Tell the World I’ve Come Home

These days, I’m finding it pretty easy to be proud of where I live. I’ve made the Pacific Northwest my home for more than 13 years, and I don’t think I’ll ever regret it. Born and bred in Wisconsin, I took to the PNW lifestyle like a fish to water when I first moved to Tacoma to attend the University of Puget Sound in 1999. Though I often write about Wisconsin, and visit my family who still lives there, I know that this is my home now, and I’m damn proud to say so.

The diverse culture, incredible restaurants, breathtaking landscape, and yes—even the weather of this part of the country offers me everything I need to continue living the rich, beautiful life to which I’ve grown accustomed. And this past week, having recently filled out my ballot and voted, I have to say how monumentally proud I am to live in a state where I was not only able to vote for an African American president who believes that “You can’t deny women their basic rights and pretend it’s about your ‘religious freedom,” but was also able to vote to give same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities to which they are entitled, AND legalize the use of marijuana to make it safe and available to all who need it. I love living in a state that is progressive enough to start sending a message to the rest of the country about learning to have a little something called compassion for others. Hallelu!

 

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A Midwestern Homecoming

Part of the benefit to living 2,000 miles away from where I grew up is that I get to come home, in that way that one can only do after spending considerable time away from the place of one’s birth. Hemingway once advised “Never to write about a place until you’re away from it,” and in my own experience, I’ve found those words of wisdom to hold steady and true. Because, sure enough, now that I’ve lived away from Wisconsin for more than 13 years, all I seem to want to do is write about home. In my fiction and nonfiction, poetry and short story forms, I find great satisfaction in exploring that landscape of my youth, the place that holds the most potent elements of my sense of heritage.

I’m heading to Milwaukee tomorrow to celebrate the release and success of my memoir, A Real Emotional Girl, at Boswell Book Company on Downer Avenue, this coming Friday the 12th at 7 pm (Click here for directions and details). The incredible people at Boswell Books, in addition to hosting the event, will donate $1 for each book sold to the Richard Chernov Children’s Fund, which raises money to send children with cancer and other terminal illnesses to summer camp.

This homecoming is truly special to me; knowing that I’ll have so many friends and family members at my side to bring Girl home is a wonderful kind of validation. And if you don’t already have plans to attend, I hope you’ll join us there—all are welcome!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Midwestern roots in recent weeks, for several reasons. First and foremost of course is my upcoming book signing, but I have also written a Wisconsin-based plot device into my current project, a post-apocalyptic novel titled “This Winter.” Having the chance to showcase the beauties of my homeland through this lyrical work of fiction has allowed me to enjoy it for myself in new ways—much of the research I’ve done thus far has scarcely felt like work at all; rather, I’ve quite enjoyed reading up on the immigrants and industries that laid the foundation of my fair home state.

Aside from my writing, though, I’ve committed to participating in another longstanding Wisconsin tradition: The American Birkebeiner Events. I last skied the 23k Kortelopet cross country ski race 10 years ago in the winter of 2002, when my father had been gone a year. Looking to honor his memory and give myself something positive to focus on, I trained hard for the race and was happy for the distraction from my grief and studies. Held near Hayward, Wisconsin, the Kortie serves as a companion event to the marathon-length, 54-kilometer Birkebeiner race, which honors Norwegian heritage in being patterned after Birkebeiner Rennet, which has been held in Norway since 1932. Founded in 1973, the American Birkebeiner and the Kortelopet re-create a historic Norwegian event not widely known by present-day folks. In 1206, two warrior soldiers, called “Birkebeiners” because of the birch-bark leggings they wore, skied infant Prince Haakon to safety during the Norwegian civil war. Prince Haakon subsequently became King of Norway, and the Birkebeiner soldiers became a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity.

Over the years many thousands of people, both elite and “Citizen Skiers,” have enjoyed the thrill of personal triumph crossing the finish line of the Birkie and earning their prestigious award medallions. Though my older brother, Dylan, has skied the Birkie nine times, it’s a bit of a lofty goal for a busy gal like myself. Truth be told, the lesser distance of nearly 16 miles will still be plenty challenging for me. But it’s a great fitness goal and is sure to be an incredibly fun weekend for the whole family. Best of all, it makes me feel like I’m doing not only myself and my father proud, but also honoring my beloved Wisconsin traditions.

No matter what distance or time will separate me from my Midwestern upbringing and the landscape of my heritage, Wisconsin will always be home, and I will always wear that badge proudly. Go Packers!

Tbone on the Radio

Set your radios (and by radios, I mean urls) to awesome, because everyone’s favorite author is doing the coolest radio show THIS Friday at 3 pm! Join me and host Bill Friday as we discuss A Real Emotional Girl, loss, and the insane profession of writing that currently dominates both our lives. The talk will be live, and lively, and you can call in with questions or comments. How cool is that?!

Expats Radio showcases the work of many a fine author, and I am honored to be included in that exclusive group. My guy, Bill Friday, and I are sure to have a blast and hope you all out there can eavesdrop on our conversation. You don’t want to miss this one–it’s live, which means I’ll be trying my best to stifle penis jokes and f-bombs the whole way through. It that doesn’t make for a fun listen, I don’t know what would.

 

LISTEN… CHAT… and CALL THE SHOW during the live broadcast at (646) 200-4691. We start at 3 p.m. Pacific time, this Friday the 5th of October. For more information on the program and to tune in to the show, visit the Expats radio site here.

League on a Wire

I typically reserve this blog for my writing-related and -inspired musings, but something else is on my mind this foggy Seattle morning. Those who know me well understand how much I love football, and how loyally I follow my beloved Green Bay Packers. In those rare, rare instances when I manage to have a life outside of my writing career, I love nothing more than to gear up in my green and gold, and watch my boys lead the league not only in scores and stats, but—more importantly—in positive role modeling, exemplary sportsmanship, and off-field player conduct.

This still-young 2012-2013 NFL season has been marred by faulty officiating–a result of the league’s ongoing dispute with its referees over pensions and pay, and the subsequent decision to bring in replacement referees from Division Two college football until the strike is resolved. We football fans have watched this season with winces and grimaces as the replacement refs have made a myriad of bad calls, and the talk amongst us has been largely dominated by worries about the inevitable moment when this egregious officiating would cost a team a game, or worse, result in a terrible injury.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend the Seattle-Green Bay game in person here in Seattle, fully armored in my green and gold. The mood at the stadium was electric, and loud as hell. It was a beautiful night and though a few intoxicated asshats heckled me on my way to the game, I was pleased, and not at all surprised, to see that the vast majority of fans on both sides were laughing and mingling together, all of us excited to watch what was sure to be a great game of football. One mean little drunk girl yelled “Fuck the Packers” at me, and I calmly responded with “Such ugly words from such a pretty girl. We don’t use that kind of language in Green Bay.”

Sparking my intense Packer pride, I was delighted to see nearly as many Green Bay fans as Seattle ones filling the stadium and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, that congenial vibe quickly deteriorated as we watched one after another shockingly bad call on the field. I’m not alone in saying that I’ve never seen a game filled with so many incorrect rulings—on both sides. The Packers got away with a few, as did the Seahawks. One need only watch a 30-second highlight reel of last night’s game to see the many bad calls that plagued all four qaurters.

It seemed that a Packer win was in the bag despite a valiant defensive effort from the Seahawks, with a score of 12-7 and seven seconds left in the fourth quarter. Most of the fans had already exited the stadium to make a cleaner break for their cars and cabs. As I made my way down the stands, I stood to watch the final play of the game near the sidelines, flanked on each side by two police officers as captivated by Seattle QB Wilson’s hail mary pass as I was. I watched Packer M.D. Jennings catch that ball, and could not absorb the disbelief when the replacement refs–not unanimously, I might add–ruled the play as resulting in a Seattle touchdown.

Here’s the official rule for plays such as what we saw last night with seven seconds left in the game: “If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.” With those guidelines in mind, go watch a replay of the catch on youtube (like this clip here; pay close attention to the two refs who can’t come to a consensus, with one ruling a touchdown and the other clearly ruling an touchback), and watch Jennings make first contact with the ball, and maintain control all the way to the ground. The visual footage is clear and plain, and indisputable. Those out there who argue that the call was sound are blatantly accepting a falsehood; if it were otherwise, ESPN would be talking about something else this morning, and headlines across the country would not be devoted to this widely controversial game ending.

Some Seahawk fans—likely the drunkest ones—hooted and hollered like maniacs, with one angry dude actually getting up in my face aggressively enough that the sheriff at my side had to get between us and escort him away by the arm. I’m feisty, but I swear–all I did to incite the drunkey’s rage was come dressed in my green and gold. But the majority of fans on both sides knew the truth of what we’d just seen, because it was undeniable, and as groups of us walked out of the stadium and into the Seattle streets, we all discussed the obvious mistake that had just been made. What we’ve all feared finally came to pass, and the replacement referees cost my team the game. It goes without saying that losing one early-season game is by far preferable to any player losing his season, career, or even his life to a serious injury. My hope is that the controversy surrounding last night’s ending will draw a spotlight on this frustrating and dangerous situation in a way that sufficiently protects teams and players. Football is a rough sport; we rely on the NFL higher-ups and officials to keep the players safe and keep the culture of the league respectful and respectable.

After an entirely sleepless night (those who know me also know that insomnia is nothing new for me, but insomnia due to a single football game is indeed a new development), sunrise brought a flood of text messages and phone calls from family and friends who wanted to talk about the controversy and hear what it was like to be there, so close to the action in person. Some have said that this disgraceful departure from whatever integrity the NFL had left is causing them to boycott the season and stop watching the remaining games. For my part, I plan to keep watching the rest of the season, but perhaps only in the way we watch a circus performer walk the high-wire without a net—because there’s a part of us that is simply waiting to see him fall.

A Cup Overfloweth

I spent the first half of today doing my regular Saturday routine: I woke around 8, made a quick smoothie for the road, and hopped into the car. Listening to NPR’s Car Talk, I drove to take Mona swimming at our favorite park. It was early and overcast enough that the dog park was still nearly empty. It was peaceful, and quiet, and the chilly waters of Lake Washington lapped at the pebbled shore—the only other sound Mona’s splashing into the shallows. Afterward, I cleaned my house, did the laundry, watered the plants.

But the way I plan to spend the second half of my Saturday is about as far from the regular routine as possible: I’m heading downtown, all gussied up in a new dress, to visit my books at their new home on the shelves of the local bookstore. I don’t know if this is something other writers do, but I’ve been looking forward to this moment for weeks, months, and years. Yes, I plan to ask someone to take my picture with the books, and yes I also plan to sneak a few copies onto the “New and Noteworthy” table. It might not sound too daring, but these are the Saturday evening plans of the happiest little writer on the planet.

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Writer’s Digest, Let Us Introduce You to A Real Emotional Girl

My dear friend and super-agent extraordinaire, Gordon Warnock, will be hosting a webinar for Writer’s Digest, showcasing A Real Emotional Girl as one of his success stories! Writer-friends, this is a must-attend for everoyne looking to break into the publishing biz. For those of us trying to get our feet in the door, we know that writing a great book is one thing, but selling that book is a whole other bag of tricks!
 
Learn from Gordon’s widsom and my journey to getting publsihed–it’ll save you tons of heartache and many hours of hard work!
 
Click here to register for the seminar.

 

The Slow Burn

 

 

Throughout the long process of getting A Real Emotional Girl published, there have been many “This is it” moments, where the reality of my dream coming true began to sink in a little deeper. But always there was yet to be the moment where I held the finished product in my hands…until last week, when that day finally arrived and I held that finished book, whole and complete, in my hands for the very first time.

As the day approached, I figured that I’d dissolve into fits of tears and laughter, or collapse to the floor with joy, or in some other way experience with great dramatic flair the ultimate momentum of seeing my life’s goal accomplished. And though I did ravenously rip open that first box and greedily grab at its contents, and though I did cry some bittersweet tears while sitting on the floor and holding the book, that penultimate realization that my day of true happiness had arrived was a little slower in the making than I would have guess.

Over the next few days, I kept revisiting my book, picking it up in my hands, turning it over, putting it back down and walking away to go about my business. Sometimes I’d hold it in one hand with a different book in the other, weighing them to see which was heavier or thicker. Sometimes I’d put my book up on a shelf next to the likes of Hemingway, Didion, and Churchill, to see how it looked in such heady company. Gradually, it did start to feel a bit more real to me, but the whole process has been much more of a slow burn than the massive, abrupt explosion of emotional fireworks like I’d expected.

It wasn’t until I’d thoroughly marked up my reading copy and practiced from it—carefully making esoteric notes to myself about pitch and diction—that this collection of words and paper finally begin to feel like my own intellectual and creative offspring. And boy howdy, is it ever an incredible feeling. The long road has led me here, to this day, when I can hold my published book in my hands and release it out into the world, to do whatever good it can possibly do. If you’d like to experience a little piece of that goodness, order up your copy today—straight from my bookshelf to yours.

 

To Make the Story Important

I’m ankle-deep into the most inspiring, amped-up writing project I’ve ever attempted, and I feel positively infected by it. This new novel is all I think about, all I talk about. Though the hero of my story is nothing like me, I feel incredibly in tune with his character. I don’t want to give anything away just yet, so I’m going to play this one close to the vest and not reveal too many details, but what you need to know is this: the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic volcanic winter, and the protagonist is a man. What he must go through to survive takes unmatched courage, skill, and drive. And of course, everything he needs to know how to do in order to survive, I first need to learn so that I can write it. This means that I’ve been researching my little tushy off, reading field guides and watching hour upon hour of how-to videos about hunting and preserving meat and staying alive in arctic temperatures. Let me put it this way: when I’m finished writing this book, you’re gonna wanna hang out with me when the end of the world comes. This book is going to require some seriously legit writer chops to pull off, but I’m more than up for the challenge.

The plotlines have been outlined, the main characters have been named, and I’m steadily working through all the organizational and preparatory matters I go through when working on a new manuscript. But there’s something else I traditionally do at this stage in the game, and that is to revisit all my favorite stories and document what makes me love them so much, so that I might use those key points as inspiration for my own story. One thing I’ve noticed about many of my favorites, is the common thread of tragedy and loss. Legends of the Fall, Never Let Me Go, The Cider House Rules, The Road, Steel Magnolias, Proof, The Color Purple—all these stories have several things in common: First, they’re all either books or plays that were later made into motion pictures, and second, each story finds its main characters at one point or another badly beaten up by the world, bruised and battered by life. It’s painful to watch, painful to experience by proxy, but wonderfully interesting. Because here’s the thing, characters who confront no obstacle and subsequently achieve no growth are boring. Ordinary love, ordinary troubles and ordinary characters don’t create lasting, haunting stories. In order to create a compelling, evocative story that can stand the test of trends and time, a writer must choose to put her characters through a great many terrible things. Just as we must sometimes cut away pieces of writing that might be fantastic but ultimately ill-serving to the story (what we in the writing profession refer to as “killing your darlings”), so too do we often have to create beautiful, noble, wonderful characters only to kill them off the very moment they find true happiness.

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