Tuesday, June 29, 2010


So the wonderful Holly Root returned my MS with several little suggestions on ways to make it tighter and more clear.

At some--okay, at most--of these line edits, I was both laughing at myself and dying of embarrassment. Like, hee hee hee. OMG! OMG!

For example, my MC shows up at a brand new high school, late in the year, and she just knows her way all around. And I mean, all around. How did I not think about that?

This MS has gone through my writing group twice, not to mention my own seven thousand readings, and yet this lovely mishap slipped right through:

“Watch yourself by the river,” was the other thing besides Hobo Spiders that Mr. Elliott had warned me about that day the social worker dropped me off. It was the thing right after he told me to watch out for the Hobo Spider.

(I'll wait while you laugh yourself silly for a moment.)

Okay, deep breath. Welcome back. There's more.

My MC sets up a meeting with another character "after school tomorrow." Which would be a Saturday.

And a super symbolic finch makes its debut at the same time as its departure.

Yes, I have some fixing to do. It won't take long. Already, I've learned two big lessons: what a goof I can be when I'm in the writing zone, and that Holly has one heck of a sharp eye (thank goodness!).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Country Boy

My baby, Rees, will be nine on Sunday.

Rees claims he drove a tractor out of my belly, it's how he was born, and that might be true.

When he was one, he went crazy over a country station we accidentally had on the radio. At the time, his favorite outfit was a too-big pair of cowboy boots, and a "goggy," (a leather vest) over a diaper.

When Rees was three, we took him to Disneyland, where he cried in line for the rockets, because he thought we were going to my aunt's ranch in central Oregon.

This ranch is Rees' Utopia. Since he could walk, he's been collecting eggs, climbing hay, and riding quads. Once, a wire gate fell on him, pinning him onto a patch of strawberries, face-up and all splayed out, with his light-up Bugs Life shoes flashing.

Rees knows the difference between combines and Kubotas. He's a John Deere man, particularly. And he's never been without a pair of knee-high rubber boots.

I think Reesie loves the quiet of the country. He's drawn to the openness, the tomato plants, the rolly pollies. It's a perfect match. He's respectful of nature: trees, sticks, snakes. His idea of a good time is laying irrigation pipe.

Only thing is, since I'm all city, and Dave's no ranch hand, we have no idea where Rees came from. Oh, right: from my belly! On a tractor.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My New Agent Is

the talented, bright, kind, hardworking
Holly Root
from the Scott Waxman Agency!

I'm super excited to work with Holly;
we're already quite a team. The
suggestions she gave my first draft
of Drain made it

Whee! This is fun! And I'm so so so so

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


This was my wake-up today, from Shannon at Book Dreaming, who has to be the kindest, most hardworking mom/wife/teacher/writer around,
and who makes me want to be a better (cyber)person!

And hey, everybody, don't stop believin'!

Monday, June 21, 2010

From A Place Of...


That's where Drain began last winter.

My daughter Daney, almost ten years old, was stuck in a cluster of grand mal seizures. She was tired. She was sore. She missed a lot of school.

It was terrible, watching this kind, bright, lovely girl suffer.

I worried how she'd get through it. I worried how I'd get through it.

Of course, I had stopped going to writing group. I had stopped writing.

Until Christy (who knows I'll try anything she tells me) challenged me to come up with a few new pages. Which, somehow, I did: a story I thought had nothing to do with anything. A story that ended up having everything to do with something--of seeing suffering, without being able to stop it.

That first draft, it was rough. I was writing it on two hours of sleep, between ambulance rides and hospital visits and EEGs. I was was writing it with Daney tucked into bed beside me.

The voice came out hollow, realistic but cautious, sad, and slow.

Exactly the way I felt during those dark winter months.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I. Have. An. Agent!

It was the kind of call I'd been hoping and hoping for. She thought the revision was "amazing," the voice, "beautiful," the writing, "rich and deep."

I had to work for it. A few months ago, this agent had given me three big suggestions: make the story seem like it could or could not have actually happened, flush out the male characters and their subplots, make another stab at the overall metaphor. Then see if a new conclusion wrote itself.

And while she was suggesting, (and I was scribbling down every word,) I agreed with everything. The ideas were already flowing.

"Did she tell you to write a new introduction?" my husband asked sceptically.

"No," I told him.

But once I unravelled the whole end, I had to do the beginning over. (I know you know exactly what I mean.)

It was a lot of work. A lot. Hours and hours and hours and hours over days and days and days. While my students' research papers on terrorism were pouring in. While my boys had Fifth Disease. While Daney went on field trips.

I cried to my writing partner, Anjie. "I'm not living," I told her. "This story, it's all I can think about. I'm not a good mom."

"Stay with it," she told me. "Stay in the zone. If you feel the story, you have to go where it takes you."

My kids were understanding. And after a couple months, I was back in Starbucks with my incredible writing group, sharing the last five pages.

I love this agent. I love her. She knew this revision took hours and hours and hours and hours over days and days and days. I confessed that I was able to do it because my unbelievably supportive husband fed me. And shoved me out into the rain to take walks. And started the shower for me when I came back sopping wet and frozen, but ready to write some more.

I love this agent because she gets us writers. Because she says she loves my work. Because she was so right about all those suggestions. Because on top of all that awesomeness, she's a good person.

So there is That Call. From New York City. At six AM.

And it takes everything I'd ever heard it does. Tenacity. Revision. Hard work. Querying.

And patience.

It takes a lot of patience.

But I promise, That Call is so worth every speck of waiting.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How I Know For Sure It's Summer

Because my kids are going a thousand miles an hour in a thousand different directions.

Because there are kids I've never seen before eating pizza and Popsicles in my kitchen.

Because the grocery bill has doubled.

Because the water bill has doubled.

Because there are paint ball splats all over the front lawn.

Because Reesie is barefoot -- even in the bank.

Because I'm blogging about every five days.

How about you? How do you know for sure that it's summer?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Marriage is Hard

It is.

In fact, there's a whole industry, and we writers are part of it, that capitalizes on this.

Take "Sex & the City 2," for example, in which Carrie tries to define and adjust to the concept of marriage. She can't do it. So she gets her own apartment changes her clothes twenty times and hooks up with another guy. And her husband rewards her with a big diamond while they snuggle up on their new sofa.

Okay, bad example.

Take the play I saw the other day, Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Now that was an interesting perspective on marriage: 1955 Mississippi, where the women were oppressed, and expected to have broods of children, but where they were beginning to voice their dissatisfaction and longing for better relationships. Maggie (the Cat) craves attention and love from the washed-up athlete. She scrambles for security--emotional, economic--and clings desperately to her uninterested husband.

In both stories, there is sacrifice. There is conflict between maintaining autonomy and preserving tradition.

But we girls don't need to go to the movie or the theater to know this.

We live it every day.

Dave and I have been married almost 18 years. (Yes, we were young. Incredibly.) Believe me, when you fall in love at 8, there's some stuff that has to get worked out, though, and it seems to take years, no, decades.

It's been good, most of it, but it's been hard, too. Last summer we hit a rough spot that took some serious work and commitment (and a big setting aside of egos).

Like Carrie and Maggie Cat, (I think) I sacrifice quite a bit. But Dave definitely gives up a lot, too. I have to remember this. It's my job. (It's literally my job. I teach Critical Thinking, which is considering plural perspectives.)

It's easy to take marriage--husbands--for granted. What's hard, what's better, is to see them for what they are: men, strong but fragile, putting forth effort but falling short, hoping to achieve perfection but falling short.


Just like us.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Having a daddy as a firefighter means you get to ride in the front of big engines. You get to hear stories about fires, and people, and pets. You get to play H-O-R-S-E with the guys at the station.

It means that John McEvoy will make you laugh yourself silly and slip you a piece of chocolate cake at nine in the morning. And if you look really cute, Captain Decker might give you a stuffed animal.

You will go to barbecues. You will go up in hot air balloons.

You will wear your daddy's turnouts around the house.

But when your daddy is a firefighter, he might have to miss your Fifth Grade Graduation.

If so, you just take yourself over to that station in your pretty dress, and you show your daddy your diploma, and you tell him about the speech you gave, and you help yourself to the Otter Pops in the freezer.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Romeo, Jr.

Reesie (8) has always loved women. Younger women, older women, teachers, actors, country singers, politicians.

Recently, he's fallen hard for Saturday Night Live's Tina Tina Cheneuse, which isn't really all that surprising. Tina Tina is funny, smart, and colorful, exactly Rees' type. Plus, she's innovative and hardworking. Nice choice, Reesie! "Oh mah gah...!"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"School Stories"

My girl, my fifth-grade graduate, did something for the first time the other day: she asked me for help with her writing. The thing was, she was determined to be chosen to deliver the class' graduation speech.

While I cut up veggies for chicken soup, she read it to me.

"Do you like it?" she asked right away.

"Do you like it?" I asked back.

"No, I'm asking you. Do you like it?" she asked again.

I wanted to be honest. But I was tired of talking about writing. I'd put in a full day already with 60 students. Yet I couldn't help all of them, and not my sweet girl. "I like some parts a lot," I told her.

And then she asked me. To help her "fix" it. So I had her cut out all the parts she didn't love, and to circle the parts she did. She cleaned up her intro and tightened the conclusion.

I didn't mess with it too much myself. Her little voice had to be preserved. So she did the work.

Here's the last part, my favorite. Bets on whether I'll cry when she reads it at graduation tomorrow?

"I had always been jealous of my big brother, Dominic, because he was older. He would go to middle school first. He would figure things out first. I would be the little sister who listened at the dinner table to all his stories.

Throughout the years, I`ve thought about it. Dominic didn’t make the least practical snowshoe ever. And he wasn’t there when Noah and Cormac stood on the cafeteria tables and sang, “You Belong With Me,” by Taylor Swift. He never dissected “odorless” worms, or read Purple, Green, and Yellow.

All these years I had been sitting at the dinner table, listening to Dominic, I was collecting my own stories without even knowing it.

Whether you are in Kindergarten or Fourth Grade, you are collecting your own stories. I hope you won’t be just listening at the dinner table. I hope you’ll be telling, too."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sacramento, So Far

It's Saturday, Mac's graduation from Colfax High School. There are a couple of remarkable things about this. First is that Mackie is the baby of the eight of us "kids." When I pulled out the lunch my dad had made for him yesterday morning and set it on the counter, I cried. That was the last school lunch my dad will make, the last lunch in a line of 34 years of lunches. It looked little and lonely on the counter. I slipped a note inside of it.

The second thing that's crazy about Mac's graduation is that it wraps up a 21 year legacy of Englunds at CHS. We were student body presidents, site councilors, peer counselors, cheerleaders, soccer/football players, snowboarders. We took Spanish, drafting, photography, journalism.

At Mac's Honors Awards, his presenter delivered a tribute to our mom, and dad, and us.

It's a good, good family. We love each other so much. We love each other so much that in this 2,600 sq. ft. home, these five folks are all crammed into about four inches of space:

We love each other so much no one wants to go to bed here, in my dad's house, where we're all staying--eight siblings and husbands and girlfriends and daughters. The party goes on well into the morning hours. Then we get up at seven and someone plugs in Mr. Coffee. Halfway into our first cup, Steven's wise cracks are flying and the rest of us are rolling on the blue carpet in hysterics.

Which means it's time to go to the river:

And swim in some very cold water:



Then we get us some frozen yogurt and head back to Poppa Ken's, where we whip up a big art project in honor of our favorite holiday:

Can you guess which one is mine?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Part" Time

It's over, my fifth year of teaching at Rogue Community College.

At the end there, it got a little crazy. But I made it, and not only through 7 writing classes at 3 different levels, with around 200 students, and maybe 2,000 pages of grading.

I made it, despite our house's having swine flu, chicken pox, fifth disease, and two broken noses.

Around my teaching, life happened. Dominic did basketball and track. Daney had fewer seizures than last year; she played piano and read through the whole kids' section of the library. Rees strummed "I Feel Good" to a packed audience.

Dave fought a few huge fires, and several smaller ones (some right here at home).

In eight months, I went to Seattle, Sacramento (four times), San Diego, Mexico.

I revised a book.

And now, we're leaving for Auburn again. My brother, Mac, graduates from high school. There's a pirate party, of course, and a surprise slide show that Steven and I have been working on.

So more from there, later.

But for now, I'll say this: my year, it was nothing.

I sketched out a little prose of what went on in my classroom in this last term. Sure, I'll post it, and it's all true. But you'll never, ever believe it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Four days, people!

For four days, I've had a post called "Priorites."

That's right. With only an "es" on the end.

Who's the English teacher?

And why doesn't spell check include titles?