. Everyone seems okay.

And then one afternoon during an at-home Zoom physics class that hasn't captivated him, the sixteen-year-old of the family retrieves a wayward hacky sack from inside a light fixture and finds a tiny listening device in that very same sconce. This all goes down in his mom's office. She's a university professor.

The kid knows it's a listening device because he obsessively reads John Le Carré novels and also watches television.

Naturally, he takes several photos of the device before flushing it down the toilet. Then, he does copious googling and finds it's the same kind of bug frequently used by the one and only Central Intelligence Agency.

Of course, the kid wonders how this little thing happened to appear in his mom's office. He thinks about asking her what she might be up to, but just when he plans to confront her, he overhears her on the phone in a suspicious conversation. I'm not sure what she's saying, but it alarms him, and suddenly, he's just not sure who he can trust. Maybe not her. She might not be who she says she is, and therefore he might not be who he thinks he is either.

Monday, January 4, 2021

A Story a Day. Four.

This story sprung to mind because I have an unfortunate situation on my hands wherein I have to complete 125 of continuing teacher education in about four months. This happened because of my own procrastination and poor judgment. I started to wonder what other kinds of teachers would end up in my situation, and this is what I got:

Two grizzled history teachers who each refuse to teach anything but the niche electives that they've commandeered for the previous decade. These guys grumble in the back of each department meeting. They pull aside the idealistic newbies and warn them not to work too hard lest they make other people look bad. I can't stand these guys, and I've definitely met them.

Anyway, they find themselves in a very stupid relicensure class. They have to take it because of their own procrastination and poor judgment. 

Instead of listening to the class on backwards curriculum design, they exchange complaints about their jobs. They have a dumb department chair and a principal who's an imbecile. (Those things are true.) They're sick of the rich kids they teach at this boutique public high school in a wealthy first-ring suburb. Neither of these dudes--both divorced dads--can afford to live in the suburb in which they teach. One of them drives a twelve-year-old Honda Civic with a rusty back bumper. Meanwhile, his vacant students have shoes and handbags that cost more than the whole of one of his paychecks. (True, but uncharitable. It's hardly the kids' fault).

So, the delinquent teachers decide to scam some of their rich students. Maybe they're going to run the stock market club and actually start skimming real money. I'm not too clear on the details. But, anyway they decide on an illegal scam to take advantage of the system that has taken advantage of them.

There are still details to be worked out, but that's the premise.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

A Story a Day. Three.

This idea is ripped from the headlines. Or rather, I'm ripping the beginning straight from my friend Carrie's Facebook feed.

A woman starts getting random packages delivered by Amazon. The first is bat window clings, like for Halloween but it's winter. Next is a mini cauldron. After that comes some Borax laundry booster. There might be other little things -- a book of horoscopes,  a Magic 8 ball, a slender copy of Macbeth

The woman hasn't ordered these things, nor are there any gift notes inside the packages. It starts to creep her out, especially since she was in a boating accident the previous summer. The accident seemed at the time like just bad luck, but now, months later, little suspicious fragments come back to her that she can't explain. The guy at the marina, for example, said some stuff before the accident that might mean that someone had a special interest in this woman. The reporter who covered it seemed to have an agenda.

The woman starts chatting with an Amazon customer service rep who says to ignore the stuff.

But when more ominous things start arriving--a switchblade, ammunition for a BB gun, butterfly bandages--she starts to investigate what really happened that day on the lake.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

A Story a Day. Two.

Ok, here we go. We're thinking of a story idea every day in January. It's not going to be easy. We won't write on and on about them. The posts will be wicked short.

Today, here's my idea:

A person loses their professional job. They were a hospital employee, a skilled one. Maybe they repair complex hospital equipment like my brother Kevin does. But during Covid, cuts hit the healthcare industry and this person is laid off. They start delivering pizza to pay the bills, and one night while delivering pizza (which they hate, especially when people don't tip), they see something mighty strange at a house to which they deliver. Maybe they're at the wrong house or maybe it's the right house and somebody ordered it for them... but, what's happening there is...

I don't know, is the problem.

Are kids having a massive party with no masks? Probably not. That's not that exciting. Maybe that happens in the lead up to the main event, which is...

A woman answers the door in a flimsy robe. She's clearly in the middle of something. Ahem. 

And then, the next morning, that woman's photo appears on social media. She's missing. Or dead!

That's that. Not too shabby! 

Friday, January 1, 2021

A Story a Day: A January Blogging Challenge

 Ok, I saw this idea on Twitter, and I can't remember who started it. But, I'm doing it. 

Here's the deal: 

You think of a premise for a story each day in January. You don't tell the whole story. You just tell the PREMISE. The "what if." 

Lee said she would do it, and for this and many other reasons, Lee is my favorite. Nicole also said she would do it, but she doesn't have a Blogger blog. Nevertheless, Nicole is also my favorite. It would be really great if I could introduce these two favorites IRL, but alas: Covid. And also, geographical differences. Anyway. Onward. Here's my premise for January 1st. 

Join in if you'd like. (You'd like!)

Here's my premise for today:

What if a third-grade teacher had a heart attack while teaching the class. She tries to pretend everything is totally fine until she's on the floor and sweating and the whole she-bang. And when this happens, at the very same time, there's a lockdown. The kids are well-trained, but all hell breaks loose...


Well, I'm not exactly sure that story has potential, but that's the point of this whole thing. Just the premise. Let's do it.

2020 Book Lists! Second Flight of Great Reads!

Two days ago, I posted the first 10 of my favorite 2020 reads. Here are the second 10! Both lists are fabulous, and I like them each equally. I tried to balance the picks, so they'd be like flights of wine, except books. In this one, I tried to put the books in alphabetical order by author (as is my custom), but I became stymied by the formatting limitations of Blogger. I crashed around on the keyboard and considered moving the whole blog to SquareSpace or something, but that seemed like a lot of last-minute work. So, here you go, out of alphabetical order.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark.

Two desperate women, one the wife of a high-profile Manhattan politician and one trapped by crime, swap identities in the airport, boarding each other's flights. But can either of them truly escape the lives they're living? I inhaled this perfectly plotted thriller in a day. The writing is crisp and empathetic, and Clark expertly weaves backstory without disrupting the lightning-quick pace. I loved this a lot.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.

Every year, I come across a few books that I call "like nothing I've read before." Memorable tomes in this category include all-time faves, A Tale for the Time Being and Dept. of Speculation. This year, My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is a contender. Told in tight, quick chapters, this is a slim novel about loyalty, sisterhood, jealously, and yes, bloody murder. I devoured it. The audio performed by Adepero Oduye is great.

The Talking Drum by Lisa Braxton.

In this historical novel, Braxton creates a satisfying arc for each character and also interweaves their stories. Black residents in two 1970s Boston neighborhoods, Petite Africa and Liberty Heights, are under siege by arsonists seeking to collect insurance money before the city claims the buildings via eminent domain and displaces the community. This is a story about gentrification and systemic racism, and Braxton pulls it off with spare, understated prose. 

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré.

I thoroughly enjoyed this engrossing novel about child marriage and female empowerment. The first-person narration sucked me right in. Adunni, a Nigerian teenager in search of her own voice, infuses her heartbreaking story with humor and hopefulness. As a reader, I rooted for her from sentence one. I could imagine reading this alongside A Woman Is No Man, which is also about child marriage and forced labor, but has an entirely different (and also affecting) tone.

You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer.

Alexis and CeCe have never been a close mother-daughter pair. Alexis works all hours and CeCe relies on her therapist father, Tommy, for emotional support. The family functions reasonably well, but when Tommy gets a terminal cancer diagnosis, the balance they've struck upends. Alexis gives up work, so the threesome can spend one last summer together in Tommy's favorite place, Destin, FL, which Hammer describes with loving detail. Her supporting cast charms and complicates, and amidst the sadness, Hammer produces pockets of transcendent joy and laughter. This book gave me serious Beaches vibes, and you know I watched that movie on repeat in the 80s. Plus, the author, Alison, is my friend, and she rocks.

Beach Read by Emily Henry.

Romance novelist January Andrews arrives heartbroken at her late father’s beach house. She's determined to pen another of her bestsellers despite every emotional obstacle. Little does she know that her college creative writing nemesis, Augustus Everett, has taken up residence next door. His heavy-duty literary fiction is renowned, and she’s sure he despises her happily-ever-afters. As they’re both struggling, they swap genres to reinvigorate their writing… and of course, fall in love. Loved this story, and also loved the commentary about what types of writing "count." (Spoiler: all of them!)

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby.

I laughed so hard while reading this essay collection that my child told me to "chill," and my husband asked incredulously whether each sentence was actaually individually funny. Yes, okay? YES. Irby is now one of my favorite humor essayists, and as she's also an early 40s woman with a collection of related troubling symptoms, I feel a kinship. I can't believe I hadn't read her work before, and I have another tome on my shelf ready to dig into early in the new year. 
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny.

I really feel that Louise Penny is a genius, and that this series--the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series--is genius. I love mysteries, you know. And, I love a great father figure. Armand Gamache is that, and this installment (the 6th in the series) drives that particular aspect of his personality home. While he investigates the murder of an amateur archeologist who's taken it upon himself to uncover the secrets of the founding of Quebec, Gamache also relives a failed investigation in which he's lost a young agent. Flashbacks reveal his sweetness and his regret. I always feel a little jealous when I read Louise Penny because she's such a great writer, and I am not yet as great. :) Start with Still Life. That's the first in the series.
Unscripted by Nicole Kronzer.

I'm cheating a little bit here because I definitely read this book in 2019, but it launched in to the world in 2020, at which point I couldn't stop talking about it. It's charming, delightful, relatable, and carries important messages for teenagers. Kronzer develops a winning and vulnerable protagonist, Zelda, who spends a summer at a male-dominated comedy camp in the Colorado Rockies. She adds in a supporting cast of hilarious and sympathetic kids, cultivates an important #MeToo girl power message, and sprinkles it all with funny improv jokes. I'm sorry, but who wouldn't give this book five stars?

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia.

Yes, astute and dedicated readers of my lists will remember a Kate Racculia novel in the other 2020 flight, as well. I was so delighted to discover Kate this year. She's a brilliant, funny writer, and her stories are filled with puzzles and surprises. Did you like The Westing Game as a kid? This author did, too, along with pop culture and words and riddles. In this book, an iconic Boston billionaire dies and leaves the city a treasure hunt. Tuesday Mooney, an prospect investigator for a nonprofit hospital, and a lovable supporting cast must face their demons to have a chance at the jackpot.

And that's it! I already finsihed my first book of 2021, and I know it's going to be a great reading year. Did I miss something great this year? Be sure to tell me. I'm always looking for reading suggestions.