• A WRITER’S LETTER TO HER UNBORN DAUGHTER

    Dear daughter,

    I’ve been thinking about you quite a lot lately.

    Sometimes the thoughts are grounded and specific: I wonder if she’ll like baseball, or beg us to take her camping, or love Anne of Green Gables, or arrive with spiky black hair, or want to study medicine like her daddy, or plan elaborate Halloween costumes months in advance.

    And other times it’s far more abstract: I wonder how she’ll feel about her home, her name, her family. I wonder what kind of a life she’ll lead. I wonder how I can be her most reliable guide.

    Today, these accidental ruminations came to me while cutting vegetables, and later when I intended to think about my protagonist, and later yet, when I attempted a nap moments before Cameron awoke from his.

    It’s an odd new development, because I’ve never been one to daydream – brainstorm, problem-solve, analyze, yes, but not daydream – and I’ve already found it riddled with danger.

    How quickly a meandering freeform daydream can turn dark….

    What if, the unleashed thought began today, something prevents me from sharing an insight she may someday need? What could I possibly offer, right here, right now? What rough observations collected over these thirty-two years of hard lessons, unexpected revelations, and sweet, small victories might have been buffed and polished into a shareworthy gem?

    In a (cleaner) sentence:

    What do I need this girl, my girl, to know?

    It’s difficult to hush a question like that, especially if you’re already having trouble sleeping, and if your laptop lives on your nightstand, and if, you know, you’re me.

    So here it is, Sweetie. For now, here is what I need you to know:

    PURPOSE:

    I’ve found it’s crucial to have individual passions and purposes that you pursue with curiosity and gusto and pleasure alone. It’s a great gift that I love to read and write and watch baseball and films.

    Emotional self-reliance is a noble pursuit.

    To awake excited about something that has little to do with anyone else is a sort of freedom, and one people don’t talk about or celebrate nearly enough.

    HELPERS:

    During your life, you will come across a handful of people who will believe in you. Not in your talent, not in your beauty, not in what you may be able to do for them. These people will not be related to you, nor will they see you as a pawn, a lever, or a stepping stone. They will believe in you, and the pure, unbiased nature of their faith will restore you when you lose your own.

    When you meet these people, you will be changed.

    Each time I’ve met one of these folks, I’ve felt a visceral spark somewhere in the vicinity of my chest. You may observe your own bell, and when you do, pay attention.

    These people are your best guideposts. Be good to them. Do not lose touch with them. And should they fail you in some way, be forgiving. These random folks – people who have likely never met, and who you may not even particularly like on a personal level – arrive to nudge you along on your intended path. Should you outgrow them, your dynamic can become uncomfortable. Be grateful, and promise to serve others as they served you.

    ROMANCE:

    I hope very much that you’ll find a partner in this life, whether that looks like marriage or not. (Though robbing me of taking you wedding dress shopping would be a horrible mistake. I live for that shit.)

    Your father is my adult life’s greatest blessing, and my daily (often hourly) source of joy and comfort.

    I’m now going to state the obvious thing that everyone (even beloved Jane Austen and Nora Ephron) fails to point out:

    The most important thing in partner selection is that you like them very very much.

    I like your father’s secretly wicked sense of humor, and his always-clean hands, and the way he methodically scrutinizes minor decisions and can be sort of charmingly lasses-faire about seemingly bigger things. I just enjoy him immensely, in most every way, most every day. Seek that.

    In my experience, the secret to fulfilling romantic love is not so much about how they make you feel, but how you feel about them.

    TRAGEDY:

    At some point, Sweet Girl, something will inevitably happen to you, something unexpectedly tragic or upsetting, and you may feel that no one understands. You may also feel that you somehow “have it worse,” and you will wallow in the unfairness of it all. This is okay – for a day, a week, a month or two.

    But it is not a suitable or sustainable lens through which to see the world.

    The universe owes you nothing, and you really have no idea what it’s like to be anyone else. Actively listening to others helps, so does reading good fiction and watching good films, but really, we’re all on our own, figuring it out as we go.

    Of course, as your mother, I would like to protect you and Cameron from everything that could ever cause injury – from a bee sting to losing a loved one to the grief of a dashed dream – but I know this will be impossible, and detrimental, too. What I can do is help equip you to weather these storms with your chin up and your eyes and heart as open as you can manage, and promise to remain an ally and advocate for as long as I live.

    PREFERENCES:     

    Be on the lookout for what symbols speak to you.

    Every woman should know what color ignites her power.

    I like red, and the numbers ten and sixteen, and oddly-shaped keys. Masculine, cologne-inspired scented candles put me at ease. I like fat, fluffy afghans, black coffee, yellow and white flowers, canvas totes, and Edison bulbs. I virtually only wear Minnetonka flats, four-inch-tall pumps, or slippers. I prefer ivory to white, black to navy, and gold to silver. I’ve grown to appreciate massive TVs and micro desserts. I’m hyper-picky about my stationary, but not what car I drive.

    The better you know yourself, the more your decisions will bring you long-term happiness because you’ll have curated a life that provides you particular comfort.

    KINDNESS:

    This one’s very simple.

    You will never regret being kind.

    When in doubt, offer the hand, drop the note, sit longer, listen better, apologize sooner, give more, take less. If someone repeatedly tramples your spirit, take note, act accordingly, and find someone more deserving and appreciative of what you have to offer.

    BODY:

    Throughout every stage of your life, you’ll likely have some fluctuating thoughts and feelings about the exterior casing in which you walk around. I say this because I’ve yet to meet a human who doesn’t. This is okay, but I encourage you to not spend too much time navel-gazing (literally or figuratively).

    In my belly, right this minute, you are a tumbling, kicking, rolling queen.

    You feel healthy, vital, capable. I’ve found myself subconsciously humming Tiny Dancer. Today, that’s you. Once you’re out and free and not-so-tiny, I hope you’ll grow to appreciate how you can move in your body, through dance, through athletic feats, even while tackling everyday chores. Someday, should you find yourself “with child” (one of my favorite awkward phrases), I hope you’ll marvel at your body’s miraculous, peculiar evolution.

    Some people really struggle with harnessing their body’s potential and accepting its flaws. Women in their sixties, seventies, and beyond often regret the self-loathing hours/years(!) they were convinced they looked awful during their physical prime.

    On this note, I hope, too, that you won’t be so severe that you find no pleasure in expressing yourself through the clothes, makeup, jewelry, shoes, or other window dressings that may speak to you. Some days I revel in adorning myself until I resemble a glittering, gaudy Christmas tree. Other days, I feel more liberated in my bare skin and glasses and Harrison High Tennis sweats.

    My point?

    No one likes everything about their bodies, and no one can have it all. Nourish yourself with good, wholesome foods and products, treat others with kindness, and please, please don’t take anything superficial too seriously.

    Life will be far more fun if you believe you’re beautiful.

    FAILURE | REJECTION | BAD TIMING | BAD LUCK:

    Happens to everyone.

    Wallow briefly, then refuse to be defined by something so common.

    FRIENDS:

    When you find yourself with a true, loyal, caring friend with whom you can laugh and cry, treat them like the precious gem they are. Should a gem you used to celebrate and appreciate proudly become a wretched pebble in your shoe, kindly part ways. Maybe your friendship ran its course, maybe you learned something, maybe she’ll miss you. Who knows. The stubborn stragglers, the ones who accept you and your flaws, this is your tribe.

    Defend them with everything you have – every time, with ferocity and conviction.

    That’s how a tribe works.

    WORLD:

    It’s important to remember that the world in which you’ll enter has been shaped – thoughtfully, lovingly, deliberately – by the sacrifices and advancements of those who came before you, particularly other women and people of color. It is my hope you enter a world of greater equality for our sex and all people, but equality is never a given. Never forget this.

    CONFIDENCE:

    You may find that the world will reward you for being confident, but not too confident. Clever, but not too clever. Accomplished, but not too accomplished. Stylish, but not too stylish. (You get it.) So who sets these wavy, capricious lines in the sand? Everyone. Meaning while you’re beguiling many, you’re offending some.

    Meanwhile, it’s become common in Girlworld to assume that if someone doesn’t like you, they must be jealous of you.

    In my experience, this is often not the case. I’ve experienced jealousy very few times in girlhood and womanhood and have disliked many, and I’m absolutely certain some people do not like me and jealousy has nothing to do with it.

    Here’s the rub: some people are simply not going to like you, and that’s entirely a-o-k, and entirely not your business. Trite as it is, the important thing is that you like you, and that while you continue to acquire skills and aptitudes and confidence and a slew of other darling traits, you keep a level head.

    My best pal, Judith, sagely preaches, “You be you.” It’s my belief that almost always when a person is most authentically themselves – confident when confident, raw and vulnerable when raw and vulnerable – they are not only their loveliest, but also their most impactful.

    WORRY:

    I know this is an impossibly tall request, but please try not to worry too much.

    (My own wise, elegant mother, your darling Grandma Sal, a proficient worrier herself, reminds me of this regularly. And on the Lopez side, you have your gorgeous Nonna, whose heart is so big she can worry about your upcoming exam, your roommate’s sister’s toothache, and whether the coffee stain in your duvet will come out with equal enthusiasm. While I pray you inherit your grandmothers’ uncanny beauty and grace and generosity and intelligence, I’m sorry to inform you that you are genetically predisposed to go to that scary, worst-scenario place — an impulse you must stifle before it suffocates.)

    Truth is, most everything works out, and when it doesn’t, the human spirit, in an almost predictable, nearly mundane way, shines with resiliency and resolve.

    What I mean is, it’s not at all unique to look back on your most trying experiences with gratitude for the lessons gained.

    Besides, worrying’s a waste. No one wants to have horrible things happen to them or those they adore, but worrying does nothing to prevent it. Be street smart, eat well, move often, and express rational concerns in a way that may best resonate with your intended audience.

    That’s all you can do, Honey. I know it’s unfair, but it’s true.

    WHEN STUCK:

    Mix it up: read a new author, visit a new restaurant, take a new class, get a new haircut, buy some new sneakers, explore a new park.

    Do not get a tattoo. Do not quit your job. Do not abandon a commitment. Do not break ties with a quality friend or lover.

    Those decisions require — and deserve — a clear head.

    MORAL PICKLES:

    When my mind and heart are torn, I go with my gut. It’s easy to forget that we’re animals, equipped with innate instincts that often function as our finest decision-making barometer.

    On less important pickles, flip a coin.

    When the winning side shines, your immediate reaction will reveal what you truly hoped for while it was still up to chance, suspended in air.

    SUGGESTED VIEWING:

    (25 films to watch before your 25th birthday)

    A League of Their Own

    Little Women

    Fried Green Tomatoes

    Now and Then

    Beaches

    Miss Representation

    The First Wives Club

    Steel Magnolias

    Set It Off

    Thelma and Louise

    Sliding Doors

    Matilda

    Ever After

    Clueless

    If These Walls Could Talk

    Suffragette

    Waitress

    The Trouble With Angels

    Real Women Have Curves

    Emma

    Iron Jawed Angels

    Pollyanna

    The Upside of Anger

    Sister Act

    My Girl

    SUGGESTED READING:

    Reading is far more intimate and time-consuming than taking in a film. I would never recommend titles until knowing you and your interests.

    But someday, likely sooner than I like, you’ll see me with more dimension.

    What I mean is, you’ll see me not only as your mother, but also as a flawed, complex, well-intentioned human with gifts and shortcomings, and around this time, I hope you’ll willingly read my more significant works, and I hope you’ll find something to enjoy in them.

    (And if you don’t, I hope I’ve raised you to have some tact.)

    SHOULD YOU EVER QUESTION YOUR WORTH:

    Please picture me now. I’m sitting in my office. The curtains are pulled. It’s 2am. On my desk, beside my keyboard, sits a cold mug of tea, a soupy carton of Whole Foods peanut butter ice cream (that’s got to be because of you – before you I never ate peanut butter ice cream in my life), and a heap of (mostly pink) baby cards. I’m surrounded by unwrapped gifts for you. I mean entirely surrounded, as in, I can hardly move my chair from the desk. These gifts were selected by our family members and my girlfriends. They bought them because they’re already invested in you becoming a healthy, happy, stimulated, clean, well-read, well-cared for, well-dressed little girl.

    In a few minutes, I’ll walk up the stairs, carefully, quietly, so not to wake your brother.

    After brushing my teeth, I’ll take the medication that helps ensure you and I don’t meet for another month(+).

    In bed, I’ll sleep on my side, facing Daddy, with my hand resting on my round belly. Before I close my eyes, I’ll whisper, “Good night, Baby,” and sigh with gratitude that you are you, and I am me, and sweet, wonderful, curious Cameron is sweet, wonderful, curious Cameron, and Anthony is my Anthony, and that we get to share this life together, the four of us, who will soon all call this house “home,” where we’ll learn and play and read and feast and laugh and cry and dance and toil and experiment and make mistakes and forgive and hug and watch television.

    I will wonder, fleetingly, what you will look like, smell like, sound like, what it will feel like to again hold all that newborn budding potential in the crook of my arm. See, I already love you. I’m already in your corner. I already feel like your mama, and you couldn’t be more wanted.

    As I drift to sleep, I will finally admit that while I haven’t done much daydreaming these last two decades, it’s likely because I fulfilled my lifetime quota as a girl. What’s happening now is too familiar, too natural, too much a result of muscle memory. From three to thirteen, I probably daydreamed as much as I jumped rope, took groundballs, studied for spelling exams, sharpened pencils, and relayed my day’s events to anyone who would listen (thanks, Mom and Dad).

    We haven’t met yet, and you’ve already provided me with a remarkable gift: the invitation to revisit the purest, least complicated chapter of my life.

    Girlhood, when done right, is a time of boundless curiosity, exploration, experimentation, fun, and learning – a time when everything is still possible. What a privilege and adventure to usher you through this era, with love, with intention, with gratitude, with as much patience as I can muster, and, of course, a healthy dose of glitter. (You choose the color.)

    Really, really look forward to meeting you.

    Love,

    Mom

  • New Developments & The Paint Problem

    Warmest of thanks to wonderful Anthony for snapping this photograph in our backyard (and for fixing our not-in-a-good-way wild backyard, and for, you know, being the man who helps me be and become a mother…somehow this caption doesn’t seem like enough now. I’ll make sure to write him an additional “thank you” soon).

    But there is a problem with feeling you’re cogent and inventive, teeming with ideas and ambitions, while pregnant and disposed, with everything seeming so very rich in significant and implication.
    In no time at all, you run out of paint.
    My explanation requires I describe a recent dream — one I can only assume was directly inspired by my newfound hobby of scrutinizing paint swatches for our baby girl’s room.
    (Sidebar: Incidentally, the nursery-to-be is currently painted pink. But too pink. The room was supposed to be my closet. My happy, too-pink, far-larger-than-necessary closet. Apparently the sole, current Lady of the House is already being dethroned. Naturally, I couldn’t be happier about this. As my parents move from the home I occupied from ages twelve to eighteen, I’ve re-inherited my girlhood sporting equipment, craft supplies, novellas, porcelain knickknacks, and a shockingly extensive collection of embellished berets. Surely Cameron shouldn’t be the only one subjected to these odd Abbey relics.)

    Back to the dream. And because dreams are boring to hear about and even worse to read about, I’ll summarize it in two sentences:

    I dreamed I didn’t have enough paint. Lots of walls, plenty of blank canvases, and not nearly enough paint.

    No need to inform me that my sitcom bffs (Doctors Frasier and Niles Crane) would scoff at the simplicity of this dream. Me no care. That’s what’s nice about my dreams. While the fictitious characters that may occupy my waking mind can be maddeningly mysterious and elusive, my most memorable dreams are often obvious ones. Nothing a freshman Psych major couldn’t decode in the time it takes her macchiato to cool.

    The canvases, of course, are the various beautiful, demanding things vying for my attention. They matter to me, and I hate to keep them waiting.

    The paint is my energy, my focus, my time — those infuriatingly finite resources we all attempt to allocate with thought and care.

    (I’m fighting the cliche that I’ve spread myself too thin. Please fight it, too. It’s a horrible expression. Especially as your waist expands daily, and you’re feeling particularly, profoundly grateful.)

    18 weeks here and feeling fabulous. And snoozy. But mostly fabulous.

    Anyway. Between gawking at the stark canvases and depleted palettes, I discovered something reassuring — an acknowledgement that may put you at ease regarding the blank (or near-blank) canvases in the wings of your life, too: WAITING DOES NOT HARM THEM.

    Moving forward, there are three options:

    1. Get better at cutting canvases.

    2. Get better at manufacturing paint.

    3. Get more comfortable with filling the canvases more slowly.

    I dedicated myself to working on all three, and then this funny thing happened: Cameron became really good at brushing his teeth. (And all of his stuffed animals’ teeth, but that’s beside the point.)

    After months of giggling and sticking out his tongue while we struggled to ensure the bristles grazed all four of his little darling dental quadrants, bam. He’s a pretty proficient little brusher.

    It happened like all of his seemingly insignificant mini milestones have happened: over time and all at once, reminding me that raising a toddler and writing a novel requires tremendous attention to the minutia. The joy is in the minutia. The work is in the minutia. Managing and monitoring the minutia IS the privilege and the job.

    As a parent and a writer, no one on the planet could possibly have your radar, your instincts, your intuition, your innate, unflappable investment. No one could possibly care the way you care, because no one could care so much. People want to know if he’s walking, if he’s talking, if the book’s done, if the contract’s signed. It’s too much to expect them to relish and agonize the million complicated, glorious, surprising mini milestones in-between.

    Watching Cameron gleefully brush his tiny perfect teeth tonight reminded me that I’ve never before written this novel, or been pregnant while caring for a toddler. I’m a toddler at this book, a toddler at being a pregnant mom. Most days, I write a bit, care a lot, and kiss my boys more than they could ever want. Most days, I bet I graze three quadrants. I’ll get there — to my page count, to my due date — over time and all at once.

    Meanwhile, as I pray this baby arrives full-term, as Cam did despite my body indicating an increased risk for preterm labor, I remind this baby, “We’ll wait for you. We’ll be patient. Please stay as long as you like, as long as you can. Sweetheart, we can’t wait to meet you, but we will wait to meet you.”

    Maybe I can grant myself more of the time and space to grow at my own pace, as we grant Cameron, “our wonder boy,” and my expanding belly. Maybe we, as artists, as parents, as prospective parents, as friends, as advocates, as risk-takers, as innovators, as young adults, and old adults, and everything in-between, maybe we can all grant ourselves a bit more patience.

    Art and artful living takes time, and, as my marvelous agent, Victoria, reminds, “Good beats fast.”

    Whatever you’re working on — a project, a home, a business, a family, a compromise, a partnership, a change of heart, a shift of perspective — know we can’t wait to observe its beauty, but we will wait, with hope, with encouragement, with patient, poised applause. 

    Paint on, dear ones.

    xo

    A

  • 2016 Gets Notes: 10 Changes for the New Year, from my desk to yours

    As a writer, you get a lot of feedback, and we call this feedback “notes.”

    Sometimes you’re asking for notes, like when you send a desperate email to a writer friend, begging, “What’s off here? What’s working? Am I on to something that matters? In any way? AT ALL?” And sometimes you’re asking for them, but far less desperately, like when you submit a piece to a creative writing workshop.

    These days, most of the notes I receive are from my agent or an editor. Occasionally they’re from an especially astute reader, chosen by the agent or editor, in hopes that fresh eyes catch something we didn’t.

    Writers love and loathe notes, often simultaneously.

    The best ones either affirm the sinking suspicions we already had (but needed some reinforcing to surrender to), or they’re smart and entirely unexpected. Good notes can polish and buff a piece, nudging it across the finish line to production or publication. Other good notes, especially big ones on character or the logistics of a plot or premise, can drop a grenade in the heart of a piece, prompting months of reworking, fueled by swimming pools of coffee and the quiet hope that it’s not all for nothing.

    Either way, good notes are good notes, and we should heed them.

    Still, notes can be terribly vague: “It drags in the middle.” 

    This is important. This I must address.

    Notes can be terribly specific: “No one should smirk or sigh or shrug more than once or twice in a hundred pages.” 

    Good catch, quick fix. Thank you.

    Notes can arrive with attitude: “What’s with all the food descriptions? Particularly the charcuterie and cheese and dessert platters. We get it. They attended a party. There was food.” 

    Hell if I know. Maybe I was hungry while writing it. Did you ever think of that?

    Notes can arrive with love: “That scene where Paige is missing her father and she sees his profile in the chipped paint of the centerfield wall, that gave me chills. Give us more of that.” 

    Oh, you got that, did you? You got that exactly as I intended? I will, I promise, I WILL give you more of that. Boatloads! Thank you!

    Even when not presented with love, the “more of this” / “less of that” notes are my favorite. Why? They’re clear, concise, and non-prescriptive. When folks advise you include more of this or less of that, they don’t care how you do it, they just want to see it done. I like that.

    All in all, the point of crafting, delivering, accepting, and applying notes is about the noble, unwavering, albeit pain-in-the-ass commitment to propel that which is so-so, or decent, or pretty good into notably, markedly exceptional stuff.

    This, naturally, lends itself to life.

    Real life.

    My life.

    Your life.

    In the spirit of the new year, in the spirit of declare-what-you-want-then-go-make-it-so, in the spirit of 2016 was a rough one (in A LOT of ways, for A LOT of people), in the spirit of good-vibes-only-here-on-out, in the spirit of a festivious “I-get-to-air-my-grievances-and-give-notes, too,” I present Year 2016 with ten considerations, in hopes that 2017 is paying (very) close attention.

    1.  Moving forward, we’d like to see more civility. More gentility. More humanity. More listening. More patience. More kindness. We’d like to see many of the macrocosm players clean up their acts. Like overhaul-style. In this respect, I know this sounds like a page one rewrite. Because it is. Clean it up. Make us proud.

    2.  While number one implies what we want more of, I feel it’s important to spell out what we demand less of: less name-calling, less bullying, less anger, less divisive, dangerous “us VS. thems,” less violence, less trauma, less ego, less ugly.

    Moving on,

    3.  I’m wondering if there’s a way to tighten the time between seeing friends? Because, in Abbey’s 2016, there are some serious gaps. Friendships need and deserve to be better tracked. Simply, if you’re going to have friends in this piece, you need to see them more. I mean, it’s really a waste.

    You have this ensemble cast of badass, uniquely-voiced female goddesses and then we hardly see them. Please address.

    4.  Maybe this next draft could have even more laughs?

    Find a way to up the humor 10% and down the drama 10% ?

    5.  On that note, cut back on the cool people dying. (Or cut it out entirely. That’d be fine.)

    6.  Key characters in Abbey’s 2016 experienced a slew of red herring-style, didn’t-really-go-anywhere stutter steps – personally and professionally. In 2017, we’d like to see more greenlights. We’re talking contracts, deals, babies, proposals, promotions, new houses, the works. We’re over this blinking yellow bullshit. Bring on the greenlights. Bright, steady ones that illuminate even the darkest hours.

    Should the budget allow and there be space on the page, maybe said greenlights could arrive with some much-deserved fanfare?

    A trumpet trio, or buckets of confetti, or a sea of poised palms, you know, the universe high-fiving their triumphant moment.

    Let’s make it big. Let’s make it glorious.

    7.  Keep the baby stuff exactly as-is. That Cameron “wonder boy” person is just delicious. Don’t you dare even tweak a line of his dialogue. He is precious and pure and you couldn’t write him better if you tried.

    8.  There are entire sections where everything’s messy and disorganized. Figuratively, sure, but also, say, for instance, Abbey’s closet. And office. And basement. And garage. Even her purse, for godssake. Maybe this next draft could be more organized?

    9.  I know this seems petty, with some of the truly important stuff touched on in the earlier points, but I sense there’s a lot that Abbey would’ve liked to have had a reason to wear this last draft. Like clothing/jewelry/bag-wise. It’s a shame to have costuming play a minor role, especially when she curated such an eccentric stock in her twenties. Maybe 2017 could invite more occasions to showcase her loveliest, most impractical wears? Maybe alongside that dashing love interest, Anthony?

    10.  Add more scenes in nature, too, please.

    Happy NEW Year, dear ones. Our time is now.

    abbeyonporch

    xo

    A

  • EARLY MOTHERHOOD IS…

    Dear Reader Friend:

    I have not yet collected and sequenced the words to speak to early motherhood in any truly profound or clever way. I sense some sentiments are en route (and will appear in my next big work of fiction — huzzah!), but I’m still very much in the thick of sorting out and savoring this marvelous, bewildering era.

    In the meantime, as always, I’ve kept an odd, meandering “diary of lists” featuring the sensory observations a creative writer-turned-mama can’t help but squirrel away. Last night, I scrolled through them for the first time, and upon realizing I had items for almost every letter of the alphabet, I thought, “Ohhh, that’s fun. Let’s share that.” So now I am.

    Hope you enjoy, and hope you’re well. I’ve missed you.

    xo

    A

    QuickMemo+_2016-01-01-00-48-23-2

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Adaptation: Domestically, spiritually, professionally, molecularly. “Everything will change,” they said, months ago, and we responded as we should, with closed lip smiles and pleasant, clueless nods. But hours later, after Anthony and I walked/waddled home, and sipped our teas, and watched our show, I stared through our bedroom skylight, admitting, quietly, internally, that I mostly liked everything the way it was now; I hoped not everything would change. What I didn’t understand was that many things would stay the same, but I would change, we would change, in wonderful, mystifying ways, and this would make all the difference.

    Body: His belly grows as mine deflates and it’s all quite gradual and rewarding and strange.

    Colors: Pastel and muted, neutral and gray, black and white, and primary red, yellow, blue.

    Doing: “I’m a doer now,” I proclaim to my mother, while the coffee brews, and the dishwasher hums, and my phone dings, and I scribble a note. “I’m not proud of it, I’m not glorifying it at all, it’s just a fact.” And it’s a bittersweet fact, I realize. It was lovely to be so less focused. So less industrious.

    Endurance: Going to bed at 2:45, to be awoken at 3:22, and greet his little face like you missed him.

    Family: Our small one of three, and the parties of five from which we came, and the big, extended one that sends piles of clothes and toys and books, and the friendly one, the one we chose, Cam’s “aunts” and “uncles” we so adore.

    Goals: For the first few months, I say it under my breath, a promise from Abbey Lopez to Abbey Cleland: “Tomorrow you will write.” But “tomorrow” doesn’t mean the day directly following today. Tomorrow is abstract, and — for now — that’s okay.

    Husband: Four month old Cameron is fascinated by the sparkle of my ring. “Daddy picked that out,” I say, “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” I give the baby a teething ring so he won’t gnaw on the diamond, and it occurs to me that my Anthony is someone’s dad, and my eyes fill with tears. I’m so often happy about Cameron, but at this moment, I’m so happy for him.

    Indecision and Indifference: Wanting visitors and then not wanting visitors. Wanting lunch plans and then not wanting lunch plans. Daydreaming of a date night out then cancelling, happily.

    Judith: Missing your pal, but your hands were full – quite literally, as always now – when she called you back, and it’s been three days, but you’re very, very tired, and you want to be alert enough to listen. You want to have your coffee in-hand. You want to hear her laugh.

    Kisses: A fit, a sea, a storm, a shower, a parade, a party, a marathon of kisses. Cam’s parents kiss him A LOT.

    IMG951055

    Love: One that’s so personal to the three of us, so sacred, so small, so big, so extraordinary, no one must feel it, too, but they do — I know they do! I’ve witnessed it. It’s the most unique, universal thing, this love.

    Marvelling: Anthony and I live a parallel life now, shoulder-to-shoulder, marvelling at our wonder boy.

     

    Numbers: Dates and times, ounces and inches. Phone numbers, sizes, and prices. Count the diapers, count the onesies, count the months, count the blessings.

    Owing: Everyone you know a phone call, a visit, an email, a thank you note.

    Perspective: You sense you should probably apologize to your parents. For what? Nothing in particular. Just “everything.” Just a big catch-all sorry-if-I-ever-didn’t-get-it apology. Meanwhile, you will definitely regret calling your book “your baby.” It’s a BOOK, dum-dum. You would not die for it. Somedays (to break up the days you find yourself pretty fricken clever), you don’t even like it. Not at all.

    Quick: “I might have time for a quick call. Or a quick cup of coffee? Maybe a quick stop at Target? We are in dire need of a quick grocery run. Whatever it is, it can be done, but it must be done quick, quick, quick! Oh wait. He’s awake. Maybe I’ll just snuggle him for a bit. Byeeeeee!”

    Repetition: Asking, “When did he eat last?” on repeat.

    Sounds: Snaps, zippers, Velcro, water splashing, singing toys, carseats click-click-clicking, and eventually, finally, precious giggles.

    swimming

    Temperatures: Hot scalding water to sterilize, and lukewarm water to bathe, and cold water in the extra tall tumbler to stay hydrated while pumping. Thermometers to monitor him, and thermostats to monitor his house, and it is his house now. This is so clear.

    Unity: Admiring your parents and friends-con-kiddos on an entirely new level. You vow you’ll never judge a one. (And you know, eventually, when pushed, you will. But not nearly as harshly as you ever could before.)

    Voices: Escalating voice modulations, and soft, quiet hums, and cheery song-singing, and soothing whispers, and late night, breathy, “I love you! I love you!”

    Worrying: About the rational and irrational in equal doses.

    X Factor: As in the unknown, as in I don’t know — how could I know? — but I’m the adult now, so I must know.

    Young (and Old): While you hold this tiny, very new human, you may feel old and wise, but caring for him requires you to be so active and spry, you must be young, too, and while he’s new, you’re new. New mom, new dad, new family. All very shiny and new! But this baby in your arms is your baby, charging you with teaching him just about everything, so surely you know something, which makes sense. You’re old, you should be knowledgeable. And it’s not like your energy to care for said baby bubbles from some bottomless spring. You’re exhausted. And your back is sore. It doesn’t hurt now, but a foggy conversation replays in your head during which you vented to someone — who was it? — that your back was aching. Forgetfulness + backaches = old. Ah yes, that’s it.

    Zebra: At the Zoo, and on PBS Sprout’s Zou, and in each of our alphabet books (four titles to date), the “Z” is for Zebra, and we like how his stripes go ziggy and zaggy and that’s how we ride in the stroller sometimes, too, all ziggy and zaggy, like the zebra’s stripes, and this is all quite important now. This ziggy and zaggy zaniness of our life, how we swerve into the fun and away from the fear, and zooooom on, so long as we’re together.

    1126152125a-2

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    And now for some NEWS: The spectacular, fiercely creative folks behind the internationally renowned OATLEY ACADEMY OF VISUAL STORYTELLING(!!!) were kind enough to interview moi, which was an unexpected honor and ridiculous good fun.

    The podcast will be released in two parts and I’m seriously giddy to hear them myself. (Though, I KNOW I’ll be cringing at the sound of my voice. This, of course, I must get over, as I continue in my life-long pursuit to be more like Dr. Frasier Crane.) 

    Part Uno airs THIS TUESDAY (March 15th) so look out!

    We talk a bit about L.A., “the writing life,” how to craft a killer treatment, and a bunch of other worthwhile topics a small but mighty demographic (you — is it you?) will appreciate. At the very least, fingers crossed I’m not a fool. (But Frasier had many-a graceless moment, so, you know, whatevaaaa.) 

     

  • Writing & Pregnancy & Risking It All : A Hen Life Manifesto

    I am due to deliver my first child, a sweet baby boy I’ve come to quickly, ardently adore, in 100 days, and this — the existence of a rough timeline — is one of the only dissimilarities I’ve found between my temporary preoccupation (pregnancy) and forever occupation (writing).

    Does this seem strange? I’ll break it down.

    100days

    1. Both writing and pregnancy are entirely about creation in the most tangible, literal sense.

    You had nothing but a whisper, a dream, a hint, a hum, a haunting, and then, with magic, with toil, with attention, with time, something complete arrives, and, oddly, it no longer has so much to do with you. It is separate. It is whole. It is vulnerable. You are not its owner, but its keeper, and even that position is provisional.

    2. Both writing and pregnancy are widely explored topics.

    My own office features a small tower of pregnancy-related books and an entire shelf devoted to the craft of fiction and scriptwriting. But despite what the myriad of resources promises, neither can tell you what really matters. (Trust me, I’ve done the reading, and some of the writing — ha! — as seen on Momtastic and others.) In his brilliant On Writing, Stephen King illuminates, “It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters.” Sure, writers can inform other writers, and moms can inform other moms, but we can cause a fair amount of damage, too. Value your instincts, friends.

    3. Both writing and pregnancy require patience and perspective.

    And not just within the writer or woman-with-child. If it takes a village to raise a child properly, it takes a small county to properly support a writer. And should that writer simultaneously be a woman-with-child, a small army will suffice. (A few Pregnant Writer shout-outs to some less-recognized soldiers: Thank you, barista, for knowing the exact amount of caffeine per espresso shot. Thank you, hairstylist, for asking about my work as much as my baby registry while we returned my mane to an acceptable state. Thank you, FedEx staff, for waving me and my belly and my time-sensitive envelope addressed for New York to the front of the line, whilst I shimmied in hopes a public potty wasn’t far.) 

    4. Both writing and pregnancy incite great paranoia.

    Awaiting a literary agent’s/reader’s/producer’s/director’s/talent’s feedback shockingly parallels that sinking/exciting/butterfly-fluttering/hope-everything’s-a-o-k feeling before an ultrasound or doppler heart probe or test. Simply, the stakes are high (so very high), and the results (so usually, seemingly) definitive.

    5. And, lastly, should I succeed in writing or pregnancy, I must become this:

    HenLife

    For those of you agriculturally-impaired, this is a HEN.

    [Number Five came to me quite recently, upon the eve of some unexpected, unfortunate news. I’ll get to that, I promise, but first, how this hen stuff applies to the writing life:]

    My first novel — the one I’m currently peddling — took me about three years to complete in full. Yes, I pursued other endeavors during this stretch (a few TV movies, lots and lots of freelancing, earned an MFA, got married, bought and renovated a house), but my creative energies were most focused and filtered into this fictional baby, this fictional baby who made no promises — not to me, not to anyone.

    And there was this night, about a year ago, on the porch of our rented little red house, where we ate honey mustard chicken and watermelon wedges with our best friend. Having finally fixed a pivotal chapter, I was on a high — an obnoxious sky-rockety one — feeling like success was inevitable, feeling like I could taste it, as true and honey-drenched as the chicken on my fork.

    “But what happens if, you know,” our best friend began, punctuating my glee. A cautious concern took over his posture, his brow, his tone. He knew he was poking the bear, but if you know him, you’d know this has never deterred him. “I’m just gonna say it. What happens if it’s great, but nothing ever comes of it?”

    He wasn’t doubting me; he wasn’t doubting the work. He was doubting my control of its exposure, its reception, its likelihood of being embraced the way I hoped. He was doubting the (unwarranted, but innate) inclination alive and well within optimists everywhere:

    That things would work out swimmingly, because, well, why the hell shouldn’t they?

    [Relevant Sidebar: I’m an optimist. So much so, I’m surprised when I don’t come out on top in Vegas. Thank god I seem to surround myself with upbeat, but practical non-optimists. My husband’s a hopeful realist and a medical doctor, which, combined, could be defined as: (n), a good-natured person who sees the danger in empty promises; one who winces when “of course” is employed when “maybe” should be.]

    Back to the honey mustard chicken, which was becoming more mustardy by the moment….

    “I mean,” our best friend said, hesitantly, lovingly, curiously, “do you ever feel like you’ve put all your eggs in one basket?”

    The porch went quiet. I devoured the biggest remaining watermelon wedge then admitted that yes, that’s exactly how I felt. In fact, if any project matters at all, that’s always how I’ve felt.

    “So,” he repeated, “what if nothing happens?”

    It was clear he wanted to know that I had some shiny Plan B, a life raft/safety net/marshmallow pit to land in, a way to reconcile it all, with a smile and a solid reserve of my sanity. (He’s a good, caring friend.)

    [Truth is, I can’t remember how I responded. I probably said something that made everyone on our cozy porch feel cozy once again, which is really to say, I probably lied.]

    If asked now, I’d have the courage to answer with the truth:

    “What ifs” are worthless. They’re the creative person’s rain cloud. They dampen, darken, shadow, and cast, and when you address them, you give them staying power. You invite them to linger just above your head as you attempt to work. Inevitably, at some point, you get stuck and glance up, and they rain down — hard, sloppy, angry drops — clouding your vision.

    Worse than that, eventually the “what if” rain cloud does, indeed, spark some Plan B brainstorming, and, if desperate enough, it can appear shiny as Plan A (your vision is clouded, after all). Soon, you can no longer tell that Plan B’s no brass ring, no trophy, but a tarnished consolation prize. And it doesn’t stop there. If Plan B doesn’t pan out (because, like Plan A, you gave up on it), your parasitic rain cloud returns, inviting you to again recalibrate to consider an even lower success as satisfactory, securing “what if exploration” as the first step to settling. You can glorify it, dress it up, spray paint it gold and call it “adaptation,” but we almost always adapt too soon, and that’s the real truth.

    And you know what’s MOST FRUSTRATING about the whole “what if” ordeal? You never actually have to address it to begin with because NO MATTER THE SITUATION, we ALL already know the answer because it ALWAYS goes something LIKE:

    “Then that would suck. Then that would bring me great disappointment. I hope that doesn’t happen.”

    Followed, somewhat quickly, by:

    “But, truly, if that did happen, I guess we’d just deal with it, right? I mean, seriously, what are we to do, but try again? Grow from it? Learn from it? Move on? Move up? Move more? If it’s out of our control anyway, we have no real choice in the matter other than not letting it break us, right?

    [Annnnd, CUT. Belabored monologue ENDS. Sun shines through the sliding glass doors of the OFFICE. It’s PRESENT-DAY — a dewy Midwestern morning. ABBEY (30), pregnant and ponytailed, wearing nothing but a terry cloth robe, hoop earrings, and a copious amount of cocoa butter, returns to the topic at hand and on-screen. She appears to be focused on her long-neglected blog, though one hand rests on her protruding belly.]

    While my first novel has been fighting the good fight, attracting good people (no official update yet, but good wheels in good motion), I’ve kept busy this past winter and now spring, developing and writing new stuff that’s got me all abuzz, and it occurred to me the only reason these “what if” rain clouds even matter (introduced that evening by our best friend, but housed by me looong before) is because the stakes are so high. Higher than ever. The highest! UNTIL, suddenly, in November, I discovered I would be creating something with infinitely higher stakes yet.

    Hello, pregnancy!

    But, somehow, this felt more in my control than navigating the subjective, nebulous world of book pitching and beyond. This I could do. This was in my power wheelhouse. I’d research extensively, eat well, move appropriately, adjust accordingly, remain smart, remain poised, remain grateful, et cetera, et cetera, and all, naturally, would proceed peachy-peachy.

    I truly felt this way (I really, really did — can you believe it?) until just last week, when, during a routine check-up that confirmed the baby is, indeed, developing along perfectly (YAY!), my body appears to inexplicably and suddenly be at a higher risk for preterm labor (WTF?).

    And so, as expected, the “what ifs” roll in, one after another, compounding into a complex weather system inches above my head.

    Some rain clouds bring questions. Some bring white noise. Some thrust me into a Googling frenzy.

    Some rain clouds send me curling into Anthony’s chest. Some make me crave a second or third popsicle. Some scatter when I’m momentarily distracted then recluster at the least convenient moment.

    And when they fully capture my attention, forcing me to go ahead and glance up, they rain violently, streaming my cheeks with tears.

    Until, not long at all and just as suddenly, I remember “what ifs” are worthless.

    I remember I’m in the business of creative productivity. I remember my writing life has equipped me extraordinarily well. I remember I’ve been a hopeful hen all along.

    I remember anything worth anything requires putting every egg in a single basket… a single FedEx envelope… a single burgeoning belly.

    I remember it’s the only way to live, and we’re responsible for making our own weather in the meantime.

    I rub my sweet belly and get back to work.

    xo

    A

  • 30 THINGS LOST, FOUND, and LEARNED in Abbeyland, from age 20 to 30

    I’m in the final stages of finishing what’s come to be known in our casa as The Project (my novel), which means anything else I write these days — ANYTHING — comes out in the form of a disjointed list. Why? Because there can only be so many voices at work at one time in this noisy, blonde head. (See, 20-something Abbey might have fought that. 20-something Abbey might’ve attempted to prove it can all be done at once. But she’s on her way out, folks. We now know to replace that empty, foolish, ill-advised “can do!” with the wiser, calmer, smarter “let’s do it right.”)

    So, without further adieu….

    A Very Public 30th Birthday Announcement of Rather Private Things:

    10 THINGS LOST, 10 THINGS FOUND, and 10 THINGS LEARNED

    heart

    LOST:

    1. Best friend from college.
    2. World’s finest tank.
      This is my absolute only picture of it. Purchased at London's Camden Market. Loved it. Still do. Siiiigh.
      This is my only picture of it. Purchased at London’s Camden Market. Loved it. Still do. Siiiigh.
    3. Belief that “anything can happen.”
    4. Affinity for exclamation marks. (Thank you, author and teacher extraordinaire, Lary Bloom.)
    5. Patience for the lazy and/or unkind. (Zip it. We, the diligent, kind lot have no time for you. Off you go. Good luck, be well, but off you go.)
    6. Ability to enjoy poorly written books.
    7. Simultaneously crushing several famous, semi-famous, and should-be-famous men. (Carlos, George, T.G., A.L., B.K., Thomas Jefferson)
    8. Desire to be taller. (I mean really. Let. It. Go.)
    9. Notion your soulmate is the ideal person to marry.
    10. The part of my competitive edge that was fueled by insecurity and naivety.

    FOUND:

    1. My parents were right about basically everything. (So get your oil changed, take out your contacts, give everyone the benefit of the doubt at least a couple times, trust your instincts, bring at least one pair of practical shoes, be kind, and find joy in every day.)
    2. THE Louisa May Al-Cat: bottomless source of joy confined to fluffy kitten body.
      No, she is not a plush toy of my imagination.
      No, she is not a plush toy of my imagination.
    3. I don’t actually like most liquors, most books, most music, or most fashion trends. (No, I will not be tucking a plaid grunge relic into high-waisted acid-washed Daisy Dukes. Not even if my ass could pull that off. Which it can’t. And even if yours can, should it? SHOULD IT?)
    4. A blessing of a new best friend.
    5. What we call “a writer’s voice.” She was always there, but now she sings. She blares. She booms. I love her, and most of the time, she loves me.
    6. People can be unexpectedly beautiful and generous when you generally — and genuinely — root for their success and happiness.
    7. Domestic bliss in Columbus, Ohio.
    8. I like cigars. Maybe too much.
      Delish & Dangerous.
      Delish & Dangerous.
    9. Often, in business and pleasure, a phone call is far, far more effective than an e-mail.
    10. I love, love, love Lopez. And not just as a friend. (At 20 we were totally platonic pals. Awww!)
      When I see this picture, I hear the Muppet Babies theme song. What can this mean?!
      When I see this picture, I hear the Muppet Babies theme song. What can this mean?!

    LEARNED:

    1. What it means to love. Really.
    2. Do no harm, but take no shit.
    3. Our culture vastly and chronically underrates intuition.
    4. You don’t have to like everyone, nor do you have to like everything about anyone. (Even thyself.)
    5. I am even luckier than I thought.
    6. My younger brother is ridiculously wise, and not just for his age. For anyone. Anywhere. Ever.
      ViVi & Ty Before.
      The Original ViVi & Ty.
      ViVi & Ty Now.
      ViVi & Ty Last Month.
    7. How to pitch a story concept. (And how NOT to pitch a story concept. Still have some battle scars from this lesson.)
    8. The universe owes you NOTHING.
    9. Mentors and teachers — life and career-changing ones — can appear in miraculous, strange ways. You don’t have to meet them. You never even have to speak to them. You just have to be open to them.
    10. It’s all lead up to now. And now’s all we got.

    Love, love, love to you each, and thanks for reading, and au revoir for now. Must go eat cake. Apparently some things absolutely never change.

    Well lookie there. It's me. Sharking around the dessert table. Typical.
    Well lookie there. It’s me. Sharking around the dessert table. Typical.

    xo

    A

  • That great big fantastical fleeting moment of YES ((The Gift of DONE))

    a

    VERBAL

    embrace

    reserved for the TO-BEs AND ALMOST AREs….

    the ones queued up on the VERGE, CUSP, RIM, EDGE, and LAUNCHING PAD,

    the almost artists, almost scholars, almost entrepreneurs, almost parents, almost partners, almost free spirits, almost philosophersalmost game changers, almost mountain movers,

    those about to be a NEW, BETTER, SHARPER, STRANGER, more VULNERABLE, more EXPOSED, more HONEST version of who they are now, today, right here, 

    let’s talk about the HOMESTRETCH.

    Let’s talk about that great big fantastical fleeting moment of YES.

     What is this for a writer? Why does it matter? What the hell is she talking about?

    She’s talking about DONE.

    While “good things come to those who wait” may hold its virtue, I consider Lincoln’s take far superior:

    “Things may come to those who wait but only the things left by those who hustle.” –A. L.

    “Things may come to those who wait but only the things left by those who hustle.” –A. L.

    In other posts, we explore this almighty, all-important “HUSTLE” (the million of treacherous and thrilling steps between beginning and being almost done), but today, it’s all about the homestretch of the homestretch.

    You’ve hustled.

    ( [top] hats off to you )

    It’s time to harvest.

    *****

    Money is helpful and validating. People reading our prose and seeing our plays come to life the way we imagine is nirvanic. But as writers we never have a guarantee of either of those things, so THIS, THIS is the goal. My goal. To somehow maintain focus in the maddening “Look at the shiny ball! Bold art! Flakey croissant! Sparkly ring! Fluffy pup! Frothy mug! Lush lip! Clever quip!” chaos that is my every day, and to create and – AH! here’s the rub – finish something I genuinely sense is good.

    This word sense is important. Because it may not be good. Maybe not to you, maybe not to me. Or maybe it’ll be good today to you or me (or you and me – wouldn’t that be delicious?), but will reveal tragic, unforgivable flaws six hours later, simply under a different light.

    Just two weeks ago my darling, handy father-in-law installed the crowning Craigslist purchase of my life in our dining room. With such care we cleaned the teardrop crystals of the antique bronze chandelier. After threading each tier of crystals in place, we’d stop to marvel at its vintage charm. How dazzling it was last night with its haloed iridescence scattering the ceiling while Anthony and I enjoyed our first real dinner in our first real dining room.

    “Rich man’s confetti,” I thought between bites. 

    Craigslist changes lives.

    Craigslist changes lives.

    But now, as morning light sneaks between the blinds, many of the crystals look somehow dusty and water spotted. Some dangle slightly askew.

    Overhead, on the ceiling, I see the first hint of a superficial crack we just had repaired and repainted. In six months time it’ll be back. In two years we’ll need it professionally addressed.

    When we sell this house, whenever that may be, we just moved in after all, maybe we’ll leave the chandelier.

    Maybe I won’t mind. Maybe I’ll be “over crystals.”

    (blasphemy)

    The point is – and ask any painter, cinematographer, or beautiful woman over fifty and they’ll agree – LIGHTING makes all the difference.

    Many writers, no matter “the lighting,” always maintain a sort of mild to severe loathing toward anything they put down on paper. Nothing’s good enough. The flaws, even the only-spot-it-from-a-certain-angle-when-you-really-scrutinize superficial cracks within their craft, makes them cringe, blush, groan, ache.

    This can fuel their next project:

    I can do better, I must do better, what am I, if not better?

    This can halt production altogether:

    If I thought that was good, how can I ever trust I’ll have a better gauge in the future?

    And this, my dearest ones, in all walks of life, is why we mustn’t overvalue our internal critic – that small, petty, shrill voice questioning, “Are you sure this is good enough to see the light of day?”

    It’s not about the feeling we have toward our art, our work, our contribution, our “final” product.

    donebracelet

    (Sidebar: Men who buy women bad ass, fabulous jewelry are the best kind of men. #I’mtalkingaboutyouPete)

    It’s about the moment of YES. The moment that we can say, “I did that, and it’s done. And it wouldn’t have happened if not for me. My perseverance. My focus. My unique brand of toiling. And it likely is good enough, whatever that means, but either way, it’s out there, and that’s a triumph in itself. Done takes courage. Done, in and of itself, is good.”

    Anthony & moi this past Saturday at his FINAL graduation. He started Kindergarten in 1988 and never took time off through this past January (2014), when he completed his fellowship. Talk about being d-o-n-e. =)

    *****

    My head is spinning this morning with thoughts of done because while I have several projects at different developmental stages (including a few still so pristine and lovely, germinating in a cozy journal, untarnished by thoughts of structural and market concerns), it’s harvest time for others.

    (yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, fuck yes, yippy skippy, yay, double yay)

    My original romantic comedy feature screenplay, Detours (developed in 2007 when I was a part-time writer-for-hire/most-of-the-time temp, written [on spec] in 2008, and optioned in January of 2011), has just attached a wonderful, visionary director named Scott McCullough. I wrote Detours in order to have a feature-length comedic writing sample, but always maintained the quiet hope that someday it may find a home, too. Luckily, it did just that at Merrill Entertainment. Of course, there’s still a loooong, uncertain road ahead (financing, casting, production, distribution, oh my), but my part, for now, is done, and I’m learning to celebrate done.

    Meanwhile, a screenplay I was hired to rewrite this past spring (called Mr. Fiction) was produced and is in post-production. Mr. Fiction will first air on Hallmark and PixL networks (and several others later), debut dates TBD.

    imdb

    Well lookie there. Me humble page has another credit. #phew #littlewriterwomantriumphs

    And, lastly, but maybe not leastly, in my heart of heart of hearts, I sense I’m nearing the homestretch of the homestretch of something fictional and sacred I’ve been pouring myself into sporadically for two+ years. It’s a four hundred page labor of love-in-progress that I sense deserves to see the light of day. And like her heroine, she, too, will be far from perfect, but lucky for us, that’s not the goal.

    Take a moment and celebrate the DONE and NEAR DONE in your life. Breathe, bask, savor.

    (Did you enjoy that? Oh, good. Now let’s get back to the field.)

    xo

    A

     

  • A Rainy Morning Reflection On Taking Care

    It’ll rain today. 

    I know because the knuckles in my right hand ached as I pet Louisa, whose nose was at my nose a few moments before my husband’s alarm sang. I know it’ll rain because when I opened the front door to check if he’d need an umbrella the smell of worms hit my cheek. And as I stand now at the sink to rinse a butter knife, the clouds in the window are heavy and gray.

    This is writers’ weather, people.

    R E J O I C E  and  be  G L A D .

    a portion of my very loved, very messy desk today
    a portion of my very loved, very messy desk today

    He was finished showering. I could hear the water stop.

    I could hear the towel tugged from the hook. I could hear him step out of the tub, could hear the faucet turn on. He was brushing his teeth, which meant no coffee before he left. I’ll make a cup just for me.

     He leaves the bathroom.

    He enters our bedroom.

    The footsteps stop.

    He says, “Oh good morning, Louisa.”

    this is sleepy Louisa
    this is sleepy Louisa

    The footsteps resume. 

    I can hear everything because I was raised by a woman who did plenty of talking, but listened intently to the habit-forming behaviors of her man and children.
    Never quiet, never passive, but always listening because what she heard informed her care.
     I can hear everything because writers must learn to listen, too.
     
    I can hear everything because of this silly old house, where, really, anyone could hear everything.
     
    So I’m at the kitchen counter with the clean butter knife, about to slice his sandwich in two – chicken on wheat, last night’s dinner reincarnated, the entree of his comforting lunch that will interrupt his stressful day – and I picture them, THE WOMEN, the long line of caretakers washing all of the butter knives at all of the sinks, slicing all of the sandwiches at all of the kitchen counters.

    They’re each linked, a construction paper chain drenched in Elmer’s and glitter, and I am the most recent addition, the last little loop, untested and unknowing and twisting to study them, still the recipient of their care, still in awe.

    THEM: the crafty ones, the thrifty ones, the creative ones, the ones with the kisses, the ones with the wild hair, the ones with the slippers, the ones with the soapy hands and strong shoulders, the ones with the attention to detail, the ones people thank too late and too seldom but often through tears.

    The ones who are made of STEEL, but happen to live inside, protected from the rain.

    the most recent card from my mother. it's a keeper.
    the most recent card from my mother. it’s a keeper.
    MaryAnn and
    Mary Frances and
    Maria Alicia and
    Audrie Laverne.
    Kate and Diane and a huddle of
    aunts and teachers and principals
    and neighbors and other women with such loving intentions:
    Teresa and Betsy and Debby and Ruth and Cheryl. 

     

    that little blonde one ate more than you might have expected....
    that little blonde one ate more than you might have expected….

     

     

    How many sandwiches did they cut, for their man, their girl, their boy, and that little blonde one, too?

    The thousands of sandwiches one consumes in a Midwestern childhood flush with cold cuts and leftovers and fat bakery bread.

    The blessings, the wholesomeness, the care

    The dirty plates left on the coffee tables, the paper plates left on the patios, the Ziplock bags left in the backseats. So many, so often, so important, so banal.

    I’ve heard we’re most profoundly in touch with ourselves when we feel connected to our ancestral pasts.

    But it can be an affliction, too – at times too tall an order for too short a day, too short a girl. I can be so very small, so very sleepy, so very hell-bent on getting out in that rain.

    But today, this is not the case. Today the chain doesn’t anchor; it lifts. It nudges, it reminds, it tugs, but only in the right direction – to listen better, to care softer, but most of all, to get on with what must be done.

    xo

    A

  • WORDS THAT MEAN LOVE: A VALENTINE’S MORNING MUSING

    Through some super enjoyable volunteer work I treasure for the humanitarian aspects and literary inspiration, I often end up observing how people of different ages talk about love. On this Valentine’s Day, I’m delighted to share some of these serendipitous findings with you, beloved readerfriend.

    words that mean l-o-v-e when you’re little:

    LOYALTY

    (as in “pretty please always pick me for recess soccer and always remember my birthday and always know that no matter what I’m on your side 100% forever and ever to the moon and back”)

    HOLDING HANDS

    (even if it’s under the table, even if it’s just because you know I’m scared)

    LAUGHTER

    (the dependable kind, the “worst day in the world melts away like the snowman we made last winter” kind, the kind that wears me out, the kind that makes me go very loud then very quiet, the kind that makes you call me “the silent hyena”)

    DANCING

    (in the rain, in the car, in the waiting room, with my brother, as Mom makes spaghetti, while we brush teeth before bed, with Dad after making 10 free throws in a row, as in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, dance!; we do it because love fills us head to toe and the only way to show it is to shake shake shake)

    words that mean l-o-v-e when you’re figuring it out:

    COMMUNICATION

    (Real life transcript: “He texted back! He’s asked me to dinner. But on Sunday. Dinner on Sunday? Maybe we’re just friends? Oh wait, another text. No. Not just friends. He’s been thinking about me. Thinking what? Oh no, I can’t ask that. That’d be fishing. Boys hate when you fish. Unless you, you know, fish-fish. But that’s gross.”)

    GIFT-GIVING

    (for Valentine’s, for our date-anniversary, and our sex-anniversary, for birthdays, for Christmas and Hanukkah, for “just because,” but no matter when or why it’s always with thought, with purpose, with calculation, with obligation, with anxiety, with hope)

    SEX

    (romantic & primal, at my place & his, before dinner & before brunch, passionate & snoozy, selfless & selfish, creative & dependable, but always, always susceptible to analysis)

    THE ONE

    (bathed in uncertainty, the term makes us shudder, but we think, we ache, we wonder, will she be “The She,” will he be “The He,” will I be someone’s One, and when I am, will it work? Will it work forever? It must work forever.)

    words that mean l-o-v-e when you’re big:

    LOYALTY

    (the distilled, proven, earned, non-negotiable, unquestionable, unwavering version of “always know that no matter what I’m on your side 100% forever and ever to the moon and back”)

    HOLDING HANDS

    (even if it’s when I’ve hurt you, even if it’s because we’re both scared)

    LAUGHTER

    (mostly, now, at our selves, and it’s rich and hearty and honest and more hilarious than any of the rest and it wouldn’t ever happen without our history, without the beautiful acknowledgment that only you “knew me when” and that makes the only difference that matters)

    DANCING

    (at our wedding for all to see, in our bedroom for no one to see, with our newest cat, with our friend when he earned that promotion or met that girl or won that trip, in the kitchen after the final dish is washed, with the baby in your arms, at our children’s weddings, at our grandchildren’s weddings, when we don’t know what else to do, when we have nothing else to do, even if it’s just the tap of a tired foot….)

    happy valentine's, my love.

    happy valentine’s, my love.

    xo

    A

     

  • How A Fictional Character Cut Off Eleven Inches of My Hair and a few other strange impulses I can’t seem to regret

    So I’m writing this scene about this woman, and some scissors spontaneously appear on a coffee table because she (let’s call her Rita) and my lead gal spontaneously embark on a, shall we call it, craft project (this one doesn’t involve liquor, though most of them do). Meanwhile, I plug along attempting to hone my own craft (dialogue between the ladies that sizzles and whizzes and pops like a late night summer ping-pong game in a muggy Midwestern garage), when my lead walks to the kitchen for a glass of water.

    Moi, as narrator, and Vous, as almighty reader, follow her, and a sentence later, when she returns to the living room, Rita’s extra long, glossy, gorgeous braid her signature trait has been amputated, and now sits on the coffee table next to the scissors.

    Shaking, Rita looks up, runs two trembling hands over her now-bare neck, and says, “Apparently it’s time.”

    In no way had I planned to have scissors in that scene, or have my lead gal grow thirsty or step away just as something both symbolic and corporeal unfolded, but, this was the result. What a treat, to be surprised alongside my characters. What a treat to fall into that precious, subconscious trance.

    When teaching an introductory composition course, I remember watching my students plop into chairs in the computer lab and begin pounding away at the keys. I was confused because I’ve never sat down to begin writing anything by ferociously pounding away at the keys. I called their attention. I invited them to slow down, to think, to feel, to write with purpose. Unintentionally, my muddled message ended in a proclamation: 

    “People, typing is not writing!”

    But I think that was far too simple a statement to capture any real truth. Sometimes, I’ve since learned, the FINEST, most EXTRAORDINARY scenes flow from such a subconscious place it seems as if they’re typed via Ouija board, more than written from the ever-analytical mind. Either way….

    Now, two chapters distanced from the chop-chop scene, this is what I know:

    Rita cut off her hair as a sign of courage – a declaration that she isn’t going to hide anymore, that it’s time for her to be seen and heard and embraced as she is – now, today, despite the consequences. (And, as the author I can tell you, there could be some consequences.) Finally closer to fearless, Rita decides to donate her abundant hair, in hopes it has a second life where it doesn’t provide cover, but comfort.

    For the next several days, while waiting in the Starbucks drive-through, and to pay for my goodies at World Market, and for the water to boil at the stove, I find myself playing with my own long hair. At my desk, as I track the subplots in a new TV movie assignment, I somehow weave a dozen messy braids from my scalp down my back. My husband greets me with a Bob Marley impression. 

    Apparently it’s time. I aspire to be like Rita. I will embark on my own CHOP-CHOP, in the spirit of Fried Green Tomatoes, and everything else holy: “TOWANDA!”

    The "Before"

    So the next week I did. I cut off eleven inches of my mane. And you know what? I felt like I already had. Even my mom noted how I wasn’t fazed in the least. I think I had already gone through it, hunched over the keys, feeling sick when those fictional scissors zipped through Rita’s fictional mane. There’s no “second takes” with something like that.

    The moment had been fully experienced on the page. Mine was just an echo action — a “real world” ripple of the actual real deal.

    I drove home from my appointment with a Ziploc bag of hair in my purse and mailed it off to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths the next day. After such a lovely experience, I’ve decided to continue growing and chopping and growing and chopping throughout my life. They say it takes (on average) five donations to make a single wig.

    So it appears I’ve struck the old puzzling “chicken-or-egg” adage: Does life inspire art or art inspire life? After this experience, I’d say they’re equal. And for this, I’m equally grateful.

    And feeling a little lighter, too.

    As writers and human beings it’s helpful to draw some lines, plant some stakes, set some ground rules. Only experience gained over stretches of mistakes and near mistakes, can teach us what instincts to chase down the rabbit holes, and which ones to quiet, calm, and quell. (This is one reason I feel age is vastly undervalued in our workforce and culture as a whole, though I’ll get on that soapbox another day.)

    Snip

    I still find it utterly unnerving to abandon my pretty color-coded outline while writing, but that’s where the MAGIC lies: betweeeeen the bullet-points. Since crafting this scene, a scene that no doubt would make the movie adaptation if there ever were one (please, Towanda, please?!), I’ve vowed to “writer woman up and never again say no to allowing this magic to unfold.

    Almost Done....
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    When it calls, I’m going to listen, and should it sound like a half decent idea, I’m going to give it some space on the page, and should it fill that nicely, I’m going to build it a goddamn house so it can roam and play into whatever the story and my subconscious allows. That, my friend, is a vow – a promise to make a home for something spectacular to sprout. 
     

    “Apparently it’s time.”

    This discovery led me to a few other things in this life that warrant an unconditional “YES.” The list will grow longer over time, I’m sure, but here’s a start….

    1. If you have a random opportunity to go to Europe or Hawaii.

    2. Brunch with friends. Even if you have a looming, gray-cloud-of-a-deadline, brunch. Brunch with friends always helps. It is never wrong. It is never wasteful. It is always productive. It is part of the good life. Never say no.

    3. Making (exuberant, heated, primal) LOVE with your significant other. (No one dies thinking, “I spent too much time having sex with my husband.” And if you think you might, may I suggest some serious soul searching?)

    4. Coffee meetings. They’re usually under one hour. Just go. Who knows what good could come of it.

    5. Holding a baby. When someone asks if you’d like to hold their baby, what they’re really saying is: “For a few moments, I will trust you with my world. I invite you to gaze at the divine and remind yourself of everything that is pure and holy amongst the chaos we’ve created.” There’s no saying “no” to that. (Unless you have a cold. Then please politely explain and decline.)

    6. Golf with Dad.

    7. Reading a book that has been randomly recommended for you by two or more people. Life is short, books can be long, but when two or more suggest it for you, the universe is telling you to read that book.

    8. Dancing by yourself in a new ‘do.

    DSCN1074

    DSCN1072

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    xo

    A

  • WRITING & BASEBALL: My Own Little Enchanted Objective Correlative

    *Note: The photos in this post are from games this season, excluding a few delightful throwbacks in the collage.
    DetroitTigs

    My Detroit Tigers prepare to conquer my beloved’s beloved Cleveland Indians.

    I often find writing prompts futile. This is probably rooted in some residual frustration with a few lazy English instructors who relied too heavily on “What does your character wear to bed?” nonsense surveys so they could avoid having to hone their pedagogical skills. (When in a classroom setting, I want to learn, dammit. Don’t waste my time with exercises I can do on my own, especially if they too closely resemble a Cosmo quiz.)

    This time, however, the exercise was worthwhile, not because it achieved what it intended, but because it inspired this blog post. Hurrah for fringe benefits!

    Writing Prompt: What sits on the mantel of your protagonist’s home?

    This, I imagine, is an inorganic way to attempt to accomplish two things:

    1.  Help focus the development of your character through defining a concrete detail about her life. This detail could reveal something about:

    • Her current turmoil (i.e.: The gun her newest ex-husband gave her just before disappearing last week sits on the mantel inside a decorative cigar box.)
    • Some backstory element relevant to the live action (i.e.: A chipped candy dish filled with seashells she collected as a girl sits on the mantel, and after twelve years in landlocked Kansas, she finds herself eyeing them more often.)
    • Her hopes for the future (i.e.: On the mantel in her library, among the thick, esoteric texts she devoured for her PhD, sit books by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, ripe and ready for a child to enjoy someday, should that someday ever arrive.)

    2.  Discover an objective correlative to employ throughout your work.

    • T. S. Eliot popularized the phrase in his 1919 essay “Hamlet and His Problems,” explaining:
    “The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”

     I disagree that it’s the only way, but it certainly is a good one worth exploring further.

    MoeBaseball

    The Infamous Moe the Beagle roots on his team from home.

    When employed expertly, the objective correlative (in the form of symbolic objects or a series of events) contributes far beyond SCENE development or the creation of MOOD, as it can also reveal otherwise unknown or misunderstood insights into the character/story. In this instance, Writer is god, wielding a series of deliberate details to achieve a desired outcome.

    Good writers do this so well you’re unaware of their employment.

    Poor writers hit you over the head with clichéd objective correlative equations: “Get it? Get it? Get it? Stormy clouds + pile of crumpled tissues + wilting flowers + cold coffee + Coldplay on repeat = the protagonist is having a bad day and I didn’t even have to come right out and tell you!”

    So what we’re really talking about here are emotional algebraic equations made of particular objects, all of which possess some degree of both a universal and personal charge. What do I mean by this? And how does it relate to baseball? I’m getting to it. I promise.

    Moments before the massacre.

    Moments before the massacre.

    Prop masters, set designers, and interior decorators are fluent at tapping into an object’s “charge,” and, since writers are creators of worlds, too, I think we should work to become better at it. On the most simple linguistic level, it refers to denotation VS. connotation, in that every object possesses some (mostly) universal charge, while its deeper meaning varies person-to-person. This reality presents fantastic opportunities for irony, juxtaposition, and surprise in our work. (So let’s take advantage!)

    I’d argue that the most sophisticated/successful/interesting objective correlatives are specific and original to the character and the world in which she plays. While these isolated symbols and equations work to evoke a particular emotional response, they also create a type of intimacy with the reader. For instance, other characters in the scene may not understand why Harry, a prudish accountant, keeps a photograph of a ’50s pin-up in his wallet, but we do because of the heart-wrenching anecdote provided earlier. And when Harry’s wallet is stolen, we share in his relief that while his driver’s license, three credit cards, and six hundred in cash were taken, the pickpocket left the dog-eared photo.

    One of my characters, Claire McCoy, refuses to wear a watch. She doesn’t like time or, more accurately, how quickly it seems to be passing her by, and she doesn’t value punctuality in the least. Having properly set this up, when she’s given a watch as compensation for a task she’d rather not do in the first place, the reader senses her discomfort with the tick, tick, tick of its inner workings, further revealing her inner workings.

    To most people, a worn photo of a ’50s pin-up is not priceless, nor is a watch tormenting, but it is to Harry, and it is to Claire, and because we understand this, we feel with them.

    Other times, a strong objective correlative references a universally charged object, but in a fresh way. And this is where baseball comes in for me.

    Because the protagonist I’m currently developing doesn’t really have a home, at least not in the traditional sense, when presented with the “What’s on the mantel?” writing prompt, I thought about my own home, because while I looove writing, I quite like home décor.

    While my home features several items that a set designer or prop master or interior decorator may call a “charged object” (i.e. a retro rotary phone, a glowing green banker’s lamp, a collection of witchy glass bottles), one that attracts particular interest among our guests are all of the baseballs incorporated into our homescape. This hadn’t occurred to me until somewhat recently when a visiting pal walked through playing “Eye Spy” and located a worn baseball or baseball-themed item in every room. (Note: We live in a small Victorian house. It didn’t take her very long.)

    “Over there you have them piled in a vase, like Martha Stewart does with her lemons. And there, by the fireplace is another huddle of them, and in your office, on your bookshelf….”

    The Lopez Indians and The Cleland Tigers take the field on our groom's cake.

    The Lopez Indians and The Cleland Tigers take the field on our groom’s cake.

    So what does this mean? How are the baseballs in my house “charged” to me? If my house were a fictional setting, what would this incessant inclusion of baseballs say about the protagonist who lived among them? Let’s speculate:

    Baseball’s universal charge:

    Americana, summertime, childhood, nostalgia, athleticism, heroes, fun, competition….

    Baseball’s personal charge:

    Grounding, earthy, textured, symmetrical, harmoniously colored (we have creams and reds throughout our home), my particular summertime, my particular childhood, my personal nostalgia….

    A favorite showcase at Fenway (a favorite park).

    A favorite showcase at Fenway (a favorite park).

    Really thinking on it now, I have to admit that the baseball is one of man’s most perfect simple creations. You want to throw it when it finds a home in your hand. When it’s tossed your way, you want to bat it and gaze at its flight. I like to think that the creation of the game was inevitable — that if you found me on some strange island and handed me a baseball I’d look at my fellow dwellers and say,

    “Someone grab a log. I want to see how far I can hit this thing.”

    Then, after a few whacks at it, we’d decide some people should be responsible for retrieving it. And the game would begin, a natural inevitability granting joy through play.

    What makes me so LOFTY and WHIMSICAL about a baseball?

    This particular object’s charge is rooted in my particular experiences with it, and around it, and because of it.

    So this charged object thing, this objective correlative thing, it can be beautiful, can’t it? Specific anecdotes and tangible objects can help to define us, as they reveal where we’ve come from, what we fear, what we treasure, and where we’d like to be headed. And once we unlock this relationship between “physical thing” or “personal flashback” and how it can encapsulate a person’s core qualities, the sooner we can wield this knowledge to achieve a desired outcome. In this way, we can think of objective correlatives as ACCESS POINTS, the purposeful intersection of a concrete item and an emotion. So, if you haven’t already, add this to your writer toolbox, and use it wisely, for its power is great.

    Now that that’s been addressed, I’m going to close with the TOP TEN ways my interest in BASEBALL has informed my WRITING – what similarities I see, and what can be learned from my favorite pastime and applied to my favorite pursuit.

    <3

    
    

    1. Baseball players and writers both have slumps. (We signed up for it. Learn to weather the storms.)

    2. Recruitment is a crapshoot. (Any MLB scout or literary agent/editor/publisher/film producer will tell you that finding the next great talent or bestseller or blockbuster is not a science. If you’re batting .600 it doesn’t mean you will once you make it to the show, and if your work has undeniable literary merit it doesn’t guarantee the potential readers/viewers will appreciate it.)

    3. Timing is everything.

    4. Your triumphs and failures are often quite public.

    5. Writerly muscles and athletic muscles must be flexed regularly to stay in shape. (Spending too much time away from the field or the page is dangerous.)

    6. In both endeavors, you must learn to trust your instincts.

    7. If you worked hard, you look worse at the end of the day.

    8. People who don’t appreciate baseball and/or what you write will find it incredibly BORING.

    9. You need discipline. (Especially during what feels like the “off season” — winter/before inspiration strikes.)

    10. They’re both games for dreamers.

    So let’s dream on, friends.  =)

    xo

    A

     

  • This Writer’s Most Important Assignment To Date: The Wedding VOW

    In twenty-five days, I will become a married person.

    I could fill one hundred blog entries with all of the beautiful reasons why I’ve decided to marry. I could go on about his kind voice, how he’s been the very best friend I’ve ever known, and how watching his hands move as he talks, eight years into our courtship, still makes me weak. I could go on about how I believe in partnership, and that the right ones can make us better than we are on our own – more compassionate, more patient, more creative, more open-minded – but this blog is not about me, or him, or marriage. It’s about writing. And as I near Wedding Day, I’ve encountered a task that employs my literary sensibilities: The Vow.

    It’s funny business writing vows, especially if you’re a writer by trade. (I sense that people have certain poetic expectations.)

    “Will she reference any great romance authors of yesteryear? Keats, Dickinson, Neruda, Lawrence? Will she compare him to a rose? An ocean wave? The strongest branch of the oak? The midnight moon on the summer solstice? Will she write it in third person, attempting a distanced, ironic, entertaining account of their romantic evolution? Will she cry…. will she laugh…. will she ever wrap it up?”

    All worthwhile writing exercises have guidelines. Here are a few for writing wedding vows:

    Guiding Principle 1: It is not a performance. (Or at least it shouldn’t be.)

    Guiding Principle 2: It is not an opportunity to showcase one’s writerly prowess. Speak simply. Speak from the heart.

    Guiding Principle 3: Don’t get overly personal. Anyone who pretends to care about exactly how you met, or exactly what interests you share, or exactly what he said on your third date that made you think twice, has already pretended to care the first couple of times you told them.

    Guiding Principle 4: Don’t try to be funny. Your “audience” likely features a religious octogenarian, and a college pal who threw back a few in the venue parking lot. That’s a tough, varied crowd. A note of levity is fine, but don’t shoot for guffaws.

    And lastly,

    Guiding Principle 5: Mean what you say.

    After all, the MOST IMPORTANT thing a writer will ever write is her wedding VOWS.

    With these things in mind, I wrote mine. I cried, I laughed, then I scratched out the lines that prompted said crying and laughing, and there it was: the nugget of truth that I actually wanted to tell him. The heart of what it meant to me, the reason, in concrete terms, why I wanted to go through it all alongside him and no one else.

    And this exercise, this divine, wonderful challenge, prompted a new mantra I think I’ve known for a very long time, but, like my vow, have just recently tied down with tangible words:

    DRAMA IS GREAT FOR FICTION,

    BUT BAD FOR LIFE.

    They say the most significant, influential, life-changing decision you’ll ever make is your choice of partner. I concur. But I really, really concur for creative writers. We live in our heads, drown in the lives of our fictional characters, and are often held hostage in a variety of anxiety-producing waiting games. Think of it this way: The average person may wait to hear if they got into college, then got a job, then got another job, then maaaybe a third job, toss in a few opportunities for potential promotions, and that often wraps up the professional lifespan.

    The creative writer, if they’re producing work on any regular basis, is often, as in several times every single year, waiting to hear from potential agents, editors, publishers, producers, and reviewers. In many ways, each project is a new job. Being in this regular state of confidence near-collapse, you’d think we’d grow to accept it in stride, but it’s still hard. Our career choice, from creating dramatic content to the dramatic build-up as to whether that content will ever see the light of day, invites enough drama into our lives.

    (That’s my finding, anyway.)

    So, assemble your cast wisely, and work on discovering creative ways to thank them. For as much as a good man is hard to find, a good man who so selflessly and lovingly complements this wild writer life is even harder.

    I’ll close with some (mostly ridiculous) photos of other favorite (very appreciated!) starring “cast members” who threw me one absolutely unforgettable bachelorette party.

    xo

    A

    DSCN0455 DSCN0469 DSCN0475 DSCN0522

     

     

     

  • Hunting for Hilpos: Uncover literary gems every day, everywhere (feat. Moe the Beagle)

    We writers can learn a lot from beagles. And of all the wise beagles in the world, my favorite is my dear friend, the celebrated canine treasure of Columbus, Ohio, MOE the BEAGLE.

    (Sorry, Snoopy.)

    DSCN0300

    Moe is always curious, always hungry, and always greets each day with boundless enthusiasm, despite his advancing age and a recent, rather painful, knee surgery. But, most of all, what writers can learn from Moe and his kin is to HUNT.

    Moeonthehunt

    Today, I share with you a brief narrative about my longtime creative hunt, in a piece I’m calling, “Hunting for Hilpos.”

    (Note: A particular name has been changed to protect the innocent. The rest is [mostly] accurate.)
     

    Unofficially, my hunt for literature’s most precious and elusive creature, the hilpo, began in 1993, long before I was aware of its meaning or power, and even longer before I refined and streamlined my hunting tactics. I was a third grader at Beechview Elementary, a quaint public school that sat at the end of my neighborhood street.

    I grew up in one of those middle/upper-middle class Midwestern subdivisions where most everyone really was relatively pleasant and well-adjusted. Come college application time, most of us struggled to describe our “greatest challenge thus far,” since, regardless of our varying races, religions, and talents, there was a unified wholesomeness to growing up in a place where people shared crock pots, snow blowers, and pediatricians.

    A former classmate posted this on Facebook. Can you find me? I'll give you a clue: My hair consists of two wedge-shaped blonde-hued bushes on either side of my face. (Hot!)

    A former classmate posted this on Facebook. Can you find me? I’ll give you a clue: My hair consists of two wedge-shaped blonde-hued bushes on either side of my face. (Hot!)

    But what appears Pleasantvillian peachy from the outside is not usually the case once one peels back the velvety skin. Deep down in our core, none of us were entirely rotten, though we had our bruises and our mealy spots, and that’s where the real humanity of suburbia dwells, is it not?

    So, maybe my shameful mealy spot was self-inflicted, and maybe in 1993 it wasn’t so much a spot than a region, but it didn’t have any real bearing on my reputation as a perpetual “good kid.” No one knew what I did. No one knew that during 1993 to 1995 I concealed a dark, nefarious, top-secret behavioral tick, punishable by law. Okay, maybe not law, but you could certainly be fined for it. No one knew, that is, except for Beechview Elementary’s librarian, Mrs. Lancaster.

    Half-blind, hard of hearing, and humorless as she was, Mrs. Lancaster was on to me from the get-go.

    What I did was not plagiarism – not even close. Even then, at nine years old, the idea of plagiarism seemed condemnable by death. Despite ones’ temptation to mimic the literary genius of another, the written word was innately sacred to me, the idea of taking someone else’s unnaturally sinful. I could never, ever rob someone else of their craft. I just wanted to hold on to it. For inspiration. For remembrance. Forever.

    So, yes, Mrs. Lancaster, it was I. All of those rainy weekday afternoons from 3:18 to 4:30 pm you spent in your librarian apron flipping through and refiling easy reader chapter books only to find dozens and dozens of missing, carefully torn-out pages, well, today your whodoneit mystery is solved:

    I done it, and I done it a lot.

    My chronic habit was truly petty kleptomania: I was just over four feet tall and bird-boned, and the objects in question, well, you can’t get more petty than the occasional, gingerly removed sheet of paper. But to this very day I feel badly about it, robbing future readers that way. And here’s why it really mattered: I took the good pages. The gem-filled ones. I took the ones that made me laugh or cry. Though I didn’t know how to articulate it at the time, I wanted things to be hilarious or poignant, or nothing at all, and if they could be both hilarious and poignant, that was a great read, a read worth keeping.

    Sometime between selling lemonade as a source of income and having a mouth full of braces, I stopped tearing pages and starting scribbling down the lines that made me laugh or cry. By acknowledging my affinity for the rawness of guttural laughter and reflexive tears, I discovered what kind of a writer I wanted to become. I wanted to move people – move them to laugh or to cry, and, if I could master them separately, maybe someday I could incite them both simultaneously.

    I knew this was a tall order, so while most of my middle school peers collected beanie babies, pogs, Troll dolls, and other mid-’90s fad collectibles, I filled a hat box with my elementary school robberies and new post-its, index cards, and notebooks, each brimming with hilarious or poignant lines I found along the way. Maybe they were spoken by Bridget Jones during her date, or Bilbo Baggins before he fought the dragon, or my mother as she helped me prepare for my band concert. Atop each snip-it I wrote: “Hilarious/Poignant,” which soon evolved to one, all-encompassing word that would grow to be used quite regularly in my writerly circles: “Hilpo.”

    Note: There are no steadfast rules for detecting the hilpo.

    Naturally, what may be a hilpo to one, may not reach that status for another, as we each walk the planet with a unique set of emotional and intellectual triggers. But in general, it’s fair to say that if something is funny or poignant to you, it will be to another, and it’s worth testing.

    The hilpo’s habitat is everywhere, and I’ve found the sooner you make a habit of hunting every day, in every location, the more efficient you will become.

    On the hunt with MOE!

    On the hunt with MOE!

    For instance, during an October hike down Temescal Canyon, I heard a young woman exclaim, “This path smells exactly like my Autumn Leaves Yankee candle!” which I promptly texted to myself, as I happen to love crafting characters who say obtuse, silly things of this kind.

    While spending an afternoon with a friend’s four year-old, I was asked, “Why doesn’t Santa give hungry kids food instead of toys? If I were hungry, I’d want a cheeseburger, not a Barbie.”

    While trying on clothes in a fitting room, I overheard a teenage daughter tell her mom, “Yeah, I thought he wrote that song about me. It wasn’t until later I found out all of those gushy words were about his love for Jesus.”

    My brother, Michael, the kindest person I know and an impromptu hilpo extraordinaire, once told me that whenever he travels via Southwest Airlines (who has a choose-your-own seat policy) he tries to look as antisocial as possible so no one sits next to him. When I asked him what exactly that meant, he said, “I don’t know. Mostly I just cross my arms and do Sudoku with a pen. I mean, really, you’d have to be an arrogant asshole to do Sudoku with a pen, don’t you think?”

    Now, some of these may not strike your fancy, but they somehow struck mine. So, what do we do with them?

    In my experience, sometimes a character grows out of a hilpo. For instance, “What kind of a guy does Sudoku with a pen?” Other times, they prompt a “what if” question that leads to a hilarious or poignant scene or subplot. Like, “Maybe she thinks he visits campus to bump into her, when in actuality, he’s going back to school in preparation to enter the seminary and become a priest.”

    The heart of the hilpo hunt, however, is not to use the lines in a direct or indirect way in our writing (though it is a bonus when it happens). The true purpose is to exercise our ability to observe, to take in, to be a sponge of our surroundings and its peculiar inhabitants.

    In our homes, our grocery stores, our bus stops, and our parks are hundreds of hilpos waiting to be hunted – nuggets and fragments of characters worth meeting and stories worth telling.

    Simply, in our society today, you don’t need to lead an exotic life to have access to thought-provoking, hilarious, and poignant ideas. They are all around us, so hunt them with passion, rigor, and insatiable curiosity.

    (Like Moe.)

    AbbeyandMoe

    xo

    A

     

     

  • A Reverse Exercise in Setting the Fictional Stage: Marco Island Mansion Hunting for Lady Joanna Malloy

    This past week, in addition to a slew of significantly less glamorous activities (scraping some kind of extra sticky exotic winter berries from the hood of my car, scrubbing the litter box for a feline who makes that Fancy Feast spokescat seem like alley trash, eating Chipotle twice — in the same day), I packed my bags for Florida. It didn’t take me long.

    Just bikinis and books for this girl…hell YES.

    Packingtime

    And once I arrived and settled, I ditched the books for a few hours and went mansion hunting around marvelous Marco Island.

    Yes, you read correctly. Mansion. Hunting. Marco. Island. (Can you sense the swagger with which I type?) And no, of course not; it was not for me. It was for Lady Joanna Malloy, the notorious matriarch of the Los Angeles Malloys, ninety-two year-old gold digger extraordinaire, one of the protagonists of my romantic comedy feature currently in pre-production.
     
    (Fingers crossed it sees the light of day, kiddies!)

    Channelling my inner Lady Joanna in the T-bird.

    (FYI: Lady Joanna Malloy is grand, manipulative, selfish, and devastatingly glamorous. She surrounds herself with anyone who will compliment her, or share their high-end booze. Her favorite sport is “marrying up.” She’s sassy and good-hearted, though she wouldn’t let you know the latter, and she lives on Marco Island, Florida, a place riddled with high end breakfast joints, convertibles as shiny and pastel-hued as Jordan almonds, and the most rheumatologists this side of the Mississippi.)

    The task, assigned by my producer, but really, really embraced by yours truly, was to troll around the island and snap some pictures of L.J.’s potential digs.  Maybe the photos would be used to inspire location scouts or future establishing shots, maybe not. Maybe they’d be added to a pitch packet, maybe not. Bottom-line: I was going to be in Florida anyway, and it sounded like an exceptional way to spend an afternoon.
    Some candidates for Lady's Joanna's humble abode.

    Some candidates for Lady Joanna’s humble abode.

    Of course, in the actual screenplay, I describe L.J.’s lavish quarters sparingly. (Too-flowery exposition is forbidden in the medium…only so much space and time…just spit it out!) But this exercise around the island, trying to decide what house really would best match my original vision, or, even better, expand or enhance my original vision, proved to be worthwhile in unexpected ways.

    It felt as though I was developing setting backwards.

    Not building a fictional house to suit Lady Joanna, but placing her in a real-life standing one, and seeing how SHE’D suit IT. And while this may sound counterintuitive, it prompted me to think about setting in a fresh way.

    I don’t know about you, and maybe it’s because of my screenwriting roots, but too often my settings (in fiction first drafts, especially) crop up after the fact. My characters — warm-blooded, three-dimensional, bright-eyed actors so real to me I hear them yell, “Just type what I’m actually saying, Abbey. For godssake, no need to make it up as you go along.” — end up, inevitably, somewhere, and need to do something, and THAT’S when I think, “Well, I better put something in that somewhere.”
     
    At times, it’s genuinely that stupid.
     
    So, I conjure a velour tufted loveseat, or a set of plastic lawn chairs, or a rusty baseball bleacher, or a refurbished church pew, and voila!, fictional asses plop in fictional seats. While I know what mug she prefers for her morning hazelnut cream coffee, and what brand of lipstick stains its rim, I’d be pressed to tell you the color of the kitchen walls that surround her, or, sometimes, even the name of her town.
     
    But if the characters are real, then they must live somewhere real, and show up somewhere real, and one way to achieve this, I’ve recently found, when stuck, is to not craft a real-seeming place around them, but to place them in a truly real place — something that existed before they arrived, “a somewhere” not intended for them at all, as the 1908-crafted little red house I inhabit now was not intended for me at all.
     
    A few examples from this past week:

    As I pictured Lady Joanna Malloy occupying one of the mansions with a second-floor balcony straight from the boudoir, I imagined her craning her neck from her newspaper to bitch out the mail carrier who walked on the grass below. (This is no where in the script, but it could be a fun part of her morning routine, no?)

    Another one of the mansions had a massive roaming garden, and I wondered if L.J. ever picked the flowers, dropping them in a crystal vase before guests arrived in the parlor? Or did she sit among them, revisiting a faxed copy of her will, scathingly crossing out any grandchild’s name who forgot to call on her twelfth “eightieth birthday.” (L.J. couldn’t think of herself a day over eighty.)

    One of the most sprawling homes featured a five car garage which got me thinking, “How would L.J. fill a five car garage?” I instantly pictured a large Caddie alongside a canvas-covered convertible, and two golf carts — none of which she was legally permitted to drive anymore. And how did that make her feel? One woman with four vehicles, and no way to get out. Beyond the second golf cart stood a NordicTrack skier with the old wooden slats. Two decades ago she used it to keep trim, and though she still insisted she hopped on it time-to-time, the cobwebs proved otherwise. And in the corner, sat a box of her third late husband’s college fraternity relics she couldn’t toss, though she didn’t know why — she hadn’t even met him until he was in his fifties.

    Here’s the lesson I stumbled upon:
    Cornering Lady Joanna into occupying one of these very real homes forced me to explore details of her life that may not have crossed my mind otherwise. We know that in order to create meaningful settings the details we provide should not only contribute to the reader’s ability to picture the backdrop, but also understand the character, absorb subtextual clues, and contribute to the over-all themes of the piece.
     

    Don’t mention a coatrack stands in the corner and never have somebody hang up their coat.

    Have them live there, among the setting details, and, when possible, mention the objects in a way that also provides otherwise unexpressed insight into the character. Does Lady Joanna keep a man’s hat angled on the coatrack at all times because it’s her first time living alone and the image of a bare coatrack, or one hosting only her own feminine accessories, depresses her beyond belief? And does that stagnant hat remind her of her father, or one of her late husbands, or Cary Grant?
     

    Employ specific OBJECTS, NAMES, SENSORY DETAILS (don’t forget smell and touch — they’re so often disregarded), and MEANINGFUL ALLUSIONS. Reference the character’s world, reference the real cultural world, reference other works. After all, this is how real people talk, think, and make sense of their existence.

    And if you’re stuck, if you happen to hear their voice, see their face, and know they like their apple pie hot and their cherry pie room temperature and their pumpkin pie cold, but their surrounding isn’t “speaking to you,” stick them somewhere new, somewhere real, and see what happens.
     
    (Or take off with a bag of 90% books and bikinis. That seems to help, too.)

     

    xo

    A

  • “Abbey Unplugged: Finding Inspiration Out-of-Doors, Despite the Blistery, Bone-Chilling Wintery Weather”

    mystic

    This stunning panoramic photograph of sleepy Mystic, CT (with moi as interruption) was taken by the one and only Joachim Civico.

    We’ve all heard the Virginia Woolf quote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  Money, unfortunately, is a must, and the room bit seems essential, too, but these days, I wonder if some unplugged time in nature is required, as well?

    Virginia’s “room of her own” didn’t feature two chirping cell phones, or Facebook updates, or Twitter feeds, or Spotify tracks, or daily Groupons, or Gilt mailers, or those damn folks at Baublebar who insist on presenting new, affordable jewels every single day. She didn’t have a fresh episode of Downton Abbey waiting for her on the DVR in the other room. She didn’t even have the Keurig coffee maker making eye contact from the kitchen. If she wanted some coffee it was probably a bit more of a hassle, maybe a task that would pull her away from her work juuust long enough that it wasn’t worth it. In my contemporary writer world, it’s always worth it. It’ll just take a second. There. Just as you were reading this, another Keurig cup got its wings. Technology is beautiful!

    Right?

    I’m not one to knock modern luxury or convenience, but I must admit it’s taking a creative toll — especially during these frigid months when we writerly hermit-types are already susceptible to feeling cooped up.

    Here’s the rub: When I have nervous, unproductive energy in the autumn, spring, or summer, I step outside and stretch for a bit. Take a walk. Ride my bike. Do some Pilates in the park. Go on a run. (Okay, okay. That last one’s a big ole lie, but the others are true. Imagine that! Me! Running! Fiction is fun.)

    But now, frozen in a Midwestern mid-winter, I find myself remaining at my desk for a cramped, unfulfilling “virtual getaway,” a “break” from writing that provides no break for my eyes, or back, or hands, or, most importantly, mind. These “breaks” allow no sense of quiet that my tri-seasonal jaunts ensure. They fail to create the space for the little creative thoughts to germinate, which is really what creative thoughts do best when a writer is alone, surrounded by the kind of wondrous living things that cannot speak back.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, these “breaks” generally consist of perusing bookmarked websites of the most random variety. But I’ve found the topic really doesn’t matter, anyway. Whether they feature high-brow writing or low-cost hair products, they provide no escape, no inspiration, no respite. “Virtual getaways,” I’ve found, fuel empty curiosities that provide little value to any real aspect of the creative life. Had this 2013 era demanded I call a local librarian and ask her to look up the information I’ve searched this past week, I’d be too embarrassed to attempt to dial. This is wasteful, poppycock behavior and it must be banned from the writing work day! Imagine troubling a librarian with this nonsense….

    “What ever happened to Punky Brewster’s Soleil Moon Frye? Where the hell has she been?”
    “How long would it take me to drive from Columbus to Portland? Are there Waffle Houses along the way?”
    “Can Pinterest tell me how to get magenta lipstick off of a cream cashmere sweater?”
    “Maybe Amazon’s ‘look inside!’ feature will allow me to reread the part of that story I liked best….”
    “Are those guys in Mumford & Sons related?”
    “Where can I find green tea that tastes good? Does that exist?”
    “How many more days, hours, and minutes until Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day?”
    “What’s the best course of action if a bottle of wine freezes in your trunk? What if you really like the wine? What if you’re really thirsty?”

    You get the idea. Finally, after a week of snowglobe-worthy weather that had me gleefully gazing out the window, but resistent to step out to grab the mail, I decided it was high time I Googled the only thing worth Googling when a writer senses she needs to be pushed into the wilderness, for her own good, despite the windchill.

    (I Googled Thoreau.) Here’s what I found:

    “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
     

    Thank you, H.D.T. I needed that. So, after weathering my dangerous nature deficit, I left all pluggable items at my desk, packed on the proper clothes, and ventured out. Moral of this strange non-story? When in doubt, friends, go outside. If you’re anything like me, it’ll be as good for your book as it is for your soul.

    unintentionalendorsement

    I realize now, while posting this, I am unabashedly endorsing three global brands in this photograph: The Ohio State University, The Olympics, and Starbucks. I didn’t intend to be so commercial, but, in all honesty, I do like these things. What the hell. Feel free to send me free stuff, OSU, Olympics, and ‘bucks. I’ll wear them proudly. Sell out, shmell out. #freestuffisnice

    snowangelabbey

    When the Midwest gives you snow, make angels. <3

    xo

    A

  • “If you intend to follow our rules, and a-many we have, I suggest you learn to carry a pen and a pad.”

    Some years ago, when I spent most of my time on the edge of the country, just a few miles from falling into the Pacific, so very far from these cozy cornfields that hug me today, I often found myself agonizing over my craft. There was this crippling anxiety that if I didn’t scribble down the tips I stumbled upon along the way, I would lose them entirely. Simply, I had yet to develop and trust my own writerly instincts.

    Those days, when I read or heard or overheard or observed some little lesson worth remembering, I compulsively added it to a messy, handwritten list I labeled, “Write Well Or Perish.”

    Grim, no? This was (and is!) serious business, goddammit. If you do not take it seriously, go do something else. I hear there are many other equally tormenting, yet potentially rewarding ways to spend your time, though I’m not sure what they may be. Maybe this is why the internet was invented?

    Now, for the very first time, as I remain buzzy from twelve glorious days at what I affectionately call “book camp” (and several dozen teaspoons of Dimetapp for the cold caught at what I affectionately call “book camp”), I shall share a bitty snip-it of this haphazard list. So, buckle up, and prepare to feel simultaneously inspired, infuriated, defensive, and reflective.

    “Why start here, NOW, in this very place, at this very moment?”
    “Oftentimes, in the beginning they WANT something, in the middle they learn they NEED something, and at the end they EARN something.”

    “Avoid FLAT adjectives.”

    NEVER START WITH WEATHER.

    Write killer opening lines for every character.
    Comedic characters must be weighted by dark underpinnings.

    People rarely say what they mean.

    CREATE MISINTERPRETATIONS & MISCOMMUNICATIONS.

    “The villain is the hero in her own story.”

    No matter how sweet and innocent your leading character,  make AWFUL things happen to them.  Drag that perky bride through mud.  Then have her find out it’s poop.  Then have her groom admit he used to be a woman.  No one gets through life, or a story, unscathed. 

    Empower the setting details to contribute to character, theme, and plot.

    Surprise your audience and your characters, or better yet, yourself.
    Be subtle, concise, and nuanced.

    Show, don’t tell…unless you should really just tell and get it over with and move on. Yeah, sometimes “tell” is definitely okay.

    Every sentence must do one of two things— reveal character or advance action. The BEST sentences do both.

    In a movie, you have two hours to say something to the world. What do you want to say?

    In a screenplay, you must know why pages 10, 30, 60, and 90 are important.
    Does your story have a PROTAGONIST, a MAIN CHARACTER, or a HERO? This distinction can matter. As the author, you should know.

    Always “cut” leaving the reader/viewer wanting to know more. Cliffhangers, loose ends, lingering suspense, building tension, unanswered questions, “a smoking gun in the right-hand drawer,” call it what you like, but it MUST always be present.

    Beware of the word “think.”  Having a character “think” in a visual medium does not work.

    Do not rely too heavily on the almighty montage.
    Before you become too in love with a premise, make sure you didn’t overlook a “quick fix” that any real person would use to solve the main conflict.  (For instance, if you’re writing a crime thriller and all your protagonist would have to do to solve the conflict is call the cops, make sure you give a specific, compelling, believable reason s/he cannot.)
    Use flashbacks and voice-over narration sparingly.  (It is seen as a storytelling crutch.)

    Never kill your darlings. Stash them away for another day. 

    IF IT SOUNDS LIKE WRITING, REWRITE IT.
    A LOT of the amazing giants in writing are/were alcoholic, suicidal, depressed, reclusive, loveless, alienating, pissed. Maybe it’s okay to just be really good….
    ALWAYS have multiple projects going at different stages. That’s just self-preservation.

    Be aware of genre conventions, the marketplace, and trends.  Then do whatever you want, anyway.

    Be economical. You have only 120 pages of real estate in film, and only so much patience in print.

    No one knows enough to only write what they know. Write what your friend, brother, and neighbor knows, too. BE A SPONGE.
    By Act Three you should instinctively know what your characters would do and say.  Act Three should write itself.

    The most important thing about a writer is her VOICE.  You cannot spend too much time finding yours.

    Study your favorite movies and books. How do they work? Why do they work?

    Archetypes usually work. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Just roll it somewhere new.

    Know how you write ALONE before collaborating with another.  (Two driving permits doesn’t equal a license.)
    As insignificant as they seem, typos really do matter. (Except when I make them.)
    Everyone has a story. Some are just better than others.  (THIS IS FICTION!  Embellish!)
    Good ideas germinate. One of the very few perks of being a writer is that you can walk around looking like a lazy sloth and call it work. Take advantage of this. (I know someone actually said this beautiful little gem to me. If it was YOU, please remind me, and I shall give you credit.)

    If “to write is human,” and “to edit is divine,” then strive to be divinely human.

    And lastly, for now, the best writerly “lesson” I’ve ever picked up along the way: Come up with a million bad ideas. One is bound to emerge as decent and decent ideas are hard to come by.

    Should you find a free moment, I invite you to please send me the favorite, most random writerly tip you’ve discovered, and I promise I’ll include it in a future entry.  

    In the meantime, happy writing, happy reading, and a very happy new year to you and yours.

    xo

    A

    P.S.  As my dear dad reminds, “Now get to work.”

    atticus

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    murphybrown

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    nick

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Style: "Mad Men"

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    frasier

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    winona

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    fscott

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    grady