14 Steps to the Perfect Teen

If, perchance, you have run across a blog in the burbling trenches of social media on the subject of raising happy teens, and when you read it wanted to:

a) Cry
b) Throw your computer / phone across the room
c) Laugh in a superior, snarky, and derisive manner
d) Take a month-long nap

I’m your girl today.

I read this blog last week. And wanted to do all of the above. Because it was JUST SO OBNOXIOUS. Absolutely infuriating.

Listen. Coming from someone who has blogged her share of stupid, worthless and yes, perhaps, insensitive stuff, let me say — this was one of the stupidest, most worthless and insensitive pieces I’ve ever read.

A humblebrag to end all humblebrags.

The post starts with the blogger claiming that, although she is swamped with requests for guidance on raising happy teens, she had very little, if nothing, to do with the way her incredibly joyous teens turned out.

Deep breath.

For starters, can we just dispense with the false modesty? It’s so disingenuous. Anyone who’s had babies/toddlers/kids/teens/young adults knows, it’s hard to raise them, much less ones who are well-adjusted human beings who know they are loved and are able to operate in this nutball world with a modicum of healthy self-esteem. So her whole, “Oh, I don’t know, I’m just little old me, and they came out that way,” rings incredibly false.

Or maybe she just really did hit the Happy Kid Lottery. In which case, she shouldn’t immediately follow all that self-deprecation with “….so here are the seven steps for duplicating my success!”

And, look, it’s not that what she said isn’t valid. It was just inadequate, I think. And, frankly, kind of tone deaf.

I have three teens (well, two, almost three), and I will tell you I have poured many hours of blood, sweat and tears into raising these guys. It ain’t easy. It’s not a horror show either. It falls somewhere in between the two, depending on the day and the fullness of the moon. I don’t fetishize motherhood, and it bugs me when people do. I’m not sitting on the mommy throne, wearing a crown of flowers people have thrown at my feet. Parenthood is not a job (VP of Marketing is a job) – it’s a role that a ton of people on the planet do. Like, almost everybody who is an adult. I’m not a special snowflake because I’m a mother.

Bottom line, I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing. Or if what I’m doing is what’s making my kids happy or not.

I’ll tell you this. Lots of self-doubt is involved. Lots of going to bed at night, banking on that whole “tomorrow’s another day” thing. I can’t read the future. I don’t know what these people, my kids, are going to end up doing or being.

Are my kids happy? Some days they are. Some days they’re not. Some days they’re miserable: either because I’ve screwed up or they’ve screwed up or life is just screwed up in general, and that’s the way the Flavor Blasted Goldfish crumble.

Sometimes they are unhappy because life is cruel and difficult, not because I did something wrong as a parent. Sometimes they are miserable because their brain chemistry is out of whack. Sometimes they are sad because they want something or someone they can’t have. Sometimes they are overwhelmed with the vast questions of God and the universe and suffering and because they are real people and they think about these things, they wind up feeling confused and depressed.

Is this bad?

Not always. I have the sneaking suspicion this is what actually proves they are human, real, deep thinkers and connected to the reality of this world. This is what teaches them empathy, I hope.

God, I hope.

Here’s a real-life listicle for you. I know kids who struggle with addiction, depression, anxiety, chronic sickness, repeated failures in academics and sports, devastating injuries, developmental disorders, autism, cancer, diabetes, suicidal compulsion, and every kind of learning disorder under the sun. And guess what….. These kids are happy and unhappy, and happy and unhappy, depending on the day.

And I can SWEAR to you, it’s not because their parents didn’t follow some lame seven step plan. It is not because their moms and dads are doing something wrong or they are doing something wrong. It’s just because…life.

So, respectfully, blogger-lady?

I wish you would have told those people desperately looking for a magical recipe for producing happy teens, that there is no list than can produce their happy robot kid. I wish you would have said that happiness is elusive and nothing in life is easy or promised to us and that believing listicles are the answer is a sure path to disappointment.

I’m going to turn this thing on its head now. As a special gift, I will now bestow upon you my own, highly secret steps to producing occasionally unhappy teens:

1. Exist
2. Ask them to do things.
3. Don’t ask them to do things.
4. Ask them how their day was.
5. Sing along with rap songs in the car.
6. Suggest they eat something other than Funyons and Coke.
7. Ask them to accompany you to church.
8. Tell them to go to bed.
9. Wake them up.
10. Suggest they comb hair.
11. Suggest they shower.
12. Ask them to not to play video games all day.
13. Teach them tennis.
14. Invite them to go for a run with you.

Let me know how everything works out!

It’s My First Rodeo, Not My First Book

I have a novel coming out April 26 (BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS, available today for pre-order on Amazon! Yay, buy it! But only if you want! But buy it! Yay!). Because of the impending publication, I’ve been waxing nostalgic in abnormal amounts. This is unusual for me. Being present and in the moment is not a strength of mine – I’m unusually practical minded and future obsessed – impatient with what IS, antsy to get onto what WILL BE. Anything that smacks of sentimentality or wallowing strikes me as a little self-indulgent – but DANG IT, this process has taken SUCH a long time. And it’s been so fraught with doubt and disappointment….

So, yeah, I think I’m gonna go ahead and WALLOW for a minute, my friends.

A tidbit for you: Honeysuckle Girls wasn’t the first book I wrote. My first book was a delightful (to me) romantic comedy about a woman who discovers Argentine tango and uses it to test the men in her life – to weed out the baddies and zero in on the goodies. It was fluff, for sure, but sharp, witty fluff, I thought. And super romantic too. So did some agents I sent it to. When I pitched it at the Atlanta Writers Conference one November, one of them told me she definitely was interested in reading it but, “don’t call it chick lit. Don’t ever say chick lit. Chick lit is dead.”


I got interest from a few agents (“I love this! I let everybody in the office read it and they loved it too!”) and then I got an email. THE email, I thought. Kind of. But not exactly. It was actually a weird, sort of vague, “I love this book, so let’s talk after the holidays” email. As instructed, I waited. The holidays came and went and there was no call. Long story short, that agent finally, mercifully, put me out of my misery and friend zoned me.

I slunk back to my laptop.

I thought about what I wanted to write next. Romance or women’s fiction or whatever the tango book had been, was fun, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do another one of those. Plus, I was feeling battered and more than a little cynical. I’d written a whole book and couldn’t even get an agent. I thought I might be a competent writer, but I wasn’t sure. I needed to test myself. Try again. Do better.

I told my husband what I really wanted to do was a psychological thriller. Those were the stories I gravitated to in books, TV shows, and movies. I’ve always loved me a dark, nasty mystery. Danger, psycopaths and, yes, some good old fashioned murder. GIMME. I’d always worshipped Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. Patricia Highsmith. Shirley Jackson. Stephen King. Dean Koontz. That weird YA book I read when I was a teenager about the gifted kids at the creepy boarding school who get possessed by the great masters and create all this new art. I have tried to find this book, but I can’t. And I adored it and would love to read it again. All that to say, if you have ever heard of it, please contact me.

And then I found Gillian Flynn. I hadn’t heard of her, hadn’t heard of her books. She had two out and I gobbled them up. While I was writing Honeysuckle Girls, the juggernaut that is GONE GIRL came out, and I was mesmerized. I may not have been able to go as dark and brutal as Flynn, but she was absolutely my north star.

Then she became everyone else’s.

I kept my head down and toiled away. My main character – a damaged young woman named Althea who finds out her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother each died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances on their 30th birthdays – became a well-loved companion. And then, I had the brilliant, wildly ambitious idea that I would drop in three discrete sections of the flashback stories within the narrative, then wrap up Althea’s story at the end.

Ah. Youth.

Stay turned for Part Two…..

I Still Want a Wild Pony

I went recently to the Roswell Public Library to check out one of my old childhood favorites, Misty of Chincoteague. I will admit, I got distracted along the way by the AMAZING Friends of Roswell Public Library Used Bookstore, located just outside the library, and their tantalizing rolling shelves of books on sale for A QUARTER. It was like I’d stumbled upon a shoe sale outside of Saks Fifth Avenue, and it was my job – nay, my mission – to find one perfect size 6 1/2.

Reader, I found three. Books, not shoes.

Two were by Eudora Welty, The Ponder Heart and On Writing. Welty is one of my favorite smarty-pants southern woman writers, and I am always trying to emulate her – badly, probably, but hey, I like to shoot for the stars. I also stumbled across a paperback copy of Black Beauty. I have a special place in my heart for this book, or “child Ambien,” as I like to call it. My youngest son was lulled to a nightmare-free sleep every single night between the ages of 3 and 9 by the abridged, audio version of Black Beauty, and he can quote entire sentences from the first third. (He was usually dead asleep by halfway through).

This delightful kid is, unlike his older brothers, not what you’d call a reader. The books he’s enjoyed can be counted on one hand, and at least one of them involves underpants / bodily function jokes in the title / general theme. He did gobble up all of Rick Riorden’s series, but since then…eh, he’d rather shoot hoops in the driveway, thank you very much.

I’m playing the whole thing very cool, not nagging much. I’m biding my time until find that special book that’ll re-spark his interest in reading. In the meantime, I picked up Black Beauty. When I showed it to him, he smiled and said, “While I was young, I lived upon my mother’s milk as I could not eat grass.” He said it like “graaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhsssss,” the way the English narrator used to say it on his audio version.

He hasn’t cracked the book open. Not yet, anyway.

But back to Misty. I loved that book as a girl, obsessed over it. Wanted my own wild pony that I’d wrangled myself from a stampeding herd of island horses. Bonus points if it was an Appaloosa, because duh, APPALOOSAS RULE AND EVERYBODY KNOWS IF YOU’RE RIDING AN APPALOOSA, YOU ARE A BADASS. I don’t even know if Appaloosas exist in the eastern seaboard wild horse populations, but that’s neither here nor there. I lost count how many times I read Misty, but it’s still not my numero uno. My all-time, all-star, hands-down favorite is actually another book, a perfect, brilliant gem written by Betty MacDonald (of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle fame) by the name of Nancy and Plum. 

This winter, at a writers workshop I had the great opportunity to attend, in answer to an innocuous ice-breaker question, I mentioned that it was my favorite. The teacher asked me why. To my utter horror, I found my face heating up, my blood pounding in my ears and my mouth going dry. It felt like I was having a full-blown panic attack, right there in the class. And all because of a dumb question that any self-respecting writer could easily answer.

In the back of my mind, I sort of knew why I was reacting the way I was. How could I tell a roundtable of strangers (albeit cool, friendly, nonjudgmental strangers) why I loved Nancy and Plum? It would involve explaining how isolated and misunderstood I felt as a child. How confused I was by navigating life and love and relationships. How our family’s particular religious tradition was slowly but surely turning me into a edgy, anxious, terrified, people-pleaser.

No way I was going to do that.

So, as an alternative, I almost started crying. I think after a few panicked moments of terror, I coughed out a few incoherent words and mercifully, the teacher moved on.

I’ve since pulled the book out and am about to reread it – for the umpteenth millionth time. And maybe I’ll write an essay detailing every single reason I love it so much. Maybe. For now, let me just post a picture of Chapter Twelve’s title and allow you make your own, private assumptions about why this book spoke to me as a kid:


I mean, honestly. Chicken Pie and New Shoes. And two horses named Nellie and Herbert.

To keep my mind off crying, tell me what book you loved as a child. And why, unless that’s just too much for you. If it is, just know I understand completely.


There are two things we all know you don’t talk about if you don’t want to start a fight—politics and religion. I have succeeded in finding a third.

Capri pants.

Yesterday I mentioned on Facebook that I felt the need to blog about capris (and how I thought their time had probably passed). I got lots of responses from friends who buy them, wear them, and love them with a fierce protectiveness and loyalty, similar to the way Daenerys Targaryen feels about her dragons and blue criss-cross dress.

Nobody seriously called me out—mainly because I have nice friends who are the kind of people who are pretty forgiving and don’t make too big a deal about me saying stupid things. I felt terrible, though, I really did. I’d criticized something my friends loved, and I regretted making people feel bad. And, as one kind friend in my exercise class gently remarked, “Try gaining fifty pounds and then see how you feel about capris.”

Also, she pointed out that I was wearing capri yoga pants. Which I was. Bam.

I was glad, though, that she spoke up–and also the other women on the Facebook thread–because this is no easy subject, clothes.

So for me, this all started with a funny article in Jezebel called “Death to the Maxi Dress: A Manifesto” by Sarah Miller. I really identified with the article. I have had a love/hate relationship with maxis like the author talks about in the piece. In the store, maxis draw me like magnets. They look so carefree! So cute and bohemian and comfortable! But, in the end, they bring nothing but heartache. They just never work. It’s a height thing for me, I think. And they’re really hard to walk in. The whole carefree thing is false advertising—they’re really incredibly restrictive.

I think it’s pretty okay to hate maxis. I think you’re mostly safe, also, throwing shade at Uggs, stilettos, tube tops, and sequins. Oh, and hats. (Once, when I was at the beach with a friend, I was about to buy a cute, straw fedora and she said, “If you buy that I will not sit next to you at the pool.” She was kidding. Sort of. I think. But she did admit to harboring a serious hatred of fedoras. I, on the other hand, think they are adorable. Fedorable, in fact. We agree to disagree, as you do with besties.)

But capris are different. They are a summertime wardrobe staple. And therefore, a minefield.

Here’s the thing. I have a conspiracy theory about capris. I have this suspicion that they were created by the Male Fashion Patriarchy (that’s a thing, I’m told) in order to throw grown women a bone in the summer time. Like, you know, Hey, gals. Um, yeah, we understand it’s hot out, and long pants make you feel like you’re about to catch on fire, but we can’t allow you to wear shorts unless you’re under thirty. So I’m gonna need you to wear these pants that are a scant three inches shorter than regular pants. They’re not really cooler but they’re called capris, so that should make you feel like you’re on an island near Italy. And they’re better than a burkha, am I right? Har har har.

The idea of that makes me want to call all the sisters together so we can burn our capris in a trashcan.

Remember bra burning? I was not of bra wearing age at that point in history, but, as I understand it, the idea was a bunch of women decided males had invented the bra in order to restrict their freedom and keep them bound and oppressed. So in order to give the finger to THE MAN, they burned their bras.

I’m fairly certain a lot women back then balked at the practice. I mean, let’s face it, male fashion patriarchy aside, bras are incredibly useful. Really MOST effective at corralling the whole situation. The bra burning holdouts were probably all like, No offense, sisters, I stand for equal rights and all but I gotta have my Maidenforms. See ya!

This is the way a good 50% (*not a scientific survey) of my friends feel about their capris. As my friend explained, she doesn’t feel comfortable wearing shorts and capris really are a great compromise in the summer. It’s like there’s a Venn diagram of what is flattering and what is comfortable, and capris are the intersection of that.

In an ideal world we’d all stay in that glorious intersection. In theory, I don’t think we should dress for others. Not for our parents, or the religious leaders or the men in our lives (or the random man walking down the street). Certainly not for the inconsequential opinion of some blogger. The beautiful thing is, unlike a large portion of earth’s female population, we have the freedom to wear what we want.

But I find myself resisting that freedom. Sometimes I do dress for reasons other than comfort and joy. I dress for my body type, or what I think my body type is. I dress for what I think other people are going to think is cute. I dress for my husband (no red lipstick). I dress for my kids (no blazers; they make you look like a man, Mom.) I dress for my insecurities. I dress to stand out. I dress to hide.

There are just so many psychological layers to the whole thing.

For me, I just want to empower women who ACTUALLY WANT to wear shorts, to wear them. If they don’t wear them because of some cultural restriction or a shaming voice in their head telling them their legs don’t look good enough to expose them to the world, I want to say they shouldn’t have to suffer through the broiling summer just to make other people happy. To those people, I say BURN THE CAPRIS. BUY SHORTS. STICK IT TO THE MAN.

To the rest of you who feel fantastic and comfortable and beautiful in your capris, I say BURN THIS BLOG. WEAR CAPRIS. STICK IT TO THE MAN.

In conclusion, I found these delicious tidbits while doing intricate scientific research for this blog:

Christina Aguilera advises women to only wear heels with capris. Okay, yeah. Whatever, Xtina.

Cam Newton, below, advises you to wear velvet slippers with them:


These, I actually want because they’re cute! and ruched! and only $17.99!


Unsolicited Advice for Literary Characters

Hester Prynn of The Scarlet Letter: Keep losing the A. Every time the townsfolk or church board or whoever order you to make another A, lose that one too. When they confront you, laugh and laugh and say you’re such an airhead, you’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached. See to it that every scrap of red fabric in the whole village is misplaced or destroyed. Since you are already totally lost to sin and the devil anyway, accomplishing this should not be a problem. If confronted, say, “Oh, sorry, I must’ve misunderstood. I thought red was the devil’s color. And strangely, I seem to have misplaced that last A you gave me. Whoops.” Also don’t dress your kid in red. I get your point but that one’s gonna come back to bite you when she’s sixteen, I guarantee. That gimpy guy (Ethan Frome?) from Ethan Frome: Don’t go sledding with that girl, the housekeeper? Or nanny? Your cousin? Whoever. Anyway, don’t do it. Sledding in novels set in dismal New England always ends in death, death, death, broken bones, head injuries, and more death. Do not do it. Snowshoeing or cross country skiing are excellent and scenic alternatives. Anna of Anna Karenina: Tell Mr. Stick-Up-His-Britches to quit locking himself in his bedroom/office and doing Quickbooks or whatever and take you on a date night. Literally insist on date night and block the door of his bedroom/office or disable Quickbooks until he agrees. Maybe even have a bi-weekly date night where the two of you have to play Cards Against (Eastern European) Humanity or share your feelings at length. Insist, also, he regale you with epic love poems and stare at you with lusty, limpid eyes. Or go on a marriage retreat, either one. Nancy Drew of All the Nancy Drew Mysteries: You’re totally OG and on fleek, girl. You really are. But I got three words for you: permit to carry. Toting a weapon will diminish that ingénue thing you got going on and inspire a little more cooperation from your villains when you ask them questions about clocks and wardrobes and suspicious shadowy men driving powerboats, etc. And face it, George (am I remembering that correctly? really?) has a crush on you. So you need to either open your mind and explore that situation or let that bird fly free. It’s only fair. Move to your own house too and start charging for the cases you take on. You’re mooching so hard off your dad, Carson Drew, respected River Heights attorney, forcing him and his ladylove housekeeper Hannah Gruen to keep up their silly charade. That guy in Moby Dick: Maybe just, I don’t know, don’t get on the boat at all? If memory serves, it’s not going to be as fun as you expect. The Count in The Count of Monte Cristo: Let go and let God. Breathe. Practice self care. Count to ten. Simplify. Walk away. They have great TEDTalks for this kind of thing. Old Man in The Old Man in the Sea: Same as above, except, in your case, like, literally LET. GO. That fish is not your daddy. He cannot affirm your worth or tell you he loves you. Besides, they have Filet O’Fish sandwiches at Mickey D’s, dude. With tartar sauce. Very satisfying. Bert and Nan in All the Bobbsey Twins books: Insist your parents get a babysitter for Flossie and Freddie. They are six, do you even realize that? Six. And you guys are twelve. They can’t spell words or do their times tables or properly wipe their bums. Meanwhile, you are full-on into hardcore puberty. It’s just not a good match, guys. Trust me when I say this. They are holding you back from the really juicy, young-adult crime solving you could be doing. Anne in Anne of Green Gables Quit acting so arrogant and obnoxious and dramatic. Avail yourself of every opportunity to make out with Gilbert Blythe. In fact, just make out with him the very first time y’all meet. Don’t make speeches. Don’t recite poetry or pretend you are drowning. Just 100%, all the time, constantly make out with Gilbert Blythe. Jane of Jane Eyre: You’re the best ever. Don’t become a governess on the moors, which is boring, thankless, and causes depression. Believe me, it’s not a good job. Not only are you poor and plain and cold all the time, you ALSO have to sit in a shadowy corner and watch your more attractive employers frolic and carouse and make merry and either ignore or insult you slyly. Here’s an idea. Become a private detective instead. You would be great at that. You found a woman who’d been hidden in an attic for years, for pete’s sake. And helped put out a castle fire. Listen, you’re a rock star. Everywhere you go people fall in love with your stellar soul. It’s hard, okay, we get it, because your extremely plain, stoic poker face hides your deep and sensitive feelings, so no one knows how much you’re suffering. But in the end you always talk yourself out of settling for less and you power through the loneliness and soldier on LIKE A BOSS, which is so ultimately badass of you. You literally have more self-esteem in your pinky finger than anyone, ever on the planet. Maybe after being a private detective you can write a fabulous, NYT bestselling book or do a series of TEDTalks that will not just benefit one little girl but millions of teenage girls everywhere (not to mention a certain count). Also. Please never go sledding.

The Post Where I Drop a Bunch of Celebrity Names

In the early ‘90s, I lived in Manhattan and worked at CBS in the Daytime Programming department. My cubicle was just down the hall from the casting department, which made the work day really interesting. I used to love to stroll past the waiting room and ogle all the actors who were pacing around, running lines with the wall, while they waited their turn to audition.

Sometimes I even got to help out in the audition room – sit behind the camera and read the part of the other person in the scene. That was serious fun. Once I did a scene with Michael Learned for some pilot, I don’t remember which one. I was in awe. The woman was Olivia Walton! Sitting in front of me! Doing a scene with me! She was sweet and gracious and accomplished.

Another time, this really tall, dark-haired guy came into our offices. I could hear him down the hall, talking loud. We could all hear him. I decided to take a trip to the bathroom to see what the deal was. As I neared him, I could see him pacing around the waiting room, having a thundering conversation ON A GIANT CORDLESS PHONE THAT PRACTICALLY COVERED UP THE WHOLE LEFT SIDE OF HIS HEAD. The phone (if that’s what it was, but how in the name of Alexander Graham Bell could it BE????) was as big as a size 14 Florsheim, with a big, ole antennae sticking up on top.

The dude was shouting into the contraption. And I don’t know…possibly wanting everybody in that office to notice him. To murmur, “Good heavens! Do you see how that man communicates with another human being on that big, black rectangle WITH NO CORD ATTACHED TO IT? Egads! It is unfathomable. He must be a god. Or, at least, a very successful actor.” Or maybe not. It’s hard to ascribe motives. Even your own.

Anyway, that was Chris Noth—back in the early years of Law and Order. Before he was Carrie’s Mr. Big or Alicia’s Peter Florrick.

To be fair, there were barely such things as cell phones back then, so there was definitely no such thing as cell phone etiquette. On that basis alone, the loud talking was excusable. Except it did seem the teeny-tiniest bit like he was wanting all us office drones to know he was an ACTOR WITH EXCELLENT PROJECTION who owned a GIANT, NEWFANGLED STAR TREK COMMUNICATOR. But like I said, who really knows?

The point is, I think even Mr. Big has felt somewhat insecure at times in his path to success. Even he’s been compelled to swagger a bit. To pump up the old ego. We all get that way, don’t we? Scared and discouraged. Scared we’re small instead of BIG. Starving for a scrap of reassurance.

Being an artist, a writer, or an actor is a unique kind of hard. You do your thing…make your papier-mâché elephant sculptures, comic book illustrations, horror novellas or whatever…because you’re driven to. Because creating your thing is life-giving and joyful. But usually you want to share your art. Distribute it to the world at large. But the thing is, to share your work, you have to possess some amount of confidence that people actually want to see it…before, in fact, there’s any shred of proof that they do. So you embark on this strange journey (some would call it a delusional trip) where you pump up your nerve, jack up your confidence and step off the cliff. It’s hard. Terrifying, even.

Sometimes it ends well. Sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s okay though. If you really like what you’re doing, you can’t imagine NOT doing it, so you keep going. You keep walking on that air bridge like Wile E. Coyote because you believe that one day, maybe, somebody out there might really get a kick out of your art.

You hunker down. You get back to work. And maybe you buy the latest space-age gadget and talk into it loudly in front of people.


This summer I went to New York for several days. I had a great time with family and, as always, got to soak in the magic that permeates the Best City in the World. Here was part of the magic: in the space of about twelve hours, I met two strangers who—in different, yet eerily coincidental ways—encouraged me to keep going after my dreams.

The first was a woman on the subway. We struck up a conversation right away—not something I usually do in that setting, but, I was feeling carefree and kind of in love with the world. So there you go. Anyway, she told me she was an actress—recently relocated from LA—and shared about her struggle and determination to make it in the industry.

The previous year she’d appeared in a movie with Colin Farrell. I’d seen the film, liked it and remembered her performance. So then, of course, I had to ask all the nosy, fangirl questions about Colin because…whatever…he’s Colin Farrell. A bit of a legend in Hollywood. (And also, was rumored to have brought about the ruination of Britney Spears, which I have deep feelings about, but that’s a subject for another blog post.) Anyway, here’s what she told me:


I braced myself for the rest of the story. This woman was young and gorgeous, and I was almost 100% certain she was about to dish some major dirt about a sleazy celebrity.

But, no. She proceeded to tell me how professional and kind he’d been. Really great. Thoughtful and hardworking. Oh, and super-duper-sexy to boot.

She asked me about myself, so I told her that I was a writer and was working on a book. The words had barely left my mouth when she started telling me not to give up. “You have to believe,” she said fervently. “Don’t stop. You have to keep going. That’s what we do.” This was a person who knew what it felt like to keep going when it would be easier to quit.

That night I went to see a show. I had a single seat and ended up sitting next to a guy with another single. Before the show began, we introduced ourselves and chatted a bit. He was working in theater management up in Boston. He had a dream, though, of running a theater on Broadway and was circling around the idea of going for it. After a while, he said, “Are you an actress?” I said I had been at one time, a long time ago, but I was a writer now, working on a novel. He looked into my eyes and said, “I have a feeling you’ll make it. You need to keep going, no matter what.”

No kidding. Two strangers in one day.

After the show, he and I hung around the backstage door and got autographs from the cast. He took a picture of me with the star of the show (Jessie Mueller, because I promised I’d drop a lot of celebrity names) because I’m phenomenally bad at taking selfies. I told him to go for his dream too. And then when he landed his fabulous job managing a Broadway theater, to get me backstage. We hugged. He had no idea what he’d done for me.

And as for you guys, I have a feeling you’ll make it too – whatever that means or comes to mean to you. You need to keep going, no matter what. Because that’s what we do.

It’s the Decongestant, Y’all

Greetings everyone. I’d like to confess that I’ve just surfaced from my own personal Requiem for a Dream / Trainspotting experience which was caused by an innocent attempt to alleviate severe fall allergies. I took a daily cocktail of Claritin-D and Nasacort for two beautiful, yet nightmarish, weeks. I’d like to share what happened.

My eyes quit watering. My nose quit running. My throat quit scratching. And the crushing headache went away. Those were the pros.

The cons were:

1) My head felt ginormous, like it was this huge balloon that kind of dragged the rest of my body around all day. This was disconcerting to say the least.

2) I lost interest in all people and activities and went through my day like a zombie, doing the absolute least I could do to get by.

3) I discovered I had no need to say anything, ever to anyone. Silence was so much easier, there in my bubble-wrapped cocoon.

4) Captain Crunch sounded like a reasonable dinner for my kids. Every single night.

Also, I never ate anything. Never wanted to. And I had nightmares about the people I loved hating me. I woke up traumatized and spent the rest of the day telling myself it couldn’t be true. The fourteen days of allergy meds ended with me wandering around town in morose silence, musing on such things as: if ISIS and Ebola and American Horror Story: Freak Show actually exist, what am I even trying for anyway? I almost blogged during this dark time as well. (Potential topics considered: “Being a Parent Will Rip Your Heart Out”, “Dreams are Stupid and They Never Come True” and “Why?”)

So. You’re welcome.

The other night at the dinner table (where I had actually forced myself to make and serve some pathetic meal) I had an epiphany. “I didn’t feel this way when I took the regular Claritin,” I announced. “It’s the decongestant that’s killing me. It’s the D, y’all! The D is what’s killing me!” Needless to say, both my teenage sons ADORED THIS and dissolved into laughter and it took me at least ten minutes to understand what the heck was so funny. At which point, I told them both to shut up, because being a parent is hard and will rip your heart out.

Now happily, I’m back to my normal self, the proof of which being I got in a fight today with the manager of the pop-up Halloween store because she said she wouldn’t exchange a wrong sized costume that my son had bought the day before. Last week if she’d said this to me, I would have stared at her blankly – exhausted, depressed and medicine-headed – and probably said something like, “Gllluuuurrrrbbbbb…..”

Not today. Today, my friends, I was full of self-righteous indignation and eloquence and misplaced vim and vigor and gave her 21-year-old-self an earful of how I wasn’t going to be lectured when it clearly says on the receipt EXCHANGE FOR SIZE ONLY.

She was like, “Whatever. Go get the right size.” So then I stormed off and tripped over the haunted house display.

I’m back, y’all.

Empty Nest Syndrome

I’ve seen WHAT LIES BENEATH a dozen times, at least. You know it — the ghost story/thriller that stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford and, I mean, do I really have to say SPOILER ALERT (I mean, am I really expected to keep secrets about a movie that you haven’t bothered to see for 14 years, keeping in mind that it’s on almost-free TV all the time? I don’t think so because it really just shows a lack of concern on your part and a lack of effort and that’s not my circus) before I remind you that:

Michelle starts to see/sense the ghost of Harrison’s dead mistress and…

…after she stops thinking it’s her crazy (hey, there’s Éowyn from LOTR acting crazy) neighbor…

…she gets possessed with Amber Valetta’s gorgeous spirit…

…then Harrison gets huffy and whiny about how hard it was to kill Amber Valetta and tries to kill Michelle with super paralyze-drugs in the bathtub?

It’s a great movie, mainly because Michelle weighs about eighty pounds and has that weird vein on the side of her otherwise perfect forehead and looks like she’s about to go over the metaphorical edge in a huge blaze of glory. And Harrison, who’s usually the hero in every single movie, is such an A-level tool here (plus, homicidal, psychopathic maniac whose name is NORMAN, haha) and she gets to outwit him. And that just makes WHAT LIES BENEATH….well, a big, old bunch of fun.

I found myself watching the movie again today and have gained more of an appreciation for it, if that’s even possible. First of all, how awesomely Y2K it is to have the mop-topped best friend drop some kombucha tea and witchcraft books by Michelle’s house while proclaiming such wacky things as, “Alimony. Ain’t it great? I lost a husband and gained a car!” thereby setting feminism (and maybe marriage) back, like, a thousand, billion years.

Okay, but here’s my point. After Michelle starts seeing things, she goes to see a therapist and tells him, (get ready) that she just sent her only daughter off to college and probably JUST HAD AN EMPTY NEST EPISODE. In which she SAW A GHOST.

Let’s let that settle in for a minute.


It seems like a million of my friends have been posting their pictures of dropping off their college-age kids at school and/or whatever sorority they pledged making those (slightly unsettling) gang-sign things with their hands to show their Greek spirit. It’s kind of hitting home because I have a senior in high school this year and we’re not really sure where he’s going, but it’s looking like it might be away and that may entail some picture taking in the dorm/first apartment at some point. (No fraternity gang-signing for this one. He’s not that kid.) So I’m thinking about all this a lot lately.

Anyway, I hope to sweet goodness that after I take the third and final child to college, I don’t have a mental breakdown and start seeing ghosts. Because I hope that I will realize that the house is just exceptionally empty and clean, not HAUNTED. I’ll be sad, but jeez… surely there’s a bright side. So much to live for. A lot less laundry. A lot less cooking. A lot less dirt. I can once again, with confidence and no fear, safely venture back upstairs and not have a stroke when I peek in the bedrooms.

When my kids go, I want to be happy and excited for them. I don’t want to cry. For some reason, I don’t like that weepy, mopey sentimental feeling. I want to believe — I want all of us to believe — that our children, the little critters we’ve raised with such care and tenderness, will be making their bright way in the world. as compassionate, responsible, contributing members of society. And hopefully not wasting our $10,000 – $40,000 by sleeping in and partying and then catching mono.

Look, when my kids go, I’ve got things to do. I do not have time for hallucinations and breakdowns and expensive therapy sessions. I would like to travel, to hang out with my husband, to write books and to build a tiny, modern house that takes me approximately thirty minutes, top to bottom, to clean. I do not have time for an empty nest episode.

Well, as it turns out, Michelle doesn’t either. She has to solve a mystery, using only a huge desktop computer, rudimentary internet and a surprisingly frumpy red dress. Okay. I’m going to wrap this up and watch her (shoot?) (stab?) (poison? — it’s been awhile and I can’t remember) Harrison.

And to my empty-nester friends, congratulations. Job well done.


My Writing Process

Thank you, Becky Albertalli, who tagged me in this writing process blog tour. Becky’s a fellow Atlantan, a friend and writer of the debut YA novel SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, scheduled to release from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in April of 2015. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy as soon as humanly possible. You should follow her blog HERE (she’s hilarious) and find her on TWITTER as well. (Oh, and I love how she champions diversity in YA books—she’s talented AND a thoughtful, compassionate person.)

My Writing Process

What am I working on?

I’m drafting (which among writey people is another word for “writing the first draft with much angst and agony and also sometimes fun”) a psychological suspense about the nature of toxic love and how hard it can be to sever the connections we make when we’re young and irrational and full of hormones, even though these relationships can lead to DISASTER. I know that sentence was incredibly long as well as completely vague, but I’m a bit superstitious about flat-out spilling the beans on new stories. I promise the sentences in my book are much shorter.

I should clarify—I’ve actually finished the VERY ROUGH first draft, printed it out, put it in a binder, and now I’m circling it, eyeing it cagily and contemplating the exact moment I should pounce on it with my red pen.

That was another long sentence.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think my book offers the usual suspense goodies: a creepy, southern gothic setting, a crime and a mystery about that crime. There’s also some violence—perhaps a murder (or three)—and a whole slew of seriously suspicious characters. The delicious banquet of crazy you get with psychological suspense. I’ve got plenty o’ crazy.

This story has a really heartfelt center, though, which is the relationship between the main character and his fourteen-year-old step-daughter-to-be. It’s shot through with misunderstandings and false starts, but it’s really tender (in a ROUGH DRAFT kinda way). For me, their bond—and how they come to trust each other—is the core of the story.

Why do I write what I do?

I love suspense/thrillers, because I love to be scared, but just pretend-scared, never real-life scared. I’ve also been strangely obsessed with true crime books for years (Ann Rule is my all-time favorite) and, of course, I’ve watched every episode of every incarnation of the Law and Order series.

I actually like other stuff too—I’m an equal opportunity, across-all-genres reader—and recently I’ve been thinking about an idea that’s more of a historical drama set in the 1960s. We’ll see…

How does your writing process work?

I get an idea. I think and think and think about this idea and see if I can come up with a fascinating (to me) setting and complex characters that kind of meld in a harmonious way with the idea. I spend a lot of time thinking, before I ever open my computer. A lot. That’s why I wander around looking spaced out 90% of the time and always forget which day is the mother’s coffee at my kid’s school.

If I hit on a scenario that inspires me, I’ll typically draft out a rough outline. I absolutely have to have the MIDPOINT and ENDING of a story before I’ll start writing—for some reason that’s huge with me—but the rest of the plot points are generally pretty fluid, and, truth be told, I usually end up losing my outline in the back of my car or at Starbucks at some point in the process.

I force myself to write daily (while the kids are in school, not weekends), with a word goal of 1,500 to 2,000 words a day. That goal isn’t always reached, but putting a number out there really motivates me to plow ahead and not get sidetracked from my initial excitement. I’m a big believer in finishing what I start. Even if it’s crap.

Once I finish a draft, I let it sit a couple of weeks, then do a million revisions (because it usually is dangerously close to being crap), then give it to a few beta readers. Then, off their comments, I’ll do another round of edits. After that, I send it to my agent and do more edits based on her comments. (She’s a fantastic editor, by the way—such a bonus.)

Next on the tour, two talented writers, both of whom happen to be represented by previously mentioned, wonderful agent, Amy Cloughley of Kimberley Cameron and Associates. Check out their posts on their writing process next Monday, May 19.


CHRIS NEGRON is an Atlanta-based writer of adult upmarket novels who has recently begun to dabble in the middle grade genre. THE OCEAN BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND, an upmarket novel about he way a project to recover and return valuables lost in the tragic 2011 Japanese tsunami transforms the lives of three very different people, is currently on submission with editors.




ALLEN ESKENS grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri, and migrated north to go to college, graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in journalism. He went on to law school and eventually settled in Mankato, Minnesota where he started a law practice and raised his family. As the years passed, he continued to study creative writing, honing his skills in the M.F.A. program at Minnesota State University as well as the Loft Literary Center and the Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival. He has his debut novel, THE LIFE WE BURY launching on October 14 of this year and is busy revising a follow-up novel. He continues to live quietly in the country near Mankato where he’s a husband to Joely, father to Mikayla and pet owner to many. He is represented by Amy Cloughley of the Kimberley Cameron Agency.


Writing My Life – My Messy Beautiful


I grew up in a super-conservative religious tradition which taught me that GOD WAS IN CONTROL. The good the bad and the ugly—it was hammered into us lil folk that He was orchestrating it all.

You didn’t make the cheerleading squad? The Almighty’s handiwork—all part of his inscrutable master plan. Your boyfriend broke up with you?  Yeah, God did that too. You feel lonely and dorky and directionless? God, God, God.

When I became an adult and moved out into the bigger world, I began hearing a new message. Everybody, both the churchified and the not-so-much, were saying the complete opposite of what I’d been taught.


According to them, everything in my world was 100% up to me—keeping my body and soul in tip-top, cancer-free, non-GMO shape; making sure my marriage was a sparkly inspiration to all and my kids blinded you with their shining potential. It was on me to make the smart choices, or my life would undoubtedly crumble into an Ash Heap of Meaninglessness.

I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say, I did what they told me to do as hard and as long as I possibly could. And as you might guess, no matter how hard I worked, things ended up in the shitcan.

Here was my dilemma. If the “good old way” was right, if God was in control, then He was the trickster who led me into this morass. Which would mean I was going to be enormously pissed off at Him and hurt, so pissed and hurt that I should probably keep my distance. On the other hand, if I was the one flying the plane and had crashed that sucker, well, for the love, somebody needed to take my wings. Either way, I was still occupying aforementioned shitcan, and couldn’t for the life of me figure my way out.

Then one day I heard a guy say something. It went like this:

“Meet God, the writer of your life.”

In a flash, I felt like Sandra Bullock in Gravity when she came untethered from the space ship and was free-floating through space. Post the crazy spinning part, that part where she could see EVERYTHING—the world in all its wispy-cloudy, blue-green glory. In that moment I felt like somebody had given me, not just an explanation, but the (dunh-dunh-dunh) ANSWER.

See the thing is, I’m a writer. I know what it is to dream up a story. To draft out a plot and develop a character. To live for my story and to love it.

When I sit down to write, I start with a plan—a pretty detailed outline and a handful of characters. But then, when my fingers hit the keyboard, something strange and beautiful—dare I say, even magical—begins to happen. The characters begin to lift up and off the page and take on a life of their own. They cease to be the paper dolls I’ve dreamed up in my head, and, in some inexplicable way, they transform into themselves.

I intend one character to be a painter. He becomes a teacher. I plan for another to be shy. But she won’t stop being hilarious and irreverent and shooting off at the mouth. I lock a character in a tower, but she breaks out, runs away and falls in love. I decide someone’s going to be a villain. He becomes a hero.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King puts it like this: “I want to put a group of characters…in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety…but to watch what happens and then write it down.”

Ah. Kind of spectacular.

I harbor a soft spot for the stories I’ve written. I get such a buzz from my characters quirks and foibles, the way they face the situations into which I dump them. I’ve been known to lie in bed at night actually thinking about their attitudes and personalities like they are actual, real people and wondering what they’re going to do when I open my computer the next day.

And here’s something else. I throw obstacles in their path, not to destroy them, but because conflict is what makes a story sing. And to see how they will triumph in the end. Through the entire journey, I root for them with all my heart. I want them to win.

Simply put, l love them.

So which of us is doing the actual writing—me or the characters? I think the simple answer is…both of us. And in the same way my stories take shape, I believe that from one moment to another, throughout the long days and short years, we are actively partnering with the divine in the symbiotic, mystical process of creation.

My life story has not been a fairy tale, and probably will never be, and to that I say…so what? The truth is, I’m kinda warming up to this southern gothic suspense novel with a magical twist that I got going here.

I’ll tell you one thing about the main character–she’s a mess, she’s beautiful and she’s a Warrior.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!