When Children’s Book Writers Are Supposed To Dance Things Might Not Be Pretty

Back before COVID-19, I went to my first big writing conference (as a speaker) in L.A. (California) and I learned that there was a big gala thing and all of us children’s book writers (published and prepublished) were supposed to dance and schmooze there.

Despite the fact that my aunt owned a dance studio and I started dancing when I was two and despite the fact that author/poet/musician/playwright Ozzie Jones once gave me the best compliment about my dancing ever at a Bates College party and despite the fact that I’ve been in far too many musical theater productions, I get uptight about dancing.

Cough.

This is awkward to admit.

And I was supposed to hang out in a group of 900 children’s book writers who were going to be dancing? It was already super obvious who the extraverts are in the children’s book world and let me tell you? It’s the dancers. It’s the schmoozes. It’s the people who introduce themselves to you and aren’t awkward about it.

It is not me.

I thought children’s book writers were my people. Apparently, I was wrong. The whole situation was a lot more like a middle school dance than I thought it would be.

What I learned

1. Some writers can actually dance. I mean, they bend backwards. They throw off shoes. They are not me.

Get your boogie on and shuck off those ukeleles, authors!

2. Author John Green blushes and sort of crumples in half when kids tell them they’ve read Looking for Alaska‘s scene that involves a penis.

I am not spoiling here, but… I’m sure you can guess the scene. The truth is that scene has a bit of the Judy Blume phenom going for it. Kids I knew flipped to it, shared it with friends, even before or after they’ve read the whole book and I could go on for awhile about this and how it’s a very okay thing, but that would be a much longer post for later in the week. 

Also, despite a lot of lady writers asking him to dance, John Green managed to not dance. I envied him.

See, John. This is almost as steamy as your scene, and Raintree County is ancient, although steamy. 

3. It is hard to find people you know in a crowd of 900 and sometimes you just have to give it all up and hang with people you barely know. When doing this, try not to talk about the positive beauty of fleece TOO much. They will run away. 

4. Holding a beer makes dancing easier. I did not do this, but I should have. Thanks for the tip, Lisa Yee!

5. Once you tell people that you’re running off to get someone else to come dance it is REALLY REALLY hard to find those people again. Try not to worry that they think you were blowing them off and you are an evil mean girl or something.

I’m so sorry I lost you! I was busy dying inside from social anxiety.

6. Author Lisa Yee tells amazing stories. Many include peeps. Some include pee. Does there seem to be a connection?

I found this photo on Pinterest. Thank you, Pinterest!

Rock on, Little Peep. Rock on!

7. It’s okay to stand in the big grass circle by the taco makings instead of dancing because there will be other people there who aren’t drunk enough to dance either. These are some of your fellow introverts. Embrace them. Ask first though because not everyone likes embracing.

8. Even when there’s lots of room to spread out people will clump up to dance. I am not sure if this is because it is fun getting elbowed in the head or just for the hiding-your-dance-skills in a bunch of other people factor. Or maybe it’s just the hope for getting lucky is greater the closer you are to other bodies. Does anyone know? Is this an extrovert thing or an introvert thing?

9. Sometimes people can do amazing things with aluminum foil. Sometimes people can’t. This can be dangerous when the foil is used to make clothing. No. I am not posting a picture of this here. But also foil-clothing and dancing can lead to some NSFW photos of writers. Don’t enthusiastically dance if you’re only wearing aluminum-foil clothing unless you’re okay with other writers seeing body parts that are usually covered up and stuff.

10. Writer Cecil C (BEIGE) can hold while dancing:
    1. Plate of food.
    2. Eating utensil
    3. Massive funky-cool bag/purse
    4. Video camera
    All at the same time with a still-healing wrist, which obviously qualifies her for this status

 Yes, she is the dynamic force of both Wonderwoman and Superman combined! That’s super power.

And there you go. Helpful hints for when you go to a conference and there are a bunch of children’s book writers dancing.

Continue reading “When Children’s Book Writers Are Supposed To Dance Things Might Not Be Pretty”

You Are More Than The Things That Have Happened To You

So, a long time ago, I was driving the very unhappy cat Lyra to the kitty spa so that she could not be one massive, walking clump of kitty fur, I was listening to the radio and Bob and Sheri, these syndicated talk-show people.

They were talking about what your purpose is in life.

This made Lyra howl even louder, because a ‘life purpose’ talk is pretty heavy stuff for a cat at 7:55 a.m. especially when you’re in a kitty carrier.

Lyra’s Ghost: That is not while I was howling. I was howling because I was in a small, dark place; the radio was on much too loud and existential questions are dull. Your purpose in life was to feed me, that was all.

And Sheri said that her purpose in life is to make people realize that they are more than the things that have happened to them.

You Are More Than The Things That Have Happened To You.

This was way too big a wow moment for me at 7:55 a.m.

This was a big wow moment for two reasons:

1. My old book GIRL, HERO is all about this. It’s all about Liliana defining herself and taking control of who she is instead of having the horrible things that have happened to her define her. Yeah, she figures this out while writing letters to John Wayne, a dead movie star with some major issues of his own, but whatever.

2. I think that making people realize that they are more than the events in their life is really the purpose of all writing even when we (the writers) don’t realize it. 

I mean, isn’t it?

On that ancient tv show Lost, the people stranded on the island realize that they are more than survivors of a plane crash. One by one, they face demons, encounter fate and destiny, make choices that determine who their character is.

Lost Cast: Our purpose is to look sexy while running from smoke monsters and falling out of helicopters and being shot and being locked in cages meant for panda bears and standing fully dressed in water. Isn’t yours? 

Or even on, um…. The Princess Diaries. Do you all remember The Princess Diaries?

Isn’t Mia more than someone who drives a convertible in the rain and gets really wet, and totally messes up the car’s interior and everything? Isn’t she more than someone who stinks at math? Isn’t she more than someone who learns how to shoot an arrow while a really cute boy watches?

Anyway…. Yes. She is. She is more than just the events that happen to her. She is more than the bad things. She is more than the good things. 

I think we all are. Aren’t we?

I hope so, because I’d like to think that I’m not defined just by that one time my skirt fell down when I was getting out of a taxi in New York. Or that time the man in the grocery store parking lot gave me the finger. Or that time…. You get the picture, right?

And when we write stories, we want our characters to be so full and rich that they sing off the page, so we can feel them.

Lyra’s Ghost: Carrie, sometimes I am so embarrassed that you are my human. But I still love you and haunt you from the kitty grave.

Yes, she really does. Haunt me. I’m not sure about the love part. 🙂


WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

Join the 250,000 people who have downloaded episodes and marveled at our raw weirdness. You can subscribe pretty much anywhere.


Last week’s podcast about sexiness and consistency! 

Last week’s bonus podcast with Lindsay Schultz, the queen of misfit toys and parenthetical hipster.

A link to our podcast about fatal errors, scenes, and ghost reaper sauce


COME WRITE WITH ME! 

I coach, have a class, and edit things. Find out more here. 


NEW BOOK OF AWESOME- THE PLACES WE HIDE

I have a new book out!!!!!! It’s an adult mystery set in the town where we live, which is Bar Harbor, Maine. You can order it here. And you totally should. 

And if you click through to this link, you can read the first chapter! 

And click here to learn about the book’s inspiration and what I learned about myself when I was writing it.

So, Your Prose Is A Little Purple?

Every once in awhile a reviewer, a reader, an agent, a random great aunt will tell you that your beautiful and amazing story is purple prose.

Most of the time they are wrong.

A lot of the time, your prose is just lyrical and some people don’t know what to do with that.

What Even Is Purple Prose?

First off, lyrical prose is NOT the same as purple prose, which is defined by Wikipedia (I know! I know! Not a good source) as “text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself.

The key there is ‘excessive.’

And excessive? That’s a subjective word. But a good way to think about it is that lyrical writing is done with a light hand, not a heavy one. It mixes regular sentences and dialogue with moments that sing off the page. 

Not every line should be a metaphor. Not every line should be a description. 

How Do You Deal When It’s TOO Lyrical?

A good way to deal with that is to have that lyrical moment and then follow it up with two moments that are not so lyrical. 

In Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi she does this well. 

“His eyes reminded her of old apothecary bottles, deep brown, when the sunlight hit them and turned them almost amber. Dimple loved vintage things. She followed a bunch of vintage photography accounts on Instagram, and old apothecary bottles were a favorite subject.”

Sandhya Menon

So she has the balance between lyrical moments of transcendent words and time with the more concise, forward-moving sentence. 

You want your descriptions that are lyrical to keep us in the story and to also transcend the story. You want them to be vivid but also somewhat concise. To avoid overuse you want to make sure that the description is accomplishing something such as giving us insight in our character or making the atmosphere/tone seem amazing. 

The problem is that sometimes elevated craft brings out naysayers, especially anti-intellectual naysayers and they call it purple prose. 

LET’S LOOK AT REAL PURPLE PROSE

A Reedsy blog has an example of purple prose as this: 

The mahogany-haired adolescent girl glanced fleetingly at her rugged paramour, a crystalline sparkle in her eyes as she gazed happily upon his countenance. It was filled with an expression as enigmatic as shadows in the night. She pondered thoughtfully whether it would behoove her to request that she continue to follow him on his noble mission…

Reedsy example of purple-ness

According to Reedsy (and a million other places), you want to stay away from purple prose because: 

  • 1. The writing draws attention to itself and away from the narrative or thesis.
  • 2. It’s too convoluted to read smoothly and can disrupt the pacing of your story.

The Reedsy blog goes on to say: 

“So why, despite its many drawbacks, do some writers continue to use such unnecessarily ornate language? The answer, ironically, is simple: to try and appear more “literary.”

“Think of purple prose as a cardboard cutout of a celebrity. From a distance it looks convincing, even impressive — but as you draw closer, you realize there’s nothing behind it. Purple prose is like that: beautiful from afar, with very little substance to it.”

Reedsy again.

And more importantly, that same damn Reedsy blog says this about what purple prose isn’t: 

“To clarify, the term “purple prose” doesn’t just automatically apply to any kind of dense or elaborate language. This is a common misconception, perpetuated by diehard fans of minimalism and Ernest Hemingway. Purple prose specifically refers to overblown description that fails to add to the text, or may even detract from it.”

“Purple prose” is often used as an insult for highly lyrical or complex language that some readers dislike. But don’t be fooled — actual purple prose lacks the elegance and cohesion of these examples, and distracts from the text rather than enhancing it.”

Still Reedsy

Sean Penn’s novel is a good example of purple prose. No offense to him: 

“There is pride to be had where the prejudicial is practiced with precision in the trenchant triage of tactile terminations. This came to him via the crucible-forged fact that all humans are themselves animal, and that rifle-ready human hunters of alternately-species prey should best beware the raging ricochet that soon will come their way.”

Sean Penn

So, how do you avoid PURPLE PROSE?

Write in your own voice if you’re worried about it. 

Also? If you’re worried about it, focus a bit more on your plot. 

Do This: 

Imagine you’re the reader. Would you get what’s going on right there in those words (the potentially purple words) if you were just reading this? Are those words the easiest path to understanding and to be submersed in the story? After they’ve read it are they going to put it down and say, “Why did the author spend forty-five pages talking about her underwear? Does it have anything to do with anything?” 

COME WRITE WITH ME! 

I coach, have a class, and edit things. Find out more here. 


NEW BOOK OF AWESOME- THE PLACES WE HIDE

I have a new book out!!!!!! It’s an adult mystery set in the town where we live, which is Bar Harbor, Maine. You can order it here. And you totally should. 

And if you click through to this link, you can read the first chapter! 

And click here to learn about the book’s inspiration and what I learned about myself when I was writing it.


NEW SESSION OF WRITE! SUBMIT! SUPPORT! 

Write. Submit. Support. for Novelists with Carrie Jones ONLINE

These six-month courses offer structure and support not only to our writing lives but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions. We offer support whether you’re submitting to agents or, if agented, you’re weathering submissions to editors. We discuss passes that come in, submissions requests, the feedback we aren’t sure about, where we are feeling directed to go in our writing lives, and more.

Find out if WSS is right for you at this FREE WEBINAR on Thursday July 23rd, from 7-8:30pm CDT.Founder Bethany Hegedus will share an inspiring talk on the literary life and will be joined by WSS instructors/TA’s, plus past and present WSS writers who will answer all your burning questions!

This is a great opportunity to meet this session’s faculty, talk with previous students about their growth throughout the program and participate in some inspirational activities led by Bethany Hegedus. *If you cannot attend live, no need to worry! All registrants will receive a video playback of the event!
Register Now for the Free Info Session!

WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

Join the 249,000 people who have downloaded episodes and marveled at our raw weirdness. You can subscribe pretty much anywhere.


Last week’s episode link! It’s about dirty feet and archetypes. Sexy! 

Last week’s bonus podcast with writer Holly Schindler!

This week’s link to our podcast sages, archetypes and Bud Lite

To Outline or Not To Outline? That Might Be The Question

If you spend any time with me, you’ll notice that I’m super annoying because I don’t think there is one right way to do things and this is especially true about writing stories. 

Authors, however, like to think there’s a right way, a guide that is perfect for everyone that has all the happy little writing, revising and marketing steps. The hope is that if you follow those steps you become the next writing superstar or at least get a full request from an agent. 

The rules that we love, the guidelines and the steps? They don’t work for everyone or even one person all the time. And this is true about outlining too. Some of us love it. Some of us hate it. Some of us are apathetic. Some of us love it for one book and hate it for the next. 

That’s all okay.

But here are some things about outlining. 

  1. It doesn’t need to be all formal with bullet points.
  2. It can actually be fun for some people. 
  3. It can force inspiration sometimes. 
  4. It is usually big picture and is the big details and allows you to be creative in the execution and focus more (sometimes) on sentence structure and word choice.
  5. It helps keep you from writing 120,000 words before you realize you have no plot. 
  6. You can get a good idea of your plot structure and you can fix that before you write 123,000 words. 
  7. Helps with that big-picture pacing.
  8. Let’s you know where you’re at when you’re writing that first draft and can help you not pull out your hair when you’re freaking out that you’re nowhere near done when you’re actually pretty close.

If you all are into this, I can post about how to start an outline. Just let me know, okay?

Continue reading “To Outline or Not To Outline? That Might Be The Question”

So You Want to Be Part of a Writing Community?

So, starting in August, I’m teaching another six-month Write! Submit! Support class at the fantastic Writing Barn.

If you click on the link, you get to the direct info about the program.

Write. Submit. Support. for Novelists with Carrie Jones ONLINE

This six-month course offers structure and support not only to our writing lives but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions. We offer support whether you’re submitting to agents or, if agented, you’re weathering submissions to editors. We discuss passes that come in, submissions requests, the feedback we aren’t sure about, where we are feeling directed to go in our writing lives, and more.

Write. Submit. Support. Mission: To empower writers,  pre-published or published, as well as the instructor, to embrace the many joys and challenges of leading a literary life. Scholarship opportunities available! Read more about the history and philosophy of Write. Submit. Support!

Success Stories come out of the connections made in WSS.

“I understand that not everyone has buckets of money to put toward workshops and courses, but when I think about my times in WSS I always consider the results: the fact that I received a book deal, with an actual advance, less than a year later…WOW! I understand that not everyone cares about that kind of result, but I did and I achieved it. Carrie, my WSS instructor, understood my goal and gave me a lot of practical help and advice, right down to how to format the manuscript for submission.” -Cathy Carr, now agented with Rachel Orr and 365 Days to Alaska forthcoming with Abrams  

I promise, I did not pay her to say that.

Find out if WSS is right for you at this FREE WEBINAR on Thursday July 23rd, from 7-8:30pm CDT.Founder Bethany Hegedus will share an inspiring talk on the literary life and will be joined by WSS instructors/TA’s, plus past and present WSS writers who will answer all your burning questions!

This is a great opportunity to meet this session’s faculty, talk with previous students about their growth throughout the program and participate in some inspirational activities led by Bethany Hegedus. *If you cannot attend live, no need to worry! All registrants will receive a video playback of the event!
Register Now!

WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

Join the 244,000 people who have downloaded episodes and marveled at our raw weirdness. You can subscribe pretty much anywhere.


Last week’s episode link! It’s about dirty feet and archetypes. Sexy! 

Last week’s bonus podcast with writer Holly Schindler!

This week’s link to our podcast about fatal errors, scenes, and ghost reaper sauce

This week’s link to Ronni’s interview.


COME WRITE WITH ME! 

I coach, have a class, and edit things outside of the Writing Barn. Find out more here. 

Porches and Last Lines

I closed my eyes, head drooping, like a person drunk for so long she no longer knows she’s drunk, and then, drunk, awoke to the world which lay before me.’

Kathy Acker, Don Quixote (1986)

Most of my friends know that I have some hermit tendencies. I am socially anxious before I go anywhere. I’m fine once I actually get there, but sweet mother of big foots, you do not want to see me right before an event. I am a pacing, fast-talking bundle of angst with stage fight. It never stops me, but it’s a pain and I’m pretty positive it’s the reason I never went into the performing arts even though I adore the performing arts.

Anyways, the weird thing about Covid-19 in Maine where we are all still pretty good about wearing our masks and socially distancing is that our front porch is now cool. 

No Anxiety

And I don’t have time to get social anxiety and stage fright because people are suddenly there.

Seriously. We have a big-ass front porch and people are stopping by and talking. We maintain more than the six-foot distance, but we are hosting people in a way that we have never hosted people before. 

On our porch. And sometimes in our driveway, honestly.

This is not the scene I dreamed of. Like much else nowadays I leave it feeling stupid, like a man who lost his way long ago but presses on along a road that may lead nowhere.

J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians (1980)

And every time people leave, I want to hug them goodbye, memorize their faces, make sure that I have them ingrained inside of me, their stories, the sound of their voices, their laughs, just in case I lose them. I memorize the things they say as they leave. What I say. Our last lines.

Every moment, every line, feels like a gift.

About ten years ago, The American Book Review, published what it determined were the 100 best last lines from novels. And the books are mostly adult novels, written mostly by white men. It made me think about that dominance in the industry, but also about all the last lines out there. Do you have a favorite? Please share it with me. The Review’s list is here if you want to check it out.  

It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.

Toni Morrison, Sula (1973) 
Continue reading “Porches and Last Lines”

My Mom’s Eulogy

I have a weird fear of June. It’s because one of my dad’s died in June, my first cat died in June, one of my grandmothers died in June and my mom died in June. To me June equals death even as summer blossoms and becomes abundant.

I go through the month holding my breath, waiting for something terrible to happen instead of rejoicing in the fact that I am still here, that so many of us are still here. Birds grace the boughs of trees. Seedlings break through the dirt stretching for light. Dogs rejoice in walks. June is beautiful.

But I’m super imperfect and I tend to go back around to death again. And to remember my mom, I’m going to put the eulogy I wrote for her here. I miss her terribly much.

Eulogy Of BEtty Morse, MY Mom.

Our mom, Betty, was propped up in a hospital bed in Manchester, NH just about a week ago today, and if she saw herself then she would have had a fit. Believe me. She didn’t like to be out of the house if her hair wasn’t combed or her lipstick wasn’t perfectly applied. I can not begin to tell you how many times I sat in her car, waiting to go to the grocery store, the library, a birthday party or even the dump and counted the seconds while she reapplied her lipstick in that painstaking way that mothers have.  Let’s just say that she took her time, and I was a very impatient kid. But there was a reason she wanted to put that lipstick on: She wanted to make sure she looked beautiful.

And in the hospital last week, ravaged from illness, with her heart trying so hard to beat, with her lungs trying so hard to breathe, my mother wouldn’t have thought she was beautiful. But she was.

She sat up in that hospital bed and Bruce and Debbie used a plastic spoon to feed her some chocolate and vanilla ice cream from a tiny Styrofoam cup. The moment that first spoonful of ice cream hit her lips, our mother, with her eyes closed and her heart failing, broke into a smile that lit up her entire face with a joy so sheer and absolute that it brought tears to everyone’s eyes.       She was beautiful.     She was always beautiful, but that beauty didn’t come from her lipstick, or even from her smile. That beauty came from her soul. That beauty came from her love.

Our mother was an expert in love. “I love you with every ounce of my being,” she would write on birthday cards, Easter cards, those little tags that go on Christmas presents and emails.

And proud? She was brilliant at proud. Every grandchild was a trophy to her – shiny and gleaming full of light and importance. She polished them with her love and words and pride in their deeds. Keith, her firefighting hero boy, her handy man, the first of her grandbabies. Kevin, the one she thought looked the most like her – so smart and now a hero boy police officer who helped bring her the great grandbabies that she thought were so beautiful. Kayla. She would tell me sooo many soccer stories about Kayla but her favorite story was how when Kayla was in first grade or something like that she learned sign language because a little girl in her grade didn’t have anyone to talk to. She was so proud of Kayla’s kindness and intelligence. Brooks, the grandson who made her laugh with his quick wit and indomitable spirit and zest for life that matched her own. She was always hugging on him when he was a baby, and when he was a toddler, and talking about how neat he was. And Emily, the youngest of them, who she saw the moment she was born and declared, “She’s so smart. Look at her eyes. She’s taking everything in. Oh… she’s so beautiful. She looks like a Morse.”  Nana was so proud of you, Em, proud of the love you gave her, your goofiness, and your accomplishments.

My mom’s pride didn’t just extend to her grandchildren. She was so proud of her children and friends as well. I remember one day after one of the 80,000 holiday or birthday parties that Debbie hosted so effortlessly, I got in the car with my mom and she started to tear up. She was always tearing up. Deb and Bruce take after her. We are weepy sort of people given to strong love, strong sorrow, and strong joy.

Anyways, I asked her why she was crying. I was probably impatient about it again, but she said, “I am just so proud of my Debbie. She works so hard. She is so good. She is such a good mother.” It was her highest praise. And then she wiped away her tears and reapplied her lipstick.

She recognized the beauty in Debbie and rejoiced in it so much it made her cry like she’d just read a Hallmark card with the word love in it.

One time we were at a wedding and Bruce was in the wedding party and these women in the pew behind us were gossiping about the gorgeous usher with the dimples and my mom turned around and proudly announced to those women, “That’s my son! He has my dimples.”

“He’s so handsome,” the girls said.

“He has a kind heart,” my mom said. “He has a beautiful heart. And beautiful dimples.”

My mom loved deeply and without reservation. She loved her friends, so many of them are here today. Thank you for being here Mel and Steve and Marie and Clem. Two of you both claim to be my mom’s first boyfriend. I’ll let you fight that out amongst yourselves.


My mom also loved her husbands. Her first love and her second husband was my stepdad John, and their love was a beautiful forever thing. Her funeral is exactly 29 years after his on the same date. There’s a symmetry in that, and a beauty to their love. But what really shows how remarkable she is was her relationship with my dad, Lew. They chatted and gossiped pretty much daily, even though they were divorced for decades and decades, they were supporting each other constantly even until the very last days of her life. Once, they came to visit me in Maine and people compared them to the Costanzas on Seinfeld. They talked simultaneously, teasing each other constantly, voices getting louder and louder. When I said they were divorced, people wouldn’t believe me because the link between them was so strong. Their friendship was a forever thing.

My mom was born 77 years ago to a brilliant woman and a talented man, grew up with two brothers that she loved and was proud to call siblings. She was a wife, a homemaker, an office manager, a Welcome Wagon Lady, a town employee, a real estate broker, and then worked for the Bedford school system. But those are just titles, just occupations. Those aren’t about her soul. She could slam doors with great passion for her small frame. She could laugh hysterically over things as silly as saying ‘in bed’ after you read a fortune cookie. When she got mad she would yell, ‘sugar diabetes,’ the disease that would eventually take her body. She would gossip with her friends about the results on Dancing with the Stars and argue her political opinions without reservation. She was a firecracker and a charmer, spunky and sweet, funny and intelligent, and always, always interested in people’s stories.

It is hard to watch someone dying and in the time that Emily and I spent with my mom I noticed something interesting in her murmurings. She called a lot for her brother Richard who she adored. She often said with her eyes closed, “I see you Richard. Richard. Richard, is it okay?”

I imagine he told her that it was okay. I imagine that he took her hand and then gave her a hug, the way she would have hugged anyone at anytime. My mother was the kind of person who hugged her children and grandchildren for ages. We would call it entering the hug-off with Nana and joke that she never let go first.  My mother didn’t let go of people, not of her dear friends, not of her family members. No matter what we did, she held on to us, was proud of us, listened to our stories of joy and pain and goofiness. She hugged you as long as she could physically, and when she couldn’t hug you with her arms any more, she hugged you with her head, loving you no matter how many miles were between you and her.

Her hugs lasted forever. Her love was that way, too.

But one of the other things my mother yelled when she was dying was a little bit different. She yelled for toast. Honestly, she hollered for toast like it was a long lost love. “TOAST! TOAST! TOAST!” And when she got it and took a bite she whispered to me, “So good. Do you want some?”

And it is such a goofy thing, and so sweet, and in a way encapsulates a major aspect of her personality. She liked to feed people toast and roast chicken and chocolate chip cookies and Boston Cream Pie. She liked to give sustenance. She liked to give.  Whether it was food or love or hugs or an ear, my mother was a giver.

We can all learn from a life like that, a life where one woman created a web of love that connects very different people and friends across space and time. It was a life where love trumped all, a life where helping friends and family ruled, where it was important to  listen to the stories of children as they went into a dance studio or teachers calling on the phone asking for subs,  where it was natural for her to smile at nurses and doctors no matter how much pain she was in, a life where she wanted so badly to know everything that went on in the lives of her loved ones because she cared so very much.

And we care about you Mom. And we were proud of you. And you were and are very loved.

So off you go Mom, off you go, holding the hands of the people you have loved you, with those of us who still love you, waving goodbye, singing you songs, telling you stories, making more stories for you to enjoy from your perch in Heaven and eating lots of toast and Boston Cream Pie and chocolate chip cookies in your honor. May the wings of the angels wrap you up as one of their own and may we all live our lives as you did – with love and pride and beauty.

* I totally stole the ‘off you go’ line from Kevin Costner.


WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

Join the 239,000 people who have downloaded episodes and marveled at our raw weirdness. You can subscribe pretty much anywhere.


Last week’s episode  (x2) about archetypes and falling out of cars.

Last week’s episode about archetypes and if your sex life was a hashtag. Cough.

Last week’s bonus episode with a former Mainer and current super mom.

COME WRITE WITH ME! 

I coach, have a class, and edit things. Find out more here. 


NEW BOOK OF AWESOME

I have a new book out!!!!!! It’s an adult mystery set in the town where we live, which is Bar Harbor, Maine. You can order it here. And you totally should. 

And if you click through to this link, you can read the first chapter! 

And click here to learn about the book’s inspiration and what I learned about myself when I was writing it.

Eyebrows and Taking Chances

A long time ago, I got new eyebrows.  That’s right. I did the eyebrow shaping thing. If you know me in real life, you will realize that this is stunning news. I’m going to write about that eyebrow event today. 

And yes, I could post something intelligent about the anti-multiple plot point aesthetic in young adult novels, or how discontinuities and detours excite me, but noooo ….

It’s all about eyebrows and taking chances. I have a really hard time doing certain things:

  1. Sitting still
  2. Looking at myself in the mirror.
  3. Spending money on myself.

    Let me tell you, this was a big-deal thing for me at the time because you have to sit still while professionals pluck your eyebrows and they do it in front of a mirror and they charge you, so grooming my eyebrows was hitting all those three things. In good news? I look A LOT better with new eyebrows. 
    And it DID NOT HURT.

    The nice eyebrow professional lady smiled at me as I checked out her lovely eyebrows and avoided looking in the giant mirror.

    I said, “I do not want old lady non-existent eyebrows. I do not want penciled-in eyebrows. Please do not do that to me.”
    She said, “I hate those.”

I whimpered. 

“It’ll be okay,” she said.
“Is it going to hurt?” I asked.

She nodded. “Probably.”

Then she put the goop on and yanked and it was SO ABSOLUTELY FINE! 
“That didn’t hurt,” I said.
“I used the small strips.”
“That’s amazing,” I said as she showed me the hair she yanked off. 

Then I started to giggle like I was, um, five years old and just saw the bottom of the cutest kid in kindergarten.

I could not stop giggling the entire time she did it, which was … probably four minutes at the most.

She said, “I love it when you come in.”


I giggled more.


She said, “You just kill me.”


Then she showed me my eyebrows and I bounced up and down.

And for some reason, I never went back again! I know! I know! It’s because I’m cheap. I couldn’t get over that part.

But the thing is. We can’t grow if we don’t take chances, if we don’t rip out our extra, ugly spots and examine them. We can’t grow if we don’t scrutinize ourselves and invest in ourselves.

That’s important because I know we all want to be the best people we can be even if that means checking out our reflection and seeing bits of ourselves we don’t want to see.

Take a chance. Scrutinize. Invest. Love yourself enough to grow yourself, weird eyebrows and all.

WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

Join the 233,000 people who have downloaded episodes and marveled at our raw weirdness. You can subscribe pretty much anywhere.

Last week’s episode.

Last week’s bonus episode with Anne Marie Pace, author of Vampirina Ballerina.

COME WRITE WITH ME! 

I coach, have a class, and edit things. 


NEW BOOK OF AWESOME

I have a new book out!!!!!! It’s an adult mystery set in the town where we live, which is Bar Harbor, Maine. You can order it here. And you totally should. 

And if you click through to this link, you can read the first chapter! 

And click here to learn about the book’s inspiration and what I learned about myself when I was writing it.

How to Write A Good First Page

Let’s just face it. First pages in our culture are a bit terrifying because we have to entice the reader (or the agent or potential editor) to read beyond the first page and not delete the file, send a rejection letter, or refuse to buy a book.

That’s a lot of pressure for something that’s so subjective.

The first page sets the tone, right?

Here is an example of my same WIP with two completely different first pages and tones.

That up there was the first one.

Here’s the next one.

The two are ridiculously different, right? Same story. Same characters. Totally different approach.

QUICK Tips About First Pages

  1. People will tell you never to have a prologue. You can choose not to listen to them. But when you submit your book when querying an agent (if trying traditional publishing), you might want to think it over.
  2. Show the reader where your characters are. It doesn’t need to be a lot of grounding and setting, but just don’t have them floating around in the ether.
  3. Show the reader who your character is. This is your speed-dating moment. Make the impression you want to make so you can get the reader to turn the page and go on the second date.
  4. Make it tense. Even though it doesn’t see super tense in either of these excerpts, one is about the conflict about spitting into a vial. The other is about a fear of the ocean and being fatherless and the difference between the narrator and her best friend. Not James Patterson stakes, but still stakes.
  5. Make it clear. Unless you’re James Joyce, don’t mire your reader in a world or world building or ultra complex sentences structures with hidden subject-verb combinations right off the bat. You don’t want to be clunky.

Random Exercise:

Go find a book you love and a book you started but didn’t quite read past a few pages. Shh… Don’t pretend. We all have books we don’t finish. It’s okay! It just means that book isn’t for you or maybe it means that the first pages weren’t sparkling.

Now check for those five things. Is it clear and tense? Is there a prologue? Did you read the prologue? Do you know about the main character’s personality and do you know where they/she/he are?

Now look at your own story’s first page. How’s it looking? If you weren’t the writer, would you know what’s going on? Would you be compelled to read more?


WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

Join the 232,000 people who have downloaded episodes and marveled at our raw weirdness. You can subscribe pretty much anywhere.

This week’s episode.

Last week’s bonus episode with Anne Marie Pace, author of Vampirina Ballerina.

COME WRITE WITH ME! 

I coach, have a class, and edit things. 

Why Do Politicians Hug Me and Other Weird Facts & Questions

I’ve been working super hard creating things and helping other people create things and I’ve been ridiculously stressed worrying about people’s health and systemic inequalities in our health care system and even about my income because of Covid-19 and I don’t have it in me for a serious blog post today. I hope that’s cool with everyone. Instead, I’m going to give you random tidbits about me.

  1. My debut novel TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (ex) BOYFRIEND has the word gay in it, which made some people squeamish.

2. That makes me lose my chill, but in a chill-inspiring way my ex-boyfriend from high school has a really lovely, very religious, very Catholic mom who BOUGHT IT. Yes, her son is gay. She proudly showed the book off to all her friends and that? Well, that made my heart sing. I’m so glad he has her for a mom.

3. I used to be the youngest female city councilor ever elected in my city and I never EVER dated any other city councilors, or politicians although ex presidential candidate Gary Hart once winked at me and I’ve been hugged by Jesse Jackson and Jerry Brown and George W. Bush and Mike Michaud and Paul Lepage and Susan Collins and John Glenn and too many NYC mayors to list. Politicians apparently hug across parties. Also, I’ve been hugged by a lot more male politicians than women. This does not seem fair.

4. I have one ex-boyfriend who is now a writer. He published before he was 30 and wrote for the NYT and Village Voice. I try not to hate him. Just kidding! I don’t try. No! No! I don’t actually hate him at all. I’m super happy for him actually.

5. I have one ex-boyfriend who was in TIGER BEAT MAGAZINE because he was on a Nickelodean TV show before college.  And I find this hysterical.

6. I have one ex boyfriend from fifth grade whose name was Bertram, but he wanted to change it to Steve. He was so sad about his name. He also wanted to be a knight. I hope he at least got to change his name.

7. I have one ex boyfriend who chewed tobacco and spit it into a Pepsi can and thought nobody knew. EVERYBODY knew.

8. I just realized I will never have another new ex-boyfriend, which is weird, just weird…And I also realized that because of Covid-19 politicians won’t be hugging people as much this year, which has a lot of weird ramifications, too.

How about you? Do you have random facts that you never share? It feels weirdly good to remember and share them.

Continue reading “Why Do Politicians Hug Me and Other Weird Facts & Questions”