Jill Cooksey does not fail…but Lesley sometimes does.

My heroine’s motto is “Jill Cooksey does not fail.” Whether she always lives up to that motto…well, I’ll let you read the book. In real life, failure happens all the time. It’s how we learn and grow yada yada yada. A particular kind of failure, however, has little to do with growth and everything to do with the clock. I’m talking about the failure that results when you run out of time.

Time is fluid in stories. The author can speed time up or slow it down depending on what the story needs. A conversation between characters that takes you minutes to read can fill an hour in novel time, while, in the same book, Herculean tasks can be accomplished by plucky heroines in the blink of an eye. We authors serve the story, bending time to our will like bored Gallifreyans on a random Tuesday. The power is intoxicating.

If only real life were like fiction.

One aspect of my life does resemble fiction–my to-do list. It’s mostly fictional because it mostly goes undone. The completed to-do list lives only in my imagination, and, boy, that’s one heck of a story. The heroic writer/teacher makes a plan, follows it with no interruptions or additions to the list over the course of the day, and crosses every item off the list. Just thinking about it makes me teary. What a beautiful story of an underdog beating the odds.

Reality, I fear, is the same for all of us. That task that should take fifteen minutes ends up taking an hour and a half because of technology, bureaucracy, or one of the other horsemen of the apocalypse. The emails pour in, each with an insincere apology for the added work that now has to be done immediately. Or, through misguided optimism, we ourselves misjudge how long tasks will take and pile on too many of them. At the end of the day, that to-do list glares at us like a dog we neglected to feed or a spouse on a forgotten anniversary. We have failed it, and, worse news, we’re going to do it again tomorrow.

The truth is we’re all Sisyphus. Our boulders live on scraps of paper, in beautifully appointed planners, or on our phones. Perhaps if we just accept the fact that none of us is going to reach the top of that hill, then we can all calm down, shrug our shoulders, and use our planners as kindling for the fire pit and our phones for bingeing Married at First Sight.

For most of us, acceptance is too hard. The lists will continue as will our failure to live up to them. If only we could stretch time like taffy, that magical substance that seems to be infinitely stretchable.

Taffy sounds good. Let me write that down.

–Make taffy.

Got it.

My planner. I call her Galadriel because she is both beautiful and terrifying.
My planner. I call her Galadriel because she is both beautiful and terrifying.

Camp NaNoWriMo: Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah…


April has been a busy month to say the least. WFH, disinfecting the groceries, household projects, yard work, and, most importantly, Camp NaNoWriMo. Back in November I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo with no success whatsoever. The regular school year, the kind where you go to a classroom and touch actual paper, was in full swing. November is never the right month for a teacher to write a novel. Can we have special teacher NaNoWriMo in, say, July? Anywho, despite my lofty goals and the support of my writing partner, I don’t think I got beyond 2000 words that month.

Fast forward to April. How the world has turned.

Despite all that grocery sanitizing, I have a bit more time to play with this April. I can’t imagine why. But the opportunity is here, and I am working hard at the sequel to The Sweet Scent of Death. The working title is the oh so creative Jill Cooksey 2. You may recall that Sweet Scent isn’t even published yet, and you may be wondering if I am putting the cart before the horse. Well, if all goes to plan (cue laughter), I will release both Sweet Scent and Jill Cooksey 2 at the same time this fall. Keep your fingers crossed. Jill and I accept prayers, good wishes, cash, and PayPal.

But back to Camp NaNoWriMo. We are two and half days away from May, and I am still pretty far from my goal of 40,000 words in the month of April; however, I can say that this has been my most productive month for creative writing during the school year ever. I am on track to have written on 22 out of 30 days this month. I’m always encouraging my students to look for the silver linings in this Covid-19 nightmare, and writing somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 words in one month certainly qualifies.

Your Best Quarantine Life: Living with a Snackasaurus Rex

Judging from memes and posts all over the internet, too much snacking is one of the great challenges of the Covid-19 quarantine, along with a dearth of tests, personal protective equipment, and medical supplies. Clearly snacking ranks pretty low on the CDC’s list of concerns, but for folks trapped at home who have no control over the medical supply chain, snacking is a big issue, especially the disappearance of snack foods from pantries well-stocked by panic buying. If your snack supply is quickly dwindling, you may be living with a Snackasaurus Rex.

As the name implies, Snackasaurus Rex is the king (or queen) snacker in your household. This person can devour an entire box of Cheez-Its in one sitting and doesn’t realize he’s doing it until he reaches the bottom of the box. Whole bags of chips, cans of salted nuts, boxes of Girl Scout cookies, all the candy you’ve acquired for Easter–nothing is safe from Snackasaurus Rex. And she doesn’t stop at snack foods. When that jar of olives for penne puttanesca or the bag of coconut for Thai curry goes missing, you can blame that on your Snackasaurus.

Thankfully, Snackasaurus Rex can be thwarted. Just like in Jurassic Park, where complete stillness and turning off the lights saved the day, sort of, you can make your home Snackasaurus-proof. Here’s how.

(Before we go any further, if you are the Snackasaurus Rex of your household, hand the computer or device over to someone else. You’ve already proven you can’t help yourself. An intervention is required.)

  1. Creative Snack-caching

Hiding food is your first line of defense. Husband or son your Snackasaurus? Hide snacks in old purses in your closet. Purses are sacred territory, like Indian burial grounds in old westerns. Men are afraid of purses, those magical bags that can produce every item known to mankind, from decades old rolls of Certs to an entire screwdriver set. Messing with big magic leads to bad juju. Your snacks will rest safely. Other places menfolk tend to avoid include the china cabinet and the linen closet.

Wife or daughter chowing down on all your snacks? Your wife’s old purses won’t help you there. You need to hide snacks with the gross-out factor in mind. Stash those Doritos under the sink in your son’s bathroom that he hasn’t cleaned—ever. Bury the Mint Milanos in your gym bag, wrapping them in your shorts for extra protection. Safe as Fort Knox.

The real upside to hiding snacks is that you can bring them out gradually over the course of your confinement. When you surprise your family, including Snackasaurus Rex, with an unopened bag of Lays barbecue potato chips in late April after the entire potato chip herd has been hunted to extinction, you will be the hero of the pandemic.

  1. The Great Wall of Chicken Stock

When you’ve run out of hiding places, the only choice you have is to build a physical barrier between Snackasaurus Rex and your provisions. Luckily, you’ve been planning for this day. You just didn’t know it. A survey of your pantry will probably reveal one or two items that you have stockpiled unintentionally. These are the items you pick up at the grocery store time and time again because you’re just not sure you have any at home. For me, it’s chicken stock, evaporated milk, pureed pumpkin, and cloves. (Clearly the holidays are my stockpiling time.) Sometimes I look at my pantry and wonder if I’ll ever work my way through this superfluity.

But today, Chicken Stock, is your day. Cloves, it’s time to answer the call.

These items are probably at the back of your pantry, but it’s time they took center stage. Use them to construct a wall that hides the real food. Like camouflage, this wall will confuse Snackasaurus Rex and may lead to comments like “There’s no food in the house” and “How much pumpkin does one family need?” Mission accomplished.

Outsmarting Snackasaurus has another benefit besides preserving your provisions and preventing starvation. It’s something to do. If you’re worried that battling Snackasaurus Rex will take too much time away from that jigsaw puzzle or bingeing on Tiger King, remember, those things aren’t going anywhere, and neither are you.

Greetings from Quarantine

Okay, it’s not actually quarantine; it’s social distancing, but it feels very quarantine-like and makes me think of The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. It may be time to re-read that one–timely to say the least. As those fleeing the Black Death told stories to pass the time, I am planning to do a lot of writing to pass the time, planning being the operative word. I’ll also be doing a heck of a lot of paper grading and a fair amount of digital lesson building for my students.

But passing time is not the real payoff of writing during the Covid-19 “quarantine.” In this uncertain time, writing gives one a sense of control over SOMETHING. I can’t devise a vaccine or prevent people from hoarding. I can’t make my loved ones stay home and out of danger. I can’t even see, truly, the scope of the whole situation. Three things I can do: I can be calm, I can pray, I can write. I can create characters and make one a victim and one a murderer, plant clues and red herrings, send my sleuth on daring adventures, and have a measure of control over the world I create.

A measure of control sounds pretty good right now.

The author in limbo

What do you do when your book is not yet published but everyone is telling you to put yourself out there? Why? Why would anyone want to know about an English teacher with an unpublished novel? Could there be a bigger cliché?

Yet here I am creating my “author platform” and hoping to connect with potential readers. The work is really fun (designing web sites, creating social media accounts, working up a newsletter) as long as my mind doesn’t wander to the publishing problem. I am stuck in publishing limbo, wondering whether to indie publish or to keep querying agents and publishers, and, in the meantime, I keep writing and creating the tools of a fabulous writing career, living on faith that one day they’ll be put to good use.

I know that I’m not alone. We limbo dwellers are everywhere, at writing groups, book clubs, workshops, and conventions. One day we will be released from limbo, but we have to release ourselves. That’s why we keep writing books that may never be read and web sites that may never be visited. It’s only our own efforts that will take us where we want to go. The faith must be in ourselves.