Thursday, July 30, 2009

#FridayFlash -- "To the Lake"

I follow Troy to the lake, just like every week. First, Troy and Mindy read the paper, then Troy says, “Come on, girl” and we go. Troy gets the box from the garage, the sweet smelling one with the hooks and doodads. He pulls the pole from the wall. The lake isn’t far, just on the other side of the yard, behind the pines Troy planted last summer to break the wind.

When we get there, Troy pulls a hook from the box. I lay in the grass and watch him. If it’s warm, I lay in the shade. If it’s cool, I lay in the sun. We just finished the cool time, the damp grass, way down in the earth time. Things are drier now. The sun has more presence, so I lay in the shade. Troy does something magic with his hands and the hook hangs from the string. It’s a shiny hook with a big feathery thing wrapped around it.

Once it’s on, Troy pats my head. I lean into it. His touch is firm and comforting, like my old blanket in front of the window doors when it snows.

“What do you think, girl? Are we going to get lucky?” he asks.

I like to stare at him. I like how he looks, the way he smells, like the sweet stuff from the box and his happy excitement. His voice resonates in my ears, not too high or too low, but just him.

He stands up from his crouch and arcs back an arm, the pole bending behind him with it. A string streams out with a whir, then the hook plops. Troy waits, then reels it in with a tick-tick-tick.

The grass feels good. It’s quiet this time of day, only Troy and I and the ducks with their babies. The houses around the shore are quiet, but for the black car pulling out of the driveway just across the lake. It’s a small lake, new, made just last summer. The men with the machines built it when they built the new houses. Troy says it’s just for show, but they put fish in it, big ones that glub at the surface. I can see in the houses across the way.

Troy arcs his arm back, sends the hook out again. “We should get a nibble soon, girl,” he tells me with a smile.

Just then Mindy leans out the window. “Troy? I’m leaving for class!”

Troy raises a hand and waves. Mindy disappears. A minute later, I hear the garage door open and her car back out. I roll over on my back, expose my belly, and wait. It’s just Troy and me now. I know what’s coming.

Just like always, the thing in his pocket sings.

Troy reels the line in quick and puts the pole on the grass. He pulls the thing from his pocket and looks at it. He presses something, then puts it to his ear.


He turns his back to me. He always turns his back to me. I don’t mind. I wait. It will be worth it.

The duck family approaches, the mother closest to the shore. The father swims a body length ahead, the ducklings trailing behind. There are only four now. I wonder what happened to the fifth. Maybe that fish got it, the trophy one Troy says nibbles his line.

“Yeah, she just left. Let me put this stuff away. Say, five minutes?” He listens to the thing a minute, then says, his voice growly, “Yeah, me, too.” Then he presses something and puts the thing back in his pocket.

I wait.

He looks out at the lake, toward the house with the black car. Something moves behind the window. Troy watches, his hands still in his pockets.

He takes the hook off the line and puts it back in the box. Before he clips the box shut, he notices me.

“Sorry, girl,” he says. “I’ve got bigger fish to fry today.”

My tongue lolls out and flops against the grass. I look up at Troy and the white puff clouds and the sky behind him. He smiles down at me, then bends over and rubs my belly. He’s my everything. This is our moment.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Platform, Schmatform


I admit it: I bought into platform hype as much as the next struggling writer. I’ve blogged. I’ve facebooked. I’ve even considered tweeting. And with each new trend, I’ve sacrificed a smidge of my precious writing time. As mommy to a preschooler, quality writing time is as rare as a flawless pearl. There are times I’ve wondered if building a platform is really worth it.

Then I happened on Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel. I heard about the book from two writer friends, who raved enough to entice me into buying a copy. The book was published in 2001—practically prehistoric in the world of publishing-- but I think much of what it tells us is timeless. According to Maass, the best thing a writer can do to promote himself is to write a spectacular book. It’s not so much about promotion, advances and book tours that sends a book onto the top of the bestseller lists; it’s gushing word of mouth. One reader gets excited about a book and tells her friends. Her friends tell their friends, etc…Enthusiastic word of mouth can make a book’s sales skyrocket. And what brings this serendipitous, grass roots promotion? Maass beats no bushes; it’s great storytelling from writers who keep getting better, writers who take their work to the next level.

Publishing has changed dramatically since 2001, but I think what Maass says still holds true. Lately, it seems I’m reading more articles telling newbie writers to focus on craft, then worry about promotion. In other words, learn how to write, to tell great stories. It bears shades of the bipolar nutritional and parenting trends that have us spinning in circles. We eat eggs/eschew eggs/don’t use the word no to our kids/show them tough love/write/market/blog/tweet/stand on our heads.

I’m a writer. Bottom line, that means I should be writing.

On a final note, I do believe writers should promote their own work. After all, if you don’t toot your own horn, who will? But, I don’t think establishing platform should take precedence over time spent writing. First and foremost, writers write, then we sell.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Ever-Changing Landscape


Last weekend, my daughter’s best friend slept over for the first time. We’d worried about how it would go. Lisa didn’t have much experience spending the night away from her parents. And the girls were so young—my daughter soon to be 4, Lisa just 4 1/2. We’d worked up to it, though, having Lisa come over to visit without her parents. I talked to my daughter about being sensitive to Lisa’s feelings.

When the big sleepover came, things went well. The girls spent the evening playing and watching Beauty and the Beast. We set up our tiny pup tent in the living room. The girls played inside and wrestled. At bedtime, Lisa told us she was afraid of the dark. We turned the end table lamp on low. The girls drifted off for a peaceful night’s sleep.

I thought we had this sleepover in the bag.

The next morning, the immensity of the change finally hit. As I made pancakes for breakfast, I could tell both girls were tired. They could no longer work out differences themselves. They both wanted to play quietly on their own. When I slid the pancakes onto their plates, Lisa didn’t like hers because they weren’t like the ones her dad makes. I wondered how I’d keep the peace until she went home. After breakfast, Lisa got her backpack and sat in the living room, where she promptly burst into tears. She missed her mom, she said, and she wanted to go home. She’d reached the edge of her four-year-old’s capacity for change. We packed her things and returned her to her parents.

Like Lisa, I’m facing my own battle with change. My writing has grown in the last year to the point it’s a whole new entity. I feel this inner unrest because I’m stretching beyond what’s painless. I need more: more connections, more training, more substance. I need different. I need better. I just need.

It hurts.

I visited with pal Jane on Sunday. She took me to a quiet, transcendental park where we walked amongst the wildflowers and talked. The sun draped over us in golden benevolence. My anxiety seeped out my pores. We climbed a winding path up a huge, rounded hill. Black eyed susans and daisies peeked over the top of the prairie grass. At one point, we could look both down over the fields and the stream or up to see the flowers brush the clouds. The landscape changed as we walked and talked. We traipsed through a damp, cool deciduous forest. We sat by a little pond teeming with minnows. We talked about change and growth and phases. It helped. I came home not wholly restored, but in a better place. Given the immensity of what’s going on with me right now, I’m content with standing in this better place.

I’m going to share my mom’s recipe for those buttermilk pancakes, originally from kitchen diva Martha Stewart. Don’t let the little kid’s bad opinion of them discourage you. These are the lightest pancakes I’ve ever had. They practically float off your plate. We like them studded with mixed berries (this was what Lisa objected to) but they’re fantastic just plain with maple syrup.

Mom’s Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups lowfat buttermilk (worth the trip to the store to use the real thing)
1/4 cup melted butter
canola oil for pan or griddle

Sift together dry ingredients into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together eggs, buttermilk and butter. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour wet in and stir until just mixed, being careful not to overmix. (it’s okay if some lumps remain) Let batter stand 10 – 15 minutes before using.

Heat large pan or griddle to medium high heat. (I set griddle to 375 degrees). When griddle is hot, place a small amount of oil on surface. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto griddle* Fry until bubbles form on top of pancake and bottom is brown. Flip and cook until pancakes are browned on both sides and cooked through.

Makes 12 – 15 pancakes.

* If you want to add berries, place them on the pancakes now. I use frozen mixed berry blend. Just put them on frozen. They’ll thaw as the pancake cooks.