Monday, March 2, 2020



Let's see . . . life in the two years since I last posted: a couple graduations, both high school and college; CFO job for Chris; added a couple amazing women to our family (we love you, Jill and Abby!); became empty-nesters. 

What is a stay-at-home mom/writer to do when her first job ends after twenty-six years and her second enters the no-contract, no current publisher stage? 

This one goes back to school (it's an Andersen thing--we're very comfortable with homework and deadlines and such.) Being me, I only applied to one graduate writing program and thankfully got in: the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. It's low-residency, and my first one in January happened to start on my birthday. Because of course an introvert, insecure writer wants to spend her birthday in new surroundings with new people figuring out new things. 

Anyway, my intent was to keep a diary of residency, because I found myself trawling the internet for personal accounts so I knew what to expect, but being me I only wrote it in twice and there's no real ending to the thing but what the hell--here it is for anyone thinking about VCFA and wondering what the ten-day residencies are like. 

VCFA: Residency 1, Winter 2020

Day Four
Is it day four? Is it Monday? Is it still January?
Just looked out the window. It’s still January. Snow on the ground, ice lying in wait, radiator pipes clanking like the building’s about to fall down . . . Definitely January in Vermont.
“How are you?” everyone asks. Even a stranger this morning, possibly a bit concerned by my apparently-vacant stare in the chapel. I was actually thinking something (“I wonder if that organ is playable?”) but that thought was a deliberate attempt to think something other than “Aaaaaaggggghhhhhhhh . . .”
The first thirty-six hours were so crammed with people and information it might have been leaking out my ears. Firsties (First Years sounds so much better, but we’re only first for six months, so . . . shrug) met as a group Friday night with Katie, the program director, half a dozen graduate assistants, and all twenty-four of us that are meant to be a cohort through graduation. The evening involved a distressing number of activities/getting-to-know-you games, but I didn’t actually die so I count that success. Saturday was pretty much twelve straight hours of orientation and welcome and campus tour and ‘don’t you want to eat sausage and sauerkraut for dinner’ and ‘I have not slept more than four hours in two nights.’
By five o’clock on Saturday I had hit the “what the hell was I thinking” stage of collapse. So much work! So many packets! Critical essays and critical theses and at least one hundred pages of creative work each semester and the whole faculty is so smart and at least half of my cohort is young women in their twenties and please can I just go home to my bed!
Two reasons I didn’t. First, I knew Chris would only make me turn straight around and come back. Second, Cory McCarthy gave the opening faculty lecture on Saturday evening. “What if your madness is your method?” they asked.
My madness is obvious: I Take to Flight. How can such a disastrous, destructive impulse possibly be a writing method?
I cried, dear reader, sitting in the chapel listening to Cory and asking myself that question. Because the answer came—pare that phrase from four down to three words. Instead of my psychiatrist’s “you take to flight,” what if it becomes “Take to Flight.” Not a description of running away, but an invitation—or even a command. 

Day 6

Another 374 years have passed but at least I can say as of tonight that we’re a bit more than halfway through. Today had a couple big events. First up—my turn in workshop. It was super helpful, much less painful that I feared, and when Liz Scanlon talked about how beautifully I conveyed atmosphere in the paragraph with the girls walking to Notre Dame in their white dresses and loose hair I thought I might actually die from happiness. (Yes, that was attached to the “there’s an awful lot of exposition in these three pages, look how you can accomplish the same thing with concrete details,” but I. Will. Take. It.)

Friday, March 30, 2018

19 Days Down . . .

7 to go!

I'll confess I'm greatly looking forward to this time next Friday, when I will be packing up my room in Spain in preparation for meeting Emma in Edinburgh next Saturday :) To be followed by 6 days in Ireland with my favorite daughter. In which I will not eat miso soup once. Or seaweed. Or even sauerkraut, which I've always liked. But having it twice a day is a bit much. I have been planning my favorite food haunts in Dublin, starting with hot chocolate from Butler's Chocolate, sipped while walking through St. Stephen's Green.

So, random notes from the last 19 days:

1. Massage therapists come in one of two varieties--those who treat the body as something to be appreciated and cared for, and those who seem to feel the body is the enemy and, by heaven, they will beat that pain or stiffness or fat right out of me. Fortunately, the former are the majority here. But there have a been a couple times I was convinced that the therapist learned their trade in the gulags of the former Soviet Union.

2. If pain is fear leaving the body, then the colon hydrotherapy I had the second day must have suctioned out every horror film I ever saw or ghost story I ever read. I quickly afterward declined the remaining treatments of that sort . . .

3. Yes, it is possible to taste in dreams. Five or six nights in, I dreamt of eating Gardettos--you know, the pretzel snack things with that spicy taste? It was lovely.

4. In the first four days here, I heard some variation of "You are too much in control" from approximately 37 people. One massage therapist recommended I belly dance for my hips. While I appreciate the sentiment, it's quite clear that the control/relaxation issue goes far deeper than a few dance classes will solve.

5. If one must receive disappointing news of any sort, it is not a bad idea to receive it at a place where one literally has TWO therapy appointments the very next day.

6. Not drinking/smoking might in some circles be considered a character defect. In a wellness clinic, it is a huge positive. "Hey, I may be overweight and my diet might suck, but at least I don't have to give up alcohol!"

7. I have beautiful blood. I have been told that four times now. "Beautiful color, so perfect, very healthy . . ." I'll take what I can get.

8. Also, I did a bone density test and I don't mean to brag, but I have the bones of a 30-year-old.

9. I didn't know it was possible to buy sweatsuits lavishly trimmed in fur. The majority of guests here definitely come from a different tax bracket/lifestyle then I do.

10. I miss my family :)

11. Coming here was definitely the right decision. It would be nice to leave next week completely healthy, but now I know that I have found the right path and I'm a decent ways along it. As long as I know what to do, I can be awfully persistent in doing it.

Happy Easter!!! Eat chocolate for me.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


It's March 10, four days since THE DARKLING BRIDE release. I'm sitting at Boston Logan Airport waiting to board a flight to Iceland. Which would be a terrible place to go right now, with six inches of snow in my front yard and going on our third day without power or internet. I mean, why would I want to be colder? Fortunately, I'm only in Reykjavik for four hours before boarding another flight to Alicante, Spain.

And then begins an adventure: 28 days at SHA Wellness Clinic. It's no secret to those who know me that my health is not great and has been getting worse, especially since our move to Massachusetts. I cover pretty well in public--mostly because I'm not in public very much. I mean, even I can manage to be pulled-together for three hours of church on Sunday (after which I go home and sleep because I teach seven-year-olds for two hours--nine of them--and it's pretty much like herding cats. Extremely energetic cats.)

If you want the dirty details about my daily life, I'm willing to talk. Just know that, on average, for the last four or five years I've averaged 15 hours of sleep and 9 hours awake every day. And awake means staying in my pajamas or managing yoga pants and working from my bed. I've cut down showering from every day to three times a week to conserve energy. If I have a lunch date or a phone call or an appointment--that's it, that's my one thing I can do that day. Clearly, this is not a sustainable way to live if there's any way to change it.

Clinically, I have Hashimoto's Disease (hypothyroid), diagnosed when Matt was a baby. Genetically, my birth mother died at 64 of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, another auto-immune disease. I have had three debilitating bouts of mono, the last just before Jake had cancer. My doctor and I have been circling in on a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as the most likely (though I have a fair amount of pain, I don't have the specific trigger points most often found in fibromyalgia.)

And I am So. Terribly. Bored. with myself and my health.

When I turned 49 at the beginning of the year, I decided that this was the year to do something. I don't want to turn 50 feeling the same or worse. I don't want to end up confined to bed like my birthmother at the age of 54. So with a lot of research and prayer, I started looking for some kind of retreat where I could go and cover a lot of ground in a condensed period of time.

Hence SHA. Of all the programs I looked at, their 28 Day Life Reset was the one that spoke to me. I know that I'm ridiculously privileged to a) be able to pay for it and b) be able to take a month out of my life to go through it. I hate leaving Chris--this is the longest we'll have been apart since I returned from my mission to Haiti in 1991. And Spencer is still just 16 (although driving himself now, which considerably lessens the strain of me being gone.) But there is so much I want to do with my life. I had my kids young--my fourth was born when I was 32--and I've long looked forward to turning 50 and getting my youngest graduated from high school. I love to travel, especially with Chris. And oh man, the books I want to write! I want to be healthy when my kids get married and I have grandchildren. And since our experience with addiction and AA, I've had a great desire to help other families walking a similar path. And I can't do hardly any of that without significantly improving my health.

So . . . 28 days of lab work and neurological testing and sleep studies. Of acupuncture and personal training. Of a strict macrobiotic diet and my own willingness to deal with the emotional weight I still carry from the times I pushed through trauma and pushed away the things that would derail me.

I intend to tweet and/or instagram the next four weeks, for the sole purpose of pretending I'm accountable to anyone but myself :) My goal is to return home in April able to get by with, say, 10 hours of sleep a night. Or even 12. Either would be a victory.

P.S. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I want to sleep less and do more and have more energy and be able to accomplish more than one thing a day . . . but seriously, if I spend 28 days strictly macrobiotic--no caffeine, no sugar, no meat, no dairy, no processed foods--and don't lose a single pound, I will be seriously put out.)

P.P.S. (In all those health things, I didn't even begin on the perimenopause symptoms that have been kicking my butt for two years. Terrible cramps, heavier periods, PERIODS ONLY 22 DAYS APART!, hot flashes that are killing me, night sweats, mood swings . . . honestly, it's adding insult to injury to spend however many years of menustrual cycles, pregnancies, childbirths, etc. only to be slammed by EVEN WORSE SYMPTOMS before you're done. There are some serious design flaws in the female body. Number one is having the bladder directly beneath the uterus. Just saying.)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday Five

Because a Facebook memory reminded me I used to do this . . . and I always write well with a structure :)

So my Christmas month Loves in this week's Friday Five!

1. Book: 1415-HENRY V'S YEAR OF GLORY by Ian Mortimer. An ingeniously (month by month, almost day by day) structured examination of the year that lead to the battlefield of Agincourt. Makes me want to watch Kenneth Branagh as Henry V again . . .

2. Netflix: I keep toggling between two shows: Dark Matter, a sci-fi with some Firefly undertones, and re-watching The Office when I need to laugh--or smile sentimentally at Jim and Pam.

3. Gift-giving: my love language. Few things make me happier than finding a the perfect surprising gift (rarely expensive) for the people I love. From the seven-year-olds I teach at church to my awesome kids and husband, I'm a lot like Leslie Knope. Gift giving is my sport!

4. Writing: I'm definitely looking ahead to 2018 and a return to publishing with The Darkling Bride release in March. After a couple quiet years while motherhood took a great deal of my available emotional energy, I also have a YA book on submission that I ADORE and I'm creating a proposal for my next gothic that has me dreaming at night.

5. Star Wars: if only I loved my children less, I would have already seen The Last Jedi. But our family is under strict orders for no one to see it until all six of us are gathered at home on the 22nd. (Sidenote--this will be the first Christmas all my kids are home in three years!)

Love to all my family, friends, and readers!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Teaser Tuesday

With only the littlest bit to go before I turn in revisions on my contracted book, I thought today I would offer a peek at my next historical WIP. Background to the scene: girl dressed as boy to travel without harassment, trouble in a tavern, help from an (unwelcome) source :)

“Boy? Are you really that blind?” spoke the elegant, skeptical voice of the man whose table I’d knocked into. From his tone, I would never have guessed he was anything but cold sober.
     Before either Weasel or Brawler could object to his intervention, the man stood and pulled the shapeless felt hat off my head. With deft fingers, he found and released the pins so that my hair fell in a mass of twisted plaits about my face and shoulders.
     Brawler gaped at me as though I’d sprouted horns, and Weasel hissed a vicious breath. The surprise was just enough for me to free my left hand and elbow Brawler across the chin. I stomped for Weasel’s foot, but his grip had tightened round my wrist until my fingers were numb and I knew I couldn’t hold onto my blade much longer. So I let myself go limp, my dead weight dragging Weasel off balance while my free left hand reached for the second blade strapped beneath my tunic. I brought it up and under his chin . . . where it met and matched with a second, longer, deadlier dagger.
     The stranger with the courtly voice didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. Weasel narrowed his eyes, but let go of me. Not without a twist that made me wince, but he and Brawler retreated under the stony gaze of the man who had come so unexpectedly to my aid.
     When they were gone, I found the stranger staring at me. His expression had not altered from indifference. “You’re welcome,” he said.
     The arrogance and detachment were too much for my frayed temper. “I didn’t ask you to interfere. I’m old enough to take care of myself.”
     He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “And how old is that?”
     “Twenty-two,” I said defiantly. Then, at his look of open disbelief, I conceded, “Eighteen.” When he continued to stare at me, I added, “In three months.”
     “I suppose you would take it amiss if I suggested that disreputable taverns are not the safest place for a solitary young woman.”
     “I suppose you would take it amiss if I suggested that drowning your sins in wine is the refuge of a coward.”
     He had a stare like ice, the kind that froze in England and provided but a thin covering to the depthless water beneath it. Here was someone much more dangerous than the thugs who had just been run off. This, I thought with sinking heart, was not a man to cross swords with. Perhaps politeness would be the better part of valor.
     But then he spoke again. “You were nearly quick enough, I grant you. But ‘nearly’ will get you killed. Perhaps if your skills were as formidable as your tongue you wouldn’t need a stranger’s intervention.”

    Despite the drinking and choice of tavern, I noted the marks of quality about him: the diction and music of his voice, the grace of his every movement despite the slight hesitation of the seriously drunk, the shirt that—though aged by hard use and indifferent laundering—was made from the finest linen. So fine that one could almost see the outlines of a well-conditioned body beneath it . . .

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Teaser Tuesday

Deeply in revisions for the new book, and thought I'd give you a glimpse of my main character, come to Deeprath Castle to catalog the library, and her initial impression on the castle owner she has just bumped into :)     

     Carragh did not believe in ghosts, not in the traditional sense. She was not afraid of the Woman in White or the Darkling Bride or any number of ancient monks who might drift down the slopes from Glendalough. She was not afraid of the dead, however uneasily they might lie, for her earliest memories encompassed death.
     But in all her eager preparation and research into the Gallagher family, she had somehow overlooked the truth that tragedy casts a long shadow. Prying into the life and death of the Victorian Jenny was one thing. Meddling with a man whose mother was believed to have murdered his father and then jumped off the same tower as Jenny Gallager? That was an entirely different matter.
     Especially when the man in question was sexy as hell. Seriously, who looked like that? She’d seen a few pictures of the viscount, as she’d scrolled the internet looking for information on the Gallaghers, most of them of Aidan paired with various formidably fashionable women. But the combined effect of his height and dark hair and bright blue eyes narrowed suspiciously at her, standing so close she could have touched him . . .   
     Carragh shoved herself away from the door and glared at the painting of Jenny Gallagher. “I’m here for the library,” she said aloud. “Not for men, and not for ghosts.”

     In the painted pond’s reflection, the Darkling Bride stared back at Carragh in disbelief.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Last night I attended a 12 Step meeting at which my son, Matt, received his one year sober coin. I'm not going to lie . . . I cried :) This time last year I could not have imagined who he would be today--and imagination is my job.

Part of the meeting last night was a speaker with three years sobriety sharing his story. Something he said has really stayed with me. He shared about the day he called his dad and told him, "I need to go to rehab." And to this day, he says his dad talks about how that was the proudest moment of his life. The young man told us last night, "I know what he's trying to say there, but it always makes me a little sad that me becoming a slightly less shitty person is his proudest moment."

Yes, it was funny and meant to be. I laughed with everyone else. But as a mom, there were a couple things I've wanted to say to him since. Things I suppose I want to say to my own son.

I have been proud of lots of things in your life. How could I not be? You're the oldest :) I've been proud of your intelligence and your curiosity. Of your gentleness and your sensitivity. I was proud when your Knowledge Bowl team was getting crushed when you were in 5th or 6th grade and you cried in the bathroom after a round in which your team did not answer a single question . . . and then you dried your tears and came out and competed in the next round anyway. I was proud that you were in the Gifted and Talented science/math program in middle school. I was proud of you going onstage for the talent show and doing "White and Nerdy." I was proud of your acceptance to the University of Washington and the good grades you got in the physics program.

Nothing has made me prouder than watching you this last year. Not because you were "becoming a slightly less shitty person." But because you are doing work that most people in our society avoid--honestly and unflinchingly looking at yourself and your life. Admitting your mistakes. Making amends. Doing things every day that you don't want to do. Like talk to new people and reach out to strangers and make phones calls (yes, you are my son!) And every day you are doing these hard things without the coping mechanism that still has the ability to sing the siren song of relief.

How hard is that? Well, I've never been able to stick to a diet for longer than three weeks. Or a serious exercise plan for more than six months. And I still look for ways to avoid honestly evaluating my mistakes and weaknesses. Or, if I do evaluate them, I rarely go to great lengths to change them unless forced into it, usually by trauma. And I certainly don't do it publicly.

So this year, what you have accomplished? It's required more than the intellectual gifts you were born with. It's required more than our family had the ability to give. It's required that you wake up, every single day, and do the work. You. Not me. Not anyone else. You have chosen to do this work and, with the grace of God and those He sent into your life, you continue to choose.

And that is why I have never been more proud.