The Grave Danger of Being Silent

“Okay, you’ve got to choose one word. And one word only that will describe you and a representation of your life to be carved on your tombstone.”

I was at a writer’s meeting. And this was one of those wretchedly “fun” exercises we did to stimulate creativity, or imagination, or brain damage.

It was my turn. Everyone looked at me.

“Umm … whisky?

NO! was the general shout from all corners of the circle. Most of these people knew me well enough.

The host looked at me with a full measure of pity. A little bit like how I look at the dog after he’s eaten an entire stolen loaf of bread and he’s all swollen and gassy but still looking for more: pathetically.

“No, not whisky,” the host said in patient tones. “Whisky is something more of your life preference rather than your life portrayal, Shelley.”

Yup. Same look.

“Okay,” I said, determined to get this one right. “Then I choose voice.”

That answer got a woefully polite round of applause.

But the more I thought about it, the more I grew certain that it should have received a standing ovation. Because, in essence, it really has been the central theme threaded throughout my entire life—and every day, it grows more paramount.

In about two weeks, my next book will be published. (The Freemason’s Daughter) (disclaimer: Publicists and marketing departments get super cranky if you do not provide easy links to readers or refuse to say the phrase, “In my new book, The Freemason’s Daughter” as the start to every conversation. And let me tell you, it was a monumental challenge to work that one in with my seventy-four-year-old garbage man whilst handing him one more bag full of cat poop from the litter box.

“There are men in it,” I said lamely. Yeah, he was going to love my young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old Scottish girl.)

Anyway, again, in about two weeks, my next book will be published. I can hear all of you muttering the word finally.

And although this book has all the crucial motifs that appear in every coming of age story—the challenges of youth, friendship, love, relationships with six burly smuggling Scotsmen—the keynote theme that rose above all others was this: Where the hell do I fit in?

Now, granted, the voice that uttered this query at least one time in every chapter classed it up a bit with a lilting, girlish British accent, but it is, beyond a doubt, a central examination that needs answering by the end of the book.

And maybe it does get answered and maybe it doesn’t. I ain’t gonna spoil it for all of you. Especially ol’ Cooter Covington who promised he’d buy the book as long as I somehow managed to have the cat experience a fatal accident before he came back next week. But to find out … (The Freemason’s Daughter).

Funny enough, that question was present in my middle grade contemporary novel, DEAR OPL (Dear Opl – You’re welcome), about a thirteen-year-old American girl suffering from prediabetes and obesity who struggles with loss everywhere in her life except on her body.

Before that, I voiced that question as I made the transition from mandatory mother to partially needed parent to occasionally sought guidance counselor who receives messages like, “I’d like to schedule a major meltdown on Thursday evening after my class on linear algebra. Could you clear your schedule and send me a bucket of chocolate so I can have it there while you talk and I cry?”

My job status was shifting. And I needed to redefine some new position I could find fulfillment within.

And, quirkily enough, before all of that, my actual voice was the focus of my entire life. I got paid to sing. Once or twice I got paid not to sing.

The point is, “voice” has been stamped all over my forty-seven years of life.

Which brings us up to the present and the future—to my love for soothsayers and crystal ball gazers.

Because now, in recent months, voice has become a ubiquitous word. Rare is it a solitary strain, buried beneath the weight of larger, louder bodies that attempt to silence it. Rather now, it is a growing collection, a chorus, a rising refrain.

It is the sound of town hall meetings, the chant of protests, the carefully crafted question in a press corps meeting. It is the debate across the aisle, the conversations in the coffee shop, and the gossip over the garden fence posts.

It is the struggle to parse fact from fiction as myriad voices crow with what they believe to be true—or what they want you to believe as true. It is the concerted effort to eliminate the noise, to brush away the flashy and distracting so that you can uncover the naked, unvarnished reality.

Yes, it does exist.

And when we are able to do that—when we are finally able to hear inside our own heads, we will hear that sound that many of us have spent a lifetime ignoring. Our inner voice. The one that never lies to you. The one that says, Do not go out wearing those pants under any circumstances.

Yeah, that one.

The amazing thing is, is that all of those voices are asking the very same question—that one about inclusivity. Where the hell do I fit in?

We all want our voices to be heard, our words to matter, our existence to count. Whether we’re a president determined to believe we are the greatest, largest, tallest, (insert-superlative-here) guy to draw breath. Or we are the lowly chap who’s still trying to muster up the energy to clap as loudly for that president as we watch him wave from one of his golf courses and we finish the leftovers from last night’s TV dinner.

Forecasting the future is dicey work. Asking the hard questions about that future needs to be done—despite the unwelcoming off the cuff response of an extra tiny pointy finger barking at you to “Be quiet!”

Don’t. Don’t be quiet. Find your voice. Raise it. And use it.

Because I’ve kind of grown fond of the idea of having voice on my tombstone. Otherwise, I will have to resort back to the original epitaph of whisky. Although maybe I’ll spiff it up a tiny bit with that lilting, girlish British accent.

She saw the beauty and necessity of hard liquor.

~Shelley

For the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Publishing; It Takes a Village (and some groveling)

Recently I had to write an acknowledgment page for one of my books.

You know what they are, right? They’re usually found at the back of the opus—the part so many folks gloss right over as the writing is mostly filled with names and one line quips about what these names did to contribute to the publishing process, and how life, the universe, and all of mankind could not have been birthed and evolved into what it is today without these sage and wondrous mortals.

Not terribly interesting for the average Joe—unless, of course, you happen to be one of those sage and wondrous mortals.

But in writing my page of “thanks yous,” I can easily see just how out of hand one of these notes of gratitude can become.

It’s critical that one includes the upper echelon of those who ultimately gave your book bound words a chance to be seen.

For instance, you must absolutely never forget to flatten yourself to the floor with a giant thanks to your editor—el supremo persona, le meilleur, un eroe—whatever language you choose to describe one of the most erudite, patient, resourceful, and good looking people you’ve ever met. Even if you’ve never “met”.

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Without your editor you are toast.

Maybe less than toast.

You’re just one slice of bland bread among dozens stacked in front and behind you and all the way down the shelf from side to side.

Your editor lifts you out of the endless mass and puts a fire beneath your feet—or whatever body part is molded to the anchor that’s producing your fairly vapid, stale, lifeless literary efforts. They then carefully tease out the aromatic notes, the visually enticing imagery, and the tantalizing flavors of your story while expertly identifying the exact dressing you need, applying a perfect layer of topping that will make the meat of you shine.

Yes, one must thank one’s editor profusely, and all your lucky stars if you have a truly divine one. And then eat, because just writing about editors and their skills makes one unreasonably hungry.

Your agent—should you have one of those as well—is also on the list for high-priority praise. They are the sleuth who, when first presented with your writing, siphoned out the thread of ability that wove itself in and out of the tapestry of clunky words you put down on paper. They are the individual who gets a first look glance at your work before bravely putting their name to an email that is then cast widely out into the pool of editors who are fishing for something new the public is hungry to bite on.

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Or they are the one who picks up the tab at a gulp and go lunch where they pitch your work to those same bleary-eyed editors in hopes of convincing them to take on the task of giving up another night’s sleep in favor of reading one hundred thousand of your best and shiniest words.

Don’t forget the copy editors. These folks examine your one hundred thousand words, parse them, and then reconstruct them into more appropriate linguistic elements that will have true value to the reader. They will leave you dumbstruck with awe to realize that there are individuals out there in the world who truly understand all the principles and rudiments of grammar. They should be given many basketfuls of cookies for their efforts and patience.

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The marketing department, the art department, the line editors, the assistant editors, and publicists—where does one begin? Each of them, inundated with so much work and so little recognition, really should have a small shrine erected in their names.

So I have.

I’ve built a large altar in a separate room in my house—a temple where I’ve placed magic stones, a dozen candles, tiny false gods, myriad pagan symbols, and any other sorcerous talisman I can collect for my ritualistic moments of devotion and homage. It is a room filled with smoky incense and funneled in melodramatic and lamenting bagpipe music. It is the best I can come up with to replace what I believe they all probably truly deserve over my feeble prostrations: a cruise.

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I just don’t make enough money to make that happen. Sorry.

But you really should see the altar I’ve set up for you guys. It’s amazing.

And scares the hell out of the cat.

And lastly are the people who truly know you. Like—know you know you. The ones who had to read all those diabolically dreadful first drafts. The folks who see you drinking three-day old coffee and eating mac and cheese that you made for an end of school potluck last month. The family members who have had to learn to wash their own laundry, make their own lunches, write their own college essays, and attend their own parent-teacher conferences because you were “just finishing that last sentence,” or “editing that final paragraph,” or passed out on your keyboard.

Speaking on behalf of many writers, we know who you all are, and are so incredibly surprised to look up and discover that not only are you not in the house where we were certain we last spotted you, but are now living in another, entirely different city from us and have taken all of our pots and pans with you.

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We thank you too. Except for the theft of our housewares.

Lastly, as the orchestra music swells over our words, we thank our fifth-grade teachers, or librarians, or fairy godmothers. It’s that one individual who told us we had promise, we had potential, we had possibility.

It’s that one special person who started this whole domino effect of thanks and recognition: the one who gave us that first nod of acknowledgment.

So to all those sage and wondrous mortals—whether they see you as a product or a parent, family or a friend—the thanks are endless and the gratitude unfathomable.

Now it’s probably time to acknowledge the fact that there is no food in the house and the cat litter seriously needs to be addressed. Life goes on—even after The End.

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~Shelley

For the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Don’t Even Think About It

According to Eckhart Tolle—one of the world’s greatest living, spiritual philosophers—my brain has been hijacked and taken over by an all-encompassing, unbounded and unremitting dictator.

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This domineering tyrant is in charge of my mind and directs my focus and attention to whatever puzzle or curiosity it’s attracted to—like a magpie spotting a shiny piece of tinfoil on the ground and heading into a nosedive.

Or a bee getting that little zing up its tiny spine and making a straightaway for his morning shot of nectar dusted with trendy macha powder.

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Or discovering what kind of homing pigeon call four competing gas companies receive that announce a newly made cross section of road.

All that scattered focus is part of what Eckhart defines as a wretched epidemic running rampant across our globe—a dreadful affliction, an incessant enslavement, a blight of flesh-eating, biohazardous decrepitude that is pure poison.

Okay, that last part I added myself for pungent emphasis, so scratch that if you’re a stickler for purity, but his message remains:

Thinking has become a disease.

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Huh.

Apparently, the real me is buried deep within a place that requires a treasure map to locate and which is about as obtainable as nuclear warhead access codes.

But it’s there.

And from what I gather, it’s shaking its head at me and making some thoroughly annoying tsking sounds.

Super judgy, if you ask me, but that’s probably the ‘thinking’ part of me saying that, and according to Eckhart, I gotta SHUT HER DOWN.021015eckhart

Well, not entirely.

I’m thinking—er, guessing—that if I close off those roads the devilish despot situated in my brain’s bus driver seat will plow through and easily make a few detours. He’s determined and relentless. A big bulldozing control freak. And I can’t have him behind the controls, running rampant and unshackled.

Thinking about fewer things could be helpful.

Actually, thinking about fewer things is the new ordinance. It’s written in tiny, black ink letters at the bottom of the contract I just signed with my new publishers on page 79.

Thou shalt not obliterate brain cells unless in the effort to complete labor on our behalf.

I get it.

They’re Eckhart Tolling my evil overlord. He’s been too busy with fingers in more pots than those found in a Cuisinart factory. Which means when he rouses from slumber tomorrow morning, he’ll find a cup of tea in a cardboard mug and a bran muffin in a paper bag waiting for him by the front door, as well as his suitcase and passport.

Along with breakfast and the clean underwear I’m making sure the taskmaster is taking with him, he’ll also be tucking a calendar beneath his arm.

The one that contains my blog post schedule.

After nearly four years of popping out weekly essays, the winds of fate are asking I blow hot air in a different direction. So, if it’s not become easy enough to read between the lines thus far, here it is in plain speak:

I’m going into Monk Mode.

Hands have shaken all around. Publishing dates are set. Editors have been met. And sleeves have been rolled up to reveal many sets of attractively sculpted forearms.

I’ve split open a fifty-pound bag of dog chow for the hound and placed it in the middle of the kitchen floor.

I’ve allowed the mouse population to flourish in the basement for the benefit of the cat.

And I’ve filled the pantry with four season’s worth of tinned beans and tuna for my teenage son.

Everyone will be happy.

I’ll be wheeling around a rolling intravenous infusion pole that will alternate two bags filled with either French roast coffee or chamomile tea, and once a week I’ll slip in a dram of whisky for good measure.

This is the new normal. This is the new now.

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The other half of this blog posting team will be up to his earballs in new and exciting work as well. As many of you know already, Rob’s talents extend far beyond his side-splitting sketches, and during the next year he’ll be trying to get a new theater show off the ground in Sweden. As the ground is often frozen and frequently unforgiving, it will require extra effort and a massive sense of humor.

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Thank God Rob has all that in spades.

We’ve had to ponder and plan the roads in front of us.

This is not goodbye, I promise, but rather the announcement of a new schedule for Rob and me.

It’s what we’re referring to as “No Schedule,” just random, occasional posts when we both find ourselves popping up above ground for a breath of fresh air and a check to see who’s ahead in any political polls.

Change is good for all of us. It challenges, invigorates, and inspires us to see and create with fresh eyes. And just like underwear, fresh is hugely appreciated by those who take the time to sit beside you and see what new alluring and inviting art you’ve fashioned since the last time you all had a good chin wag.

We promise to keep in touch and keep you “posted.”

We’ll be thinking of you—even if Eckhart Tolle tells us not to.

~Shelley & Rob

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON* (click) 

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Mark My Words–Even the Confusing Ones

I promise you.

You promise me.

That is the bare basics of a contract.

We both sign on the line that’s either too short, too narrow or too good to be true, promising we’ll each do our thing and come out smelling like roses on the other end of it.

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Well, that’s what’s supposed to happen, right?

Although the Chinese Zodiac has determined that this is the year of the sheep, I, personally, would take issue with this. This is not my year of the sheep or the goat, or any other cloven foot animal. It is the year of the treaty. It is the year in which I have spent a good portion of my time, hunched over paperwork with a magnifying glass, or peering onto my monitor and growing ever closer all with the hopes that if I can move near enough to the words, they will magically make sense with the intensity of my gaze.

Wrong.

They will make sense only if we stuck to something like a common language.

Or if I backed up two decades and decided to go to law school.

Or if maybe Plato, in all his soft and flowy robed glory was sitting beside me and explaining each Latin-based line as we moseyed through them.

Some contracts are wonderfully exciting—like the one I’m scanning with a fine-toothed comb right now—the one that says, We, publishers of great stories big and small, want your book, and then a second to follow the first, and quite possibly a third one to boot.

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These pieces of paper are exactly the kind of documents that make authors realize they are actually gymnasts because of all the back flips and flying Dutchman leaps of joy that ensue. But sometimes you discover that you’re going to have to become an extraordinarily flexible gymnast—like Cirque du Soleil Chinese acrobat flexible because of the Silly Putty stretching you’ve done to come to an agreement.

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And most authors I know are so excited to get published they would be willing to exchange their bones for rubber bands if it would launch their books onto the other side of obscure.

It helps to have a clever agent who speaks contract law, or studied Latin, or can easily recall her past life when she lived in Ancient Rome and clerked for Cicero. So, thanks, Jennifer. Super glad you’ve got my back.

Other contracts will keep you awake at night with a backlit calculator under your pillow for easy access.

Refinancing a mortgage. Need I say more?

Okay, I will.

You own a home. Correction: you live in a home the bank owns. The bank has you sign a contract that states: If you want to live in this home and pretend it belongs to you, you can pay us x amount of dollars for y amount of time.

Now this would all work out fine and dandy if they’d all just leave you alone until you either run out of money, pay off the debt, or run away to open a lobster kabob food truck on the island of Saint Kitts.

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Instead, before the ink has a chance to dry, you’ve already received three offers from a few other financial institutions who announce they’ve got a slightly better deal—at least on the first page of the glossy brochure and as long as you don’t read the fine print. And I think we’ve all been in plenty of situations where because we didn’t read every word of the fine print, we realize something unpleasant is about to hit the fan and we immediately start scouting eBay for that ‘lobkabob lorry.’

A few contracts are meant to make your life considerably easier. The tax accountant who you visit once a year and beg to make sense out of your refrigerator-sized box of receipts. A box which happens to be balancing a plate of homemade cookies on top—cookies you hope will convey the depth of your appreciation.

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Or your health insurance agent who sends you a card on Christmas and your birthday with a fridge magnet and a 500 mg vitamin C tablet taped to the inside of it.

And how about your automobile insurance agency who sends you a monthly email in recognition of payment saying, “Thank you. Now don’t drink and drive. In fact, just don’t drive period. It’s a beautiful day. Go for a walk.”

There are also the everyday ordinary contracts that have become such a part of our mindless existence we don’t see them as contracts any longer.

The library—you give me a snazzy, plastic card and all the books I could possibly shove into six bags each week so that I may read them all for free and in return I will tell you: What? I’m not late with that book. What do you mean I owe twenty-five cents for an overdue book? I KNOW I handed that story in last week. I’m POSITIVE this is your clerical mistake and it’s sitting right now on your shelves—just go take a look … oh, wait. Here it is.

The garbage collector—you come every week on Thursdays to pick up my wretched refuse and do with it what you will, and once a month I’ll send you a check for thirty dollars. Fingers crossed I remember to do it and the check doesn’t bounce.

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The internet provider—I will hemorrhage money your way for the promise of magical world wide connection beyond my wildest dreams, you will occasionally come through with that promise, but not in any reliable fashion, and I will regularly scream bloody murder at those who work within the company, imagining painful, fiery deaths for you all, but in truth have absolutely no recourse.

So there we have it. A cross-section snapshot of my ink and paper maelstrom thus far this year—not a farm animal in sight.

And umm … hey, kids? Head’s up: I may or may not have just agreed to give my new publisher both of your first babies by signing this linguistic puzzle. Time will tell. But I give you my word I won’t do anything like that again.

I promise.

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Definitely One For the Books

One sticky August Virginia day, my boyfriend and I sat on an open tailgate, snacking on apples and trying to beat the heat while a legal representative from a nearby bookstore read us a subpoena. What kids get up to these days, right?

This is the story of my mother’s book launch,

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featuring a bunch of literature-loving yogis, an overdose of sugar, and a bookstore that doubles as a law firm. After a couple years of arduous editing and nearly two decades of subjecting her children to her foodie Frankenstein kitchen persona, my mother’s first book (of many), Dear Opl, was published. (Shameless plug: go buy it if you haven’t already. If you have children, they will find it funny. If you don’t, the cover art is pretty. Also, my name is in the dedication. So, it’s worth it.)

Flash back four hours. I sat in the kitchen, next to the carefully packed box of 100 apples that the glorious Whole Foods–health grocery store supreme– had kindly donated to support the fresh fruit cult. Mom waltzed in and asked if I thought 9-13-year-olds, the intended audience of her book, would find her look approachable. I told her to maybe switch out the “eat good food or you will die alone” shirt, and with that, we were off, rocketing along the back roads with a box of books and apples.

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We got to the bookstore, (I won’t name names, so let’s just call it Yarns & Global), unpacked and settled into the throne that had been allocated to the signing. My mother immediately began walling herself inside a fort of brightly colored books while I set up the box of scrumptious apples. Two minutes later, a wild customer service employee appeared, eyeing the apple box skeptically. Apparently, in the kingdom of Darns & Mobile, only packaged food may be served at events. Especially when the event in question centers around replacing packaged food with fresh food. But hey, who doesn’t love a bit of legalistic irony with their grassroots campaign? And my mother, being the resourceful person she is, simply relocated me to right outside the kingdom’s borders, where I was to sit, with a stool and a box of apples, to reward purchasers with a healthy snack.

Inside Narnia & Bobbles:

My mother greeted arriving family members and tried to prevent my grandmother from stuffing half of the gardening section into her purse.

Outside Narnia & Bobbles:

I was just preparing to cart out the apples when curses, foiled again by customer service. Apparently, the kingdom’s borders extend beyond its four walls. I reassured them I would move farther out into the wrath of the burning hot sun with my fifty-pound load of poisoned apples.

Inside Brawns & Foibles:

Half of my mother’s yoga class stood in line for a signed copy of the book. People purchased copies for their grandchildren, nieces and nephews on the other side of the country. Mom signed and signed, making up a different spelling of “Bon Appétit” each time.

Outside Brawns & Foibles:

Another genius idea: relocate to the back of Mom’s car in the parking lot, in plain view of exiting customers. I recruited the loyal boyfriend to keep me company as I sat on the tailgate, handing out free little parcels of arsenic while the sun threatened to knock me out.

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Inside Narnyness & Boblitude:

Small, eager children swarmed around my mother, attracted by the scrumptious chocolate bar on the cover. One child told her about the mermaid novel she was currently engrossed in while another inquired about library availability and stuffed his pockets with some signed bookmarks – prime merch. If she keeps this up, she’ll have the weirdest little fan club of third graders sporting “think global eat local” bumper stickers on their lunchboxes.

Outside Narnyness & Boblitude:

Some poor guy sent by the evil overlord of the kingdom’s legal department stood in front of me, hands shaking, reading me a cease and desist. With heavy hearts, we conceded the victory of World War III to our enemies. May we live to solicit another day.

When the lady could sign no longer, we piled into the car, down a bucket of books, and headed off to a celebration dinner of burgers and milkshakes. Then additional festivities ensued where Grandma provided a massive fondant cake in the shape of the book. And finally we landed in our kitchen, where I test-baked three batches of different cookies. Her campaign slogan may have been “connect with your inner good food dude” but mine (and Grandma’s) was “free the free sugars.”

(BRAG TIME: I MADE PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE STUFFED MOLASSES COOKIES, NUTELLA STUFFED OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, AND THE BEST %$#*ING BROWN BUTTER OATMEAL WALNUT COOKIES STUFFED WITH PEANUT BUTTER AND CARAMEL. OPEN FOR DISCUSSION – SHOULD I DROP OUT OF COLLEGE AND OPEN A BAKERY?)

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*dons serious face*

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It is a truly marvelous thing to see a community united in support of a well-intentioned project and its pioneer. If I know my mother, I know that she will never stop engaging everyone she meets in good books and good food. I hope to see all of you at her second book launch, which will most likely take place upon an actual launching rocket ship and … there will be cookies.

On an unrelated note, if anyone would like some freshly made applesauce, we have a few tanks to spare.

~Chloe

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

How Not to Make a Name for Yourself

I grew up in a family where no one was called by their real name. Unless you were in trouble, in which case your first name was crisply pronounced and your middle name was thrown in for good measure. And, of course, if you were found responsible for some irreparable damage your last name was tacked on, but you usually couldn’t hear it above the steely sounds of a long kitchen knife being sharpened.

No, instead of our real names, we were all given nicknames.

And I think this might have been fun if the names were those that described some of our perceived awesomeness. But none of them did.

I actually liked the name my folks assigned to me—my real one that is. But rare was the day when someone just called me Shelley rather than Shelley Belly. Or worse, Shelbert Bellus. Or even Shelbert Bellus the Third.

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I remained befuddled as a child as to why anyone would make the mistake of naming someone something so dreadful the first time around, and then repeat it for two further generations.

Even the cat and the dog could not opt out in my childhood home. The cat was called Die Spitten de Scratchin’

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and the dog Die Arfen Barker.

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It must be explained that these are names my dad labeled the animals whilst we, his kids, were all studying German in school, and he felt like participating in our nightly lessons so he’d not be left out.

I love the study of names—am truly fascinated by it—which is somewhat unusual in the fact that I can never remember anybody’s. I have tried all types of games and mnemonics, including word association, drilling in that one thing that is most likely to allow the person’s name to spring back into my head from the mere thought of that crucial clue. But I often forget ‘the crucial clue,’ or when seeing this person’s face again I’m at a total loss as the only thing that comes to mind is the word spatula or the phrase just like the disease.

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Not terribly helpful. And in many cases, offensive if I make the wrong guess.

As a writer of fiction, I am given the opportunity to name as many people as I want to invent. It is one of the most joyful parts of writing stories next to cashing in the abundant checks that nearly freeflow from your publisher’s bank account to your mailbox.

Or so I’m told.

I noticed recently while working on two of my books, that both my main characters take issue with their names. Here’s an excerpt from one:

Sophie—it is so not the right name for me. And it does nothing to inspire the coolness of my clan—or breed—or whatever you want to call my people. It should have been something like Zaharasta or Valentina. Something that took a couple of years to learn how to spell.

And an excerpt from the other:

My name is Opal, but I don’t spell it that way. It now looks like this: OPL. I kicked out the A. I figure if Mom wants me to lose weight, maybe she’d perk up if at least my name shrunk by twenty-five percent.

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See what I mean?

To be frank, I’m pretty sure I spent more time deliberating over the names of all the characters in my books than I did deciding on those of my children.

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But seeing as I didn’t get into novel writing until just after having my second child, it might not hold as much weight.

OR … it might indicate some latent unhappiness with my impetuous and perfunctory labeling of the two human beings I birthed.

See? This whole author thing might only be a physical manifestation of a deep, rueful regret I’ve ignored and carried around for years and have been unconsciously wrestling with until I feel I’ve sorted out the perfect name for both my kids.

I wonder how they’re going to react when in a year or two I approach them with an amended birth certificate and the announcement that I have legally changed their names to that which I find more befitting of who they truly are?

(Note to self: check with therapist to see if there exists any disorder that points toward birth name buyer’s remorse.)

Currently, I’m struggling with the title for one of my finished books. Nothing feels right. Nothing sounds right. And I think we all know how critical one’s novel title is, right? It’s the first thing you see, the first thing you read. It has to hit you right between the eyes with this come hither look.

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I emailed my agent a list of potentials from a thick notebook I’ve been carrying around and filling up. She wrote back and intimated I might have just killed a small tree for nothing—only in much nicer English.

I’m rethinking the whole title thing though. I’m thinking of pitching the publisher an idea that maybe instead of a title, we just go with a scent. I write about food and whisky and history. Why not make the books give off an aroma of chocolate and scotch and mothballs?

It might be the newest thing in publishing.

Or I may receive a curt reply back from my editor asking me to stop sending him emails and to just find a damn title we’re all happy with.

So seeing how my name is beginning to accrue more than my fair share of black marks against it, I’d best get back to work. Or soon my name is mud.

~Jane Doe

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*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

A Peek at What’s Coming Down the Pike

And here we are, folks. A peek into DEAR OPL–a project of mine that began probably around the same time ancient Babylonian astronomers were first discovering some of our solar system’s inner planets.

You’ll see the synopsis, the first chapter, and the first press reviews by Kirkus.

I hope you’ll enjoy.

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SYNOPSIS

There is a sinkhole deep inside thirteen-year-old Opl Oppenheimer, and for two years she’s plugged the leak with a wad of junk food. But a hole from heartbreak is tricky. And anyone who’s experienced eighth-grade science frog dissection knows a heart can’t be repaired by a bubblegum band-aid. Worse still, overweight Opl now faces diabetes and must swallow the bitter news that sugar is the problem and not the solution to filling the empty space her dad’s presence used to occupy. Even the school’s galling version of celebrity chef Alfie Adam’s Meal Madness is turning Opl’s self-prescribed soothing syrups into miserable medicine. Mock meat and healthy colon slogans plague the lunchroom walls, encouraging change. But Opl can’t see the value of changing her whole life to save her future since it’s the past she wants to retrieve.

Opl identifies a scapegoat for her growing burdens and rallies an internet attack on Alfie Adam. The plan backfires, threatening the success of her mom’s bookstore, the loss of her best friendship and an international lawsuit. To win back her friend, Opl is forced to pledge allegiance to her arch enemy–the health-crazed chef, but in doing so realizes that, just like kimchi, festering problems, if handled correctly, can produce something a whole community can savor.

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DEAR OPL

by Shelley Sackier

Chapter One

The dark enveloped me, squishing my lungs. Like the engulfing bear hug you get from an uncle who’s built like a lumberjack. But this black was so tarry and thick, it made me feel as if I were breathing syrup and forced my heart to thud in my chest. I blinked again and again, and squinted hard, hoping something—anything— would come into focus. I wanted to sprint for my bed, to hide beneath my quilt, where nothing but fuzzy warmth and an old licorice stick are allowed. But I needed this. I couldn’t leave because I had to get rid of the awful ache that poked at my sleep. If I fed it, like a lion at the zoo, it would circle and grow quiet. Sometimes.

Even though I wasn’t supposed to.

My hands fluttered in front of me, like a couple of blind butterflies. They bumped against a pointed edge. I jerked back, thinking I’d been bit, but I took a breath and crept forward until I touched it once more. I traced my skittish fingers along its form until I felt certain the thing wouldn’t strike at me with sharpened fangs and light up with red demonic eyes. It was a box of cereal. And it had to be Froot Loops because the pantry was a bundle of lip-smacking scents like tangy lemon, zingy orange, electric lime, and mouth-watering cherry. This meant Ollie had left the bag open and steam would shoot out of Mom’s ears because it’ll have gone stale by morning. I sighed with relief because as far as I knew, no one has ever been seriously injured by sugary, ring-shaped cereal. Then, again, maybe my younger brother would be the first.

I pushed the box aside and moved my hands higher up. I knocked another smaller carton to the floor, where it bounced off my sock-covered foot. I squatted, sweeping my hands across the floorboards until I found it. Bringing the package to my nose, I sniffed its edges. It smelled like Thanksgiving—well, not the last one, but the twelve others before that. It smelled of cinnamon and apples. It smelled of happiness.

I opened the box and felt inside, my fingers searching for more of the memory. They picked up a tiny pouch. A tea bag. It made the sound of Mom’s old flower seed envelopes, the ones she held up each spring and shook like tiny maracas. “April showers bring May flowers! Let’s go plant some future sunshine.”

That didn’t happen this spring. Or the one before it.

I fumbled about until I found an empty spot I could push the tea bags into and then let my fingers wander farther across the shelf. They collided into something crinkly. Bingo!

I pressed my hands around the package. It had the right sound—like crunching plastic—when I squeezed it. I pulled it to my nose. Yes, definitely the right smell. And not one I could attach to any other thing. It was powdery sweet. Buttery. Not quite chocolate but deep, like cocoa. It mixed with scents of sugared vanilla—a cream so luscious, it ran slickly against your tongue. This was not just a food; it was a feeling. I wanted those Oreos so badly my mouth started watering like a mini sprinkler.

I felt around for the opening, the plastic pullback tab that granted you access right to the very heart of the package and the cure-all cookies. Tonight’s remedy. But something was wrong. The pull tab was missing. I groped the front and back, skimming its sides, trying to catch the sticky edge like you do when your Scotch tape has come off the metal ridge and sealed itself back onto the roll. It wasn’t there. I couldn’t find it.

Something brushed against my cheek and I reeled back in fright, bumping into the rickety pantry steps behind me. My fingers slapped at my face, but found only my hair falling out of its messy ponytail. With a racing heartbeat, I ventured a hand along the wall, searching for the light switch. Then I pulled back. I’d better not turn on the pantry bulb, because the glow would creep down the hall and shine like a headlight through Mom’s open bedroom door. She was a super light sleeper. She could leap out of bed at the sound of a cricket passing gas on the back porch.

But I needed those cookies.

A flashlight! That’s the answer. I bent down to hunt the lower shelf beneath the microwave. In my mind I could see four of them on the ledge, lined up like eager soldiers: sentries of the dark. But I bumped into one and they tumbled like dominos. I held my breath, trying to absorb the clunking sounds. I made that lungful stay put and listened, wishing I had a third ear. At the relief of no footsteps rushing into the kitchen, I grasped one of the tipsy warriors against the dark, flipped its switch, and looked at the package in my other hand. I held the Oreos all right, but they’d been double packaged, slipped inside a Ziploc bag along with a folded piece of stationery.

I sat down on the old wine crate Mom used as a step, forgetting about how badly it creaked, and unzipped the plastic bag. I pulled out the note and tilted the beam toward the words. It said:
Dear Opal,
Please don’t eat these. Remember your diet.
I love you,
Mom

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To Pre-order DEAR OPL (Published August 4, 2015)

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In the two years since her father’s death from cancer, Opal’s life has gone awry.

Grief and her family’s altered dynamics have contributed to Opal’s struggles with food and weight. She is increasingly at odds with her mother, who is overwhelmed and distracted. When her mother encourages Opal to start a blog as a way to document her food intake, Opal decides to use it to express her thoughts instead. Soon, Opal’s sharp, humorous observations as “Opl” garner interest as people respond to her commentary. Sackier captures Opal’s emotional turmoil as she grieves for her father and resists her mother’s campaign to persuade her to diet. When a savage blog entry directed at a popular chef earns Opal criticism from her best friend, remorse—along with an alarming health diagnosis from Opal’s doctor—compels Opal to reconsider the chef’s healthful-food philosophy. Sackier conveys a message about healthy habits without lecturing. Opal’s adventures in cooking and yoga—with occasionally comical results—alter her perspective, and her changing attitudes reflect her personal and emotional transformation. As Opal endeavors to better understand who she is, she gains a greater awareness of others’ life circumstances as well. When a chance encounter leads to Opal’s acquaintance with Rudy, a regular visitor to the local soup kitchen, Opal devises a kindhearted plan to help him.

By the story’s conclusion, readers will be happy they traveled with Opal on her journey to self-acceptance. (Fiction. 10-14)

*ROBIN GOTT’S NEW POST* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.