I get restless with holiday decorating. I think twice about getting started, even– literally crawling up the ladder, flashlight in my teeth, figuring out which set of old liquor store boxes labelled “Xmas decs” might contain actual Xmas decs, then wrestling the boxes back down the ladder without breaking anything.

Then there’s the hanging and the draping and the stretching-to-the-plugs. I want the kind of physics the Grinch encounters while stealing Christmas– just shoop the boxes down the ladder and have them pile neatly into stacks. Tug the lights and they magically uncoil, springing back to just the right length. Pull one end of the pine garland and the other end snaps along smoothly.

Instead I curse and mutter and prick my arms with pine boughs. I hunt for last year’s perfect mantle decorations and vow to ACTUALLY LABEL BOXES this year. I test old lights and decide half a working string is good enough. I celebrate and condemn Command hooks in a single breath. I stand on furniture, a lot of furniture. I realize I should launder the curtains more. I find dead bugs.

And eventually I get the house looking, well, cozy and welcoming. The living room is somehow warmer. The pine and cedar commute throughout the house and take the edge off the hard days of winter. The many little lights help with the short daylight. I could nest here for a long, long time, holiday or not.

The reward of the transformation is worth the hassles: the pricks, the ladder, the real-world physics.

The world I create is very much I world I enjoy being in.

Snap! in the night

mousetrap resized

Every house I’ve ever lived in has had a resident mouse or two, at least until we were able to, um, evict them. This house is no different. But in our current residence, the mice have taken up, three years running, in the attic, rather than in the basement or the kitchen. So we have the unpleasant experience of awaking in the night to hear them skittering and skritching above our heads.

This year, when I heard the first tell-tale scampers at bedtime, I told my husband the mice were back. This announcement was met with significant skepticism, which I felt was unwarranted, since I definitely know what they sound like, and I definitely do not want them in my attic.

In spite of his doubts, he baited some traps– the good kind– with peanut butter and a chocolate chip and popped open the attic door and humored me.

We went to sleep that night. All was quiet.

Around 2:30 in the morning I couldn’t sleep. Restless, I kicked the covers off and tried to do some mental tricks to relax myself. And then I heard the unmistakable scratch and tiny scrape of mouse feet scrambling in my attic. I cursed their tiny rodent selves, knowing I would be unable to get back to sleep while they ran around up there.

Skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch… across the attic.

Skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch all the way back.

Skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch… snap! And then silence.

I heard Joe stir next to me. He had heard it too.

I decided that was a good enough “I told you so”.

Sweet dreams, indeed.


Halloweensie challenge

spooky-house resized

Having mentioned my affection for the creative empowerment offered by contests, here’s my take on Susanna Hill’s Halloweensie challenge.

Characters and a story arc in 100 words or less- and 3 of the words must be shadow, candy corn*, and monster.

*Counted here as a single word, gratefully!


Moving Day

Was the house haunted? Allison didn’t know.

The house loomed dark, sticks clattering like spilled candy corn in the broken driveway, cracked windows rattling, abandoned furniture casting shadows. A monster oak, long dead, hulked in the front yard.

Everyone had heard the stories. A family met its end in the house. An old lady spent years there waiting to die. A dog dragged home a human hand. No one knew what was really true.

Tonight was Halloween. Time to put an end to the rumors, Allison thought, gliding through the front door, a cold silver wind trailing behind her.



I love writing contests.

I know some people find them to be a distraction from their *real work* but this exactly describes why I love them.

They are a distraction, disguised as real work, with the prospect of someone telling me I have done well! Sometimes the prizes are tangible things, too, not just praise!

Contests are writing prompts done in communities. Sometimes they are really different from what I usually write, and that makes them challenging. This is good for me. I love my comfort zones (as, er, the name would suggest), and I need a nudge to make those creative neurons fire in new ways.

Contests are pure fun. They are for playing, trying new things without risk but with a small audience.

Besides, who doesn’t need a few more deadlines in life?

On querying

One of the surprising lessons I’m learning from the writing process is how fun the bad parts are.

Okay, the moment of opening that Obviously A Rejection Email or checking my query tracking spreadsheet to see which hopefuls have been ghosted for at least 8 weeks isn’t amazingly fun.

In the academic world, the moment of deciding that a work is ready for submission to a journal is mixed: relief, anxiety, insecurity. It usually carries a big dose of “How will this be received?” and “Who will be judging me on the other end?” and “What happens if this gets rejected?”

Kidlit writing and querying is still weighed down by a certain amount of insecurity and anxiety– there’s a passage in every query letter that I assume reads ‘Who exactly are you, lady?’– but the moment of hitting send is accompanied by excitement rather than worry.

I’m excited to see if someone shares my delight with this work. I query or submit things that make me laugh or that I would love to read. I submit them figuring I can’t be such an outlier in my tastes, and eventually I’ll find someone who agrees.*

There’s far less fear than there is in academics. There’s less relief at having it out of my hands and into some editor’s decision-making pile. It’s more curiosity. Is this going to be the agent/magazine/editor/right time? Rejections are disappointing but not crushing. Academic rejections can be a set back, a real blow to the ego and the career. Kidlit rejections are expected and practically a game, in SCBWI message board lore. If you aren’t getting rejected at least once a month, you aren’t submitting enough.

I hope the excitement stays. I hope the fun never goes anywhere, either. As for the ever-increasing list of rejections, I have good news for my SCBWI message board mentors.

*This is a hypothesis under active investigation.

Picture books and flannel sheets

After a delightful second summer, it’s fully autumn here. The leaves have declared the change, the weather has turned for good. Hats and fleeces have sprouted.

We spent 2 hours at the library on Sunday. It was too chilly and gray to do much outdoors, and huge puddles of standing water from a Saturday downpour meant even a walk in the neighborhood was out of the question. We called some friends and met them for a long lazy read. Two hours at the library is indulgent in summer, when we can hardly bear to be inside that long when the days are long, the water calls, the sun grins. But now:

Time to cozy up, thaw the fingers and get creative. Get inspired. Read all you want, there’s nothing better to do. Go home and have some soup.

It’s writing season.

Just the right level of detail

I remember hearing an author tell a story about, when she was a child, writing long, long stories with dozens of characters who started on a grand adventure.

I remember hearing an author tell a story about, when she was a child, writing long, long stories with dozens of characters who started on a grand adventure.

After a few twists and turns, the author couldn’t think of anything else to do with them, so they died in a fiery bus crash.

The author said she did this again and again: develop a few too many characters, start them someplace, and then watch the whole thing fizzle out.

Eventually she learned to hone down the characters, the plot, and the focus, and she became the kind of author who told stories in front of crowds.

Writing science can be like this too. Too molecular (or too expansive) and the only way to wrap up is an atomic explosion. Not molecular (or galactic) enough, and a reader will never understand perspective or purpose.

I’ve had my share of drafts that end in fiery bus crashes. I doubt I’ve had my last.