Revision mode.

So, remember how I turned in the first draft of Novel #8 to my editor two weeks ago Sunday?

Well, I got her edits back on Thursday. Yes, this past Thursday. So, 11 days after turning in the first draft. Near-record time.

I read the four-page edit letter, nodding along at every comment in it. The problem areas my editor identified were ones I knew existing before I sent her the MS. Areas I didn’t have time to fix because I was already giving her my first draft much later than she’d originally expected me to.

And then I got to the end, where I read this:

I’m looking forward to seeing the next draft with these concerns addressed. I’ll need that from you by 5/21.

Insert image of me with my jaw on the ground.

Now, keep in mind that my editor was kind enough to give me not one but two extensions on the first draft. And from a voice/writing perspective, the first draft was in good shape. (I believe the exact words my editor used were that I “killed it.”). But two weeks isn’t a whole lot of time to fill plot holes and flesh out backstories. Especially not when you work a demanding full-time job.

I conveyed my concerns to my editor. She gave me an extra week.

I’ll take it!

When we spoke on Friday, she didn’t seem to think this revision was as daunting as I did (and still sort of do, to be honest). Her point is that filling in plot holes takes a lot less muscle than restructuring the plot itself. Point taken.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared about the ticking clock. I don’t know that I’ve ever had to pull off a revision like this in such a short amount of time.

So now I’m in boot camp revision mode. All minor changes have been made, and the revision to-do list drafted. The next step is doing the writing that will most likely not appear on the page. Sketching backstories to get a deeper understanding of how the characters got to where they are when the novel takes place. Creating detailed schedules for things that I should know more about, even if I’m not showing it all in scene. Once those are finished, I can dive more deeply into Draft #2.

The good news is that with the extra week my editor granted me, I get Memorial Day weekend for my final push. Okay, so there won’t be any fun cookouts or other vacation-y type things I’ll get to do. But a 3.5-day weekend provides a great opportunity to finish up.

Wish me luck!


Mrs. Love, Cruce, and Andre III.

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, which always gets me thinking about the influential teachers I’ve had over the years. Here are a few (but not all) of my favorites.

Mrs. Love

Mrs. Love was my middle school English/Language Arts teacher. She was kind of a badass. Her classroom library was stocked with a bajillion titles, spanning a wide range of genres and reading levels. It was from her bookshelves that I first picked up Bret Easton Ellis’s Less than Zero. Yes, in a middle school classroom.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, there’s a lot of bad language, graphic sex, and of course, drug use. I liked the novel, but felt like it was a little too adult. I told Mrs. Love something along the lines of, “I don’t think this should be on your shelves,” for all of the reasons I just listed (language, sex, drugs). Mrs. Love’s eyes flashed at me and said, “I don’t censor books. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t read it.”

I’m totally paraphrasing here, because let’s face it: seventh grade was a long time ago. Even though I can’t remember exactly what she said, I will never, ever forget that look in her eyes when she said it.

This is the story I always tell about Mrs. Love (and even recounted to her once we became Facebook friends), because it was such a defining moment in my life. Here was this adult who knew I was reading about really adult things, and was in favor of me deciding for myself if I was ready for them. Later, after I published Bringing Up the Bones and Anyone But You, and would receive letters from young readers telling me that the language or sexual situations made them uncomfortable, I would think of Mrs. Love. And in my response, I would channel her: “If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t read it.”

I spent a lot of time in Mrs. Love’s class. She introduced me to Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School. I still remember my Sideways Story I wrote for an assignment, and how crushed I was that Mrs. Love seemed to like my friend Erika’s so much better. I cared what Mrs. Love thought about my writing, and spent most of my life convinced that in her eyes, I would never measure up to Erika.

When we reconnected on Facebook, and I shared the “I don’t censor” story with her, she shared a story with me. This is what she wrote:

I gave a totally ridiculous book report assignment: Write a book report using only 9 sentences, each of them corresponding to one of the elements of plot. Most of the reports I got I deserved: “The characters in this book are….They live in…..” Then I got a gem on Rebecca which began something like “The road to Manderly intimidated yet thrilled the young governess…” I was blown away by your writing, your insight, and your creativity.

This, truly, is one of the biggest and best compliments I’ve ever gotten in my entire life.


I met Cruce when I was 16 years old and taking a summer college course at UD. I wrote a couple of pieces for class assignments that Cruce really liked. One was titled “Passion Pink” and was totally modeled after a story I’d read in Sassy magazine. Another was an autobiographical essay styled as a how-to about marrying my mom off for under a thousand dollars.

What I wrote wasn’t as important as the fact that Cruce believed in me and my writing. He worked with me to improve it. He taught me about the importance of revision. But most of all, he showed me what it meant to be in love with words.

I say this was all Cruce but it wasn’t; he co-taught the course with Rosemary Crawford, a high school teacher who shared his love of language and word play. I still remember how Rosemary’s face lit up after reading a few sentences from “A&P.” She said, “I’d kill to have written that!” And she meant it.

Back to Cruce: I kept in touch with him after the summer college course. I took his short story workshop my junior year in college. I wrote pages upon pages, some of which got published and some of which didn’t, but many of which got me into grad school. In fact, Cruce is one of the reasons I ended up in grad school to begin with.

When I left my crappy first job, working as a reporter for a crappy paper in crappy Fort Wayne, Indiana, I came home not knowing what to do with my life. I looked for jobs in journalism, but I didn’t really want to work in journalism. Cruce recognized this. He said, “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it.”

What he said is another defining moment in my life. Because even though it’s a duh kind of statement, it wasn’t duh to me. It was a revelation.

I credit Cruce with me making the decision to attend grad school, but that’s not entirely true. He counseled me about grad school, and he gave me a letter of recommendation, but he kind of thought I was using it as a crutch. I only ended up applying to one school; if I hadn’t gotten in, I wouldn’t have gone. Cruce told me I was giving up control – letting other people make my life choices for me. He was probably right; at 21 I was completely lost. It still worked out for the best.

There are so many Cruce stories I could tell, so many times he played an integral role in my life. He is a father figure in the way my own father never was. In fact, I didn’t invite my dad to come to my wedding, but you bet your ass that Cruce and his lovely wife were there.

Cruce at My Wedding

I love this picture of Cruce. It is him, in a nutshell. Photo credit: Laura Novak.


Andre III

In graduate school, I took a novel-writing workshop with Andre Dubus III, son of the legendary short story writer. This was not long after The House of Sand and Fog came out, and Andre was being courted by Hollywood in a big way. He missed a bunch of classes doing book promotion stuff, and it pissed me off. I was paying a lot of money for grad school. I didn’t like it when my teachers canceled class.

Plus, I hated the workshop. It was filled with semi-pretentious writers who worshipped at the altar of Andre. They loved him. Adored him. And they hated my stuff. HATED IT. I workshopped a very early chunk of Bringing Up the Bones, and they tore it apart, syllable by syllable. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But it was a painful workshop unlike anything I’d ever endured. Later, I’d describe it as standing in a room full of strangers, buck naked, with everyone shining flashlights on you and pointing out every single flaw.

Yeah, it was that bad.

So bad that I didn’t write a word for a good, solid 7- to 8-week chunk of my first semester at Emerson. I remember long talks with my aunt, during which I told her I thought I’d made a huge mistake in trying to pursue my MFA. “I suck at this,” I said.

“You don’t,” she said.

“What if I’m no good?”

“Everybody feels that way.”

And then Andre’s father died, and we had class not long after, maybe a few days? He stood in front of us and said, “I need to talk about my dad.” Then he did. It was heartbreaking. My eyes filled with tears. I wasn’t the only one. There’s something about being around someone else’s naked pain that does that to you.

I met Andre for coffee not long after. I expressed to him my frustrations about the class, and how I hadn’t been able to write. I don’t remember our conversation word for word, but I do remember that we talked about revision. We talked about powering through the fear. He shared with me what he liked about my novel, what had stuck with him. And whatever he did say ended up giving me the courage to get back to it.

It wasn’t until long after the class ended that I realized just how much I’d learned from Andre. He was a proponent of writing from page 1 to The End, without outlining or penning scenes out of order. Doing that, he said, made the process inauthentic. If you were writing toward a predetermined point, you weren’t allowing the process to unfold organically.

He never wrote under the influence, even if he’d had a single beer. At least, he claimed not to. It was inauthentic, he said. It tainted the process.

Andre talked a lot about authenticity and the organic process, and Art with a capital A. All things I’d joked about with my grad school friends when I was in my “I hate this workshop” mode. But later, when I was able to fully appreciate what I’d learned from him, I felt kind of stupid. Andre was a good teacher. It just took me a long time to recognize it.

There are other teachers who had an enormous impact on my life – Iris Phillips, my first and second grade teacher. Mrs. Valentine, who taught me how to read between the lines through Lord of the Flies. Lisa Jahn-Clough, my grad school mentor and later friend, who introduced me to a world that felt like home. I could write a whole essay on her alone, but that’s another post for another day.

At any rate, I am so appreciative to all my teachers, and not just the ones named here. They helped shape who I am. They opened my mind, my heart, and my world. I know that sounds incredibly cheesy, but I mean every word of it. Sincerely.

The long absence.

So, um, remember how on January 1 I was all, “I’m going to blog three to five times a week”?

Clearly, that didn’t happen.

But here’s the thing: I have a totally valid excuse reason for this. I had a book to write. A book that was originally due in February, but for which I was given an extension until early- to mid-April. And even then I didn’t hit “The End” until last Sunday.

It’s nearly 63,000 words, making it the longest thing I’ve ever written by a comfortable margin.

I don’t know how much I’m allowed to tell you about this book yet. The whole project has been a little hush-hush. I can tell you that it’s another YA novel. That it features not one, not two, not three, but FOUR first-person female narrators. Oh, and it will be the first book I publish under my married name.

What else can I tell you? I had a lot of fun writing it. A LOT. It’s a juicy, dishy book. It’s pretty different from anything I’ve done previously. It’s the kind of book you’d want to bring with you to the beach. A beach read. But, like, a good one.

It’s also one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. Not because of the twisty plot and multiple narrators, but because I have a full-time job. I have a really busy full-time job. I wrote my first two and my seventh novels all while working full-time jobs, but with every year my current job grows in responsibility. I manage a team now. I lead a lot of projects. It’s not uncommon for me to put in 45-50 hours at the office in a typical week. Balancing that with a family and sleep doesn’t leave oodles of time for writing.

So the draft went a lot slower than my editor would have liked, though in actuality it still took less than nine months. In the beginning, I was writing in the mornings, 45 minutes to an hour before I’d start to get ready for work. Later, that wasn’t turning out so well, so I started to put in 60-90 minutes in the evenings. But the last month of the draft, I was having better luck on weekends, putting in 3-4 hour chunks at a time.

At any rate, it’s done! When I sent it off to my editor, I almost cried from sheer relief. It’s been a struggle, this one.

And of course the perfectionist in me wanted at least another month to go through the full MS, making it better before anyone’s eyes got on it. But that wasn’t tenable with the time frame. I even told my editor that it was a hot mess first draft (as most first drafts should be), but that I knew that we’d make it great in revision.

When I sent the draft, I figured I’d have at least a week’s worth of breathing room from book stuff. I was wrong. Not two days later I got an email from my editor’s assistant asking me to approve cover copy, write my bio, and let her know if I’m providing a head shot or not. And about ten days before that, she sent me this big, long marketing survey that needs to be completed pronto.

It’s probably authorial suicide to admit this, but I am so very bad at the business part of this business. It just doesn’t interest me. Time and again I wish I could just sit in my Tiffany-blue office, banging out words on the keyboard, and not bother with any of the rest. Self-promotion makes me horribly uncomfortable. And social media is part of my day job, so the last thing I want to do at night is more of that for me.

But the fact is that I am not a good enough or important enough author to say, “No, thanks, I won’t be partaking in these shenanigans.” If anything, I need to be ramping up my shenanigans.


Anyway, I swore I wouldn’t take up a lot of space in this blog on navel-gazing nonsense, and here I am, being extra-special naval-gaze-y. So let me stop here before I make the both of us want to wretch.

Goals vs. resolutions.

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago. I’m just not the most resolute person. But I am someone who’s motivated by goals. So now, each January 1, I make a list of goals for the coming year. (Yes, I know that’s just semantics, but hey – whatever works.)

In an effort to keep myself accountable for this year’s goals, I figured now would be a good time to declare them publicly. So, here goes. In 2015, I will:

1. Beautify my home. This is an ongoing project with lots of little subgoals. I plan to repaint every room and install a new kitchen floor. The exterior needs to be power washed and the shed requires some repairs. I will continue to purge crap I don’t need and organize the stuff left behind. THIS WILL HAPPEN, PEOPLE. IT WILL.

2. Organize my virtual clutter. I have a lot of files. Word docs, photos, mp3s. Many of these files are in duplicate, triplicate, or quadruplicate. Basically, every time I get a new computer, my husband makes a backup of every single file. So right now, there is a 1T external drive that’s like an information hoarder’s daydream. I don’t have even a fraction of my music loaded into iTunes because I need to dedupe all of the extra copies. This needs to be the year I tame those files into submission.

3. Cut out the white stuff again (by February 1). Up until Cookiepalooza, which is what my best friend Wendy and I call our insane holiday baking marathon we do each year, I had been flour- and sugar-free for almost two months. While this sometimes made eating out more complicated than I would like, it was totally worth it. (Why the February 1 deadline? Well, Wendy and I take these fabulous birthday vacations together each year, usually around Martin Luther King Day. This year’s excursion to Washington D.C. will include visits to some of the best restaurants in that part of the fun we have is indulging our inner foodies in a completely hedonistic way.)

4. Blog 3-5 times a week. Here’s the thing: I really LIKE blogging. I do. The ONLY reason I don’t do it more frequently is that the posts I want to write tend to take me (on average) 2-3 hours to put together. That’s kind of a hefty commitment when I’m on deadline for a novel and in crazy crunch mode at my full-time job as well. But I felt really great when I was doing NaBloPoMo, so I will do what I have to in order to carve out the time.

5. Finish the new book. I almost didn’t add this one, because duh, of course I’m going to finish the new book. It’s under contract and everything. But, you know, writing novels while working a demanding full-time job takes a lot of time and energy. And when I do put this new book to bed, it’s going to feel incredible. So, yeah. Definitely on the list.

This is a relatively short list (for me). But, I’m thinking that it’s better to stay focused on a few important goals rather than try to tackle everything at once. And hey, once I knock one of these guys off, I could always add something else later.

What are your goals (or resolutions) for 2015?

2014: My Year in Review

It’s New Year’s Eve, and like many people, I’ve been in a reflective mood today. So, I thought I would take a few minutes to revisit 2014. Here’s what happened in my world:

Remember the Alamo

January: Fly to Austin, TX for Wendy’s and my annual best friend birthday trip. Drive to San Antonio and spend a few days there before heading back to Austin. Chase the quintessential Texas experience. Hit nearly every area except for Texas Two Stepping and the mechanical bull. Highlights: I don’t even know where to begin! Best girlfriend getaway EVAR.

Lara Loves Alton BrownFebruary: The shortest month is also my most boring month. BUT, we did get to have an early Valentine’s Day with Joe at the Grand Opera House, where we got to see THE Alton Brown and his Edible Inevitable Tour. Slip one of the stage hands a copy of The Sweet Life of Stella Madison for Alton’s daughter. (Yes, I’m that cheesy. Sue me.) Oh, and this was the first time I cooked with the Delicious Dishes.

March: Celebrate 2nd anniversary with Joe at Supper. Launch this blog! And then promptly become World’s Worst Blogger. Drive to Bensalem for a special fan screening of The Veronica Mars movie. Take Joe to see Man of La Mancha at the DuPont and end up in the Best Seats Ever (that no one else would ever want – it’s got a partially obstructed view BUT gives Joe tons of leg room AND there’s no seat directly behind his 6’4″ self so he doesn’t have to scrunch down). Decide to get season tickets for those seats next year – goal achieved!

Funny Seder

These are my cousins, Zach and Josh. They make me laugh so hard my stomach hurts. Here they are riffing on the 10 plagues. No, I’m not kidding.

April: Another Passover seder with the Rosens (my favorite of the Jewish holidays). Then Easter dinner with the Kinna clan. Have the most amazing idea for a novel and start outlining it. A few months later, discover that I have inadvertently come up with almost the exact same plot as the new Jodi Picoult novel, only minus the elephants. It’s okay; around this time I have my first talks with Fab Editor about my next YA novel. Oh, and I get a big promotion at IRA.

May: Off to New Orleans for IRA’s Annual Conference! Get to see some of my favorite people that I don’t cross physical paths with all that often, like Julie D. Ramsay, Jen Scoggin (aka Mrs. Mimi), and my Crazy Reading Ladies, Mary Cotillo and Erin O’Leary. Discover the deliciousness that is chargrilled oysters from Drago’s. Survive my first Mother’s Day without my momma. Trip to NYC to see Heathers: The Musical with Wendy and Jenna. Corn Nuts!

June: Hire a whole new staff at work. Fly to Chicago for Confab Nonprofit and stay for the honeymoon Joe and I never got to take. Eat (and walk) our way across the city. Highlights: Buddy Guy showing up at Buddy Guy’s Legends and doing an impromptu set; spending the better part of a day at the Chicago Institute of Art; dinner at Girl and the Goal (with a Carl Reiner sighting to boot!); getting to hang out with Jaime and John our last night in town.

Us and the Bean

It’s hard to take a selfie when your husband is 14 inches taller than you are.

July: New staff arrives, rounding out the most kick-ass communications team a gal could ever hope for! Get back on a plane, this time to Tampa-adjacent Brandon, FL for IRA’s Council Leadership Academy. Talk to a lot of awesome educators about communications and social media. Later that month, splurge on a new Flexsteel couch, since our cheapie one is falling apart. Definitely worth the investment!

Jen JumpsAugust: Start the month off bouncing at Stratosphere Trampoline Park with Sadie and the McLaughlins (on Jen’s 40th birthday, no less!). Smurf up my hands later that weekend making Tardis blue velvet cupcakes for William’s birthday party. Start going on double dates with other couples. (Why didn’t we do this sooner?) Get an official offer on the YA novel I’ve been working on for HarperCollins. Woot!

September: Relaxing, post-Labor Day beach vacay with Joe in Ocean City, MD. Our hotel has an ice rink in the middle of it but Joe’s feet are too big for the rental skates. Doesn’t matter. Spend hours bobbing in the warm ocean, reading on the sand, and checking out new restaurants. Have my first Fractured Prune donut (amazing) and more chargrilled oysters (unremarkable). Make out with my husband all over town. Magical.

Wendy, Wylie, and MeOctober: Head to NYC with Wen to see Lips Together, Teeth Apart (a week before the rest of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants attend to support their good pal America Ferrara). Dinner = the supremely decadent tasting menu at the soon-to-be-closed WD50. Foodgasms abound! Also: pay off Joe’s student loans (yay!).

November: Hello, NaBloPoMo! Commit to writing one blog post a day for 30 days; miss the goal after accidentally skipping 11/29. Spend a lot of time thinking about/writing about Mom as the Year of Firsts draws to a close. Celebrate Sadie’s birthday by feeding monkeys and a bear at the Pocono Snake and Animal Farm. Spend Thanksgiving with the Royers and Mannons at Brenda and Brett’s. Spend Black Friday with the Rosens playing several heated rounds of Celebrity. Love ALL of my family.

December: Cookiepalooza 2014 = HUGE success. Discovered the gloriousness that is Oreo “coal.” Christmas Eve with the Kinna clan, Christmas dinner with Mark and Charlotte, post-Christmas weekend with the Rosens, Sadiepants, and close friends (Taco Game Night FTW!).

Ending the year in our favorite fashion: at home, in our PJs, watching movies and scarfing up Velveeta bean dip (1 lb. Velveeta cubed, 1 can Hormel Hot Chili No Beans, 1 can kidney beans – zap in microwave until it’s all melted. Sounds gross, tastes delish – trust me on this). We’ll stay up way too late, cuddle down around 3 a.m., and sleep in until noon like we’re people of leisure. It’s glorious, is what it is. (Trust me on this, too.)

Happy New Year, everyone!

Reblog #1 | December 31, 2010

Yesterday I read The End of My Career, a new blog post by Barry Lyga. If you’re in the children’s writing and publishing field, odds are you’ve either read it or known someone who did and shared it on social media. It’s a good read. Barry talks a lot about the state of the industry and how the current publishing model makes it untenable for midlist authors to make a living through writing alone – something he’s been doing for the past decade.

I was never able to sustain myself on writing alone. Never. I always had to freelance, or teach, or more likely do both. When I got tired of scraping by, I did what Barry fears most: I looked for “real work” (his words) and ultimately reentered the workforce after a nearly nine-year hiatus.

Four months later – after I had acclimated to twice-monthly paychecks, excellent medical/dental insurance, and a healthy, company-funded retirement plan – I declared that I was done with being a working author. I wrote a goodbye letter of sorts via my then-blog in the wee hours of December 31, 2010. I was feeling overly “confessional,” as Barry puts it. I spewed up my feelings into a raw, honest post – the last I’d ever write on “Girl, Uninterrupted.”

Below, I’m reprinting that post in its entirety, typos preserved. Reading Barry’s post yesterday made me think there’s still some relevance to what I’d written nearly four years ago.

Good Writer

2010: The Year I Finally Accepted Who I Am, What I Want, and Why I Want
Originally posted 12/31/10

It’s 3:30 a.m. as I type this, December 31, 2010.

This year? Kind of sucked.

Not just for me. This year kind of sucked for just about everyone I love.

Breakups. Financial disaster. Deaths. Career turmoil. Health problems, family drama(s), dysfunction like you wouldn’t believe.

For me personally: 2010 turned out to be the hardest year of my entire life. And that’s saying something, since 2009 was excruciatingly painful and, until 2010, had been the hardest year of my entire life.

There are many, many reasons for this, none of which I speak of publicly.

But here’s something I feel sort of comfortable talking about, and that is how 2010 was the year I decided I wanted to be done with the whole published author gig.

People who know me weren’t shocked by this decision. People who really know me know that this was a decision a long time coming.

Rewind: Joe’s birthday, 2008. I’d agreed to appear at a bookstore fundraiser for a public library (which, if you think about it, is a little twisted in and of itself). They stuck me in the cookbook section and left me alone. No one so much as talked to me for 90 minutes. I needed to use the bathroom but wasn’t supposed to leave my table until someone was there to cover it for me. Eventually the need to pee won out over the need to follow the rules. When I got back to the table, I realized I had 90 minutes left on my shift. I looked at a group of kids walk past me to play Guitar Hero at the station set up behind me, packed my bag, and left.

On the long ride home – because of course this freebie thing had to be 60 miles away – I started thinking, “I hate this crap.” I hate agreeing to appear at lame fundraisers where my presence is unnecessary or even useful. I hate driving two hours to sit in a booth at a book fair that no one attends. I hate driving three hours to teach workshops at libraries where the person organizing the event neglects to publicize it and three kids show up and write scary poems about cutting themselves and then stare blankly at me when

I express concern over their general well-being.

I should’ve spent the day baking a cake for my then-boyfriend (now _ance). Instead, I spent it feeling humiliated and bitter and resentful.

There are people who get really, really angry when I say things like this. Most of them are struggling writers who think, “You’ve published six books. One of them got made into a Lifetime movie that still airs bimonthly. For some reason, the Dutch love your novels. So why are you complaining about any of it?”

For the record: I am not complaining.

FACT: Being a working author is maybe 15 % about the writing. The other 85 % is mostly selling yourself to people in one form or another, through your blog, emails, listserv postings, conference appearances, signings, library things, school visits, etc. It is exhausting.

FACT: Being a successful working author requires an enormous amount of networking (much of which falls into the tush-kissing category), self promotion (see above), and trying to come up with ideas for books that are both commercial and literary and will get your publishers excited to work with you.

FACT: Being a lower midlist author (which, let’s face it, is pretty much what I was for 90 % of my career as a working writer) means feeling inadequate the majority of the time, praying for shelf/review space, and having to swallow editorial advice like “Do you think you could add a C Plot involving two teachers in love, like in CLUELESS?” All while still trying to sell yourself and kiss tushies and write books that will appeal to consumers who adore vampire books with excessive adverbs.

To repeat: I am not complaining. I am simply stating my perceptions, based on nine years of experience.

Complaining would mean that I was saying all of this while still trying to make it as a working writer.

I am not.

Last spring I became what is referred to as a Career Changer – someone who wakes up one day, realizes she can’t stand what she does, and decides to do something different. For me, this manifested in my job at the International Reading Association, where I am a membership specialist. This means I do a lot of stuff to attract new members and keep the existing ones happy. Currently I do a good deal of copywriting, which I really enjoy, and there are a lot of cool, creative things coming down the pipeline. Ironically, no matter how much I despise having to market myself, I’m really good at marketing other people and organizations I believe in (IRA being one of them).

The icing on this cupcake is that IRA’s offices are so close to UD’s main campus that I get to teach one creative writing workshop each semester. Teaching creative writing is the thing that truly feeds my soul, as cliched as that sounds. I love my students. I love encouraging their talent. I love seeing them develop as writers. I love the days that I go into that classroom and laugh so hard I cry.

This is also why I teach creative writing classes at the Brandywine Y. Well, that and the free gym membership.


I still write. Not every day, or even every week, but I do write. I’m working on a deeply personal adult novel. What I have so far is really good. It makes me remember why I wanted to be a writer in the first place.

But, I don’t have any books under contract, nor am I trying to secure any new contracts. And that makes me oddly happy.

Tonight I climbed into bed with E. Lockhart’s REAL LIVE BOYFRIENDS, the fourth installment in the Ruby Oliver series. Emily is one of my favorite writers, and this book? It’s amazing. I read it cover to cover in one sitting. I cried at the end. When I came to the last page, I thought, “This book makes mevwish I were a better writer.” That’s pretty much the highest compliment I can pay to any author I admire.

So here’s the thing: thinking that made me wonder why I didn’t work harder to be a better writer to begin with. In the beginning, before I sold anything, writing was everything to me. I poured blood on the page. I would hole up, cancel plans with friends, and write so long the sun would set and I would be like, “Huh, it’s nine o’clock? Maybe I should think about dinner.”

After I sold books, got published, and realized what it meant to be a working writer, a lot of that changed. I didn’t love writing so much. I agonized over having to do it. Deadlines were my main driving force. That and needing money to pay my bills. The joy? Gone.

There are some things I enjoyed more than others. Writing the first Starlet book – that was probably the most fun I had writing anything. I’m still really proud of that book, despite the dated pop culture references. And I had a great time revising THE SWEET LIFE OF STELLA MADISON, but the first draft was murder and fraught with behind-the-scenes drama in both my personal life and my professional one.

Before I decided to go to graduate school but after I left my crappy job at the crappy paper in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I had a meeting with my mentor and friend Cruce Stark. During this meeting he said something that I will never, ever forget. He said, “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it.” He was referring to journalism, but as I agonized over whether or not I wanted to continue being a working writer I kept hearing those same words over and over and over.

I’m a good writer. I’m not a great one. I might have eventually become a great one, if I’d wanted it enough.

Except, I didn’t. Want it, that is.

So now I work in membership for a professional organization devoted to literacy, and I run creative writing workshops for college kids and adult hobbyists, and I spend a lot of time cooking delicious things with my fiance, watching too much television, volunteering for the Girl Scouts, and petting my dog. And these things make me really, really happy.

Several months ago, I said to my mom, “If my biggest complaint is that I don’t have enough time to see all of the people I care about who care about me, then in the grand scheme of things, that’s not so much a problem as it is a privilege.” Meaning, I’m lucky that there are so many people I care about who care about me, even if we don’t talk or see each other as much as we’d like.

And it’s not like I’m never going to write another thing. I just spent 77 minutes writing this blog post. My essay, “Informed Consent,” will be included in the DEAR BULLY anthology HarperCollins is putting out in the fall, which is something I’m really excited about. Plus I really am working on an adult novel, and I really do believe it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done.

Maybe I’ll publish it, but then again, maybe I won’t. And I’m okay with that. I’m beyond okay with that.

As for 2011: I’m hoping it’s better than 2010, not just for me but for all of the people in my life who’ve been struggling with unspeakable things.

For me, personally, I feel like 2011 is already better. Because I’m more sure of who I am than I’ve ever been, and there’s something to be said for that.

There’s a lot of muck that still needs to be sorted through. And my house is still a hot cluttery mess that could seriously benefit from me hiring a housekeeper. I still want to lose another 80 pounds, still want to finish the craft room that’s been 3+ years in the making, still want to create a filing system that makes sense and puts every paper in its place. I’m still not entirely sure how I plan on accomplishing all of the above while maintaining personal relationships and working three or more jobs.


As I look forward to the year ahead, I am hopeful. This person I am? I like her. I like her a lot. I want to like her even more, and I want to spend the next 365 days doing things that will help me achieve this goal. To be the best Lara I can possibly be, and to focus on the things that actually make me happy instead of things that are supposed to make me happy.

Changing careers was a major step in that direction.

The rest?

I’ll just have to wait and see.

/navel gazing

Words with friends.

Tomorrow I have an early-morning writing date with my friend Carolee, who I met when I was teaching a creative writing class at the Brandywine Y some 11 (or is it 12?) years ago. We meet up at Panera semi-regularly, do a quick catch-up on our lives, and then dive right in, laptop to laptop.

It’s great because writing is such a solitary activity by nature. And writing dates are like gym dates in that they keep you accountable. Plus, if I’m going to schlepp all of my gear to Panera I’m less likely to pack it in after just 45 minutes. So I’ll often hit my daily writing goal and keep on going. One time this summer I put in something like seven or eight hours in Panera – long enough to eat two meals and drink several cups of coffee.

All good things, right? (Well, maybe not the several cups of coffee part. I switched back to decaf about six weeks ago.)

It’s shaping up to be a busy weekend, but I’m glad that I can carve out a couple of hours to spend with Carolee. Even if we will spend most of that time typing, not talking.