Thursday, December 22, 2016

We'll Meet Again Some Other Day

I suppose 2016 couldn't end without claiming yet another life. My sophomore year English teacher died this week. In the midst of listening to the 90's week on my local radio station, I've been transported back in time, and then dredged into the future where I basically have to say goodbye to my childhood.

I remember back in English class, I vowed that one day I would write my own book, and I would preface it with a note to readers:

Dear Readers,
As you read this, please do not try to find any symbolism in my work. Sometimes a rock is just a rock. It doesn't stand for the injustice of government or the heroine's strong will. It is just a rock.


I then joked to my friends that Mr. Dant, and his life partner, Mrs. Kearns (my Freshman year English teacher,) would analyze the letter I had written saying not to analyze anything and somehow find symbolism in it.

Unfortunately, I did not get a book published before he passed. But I wouldn't have been able to put that letter in anyway. Because he was right. There are symbols all over my manuscripts and darn it if a pile of rocks doesn't visualize the hurdles my main character has to cross before reaching her goal.

I'm sorry I never got to tell him he was right, but I think he probably knew.

John Thomas Dant

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Your Author is Showing

There are several ways you can expose yourself as an author. (And I'm not meaning literally.) I mean in your novel, where someone might say, "I was really pulled out of the story." They say that because they can see the author coming through. The curtain has been lifted. They've opened the factory doors and gotten a peek at how the sausage is made.

I see this is a lot in drafts, my own included. I've also sadly seen it in published works. In my own work, I can usually spot these glimpses into the background by an extreme lack of tension.

Mary falls into the water. The cold wraps around her, and she's strangled by heavy, wet skirts. She's drowning. Is this how it ends, she thinks?

There's no struggle. No panic. She's not even trying to fight it...because in the next scene, a handsome male hero is going to dredge her from the water.

The author knows this. She wrote the story. But Mary doesn't know that. Personally, drowning is one of the most horrifying deaths I can imagine. Mary, not knowing she's going to be saved, should rightfully be terrified.

Corrected Example:
Mary falls into the water. The cold wraps around her, and she's strangled by heavy, wet skirts. She claws at the ocean, trying to reach the surface and only sinks faster. She hadn't taken a deep enough breath before she fell. Her lungs are at the limit of bursting. She pinches her lips together and kicks frantically toward the patch of light over her head. I can't die, she thinks, not now.

I think the difference is clear. In the first example, we're not really worried for Mary. In the second, we are at the edge of our seats, wondering what is going to happen.

As I'm re-reading my second drafts, I look for these spots that feel a little flat, and I stop and ask myself a few questions.

What does Mary know at this point? Does she know there's someone around to save her? Does she think she's all alone and no one saw her fall?

Once that's been determined. I ask...

Then how would Mary feel at this moment?

I guarantee if a moment in your story feels slow or boring, it's likely because there isn't enough emotion in it. And readers can see that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What the hell is high concept?

I remember asking myself this question when I began my writing journey. In fact, if you go back to some of my early posts, you can probably find it. But don't do that. Don't! There are many embarrassing things back there. Things that I don't want to relive and only keep myself from deleting them because I know they will incite much hilarity one day.

Today is not that day.

Anyway, the point is, high concept is one of those terms that agents and editors toss around, and every writer at some time in their career has no idea what it means except that it's the coveted grail you need to seek if you want a chance at getting published. It's the hook for your novel, the thing that comes long before your writing, your character development, and your plotting.

So what is it?

Publishing professionals often say it's X meets Y. Or it's something known with something new.


Really, examples work best, so I'm going to show you. Fairy tale re-tellings lend very easily to this.

Young woman is held captive by monstrous beast, only to learn he's not actually a monster. (Beauty and the Beast)

Something New: Tell the story from the beast's perspective and set it in modern day New York. (Beastly)

Poor girl with evil step family captures the heart of a prince with the help of a fairy godmother. (Cinderella)

Something New: Now let's make Cinderella a cyborg and set the story in futuristic China. (Cinder)

But your hook doesn't have to be a fairy-tale re-telling.

Known 1: A virtual reality landscape where people live and work in an imaginary world (The Matrix)
Known 2: Insane genius creates wild contest as a way to pass his business to a new proprietor. (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

Something New: Now mash those two ideas together and set it in a future landscape where the escapist virtual reality world is built around the 1980's. (Ready Player One)

Known: Middle aged man becomes exhausted with the status quo, seeks a way out. (The main plot point to about eighty-thousand novels)

Something New: Man invents alter ego of himself and starts an underground fight club that evolves into an anarchist movement. (Fight Club)

Is is starting to make sense? Obviously there have been vampire books before, werewolf books, romance novels, travel novels, cookbooks, books about monkeys, and princes, and middle-aged women who cheat on their husbands, who learn they have cancer. You're not going to come up with something completely new, and even if you do, the story will have already been told. The key to achieving high concept is to take those ideas and twist them, either by changing the players, the viewpoint, the place, the manner of telling, the outcome...something different. Everyone's read a teen vampire romance novel, but were the vampires gay? Was the story told in verse? Or did it take place on another planet?

Monday, September 19, 2016

I Made a Map!

Okay, you guys. I made my first map! I'm working on a YA fantasy, and one of my less-than-strong points as a writer is description. It's something I always have to add in later, so I thought it might help me to make a pictorial representation of my fictional land. I was in part inspired by this article in Writer's Digest, although my map is nowhere near as fancy as the example. I considered having my husband do it for me, who is a much better artist, but I'm not too shabby in Illustrator. I gathered some images on Pinterest for inspiration and used those to build my own map.

I'm super happy with the result, and it also helped me build my story. I knew how I had described locations, but then I had to put them into a physical space, and that space had to match what I had described. The river was really my focal point, connecting all four cities to one another in a line. I had a day journey from the palace to Chopek and another day to Pisek. I had to change the bend in the river to make that work, but now I have a much better mental of my world to build my descriptive.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Comp Titles

Ah, the grueling process of querying. It's fun, right? But let's talk about comp titles. This is when you take a book already on the market and compare it to your work. But it's kind of a double-edged sword. If you say, "my book is reminiscent of HARRY POTTER," the agent sees, "Oh look at me! I'm going to be a best seller! I'm the new J.K. Rowling. La-de-da!"

But if you say, "My book is in the vein of BOOK NO ONE'S HEARD OF," the agent goes, "What is this book? Does the author even know their market?"

Some agents like comp titles. Some don't. The point is, agents aren't just one cookie-cutter person. They're all unique human beings. To play it safe, I've generally opted to leave out the comp titles. If my work (and query) is good enough, it will speak for itself.

Dear Agent (where you of course put in the agent's real name,)

I see from your website you're actively seeking YA fantasy, and I am excited to present MY BOOK, a YA fantasy romance for your review. Told from the viewpoint of a frog turned prince, it's complete at 75,000 words.

From there straight into the query.

But if you do use comp titles, which I have, I think it's best to use them very, very carefully.

Dear Agent (where you of course put in the agent's real name,)

I see from your website you're actively seeking YA fantasy, and I am excited to present MY BOOK, a YA fantasy romance for your review. Told from the viewpoint of a frog turned prince, it's complete at 75,000 words, and I believe, will appeal to fans of Marissa Meyer's, CINDER.

Key words: I believe, will appeal to
In other words, I'm saying, "This is just my opinion. People who like CINDER might also like my book." It shows you have some knowledge of your market without coming off as someone with delusions of grandeur. 

You can also call out one of the agent's own books. 

Dear Mary,

I am a huge fan of your client, John Smith's book, THE RELUCTANT PRINCESS, and I am excited to present my YA fantasy romance for your review. I definitely took inspiration from John's work, especially in his fantastic world building. Told from the viewpoint of a frog turned prince, MY BOOK is complete at 75,000 words.

I always find a little brown-nosing never hurts. You've also shown you know your market, and you've done your research on the agent. But this could also backfire. If your work is too similar to John Smith's, the agent could pass simply because she already has a John Smith. Why does she need two?

I generally take it agent by agent. If you find a call out you can use, use it. If not, I've never had any issues with keeping things generic. If your writing is good enough, it will make it past the gates. If not, that's where you really need to focus your time.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Why I'm Almost a Vegetarian

Truth? I can't give up hot dogs. Which is the absolute worst meat out there, I know. You don't have to tell me the gory details. I do my best not to think about it as I bite into those savory meat tubes, usually slathered with cheese. Sometimes onions and good.

Everyone thinks that's odd. But my reasons for not eating meat are not the usual ones. I do care about animals. But I also wear leather boots. I use sugar in my coffee. Eat eggs. Cheese. Seafood. I don't like to lecture people on what they should do. I don't like to put myself in boxes. I really don't eat meat because it grosses me out.

I live in fear of that chewy piece of cartilage you find in your chicken salad. The bit of grissle on the edge of a piece of steak. That string of fat that gets caught in your teeth. The rubbery ends of a strip of a bacon that take hours to chew. That smell of a raw turkey. The juice leaking off of it, filled with salmonella. When I cooked with meat, I would have to wipe down my entire kitchen with Clorox wipes and went to bed worrying about that one missed spot, teeming with the animated on the bacteria on the Lysol commercials. I would take a bite of my dinner wondering, "Did I cook this enough? Am I going to get sick?"

You don't have to worry about that with tofu. It doesn't matter if zucchini is under cooked. You can eat it raw. I love the taste of veggie burgers. Veggie sausage. Tempeh. I don't feel disgustingly full after gorging myself on a salad. But I kept thinking, "Why don't I just go all the way. Why can't I give it all up?"

Then I met a woman at a party who said, "My new philosophy? Do it ninety percent. It's better than nothing."

I don't know why I needed permission to hear that. I think because we like to put ourselves into little categories. "I am a vegetarian. I am a heterosexual. I am a web designer." It leaves little room for you to do anything else. You've categorized yourself. You're afraid someone will judge you for breaking out of the category, which they probably will, and so you start lying, hiding, or criticizing yourself for reaching beyond your self-imposed box.

That sucks.

You can't expand if you've closed yourself in a cage. You shouldn't have to feel guilty if you want a hot dog. Or want to change careers, Or fall in love with a woman instead of a man. Leave that open door. That 10% (or more) that allows you to do what you want.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Ultimate 90's Alt Playlist

I've been building my iTunes 90's mix and decided to source my friends for the results, because ya know, we grew up in the 90's, and many of my friends moved onto college where we worked at the college radio station together and needless to say...I know a bunch of music experts. And they didn't fail me. So here it is, to share with the world, the ultimate 90's alt playlist. The only thing it's missing is a flannel shirt and Doc Martens.

10,000 Maniacs - These Are the Days
Alanis Morissette - You Oughta Know
Alice in Chains - Would?, Man in the Box
Beck - Loser
Belly - Feed the Tree
Ben Folds Five - Brick
Better than Ezra - Good
Bjork - Big Time Sensuality, Hyperballad
Blind Melon - No Rain
Blur - Song 2
Breeders - Cannonball
Bush - Everything Zen
Cake - The Distance
Cardigans - Lovefool
Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic
Collective Soul - Shine, December
Counting Crows - Mr. Jones
Cracker - Low, Eurotrash Girl
Dandy Warhols - Not if you were the last Junkie on Earth
Dee-Lite - Groove is in the Heart
Dishwalla - Counting Blue Cars
Elastica - Connection
Filter - Hey Man Nice Shot
Flaming Lips - She Don't Use Jelly
Garbage - Stupid Girl, Only Happy When it Rains
Gin Blossoms - Hey Jealousy
Green Day - Welcome to Paradise
Happy Monday - Step On
Harvey Danger - Flagpole Sitta
Hole - Doll Parts
James - Laid
Jane's Addiction - Jane Says
Juliana Hatfield - My Sister
L7 - Pretend We're Dead
Lemonheads - Mrs. Robinson
Lisa Loeb - Stay
Live - Lightning Crashes
Local H - Bound for the Floor
Luscious Jackson - Naked Eye
Machines of Loving Grace - Butterfly Wings
Marilyn Manson - Beautiful People
Mazzy Star - Fade into You
Nada Surf - Popular
Nine Inch Nails - Closer, Head Like a Hole
Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lithium
Our Lady Peace - Superman's Dead
Pear Jam - Alive, Jeremy, Evenflow
Portishead - Glory Box
Proclaimers - 500 Miles
Radiohead - Creep
REM - Shiny, Happy, People
Sarah McLachlan - Building a Mystery
Screaming Trees - Nearly Lost You
Smashing Pumpkins - Tonight
Sonic Youth - Sugar Cane
Soul Asylum - Runaway Train
Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun, Spoonman
Spacehog - In the Meantime
Spin Doctors - Two Princes
Sponge - Molly
Stone Temple Pilots - Big Empty, Vasoline, Interstate Love Song
Superdrag - Sucked Out
Suzanne Vega - Luka
Temple of the Dog - Hunger Strike
The Cranberries - Dreams, Linger
The Presidents of the United States of America - Lump
The Verve Pipe - The Freshmen
They Might Be Giants - Istanbul, Birdhouse in Your Soul
Third Eye Blind - Semi-Charmed Life
Toad the Wet Sprocket - Walk on the Ocean, All I Want
Tool - Sober
Tori Amos - Cornflake Girl
Weezer - Undone (the Sweater Song)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fifteen Types of Scenes

I can't remember the last time I picked up an adult fiction book, and I really can't remember the last time I cracked open an adult non-fiction book. Probably in college. It's not that I have anything against learning, I love learning! I would just rather be reading about dragons and aliens and sword fights and teen drama.

However, a fellow writer suggested this book, which is incredibly good and helpful, but I find myself mentally translating it into language I can understand. So for you, I've done that below, for the segment on the fifteen different types of scenes. But please, if you're looking for ways to punch up your writing, pick up the entire book. You might not need to translate as I have.

Scene 1
Theirs: Climax Scene
Mine: The Hell Yeah Scene
This isn't the big battle at the end, this is the mini-battle somewhere in the middle, where your character wins a fight but not the war.

Scene 2
Theirs: Contemplative (or Sequel) Scenes
Mine: The What the Hell just Happened Scene
Some stuff happened in the previous chapter, now I need to think about it.

Scene 3
Theirs: Crisis Scenes
Mine: The Oh Crap Scene
Kind of the like the Hell Yeah scene except the opposite. It's not the big letdown. It's a little letdown. We can still recover.

Scene 4
Theirs: Dialogue Scenes
Mine: Dialogue Scenes
It's pretty self-explanatory.

Scene 5
Theirs: Epiphany Scenes
Mine: I Totally Get it Now
"It finally makes sense, why he disappears during the daytime, why he doesn't eat food, why he can move fast, and has no reflection...he's a vampire!"

Scene 6
Theirs: Escape Scenes
Mine: Escape Scenes
Again, pretty self-explanatory.

Scene 7
Theirs: Final Scenes
Mine: Final Scenes
This is the big explosion at the end, where Luke destroys the Death Star.

Scene 8
Theirs: First Scenes
Mine: First Scenes
The first few chapters where you lay everything out: the setting, the characters, and the dilemma.

Scene 9
Theirs: Lay-of-the-Land Scenes
Mine: Those Boring Scenes where You Describe the Paintings on the Wall

Scene 10:
Theirs: Love Scenes
Mine: Make Out Scenes
There had better be some "lips pressed hard," somewhere.

Scene 11:
Theirs: Recommitment Scenes
Mine: This Sucks, but I'm Doing it Anyway
Frodo gets stabbed by the Wraiths and keeps plugging along for Mordor.

Scene 12
Theirs: Resolution Scenes
Mine: The Scene at the End where the Big Explosion has Happened and Now We're Going to Neatly Tie it Up
If you're smart, you'll also leave an opening for a sequel.

Scene 13
Theirs: Transition Scenes
Mine: We're on a Boat. Now We're on a Plane. How Did We Get There?

Scene 14
Theirs: Suspense Scenes
Mine: The Nail Biters
What's going to happen? I can't watch.

Scene 15
Theirs: Twister Scenes
Mine: This is How M. Night Shyamalan Built His Career
What? Bruce Willis is a ghost? OMG!

And that's it. As the book suggested, combine all 15 of these scenes to make exciting storylines!

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Smashing New Trend

I think I've uncovered the latest trend in YA book covers---breaking stuff on a black background. Check out all the smashing new finds below.

Friday, May 13, 2016

How to Get from A to B

I've encountered this problem twice in the past couple of weeks, once in my own writing and in a fellow writer's work at group. You have your story all laid out. The next move your character makes is to charge into a burning building...but why?

(please keep in mind, these are made up examples)

My writer friend had her MC charge back into the building to get his phone. This method of getting him into a flaming house made him look...

A: dumb
B: superficial

Neither of these fit with her character, who is actually very intelligent and not materialistic. But she did want him to come off as a little naive so I suggested she have the antagonist trick her MC into the building by saying there is a little girl trapped in there. Her hero rushes off to save the girl, discovers he's been fooled, feels like an idiot, and we, the reader, feel terrible for him (because we've all made mistakes like that.) We also love him for being so selfless to try and save a little girl, and we hate the antagonist that much more for tricking our hero into the burning building.

In my own example, I had everything figured out. My MC was going to rush into the building to save the little girl on his own, because he was the typical all-American selfless hero. Then, tooling around on Goodreads I found a review that struck me.

Oh goody, another book about the all-American good guy, running into save everyone.

She was right. It was probably new a hundred years ago, but it's old now, and struggling to break into a competitive market, it's imperative to be different. I didn't have to re-think my entire plot, only the motivation and character aspects. Instead of my MC going into the burning building on his own, I had him dragged in there by my antagonist. Now I have something interesting. Why did the antagonist pull him in there? How is my MC going to get out? I can still showcase some of his more heroic aspects by how he resolves the conflict, and I've created a question that will (hopefully) keep readers reading.

And on a side note, I encourage everyone to go on Goodreads, start following the heavy readers and reviewers and take note on what they say. They probably read almost as much as editors and agents, and I've gotten many ideas on what to do and what not to do by what they find unoriginal or overdone. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016


I've started reading Manga books, as research, because I have an idea for a book that involves a character who is an aspiring graphic novelist, obsessed with Manga. I'm not new to the Manga-verse. In high school, during my *cough* periphery raver days, I used to rush home after school to make sure I caught the latest episode of Sailor Moon. I also had a crush on a boy who introduced me to some of the darker Manga like  Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll and Wicked City.

In college, at the video store, my friend and I discovered Ranma 1/2, the slapstick series about a boy who turns into a girl when he's hit with water. It's hilarious. It's also a graphic novel, so it was about time I read some Manga instead of watching it.

And it's amazing! As in the animated versions, the plotlines vary from the serious, to the hokey, to the slightly demented and strange. The artistry also remains unchanged. Characters with large eyes, small noses and scenes captured in alternative angles. I always remember one from Ghost in The Shell where the entire scene was portrayed in the reflection in a pair of sunglasses in the rain. Beautiful.

So I'm enjoying my research, also becoming a fan myself, and learning other writing skills. Specifically, the inciting incident, the moment where your character's life changes and the plot of your novel begins. You're supposed to make this happen quickly. In fact, if you're following a formula, it's basically...

Introduce your character's normal world - Now change it. (inciting incident)

In YA, sometimes this can take a while. Or sometimes there's a page of introduction - inciting incident - then pages and pages of backstory. But what I've noticed in my Manga is a quick turnaround. The one I'm reading now had 1 page of normal life right into BAM! inciting incident. I read one a couple of weeks ago that had only a few pages of normal life before the inciting incident. And I like it. I like not waiting for the action to happen, and not flowing from there into tons of backstory. I think as novelists we worry, without the background, no one will care about our characters. But I do care about these characters. I learn just enough about them in those first few pages to keep reading.

I'm not sure if the skills can completely translate without the imagery, but it's inspiring me to try.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Where Have I been? The Phone

This was going to be a post about the house. With pictures. But then I lost the pictures because you see, around Halloween, I dropped my phone, and not just a little, "oopsie," the screen basically shattered. Thank goodness, I had that screen protector. Not to protect the screen apparently, but to keep the little shards together and protect my finger from getting cut by them.

I used it like that for a few months because one, I had just gotten the glass replaced at one of those mall kiosks before the break and hated to spend more money on it, and two, I went to the Apple Store during Christmastime and quickly ran away when I saw the crowd. I finally went back, and well, here is my Yelp Review about the experience, a delightful second person narrative.

You walk in. You tried to come in once before, but it was a weekend and you could barely get past the doors. Tonight is a Monday night. The entrance is deceptively clear. You're greeted by a chipper, red-shirted girl who asks what you need. You say you made a service appointment. She leads you up the thin aisle, between tables neatly set with Apple products. The deeper you go into the store, the more crowded it becomes. The long, thing room seems to shrink around you.

You are introduced to another person in a red shirt with an iPad. You tell him you made a service appointment. He taps away on his screen and you fidget from foot to foot. Are there more people in here than there were a minute ago? Loud voices bounce off the metal walls and jab you like prodding fingers.

He tells you no "geniuses" are available at this time. You snicker at the pompousness Apple has at calling their store associates "geniuses" and wonder how he can say it with a straight face. You're told to sit at a crowded table with the others and wait your turn.

As always, in waiting situations, you turn to your trusty iPhone. Names are called (not yours) and you wonder why they bother making appointments when they make you wait longer than you do at the doctor's office. You check Facebook. Again.

More names are called (not yours) and more people crowd into the store. A bead of sweat rolls down your cheek. You can feel the anxiety setting in. This would be your own personal hell if they started feeding you brussel sprouts and made you watch Fox News as well.

You start to hate yourself for allowing yourself to be treated like cattle all for the sake of this tiny, handheld computer. Ten years ago you lived very happily without it. Now you wait in a long, thin sarcophagus and fidget like an expectant puppy at the shelter for you to be chosen by one of the "geniuses".

Finally, your name is called. You meet with a bearded, 24-year-old hipster with an iPad. He asks you some questions. You answer them. He runs a diagnostic to tell you what you already know, your phone is broken. You're also screwed. There's nothing they can do except sell you another one.

He tells you at least he didn't make you wait an hour and half to tell you that, like you should be happy they're trying to rip $600 from your pocket now, instead of 2 hours from now. You bite your tongue to keep from swearing at him. It's not his fault. He's just another cog in the machine. You take your broken phone and storm out of there.

You're happy to finally be free, but you're also angry that they won't fix your phone. You swear you're going to get a Samsung, or something else, but you know that's not true. You also know it won't solve the problem. No matter what phone you get, you'll have to sign up for 2 years of service. You'll always be owned by someone unless you move to a cabin in the woods and live a self-sufficient, disconnected life as a hermit. But you also know that won't happen. So you leave, feeling angry, disappointed, degraded and disgusted with yourself that you're going to let them win. You're going to pay the $600 dollars, and you're going to continue to be a slave to the technology machine.

But you're going to order the phone online, because by God, you are never going into that store again.

As you can see, it didn't go well, so I had to bite the bullet and get a new phone. From AT&T, not the Apple Store. I had done my iCloud back-up, but when I restored my files, not everything came through. I lost most of my pictures AND a good chunk of my 90's mix. (So sad!) To top that off, the computer we had it all backed up on was stolen when our house was broken into right before we moved. Bad luck, huh? Overall, though, I've tried to be positive. We still might be able to get the pictures off the Cloud onto a new computer, and at least I didn't have any nudies there. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Where have I been? The Essay

I haven't posted since Septemper, and that's because we were buying a new house! It's lovely. It's bigger, in the country, came with a CHICKEN, has tons of character and a million little projects to keep me busy for the length of my 30-year-mortgage. But what prompted me to give up my city house and move to the country? It was actually an essay contest. This essay contest.

I did not win. I did not even get chosen as a finalist, but I knew that was going to happen. I just had to write it, because, you see, I had a plane trip to take. And I know, most people don't move because they have to get on a plane. But  I am crazy about planes. The only way to get me on one is to pump me full of pills and alcohol and then lead me, wobbling, to my seat.

Getting me on the plane is not the problem. There are drugs for that. It's the commitment. The time between clicking, "Purchase" on my plane ticket until the moment I'm prepping myself in the airport bar. As soon as I receive the confirmation email for my flight, I get this sinking feeling like my fate is sealed. I chose the one plane that's not going to make it. I only have two months left to live.

Believing you're going to die is a great way to make you take a hard look at your life, what's working and what isn't. I had been dragging my heels on moving out of the city. That is what old people do when they've given up on having friends and culture.

But then the Rock Spring Farm essay contest came along. I wasn't planning on entering. The entrance fee was $200! But the farm sounded so lovely, I just wanted to write an essay to see what I would write. Then I read it, and I felt hopeful, peaceful. I edited it down to the word count and read it again. I showed it to my husband and he said it was perfect. That was what we wanted. That. And if by some miracle, I survived this plane trip, things needed to change.

My entry essay is below.

Fifteen Seconds
I am a city girl. But I don’t want to be. Between our house and neighbor’s house, there is eight feet of grass. From my bedroom window, I see power lines and clusters of other houses. When I go to sleep, I listen to the cacophony of cars speeding down the highway and the train blaring its horn as it rickets down the tracks.

In the morning, it’s a mad dash to get everyone ready for the day. My three-year-old son doesn’t want to put on his shoes. I can’t find my pants. My husband doesn’t have time to shave…again. By the time everyone is packed into the cars, we’re exhausted, and it’s only eight-thirty. I sit in traffic and start cursing over the fifteen seconds I have to wait for the light to change. Fifteen seconds! I’ve timed it. It’s nothing, and yet in that moment, it’s everything.

Both of my parents grew up on farms, my mom in Tennessee, my dad on Long Island. My mom tells me stories about the clothes she used to sew for tobacco worms and Pet Chicken who followed her around the farm like a dog. When she starts telling me one of her “farm stories,” her southern accent grows deeper, and her hazel eyes take on a wistful sparkle. Mine do too. We spent almost every summer on that farm along with my Great Aunt’s cattle farm only a mile up the road.
I always told my mom, “I’m going to live here when I grow up.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because it’s so green!”
Having grown up in Arizona, it felt alive when everything else around me was barren.
When my grandmother died, they divided up the land and sold it. After my Great Aunt lost her twin (my Granny) and her husband, she couldn’t work her farm anymore. Since she had no children of her own, only my mom who was already in her late sixties, they decided to sell her land and move her into an assisted living facility closer to my parents.

For a moment, I thought about raising my hand and saying, “I’ll take it!” But I was only in my twenties, newly married and couldn’t ask my husband to give up our city life and move onto a farm in Tennessee. However, after the farm was sold, I told him my crazy idea, and he said, “I would have liked that.”

My dad has a similar story. His father was a truck driver who dreamed of buying himself a little farm, which he eventually did and moved his family from Queens into the country. They started a chicken farm, and at my dad’s fiftieth high school reunion, he brought out his old high school yearbook and showed me the ad for their famous, thirteen egg dozen.

When I was six, my grandfather died, and shortly after, my grandmother sold the farm and moved into an adult community…not before I had a chance to visit and walk with my dad down the quiet road to the sound. I dug up my first clam there and tried my first grilled eel.

My husband and I dream of the day when we’ll have enough money to buy some land, move out of the city, get some chickens, and grow a garden. Somewhere I can write, and where he can build the furniture pieces he has scrawled out in his sketchbook, a place where our son and future children don’t have rush off to daycare. I want to live in a place where my son can be safe, where he can run barefoot, and where, when he is an old man, he can drive by the farm with his children and get that wistful look in his eyes, rehashing old stories.

My husband and I often talk about self-sustaining living, utilizing wind and solar power, and growing our own food. At Rock Spring, we would do that. We would do a little bit of everything, really. I’d love to have a few chickens, horses, goats and a vegetable garden. My husband would love to get his hands dirty, building hand-crafted furniture and bringing a classic car back to life.
I would also love to see my family for more than a couple of hours a day. I would love to go to sleep to the sound of crickets and wake up to chirping birds instead of sirens. I don’t want to waste my life sitting in traffic and being angry about it.

I’ll admit, I know very little about farming. I will need help. In the next few years, my parents will need help too. That’s part of my reason for writing this essay. I want them to spend their last few years back on a farm with their grandchildren, and I want my children to know their grandparents. Rock Spring is also fairly close to my sister. She lives in D.C. with her now fiancĂ©e. We see each other once, maybe twice a year.

On our last visit, we took a trip back to Tennessee with the whole family, and when we got home I asked my son, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” Without pause, he shouted my sister’s name. I’m glad he loves his aunt so much. I’m sad he can only see her every six months. At Rock Spring, I picture weekend family get-togethers, dining on home grown vegetables.

I’m a dreamer, admittedly, but I’m also an achiever, like my truck-driving grandfather turned farmer. My husband and I know we’ll have to learn, to work. We’ll have to sweat, bandage blisters, and build callouses. We’re willing to do it because we want a different life, and I can’t think of any better way to spend my inheritance from my Great Aunt’s farm than by investing in my own. I want fifteen seconds to be fifteen, blissful seconds, where I can pause, think about my day, and be eager to face it.