Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What To Do While Waiting

For a writer, the worst thing in the world to do is wait. Of course, people have lives. They have things to do. But the minute a writer turns something in--an article, a blurb, a book--the clock starts ticking. Right now all I can do is wait. My book has been sent out to publishers. My agent warned me that it will take at least a month in most cases for them to read--even with phone calls, prods and personal connections.

"Start something else," she said.

Well, the last time I was waiting I wrote a YA novel. (Now I know that it should really be considered Middle Reader). I wrote it during NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). I had been mulling over the idea for a couple of years---had a world and a beginning--and a file folder full of pictures and research. But I did't know what the story was yet.

I started five days late, and I finished on time. I knew it was for my kids so I wrote it (2000 words a day from my start date) and gave my boys pages every two to three days. They would give me notes/suggestions. "Mommy, this is good, but if something doesn't happen soon it is going to start to get boring." Or, from my older son, "I like this. I think the Librarians (characters in the book) should speak using really big words." Or, "They need to have a friend and something really bad has to happen." Each night I incorporated their suggestions. Their sense of rhythm and plot was impeccable. Better than mine. And they would catch forgotten strands of the story that I had not come back to, and demand that I follow up.

Anyway, now that my adult novel is out, I am turning back to my kids book. I did a once-through edit and now I have formed my own little kids focus group. I picked a few of Benji's friends who I know are fantastic readers, highly imaginative, and, in one case, daughters of writers. They already talk like writers! And they are only 10!

So yesterday Jonathan made copies for me and I put together a folder for each kid. Benji helped me recruit his friends, talking up the book (I did not demand this, but good buzz!). I went down to Liz' hardware on La Brea and took cool pictures of ancient locks and keys for my cover. Then I wrote each kid a letter asking them to be part of my focus group. Today the books went out.

While my stomach churns when I think of my adult novel, today I feel only grateful on the kid front. One girl's mother shared that her daughter started reading in the car on the way to ice-skating lessons. When her mother asked how it was she said, "Amazing!" I felt so happy. Even if she is only 10 pages in.

Then Benji shared that in Council at school (closed, all info there is secret but he said he would break the promise this once) his other friend, when asked to share something that made him happy, said, "I can't wait to read Hilary's book."

I have to hold onto the good days. This one was good.

The kids come over next Wednesday for brownies and milk and discussion. I can't wait. Benji is already moving the discussion forward, asking questions like: "What are you going to call your chapters? Are you going to have just numbers? Or a description of what happens--flat and straight--or funny titles like Rick Riordan?"

Good question!

On the adult one, I am just trying to tell people I sent it out, and give the elevator pitch, then give more if they ask. At least I am not being totally hermit-like and secretive. That is my natural instinct.

Friday, March 4, 2016

I'm Back

Hello. After four years away, I am returning to my blog. I am back to document all my complicated emotions around trying to be a published writer. It helps me, even though this blog is one in a million, in a world where blogs already feel outdated, to document the mental stages that go with sending a piece of fiction you have slaved for years on out into the universe.

I have noticed that people who have done it recognize the wild look in my eyes, the combination of hyperactivity, joy and paranoia that course through me like an electric charge.

Today, this is all I can get down.

But I guess the most important piece of information to launch this latest round of blogs is that I did it: I finished a novel, got an agent, and last week it went out to publishers.

That was a goal, a goal that was so important to me I held it deep inside and only danced around the edges of it for my whole adult life, being a journalist so I would have to write every day, taking fiction classes at night to make me write short stories, befriending novelists I wanted to be, marrying  a writer so we could be a writing couple, and of course, always, always, always reading.

Tomorrow, more details on the joy, and the struggle.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

When Pianos Are Trash

Perhaps you saw that devastating story in the New York Times about people throwing away grand pianos, and smashing them up with sledge hammers?

Our piano came from a bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard in a section that used to be full of old book stores. It was the last bookshop, and our piano (reputedly Liberaci's practice piano) was lodged among the stacks, there for anyone who wandered in from the Boulevard to play. There were some homeless people and some old customers--but we came along and bought it for almost nothing. It cost more to get the piano movers to push it up our 43 stairs than to buy the piano itself.

We love our piano.

Now the boys play, and we are always picking up music from the strangest places. Jonathan got an entire collection of show tunes from 1960 to now from a library sale. You just knew they belonged to some old Hollywood person who played for years, then died. In that pile we found Fiddler on the Roof, and Benji learned to play Sunrise Sunset for his last piano recital. I hope that dead piano player can see where their music ended up.

Then recently, J and I were walking a friend's dog and we found a pile of piano books strewn along the sidewalk, along with an old mattress--probably an eviction.

There was Bach and Mozart and Beethoven and more showtunes. I think there were literally piano books from my childhood. I felt I was rescuing them--like they were beautiful orphans who had lost their way and no one could see how beautiful they were. We did!

We brought them home, and there was Beethoven's Fur Elise. Probably one of the most cliched pieces of piano music in the world today. It was the piece my parents demanded I learn to play at 11, before I could give up piano and join the band at Cutler Jr. High School. I sat down, after all these years, and started to play.

It's a cliche, yes. But I had forgotten how beautiful it is. Even played unevenly, without confidence, with many errors, I felt like it cast a spell on our house. Jonathan shouted out from the TV room, and the boys shouted out from upstairs: "What is that? I like that one!"

I think I never learned to play the whole thing. I know the sound, but I did not know the middle pieces. Now I get up most mornings, grab my coffee, and play for just a little while. When I don't, Benji asks why I have stopped playing piano in the morning.

And I marvel at how this pile of piano books, found on the street, can give me such joy.

I feel like it was sent to me by a secret messenger from beyond, who just knew I needed a little Fur Elise in my life.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Day, One Child

Before we had kids, we used to hang out with some friends of Jonathan's who had kids "early." And by early, I mean, much later than our own parents--but they were still in their Twenties. Not waiting until the last possible moment their bodies could do it, if you know what I mean. Like us. Pushing the biological limits.

Anyway, they had these two amazing girls (who continue to dazzle). We would borrow them and take pictures with us to try out what we might look like as parents. Kind of like looking at yourself in new clothes, with a new persona, you know?

Anyway, these two people were truly awesome parents, and we have tried to copy and steal parenting techniques from them all along, as we are continually about nine years behind them.

One tip they had was this: make sure that you always take time to have a day alone where each parent shares a day with only one child. A total one on one bonding experience.

Well, life hit and we lost track.

But last weekend I got a day like that. And I didn't do anything spectacular like go to Paris with one child, or sail to Catalina, or even visit the Jet Propulsion Lab with my tech-minded child. Instead it was a simple day, brought on by necessity.

Jonathan took Benji to a birthday party, and I took Theo for a swimming lesson, and the day.

Well, first, I am a fanatical swimming mama. It is the one place I am pushy and demanding. The boys, AND their instructors, know that I care. I intentionally always make Theo wear his red Coronado Roughwater Swim cap, instead of his red swim school cap. It is my message to the teachers: someone in his family is a good swimmer, and he will be, too.

So he swam. He was tested. He got moved up. I was proud.

And then we had our day.

I took him to Book Soup, the last great book store in Los Angeles. I showed him the kids section, and walked him through the adult stacks. There was a reading going on, and I told him what was happening. I showed him the list of upcoming readings--with authors and books listed, and told him you could come and hear. He scanned the list dutifully and said, surprised, "I have never heard of any of them, Mommy." Neither had I.

Then we went and bought art supplies for our upcoming trip. Sketch books for all of us, and pastels in metal containers small enough to carry in a purse or backpack. I want us to travel like 18th century pilgrims, drawing what we see as we move around the castles and green rolling hills of England.

Then I took him to Poquito Mas and we sat in the sunshine, he and I, and talked about a book I wanted him to read (The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy). We told stories, and nibbled each other's food, and I wondered if he would spend his whole life trying to get back to California so he could eat tacos in the spring sunshine.

Then we went home and we drew each other with the new pastels, and I read him a chapter of the Apothecary, and then we cuddled up and read together in bed. We rounded it all out with a game of chess, in which he beat me soundly.

It was a perfect day to spend with anyone. But especially with my boy. It felt different to be with one child, instead of two. To share my favorite things and places and foods with him, and to talk to him like a companion, instead a small sheep in a herd of two, who must be corraled like a wild thing as we move hither and yon through the world.

I thought of Greg and Chalon and how they had told us how special that one on one time could be.

Jonathan told me Theo felt calmer that night--at peace because for one day he did not have to fight for attention in our merry band of endless talkers--but could have me all to himself--and I, him.

I wouldn't trade two for the world, but for a day, one was fun.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I love poppies. I love red poppies, opium poppies, wild poppies, California poppies. I love fields of them, waving on their slender stalks. I love that they are so vibrant and alive, yet cannot survive for long once picked. They love to be outside--don't mess with them!

You know this--this is my picture here.

Today we plant some in our front yard and pray they will come up in spring.

It won't be a field of gold, or a hillside of yellow, or a waving valley of red. But it will be a tiny carpet of California poppies in Whitley Heights--a small ode to this state I love.