Identity is a strange concept. When someone asks you to identify yourself, what are they talking about? Age, name, race, location?
Marriage status, number of children, rent or own your home?
Employment, education? What the hell do they want? Blood type? Hair color? Whether you put the toilet paper hanging down the front or the back?

I have been thinking about this quite a bit as I try, desperately, to round out the characters in my latest endeavor–a supernatural suspense novel I’m still in the beginning of drafting. What gives a character his or her identity? What’s important?

When I first meet someone in my own life, all I really want to know is what makes them laugh. This little tidbit of information will tell me more about a person than anything else. We don’t have to have the exact same type of sense of humor to get along, but if there is no sense of humor at all, we have a problem.

One of my dearest friends is someone I met at my first job after graduating college. I already had a kid, was married, and my own identity had been thrown in a frying pan and scrambled together with the identities of other women I knew who were new moms and wives. In short, I had no idea who I was or who I might become. I just knew having women in the same situation with whom I could speak on a regular basis was important. So I was utterly disappointed when my office mate, a woman a few years older than me with a child and husband of her own, left for a better job, leaving a vacancy in our department, my office, and my life. I hoped my boss would hire someone else like me. Someone I could relate to. My closest friends from high school and college had scattered. My mom had just died. I longed for that closeness with someone–to be able to say whatever popped into my head without insecurity.

A few weeks later my boss came by my office, new hire in tow, rapping on my door. I turned and smiled, welcomed our new recruit. She was around my age, she had freckles like me. She also was impeccably dressed, wearing designer shoes and a designer purse. She was put-together in a way I had never been, and never envisioned myself being. I was intimidated. She was so cute and spunky and I was a train wreck. I immediately judged–which I try not to do–that she was too good to want a friend like me. I was a disaster.

Over the next week I found out that my new colleague was married to her high school sweetheart (just like me)! And that they had been prom king and queen (so very NOT like me. My husband and I had been band geeks). She was two years older than I was, no kids. Everything she said sounded so much more sophisticated than anything I said. Man, this chick had her shit together. If we had gone to the same high school, there was no way in hell we would have been friends. I nodded politely as she spoke about things which weren’t on my radar, and resigned myself to  never making new friends as an adult. Maybe it was just too hard to make meaningful connections with new people once real life started.

Then, it happened. Ms. Perfectly-Put-Together came into my office in her adorable sundress, her Kate Spade purse slung over her shoulder, shut my door behind her and said, “Can I hang out in here a while? I had beans for dinner last night and now my whole office stinks.” She then proceeded to tell me a litany of fart jokes, offered me a cigarette, and told me that she and her husband like to make up songs about bathroom habits and what they do all day. We’ve been best pals ever since.

Of course now, we both have two kids and our conversations revolve around our children’s bathroom and fart habits more than our own, and we have to carefully plan time together weeks in advance, but even after job changes and moves, we still bond over our shared sense of humor.

So, maybe I should start there with these new characters. Maybe we should get a glimpse at what makes them laugh.


Last night I actually got off my lazy ass and went to the cardio room at the gym while my daughter was at her dance class. As is usually the case, I was exposed to weird new television shows I’ve never heard of.

I’m still not sure what this show was actually called, but it involved a group of people living somewhere that looked like my worst nightmare–snow and ice covered land for as far as the eye could see–and they were shooting geese or some kind of large fowl. I had my Rihanna blasting in my ear as I tortured myself on the elliptical, and between the music and the guy to my right sounding as if he was going to keel over and die at any moment, I was too distracted to hear or read much of what was going on.

But, I don’t think that mattered. It still looked like the most boring show I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Granted, I’m no hunter. The biggest thing I’ve ever shot in my life was a potato, and I couldn’t tell you the caliber of gun I used or anything else about it except that it was pretty fun to shoot. Still, it got me wondering about what we as a society find so damn fascinating about these reality shows detailing the day-to-day life of ordinary people.

Then I remembered something from an article I had read a year or so ago. I’m not sure where I read it, but it was a piece written by a writing professor from some college. He was writing about the importance of slowing down in your writing, the ways in which you can make ordinary occurrences seem wondrous. He described how, at the beginning of the year, he would have his students write an exciting scene. He’d give them something really crazy to start with, tell them to write the most exhilarating short story they could from this high-octane writing prompt. Next, he would have them write about something mundane, a boring scene everyone had experienced before, something no one would ever think was worthy of a story prompt.

His conclusion? The “boring” stories were always more fascinating than the “exciting” ones. The students really had to dissect the boring scenes, fill them with detail, slow the shutter speed and pay attention to every single aspect of the setting, characters, and voice to make it work.  When they wrote the adrenaline-pumping scenes, they depended too heavily on the situation and forgot about the setting, characters, and voice, leaving the scene empty and one dimensional.

As I went up and down on that damn butt-punishing elliptical machine, I realized it was the same with all these reality shows. There’s just something about becoming intimately acquainted with geese-hunters and swamp people that excites us. Same for fat dance moms or no-talent, semi-famous pretty people. People who hoard cats and newspaper clippings. These people aren’t overly fantastic or unique. They’re just under the microscope, and we love anything we can see at such a close, personal level.

Which is great news for me, since I’m finishing a novel about the oldest, most abused themes used in literature since… well, since the beginning of literature.

I just need to slow it down, find a new angle, and bring you all in, mesmerizing you with my detail and fervor until you’re the metaphorical equivalent of a 32 year old mother of two killing herself on an elliptical machine while staring up at a large flat-screen TV, wondering why the hell she is so emotionally invested in the gutting and cooking of a Canadian Goose.

paradigm.shift. (last part)

People tell you your entire life, since the beginning of your understanding of language, that life isn’t fair. You think this means you’ll be passed over for a promotion you really deserve, or that your nemesis will become president and sign a decree saying everyone with red hair has to wear a stupid yellow and pink polka-dotted hat whenever it’s colder than 45 degrees.

You’re told that if you do everything “the right way” your life will be easier, the blows absorbed more readily. And you believe it all, and when it becomes apparent that these tales of doing things “right” are as made up as the fairy tales you used to love, it takes a while to put yourself back together.

But, you do.

You put yourself back together, you find people who can help you. You put blinders on, trying in vain to refrain from comparing your life to others, refraining from assigning points of worthiness upon your friends.

You have panic attacks, you get fat. You get skinny again. You start drinking, you stop drinking. You start again. You shrewdly weed people from your life–people who have taken more than they have ever given. You have realized life may be too short to put up with people who haven’t discovered this, yet.

You reflect, you mourn. You start over.

You go shopping with your cousin. You talk about how there used to be three of you, and now there’s two. You reminisce about the time one of you laughed so hard about something no one can remember that she fell down in the middle of JC Penney. You talk about how the real unfairness of life isn’t that bad shit happens, but the fact that good stuff does. The two of you wish everyone admitted their weaknesses, took off their masks. Let everyone see them for what they really were instead of what they wished they were.

You let go of the dreams you had–the dreams of being normal, the dreams of living like everyone else. You let go of fantasies, you embrace reality. You start blogs (here is Amber’s brand-spanking-new one:

You post honest, raw, sometimes hurtful words, showing everyone how much being human sucks sometimes. You learn to take the blinders off, and let people see you how you are, without apology. And you’re nothing like you thought you’d be, but that’s ok.

It’s just a little paradigm shift.



writing a scene

Scenes. There are so many Goddamn scenes.

I feel like I have used this list over and over again, making sure every scene is necessary. Some scenes have been rewritten 89 times. I realize this list says I need to do it 111 more times, but I just don’t know if I have the strength.

I have written scribble versions, outlines, full scenes. I have written the same scene from multiple viewpoints. I have written the same scene with three different beginnings, three different endings. I have shortened, I have lengthened. I have surprised, I have switched settings.

Sometimes, after all this, I have completely trashed the scene and omitted it from the entire book. In a few instances, I sliced a twenty page chapter to two paragraphs and shoved it into a tiny flashback later on.

Guess what? I’m still nowhere near finished.

This writing business is the best and worst project I have ever undertaken. I totally understand why so many writers drink themselves to death or stick their heads in hot ovens. Oh, well. Enough complaining from me. I still have dozens of scenes to rewrite.

paradigm.shift. (part two).

Amber walks faster than most people jog. I tried to explain this to her one day as we walked around town. She had just been through a divorce, and she had lost her job. She was rightfully devastated and had moved back to our hometown. Even though it was for terrible reasons that she was so close again, selfishly I was happy to have her back. We hadn’t spent so much time together since high school.

However, I was close to useless in the comforting department. I had no advice to give her, no real world experience to pull from. The only thing I could think to say was that maybe going for a nice, invigorating run would help her shake out some anger and make her feel better. She laughed because she hates running. Also probably because I sounded like an idiot, but I didn’t know how to help. I just knew running sometimes made me feel better.

She of course, refused–Amber does not enjoy sweating–so, we went walking instead. Just to keep up with her I had to jog along beside her. How did she walk so damn fast and not want to break into a run? It physically hurt me to walk at the pace she kept. But, she plugged along, power-walking as I jogged next to her, wondering how we could be so different, yet so alike.

As I suspected would happen, Amber was back on her feet again before I knew it. She moved away from me (again). Not far–thirty minutes–but, I threw maybe a tiny little fit…(again). And soon she was in love and getting married, and we were back on track to becoming a sitcom-worthy set of twenty-somethings. We had both cleared some heavy obstacles, we had both succeeded and conquered. We had gotten through a combination of childbirths (mine), losses, a divorce, parents with health issues, lay-offs, more panic attacks than two people should really ever be allowed to have, and blending new families. And we weren’t in the nuthouse or jail, yet. Things were going to be ok.

I really do wish I could stop right there and let you all believe that’s exactly how it happened. A few bumps in the road, then clear skies. But, instead of spending our evenings recapping the names our husbands have bestowed upon our boobs over cocktails, Amber and I spend most of our time as of late catching up on our lives in the confines of a hospital room. A month ago, we were discussing our week while we tugged her twin boys in little red wagons around the second floor of a children’s hospital while I felt like shit for not being able to do this enough, and laughed about how fast she still walks.

Two years ago my cousin gave birth to two perfect, tiny, 34 gestational weeks old identical twin boys. A week later, they were being transported to a special unit in a local children’s hospital with ammonia levels in their bloodstream registering off the charts. It was discovered that they have a very rare disorder called Propionic Acidemia. (For more information, go here: They endured more medical procedures than I can remember (though Amber could give you a detailed description), while the rest of us did nothing but pray. Sometimes, that’s all you can do. I had come down with the first episode of strep throat I’ve ever had in my entire life, and I couldn’t go to the hospital as the boys lay in tiny chambers, hooked up to machines cleansing their blood of the toxic ammonia poisoning them. I couldn’t be in a hallway telling her it would be Ok. I could just go to my church, where a group called The Prayer Partners were meeting, and let them pray and listen to me cry, while I thought, This is nice, but it isn’t going to work. I had gathered what little information I could from my aunt and Amber. I had researched what I could going off what I knew. I had learned new words, new disorders. I was led to a few sites talking about metabolic disorders which could cause high ammonia levels in infants. None of it sounded good. None of it sounded curable by prayer. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for praying. I do it often. And I have heard testimonies and sermons where everyone proclaims the power of prayer saved them, or resulted in some kind of miracle. I have listened to countless people declare that a desired outcome was possible through believing hard enough, or praying enough, or just doing all the right things enough, which really just means if your prayers weren’t answered, you must have been doing something wrong. (See previous blog post on my miracle ramblings here: I realize people don’t say those things to be insensitive, but it is condescending and obnoxious to those of us who have been to the brink of desperation, out of our minds with prayerfulness and faith, only to be left wanting.

So, that day in March 2012, as I bawled helplessly for my family as they waited to see if the baby boys were going to make it, all I thought was… This isn’t fair. This isn’t fair. This isn’t fair. Over and over again. I was pissed as hell. Hadn’t our family been through enough? Hadn’t Amber been through enough? Why were some people so fucking lucky, while we kept stepping in land mine after land mine? Somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware that bad things weren’t just happening to Amber and her family. I had a vague sense of others’ suffering, but I was too angry to let those facts have time in the spotlight. I had no patience for rational thought. And the only miracle I could connect with the day, was how lucky it was that I was the one with strep throat despite never having it before, while Amber was healthy enough to be with her newborn babies, when ironically, she is the one who gets strep every single year (sometimes twice) without fail.

But, that miracle wasn’t enough. I wanted a real one. Weren’t we due for a real one?