Tuesday, August 31, 2010


We have this glorious first-day-of-school tradition at our house, in which we scorn the big yellow bus and trudge uphill en famille through the late-August heat to arrive sweaty and exhausted at the schoolhouse door. (It's delightful, really; you should try it sometime.) This year our third child donned the ceremonial kindergarten backpack and joined his older siblings, and as my husband and I walked back out into the heavy sunshine, pushing the stroller that contained our last remaining toddler, a part of me wanted to howl in sorrow at the passing of summer and playtime and youth itself.

The other part wanted to bolt down the sidewalk shouting, "FREEDOM!"

Don't get me wrong. I love my kids. My husband and I both work from home, raising them without a nanny or part-time babysitter. I'm a hands-on, roll-around-on-the-floor, tuck-'em-into-bed kind of mom, and I wouldn't have it any other way. And that's the problem.

Come summer, I can't get any work done.

Now, I know it's a problem I share with millions of other moms. And I'm luckier than most: not only is novel-writing an extraordinarily fulfilling career, it also fits neatly into the nooks and crannies of suburban motherhood. While folding my way through a Himalayan mountain of laundry with my Sherpa guide, I can imagine an entire character arc into vivid detail. Racing past yellow stoplights in the Sticky Minivan to deliver my nine-year-old to soccer practice, I can solve the most intractable plot conundrum at very little risk to other drivers.

But the whole system depends on having a few hours a day to myself, in which to imprint all these magnificent thoughts onto something more permanent than my overloaded short-term memory. And when my day is filled with feeding, cleaning and adjudicating my own marauding band of restless youngsters, plus a couple of stray neighbor kids wandering by at lunchtime, the only imprinting around here occurs when I bang my head repeatedly against the kitchen counter. (It's just so soothing.)

And yet somewhere in the middle of all that sand and salt water and ice cream and sidewalk chalk, we managed to have a pretty good summer. Our five-year-old learned to ride his bike without training wheels. Our nine-year-old finished the Percy Jackson series, and his seven-year-old sister climbed Mt. Washington by his side in her ruffled pink hiking shorts. The baby turned two and started demanding her own Happy Meal box at McDonalds. I wouldn't have missed a single milestone, even when it marked one more step in the journey away from the nest.

Now the big kids are in their classrooms, and the baby's napping, and I'm sitting in front of the computer at last, being myself. And you know what? I can't wait for my gang to come home and toss their backpacks over the clean floor and tell me all about the first day of school.

As long as they go to bed early.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


My husband made several attempts to kill me while we were dating. First, he dunked me in the Connecticut River, during the course of an early-April canoe ride against both tide and current. Next, he took me home to meet his mother, who made me a pot of soup thick with wild mushrooms, which everyone knows are poisonous.

Then there was Mt. Moosilauke.

It's just a quick forty-five minute hike to the summit, he assured me. A mere stretching of the old joints. No need to weigh ourselves down with unnecessary items like windbreakers. Or lunch. Or water.

Turns out, that forty-five minutes represents the record time posted by the Dartmouth ski team in its annual race to the top. For those of us hiking without the benefit of months of intense aerobic conditioning, it's more like three hours. Each way. By the time we scaled the final monstrous New Hampshire boulder, wind flattening the alpine vegetation, my tongue was furry with thirst. By the time we staggered back into the lodge, my so-called boyfriend's trachea remained intact only because I was too weak to lift my hands.

So when my husband proposed taking the family up Mt. Moosilauke for a bit of a summer jaunt, I resisted. After all, this was the same man who once cheerfully suggested I slake my thirst in a mountain stream clogged with Giardia. But eventually his persistence wore me down, and I agreed with two conditions: one, we update our wills before the attempt; and two, we carry enough water to float a minor navy.

About a mile into the hike, I regretted my cave-in. Our five-year-old, after an enthusiastic start, sat himself down on a rock and refused to continue. My back was aching from a night spent on the plastic slab of mattress provided by the lodge bunkhouse. Plus, all that water was getting kind of heavy.

And then I looked over at my husband. Spine still unbowed, despite last night's granite mattress and the twenty-four-pound toddler strapped to his back, he took our five-year-old's hand and coaxed him onward with a bribe of yogurt-covered raisins. Our other two kids followed along in agile leaps, already veterans of New Hampshire hiking trips with Daddy.

So I took a drink of water and trudged up the trail behind them, watching out for little stumbling feet and smiling with pride when the older two, playing a game of "favorite things" to pass the time, never once mentioned TV.

Two hours later, I stood on the wind-whipped summit and watched my nine-year-old son point out the peaks he'd climbed with Daddy in previous summers. They reared up around us in acute angles and forested slopes, the weather shifting uneasily about the crests. I put on my windbreaker and sat down to eat my lunch, and though it took the unprecedented lure of a full can of Sprite, all to himself, to drag our five-year-old all 3.6 miles back down the mountain, I wouldn't have traded a moment.

Even if it killed me.

Monday, August 2, 2010


A few years ago, just after I woke up in the cold sweat of my early thirties and realized I'd better get serious about writing, I had lunch with an acquaintance of mine who works as an editor at a well-known science fiction publisher. I told her about my writing plans -- historical fiction with romantic elements -- and she immediately suggested I join the Romance Writers of America.

I cast my mind back to the romances I'd devoured in high school and college. All fun and games, I thought, until you have to write the words 'turgid manhood' with a straight face. "Well," I said doubtfully, "I'm not sure if romance is my thing."

She shook her head. "RWA has a big tent. If you've got a love story, you're in. And the resources are huge. Workshops, conferences, contests. There's no better way to plug into the publishing network."

At that point, I wasn't in any position to be ignoring advice, and a few months later I walked into the hotel lobby at the RWA National Conference in Dallas. I didn't know a single soul, and until I opened the freebie paperbacks in my registration totebag, I hadn't read a romance in 15 years. Worse, the women around me were gathering into cliques, squeeing with delight, gossiping and texting each other. High school flashbacks began to explode in my brain. My right foot poised in midair, ready to flee for the elevator and lock myself back in my hotel room.

Luckily, I didn't. I stayed, attended workshops, ate chicken lunches in cavernous ballrooms. I gathered courage and introduced myself. I saw brilliant and accomplished women like Eloisa James and Lisa Kleypas lead sessions and give speeches. I saw a soaring variety of books being promoted, from classic category romance to hardcover historical fiction. I thought, maybe I do belong here. Maybe I can join a clique. Maybe I can even start a clique.

By the end of the conference, I was inspired. I'd read a few of the books in my totebag and discovered that romance had come a long way from the early 1990s, and I'd met a few of those texting women and found them full of welcome and enthusiasm for newcomers. I came home with notebooks full of storytelling techniques, and -- though I didn't realize it at the time -- the germ of an idea that became my first novel, OVERSEAS.

More importantly, I'd found a community. Whatever these women (and a few dudes too, it must be said) are writing, from sweet Amish love stories to kick-ass urban fantasy, they encourage each other through every step of the road through publication. They cross-promote with blogs and Twitter, they whoop and cheer and share information over email loops, they critique each other constructively through local chapters and contests. This is RWA's finest legacy: the unflagging and democratic support for all our fellow writers, published and unpublished.

I don't know if I'll ever manage to produce a true genre romance novel, but I'll always be a proud member of RWA and a devoted fan of its fabulous authors.

None of whom, by the way, would ever write the phrase 'turgid manhood.'