On Finding an Agent (or Two): A Post with Pictures for the Visually Curious

You know what else is this way? Finding an agent. I like to tell myself that's what makes life interesting. ( also like to delude myself. Coincidence?)

You know what else is this way? Finding an agent. I like to tell myself all the mystery is what makes life interesting. (I also like to delude myself. Coincidence?)

Last April I broke up with my agent of nearly three years. It was necessary, and risky, and terrifying. It meant leaving the only person in publishing who’d thus far agreed to champion my work, in order to find someone else who would, you know, champion my work.

Writing that message was hard. It couldn’t be undone, and there was no guarantee I would find another agent. Worst of all, I don’t ever want to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially someone I like, and someone who gave me a chance before anyone else in publishing ever did.

Some things need to be done, however. This was one of them.

Because my newest book was ready to go — or so I thought — I jumped into the agent hunt fairly quickly. I had my query letter. I had two different synopses. I had a query-specific email address with a unique chime that gave me a miniature heart attack every time it announced a new message. I even had an agent spreadsheet so detailed that my writing buddies took every opportunity to tease me about it — and then asked me to share it with them when they, too, were ready to query. (Vindication feels good, by the way. In case you were wondering.) (more…)

Giant Mutant Tomatoes from Our Space

In retrospect, the fertilizer might not have been a good idea. Over the last few weeks, this summer’s garden plot has become a very scary place. We’ve been overrun by groping vines and in-your-face leaves. Melon sprawl and wall-to-wall carrot carnage. Sweet pea forests. Six-pound marbled orange beefsteaks. Eggplants that grow like Pinocchio’s nose, expanding by the second.

The only thing that’s not getting any bigger is the size of our garden space.

"Giant Mutant Tomatoes from Our Space" by Caryn Caldwell

A specimen from yesterday, pulled up with both hands. In case you thought I was exaggerating. But then, you know me. I never, ever exaggerate.

Give me strength. I fear I may not make it out alive the next time I venture in. Yesterday I barely escaped, stumbling onto the safety of the back patio with just a fistful of dirt-clotted weeds and most of my sanity. Today? Who knows. The lettuce is looking feisty, and the cucumbers have come of age. We may have a real fight on our hands.

Still, someone has to prune the pumpkins before the patch infests the neighborhood, so I’m going in. Soon as I re-tie my shoelaces. And adjust my sunglasses. And gas up the chainsaw. And any other delay tactics I can think of while still looking brave and unhesitant. I hear pumpkins can smell fear. (more…)

Snack Envy

I had forgotten how good graham crackers could taste. And Cheerios, and Goldfish, and animal crackers, and every other crunchy, carby kid food.

Until I had a toddler.

It’s not just the flavor, either. It’s the crackly bag, the tantalizing smell, the convenient thereness. Irresistible. And I can’t eat any of it. Not if I want my morning milk, evening chocolate, or, say, lunch.

But it’s hard to turn down tempting treats when you’ve got a two-year-old snack pusher in your household. Sunshine’s not subtle, either. Like my grandmother, her namesake, she’s a high-impact sharer who hates to eat alone. And I’m her preferred dining partner – or at least the most convenient one.

Each time I break out Sunshine’s snacks, she pinches a few in her fidgety fingers and sweetly offers them to me. When I turn her down, she tries again, pushing the crackers against my hands, my mouth. She chants, “Share! Share!” and eats a bite herself, then waves the gnawed-on remains in front of my eyes. After all, if she loves them, then Mommy will, too, right? (Yes. Unfortunately.) (more…)

Word Nerd

In seventh grade, in the back of my parents’ car, on the way home from another disastrous school-wide dance, my friend Rebekah and I lied to each other in the nicest possible way.

“Nerds,” we told ourselves, “Are awesome.”

They were the most misunderstood subgroup in the high school hierarchy. Everyone should want to be one. Those snotty popular girls who had hurled insults down the school hallway toward us that night? They were just jealous. And they were wrong, too, because we were most assuredly not nerds.

Okay, fine, we admitted as the car turned a corner and a street lamp splashed yellow light into the back, highlighting our awkward hair and gawky arms. So what if we sort of were? It might not be permanent. If we could outgrow training bras, dollhouses with hand-painted shutters, and unrequited crushes, we could outgrow this. Nerdhood? Already speeding into the past, baby.

Only, that was a lie. The biggest of all.

Because now, two decades later, I have realized something. (more…)

The Time I Almost Went to Art School (Except I Had No Talent)

When my brother and I were children, my parents believed in nurturing our talents and helping us become whatever we wanted to be. Kindergarteners have a very small skill set, but they get to paint a lot, so one September day I brought home a roll of manila paper. It was heavy with paint, damp and creased from where my fingers clutched it on the walk.

Jackson Pollock No. 9 – It really does look like that long-ago painting, manila paper and all.

Prepared to gush over any bit of artwork, no matter how rudimentary, Mom and Dad watched me unfurl the paper and thrust it their way. Stunned, they stared at the masterpiece I’d so casually brought into the house. It was like something out of Jackson Pollock – The Kindergarten Years. Bright splashes of color dotted the paper, flirting and frolicking in an arrangement that dazzled the eye. Abstract and playful, it was the work of a confident painter, one much older than five.

The next day they quietly began saving for a fancy art school. I would be the first artiste in the family, and they wanted to make sure I had an opportunity to mix more media than crayons and fingerpaints.

Excited to show off their daughter’s talent, they had the picture framed and hung in a place of prominence over the dining room table, where we could admire it.

And then one night during dinner, as my brother kicked me under the table so my parents couldn’t see, my mom turned to me and asked, “What made you decide to put that dab of blue right there?”

“What?” I asked, more worried about Mom catching me kicking my brother back than about answering her. (more…)

The Trouble with Audiobooks

Warning: Moderately explicit imagery ahead. If you are young and impressionable, easily shocked, or my parents, feel free to move along.

This morning I kicked off my list of errands with a stop at the fitness center, where I pounded out a 55-minute suffer fest on their diabolical machines. I find that ignoring exercise is the easiest way to get through it, so I queued up an old audiobook that I bought last year based on an inexplicable number of five-star reviews and never could finish.

Almost immediately, the two main characters jumped into bed together (and by bed, I mean the shower). Since I’m not one for the, uh, more intimate scenes, I set the player to double speed and hoped the hero and heroine found quick gratification.

They did not. Their staying power was impressive, their stamina improbable. And the author described everything in such detail that even the most die-hard love scene fans would find it tedious. It went on. And on. And on. Annoyed, I finally gave up, stopping the book well before the big finish (if their recent performance was any indication).

Over the next hour Sunshine and I drove all over town, ticking through my to-do list. Just before lunchtime, when my exercise session and the accompanying book were a distant and unpleasant memory, we hit our final stop. (more…)

Carrot Cubes, Green Pea Puree and Other Baby Food Misadventures

These cherries now languish – crushed, mutilated, and wholly untouched – in our freezer.

Somewhere between buying thirty-six cloth diapers for Sunshine and committing to what our local Target calls ‘natural feeding’ (because some people consider ‘breast’ a terrible word) I heard about the wonders of making your own baby food. The magazine article claimed it was Easy! Wholesome! Cheap! Fun! And Totally Not Messy At All! Since I’m into cheap fun, I went for it.

It was not the first time I’ve been lied to by a magazine.

There were hints from the start that life would be easier if I simply opened up a jar of Gerber and shoveled it into Sunshine’s mouth. For one thing, Gerber doesn’t require a blender. But I’m a stay-at-home-mom now, so I feel an obligation to get my inner housewife on. Most of the time that means I toss laundry into the washer a few times a week, make dinner when I feel like it, and sweep the floor on a semi-regular basis. Otherwise, it’s all Sunshine, all the time. Still, girlie and I were lurking about the house anyway, so why not?

The peas came first. I lovingly cut open the bag (because, no, I was not going to hand-shell three hundred sugar snaps, no matter how much I love my daughter), dumped the frozen contents into our electric steamer, and set the timer. Now all I had to do was grind them into baby-safe mush. Easy. I poured a mountain of veggies into the blender, tapped the puree button, and waited for the magic. The engine whirred ineffectually, a burning smell tinged the air, and smoke curled out from under the base. Okay. Fine. Next button. More power. Still, those blades would not move. Hot pea juice fogged up the inside. Sunshine fussed. The Mother of the Year acceptance speech I’d been composing in my head dissolved.

A quick consultation with my father – who’d never made baby food in his life, but does have a knack for dealing with mean machinery – solved the problem. A little water, a little stirring, a little more water…a lot more water. With a groan, the blender finally complied, grinding the peas into an unappetizing neon green sludge.

Giddy with accomplishment, I slid Sunshine into her high chair and served up a big old glop of the stuff. Which, of course, she refused to eat. (Because, you know, who wouldn’t love warm pea mush for lunch?) Undeterred, I spooned the rest into three ice cub trays and froze them in baby-sized portions, as per the instructions in the magazine article, two cook books, and seven websites I had, by now, read on the subject.

Carrots came next, chopped and steamed and blended with a bucket of water, then chilled into little orange cubes. I dished up a mound of the sticky slop. Ick face ensued.

I was desperate for a victory, so when she ate the yams I sent a silent “Take that!” to Gerber and planned my next feat. Luckily, the end-of-summer trees were heavy with fruit. I peeled, sliced, and simmered apples. I halved and roasted hand-picked peaches and apricots, then slipped off the skins. I removed the seeds from so many grape-sized plums that my thumbs hurt for days. And every bit went into our now-compliant blender.

On occasion I trot out one of the cubes, let it melt, and dish it up. Sunshine still likes her peas round and her carrots chopped, but she’ll take a taste if I pretend I don’t care. As for the rest? Wholesome, cheap, and, if you’re fourteen months old, rather tasty.

Dieting, Step-by-Step

The Five Phases of a Successful Diet:
1. The Vow
2. The Plan
3. The Drunken Optimism
4. The Sacrifice
5. The Happy Scale

The Five Phases of an Unsuccessful Diet:
1. The Vow
2. The Plan
3. The Drunken Optimism
4. The Sacrifice
5. The Consolation Chocolate

A Field Guide to Insomnia – For Reals This Time

Well, that was embarrassing. A couple of days ago as I was typing up my bedside notes, I accidentally published a blog entry I’d written in the middle of the night. Then Sir Google the Vigilant picked up the post before I could erase it. And now it’s out there forever, half-formed thoughts and clumsy midnight sentences and all, the draftiest possible first draft. It’s the perfectionistic writer’s equivalent of looking down to discover you’ve been walking around the mall in nothing more than torn underpants and a saggy bra. And then finding out someone put the security footage on YouTube and mailed links to all your friends and coworkers.

At any rate, it’s as fixed as it’s going to get. So without further ado or so much as a segue, and at the risk of sounding sleep-obsessed, I now present the new and improved version of my field guide to insomnia.

Mix and match as you see fit.

Aha! – Yay! Yay! I’m finally falling asleep! I’m…Oh. Never mind.

Alarmatory Anticipation – What’s the point? Alarm’s about to go off. Or the baby will wake up. Or, well, something.

Bing! – And like that, you’re awake. Really awake.

The Brain Spins – 3 a.m. may not be the ideal time to craft the perfect comeback (six hours too late), plot your novel, or list your to-dos, but good luck convincing your busy brain of that.

Comfort Void – Pillow by Acme Brick. Mattress by Stay Puft.

Fear & Trepidation – Shh! Did you hear that? (See also: Horror Novels, Late Night Reading of)

Prophetic Insomnolescence – I expect it, therefore I have it.

Sound Barrier – Too much noise – or, heck, too little – and sleep’s as elusive as a ghost.

Whee! – Anticipation and excitement are electric coursing through your body. Tomorrow (i.e. Christmas morning, your birthday, the first day of vacation) will be terrific. Tonight? Not so much.

Did I leave any out? Which ones get you?

Shh! Baby’s Sleeping.

I am sitting in our family room in the dark, listening to my baby cry in her nursery, just as I have for the last hour. At ten months we are finally, supposedly, teaching her to fall asleep on her own, and apparently it involves tears. Her torment is incessant, a tide of misery building into giant, shuddering sobbing fits and then subsiding, only to rise again. It is impossible to listen to, and unthinkable not to.

At regular intervals I slump into her darkened room to check on her. Each time she is standing at the foot of her crib, bawling, loudly waiting for my return. I am sweet but firm, a difficult combination with all this guilt clawing at me, urging me to end her sadness, to try this process again another night. Instead I murmur to her, brush her hair from her wet face, lay her down, and rub her shuddering back until she quiets. And then, as advised, I back out of the room to let her figure out how to sleep without me. Her howls follow me down the hall.

I feel cruel and selfish and desperately tired. I swore I would never leave Sunshine to cry it out, but those were pre-parent vows, the promises of someone on the other side of all of these sleepless nights. I am doing the right thing. I am. I know I am.

On my web browser, ten tabs open to articles about sleep. The words are different, but they almost all say the same thing: let her cry. Let her cry, and she will fall asleep. It’s not mean. She has to learn. It’s only a few nights. It’s time. I read through them again for affirmation. Still, I nearly rise and go to her a dozen times before the clock says I may.

Finally, her cries slow to an intermittent whine, a tired drizzle. And then…nothing. I blink into the silence, torn between relief and worry. I can go back to bed! Yay! But is she okay? Did she just fall asleep? Did it actually work? I can’t check now, risk repeating all this drama tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough. And, yes, we will have another round of this tomorrow night. And the following. And, all those websites assure me, a few nights after that. But we can do this. For now, baby’s sleeping. And soon, I hope, so will I.