In addition to crying from 9-11:30 every night, waking up starving at 3am, and throwing a fit before naps, Iris has decided to start her days at 6am.

I’m so tired I blanked when someone asked me my name. I make up new syntax and words. Carl informs me that my driving isn’t exactly up to par.

I briefly considered storming out all huffy (which my autocorrect, by the way, insists should be spelled “Judy”) this morning, but the drama of the thing gets kind of lost when you have to set up breakfast first. I mean, you can’t leave an invalid hungry. How rude. And you certainly can’t leave anywhere without a carefully packed diaper bag. How foolish.

Zero storming for me.

I don’t even know who I’m trying to show. You can’t really be mad at babies and invalids. I guess I’m just pissed at the world.

I need a bagel.

I need a bagel from Panera. If only, perhaps, because I need at least one goal today that I can actually achieve. Also I need carbs.

Now… If only I can remember how to get there.


The Plot Thickens

Yeah, these are still waiting to be pulled

I am, by nature, a writer remarkably short on literary corn starch. I like characters, settings, and emotional development which often results in problems and conflicts, yes, but how to get those problems and conflicts to build into tidy, well-crafted crises is a whole different thing.

Part of the problem is that I have never written much about villains. It’s not that I don’t understand the supreme usefulness of them, I just find them sort of boring. When I was little and used to watch my brothers playing hours and hours of video games, I used to think about the endless stream of henchmen pouring out of elevators and halls in the villain’s elaborate secret hideout. What did they do in there all day? I imagined them playing cards and eating pizza, hopping nimbly through the complicated set of conveyer belts Jon or Michael had just spent two minutes navigating just to get to work in the morning. Did they bring their lunches with them? Did they go on team building retreats?

Generally at this point I would just start laughing.

Mostly my villains are not villains so much as characters who, by their selfishness or insecurity, create problems. Mostly it sucks to be them even more than it sucks to deal with them. That’s how life seems to me, anyway, so that’s how I write about it.

But when you don’t have clearly defined villains who are focused with razor vision on ruining your main character’s life, it becomes difficult to build a satisfying plot. I mean, you can go all literary, but I’m not an All Literary person. (It’s ok; I’ve made my peace with that).

I enjoy realism like I enjoy oatmeal: in cookies.

So when I started thinking about my old friend Lydia last week, I had lots of ideas about characters and the personal conflicts that might develop between them, but nothing really big. Nothing satisfying. Nothing I could summarize in a sentence and plunk down into a cover letter.

So I had to start looking. I knew I wanted the majority of the story to revolve around her interactions with a family of distinctly French background, and I thought that might yield a fair amount of conflict. Being French and being Catholic in 1850s England would have to hugely color a person’s social life and outlook on the world. I don’t know much about either, to be honest, so I decided to start looking around and see if I found anything promising.

I started with an historical timeline.

Did you know that in 1848 Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (nephew to the more famous Bonaparte) was elected to a four-year term as president and that four years later—hello, exact date of my story—he declared himself emperor? Declaring yourself emperor in a nation famous for that one revolution where they guillotined aristocrats is definitely one way to create major conflict.

Now, clearly I don’t know enough about French history or politics to write a convincing novel about power grabs and revolutions, nor can I imagine a good reason my provincial English girl would get involved in French political intrigue (a problem not shared by romance or mystery authors around the world). But I can imagine my French family having strong views on the subject, and I can imagine them knowing people more involved.

It isn’t the plot, but it’s a chunk of granite that the plot can be cut from.

In celebration of the mini-breakthrough I went to library earlier this week and got a stack of books about French history and Paris and people rhapsodizing about all things French. It’s been a fun week of reading.

And I’m getting closer.

Grandpa Hugs, Grandma Kisses

Dad and the M zipped over yesterday to pick up the car they loaned us… and spend some quality time with Tiny. Nice to have parents who live close. Nice to have parents who loan cars and are eager to help out.

Just nice to have parents.

And so nice when the people you love… also love each other.


Ladies and Gentlemen:

We have wheels! Four of them!

Props to Carl on this one. He spent hours scouring the web to find us something in our price range and area. Then when this popped up, he got his brother to check it out for us so we didn’t have to pack up Iris and make a day of it. (I know little and desire to know less about cars, so my test driving skills are negligible, while Carl can’t drive at all right now, so we’re kind of pathetic in that department).

Philip, on the other hand, is a lawyer with a lawyer’s personality. When Carl asked him out of idle curiosity over the phone whether we could sue the sports complex where he was injured, I could hear Phil’s matter-of-fact response across the room: I can file a complaint against Jesus. People might look at me strangely. But I can.

If you ever have to buy a car blind, he’s the right person to ask.

(And no, we didn’t file a complaint.)

It’s a 2003 Hyundai Sonata, which I’m so happy to be writing and not saying because for some reason I CANNOT pronounce Hyundai, so I hate it when people ask me what kind of car it is. What the heck do you do with the Y? Is it HIGH-un-die? Is it high-UN-die? Is it HUN-die? I don’t know.

The car, however, is great. I’ll totally settle for that.

Writing in Spring

While rambling in West Yorkshire, 2005

Every year when the weather turns springy, when the shrubs start to green and the air smells like mown grass, I want to write about England. Well, not the real England, let’s be fair. My own imaginary corner of it, which is fairly idealized and perpetually Victorian and entirely populated with Trollopian and Gaskellian characters.

Little Wescott, Somerset.

I’m not sure why this happens in the spring. Maybe because it’s the only time of year that I’ve actually been to the UK, so all my memories and fantasies have snagged on it. I don’t know. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit three times, and all of them were in that narrow window of early fullness: weeks of May and June.

Three of my four novels have been set in England; one of them inexpressibly bad, one of them underdeveloped, and one of them nearly publishable (if only it was more romantic according to one agent; if only it were set in America according to another). The almost-publishable one is my favorite, though the plot is less clever and the premise less marketable.

I don’t really care.

I like Little Wescott. I like the people who live there. They’ve been with me for years, and I still like to think about them in odd moments, puzzle out their motivations and wonder about their relationships. They are dolls for grown ups. Or action figures or LEGOs or whatever you used to stand in for stories when you were small. I know all of their quirks and preferences. I know who marries whom. I know who dies young. I know the name of the local pub owner and where the principle roads lie. It’s my Mitford, my March family, my Avonlea.

It all began innocently enough. As a game, actually, a very Victorian sort of dungeons and dragons I developed with two of my sisters-in-law that year Grace lived in my parents’ basement and Carlie was just three miles away.

What a fun summer—piling into the van to go to the beach, talking the whole way about how Alexander’s character fit and what the Moore family was like. We started with a set of three sisters, but of course then we had to paint in the whole village, sketch out maps, arrange personality conflicts. Back when “hanging out” was as likely to end in collaborative writing as movie watching.

I guess it’s still true. We just don’t see each other as much. And then we all had kids.

But I haven’t lost track of the Wescotians. I kept playing with them in my spare time, and then I wrote a book about them, and then I extensively rewrote it three times… and dang it if I don’t still like them.

I like them so much that every year when the weather gets nice enough for me to go rambling around outside I start thinking about their problems and ambitions all over again, and I think that after all there were three sisters and I only wrote one book.

Maybe it’s time Lydia and Ellen got their own books.

A long road, yes, but such a nice one. We’ll see.

Learning to sleep alone

Maybe all babies are like this. Iris likes to sleep with at least one part of her body touching mine at all times. I can think of at least 3 child care authors who would be HORRIFIED by this admission, but there have been a good number of days where I calculate we have been in close physical contact for at least 22 hours a day.

This would be fine if I had more servants.

Sadly, I do not.

My new plan during naps is to let her sleep the first 45 while occupying myself with whatever books or naps or daydreaming I have pressing. And then I start edging away. I used to try lying her in her swing or crib, but that usually bought me only 5-8 minutes (yes, I timed it). This seems to work better.

Cute woman.

I was googling madly the other day, trying to figure out how to get her to sleep without being in my arms when I found a Q&A column by a pediatrician. He said it was a stage. He said babies grew out of it after a few months. And then he said, I have never known any parent who, nearing the end of her life, wished she had spent less time holding her child. Relax and try to enjoy it.

Thus the first 45.

Thus the snaps.

Sweet little woman.

Stop right there

This is an Iris classic, something I’ve been trying to snap for weeks. Her preferred method for falling asleep is to be carried around, and once asleep she prefers the movements to remain gentle and reassuring. Any sudden motions or changes in direction and up goes her hand in sound asleep protest.

I walked her to sleep in the BabyBjorn about half an hour ago, chatting on the phone with the M (recently returned from Hawaii and my brother’s family). After setting up the coffee table with my book (The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan; excellent), my iPod, the laptop, my notebook, a pacifier, nursing paraphernalia, refilled water bottle, and TWO remotes I eased her out of the carrier onto my lap as carefully as I could.

She stayed asleep, but the hand popped up all the same, as if to say so far I will allow, but do not tempt me by persisting in these ungodly motions.

Apparently she is taking the whole “named after a goddess” thing a bit more seriously than I intended, or possibly my exhaustion is so acute I begin to see her as being godlike in her ability to give or withhold the one thing I most desire. Who really knows. I do know that on bad nights I now reach that interesting pitch of stress where you begin to concoct elaborate fantasies of your own demise—mostly involving everybody else feeling SORRY.

But I regress.

(For those of you who might genuinely be concerned about my welfare, please know the most self-harming behavior I’ve exhibited so far was the night I noticed myself literally pulling out small strands of hair while watching Iris scream. Oops. Then again, if I could refocus that energy on my eyebrows or legs, it wouldn’t be all bad. Stress relief AND personal grooming. I feel like I would be betraying my new mommy status to turn down such an appealing twofer).

The trouble is she’s so dang adorable it’s impossible to work up a really serious depression. And now she’s learning to SMILE so instead of enjoying the few moments where she’s actually happy to sit by herself in her pack’n’play I spend the whole time leaning over the edge grinning and cooing like a maniac trying to get her to crinkle up. SO CUTE.

I’m not sure what my point was.


The quality of my blogging—certainly the organizational skills of my posts—seems to be a bit lacking lately. Certainly I haven’t been very good about theses or takeaways, so for those of you looking for such things in your reading material, here you go:

TAKEAWAY: You should read Amy Tan.

Happy Wednesday, everybody.