Short Story: A Science Experiment in Naïveté

I suppose we could start at the beginning.

I had one of those miraculous childhoods that went weirdly out of style after the 60s when everything became granola and people got all paranoid about their children dying and whatnot.

My parents separated when I was five, plucking me out of my progressive kindergarten and into the hands of my three neurotic cousins in a large mansion left to my mother’s sister in a heated divorce. Between my siblings and I we numbered seven, ages 4-13; neither of our mothers had the luxury of staying home to make sure we were ok, so they just requested we never fill them in on our after-school activities. Ignorance is bliss, and whatnot. As far as they knew, we ran a book club.

We had the run of the neighborhood and no real adults to question our authority outside of the mother of the girl across the street, so we stopped inviting that girl over to play.

This led to sledding down the ravine on the lid of garbage cans, diving off the dock into the river at low tide to catch crabs in two feet of water, lengthy soap-opera-style home videos in which my cousin pushed us down the hill in a broken-down Barbie jeep for the dramatic crash conclusion. We scaled trees taller than our quickly wearing mansion. We spent our afternoons hiding from developers in partially constructed houses, throwing my four-year-old brother out of the second story window so my cousins could catch him and munching boxes of cheez-its under the brand-new floorboards while inspections took place just above our heads, the dust from their shoes littering down on us as they stepped across the floor above us, us trying desperately not to giggle. We rolled down three flights of stairs on beanbag chairs. We choreographed elaborate dances in the discarded costumes from my aunts failed monogramming business that we’d filched from the attic. We called into radio stations, endlessly requesting songs. We held three or four day monopoly games. We played Mortal Combat and beat Super Mario Brothers over the course of a month. We watched endless marathons of Chuckie, the demon doll horror flicks, every Halloween. We chased each other through the darkened crevices of my aunts walk-through closet, the unlucky victim to be chosen by my eldest cousin and his skater-punk friend.

We had no assigned beds. Every night we all scattered across the house and settled our tired bodies on the softest piece of furniture we could find. The last to bed was stuck on the leather couch in the formal living room, where the glow of the ginormous fish tank and the slippery fabric of the leather led to a zombie-like presence all throughout the next day. Worse, still, was to resign yourself to being wedged between my mother and aunt in their king-sized bed. My aunt snored like a train.

We never called our mothers over broken bones, scratches, fights, lost lunches. We climbed onto the counter to use the microwave and learned to run our raging oven burns under the sink rather than ice down. Our major concern when my sister sent a rusty nail through her foot at our favorite construction site was that mom might find out.
Our fragile child-kingdom was glorious. We were the masters of our domain. There were no rules. There were no time-outs. We learned our own way. We settled disputes on our terms.

My oldest cousin became the patriarch of the family, his slightly younger sister the matriarch. We’d all waited patiently for Ben to turn 16 and get a car so we could wedge in and get around–widen our berth of authority. Really, though, it was quickly becoming apparent that Ben didn’t care much for letting us follow him around like mother-less ducklings and he began to sneak off to the gas station to buy wine coolers from a few high schoolers he knew and share them with Molly. This left us all the more parentless.

Molly and Ben outgrowing us felt like the greatest betrayal of my young life. Molly had taught me how to ride a bike. Ben had played the gleeful villain in all of our favorite games, chasing us around with his bare butt, leaving a particularly reverent ass-print on our glass oven for months on end.

We all kind of grew up. Mom started signing us up for after-school care everyday, holding us hostage in that planned-activity, parent waiting room. We hated aftercare. Women with moles all over their bodies lectured us about sharing and made sure we let other kids in on our four-square games, preventing us from making up rules that guaranteed outsiders would lose. We’d had unlimited TV and freedom, now we had knitting lessons.

I couldn’t entirely blame Mom for putting us in aftercare, even though my younger brother and I took the brunt of it, being the youngest of the gang. Ben had taken to nailing random objects to the roof of his bedroom (the most coveted of all the sleeping spaces being as he kept it mostly off-limits to everyone but my brother and I; the fact that it was the only room on the top floor, had its own living room-attachment that held our treasured Nintendo, and was a whopping five staircases away from my aunts bedroom, where parents never had much reason to wander). I caught him hammering up his recently-deceased yellow lab’s leash to the ceiling and plopped myself down unthinkingly on his extra bed (where only my little brother was ever allowed to sleep) underneath his Weezer Green Album poster.

He and Molly were in a fight. I didn’t know what had happened (I was a first, possibly second grader, but my guess would be that he was caught smoking weed), but I knew Molly had ratted him out to his father about something and his father (you knew it was big if someone involved one of our fathers) had subsequently refused to buy him a car. Ben was thereafter grounded and hadn’t spoken to Molly since.

I’d gone to Ben on an errand from Molly to offer some sort of peace offering, to which he’d shrugged and finally sent me away with his prolonged silence. Molly had questioned me extensively about his reply. I’d shrugged. “He didn’t say anything. He’s busy doing something.”


I’d shrugged again.

“Well, go back and find out.”

I went. I stood beneath him, looking up at him, standing on a chair, hammering that leash into the ceiling. It was green. It was a green leash.

“Molly wants to know what you’re doing.”

He hadn’t even looked down at me. He just kept hammering. “Science experiment.”

“Okay.” I left satisfied by that answer, Molly less so.

“Did he say what the science experiment was?”



I returned. “Exactly what kind of science experiment?”


“Gravity,” I reported to Molly.

“What is he doing exactly?”

I told her. She still seemed concerned. “What’s wrong? It’s just a science experiment.”

She went with me this time. The two of us climbed to his lair, she stayed in the doorway, examining the situation; Ben up on that chair hammering his dead dog’s leash into the ceiling.

“Molly wants to know what you’re going to hang from the leash.”

“Molly can mind her own fucking business.”

The police showed up within fifteen minutes. Ben got sent away for a while and thereafter lived with his father until he went to college.

I only remember being very worried about how our mothers would feel when they saw the police there and very mad at Molly for breaking our sacred vow of law-less silence. I was seven, maybe six, maybe even eight. How was I supposed to know that Molly had saved his life that day?


Edinburgh| Perfect Day


Today was probably the most beautiful day of all time.

I swear, when the sun is shining and it’s warm Edinburgh is the most beautiful place in the world. The park, every park, is full of people. It’s like everyone just calls into work and heads outside. “I’m sorry, I can’t come into the office today. The sun is too sunny to be inside.” What better excuse could there be?

Curled up in the grass with a book full of happiness. Aren’t all books, though?

I leave for Croatia first thing in the morning, 6:30 am flight. I’ve got that horribly sickening sort of excitement sitting in my belly. When you’re nervous because it’s gonna be new and interesting and scary.

Until then… Someone has put on True Blood (sorry, but… Horrible) and I’ve eaten my bodyweight in excellently spicy curry so…

Yep, good day.

I’ll message you from the road, friends.

Day Seventy-Six: Anatomy of an Awesome Bookshop


I grew up in a bookshop. I mean that quite literally.

My parents separated when I was about 5 and my siblings and I went to live with my mother. Every Monday and Thursday (and “every-other weekend” a phrase well-know to children of divorce), my father would pick up my siblings and I and take us to (at the time) the only restaurant in my home town, a sports bar where we ate buffalo wings bi-weekly, that shared a shopping center with a Barnes and Noble (which was also the only place to get coffee in my town).

I bought my first chapter book at that Barnes and Noble. My father would let us all run wild we would spread ourselves across the shop with our novels (back when Barnes and Nobles still had cosy chairs and couches). We were allowed one book a week, two if we bought one of those B&N classics because they were cheaper (and why, to this day, I’ve read mostly classics).

I love bookshops. Even chains. I know it’s cheaper these days to buy online, but the bookshop was a founding principle of my literary career. I hold on to them with romanticized nostalgia that no longer belongs in the digital world.

When I moved to New Orleans, I discovered a couple of really cool bookshops that have really worn a hole in my heart, but by far my favorite is an eccentric little place, crammed full of books called Blue Cypress Books. This place has every great aspect of a bookstore other than a reading room… Plus it’s adorable. So I thought I would break down the Anatomy of an Awesome Bookshop for you guys:

1) A lot of books. This is important because… well, obvious reasons. I want to feel like, when I’m in a bookshop, I am drowning in books. If an earthquake suddenly happened, I would like to think I’d be buried alive in there. I want all genres. Blue Cypress has an entire extra room just crammed full of Fantasy and Sci Fi (with a little bit of travel and, oddly, memoir squeezed in), a whole nook of Children’s Lit, and even a case or two of collectibles.


2) A really awesome staff. The thing I love most about Blue Cypress is that, while it’s so small it’s mostly staffed by it’s owner, she knows a lot about books. An adorable blonde woman who has read every book I’ve ever come in asking for, she and I never run out of literary subjects to discuss. They also do this really helpful thing where the staff all labels their favorite books. Once you get to know their tastes, it’s like a huge flashing sign telling you what you’d like to read next.

3) Some sort of adorable animal. I used to take the children I babysat to Blue Cypress to help me regain my sanity momentarily. They have an adorable cat there that the tots would chase around to their hearts content while I actually got a moment to pick books. Aside, from the one time I had to peel the terrified cat off the littlest’s head, this was my favorite thing. Plus, there is nothing like a cat rubbing against your ankle while you peruse the poetry section.


4) Fair pricing. I switched to used books soon after becoming poor. Let’s be honest, books are insanely expensive. (Plus, I love a well-loved book!) Even still, some used bookshops charge almost-new prices. No thanks… I want to fill my life with books, not empty my bank account. Bonus points if they offer rewards programs for book addicts like me.

5) Ideally, a couch. I used to sneak into my college library to take naps because they had chairs more comfortable than my dorm bed. I’m not saying, if my bookshop had one, I’d be snoozing there or anything (possibly, though), but I’m the kind of person who always reads the first chapter before they buy. An awesome, little reading room would really seal the deal for me.

6) Coffee. I don’t know why, but coffee and bookshops are inextricably linked. They just seem like they belong together–or maybe that’s just coffee and everything (or, better yet, books and everything). Granted, this is a bit of stretch for small bookshops, but I think coffee would turn a bookshop into my heaven.

7) Secret rooms. Another awesome bookshop in New Orleans (which, sadly, recently downsized and lost this feature) was in a cute little house that twisted its way towards the back. This was great. Nothing like getting lost in a little shop and finding yourself in the parallel universe that is Avant Guard Architecture or whatever random special interest you happen upon. Plus, this is the best place to hide with your shameful reads.

Bookshops will always be akin to my home, but if I had a bookshop with all of these things… I think they’d have to drag me out of there every night.

What about you guys? Can I ask you just one question: Do you feel literary? Well, do you?

Day Seventy-One: Just Stop Editing

I’d let my book get stuck in my head and, other than a few measly scenes that were all wrong, I hadn’t written much of use this whole week.

So I sat down and–in a text-only version and therefore unable to edit–I read my entire book today.

You know, these things get so mental and detailed, that you forget to just enjoy your story. Could my sentence structure be better? Yup. Were there plenty of cringe-worthy typos? Of course. But was the story there? Did I manage to read the whole thing in one sitting? Yes.

It doesn’t matter as much what other people think. I genuinely enjoyed reading my book today. I enjoyed reading it as if someone else entirely had written it. I found myself worried for the characters, even! Worried about the characters I wrote! Can you believe that?

It really helped get me back on track, to fall in love with my own story all over again.

So, a week after finishing Chapter 17, I started 18. I wrote 1,300 words in the past 45 minutes (more than I’ve written all week… at least on this project) and completely rearranged my ending. The ending is still there, I just need to write it and now I see why it had been causing problems, clear as day.

I’ve also figured out a huge detail at the beginning that will solve my two biggest problems. A) It’ll add a bit of excitement to the beginning and really up the stakes for my protagonist (thank you to Amy for pointing out how much potential this detail could have) and B) be a really good motivational factor/bonding point for my protagonist later.

All hope is not lost.

Day Forty: Childhood

Let’s start over.

This weekend I passed the half-way point of my novel. I finished through Chapter 12 and about 60,000 words. It’s really perfect timing. I moved to my childhood in Florida about a month and a half ago to live in an old condo my parents own and live off their generosity and my savings. I wanted to write a novel.

I spent this past weekend in my childhood home with my mother helping her set up a new entertainment system. In return she let me dive into the $5 movie bin at Walmart. I found, as if my mother’s presence drew me to them, some of my childhood favorites. The Neverending Story, Space Jam, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and The Brave Little Toaster. (I already own Sandlot and Cool Runnings… all I am missing is Little Giants and my childhood movie collection is complete!) I watched The Brave Little Toaster last night with a glass of wine… It’s still as good as I remembered it.

My childhood bedroom, unlike my younger brother (the last of us to move out and, therefore, whose room is still a shrine to him), was piled with beds after I moved out and thereafter the temporary sleeping quarters for my older sisters and I whenever we returned for the holidays. We have lovingly dubbed it “Girls Cabin” and there is something wonderfully exciting about sleeping on a bunkbed in your twenties. It’s like you go back in time and those childish things become exciting again.

The only portion of my old room that remains is my bookshelf. It’s like a stationary time machine. All of my old books… I look at them and I remember so vividly reading each of them. I have this tendency to leave my bookmarks pressed between the pages–just old scraps of paper like receipts or plane tickets that will one day tell the next reader when that book was last loved. It’s one of the reasons I can’t return books to the library. I like to track the progress of the pieces of myself I leave in the pages like a horocrux.

My childhood bookshelves hold so much of me… Strange classes I experimented with in college. My dark 6-year-old obsession with real Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which are bleak at best, and perhaps the origin of all my unromantic notions about Love. My Jane Austen stage, where I learned that maybe I wanted to be wrong. Wayside School, Narnia, Harry, David Foster Wallace, Dumas, R.L. Stein, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Mary McCarthy, everything. My entire literate history is on those shelves.

It seems almost perfect that I’d come back here to write my first children’s book–to my own childhood. Part of me felt like such a failure; quitting my job, leaving New Orleans, coming back with nothing to show for it. I hadn’t had the most wonderful childhood, but I did… I did have a lot. I did get to become me. I’m glad I’m back here to remember that. How wonderful being is a kid is. Even if it’s not… Even if it’s horrible… Even if it’s only the launching pad for who you will become. I’ve realized why they call it your formative years. You’re learning how to be someone.

This week marks the end of my time back in Florida. I’m off to New Orleans on Thursday, just like when left Florida for college when I was 18, for an unspecified period of time. After that, my beloved Edinburgh for two months. It’s as if I am reliving my life so far… going back to every place I’ve ever lived, compressing my life so far into six months. I am retracing my steps in order to move on.

I am trying to contain everything I know from my life so far into such a small place. Into a book.

And then? Grad school… maybe? I applied for an MFA. Somewhere new, at the very least.

All I know is that… maybe it seemed as though I was regressing. But sometimes you have to take a few steps back in order to move forward.

Like turning a page in a good book… I wonder what will happen next.

Day Thirty-Four: Traditional Publishing is Dead?

I spend a lot of time reading technology and writing blogs (not just on this site, but everywhere). In this day, you have to. Last night I came across a blog where a young writer such as myself who had undertaken a similar project, completed it, and sent it to traditional publishing houses only for it to get rejected. He was thereafter thinking about making the jump to self-publishing and had lots of interesting input from editors and proofreaders encouraging him to do so–his work was good, there really isn’t much rhyme or reason to how a novel gets published.

It was weird how much this floored me. When I think of self-publishing, my mind automatically jumps to those one-dollar-to-free novels I buy on my Nook. Honestly? They’re horrible. I’ve read third grader’s essays that are better proof-read than some of those guys. I almost wanted to reach into my screen and tell this blogger not to do it! It’s literary suicide, I thought!

But it’s not.

I still live in some outdated vision of literature. I’ve had an e-reader for a few years now, but when I think of a book, I still think of just that. A book! I want to hold it in my hands. I want to turn the pages. I want to find it on my shelf smiling at me like an old friend. I want to leave it by my best friend’s bed to read when I’m done. I buy digital copies sometimes, but they’re copies. I know somewhere out there that book actually exists.

Today I read a few blog posts about how to actually make money as a writer. One guy starts going on about how publishing houses are monopolies that produce nothing but trash and the only way to create real work was by self-publishing (and that’s not just digital copies, there’s a million forms of it). Essentially, he destroyed my every romantic notion of being a writer.

You hear that when it comes to writing, content is king. This doesn’t really make much reference to the quality of the content so much as the quantity. I’ve heard of novelists in self-publishing that put out books every few weeks. This seems impossible to me. I’m trying to write a big story here. Every day it overwhelms me with how big it is. I can’t imagine writing it any faster without reducing the quality. Would it be better to be writing sub-par novels once a month in order to make a buck?

God, do I even need to answer that for you?

I’m sure there are people out there who make great money, and probably produce quality work in very little time (On The Road was written in three weeks, but don’t let that discourage us. It’s a very short book). But even then, that’s not the end-goal of my project.

I always had this rather childish fantasy of walking through a bookstore (and let us not get into the fate of the bookstore! Call me sentimental, but I don’t want to exist if bookstores do not) and finding my book on a shelf. I want to hold it. I want to open it to my favorite passage and sit right there on the floor of the shop to read it, like catching-up with a long-lost relative. I want to write my name in it and leave it for the next passing soul to pluck it from the shelf. I want to hold my book more than most people want to hold their first child.

But it’s more than that. I want someone to read my book. I want to have something worth saying that I can convey in such a way that makes this fragile language of ours make sense. I want someone to leave my book by their best friend’s bed. To dog-ear the pages. To leave scraps of paper between the pages bookmarking their favorite passages. I want someone to love my book as much as I have loved books.

I guess the heart of that romantic notion is just as easily accomplished with a self-published book. You’d cut the legalities. The Middle-men. The monetary vultures and hangers-on sucking the life out of my work just to make a buck. But I want to believe that there is still a heart in the publishing world that’s merely helping make my book as good as it can possibly be. That it takes a lot of great minds to make a great book.

It’s a literary sea out there. It isn’t a jungle. You could drown in all the books in the world, both digital and physical. I want my book to float.