Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eight Weeks - Kindred

In eight fleeting weeks, BODY OF WATER, which is mostly fiction, will stroll out into the world, and a few of my secrets might seep out. Like, I have washed my hair with apple-scented hand soap and lied to teachers about where I did my homework. Like, I am not above eating fried bologna off a stick. And I sort of have an obsession with fuzzy pajamas.

Want to know what’s crazy? I recently met someone who lived in a tent for six months. Six! We didn’t quite make it to three. She was a little older during her camping time – ninth grade, not seventh – and we are the same age, so it’s easy for me to think back on her camping year.

We were at Herold Court that year, a second-floor apartment where the walls sweated in summer and my best friend wasn’t allowed to visit at first because my parents didn’t quite think about how the “I Heart Herbs” sticker on the car window could be taken if you didn’t know my mother gathered mullen for congestion and burdock for arthritis. The year my friend slept under the twinkle of cricket chatter, I was drenched in the humid hush of the box fan in the window. In winter we went sledding down the yellow line of Kentucky Road until we tumbled, laughing, into snow-filled ditches. I hope my friend was under roof by then. I don’t know which months she camped because she didn’t want to talk about it much.

Some days I feel frivolous, like I don’t understand even the things I’ve done. Like it’s not okay for me to write a book about living in a tent, because, even though I’ve lived in a tent, I was me at the time and not a regular person, and I didn’t get the same things out of it that a regular person would. And then I think, what do I mean by regular person? A person who has never lived in a tent? A person who has only ever washed their hair with shampoo? A person who doesn’t heart herbs and who takes fuzzy PJs for granted?

The kid in me would say there is no regular, everybody is different (because she thought she was pretty deep). But even that seventh-grader who was free of congestion and smelled faintly of apples -- who night after night went to bed wearing something other than fuzzy pajamas -- even that girl wanted to be like other people sometimes.

Which is why I am grateful to my new friend for sharing a touch of her story, even if she didn't want to talk about it much. I can't guess her story, wouldn't dream of trying. I was me, not her, my camping year. But some things -- some things she doesn't have to say. Some things I think I might know.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nine Weeks

It's hard to believe school's already back in. Summer crashes into fall without regard for anything. Maybe there hasn't been time for vacation, or maybe you don't have your school clothes out, or maybe you're not quite back under roof just yet, but here it is fall, deceptively subtle with only a yellow leaf or two to show for it.

School bus didn't come out to the campground, so Dad drove us in and I showed up to seventh grade smelling like cigarette smoke and campfire smoke and the early red maple leaves I'd crunched under bare feet the evening before. It was tough to reconcile school breakfast, syrupy French Toast sticks, with the previous day's dinner of hot dogs on actual sticks, blackened till they blistered. It was tough to reconcile school company -- girls with neat hair, teased bangs, and purposely-ripped-up jeans -- with my evening company of sisters in swimsuits and tangles.

My pre-algebra homework was half-finished because other things seemed much more important the evening before. I missed the lake, more than half drained now because of a drought downriver. I missed elementary school, with its neat math problems I understood, printed on wide-ruled paper. I sensed change, something deeper than autumn.

I spent days gazing out of classroom windows, unaccustomed to being indoors. I spent nights under the stars, hazy through the campfire smoke, thinking of better things than math. I was a lucky girl, luckier than my squeaky-clean classmates stuck under ceilings. I knew just enough to know that this couldn't last forever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Livvie turns one!

My little Livvie Owen has been out in the world for one year today. In her honor, I will ask you a question.

What would your dream home look like? Feel like? Smell like? Is it a house? A cabin? A mansion? How many rooms? How many people to fill those rooms? How did you come by it and how long will you live there? These are the questions Livvie would ask you if she met you. She wouldn't quite look at you and she wouldn't quite be sure how to word them, but these are the things she would want to know.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ten Weeks

Ten weeks now till BODY OF WATER.

Let me tell you about the first week in the campground.

It was only an adventure, only another chapter in our fictional lives. We were raised to believe we were characters in books, taught that adversity was fodder for plot, that conflict kept the pages turning. Most chapters had a happy ending. My parents were still the authors and we kids were in charge of the dialogue and a few of the illustrations. We didn’t have to worry much. My parents would find a way to wrap up this chapter neatly.

That summer must have been so hard for them. There are days I can’t write characters through hardship and my parents had to write three real-life girls through it. But if it was hard, they never let on. If they were scared, they never let on. We were on a camping trip, which we’d never been on before. Tents and campground passes were a luxury we could only afford if we weren’t frittering our money away on silly things like rent. This was a treat, this camping trip. This was a once-in-a-lifetime plot twist.

The first week, everything was new and we couldn’t stop giggling. We walked barefoot on hot pavement. We held our breaths past the big blue dumpsters you could smell for half a city block. We were careful of glass. We swam on the campground side of the lake, not the beach side, just to prove we weren’t afraid of the sucking mud and the hidden marine life. We had splash fights. We ate from the vending machines. We sat on the warm dryers in the laundry room come evening and we watched other campers bed down in their little family groups around their campfires and we scoffed at the ones who brought RVs and televisions. After the first few nights, we felt like old pros compared to the people checking in.

And never mind the people checking out. We didn’t have to worry about that.

They made us switch campsites every two weeks. It was a rule presumably put in place to prevent people like us from living in the campground long term. They had to know. The caretakers of the place, they had to notice that we never left. They had to notice that after the first couple of site changes, we stopped taking the tents down and simply transported them fully-assembled, one at a time on the back of the truck. I remember sitting on the edge of the bed of our brown Nissan, clutching the roll bar with one arm and my tent with the other. We moved from Site One to Site Thirty. Site … 42, perhaps? And 14. I can’t remember them all. And the caretakers of the place, they had to see. But they never said a word, only smiled at us and went on their way.

I wish I knew where those people are now. I would send them copies of BODY OF WATER. And something chocolate. Would S'mores be too much?

I’m supposed to be talking about the first week in the campground, but it’s hard to talk about a single week when the whole summer feels like one sunny blur. I know that the first week, we were still fairly clean and crisp from the luxury of living indoors. We did not miss living indoors. We did not miss beds and chairs and tables. We maybe missed TV a little, but we hadn’t watched that much of it before, and the people at the campground were way more interesting to watch. And maybe, when dusk fell and the sun was still bright enough to dim the campfires and I knew it would be dark soon, it’s possible I missed the nightlight I was embarrassed I had still been using.

But outside dark isn’t scary like inside dark. I slept sound and woke rested, ready for adventure.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Eleven Weeks

Eleven weeks seems like a strange amount of time to mark, unless that's how long you lived in a dome-shaped tent in the summer of '93. For eleven weeks, my sisters and I roamed Battle Run Campground, swimming, and storytelling, and roasting whatever would fit on the end of a stick.

Little bits and pieces of those eleven weeks are always with me. Of course there is the obvious, the crackle of fire and the green splash of lake water, but there's other stuff, too. Like when I unzip my duffel at the Writer's Conference, the noise is exactly like my bedroom door at the campground. Like any time I see initials carved into wood, I think of the names kids carved into the campground's climbing tower, which they tore down years ago. When I wrote my name there, in blue ink from the pen I always carried, I thought it would stay there forever.

In a way, it has.

Eleven weeks from today, BODY OF WATER will be released, and a kid named Ember will tell you about her summer in the campground, so different from mine – but I hope, just as permanent. Once we get there, if you would, take just a second and turn around and look back to this spot right here, and think about how much time that actually is to live in a campground. By the time we left, the tents were worn through and the fires burned low to embers. We were taller and tanner, older and wiser, and we knew how to make a place home.

It's a skill I've used plenty more times over the years. But that's a story for another novel.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Not-So-Fictional Characters

Funny what makes it in, what stays out. Every little animal I've ever kept has made it, or will make it, into a book. Henry's there already, in the form of Orange Cat in LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE.

You can meet Lola this October when BODY OF WATER is released – she plays the role of Widdershins, at least in my head.

And in my third book, which you will hopefully get to read at some point, my sister-in-law's mean and hateful little poodle, Chewbacca, makes an appearance.

I sort of hate that dog. He broke Lola's nose once, but that occurrence did not make it into either novel.

Sorry, I don't have a picture of Chewbacca. If you really want to know, he looks like a dirty cottonball. With fangs.

Buddy Sunshine, my oversized Rottie mix, did make it into a middle grade novel that has never seen the light of day.

And in my most recent novel, there is a cat named Stella who is a lot like my Sage-cat. Actually, Sagey-Boo was also in LIVVIE, in the form of Gray Cat (although she is clearly not gray).

You know who, quite conspicuously, has never made it into a novel of mine?

These guys:

That first one is Stuff, my very first horse. And the second is my current horse, Magnum.

As a kid, all I ever read were horse stories. When I wasn't reading horse stories, I was visiting a neighbor's horse, or cleaning stalls to pay for riding lessons, or, after I managed to get a horse of my own, out playing in the pasture with him. Sometimes I read horse stories and played in the pasture at the same time:

So guess what? For Camp NaNoWriMo, I am finally writing a horse story! Maybe someday some horse-crazy kid can lie on their horse's back and read it. That's the dream. I am super-serious about this. As serious as Magnum:

Also, eventually, my husband's new pup, Oscar, will have to make it into a novel. Because, OMG, cute.

So how's your Camp NaNo coming?

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I started seventh grade from a campground. Battle Run Campground in Summersville, West Virginia, to be exact. It's a beautiful place, tree-shaded, lakeside. In fact, it's made up of a sort of sprawling peninsula, surrounded on three sides by shimmery dark-green lake water.

It is the perfect place to vacation.

Up until school started, it was the perfect place to live.

Let me tell you about school nights and school mornings in a campground. Campgrounds are not built for school days. They are built for hazy summer memories of campfires and marshmallows and bathing suits and bicycles.

And, apparently, beer and country music. At least according to the campers at Site 16 next door to me. The campers there stayed up well into the night, blasting Alan Jackson's newly-released "Chattahoochee" over and over.

I'm sure it was shocking to those drunken campers when, at one in the morning, a disgruntled twelve-year-old stuck her head out of her tent and screeched, "Don't you people know it's a school night?"

But it wasn't their fault I couldn't sleep. It was not because of the song.

Up until now, it had been summer. Summer was when you're supposed to stay in a campground, but now it was school time and school time is fall and fall is when you're supposed to rake leaves into neat piles on the flat lawn of your three-bedroom brick ranch-style house with the chain link fence and the one-lane street.

Well, we had the one-lane street. It looped and spun among progressively-empty campsites as September came.

I don't remember being nervous about school, but I do remember being cold. Five-thirty a.m., walking barefoot to the shower house and waiting longer each day for the water to get warm, I cursed the hour and the lack of sun. Why did school have to start so early, anyway? Why didn't they leave time for a swim first?

After school, I came home to the campground and unleashed my stress in the form of a swim, or a gallop on foot around the campground, or a bike ride. It wasn't till darkness gathered, an inch earlier every day, that I remembered about homework. Me and my sisters would stroll down to the shower house, most always empty these days, and set up shop in the laundry room, scribbing in notebooks and watching the storms come, occasionally remembering to do a math problem or to study a spelling word.

It was awesome.

Waking up, and coming home, in a place like Battle Run, well, that was blissful. It was the middle part of the day that stank. Seventh grade was a shock because it was different from anything I had known. People I knew -- a lot of people, since I had attended four elementary schools, two of them twice -- were suddenly taller and meaner. The pressure to conform, to fit in, to be like everybody else was immense, which was a challenge for a very literal kid, since no two people in that school were alike. Everybody had their own problems, their own situations, their own rude comments and their own little hang-ups.

As far as I knew, none of them lived in a campground.

For the first time, I wondered if maybe I wasn't supposed to like where I lived. But I still did.

A while back, I wrote a book about a kid living in a campground. For a lot of reasons, she doesn't love it as much as I did, but a big part of her loves it very much. Which is how most homes are. The book is called BODY OF WATER and it will start seventh grade -- I mean, it will be released -- October 25.

God, I hope it doesn't fit in.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Camp NaNoWriMo!

This morning, while attempting to type "Camp NaNoWriMo," I managed to post a whole blog that was nothing but the letter C.

Then, just now, while attempting to type "while attempting to type," I typed "tpyed."

Then, while attempting to type "Camp NaNoWriMo," I typed, "NanOwrImo."

Then, while attempting to type, "while attempting to type 'while attempting to type'", I typed "tuyped."

And then at some point -- I'm so lost now that I really don't know WHAT I was trying to type, except it included the word "typed" -- I typed "typied."

Maybe I should NaNo in longhand.

At any rate, it's that time. You in?