Saturday, March 25, 2017
This is a picture of the 5th Avenue Pier in Seaside Park, New Jersey. Over the years, we've spent a lot of time here crabbing, as in catching crabs. I rarely do the other kind of crabbing when I'm this close to Barnegat Bay or the Atlantic Ocean.
My family spends summers in Seaside Park and we visit almost monthly throughout the year. Shopping local in Seaside on Black Friday has become a tradition. This past Thanksgiving weekend, during our annual visit, we walked over to the bay beach and discovered two women, dressed for a Renaissance fair -- at least that's what it looked like. They were with two horses. Not something you see on the bay beach every day. My daughter asked if she could pet them, to which the ladies replied "sure!" When they saw she had a camera, they invited her to take some pictures. This is one of them.
I have no idea why the women and the horses were there. I have no idea why we never thought to ask them. It was one of those surreal moments that you don't question. Before we knew it, we were watching the ladies drive away in the pick up, horse trailer in tow. They honked the horn as we stood waving.
Why were their horses by the bay? Any ideas? I thought this would make a good writing prompt for a writers' group I help to run at my local library.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Somebody recently pointed out that the heroines in almost all of my novels are the anti-Patty. To a large extent, this is true. Julie in SEND, Bailey in TMI, Grace in SOME BOYS, Amanda in NOTHING LEFT TO BURN -- all blue eyed blondes.
I'm a brown-eyed brunette.
In temperament, Grace is a warrior. I don't fight. I don't confront. I just fade away.
Amanda is a natural leader. I failed miserably as president of a non-profit org and resigned less than two months into the role.
I gave this considerable thought and have to admit, I hate the way I look. Yeah. I'm that girl, the one who's got every flaw catalogued and indexed. This is why I chose this picture -- one I made of scans of old pictures.
The one on the left is my youngest son and the one on the right is me. Both of us are four months old at the time.
During both of my pregnancies, I’d hoped each baby would inherit his aunt’s blue eyes, his grandfather’s perfect teeth, his cousin’s blond hair, his grandmother’s perfectly formed nose. In other words, all the features I lacked.
Instead, Christopher was born looking so much like me, I actually cringed. It was like a cruel joke...I grew up hating my appearance and now had to watch my beloved child do the same thing? I had so much hair at birth, the nurses tied a gauze bow in it to keep it out of my eyes. Chris's first haircut was done at four weeks old with me propping up his head. We have the same expressions. The same coloring. Even the shape of our ears is the same.
I remember holding him minutes after his birth, counting fingers and toes, feeling his tiny heart beat under my hand. And I remember this sort of shock hit me hard -- shock because I thought he was the most beautiful being ever created, and that somehow, I'd made him that way. This was a monumental realization... I'm a person who has dozens of flaws catalogued and cross-indexed but I don't see them in him.
He looks just like me. So if he is beautiful, that had to mean...so am I.
I don't know why this stunned me. I don't even know why it matters. It's a silly hang-up to have, really. But I did. I still do to a very large extent. But now, twenty-two years later, I think this boy is absolutely beautiful (they both are!).
Bonus shot: Here's one of both of my sons, taken on New Year's Eve. (with Rob's girlfriend, Catherine):
Sunday, March 19, 2017
I have found new joy in writing!
Becoming a published author has been my lifelong dream and I am beyond blessed to have my fourth (4th!!) book releasing in less than two months. Yay for novel-writing! And yay for book deals that haven't even been announced yet. Which means more novel-writing. Yay!
Except that having a career writing novels can sometimes make writing feel, well, like it's a job. And I have yet to find a pain-free way of completing a novel. In fact, a career in publishing can sometimes make an author forget the reason they got into this thing in the first place: the pure and simple joy of writing.
Sometimes, a writer must seek out new forms of writing in order to rediscover their initial passion and excitement. They must try writing things that are not-a-job and just-for-fun. Things that make them feel like they're starting all over again. Things like, oh I don't know, maybe ... writing comedy skits!
I am learning so much and I'm having So. Much. Fun.
And guess what else? All of this fresh energy is helping fuel more productive novel writing! So if you're struggling to find joy in your own writing process, you may want to try something completely outside your comfort zone. (And maybe inbox me if you've found some pain-free way of completing a novel.) Happy writing!
Saturday, March 18, 2017
This was his first (and so far, only) time seeing (and touching and tasting because he's a dog) the ocean. He was a bit confused by that constantly moving water, but he liked the big sandy area he could run around on. We had a picnic lunch, courtesy of Wawa and walked along the paths at Cape Henlopen State Park enjoying the sunshine along with a lot of other happy folks.
There was more to this day, of course, like the part about where I had to do actual work and go and sell some books, but that wasn't the important part of the day. Work is almost never the important part of the day. I think too many people forget that or don't realize that.
I remember once my grandmother told me to not waste time planning things, because plans seldom work out and you'll only end up being disappointed. At the time, I thought she was being too much of a pessimist, but now that I'm a bit older I think I understand what she meant. Plans make life stressful and not so much fun. It's always the unplanned things that end up being the most enjoyable.
I like this picture because it's a good reminder to live every day however you please, to be up for spontaneous trips to the beach, to take care of yourself and your soul, first and foremost. Perfect days happen, but only if you're open to adventure and can remember to put the not-so-important stuff on the back burner.
When Alissa Grosso isn't taking spontaneous trips to the beach with her dog, she writes books. She's the author of the YA novels Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. You can find out more about her and her books at alissagrosso.com.
Friday, March 17, 2017
I won't lie--my hometown (in SW Missouri) has been hit hard economically the past few years. Jobs are leaving. I've seen crime go up in my immediate vicinity. We really don't have the same opportunities (economic or cultural) that other areas have.
It's also occurred to me recently that in addition to the economic changes, maybe we really never did have the same opportunities in this area. Maybe my perspective has just changed.
But one thing we do have--one thing I love and don't know how I'd ever live without--is the wide-openness. When we have decent weather, I'm outside with my laptop. I swear there's something about being in a place with no walls. It's like you suddenly have no walls on your imagination.
It's a miraculous thing. It makes amazing things happen on the page. And no matter how my perspective (and the years) change, I can't imagine my love of the wide-openness will ever weaken...
Thursday, March 16, 2017
This picture shows a segment of a manuscript.
It was the draft of what was meant to be a novel in five parts, an ambitious project about how ordinary people live during times of war. It was modeled on Tolstoy's War and Peace. The author was a thirty-nine year old woman named Irene Nemirovsky. She'd grown up in Russia, the daughter of wealthy Jewish parents. During the Russian Revolution, her family lost everything and fled to Paris.
When France fell to the Germans at the beginning of World War II, they moved from Paris to the countryside, and here, Nemirovsky worked feverishly on her next novel.
She kept a diary while she worked, recording her ideas for the project, which was becoming more and more complex. The diary is filled with pages of character sketches, plot points, ideas about structure and possibly using a musical score as a framework for telling the story.
She'd nearly completed two of the five sections by April, 1942, writing in her diary:
"I must create something great and stop wondering if there is any point."
And in June:
"Never forget that the war will be over and that the entire historical side will fade away. Try to create as much as possible: things, debates... that will interest people in 1952 or 2052. Reread Tolstoy. Inimitable descriptions but not historical. Insist on that."
And later in the summer:
"Starting to worry about the shape this novel will have when finished!"
She wrote her last entry on July 11, 1942. It was, characteristically, a list of things she needed to work on in her manuscript, descriptions of scenes she planned to write, a note about what was at the core of the novel she envisioned:
To sum up: struggle between personal destiny and collective destiny... which all in all would correspond to my deepest convictions. What lives on:
1. Our humble day-to-day lives
Two days later, she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where she died within a few weeks.
Her husband was arrested and gassed shortly after and their daughters went into hiding with their nanny. The older daughter, who was eleven at the time of her mother's capture and murder, put the manuscript in a suitcase and kept it with her for the remainder of the war, and thinking it was her mother's journal and would be too painful to read, did not open the suitcase for five-five years.
In the late 1990's, she found in the suitcase, in addition to her mother's notes and journals, a manuscript, the first two segments of a novel. The book was published in France as Suite Francaise in 2004 and eventually translated into 38 languages.
I read this book last week in the comfort of my living room. Each night after I finished my day's writing, I curled up on my recliner and fell into a story about refugees escaping a war zone. Families loading their precious belongings into their cars. A middle aged couple searching for their soldier son. A wealthy man irked that he has to pack up his art. A little girl worried over her pet cat. A man stealing a can of petrol from a sleeping couple. A priest killed by his orphaned charges. A woman hiding a wanted man from soldiers.
I came to the end and read the copies of Irene Nemirovsky's notes. Her diary entries. The lists of story plans. The obsession over a manuscript that I know will never be finished.
I don't know why we do what we do-- why some of us hurt each other, why some of us save each other, why some of us attempt to record it all.
We will never finish, any of us, everything we planned to do. Still, if we are lucky, we keep going, right up to the very end.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
I like this photo because it shows me walking.
Just a couple of months before I took this photo, I faced a health crisis that made me question if I'd lose my ability to walk altogether. I'd taken an antibiotic called Levaquin that, among other things, had attacked my joints and tendons, causing me incredible pain and limiting my mobility. When I realized the drug had poisoned me, one of my first thoughts was, I guess I won't be going to SDCC this year.
But I did go.
First I worked my butt off getting better. Then I walked my butt off at SDCC.
The con exhausted me even more than usual. But I did it and I have this photo as a reminder.
It reminds me that life is unpredictable and at times difficult. It reminds me that I'm stronger than I think. It reminds me that my story isn't over yet. It reminds me that there's still road ahead of me. And it reminds me that my job is to keep walking.
Friday, March 10, 2017
My first novel - the one I finally dared to write - can be traced back to this photo.
I grew up as the child of a biology professor. That meant that I often kept white lab mice as pets, one of my favorite toys was an anatomy model with removable organs (Mr. Body-Bod, to me), and I spent the summer of my 6th year traveling throughout Mexico while my dad and his grad students trapped and tagged bats.
My mom washed our clothes in the river with the local women, and I played with village children. The thing that really captured my imagination were the Mayan ruins we visited. The ancient culture fascinated me - and I continued to learn as much as possible about it.
In college I majored in English, wanting to be a writer, but too scared to fail, I didn't actually write anything besides mediocre analytical papers. I minored in biology (how could I not?). The first time I started to write a novel, I returned back to school and collected a history major. I didn't want to fail.
But then my husband and I decided to take our daughters to Mexico. Oh, I had to find a cool way for them to understand Mayan culture! I decided to write a story. The story turned into a middle-grade novel. I wrote without fear, only thinking of an audience of two, and the story flowed. I called it Jungle Crossing.
The manuscript wasn't ready for publication. But it gave me the courage to write another one and another and another. After writing each new manuscript, I looped back and applied the lessons I'd learned to Jungle Crossing.
The novel was published in 2009. But it really started back in 1973.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
This month our prompt was to post a picture and blog about what it means to us.
This was HARD!
I take a ton of photographs. And I'm getting old-ish.
So, there was a lot to choose from.
As I found myself looking through massive amounts of pictures, I discovered they sparked a million things I wanted to say.
But I had to pick one.
Then I noticed a trend in my picture taking.
It involved numerous snapshots of my children. Their backs were to me and in most of those pictures, my boys were walking away.
This caused me to stop and wonder why I took so many pictures of them from behind.
And why I gravitate to the visual.
Clearly, these were some of my favorite photos.
Perhaps, it's because, one day, not so far into the future, my boys will grow up and head out on their own adventures, doing things they are passionate about.
Things that are independent of me.
And I love that.
It gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction to know I'm raising kids who feel confident enough (most of the time) to forge ahead, without looking back over their shoulders.
It's not that I want them to walk away and forget me.
It's my job to be influential.
And my desire to be important in their lives.
But deep in my soul, I believe their freedom will not interfere with the relationships we are constantly cultivating with each other.
Am I scared they could get hurt, or make stupid mistakes if I'm not vigilant in my protection?
That fear is real--very real.
But, it's a demon I can't allow to take control.
The truth is, we have as good of a chance of destroying a life, by holding on too tightly, as we do of never having embraced it at all.
When I was their age, all I ever wanted to do was fly.
And it had nothing to do with wanting to walk away from anyone.
It had everything to do with discovering who I wanted to be and what I wanted to become.
It was never about choosing one aspect of my life over another.
I was simply attempting to become complete.
When I see my boys moving forward, it's that knowledge that makes me want to snap their pictures and capture the moments when they spread their wings.
Independence isn't walking away, it's learning to fly...
We can't control what happens in their lives, but we can control our ability to remember what it feels like to be on the verge--to be a young adult.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
If you are not aware, the waters on one side of the Continental Divide of the Americas flow to the Pacific; the waters on the other side, flow toward the Atlantic. This particular spot where I'm standing is in Yellowstone National Park. It was the first week in October in 2011 and the Yellowstone trip was the first fall vacation I'd ever taken. Teachers don't typically take October vacations-- although I hear there are some districts in places not Texas that get time off then. But I was taking this vacation because I was no longer teaching full time-- had in fact resigned to write full time and teach part time and maybe earn money in other ways that I was still figuring out. I was living without the safety net of that guaranteed income and it was both scary and freeing. A Continental Divide of another sort-- a before and an after. Just a year before, in 2010, I'd been diagnosed with thyroid cancer--another divide. I'd had surgery and radioactive iodine treatment and I was now cancer free but it had definitely occurred to me along the way of trying not to die that it's a short stay on this planet and if I was going to try to write full time I'd better get to it. And so in January of 2011, I made a reservation at Old Faithful Inn for the following October, an act of faith that I would actually go. I figured if we were going to go to Yellowstone then I wanted to be able to sit on the balcony each evening with a cocktail and watch that famous geyser erupt. It's really quite spectacular if you've never done it, although it is definitely not the most spectacular thing in that park. That first night we were there, that's exactly what we did. I sat in the cold, crisp air and sipped my bourbon and watched nature's show and knew that for better or worse, I was on the other side of things. I would write until it was time to do something else and I would make a life in a different way than I had before. Everything would flow in a different direction.
The next day, my husband snapped this photo. There was something about standing there, knowing that all those geological forces were doing their thing and rivers were flowing in opposite directions that gave me this enormous awe, made me feel small and impotent and in the hands of something...bigger.
Not long after that, a buffalo almost rammed our rental car. But he didn't, so it was okay.
Saturday, March 4, 2017
See that little guy right there? That’s me, age uncertain, but probably five or six. Of all the photos of me, that one is my favorite. (To be sure, most photos of me fill me with existential horror, but that’s another matter.)
The details of the moment are lost to time. I have been told the photo was taken during a trip to Stone Mountain, Georgia. I have also been told the picture was taken in Ohio—by the same person who at other times claimed it was Stone Mountain.
Both options are plausible. I lived in Savannah from age five to seven—and at least one visit to Stone Mountain took place during that time, according to multiple sources. But I was born and mostly raised in Ohio. Even during our sojourn to Georgia, we visited family in Ohio a couple of times.
So which was it? Who knows? Cameras didn’t have geotagging in 1969.
And honestly, I like the uncertainty. I believe we find stories in the gaps. The gaps in my own history represented by this photo are intriguing to me. What was going on in that moment? What story is the picture telling?
What was I looking for? A fallen scoop of ice cream perhaps—unless I’d finished the ice cream already. If the ice cream had fallen into the well, I don’t seem too upset about it. Perhaps I haven’t noticed yet. Or perhaps I’m so caught up in the possibilities of what might be at the bottom of that well I haven’t yet realized my ice cream is gone.
Or maybe there never was any ice cream. Poor, sad, little Billy, no ice cream for him—but here’s a empty cone to snack on. Enjoy, kid!
But I don’t think I’m sad in that photo. I think I’m caught up in wonder. That open well suggests a wealth of possibility. Any kind of tale you might want to tell could start in this moment. I think that’s what I like about this photo most of all.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Someone once said that being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. And this is sort of true. Whenever I think about starting up the fight club again, or getting back my winter job at that Colorado hotel, that little voice tells me I have to get back to work.
So why not call it quits? Have an evening to myself for once? Or better yet, spend some quality time with my daughter. I think she's in the fourth grade. What drives me to write until my fingers bleed?
Well, for one thing, there's the fact that I'm about to turn 42. Were it not for my successful writing career, I'd be the midst of a major midlife crisis. But every time I'm tempted to call up my ex-girlfriend Jennifer and ask what she's been doing since starring in 'The Hunger Games', I look at my boxes of unsold books and think 'Eh, beats buying a sports car.'
Every night. He gets fan letters every day. Wow. Must be nice.
But hey, maybe most of my readers are the silent type. The ones who post their reviews online.
But at least I'm making a difference. I get to speak at high schools and libraries all the time. Of course, I'm such a nerd that I take personal days from my job as a librarian so I can go work in other libraries.
And yes, I have been told that I look like Seth Rogen.
Stay in school kids.