Dear friends. It’s been over four years since I’ve posted. I haven’t forgotten about you or about my writing, but some things happened and life got in the way.
At the time of my last post back in February of 2016, I was working on the rough draft of my third novel, “Confessions of a Mumbler,” while trying to find an agent and market my YA manuscript, “Squares.” I was also a full-time caregiver to my disabled father.
One day, with no warning whatsoever, my right hand blew out. You read that right. One moment my hand felt fine, and a second later I reached into my purse and it felt like my hand had exploded with the worst pain I’d ever experienced in my life. On a scale of one to ten, my hand went from zero to ten in one second.
My doctor diagnosed me with tendonitis, gave me a brace to wear, and told me to call back if my hand didn’t improve in three weeks. Three weeks later my hand was swollen like an inflated rubber glove, reddish-purple, and as painful as ever. After additional X-rays, an MRI, second and third opinions, and a multitude of other tests, the final diagnosis was Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).
CRPS is a neurological condition where a person’s autonomic nervous system (the bodily system that controls automatic functions such as breathing and heartbeat) sends pain signals for no apparent reason. The syndrome sometimes occurs after a minor injury and is often linked to intense stress.
Over the next few months, the swelling went away and my hand became shiny and claw-like as my fingers curled in on themselves. The pain traveled up my arm into my shoulder and I lost the ability to lift my arm above my head.
Around this time my father’s health worsened. Long story short, I put my writing projects on the shelf and spent the next three years dedicating myself to coordinating his care while searching out a cure for myself.
Eventually, Dad passed away and after lots of prayers and intense physical therapy, I regained the use of my hand, arm, and shoulder. Although the fingers on my right hand remain slightly bent, they no longer hurt. I can write with my right hand again and my handwriting is as bad as it ever was. I can also apply mascara, chop vegetables, type, and drive stick just like before.
I started writing again about a year ago, and after doing some minor revisions on “Squares,” updating my agent list, and entering a few contests to get my chops up, I’m back at work on my current book.
For the past four years I’ve barely thought about this site, but no more. This is a new beginning, where content will be fresh and blog posts will be regular. In the words of the late cowboy singer, Gene Autry, “I’m back in the saddle again.”
With both the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries behind us, both the Democrats and the Republicans are well on their way to picking the final candidates for the 2016 presidential race. Unfortunately, the next nine months are sure to be grim, with plenty of mudslinging, name-calling, dirty secrets, and general nastiness on the part of the candidates, the media, and the public at large.
While I can’t do anything to change that, I can provide a little levity. Check out this YouTube video of Frank Sinatra singing at a political rally for John F. Kennedy during Kennedy’s 1960 run for the White House. Pure gold.
Try to imagine a popular singer (Bruno Mars or Beyoncé perhaps?) singing that song about your favorite candidate. Now imagine the candidate actually getting elected afterward instead of being laughed off the stage . . .
Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did NOT!
—Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
As a kid, I loved Dr. Suess’ story about the angry recluse who spied on the citizens of Whoville from his home on top of a mountain. As you may recall, the Whos loved Christmas and they partied a lot, and the Grinch saw the sparkle and heard the noise from all that partying, and it bugged him. So much so, that he snuck down the mountain one Christmas Eve after the Whos had gone to bed, and stole all of their decorations, food, and presents in an effort to stop Christmas from coming. Then he went home, snickering to himself as he imagined the surprise that the Whos were going to get the next morning when they discovered that Christmas hadn’t come.
However, it was the Grinch who got the surprise when he learned that Christmas had come anyway because it was not the trappings that made the day, but something much more meaningful.
I think in many ways, we have turned into a country of Grinches and Whos. All we have to do is turn on our televisions or log onto social media these days and we are inundated with Grinchy stories about “The War on Christmas.” Every day, somewhere in this country, someone is launching a protest, filing a lawsuit, or having a meltdown because someone had the audacity to display a manger scene on public land or say “Merry Christmas” in front of a department store. And those who support such activities are reciprocating with their own protests, lawsuits, and meltdowns against the protesters.
All of which makes me wonder: when as a country did we become so thin-skinned and easily offended that we cannot tolerate anybody or anything that does not line up with everything we personally believe in? In its purest sense, Christmas is a Christian holiday. It celebrates the birth of Christ. However, the celebration of Christmas is two percent cultural tradition (much of it borrowed from ancient pagan religions) and ninety-eight percent commercialism. Be honest now—what do laughing snowmen, sugar cookies, and plastic trees adorned with twinkle lights have to do with the birth of Christ?
Even if we factor in those things that do point to the birth of Christ, such as manger scenes and traditional carols, what does it matter? At their simplest level, they don’t harm anyone. Non-believers can choose to ignore them as part of the overall glitz of the season, or they can use them as educational tools to teach their children what many people in the Western world hold dear to their hearts.
I was brought up in an unconventional family but we loved to celebrate. I am a Christian, but until fairly recently my father was an atheist. My mother was an agnostic. However, both of my parents celebrated Christmas with a passion. And that meant all of it. We had a manger scene on top of the television, plastic Santas on the lawn, a Christmas tree in the living room, and Christmas songs by Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Gene Autry blaring through the house. And presents. Piles and piles of presents.
You see—my dad, in addition to being an atheist—was ornery. He didn’t want anybody telling him what he could and could not celebrate. And he enjoyed other people’s celebrations, too. He took our family to Chinatown in San Francisco, and we watched them celebrate Chinese New Year. Later, when we moved to Colorado, we attended Cinco de Mayo festivals. We enjoyed those traditions, and we learned about other cultures in the process, and those activities in no way cut into our family’s faith (or lack thereof).
Over the years, I’ve cultivated friendships with people of varying outlooks. One of these friends, Judy, is a devout Christian. Before I met her, she lived in Turkey because her husband was stationed there while in the Air Force. Turkey is a Muslim country, and Judy and her family made friends with a number of Turkish people. One year, during the Muslim month of Ramadan, Judy fasted along with one of her Muslim friends, just to see what it was like. She also accepted an invitation to the celebratory feast of Eid in her friend’s home after it was over.
Another friend of mine is an atheist who was raised in a Jewish family. Although she does not believe in God, she enjoys celebrating traditional Jewish holidays with her family because it’s part of her heritage. When she’s not with her family, she celebrates nothing at all or goes to Christmas parties at the homes of friends because she likes a good party as much as anyone. Interestingly enough, her holiday card is the first one I get every year. It says, “Happy Holidays,” as does my card to her.
Speaking of “Happy Holidays,” I may be a bit slow on the uptake, but it was years before I realized that many retail establishments had substituted “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas.” It didn’t offend me because I simply hadn’t noticed. I guess it’s because, growing up, I heard both greetings and I just assumed “Happy Holidays” was an efficient way of saying “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” at the same time. I say “Merry Christmas,” myself, but I’ll take a nice greeting wherever I can get it. If someone were to say to me, “Happy Eid,” “Joyous Kwanzaa,” “Happy Hanukah,” or “Rockin’ Festivus!” I would say, “Thank you. Same to you.”
So why can’t we all just get along? If we can’t embrace different cultures and celebrations, can’t we at least tolerate them? When I was a child, my brother and I used to bug each other during long car rides. We’d make faces at each other, hum, and otherwise go out of our way to get under each other’s skins. My mom had a simple solution to this: “Just ignore each other.” “But he said . . . ” “But she said . . . ” we’d cry, whining over some real or imagined slight. “Get over it,” she’d say. “Or better yet, focus on something outside the car . . . like that antelope over there.” Wise woman, my mother.
Having grown up in a family that not only tolerated, but embraced viewpoints and celebrations outside of our own, I find it hard to comprehend why some people have no tolerance for the customs and traditions others hold dear. However, if all references to Christmas were banned from our culture, it would still live in my heart and in the hearts of others. Whether you celebrate the birth of Christ like I do, or enjoy Christmas from a purely secular perspective, it’s a cause for celebration. Christmas brings out the good in people, from charitable organizations like Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army bell ringers, to the New York City police officer who made the news in 2012 when he spontaneously bought a pair of boots for a barefoot homeless man. Yes, we can and should do good deeds all year long, but if it takes a holiday like Christmas to get the job done, I say bring it on.
I don’t do this very often, so please allow me a moment to bask in my own glory. I survived NaNoWriMo 2015! In other words, I wrote nearly an entire rough draft of a novel in thirty days. This makes me, if not an official winner, pretty darn close.
For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month, is an international event where you sign up and commit to write the rough draft of a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.
I didn’t quite make it, but I came close. In fact, this is the most I’ve ever written in such a short time. November has always been a busy month for me, what with Thanksgiving, spending time with family, extra work commitments, school programs, visits from relatives, etc. For a brief nanosecond I considered leaving my family to their own devices (turkey TV dinners anyone?) on Thanksgiving, but I couldn’t go through with it in the end. I guess that makes me, if not exactly a hero, a pretty good mom.
Speaking of heroes, Marvin had ten days of vacation time that he had to use or lose before the end of the year, and he chose to use it helping me! I’ll admit I didn’t spend every minute of his staycation holed up in my office ignoring him, but I came close. While I wrote, he attended to my dad’s needs (driving him to medical appointments, fixing meals, running errands) and did way more than his fair share of chores so I could at least stay in the running. Thank you Sweetie. You are the best. Ever.
I also owe a big thank you to all of my non-writing friends who cut me slack when I said I was too busy to hang out with them all month. Thank you all for respecting that and agreeing to reschedule later.
And a final thank you to the NaNoWriMo community. You guys are the most supportive group I’ve ever been a part of. Congratulations to all of you who finished!
My goal now is to finish the rough draft (and it definitely is rough!) in the next two weeks, give it a rest, and start the second draft in January. Cheers!
- The Swetsville Zoo. If you’re passing through Fort Collins, be sure to check out this zoo made from farm implements, scrap metal, and old car parts. Marvin and I discovered this sculpture garden when our kids were little and revisit it every so often when we have out of town guests to entertain. Highlights include a giant spider made from a Volkswagen and a prehistoric heavy metal band. It’s located off of I-25 next to the Harmony Road exit, next to Costco.
- The suburban turkey. I live in the suburbs, as in tract houses, strip malls, and miles of asphalt, so imagine my surprise when I stepped outside a couple weeks ago to find this guy strolling down the sidewalk. My dog went crazy, but Mr. T didn’t let her barking or my picture taking ruffle his feathers. He continued his stroll, secure in the knowledge that Luna was on a leash and Thanksgiving was six weeks away.
- Solid potato salad. Since we can never have too much weirdness in our lives, enjoy this slightly creepy clip from the 1944 MGM musical, Broadway Rhythm.
Labor Day. The official end of summer and, according to women of my grandmother’s generation, the last day you could wear white shoes during the year (unless you were a nurse or wished to be considered tacky).
I love to hike, and there’s nothing I like better than hoofing it through the Rockies on a gorgeous summer day (except hoofing it along the beach like I used to do when I lived in California). However, other people like those things too, and when you live in a popular state, things tend to get a bit crowded on the last weekend of summer.
This year, we took the hike a week early and held our very own Labor Day Movie Marathon at home. It was so fun we may make it a tradition.
I love all types of movies, especially cult classics. The kind of films that feature quirky, morbid, or borderline inappropriate subject matter, and make it gut-busting, fall on the floor, pee your pants funny. The kind of movies I buy for my collection and never, ever grow tired of watching.
This year we watched: Waking Ned Devine, Harold and Maude, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Weekend at Bernie’s, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Waking Ned Devine is a 1998 comedy by English writer and director, Kirk Jones. The story takes place in a small Irish village, where one of the inhabitants buys a winning lottery ticket and promptly dies. Unfortunately, Irish lottery winnings must be claimed by the purchaser. As the inhabitants of the village discover what has happened, each schemes to collect the money for his or herself. British humor at its finest. (Also, treachery, mayhem, naked old guys, and fruity soaps.). Need I say more?
Harold and Maude, starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort, is an oldie but goodie. The 1971 film is about an unlikely romance between a death-obsessed 20-year-old boy who fakes suicides, drives a hearse, and attends strangers’ funerals, and the 79-year-old woman who teaches him to appreciate life. Panned by the critics when it was first released, Harold and Maude has become a cult classic.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, the 2014 comedy directed by Wes Anderson, is destined for cult status. I’ve seen it three times since its release and noticed new details each time (weird things going on in the background, weird facial exchanges between the characters, weird items on the set). What can I say? It’s a weird film. And it’s brilliant. Set in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, which resembles a 1930s era Eastern European country, the film stars Ralph Fiennes (the actor who played Voldemort in the Harry Potter films) as a hotel concierge who teams up with his trusty lobby boy to recover a valuable painting, prove his innocence after he’s framed for murder, and partake in a slew of other misadventures. The film has a large cast (each of whom speaks with his or her real life accent) and includes cameos by Bill Murray, Jude Law, and Owen Wilson.
Weekend at Bernie’s, a 1989 comedy about two employees at an insurance company who discover that someone has been embezzling money from the firm. When they confront their boss (Bernie) with the evidence, he invites them to spend a weekend partying at his beach house. After they arrive, they find him murdered, discover Bernie is actually the embezzler, and learn that he’s ordered mobsters to kill them if he should turn up dead. They spend the rest of the weekend interacting with a house full of party guests, while dragging their boss’ body around and pretending it is alive.
Shaun of the Dead (2004) is a British/American/French horror film parody about a pair of 30-something slackers who find themselves caught up in a zombie apocalypse. The film stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who also star in 2007’s Hot Fuzz, an action comedy set in a small English village. British comedy, zombies, bumbling bobbies . . . what’s not to love?
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. This 1993 film is actually classified as a drama, although it has plenty of comedic moments. The story is about a young man named Gilbert Grape (played by Johnny Depp) who shoulders a lot of family responsibility, including helping his morbidly obese mother who hasn’t left the house in several years, and caring for his mentally challenged younger brother (masterfully played by a teenaged Leonardo DiCaprio).
This weekend, Marvin and I plan to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and post-Labor Day lack of crowds and spend some time outdoors, but I’m really looking forward to the new crop of holiday release movies, including Meet Your Makers, a Frankenstein/Igor thriller starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.
Fall will be fabulous.
It’s been six weeks since the much-hyped release of Harper Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman. I pre-ordered the novel months in advance and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, and I’ve longed for a sequel since I first read it at the age of nine.
Unfortunately, due to a delay beyond my control, I was forced to wait three weeks after its release before my copy arrived. Long enough to read the negative reviews and almost wholehearted condemnation from fans and critics alike. I became apprehensive. Would the alleged rough draft of Mockingbird be a letdown that shattered my love of the beloved classic and its characters?
Most of the criticism concerned allegations of racism, particularly on the part of the character Atticus Finch, the lawyer father of Jean Louise (Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird), who risked everything to defend a black man wrongly accused of rape in the original novel.
After reading Watchman and rereading Mockingbird, my fears were put to rest. Mockingbird is a better book, hands down, but I don’t think Watchman is horrible. If Lee’s editor had published Watchman, instead of encouraging her to rewrite it, it would have been an enjoyable read, typical of its time, before fading away into obscurity. It might have achieved book-of-the-month club status, but it never would have become a Pulitzer Prize winning classic.
We have Lee’s editor at J.B. Lipincott & Co., Tay Hohoff, to thank for that. Hohoff recognized the message Lee was trying to get across but felt the manuscript was not yet ready for publication. During the next two years, she led the author through a grueling rewrite process, helping her whittle the story down to its essence.
I don’t believe Lee was racist at heart. Watchman’s protagonist, Jean Louise, is appalled at the racist attitudes embodied by the people in her hometown. She is willing to abandon her father, beloved uncle, and boyfriend when she discovers they are members of a citizens’ group whose sole purpose is to prevent government mandated integration of the local schools. She’s even more horrified when she learns her father was once a member of the KKK.
We eventually learn that Atticus’ involvement in the Klan was limited to one meeting, many years before. His sole purpose in joining was to learn the identity of the cowards behind the masks so he’d know who he was fighting if push came to shove.
His membership in the citizens’ counsel is more problematic, but I think it reflects his values more than the author’s. Jean Louise is the character readers identify with. Atticus is presented as a complex product of the early 1900s Deep South.
The messages expounded in Go Set a Watchman (equality, love, compassion, standing up for what is right, etc.) are the same messages set forth in To Kill a Mockingbird, but they are muddied because of the contradictory personalities of Atticus and Uncle Jack. Atticus’ arguments against integration, along with some of Lee’s descriptions of people and settings, are reflective of a 1950s southern worldview. Enlightening from an historical perspective, albeit highly offensive today.
We must remember that Watchman was written before Mockingbird. Atticus is a fictional character. He didn’t morph from a wise, saint of a man into a conflicted racist. His character started out weak and was honed into the Atticus we know and love through several rewrites, over a two-year period.
To Set a Watchman is written from the point of view of an adult Scout reconciling childhood memories of her father (including his defense of the unjustly accused Tom Robinson) with the hypocrisy she discovers in his current life. To Kill a Mockingbird, which is written in the present tense to give it immediacy, takes place during Scout’s childhood, during the time of the trial. The message is the same in both books, but while Watchman offers a panoramic view of the theme, Mockingbird zooms in with a telephoto lens.
In the long run, Watchman will probably fade away and Mockingbird will endure. Should Watchman have even been published? It depends on who you ask. Lee’s relatives claim she wasn’t fully aware of what she was getting into. Her lawyer denies this. Critics and fans alike clamored for its publication and then slammed it once it arrived, comparing it with the original (perhaps unfairly?) and finding it lacking. It’s rough, no doubt about it. As an author, I cringe at the thought of any of my rough drafts being published, but assuming I’m still alive, who knows how I’ll feel in fifty years. Like its predecessor, Go Set a Watchman has generated both controversy and discussion. And in the end, isn’t that the point?
My love affair with literature started early. Both my parents loved reading, so it was natural they would pass their enthusiasm along to me. According to family lore, they read to me from the time they brought me home from the hospital, long before I actually understood what was being said. As a result, I was making up stories before I was two years old and reading long before I started kindergarten.
I was a weird kid. When I was eighteen months old, my grandma informed my mother I’d told one of her friends that her dog looked like a step cat. She thought it was a cute, albeit weird thing for a baby to say. Mom knew exactly why I’d said it. The woman’s Pekinese dog looked like the stepmother’s cat in my Disney Cinderella picture book. I later told this same woman that the tigers were going to get her (because she was wearing purple shoes like a character who got challenged by tigers in another of my picture books).
After I learned to read, nothing held me back. My parents, extremely conservative when it came to the movies and TV shows they allowed me to watch, gave me total freedom when it came to literature, so I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on, whether it was earmarked for children or adults.
Being an immature but precocious reader sometimes got me into trouble, as I often tried the things I read about in my books (because they sounded interesting or I found them funny).
The following is a partial list:
The Swiss Family Robinson. I desperately wanted a tree house like the family in Johann David Wyss’ classic novel, but the trees in our backyard were too spindly to support one. I build a shack behind the barbecue, instead.
Peter Pan. A natural, because my last name was Darling. One day I took a flying leap off my bed, grabbed the door to my bedroom and attempted to use it as a catapult to propel myself into the hallway. I sliced open all ten of my fingers.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I never found a secret passage in the back of my grandma’s wardrobe, but it made a cool, albeit dusty place to hide out.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. I thought it would be cool to carry my lunch to school in a lard bucket, but since my mom didn’t use lard, I settled for taking my shoes off and walking through my grandparents’ cow pasture to see what Laura experienced in her barefoot walks across the prairie. Stickers.
Ramona the Pest. Beverly Cleary’s spunky heroine once called someone a “pie face.” I thought that was the funniest insult ever and tried it out on an older kid at school. Unfortunately, I forgot the exact wording and substituted the word “pizza” for “pie.” As in calling an acne-faced pre-teen a pizza face. The result, as they say, was explosive. I was puzzled. Pizza, pie, cake. To my six-year-old mind, what was the difference? Being called an item of food was funny when Ramona did it. Why was this kid so angry?
To Kill a Mocking Bird. My parents didn’t appreciate being called by their first names, even if Scout and Jem called Atticus by his. I also tried the tire rolling thing. Since I was too big to fit inside a tire myself, I rolled my younger brother down the road in one.
Tom Sawyer. Sneaking out at night. I got my best friend to go along with that one. We met under a lit street lamp halfway between our two houses then went back home to bed (there’s not much for ten-year-olds to do at two a.m. in the suburbs).
Pippi Longstocking. I attempted to navigate the various rooms in our house by jumping from one piece of furniture to the next without touching the floor.
The Nancy Drew books. I read the entire series and spent the better part of third grade peeking in windows in an attempt to find mysteries in my neighborhood.
John Steinbeck novels. After reading The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, and Tortilla Flat at the age of twelve, I tried wiping my backside with pages torn from the Sears Roebuck catalog (once) and spent an entire summer drinking juice out of a Mason jar.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I made a homemade reindeer horn out of a paper towel tube, fastened it to my dog’s head and then hitched my dog to a sled like the main character in the Dr. Seuss classic. I had no particular affinity for the Grinch. I just thought the whole dog-as-reindeer idea had a certain panache. The horn wouldn’t stay on, but the dog happily pulled my newspapers on the sled so I could deliver them in the snow.
From Russia With Love, Goldfinger. James Bond’s martinis sounded elegant and oh, so refreshing. Since I wasn’t old enough to go into a bar, I improvised my own out of my parents’ liquor cabinet (having no recipe, I just guessed at the proportions). Blecchh! Which led to:
Gone With the Wind. When Scarlett O’Hara wanted to hide her drinking, she gargled with cologne. I gave it a try and gained a new appreciation for Listerine.
Judy Blume’s adult novels and the erotic writings of Anais Nin. My mother about fainted when she found these under my bed. I was twelve at the time. She calmed down after a very awkward conversation in which I assured her I found the activities in the books hilarious and more than a little gross and had no intention of trying them out for myself (not to mention the fact that boys generally didn’t go out for girls who quoted Roald Dahl and considered the pogo stick an alternate form of transportation).
Several years ago I ran into one of my childhood friends. She said she thought I’d had an amazing imagination as a kid and wondered how I’d thought up some of the things we used to do. She also told me that her mom had considered me somewhat of a bad influence back in the day.
Blame it on the books.
Gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Gimme down to there, hair, shoulder length or longer . . .
The song from the musical Hair’s been going through my brain all day, probably because I’m having, if not exactly a bad hair day, a seriously mediocre one.
I’ve never had what I’d consider great hair—the texture’s too fine for that. However, with a good cut, and a little henna, I get by. Most of the time. Maybe it’s this nasty heat, but my head is definitely looking a bit fuzzy.
I grew up in an era of big hair. Long, chemically processed, curly, layered.
While I don’t miss the rotten egg smell and Brillo pad texture of spiral perms, I still have serious hair fantasies. One of my favorites is a recurring dream in which I have long, thick, shiny hair that looks like Cindy Crawford’s, and swishes when I turn my head.
Some contenders for the hair hall of fame:
Audrey Hepburn — one of the few people who managed to rock both long and short hair.
Lucille Ball — because she chose that color, and it looked awesome on her.
Cousin Itt (from the old Addams Family TV show)
Barbie (who still managed to look glam after spending an entire summer at the bottom of a backyard wading pool). Gives new meaning to the phrase, “wash and wear hair.”
I was cleaning out my office the other day, when I came across a box of old stuff I’d written when I was a teenager. Reading through this literary time capsule brought back a flood of memories, most of them cringeworthy.
What struck me most was the optimism of my teenaged self. Despite the pile of rejection slips I was already beginning to accrue, I was positive I’d succeed as a writer. This certainty was reinforced the summer after I graduated from high school, when I sold my first essay, “How I Met My New Man,” to a feminist magazine aimed at thirty-something career women (never mind that I’d only had a handful of dates at that point).
Flush with success, my next endeavor was a pioneer recipe contest. I didn’t actually have any pioneer recipes, but that didn’t deter me. I entered a weird cookie recipe (it involved yeast and floating the dough in cold water) that my grandmother had found taped to the bottom of a table she’d bought at a yard sale.
Since the contest required entrants to include the stories behind their recipes, I made up something about my great, great grandmother bringing the recipe across the plains in a covered wagon. Because of a sugar shortage on the prairie, this special recipe had become a mainstay in her kitchen. Despite the sketchy logic (A shortage of sugar, but an abundance of cinnamon, yeast, and vanilla extract?), I won second place. Mercifully, school started, and I spent my college years writing entertainment reviews and experimental poetry for the school newspaper.
During that time, I also sold a script to a Los Angeles company that made comic answering machine tapes. This was before the advent of voicemail, when most people had answering machines sitting on their counters, connected to their landline phones. The company, “First Ring,” made comedic tapes customers could purchase for their outgoing messages.
I sold them a script based on the old 1950s TV show, The Honeymooners. This was ironic, because the show had been off the air since before I was born and I’d never seen a single episode (although my grandparents had described it in great detail). Anyway, they bought all rights, sent me a check for a hundred dollars, and promptly went out of business.
Some day, when I’m really famous, I’ll show you some of the bad poetry.