this blog has moved to

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tomorrow I plan to plunge into the copy editor's edits for my upcoming novel, Mother of My Son, and a reader just informed me (thanks Sherri!) that she was not getting emails for my blog.  I have a new website and my blog is attached to that so even if you signed up to get blog updates via email at harperleesushiandme, you need to sign up at the new site to continue to receive blog updates via email.
And I might have left some of you hanging since I wrote "It Only Took a Decade part I" on the old site and "Part II" on the new site. So here's a direct link:
Thanks so much for taking a few minutes out of your busy life to connect with me! I don't have a firm release date for my book yet... but will keep you posted at!
Joy to you,

Friday, August 31, 2012

It Only Took a Decade

* This blog has moved to

(or…Why it took me ten years to write, and find a publisher for, my novel)
Signing the Contract!

            When my son was born almost thirteen years ago, I loved being a stay at home mom. Truly I did. And yet at the same time, something inside of me felt restless, like my creativity was slowly drying up.          I read a lot of novels the first year of Elijah’s life; I figured out how to nurse him with one hand, and hold a book in the other. Fifteen minutes times six times a day (or whatever it was depending on his age and mood) equals over an hour of reading time, all while bonding with my sweet baby. To this day I equate certain novels (Jewel, Someone Else’s Child) with nursing. Weird? Probably. But it worked for me.
One evening I caught a news story on TV about a high school girl who gave birth in the bathroom during prom, put the baby somewhere (I don’t remember where) and went out to dance again. The birth experience was still pretty fresh in my mind and I thought how in the world does someone do such a thing? What kind of home life does she come from? What was her mindset? What would become of her? For some reason this sad story haunted me and prompted a lot of What If questions—a great place to start for a writer.
Sometime later, I told my husband, “If I were ever going to write a novel this is what it’d be about” and after a few weeks he grew weary of me talking about it and said, “Great. Write it.”
So I did. During naptime I clicked away on our gigantic computer by our bay window in our trailer house. I’ll admit, writing a novel began on somewhat of a whim. I had a fabulous beginning… and that was about it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this method, because in the end it takes longer and you create problems you later must fix, but the plus side is since I had no idea how hard it would be, how many conferences I needed to attend or writing books I needed to read, how many rejections I’d endure. I wrote under the blissful spell of ignorance. If I had known, (and I’m really not trying to write a sob story here) I might not have begun in the first place.
So while my baby napped—and, in time, stared at Blues Clues—while I could have been (should have been?) scrubbing my floors, I wrote and wrote and wrote and it was so fun, so satisfying, just to pour out a story, and at the end of about six months I had a…. skeleton. The beginnings of what could be a great story.
My characters were as flat as Popsicle sticks. My dialogue was didactic. I had no rhythm. It’s not that I couldn’t write, I could. I had a degree in English and had even made the Dean’s List several semesters. But knowing how to write an A paper and knowing how to write a book—particularly a novel— are two very different things.
I sent my manuscript out to a few publishers, and actually got some encouraging feedback, but ultimately rejections. Two years later I finally bit the bullet and paid to go to a writer’s conference, to “find out what those experts know” and learned that I really had no idea what I was doing. The professional who looked over my manuscript both encouraged me and shot me down in a single sentence: “You are on to something and I see that you can write, but boy you have a lot of work ahead of you.”
I went home, reworked scenes, fleshed out characters, asked for honest feedback, prayed for wisdom, got a few articles published, read a ton on the craft, and seriously considered quitting before I was in too deep.
But the story had already gripped me and I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t just leave my characters half-baked. They needed me and, in a weird way, I needed them. So I’d write, shelve it, read it over weeks or months later, groan, re-work parts, and life carried on.
We moved into a different house. We encountered secondary infertility. We considered adoption. I put my story away and didn’t look at it for at least two years.
And, ironically, providentially, it was during this time I journeyed through some experiences that would prove to be crucial for my story….
I’ll save the rest for next time. Back to editing. And the puppy needs to be let out. Again.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Home Again Home Again, Jiggety Jig

We just got back from vacation. This means that the contents of the van are now smattered around the house like some kind of hastily set up obstacle course. Ten days ago we set off in a van that was clean and organized (relatively speaking) with plenty of gum and napkins and a yet to be broken in Mad Libs pad and a purple folder with a lovely typed agenda and all of our hotel reservation print-offs courtesy of Hotwire.

Off we flew! Barreling down the interstate, headed for D.C. We defied the heat and the storms (we were never without electricity, thank you Lord) and walked everywhere and saw the sights, did the museums, literally dragged our kids through the National Art Gallery (“This is culture, this is good for you, this is a Renoir for crying out loud!”) Then camped for two days, tasted the salty Atlantic Ocean and blissfully gave ourselves to its waves (particularly me and Elijah), found a candy store, ate seafood, fell in love with colonial Williamsburg (“we” referring to we the parents) and watched Maylie jump in the pool no less than 40 times per hotel.

And now we’re back home and the van is empty and smells like chlorine, beef jerky, and feet. 

It’s almost as hot here as it was in D.C. but we won’t be walking for miles anytime soon. So we’re all a little tired and cranky and bug bitten and sunburned but happy we went, happy we experienced one corner of the world, and happy to be home.

A few memorable quotes:

On the way to the National Art Gallery: “There will be no more arm farts once we get in the art museum.”  (Me)

Once in the art gallery among the marble sculptures: “But mom, they’re all naked!” (Maylie)

Still in the art museum after I asked him which was his favorite painting: “The last one I see before we leave.” (Elijah)

Somewhere in the Pennsylvania foothills: “I don’t want to hear another word about bodily functions.” (Doug)

May your summer be filled with an abundance of sweet memories!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

One Thousand Miles, One Can of Soda

            When I was four, my parents took my sister and me to Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Camp. Chip and Dale and Winnie the Pooh showed up at our evening campfire. My sister and I played at the beach in matching Minnie Mouse swimsuits. We spent days wandering around the Magic Kingdom. A classic family vacation if there ever was one.
            What do I remember best about that trip? Getting my own can of grape soda in a hotel lobby.
            The memory is vivid: sitting in a sun-lit room surrounded by green plants and soft music (the Polynesian Resort, perhaps?) clutching my VERY OWN can of grape soda, next to my sister who had her VERY OWN can of orange soda. Dreams really do come true.
            We are starting to plan a family trip to D.C. While my twelve year old has been burning to go for some time, we are working on boosting my seven year old’s enthusiasm. “I want to go back to South Dakota,” she said a few weeks ago, referring to last summer’s excursion.
            “Why?” I asked, expecting her to reminisce about the herd of buffalo right outside our campsite, or Jewel Cave, or the presidential heads.
            “So we can go back to that candy store.”
            Candy store? I don’t even remember a candy store. It might have been some grubby little gas station we stopped in along the way. That’s what she loved best?
            So why take a family vacation at all? We could save a whole lot of money staying home sipping grape soda and buying gas station M&M’s. Why bother loading up the van and the kids and heading across the country when you know- know- there will be at least one blowout fight?
            Because there’s so much to see! Traveling gives our kids (and their parents) a point a reference; that thing we read about or heard about or saw on TV, is suddenly real. Venturing beyond our backyard proves that our little corner of the world is just that- a little corner of the world. And let's not underestimate the lessons family vacations impart, often against our will. Lessons like:
            things-will-never-go-exactly-as-you-plan (our flat tire in South Dakota) or
            right-now-we-all-need-to-quit-whining-and-pull-together (trying to set up camp in the rain) or
            this-is-a-map-so-don’t-ask-me-again-when-we’re-going-to-get-there-look-for-yourself (just about every trip)
            I love to travel. I didn’t always. My parents like to tell me about the fits I used to pitch in the back seat. But somewhere between toddler and teen, I developed a love for traveling and I attest this to my parents’ commitment to take my sister, my brother, and me to see places like Yellowstone and The Grand Canyon and the giant sequoia trees in California. Traveling is addictive; it builds on itself like a snowball. You see a little of the world, you want to see more. You see the west coast, you have to see the east coast.
             And at the same time, as a parent, I need to consider that my most vivid childhood memories are simple, tethered to home: going to the city pool. Taking family bike rides. Playing in the back yard. Maybe because these were not one time memories and sheer repetition has made them stick. These types of memories will be engraved in my own children’s minds. Oh, they’ll remember the big trips too, but I don't want to underestimate the everyday, either. Pausing to help my daughter cut out windows in her cardboard box house may seem like nothing to me, but it’s a big deal to her.
            I have assured my daughter there are candy stores in D.C. But not only that, one of the museums has Dorothy’s ruby shoes. (Now there’s a dangling carrot.)
           So she’s ready now. Ready to see the world. And all the candy stores she can find.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pushing Peas

            At one time or another, every parent has held up a spoon holding some good-for-you, green, mashed-up food, zoomed it in the air complete with sound effects, all in hopes of charming their baby to open his mouth.
            “Here comes the airplane!”
            Right or wrong, bribery can continue to be an invaluable tactic throughout parenthood. At least it has been for me.
            My sixth grader recently had to take a break from his usual fantasy obsession and choose a book from the “realistic fiction” category. I suggested “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Big surprise.
            Truth be told, I wondered if he was old enough to process the adult themes of racism, family abuse, rape, but then again, when is anyone “old enough” to grapple with the darker things of life, things we wish didn’t even exist? It came down to the recognition that we, as parents, should be the ones to help him navigate such turbulent themes, to help him frame such issues in context. Besides, he’s twelve, the exact age of Jem when the story unfolds.
            He was less than thrilled with the suggestion. And the fact that he knew it was my favorite book didn’t help. I told him it was about a boy his age who had pesky little sister, and contained an edge of your seat courtroom scene, and a creepy recluse of a neighbor who just might, might, end up doing something heroic. But in the end, I resorted to bribery. “If you read it, I’ll take you to your favorite restaurant for a book discussion.”
            He took the bait.
            We ended up reading most of it out loud. (music to my ears) And although he’s an excellent reader/thinker much of the wit and humor proved to be not as forthright as, oh let’s say… Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
            His final assessment: “I didn’t like it that much.”
            Oh well. At least he didn’t hate it.
            He didn’t like peas the first time he tried them either. But I kept feeding them to him anyway. Kept scooping out spoonfuls and pressing it to his pursed lips and saying things like Mmmmmm and Yummy and Mamma loves peas. For his own good. Just like I didn’t let either of my kids survive solely on crackers and fruit snacks even though they at times wanted to, I don’t want them only to read easy to digest but non-nutritional fun stuff and miss out on some of the savory but chewy meat of great literature.
            I mean, even Curious George loses his charm after awhile. After a very short while, actually.
            Sometimes we gotta force the peas. Broaden our children’s tastes. Make them try things they don’t want to because the story will implant itself somewhere deep and hidden inside of them and sprout and grow and provide fodder for their very character.
            At least I hope so. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Shadow Children

            Each year at about this time, for the past five years, a little shadow person sweeps through my house. Shadow might be too strong of a word. It’s almost like a shadow of a shadow, a fleeting presence of what could have been. Here, then gone.
            Miscarriages may be “common” but that doesn’t make them easy.
            After having Elijah, after years of secondary infertility, after adopting the most precious, perfect little Chinese girl in the world, I found, to my delight and shock, that I was pregnant. The timing seemed perfect. “Really Lord?” I whispered in the bathroom as the second line materialized. "Now you're giving me this gift?"
            Yet in the days and weeks to follow, I felt like something was “wrong”. A few weeks after paying a visit to the ER for bleeding, I found myself there again, this time for hemorrhaging. Hours later, the doctor sent me and my husband home to “let nature take it’s course”, but I passed out in the corridor, steps away from the exit door. I came to, surrounded by a flurry of activity. My hemoglobin had dropped to a seven. They couldn’t send me home so they wheeled me up to the- you guessed it- maternity ward and gave me two bags of blood via transfusion. Every now and then I heard a baby cry while I waited for my baby’s heart to stop beating. I had five ultrasounds throughout the night, the heartbeat slower with each one.
            Then the next morning, there was no heartbeat.
            After a “standard procedure surgery” I came home. Home to my husband and precious children, then seven and two. I went to bed depleted but grateful. I had survived an ordeal that was, for me, more gory than labor and delivery.
            The next morning, it hit.
            Oh God, what have I lost?
            I sobbed. I couldn’t fathom ever being happy again. Part of my brain, the left, logical side, told me Yes. You will. Be thankful for the two wonderful kids you already have. The right side of my brain told the left side to shut it. How, how, how could I push past this sadness?
            I was thankful for my two children. I was thankful for life itself. But a loss is a loss and life isn’t one giant math equation; two blessings do not negate a loss. I wondered if I’d said anything dumb but well intentioned to the several women I knew who’d experiences miscarriages. Now, of course, I understood. I understood that it didn’t matter if it’s just the first trimester, or if it was for the best because there might have been something wrong with the baby. None of that helps. None of that erases the sadness, the throbbing emptiness. Because there is nothing tangible of which to cling. No funeral. No tiny footprint. No hand crocheted blanket. No picture. Nothing.
            The heart cry of women who miscarry is my baby existed.  My baby mattered. Maybe not to you, maybe you don’t fully understand it, but that baby, as tiny and hidden as he/she was, mattered to me. I was blessed to be surrounded by supportive family and friends and nurses and people who got it, who not only let me grieve, but expected me to grieve. But I still wanted something. To nail a stake in the timeline of life. To declare here was a life.
            I do not consider myself a poet. Yet the couple I have written were born from grief, when constructing complete sentences just seemed too daunting and excessive. So a few days after we lost what would have been our third child, I sat propped up in bed and wrote these lines. My husband printed them off on a sheet of pretty paper, and we framed it. It doesn’t hang anywhere in our house anymore because I don’t want to see it everyday. I don’t want live in grief. It just helps to know it exists. I want to know he existed.
            We all have shadows of some kind, hurts that revisit us from time to time that perhaps no one else ever sees. This particular shadow of mine now would be four. This shadow typically flashes before my mind as a boy with blonde, blonde hair. This shadow was, and I believe is, a real person and waits for me in a place where there are no shadows at all.

No Words

You left in the midst of a blizzard, slipped away silently as the snow fell. 
Small, white, intricate, beautiful 
So fragile
Too fragile to last

No words please
Words don’t mean enough
Just see him as I did- say that she was here

No answers
Don’t feed me answers- I already know
Just see what I did: a dream, a hope, a miracle
A life
Now lost, now gone
Too hidden to name, too fragile to keep.

And the snow keeps falling and buries the earth.

No words. No words. No words.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Aiming Low

It’s the time of year for those pesky New Year's resolution lists. The time of year when we hear a lot of talk about the dangers of aiming too low, or at nothing at all. But right now just the word resolution feels too daunting. 
So, instead I present my…

Ten Pretty Good Ideas for 2012

1. To make the bed. Since I make the kids do it, (every now and then) maybe I should too. Not every day mind you, that’s just OCD. Maybe weekly. Or at least when we’re having company so I won’t have to shut the door.

2. To learn the shortcuts on my computer. I still drag my mouse to edit, cut, and paste while my husband stands behind me pulling out his hair and muttering things like command v, command v! Next time, instead of shouting back, “Whatever! Leave me alone!” I’ll ask him to pull up a chair and teach me these time-saving moves, and I’ll actually listen.

3. To let the kids pick out a candy bar in the checkout line. I’ve never, ever let them do this. And they ask all the time. I never gave in because I didn’t want them to keep asking. But shucks, they’re good kids. So the next time they ask I’ll say, “Sure honey, pick out whatever one you want” and they’ll wonder who’s dying.

4. To throw away some of the junk lurking in the basement. This is purely fear based. I’m actually afraid of the boxes in the basement that have been sitting there since we’ve moved into this house, three and a half years ago. Some items have mysteriously made it out of the boxes and are scattered around the floor. Like the plastic silverware basket from our old dishwasher from our last house- what in the world possessed me to keep that thing? I must have experienced a burst of ingenuity when we replaced the dishwasher (back in 2003) and thought it’d make a great art caddy. My son never touched it and it now sits in the basement, stuffed with broken crayons and a few tarnished spoons. Creepy. But not as creepy as the plastic head that the previous owners left on a small shelf over our washing machine. No doubt an old doll head, but not a baby doll head. A man’s head. Like an oversized Ken head. Now that’s creepy. And yet fascinating. What’s the story behind this relic of intrigue? My morbid curiosity has saved it from the trash,  that and I’m terrified to touch it.

5. To beat my husband at Bananagrams. This is a word game. Kind of like Scrabble minus the bells and whistles. He kicks my butt. Every time. Maybe becuz speling is my downfal.

6. To not use the phrase, “I know, right?” Not even in a mocking way. In fact, let’s all agree that it’s time to move on.

7. To understand football. I know, I know I’m a detriment to my gender and many of you are truly miffed right now and are thinking “thanks so much for perpetuating that stereotype, Miss Prissy-priss”. But the shameful truth is there’s much about football I don’t understand. I get the game in general, touchdowns, interceptions, all of that. But I couldn’t explain the definition of past interference or holding or even the whole bit about the downs. I go to Packer parties mainly for the dip.

8. To clean out the cereal boxes shoved way back in the cupboard. Why am I saving those bags with a quarter cup of dust at the bottom? Who’d want to pour milk over that?

9. To watch an entire episode of Dr. Who. Mainly because the men in my life have always been fans. First my dad, (back when the sets looked like they were constructed out of cardboard) now my husband, (who just received the coolest Dr. Who scarf from a co-worker who, before Christmas, asked me if I thought he’d like her to knit him one to which I ignorantly replied, “I’m sure he’d love a scarf with Dr. Who’s face on it.” It’s a super cool scarf but I don’t think I’m allowed to like it until I actually sit down and watch an episode it its entirety.) and more recently, my pre-teen son (Okay, fine. I’m just grasping for ways to stay connected to him).

10. To put a flashlight in the car. Where I learned this was a good ideas, I don’t know. From my dad? A Triple A article? A Twenty-Twenty special? The point is, we don’t have one in either vehicle and when I see our stash of flashlights I invariably think, “Huh. Maybe I should put one in the car, just in case.” Just in case what? I lose an earring? In years past, having a flashlight in the car seemed to be equivalent to driving with a cell phone now days. Who needs a cell phone when you have a flashlight?

And there you go. Don’t let me deter you from dreaming big and shooting for the moon. By all means, shoot for it. I’ll enjoy the sprinkle of moon-dust and rejoice with you when you hit it. As for me, I may just make a dent in my list this year. I’ve already thrown out the creepy doll head when I got up to refill my coffee. Only nine and a half left to go...