Friday, February 26, 2010

First Sale: An Interview With First-Time Author Allison Pang

I met Allison in my Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal chapter of RWA - she made the fab graphics for the website and then took over the web diva position in January. When she told us she was shopping for an agent to help her with some big publishing decisions, we were psyched. Then on the same day our own Audra Harders got The Call, Allison landed an awesome deal. She's agreed to let me annoy her periodically over the next year to see how this first year, between The Call and her book on the shelves, changes her perspective and outlook on the publishing industry.

What can you tell us about your book?
The working title is Shadow of the Incubus, though that may change before it goes to print. It’s an Urban Fantasy – I wanted to do something fun with a bit of snark, but I also wanted to be able to break the rules of “normal” and the fantasy aspect allowed me to play around with that. Plus I wanted to do my own spin on things, so instead of vampires or werewolves, I have an incubus and a tiny, ass-biting unicorn.

How on earth did you come up with the idea for an ass-biting unicorn? A dream? A random comment? Or did it just happen organically as you wrote the book?
Well, it’s a combination of things. I had run a variation of the character (Phineas) in an online game for a short while, since I liked the contrast of having something that is supposed to be pure being written as a sort of dirty old man. When I started writing the book, I wanted to give the heroine some sort of animal companion – a small one, but something a little funkier than a cat, so I shrunk Phineas down and that was that.
The unicorn in question also rolls around in the heroine’s underwear drawer, and that was directly inspired by one of my own cats (the one that also used to drag my clothes around the house and do unspeakable things to them). Although he was originally only supposed to be there as comic relief, about half way through the book he decided he needed to talk and I just ran with it.

How many books have you completed prior to this one?
This was my first.

Um. We have a word for people like you. Want to guess what it is?

What was the deciding factor when you signed with your agent?
I ended up with offers from three agents and a short period of time in which to make up my mind. It was a very tough call, as all of them are excellent agents. I interviewed some of their clients and scoured their blogs, talked with them on the phone and did everything I could do to get a feel for who they were and if they believed in my vision for the book. In the end, I went with my gut and I’m certainly not disappointed!

What are your goals for this year?
Well, I’ve got deadlines now, so I need to buckle down and start organizing my time better. I’ve got revisions for Book 1 due soon, and Book 2 is due at the end of the year, so my immediate goals are to write my butt off!

What are your immediate plans for marketing? Besides appearing frequently at the Five Scribes blog, natch.
I’ve got my own blog, of course, but I will probably be looking at setting up a more professional website as a base of operations. At this point in time it’s going to be the blog/facebook/twitter trifecta for right now. Once I get closer to having the book released I’ll probably be a bit more proactive about pimping it via blog tours, etc.

How has your daily schedule changed since selling?
It hasn’t really. I still only find time to write in the evenings after the kids are in bed.

Have you ever tried penning them in the back yard? Works great in the spring. Ahem. Or so I hear.

Do you plan to hit any cons this year?
RWA National for sure. I went to RT last year and had a blast, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to fit it into the schedule this time around. (Though I’m hoping that might change at the last minute).

Favorite snack during writing time?
Smartfood popcorn. I have to limit myself to the little bags of it, though – I can eat my way through an entire big bag in a single setting easily. (But I’m a bit of a stress eater anyway, so the key here is to not really have too much lying around the house).

Favorite excuse to stop writing?
Heh. It’s funny, when I’m not really ready to start writing, I let little things distract me, so pretty much anything can get me to stop, but once I’m in the zone, I can usually work through whatever my goals are. (I aim for at least 1000 words a day). But as far as favorite? I admit to being easily swayed by games – World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Mass Effect. I’ve had to institute a policy where I am NOT allowed to touch any of the gaming consoles until the words are done. Otherwise it’s far too easy to fall into that “Well, let me just kill this last zombie horde” and before I know it it’s 1 AM and I haven’t done anything. LOL.

Where will you be when the zombie apocalypse happens?
Practicing my Double Tap from the roof with my AR-15.
(Yes, I actually do own one.)

Favorite exercise to atone for your procrastination and snacking?
Dancing. As noted above, if I’m not quite ready to work and a good song comes on the iTunes, I’m pretty likely to just get up and shake my booty around the office for a few minutes. Sometimes that’s enough to clear my mind and get me to be serious about focusing.
I just had spinal surgery in September, so I tend to keep any other exercise fairly low impact – walking, etc. Sometimes I drag out the DDR mat and hop around. I suck at it, I’m afraid, but it entertains my kids to no end to watch me struggle.

Thanks to Allison for sharing her time with us. We'll see her again as the release date gets closer.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

No Limit For Better

Words of wisdom from Harrison Ford. He tells a story that when he was a carpenter and working with a Russian architect, he wanted to change something a half of an inch and she said, "no limit for better"--a credo he's lived by and a great one for me too.

Harrison claims, "You keep on going until you get it as close to being right as the time and patience of others will allow."

I like that he allows for the variables of time and patience. That works for me. Before ever submitting my work to contests or agent consideration, I always make it the best I can at that time. But if I learn something at a conference workshop, I'll immediately revise other books so that they always reflect my best effort. It's as close to being right as I can make it given my current skill level and life circumstances.

The more I write, the more I realize that though I may be the author, my stories are really collaborative efforts. I can only take it so far, and then a critique buddy or friend offers a terrific idea for a plot twist or brilliant characterization moment.

Truth be told, I'm instantly thrilled and annoyed that I didn't think of it since it's my book and I know it and my characters so well, but I'm over the jealousy in a nanosecond and thrilled that someone offered me a way to make my work better. No limit for better.

Not being open to No Limit For Better, in my opinion, breeds mediocrity and a continued unpublished status I don't particularly desire, so . . . I'll try to remember this when I get my next critique and hear something I might not want to hear. No limit for better.

Top Ten Rules of Writing Fiction

Once in a while, you've just got share inspiring advice.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Congratulations to Misty Evans Five Scribes Contributor

OPERATION SHEBA and I’D RATHER BE IN PARIS were both nominated for a 2009 CAPA Award from The Romance Studio. I’D RATHER BE IN PARIS was nominated for Best Romantic Suspense, and OPERATION SHEBA was nominated for a Psyche Award (category for romances that did not meet the nomination criteria but that The Romance Studio reviewers felt deserved special recognition).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift."

-- Prefontaine

This is how I feel about not just writing, but life. To not use your God-given talents to the best of your ability is a grave insult to HIM and just bad karma. In everything you do, do it to the best of your ability and be happy with yourself!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Overcoming fear of public speaking through Toastmasters

Quite a number of people on my writing loops recently have shared the exciting news that their workshop proposals have been accepted by Romance Writers of America. This means they'll be touting their expertise at the 2010 RWA Conference in Nashville this summer. While they are excited, some are chewing their fingernails to the quick because while they'll gain exposure, they'll also have to get up in front of a crowd and (gasp) talk.

I know their pain. Let's face it; standing in front of a room full of people when all eyes are on the speaker -- well, for some they'd rather face a firing squad. Which is why I'm such a proponent of Toastmasters.

I don't think I'll ever "love" standing up and talking to a room full of people. But thanks to Toastmasters it no longer has me making those frequent bathroom stops or causes my heart to race. Want to see someone who has taken public speaking to the expert level? Mr. Andy Dooley gave me permission to share this video clip with you. I want to be this guy when I grow up.

Here's Andy Dooley, Winner of Toastmasters Humorist Competition in "A Date with Destiny......................."

About Andy Dooley. He is a Law of Attraction Expert, Spiritual Comedian, Bliss Coach and Artist. What's more he makes me smile. ~ Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wonderful Blog By Agent Rachelle Gardner

I read this terrific blog post by agent Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary and just had to share. Rachelle talks about the RIGHT things in submissions that make agents and editors perk up. She does a great job of defining the all-important, yet somewhat mysterious terms of 'craft', 'story' and 'voice'. This is just an excerpt, to read the full post please go to Rachelle's blog.

Today I want to take it further and identify three basic things that are immediately apparent to agents and editors when we read and evaluate your work, and they make the difference between yes and no.

. . . . .Story.
. . . . . . . . . . Voice.

Of course, the elements are intertwined, but it's helpful to artificially separate them in order to understand why a book is either working—or not.

Craft refers to the mechanics of fiction: plot, characterization, dialogue, pacing, flow, scene-crafting, dramatic structure, point-of-view, etc. I think craft is pretty easy to teach and it's easy to learn. It'stechnique, the foundation upon which writers use their artistic skill to build their story. Knowing the mechanics of craft enables you to use it to create the effect you want.

Story refers to the page-turning factor: how compelling is your story, how unique or original, does it connect with the reader, is there that certain spark that makes it jump off the page? Is it sufficiently suspenseful or romantic (as appropriate)? Does it open with a scene that intrigues and makes the reader want to know more? Story comes from the imagination of the writer and is much more difficult to teach than craft (if it can be taught at all).

Voice is the expression of you on the page—your originality and the courage to express it. Voice is what you develop when you practice what we talked about yesterday—writing what you know. It's the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Interview with Agent Ginger Clark

As coordinator of The Sandy Writing contest--Deadline coming up Monday the 15th--I'm fascinated by which of our five genres gain the most entries. In the earlier years of The Sandy Fantasy/SF was the strongest category, and this year it is definitely lagging behind in entries! I wonder why. It certainly can't be because of the lack of a quality final judge. Ginger Clark is a terrific agent. Though I found her for the contest, I now follow her daily twitters--hmmm is that considered stalking? From all my interactions with Ginger and from all I've read about her, I only wish that she represented the genre I write 'cause I'd love to have a shot at enticing her to be my agent. She's attending the June 18-10 Crested Butte Writers Conference and I can't wait to meet her in person. Take a look at the following interview.

Ginger Clark has been a literary agent with Curtis Brown LTD since the fall of 2005. She represents science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, literary horror, and young adult and middle grade fiction. In addition to representing her own clients, she also represents British rights for the agency's children's list. Previously, she worked at Writers House for six years as an assistant literary agent. Her first job in publishing was as an editorial assistant at Tor Books. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a member of the Contracts Committee of the AAR. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband

  1. Which categories do you currently acquire? Which category is your favorite?
    I love all genres I represent equally, much like a parent loves all their children equally, right? Currently, on the adult side of my list I represent science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance. On the kids side of my list, I do everything for ages 8 and up—so, middle grade and young adult.

  1. In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?

Vampire stories that have already been done. If you are going to do vampires, make it fresh (like my client Jeri Smith-Ready and her WVMP novels). I also don’t think hard SF is selling well. I’d love more military SF (for both adult and kids), urban fantasy (again, for both adult and kids) and steampunk for adults.

  1. Do you accept unagented and/or email queries?

I accept emailed and mailed queries. Keep the letter to a single page, and if you mail it, include an SASE or I will not respond.

  1. What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?

Ah, the synopsis question! All writers hate synopses, including my clients. A page or two at the most. It can even be less. Just give me the basics of the plot and tell me the ending. Authors: stop freaking out about synopses.

  1. What are the compelling elements that you think are necessary for a good
    read? What particularly grabs your attention?

    The writing has to be excellent, firstly. You also need realistic dialogue and a plot that moves forward. Compelling (not necessarily sympathetic) characters are also required. For young adult, the kids have to sound like kids or it just won’t book—kids are very savvy readers and know when something isn’t realistic.

  1. Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie.Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?

I hate to admit it, but those authors who I wind up having nice, normal, relaxed conversations with—I usually feel more obligated to give them detailed feedback when I turn down a book, than other authors I might meet. By “nice, normal, relaxed,” I mean the authors I get seated next to at meals, or who pick me up from the airport, and behave like NORMAL people. The authors who track my movements and follow me into restrooms are not behaving NORMALLY and make a bad impression.

  1. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?

Professionalism is by far the most important, and by that I mean—takes revisions well, doesn’t get defensive, is willing to do the lion’s share of their promotion, always tries to be tactful, etc. etc.

  1. What do you love most about your job?

Giving clients good news that involves money. I also love traveling to places like Bologna, Italy. It’s hard work going to the Bologna Book Fair, but it’s always invigorating to go to a place like that.

  1. Do you have any pet peeves?

Oh, I have A LOT but here are two: not being patient with me when I have your partial, and calling the agency to see if I have gotten to your query yet.

  1. What’s your favorite genre/type of:
    1. Book: Too many to answer.
    2. Food: Cheese and chocolate, and the order changes on those daily—some days, I love cheese more; on others, it’s chocolate.
    3. Music: The Police
    4. Movie: Blade Runner
    5. Hobbie: Watching very bad and excellent TV (nothing mediocre for me!) and reading FOR FUN.

  1. What are you addicted to?

Many things: pedicures, British Cadbury, red velvet cake, Twitter, “Mad Men,” “The Wire,” Kit Kat Chunky Peanut Butter, my winter coat (it’s red and has a high collar), and our Mini Cooper. Oh, and CAFFEINE.

  1. What have you always wanted to do?

I have always wanted to visit Australia. I have also always wanted to live in New York City, which I do, so that is a dream come true.

  1. Do you have a favorite quote?

I have tons, but let’s go with one from my Facebook page: "What a fun, sexy time for you."--George Michael, "Arrested Development"

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Call for Judges for Scriptscene's Romancing the Script Contest

Hello Five Scribe Readers and Friends....for you all know you're more than just readers, your almost family!!

I'm in need of judges for RWA’s Sciptscene’s Romancing the Script contest! Read what may turn out to be the newest tent pole in Hollywood.
Entry is 30 pages or 1st Act not to exceed 30 pages.

We’re trying hard to make this contest one that focuses on positive yet honest notes for the contestant, feedback that will help the writer become a better writer, not a disillusioned one.

Please let me know ASAP if you’d like to help discover and build a screenwriter’s career.

And if you’ve judged this contest before, please, please consider volunteering your time again.

More about the contest to come shortly! It's a fantastic opportunity for all members of RWA (Romance Writers of America)

All the best,
Leslie Ann Sartor aka LA
Romancing the Script Contest Coordinator

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Free Fiction for Haiti

Inspired by the efforts of our fellow authors who are offering free fiction as a fundraiser for Haitian victims of the devastating earthquake, those of us with short fiction to offer have posted our pieces below. Scroll down to read, and if you feel compelled, donate to a relief organization of your choice or to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital (links for donations to the hospital appear at the end of each story).

Thank you for your generosity, and we hope you enjoy our fiction.

Grant Me Wisdom and Second Chances

by Donnell Ann Bell

“Have a nice weekend, Mrs. Bradford.”

I took the brown bag from Jackie, the liquor store owner, before realizing that, one, he’d turned his back on me and, two, he no longer called me Melinda. Jackie, like so many others, had grown uncomfortable in my presence.

“You, too,” I said softly. No one could say I wasn’t a polite drunk.

In the driveway of my Modesto home, I knew an inkling of hope. Richard had come by to cut the grass. Maybe he was still out back. But the backyard was as manicured as the front. He’d come while I was at work.

The inside of the house wasn’t nearly as kept as the outside. The carpet needed vacuuming; the furniture Richard and I had meticulously picked out together, covered with dust. I’d clean on Monday. This weekend I was throwing a party – just me and Jim Beam.

I played back the collection notices on the answering machine, glanced at the divorce papers and poured my first glass. Maybe after a drink I’d feel strong enough to sign them.

I’d just raised the tumbler to my lips when I caught sight of my running shoes peeking out at me from beyond the mudroom. When was the last time I’d put them on? To reach them, I had to move past the closed door of my daughter’s bedroom. Myriad memories threatened behind that door, and I pulled my shaking hand away from the knob before they could singe me. Swallowing hard, I glanced over my shoulder at my liquid temptation, and then to the running shoes that at one time fulfilled a different need in me.

Everyday, like clockwork I put them on. Now everyday like clockwork I succumbed to the bottle.

I inspected the worn soles, and for once, was lured by something stronger than alcohol. In that instant, I knew if I didn’t get outside these walls, they would crumble around me and bury me in self-pity forever.

Breathless, I changed into my workout clothes and tied my shoelaces before I could change my mind. The counselor called what I was experiencing a panic attack. I’d known one several months earlier when the police showed up on my doorstep and ended my world.

I wrenched open the door and started walking. Faster and faster, gulping for air, picturing the dark hair and eyes Abby’d inherited from her father. Stronger than me, she forever wore me down. How many times had I ignored my husband’s warning, “You’re her mother, Melinda. Stop trying to be her friend.”

I broke into a run. I was out of shape, but the pain was like a salve. It reminded me that I was alive, and as my muscles remembered, my downward trend spiraled upward.

I raced up the trail, and upon reaching my destination, I screamed at the top of my lungs. “This is your fault, Melinda Bradford. Your fault!” Sobbing, I dropped to my knees. “Oh, Abby, baby. I’m sorry. God forgive me…I’m sorry.”

I can’t remember how long I stayed in that position. But when I lifted my head again, my pain had eased, a calm fell over me and I no longer felt the desire to blame others. No matter what happened, my husband had tried to warn me. It was now up to me to face the reality and absolve him of the guilt. My heart lighter than it had been in months, I made the decision to empty my liquor cabinets that night and move on.

Near the path to my home, my daughter bounded outside. “Mom, where have you been?”

“Abby?” The air stalled in my chest. “Abby?”

“Josh is on his way over. I called Dad at the office and he said I can’t go. Please, Mom?”

“Abby?” My awestruck gaze swept over her petulant face. “Am I dreaming?”

She returned my shock with a scowl. “Dreaming? What’s wrong with you? The hottest boy in school wants to show me his car, and all Dad can say is ‘No, I don’t know him.’ Please, Mom, please?”

I didn’t know how this was happening and I didn’t care. My fifteen-year old was alive and standing before me. I was a second away from taking her rebellious body in my arms and holding on tight, when exactly as it had on that fateful day, my husband’s Jeep rolled into the drive. Like a movie I’d seen once before, my daughter’s big brown eyes pleaded her case. “There he is. Mom, you have to convince him.”

And with the steel persona I knew so well, Richard recited his lines from the past, “I told her no, Melinda. We don’t know anything about this kid.”

No choice had ever been clearer as I smiled at my daughter. “You heard your father. Our answer is no.”

Her mouth dropped open, she stared between the two of us, and we heard her door slam all the way from outside.

Moments elapsed before my husband of seventeen years found his voice. “I don’t know what’s come over you. But…thank you.”

Inside the house, Richard pulled me into his arms and he kissed me, while I waited to wake up from this beautiful, impossible dream. When I didn’t, and he released me, my gaze fell to a floral arrangement that took the place of my glass of Jim Beam.

Richard walked Abby down the aisle yesterday as I beamed from the very front row. I run often these days and haven’t touched a drop of liquor in years. I often wonder if what happened was real or divine intervention. I don’t suppose I’m meant to know. Whatever did happen, it taught me some important life lessons. I pray often often for wisdom these days, and I believe firmly in second chances.

Donate to make a difference.

Dream Vacations

I don’t like to be dirty or cold. I like a nice soft bed. And most of all . . . I LOVE baths. Bubble baths, to be precise. I enjoy communing with nature as much as the next gal; it’s just that I like a hot meal and a warm bed at the end of my environmental appreciation. My husband thought that a luxury camper would be just my speed. So we planned this camping vacation.

We found a lovely camper that comfortably slept six. It had a T.V.,VCR, a stove, microwave, shower, a sink, an oven, heat and AC. We arranged to drive to Montana to visit friends, run up for a quick looksee at Glacier National Park, and then go back home through Yellowstone Park.
I planned meticulously for this trip, packing treasures in boxes weeks ahead of time so that we wouldn’t forget anything. The four kids scurried through the camper exploring every nook like curious kittens, exclaiming over each neat feature. They staked out their territories and enthusiastically helped stock the camper. We took off for Montana in high spirits.
I loved stretching out on the queen-size bed and napping after my turn driving, being able to go to the bathroom any time, and being able to help ourselves to drinks, meals, and snacks without having to stop. I did make one annoying mistake. According to the camper’s directions, we were strictly forbidden to use the propane stove while the vehicle was moving. I had planned on cooking dinner while John drove, so that once we pulled into out night’s campsite, we’d be ready for a nice dinner before games and bed. Needless to say, we ate a lot of very late dinners after our dessert appetizers.

At our friend’s home, they piled their four kids into their car, and we in our camper, and we followed them to Glacier National Park. When it came to choosing a camping site, John insisted we travel all over the dang forest inspecting each site in his search for “the best” spot. ‘cause you know that there is only one perfect campsite that would do. I wondered what would happen if we dared settle in the wrong campsite.
Would the chipmunks pelt us with pinecones until we gave up and moved? Would fire ants invade us, infiltrating everything until we called ‘uncle’ and left? Would we be unable to start a fire in the charred stone circle? Oh, I know! A bear would circle the camper, then shake it in frustration when he failed to find a way in, before pooping and sauntering away. Or perhaps God would turn the drizzling rain into a raging storm to wash our offending presence from the “wrong” site. Really. What would happen if we squatted at the wrong site?
I didn’t utter any of my sarcastic thoughts ‘cause this was my husband’s dream vacation. I reached for a pad of paper to start listing the requirements for my dream vacation. And a nice hotel topped the list. Anyhow, after forty-five minutes of evaluating dozens of campsites, we ended up back at the first spot that our friends had recommended. At least now, John was confident we had the primo spot.

At dinner time all twelve of us huddled around the campfire, and despite the shifting wind blowing cold, acrid smoke in our faces, the pesky bugs dive-bombing us, and rain spitting on us, it was a novel experience.
The next morning, the loud rapping of the rain on the metal roof woke me. Our friends marveled at the downpour, claiming that Montana had been experiencing the longest drought since . . . the middle ages. Hmm . . . I glanced skyward, a little nervous. Perhaps we had chosen the wrong site after all. We parted company with our friends and headed to Yellowstone alone.
While I drove, John navigated. He directed us to enter Yellowstone from the west entrance, claiming it was the scenic route. He used that term an awful lot that week. Scenic route. I Grew to hate it. More often than not John’s scenic routes were not scenic—unless you were a dung beetle, I suppose. Scenic route turned out to be code for the long way.
But then we found the beauty. We drove through stunning Idaho mountains and lush green valleys to get to the west entrance. The only thing marring that day was our eldest teenager’s attitude. Fourteen-year-old Jillian lay around moping, curled up in a fetal position, refusing to confide in us what was wrong. So we ignored her, and drove all day until John picked out a quaint campground. In under an hour, too. An improvement I much appreciated.
After another late dinner, the temperature dropped drastically. I woke at two thirty in the morning, freezing. Separating icy aluminum blinds with my fingers, I peered out the window and watched the gently falling snow through the outhouse light. Snow in late June? Really? Turning up the heat, I added a sleeping bag to our bed, when I heard whimpering.
“I’m gonna throw up,” Alli moaned.
“Not up there!” I scrambled around in the dark searching for the salad bowl. Alli shared the space over the cab with Brian; not a easy place to get to in an emergency, and I really didn’t want to clean up any messes up there. I stood on Jill and Jessica’s beds and hauled Allison out of the cab down onto the floor between the beds where she emptied her stomach into the stainless steel bowl. Ah, crisis averted.
Bare-chested wearing sweatpants, John stumbled out of the bedroom area. After taking in Alli’s quivering, miserable form huddled on the cold floor, he reached up for her blanket intent on moving her into Jessica’s bed, when he stepped on Jill’s foot, lost his balance, and tumbled his nearly two hundred pounds onto Jill's sleeping body.
Jillian shrieked so loudly, that I started laughing. I couldn’t help it; it was just so ridiculous. Here we were in the middle of the night, in noisy chaos, while it snowed like mad—in June, dealing with a sick kid. Some dream vacation.
John didn’t see the humor. At all. Especially once he discovered that Alli had thrown up earlier in the cab too. So we spent the next half of an hour rounding up all the soiled bedding and resituating kids—which wasn’t easy because nobody was willing to sleep near Allison for fear of catching her flu. A tenuous calm finally achieved, I sighed and headed back to bed. As I rounded the bed, my foot landed in a cold, wet puddle. Inside. We were being flooded with waste from a backed up shower. Lovely. Hmm. I was beginning to think we'd seriously pissed somebody off.
John dressed, waded out into the five inches of snow, in the dark, and tried to convince his normally nimble fingers to work long enough to connect the waste. We sopped up the smelly mess with towels, and then used dirty clothes when our six towels weren’t enough, braved the snowstorm and drove into Yellowstone and a laundro-mat, where we spent the morning disinfecting everything.

Later that day, fortified with clean clothes and better humor, we entered the park. The kids enjoyed seeing the buffalo ambling along within arms reach of the camper, visited malodorous pots of bubbling mud, and drove around marveling at the fascinating rock formations.
We drove through acres of blackened toothpick wastelands with an eerie feeling trailing us. No wind ruffled leaves or brushed pine branches. No animal tracks marred the white snow between the blackened trees. No birds chirped or chipmunks chattered, or squirrels rustled through the undergrowth. Silence and desolation ruled.
We finally located a brown bear lumbering through a less charred area. Through miles of tiny foot-high new pine forests, we discovered a few herds of elk. It wasn’t until we were making our way out of the park that at dusk we saw two moose about three miles away.
Also, I should inform you that good Old Faithful ain’t so faithful anymore. John forced us to freeze our tushies off, insisting that we absolutely could not leave Yellowstone Park without witnessing Old Faithful blowing. Jillian thought that the posted picture would suffice, and since it was very cold and the sun was setting, I heartily agreed. But John remained adamant. By the time it blew, the kids were in tempers and their bickering drove me nuts as we left the park.
Finally I tried the old Catholic guilt. “Why can’t you kids just get along for one short week? This is your father’s dream vacation. After all he does for you guys, I’d think that you could try a little harder to enjoy this vacation.”
Jillian’s eyes widened as if I’d told her the camper had turned into an elephant. With a look of utter disdain, she replied, “That’s ridiculous! We can’t get along in a six-thousand square-foot house, what made you think that we could do it in a tin can?”
Good point, I mentally conceded. They had had to put up with a lot of bad luck and way too much togetherness; we were all suffering. On the drive home, John selected a different “scenic”, rout through Wyoming. To bribe us to comply with this last picturesque detour, he compromised his principles (since real campers do not eat out! Ever.) and offered to take us out to dinner in Steamboat Springs if we went his way.
By the time we’d reached Steamboat, found a restaurant, and got seated, it was almost eight pm. We usually eat at six-thirty. After the waiter took our drink order, he asked us if we knew how their restaurant worked. Hmm. Odd question. How could it work? We order food, he brings it to us, and we pay him.
We order raw food, grill it ourselves, and we pay him. I pay him for the privilege of cooking. Nope. It was not a joke. They expected to charge us fifteen dollars each for a cheap cut of steak and a salad bar, and I was to cook it.
Like hell!
We paid for our drinks and left. We found a great place around the corner where Jillian could get mashed potatoes, gravy, and prime rib, and I didn’t have to cook a thing. Perfect.

Finally on the way home, Jillian confessed why she’d been so distraught and antisocial. She hadn’t wanted to hurt our feelings earlier, but the reason she’d been so weepy and depressed was because she hated us. All of us. She simply hated us all.
My dream vacation is vastly different. An all-inclusive resort, somewhere warm sounds about right. Oh, right—without kids who hate me!

Donate to make a difference.


by Kerri Leigh Grady

Maggie ran her hand over the smooth wood of the bed frame. Her dry eyes fought to focus on the beautiful carvings John had spent hours creating. This was her favorite gift, her favorite belonging, and now she would leave it behind.

“Margaret, it is time.”

Maggie closed her eyes against the harsh sound of her mother’s old voice. She dragged one finger across a swirl in the carving, memorizing the texture, the smell, and the color of the wood. The hay mattresses had never been worthy of this bed. Not even goose down would have been worthy. She turned to face the bedroom door. Her mother stood there, the skirts of her ornate dress disappearing behind the sides of the door frame. She had jammed her hands inside a furry muff. Her lips puckered in disdain.

Mother had not wanted Maggie to marry John, in spite of his family’s wealth. Her only daughter deserved an older family, her mother always said. And now Mother had her wish. Maggie was no
longer a married woman. She had whispered a prayer last night to God, asking him to care for John and thanking him for making her barren. She simply could not bear a reminder of the love God took
from her.

“Well? Quit your dawdling, child. The carriage is waiting.”

“I’ll be there directly.”

Her mother jerked her chin, turned with a swish of her massive skirts, and left. Maggie listened to the click of her shoes against the wooden floors and pretended for a moment the noise was bolder – the sound of John's boots.