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— SJ

New eBook Release

Over on my author blog, I explained that:

“I’m just puzzled that dromedaries can’t behave.”

Actually, I didn’t explain it, I just stated it. What could it possibly mean? Well, as it turns out, it has nothing to do with criminal camels. I bet you already knew that.

I’m just puzzled dromedaries can’t behave is the mnemonic device I use to remember the titles in my new short story collection.

That’s my real announcement.

I’m launching a new ebook next month.

Six original short stories that will make you laugh, probably won’t make you cry, and will remind you of your own world.

I’ll be posting Frequently Asked Questions on my author blog to talk more about it. But you’ll definitely want to get a copy, trust me.

Trapped! (Ch. 13-19)


And here’s the (somewhat tepid) climax and conclusion of this teenage literary masterpiece. To read previous installments, click on the “Trapped!” category above the post title.

Chapter 13
Meanwhile, in the Silverstreak Mine, Hartfour and the Ron guy have spent two hours wandering deeper into the mine trying to find a way out. Another beam falls just behind them, blocking their way back to the collapsed entrance. Jeremy remarks on it with a sigh. By the way, Sarah’s hurt foot seems to be holding up okay at the moment. It’s pretty inconvenient to have a broken foot when you’ve got walking to do, so it’s useful if you can just ignore it.

They sit down to rest. Daryl is flicking the flashlight all over the place, and Amy spots another track across the gully. Ronny says that if they can get over to it, they can take it back to the entrance. Amy asks how they’re supposed to get to it, Ronny snaps back at her, Daryl yells at Ronny for talking like that to Amy, Sarah tells everybody to cool it, Jeremy snaps at her, Daryl goes all caveman about “pesky girls,” Sarah lashes back with “pesky, hot tempered, stupid boys!”

(My dialogue shows an uneven influence of contemporary young adult books, stories written in the 60s, and C.S. Lewis.)

Then we pause this moment for Sarah to reflect on how bad she feels anytime Jeremy and Ronny fight. She also realizes that Amy is jealous about Daryl, but didn’t Amy realize that Sarah and Daryl were simply good friends? Daryl would laugh at the idea of being with Sarah. Besides, Sarah already has enough boy troubles. I’m very good about bringing things back to what’s really important.

Back to the action, they’ve discovered a huge iron hook hanging from, um, somewhere above. In fact, Daryl is swinging on it. Over the deep gully, presumably. I’m kind of seeing how all the adults in my stories turn out to be idiots.

“We can swing across,” he was saying. But Sarah heard a sickeningly familiar sound. A cracking.

“Beam!” she yelled. “Get off, Daryl!”

Too late. The beam fell. It hit the hook. Daryl fell. Amy screamed.

Then a huge pile of dirt fell. It hit the track, which swayed, then crumbled.

That was the last Sarah remembered.

Uh, oh. Please hurry with your crazy idea, Jill!

Chapter 14
This chapter has a clammy-palm sense of panic to it. Not so much the action, which consists mostly of Jill gathering up her friends to launch her “plan.” But the author, who had no idea what this plan was, why it was crazy, and how it was supposed to rescue anybody, sure was in suspense.

Jill gets permission from her dad, who is an idiot, to help look for her friends. Then she goes from house to house collecting Lynn, Susey, and Care (whose name was really Caren, but she’s a tomboy so… anyway, moving on.) I mention in passing that Jill called everybody by their first names, even adults. That’s how crazy she was, whew.

(Susey got permission to go with Jill and the others to go to this town an unidentified distance away because “her mother wanted so much for Susey to be well liked. The whole family was like that.”)

Lynn was the hardest sell.

“And how will you search the mine?”

Jill told them the plan.

“Jill Carver! That’s crazy!” Lynn exclaimed when she’d finished.

Dang it, Jill! Speak up! The author couldn’t hear your plan!

The plan seemed to hinge on a balanced equation; as Susey pointed out, there were five kids stuck in the mine, and only four of them. So they asked Lizzy if she’d join them. This was a big moment for this set of characters. Lynn and Lizzie had been friends, but then Lizzy joined snobby Susan’s group and they hadn’t spoken since.

But Jill was willing to bury the hatchet now. A line that reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Ellen Conford, who wrote the exchange, “She’s ready to bury the hatchet.”  “Yeah, in my head.” I think the influence is obvious.

Anyway, they get Lizzy on board just in time to be picked up by Lennie, the Carvers’ chauffeur in a white limo. Jill is really rich, by the way; her dad owns an oil company, and his headquarters are in the very same town where the mine is. You can’t accuse Jill of not making the most of coincidences.

Lennie mentions casually that another part of the mine has caved in. “The whole thing is expected to soon.”

Jill was glad that she was crazy. If not, she’d have backed out right then.

Come on, Jill, stop being so coy. Let me in on this plan! Readers are depending on me to tell this story!

But the chapter closes with that.

Chapter 15
Sarah comes back to consciousness to see Amy crying. Again, if your story has inconvenient elements like “total darkness,” you can just ignore them to keep things moving.

“Amy! What’s wrong?” Sarah cried. Amy whirled around.

“Sarah! You’re okay!” she yelled.

“What happened?” Sarah asked faintly.

“You fainted right before we fell.” Amy wiped away another tear. “I can’t find the boys—any of them. Especially Daryl!”

I guess Amy knew Sarah had fainted because Sarah’s adverb clued her in. Also, notice that I’m not one of those authors who risks having her readers forget anything. Amy’s especially worried about Daryl because he’s her boyfriend, got it? Good!

Poor Amy has been sitting there crying for “a few hours.” But now that Sarah’s awake, they start digging around in the dirt. They find Ronny, who has a big cut across his forehead. Amy says that if they clean it up, it might wake him up too, and wasn’t there water around here? Sarah hears it and reaches for the flashlight, but it’s smashed.

“Wait!” Sarah said, excited. “I can see you! And Ronny! There’s light somewhere!”

Ha! I bet you think I wrote this line because I realized the problem and had to fix it.

But Amy, who now can think rationally now that Sarah is with her, says they need to clean up Ronny and find the others before they look for the source of the light. She goes to look for the water, and Sarah uncovers Jeremy.

(I don’t know why people make such a big deal out of things like avalanches. Obviously all you have to do is just move a little dirt and “a heavy beam.”)

But Daryl is still missing.

Amy is caring for Ronny, and Jeremy wakes up to find out that he has a broken arm. By the way, Sarah’s hurt foot is doing great, thanks for asking.

“Daryl?” Jeremy inquired next.

“Hungry,” Daryl said, walking up behind Jeremy.

“Daryl!” Sarah cried.

“Daryl?” Amy’s voice said through the grayness made by some unknown source of light.

Ha! Fixed it AGAIN!

Daryl explains, “I landed first, you know. I wasn’t hurt, and didn’t waste time. I ran before it all fell on me.”

Can we take Sarah aside here and suggest that she ditch the hunky boys and find somebody with a sense of humor and a clear head like Daryl?

They find one another again by the stream—hey, I was kind of clever to put water there! Never mind that they didn’t think to pack water. But they do have food, thanks to the fact that Sarah is still wearing that backpack.

“Don’t you have some sandwiches in your pack?” Daryl asked.

“No,” Sarah answered. She took out a plastic bag. In the faint light, they could see it was flat. “I have a bologna pancake.”

For the first time in hours, they all laughed.

A lighthearted moment as the dire situation closes in around them.

Chapter 17
Up on the surface, Jill and her crew have put The Plan into motion. They’re tracking down other teenagers to find information about their lost friends. The adults didn’t think of doing this, because they’re idiots.

They talk to somebody named Bridgetta Parker, who wasn’t mentioned before and never gets mentioned after this chapter. But for her moment of glory, she gets a full 15-letter name. Not only did she see the five missing friends, but she knows a secret way into the mine. Of course, Jill’s dad ordered her to not go into the mine, but hey, this is Crazy Jill we’re talking about!

She crawls into the hole. It gets wider as she crawls, then it just “dropped off to a huge gully below.” The Huge Gully is practically another character by now.

Then Jill launches the climax of her amazing plan.

Jill eased herself onto the rickety track. “Sarah!” she called. “Amy, Daryl, Jeremy! Oh, and Ron! The mine is falling! Can you hear me!”

So her plan was to find a different way into the mine and call their names and hope they answer? Heck, I could have thought of that myself!

“Jill Estelle Carver!” It was her Dad, and he sounded mad. “Get up here!”

Jill crawled up, but not before she heard some one call, “Hey, you! Where are you? Hey!”

Jill was going to answer, but her father roared again,

“Jill Carver! Get up here!”

Jill glumly crawled out. Her father jerked her up.

“I told you to stay out! But you just go right ahead!”

“Dad! Wait! They’re in there! I heard Sarah!” Jill pleaded.

“You go home tonight. I can’t trust you,” Mr. Carver growled.

“Mr. Franky! I hear someone!” Lizzy exclaimed. Mr. Carver bent down by the hole.

“Mr. Franky” sounds incredibly weird to most people, is my guess. I admit that “Franky” is a pretty awful name for an oil tycoon. But it was very common in my Deep South town to call adults by “Mr.” or Ms.” and first name, and at the time I thought it was a universal thing.

“Please! Somebody! This is Sarah!”

I like how she doesn’t bother to use her last name, or identify anybody else with her. The Queen of the T.N. doesn’t need to do that.

And it filters through Franky Carver’s thick layer of idiocy that something must be done.

“Get someone out here!” Mr. Carver ordered. Bridgetta was off like an arrow.

Ah ha! That’s why he’s even here! Bridgetta Parker is a fink. Also, seeing as he sends her off for help, he’s evidently of the opinion that you shouldn’t send a man to do a ten-year-old’s job. That’s probably wise in this particular version of the world.

Lynn yells into the hole and gets an answer from Sarah, who this time identifies everyone, gives an update of everyone’s status, and adds, “Oh, and my ankle is sprained.”

Then the police came. They notified the fire station and the hospital. Jill slipped away unnoticed. She had a great idea.

On par with this brilliant crazy plan she just executed, I guess.

While the fire department took “at least half an hour” to get the hole big enough for two people to go through, I wrapped up a few plotlines down in the mine:

Amy had finally realized that she wasn’t loosing [sic] Daryl. And Ronny and Jeremy didn’t fight anymore.

Maybe they’d live happily ever after, after all.

The mine obligingly stopped collapsing long enough for the kids to be pulled up via “a hook.” As each kid emerged from the mine, he or she laughed. Sarah was dying to know what was so funny. When she finally made it to the surface, she saw her parents waiting for her.

When she looked behind her mother, though, she saw what was so funny.

All thirty-something of the kids were there. The entire Three Neighborhoods, thanks to Jill.

This was living happily ever after.

I like how they don’t have cell phones yet, but evidently have access to a massive-transport teleporter. That crazy Jill!

Chapter 18
Post-adventure wrap-up, everybody making funny remarks about everybody else’s injuries. Ronny has nine stitches across his forehead. Amy has a cast on her sprained arm, Jeremy has a broken wrist, and Sarah wears a cast on her fractured foot. Because her foot is hurt, now that she has time for it.

Daryl escaped unscathed, so he makes fun of everybody else. But they do blame the whole thing on him, since he ran into the mine first.

Then Sarah makes a grand announcement: She’s moving back to Perridale!

“Mom said that since I wasn’t happy here, she had a great present for Christmas, which was Perridale!”

Because it’s all about Sarah.

But she does realize that she’ll be leaving Ronny in the lurch. But Ronny dismisses her apology… because he’s moving to the Three Neighborhoods too! He’s going to live with Jeremy! Which is kind of awkward, because Jeremy and his mother already live with Daryl’s family! But that’s okay, it’ll work out, since Ronny doesn’t want to live with his mom anymore because she never has any time for him! As the author ends the chapter:

Talk about happy endings!

Chapter 19
But see, the author really really loved her characters and had a hard time saying goodbye. (Peter Jackson stole that from me too.)

So the last chapter features our heroes exchanging quippy remarks in Amy’s bedroom. And then Susan the snobby girl walks through the door, where Sarah has rigged a bag of flour to fall on her. I tell you what, it’s no joke to be brained by a bag of flour. They’re lucky they didn’t give her a concussion.

Susan is incensed, so she and Sarah exchange their customary barbed remarks. Then Sarah drops an even bigger bomb than the flour: she’s moving back to Hartford Drive. Susan is horrified.

They “declare Neighborhood War.” For faithful readers (me), this is a neat little circle: the very first Sarah story featured a Neighborhood War. Sarah is back in the Three Neighborhoods and she’s ready to establish her dominance again.

“I think I’m going to like it here,” Ronny said.

“Who doesn’t?” Amy laughed. “Who doesn’t?”

The End

Sarah and her friends endure the harrowing experiences of boy troubles, snobby enemies, moving away from friends, oh and also nearly dying in a mine… but ultimately find a happy ending.

I bet if I wrote these stories as a manifestation of my personal fantasies, I’d be really pleased with how this one turned out.

Thanks for joining me.

Trapped! (Ch. 9-12)


Halfway through my read-through of a story I wrote when I was 13! It just gets more and more… whatever it was to start with. For previous installments, click on the “Trapped!” category above the post title.

Chapter 9
We’re now halfway through the story—page 35 out of 70—and no trace of that abandoned mine I thought I remembered. Something’s got to happen soon, surely.

John wanders through while they’re finishing breakfast. Peggy is at work and he is going soon, but—hey! Pancakes! He sits down to eat, and Sarah and Amy go upstairs to play with makeup and hair.

Which is kind of odd for me to write, because I didn’t really do that with my friends. We went for walks, ate snacks, rode bikes, sat on the front porch and talked… but rarely did makeup and hair.

However, it gives them time to discuss why Jeremy’s and Ronny’s parents made such a disaster of this whole remarriage thing. I was aware that the whole scenario was shaky so was trying to do a little belated shoring-up.

“Maybe Ronny told them how much he couldn’t stand Jeremy and they were afraid to. You know Jeremy. When he gets depressed, there’s no snapping him out of it. It’s like trying to control your temper.” Amy grinned at the face Sarah made. Then Sarah grew thoughtful.

“That can’t be right. Ron’s mother didn’t tell him and Skip that she got married.”

Then I remembered that I hadn’t mentioned Skip since the day before, so had Amy say she heard him playing with a new friend. Whew, fixed that.

It seems that Ronny’s pathologically neglectful mother needs more discussion, but instead they spot a bookshelf. Amy says that the books are really old, but they sound just like books today.

“Margeretta was rich and proud. Lola was very poor and nice. But Margeretta did everything to make Lola miserable.”

Sarah laughed. “It does sound like the books I read.”

Ditto. Not that Sarah was supposed to be me, of course.

They find a scrapbook of John’s. It’s obviously left over from his first marriage to Jeremy’s mother. Having found this precious, if bittersweet, family relic, naturally Amy and Sarah take it right to Jeremy. Haha, nope! They sit down and go through it. There are lots of cute pictures of Jeremy, then older ones where, sadly, he stopped smiling. Then there was even a picture of Sarah. Jeremy had sent it to his dad because he liked Sarah so much, so his dad put it in the family scrapbook. Because, people, this is all about Sarah.

Sarah sighs over how much Jeremy likes her. “Sometimes I wish that Jeremy and Ronny would be forced to help each other—to make them realize that even they can be friends, despite me.”

She never guessed that that wish would be granted very soon.

*gasp* Something’s going to happen!

I’m pretty sure that, as the writer, I didn’t know what it was any more than the reader did.

Chapter 10
“Come on, Sarah!” Jeremy yelled.

“Don’t yell in my ear,” Sarah returned calmly. She tossed Amy another sandwich. “I know you. You’ll want to go own some little trail and we’ll get lost. And I eat a lot. What’ve we got, Amy?”

“Ten sandwiches,” Amy reported. “And one flashlight.”

“Flashlight!” Ronny exclaimed. “We’re just going to explore! We won’t need a flashlight!”

Amy just gave Sarah her backpack. “We might.”

“Well, are we ready?” Sarah asked.

“We are. But are you sure you don’t want to take the washing machine? In case we get dirty,” Daryl said.

“Shut up,” Sarah muttered.

“Wait! Let’s just bring the refridgerator [sic]!” Ronny suggested.

Amy stamped her foot angrily. Sarah sighed in disgust. They stalked out, leaving the boys laughing.

They parade out, where Sarah reflects on how happy Amy and Daryl are, as opposed to how much trouble Sarah herself has to endure. It never occurs to her that this is because Amy and Daryl are likable, friendly, sane people. She chalks it up to the fact that not many other girls like Daryl, whereas half the girls in school were after Jeremy and a lot liked Ronny.

They both had so many to choose from. But they both stuck to her. It was frustrating.

Yeah. Hate it when that happens.

But I admit, Jeremy and Ronny are pretty monotonous about fighting over Sarah; they start by sympathizing with each other about the awful shock they’ve both suffered, but then descend into a spat about what Sarah’s last name will be when she gets married. (Hint: either Jeremy’s or Ronny’s.) There’s a grand display of caveman instincts where they fight over who she mostly belongs to, while she walks in between them telling them to stop. It’s just as much fun to read in real time as the summary. At least this way we can skip to the moment where Daryl says,

“Hey, look! A cave!”

Sarah looked around. They were in a huge, deserted lot.

“Silverstreak Mine,” Amy said, reading off a grubby, rotten old piece of board.

More of my meticulously detailed descriptions here. What was the board attached to? The cave? Where was the cave? What kind of “lot” was this? Also… this story is likely set where I lived, because that’s what I knew. I’m pretty sure there aren’t many mines eighty miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s barely possible that I got all my ideas about abandoned mines from Disney movies and The Goonies.

Well, the boys are all gung-ho about going into the mine. Sarah says no. Amy agrees with Sarah, but Sarah knows if Daryl chimes in, Amy will switch sides.

“You could get killed in there.” Sarah made her voice low and spooky. “They’ll look and look for you, but you’ll never be found, for centuries. Then, maybe, hundreds of years later, they’ll dig up the collapsed mine, and they’ll find four skeletons, all around thirteen years of age, but hundreds of years dead.”

May I pause here to say, hey, this passage is actually pretty good for the time it was written, thank you very much.

But the boys don’t listen, because something’s got to happen in this story or we’ll all die of overexposure to teenage romantic angst. Ronny says that they’ll just go a little way in, not far, and besides, it’s going to rain.

“In that case, I’ll be getting home. See you in a couple of centuries.” Sarah began walking away.

“Fine,” Daryl said with unusual sharpness. Sarah turned around to see him plunge into the mouth of the mine.

“Daryl! Wait!” Amy ran after him.

Jeremy went after his cousin and friend. Ronny followed.

Sarah had expected them to run after her and beg her not to go. When they didn’t, it made her mad.

Man, it just ruins your day when your minions don’t perform as expected.

Plop! A big raindrop fell on her head. Another fell. Another. Soon it would be pouring. Without thinking, she darted into the mine. It was dark and musty. Sarah looked around when she heard another sound above the pelting rain. A sort of cracking and creaking. She fixed her eyes on the supporting beam. It moved a little. Then, suddenly, it cracked in two and fell.

Sarah screamed and ran. When she turned around, she watched in horror as tons of dirt blocked the entrance to the outside.

They were trapped in Silverstreak Mine.

Then she slipped and fell, to the side of the huge gully below.

So many ah-ha moments in this chapter! So this is where the title comes from! And this is how it happens! And, oh, there’s a huge gully over to the side that I didn’t bother to mention at first. One pressing question here is… where did everybody else go? They all ran into the mine… did they all just keep on running?

The plot has really taken off! Or, like, actually occurred.

Chapter 11
“You’re kidding!” Lynn Robertson cried. Her best friend, Crazy Jill Carver, shook her head.

“They’re gone. Vanished. Dad just called. Jeremy’s mom is already hysterical.”

“But they know better than to go places they’ve never seen before!” Lynn protested.

“Jeremy probably found some little trail, and they got lost,” Care Harvec suggested. “You know Jeremy.”

“But Sarah knows better. She wouldn’t. And if they were kidnapped, she’d get loose.”

Using the age-old technique of switching viewpoints to enhance tension, I moved the story to a set of characters that haven’t been mentioned a single time in the story. But see, they’re featured in other Sarah stories, so faithful readers (me) will know who they are.

We’re back to the Three Neighborhoods, and Jill was “the T.N.’s information center when it came to tragedies.” Sometimes it sounds like I just made stuff up as I thought of it, oddly enough.

Lynn asks if Jill isn’t worried.

“About Hartfour?” Jill replied. “No. Not a bit. I’m not sure about the Ron guy, but I know Sarah Robsin, Amy White, Daryl Robinson, and Jeremy Wallace. No, I’m not worried.”

You can hear the Hartfour theme music behind that speech, right? Yet even Jill wonders, How was Hartfour getting along?

I drew a row of Xs and got back to Silverstreak Mine.

The whereabouts of Daryl, Amy, Jeremy, and Ronny when the entrance collapsed is one of those teasing unanswered mysteries. They show back up when they hear Sarah scream. Ronny wants to know where the entrance is, but Amy’s worried about Sarah. Jeremy tries to push past Amy, and she nearly loses her balance. She presses herself up against the rock wall because on the other side was the gully; they could hear water far below.

There’s also no light at this point; the entrance is gone and Sarah has the backpack with the lone flashlight in it. But this doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable problem due to the fact that I just ignore it.

They were walking on some kind of rickety track that use to be use for mining cars. Peter Jackson totally stole my ideas for his Hobbit movies.

Then they hear Sarah’s voice.

“Sarah? Where are you?” Ronny asked.

“Below you,” came the wry reply.

Amy jumped back. “Below us?”

“Yes. I’m about to fall.” Sarah just sounded angry, not scared.

Now, I remember writing this part. I knew at the time that it was a bit much. Sarah is hanging onto a rickety track over a “huge gully” but finds the entire thing a mere annoyance. But I just couldn’t resist giving my heroine a good Bond moment, especially on the off-chance that she was the embodiment of what I wanted to be. So I did it.

Jeremy and Ron haul her up. As soon as her foot touches the ground, she yells. Daryl drops Amy’s hand to see about Sarah.

Amy was irritated. Sarah had two boys to help her. Daryl didn’t need to help.

Sarah pulls off her backpack and produces the flashlight. Everybody’s impressed, and Daryl grins at Sarah. Again, Amy was jealous. She couldn’t understand why. Daryl and Sarah were good friends. But Amy was getting scared for the first time, of losing Daryl—to Sarah.

They’re trapped in a mine, Sarah’s foot is broken, no one knows where they are… but there’s never a bad time for more romantic angst, right?

Chapter 12
Back to Lynn, who goes to Jill for more information.

“They’ve decided that they’re lost around this old deserted lot. There’s a lot of places to get lost there. Dad says there’s even an old mine, but they aren’t going to search it. They don’t believe Hartfour—and the Ron guy—would go in there. There isn’t any way in, anyway. The front of it collapsed, and the rest is expected to any time.”

Evidently I held tryouts for the adult parts in my stories. Only idiots got the parts.

Lynn, though, is not an idiot. What if they are in the mine? What will happen then? Jill tries to avoid the question, but Lynn is “persistant.”

“You’re so smart,” Jill snapped. “You figure it out! The only thing that can happen!”

“They’ll get killed, won’t they?” Lynn returned. “And you’ll say ‘I wish I’d gotten my dad to get them to search the mine! While we’re watching four coffins being buried. And in Lainsdell, everyone will be gathered around the Ron guy’s grave…”

“Lynnsdia!” Jill yelled.

Yes. Yes, I did name my character Lynnsdia. This tendency would only get worse; four years later, I’d name my heroine of my grand epic fantasy novel “Vallarenzaria.” I’m sorry.

Jill angrily kicks Lynn out of her house, but can’t put the question out of her mind. What was she going to do?

Search the mine yourself, she answered herself. In a very stunning leap of logic, I might add.

Jill had always lived up to name, Crazy Jill, but now her crazy idea might save some of her best friends.

I remember writing this line, too. It sounded fantastic, just like in the real books I read. The only problem was that I didn’t have the slightest idea where to go from there.

Trapped! (Ch. 4-8)


I’m doing a read-through a story I wrote when I was 13. Follow along for drama and angst, plus lots of humor–some of it even on purpose. Read the previous installment here.

Chapter 4
At school, Sarah’s arch-rival is Whitney, who has a crush on Ronny. Sarah even pretends that her foot hurts again and asks Ronny to help her, to rescue him talking to the loathsome Whitney.

In related news, there was a seventh-grader at my school named Whitney, who said some mean things about me and I didn’t like her. “Do not anger the author. She will put you in a book and kill you.”

Sarah frequently interrupts her classes to shout at Whitney. Plus, one of Sarah’s teachers is from Perridale (Sarah’s former town) and had heard all about “the T.N.” (Three Neighborhoods, you know, the ones all in a row). In fact, he ignores the rest of the class to discuss with Sarah many of her escapades in previous stories—by title, no less. I could claim that I was homeschooled so had an unrealistic idea of what public school teachers were like… but I was still in public school when I wrote this. Apparently at Sarah’s school, it was all about her.

The rest of Sarah’s day is kind of boring, but for some reason we have to go through it with her. Every fifth paragraph or so, Whitney and her sidekick Delia show up to taunt Sarah somehow. Sarah’s always up for a fight.

Ronny and Bunny dragged Sarah down the hall before Delia got her head beat in. They shoved her into the after-lunch room.

“Let me get her!” Sarah cried.

… She had a short temper and didn’t think about what she was doing—whether it was tearing up something or hitting someone—while she was mad.

It’s pretty obvious why everyone likes her. Because the author likes her, that’s why.

The only purpose this chapter serves is the exchange at the end, when Bunny asks Ronny if his name will change now that his mother has remarried.

“No! I’m keeping Logan. Nothing else, even if Mom is Peggy Wallace now.”

“Wallace?” Sarah asked. “That’s Jeremy’s last name.”

“I know that,” Ronny scowled. “Any more encouraging thoughts?”

The chapter ends, but the reader is now wondering, Could it really be…?

Chapter 5
After another rumble with Whitney and Delia, Sarah meets Jeremy to leave for Christmas vacation.

“What took you so long? I’m a human popsicle. At least, I was until I warmed my fist up.” She climbed into the car beside Amy, who was beside Daryl.

“You hit somebody again?” Jeremy sighed. Sarah had once given him a black eye.

“She deserved it,” Sarah muttered.

Jeremy probably deserved it too.

At this point Jeremy’s mother cuts in to complain about her ex-husband. Then she mentions that he has a new wife who has two sons. This is absolutely stunning news to Jeremy, but I think his reaction is unjustified. Pretty much everybody finds out about a new stepmom during carpool, right?

The more I learn about the Wallace family, the less I wonder that Jeremy is a sociopath moody.

 “Her name is Peggy. I don’t remember what her last name was. Something like Loges or Lane or something.”

“Logan,” Sarah said softly. “It was Logan.”

Chapter 6
Well, that was a bombshell. Jeremy, Daryl, and Amy immediately realize that the only Logan that Sarah could possibly mean is Ronny’s family. Sarah calmly explains that Ronny’s mother, Peggy, just got married to a Wallace and he has a new stepbrother. “It all fits,” she points out.

Then the conversation kind of derails as everybody discusses how many boyfriends Sarah has had, and how long Amy and Daryl have been going together, and the fact that Jeremy is Sarah’s ex-boyfriend and he shouldn’t forget that. Then she asks about news from Perridale, but Jeremy (being so moody) is still sulking about Ronny Logan being his stepbrother.

“He’s not that bad,” Sarah pouted.

“He is to me,” Jeremy snapped. “I’ll bet he’d rather eat a bowl of lunchroom spaghetti than talk to me.”

“No comment,” Sarah responded.

The last thing she needed in her life was two enemy stepbrothers.

Because it’s all about Sarah, people.

Chapter 7
I’ve never been good at “painting a picture for the reader to see.” That’s true now, and it was even truer when I was thirteen. When our heroes pull up at Jeremy’s dad’s new house, I threw in a halfhearted description:

The house was impressive. It was a huge cedar and brick. It even had huge colums [sic] holding up the porch up above.

Whew, moving on now.

Jeremy’s dad, John, greets everybody and makes a slightly creepy comment about how pretty Sarah and Amy are. Then he sends them inside so he can fight with his ex-wife.

Inside, readers are treated to more of my deft skill at setting the scene:

Jeremy plopped down in the first chair he saw. Sarah sat on the arm of it. Amy and Daryl leaned up against the wall.

First we meet ten-year-old Skip Logan (I don’t know why I thought this was a viable name for a kid born in 1980). He asks who they are, and remember, I promised some quippy dialogue!

“I’m miserable,” Jeremy answered.

“I’m down in the dumps,” Sarah said.

“I’m down,” Amy said, taking the cue.

“And I’m blue,” Daryl finished.

“Pretty cheerful,” the boy said.

Turns out he has a crush on Sarah’s sister, Rachel—oh, hey, Sarah has a sister, her name is Rachel—so he realizes who she is. So he bolts off to get Ronny.

Ronny is glad to see Sarah, but not to see the others.

“What are they doing here?”

“Surprise,” Jeremy said scornfully. “I’m your new stepbrother.”

You?” Ronny yelled.

“Glad you approve,” Daryl returned. “This is a double blow. I’m your new cousin.”

Ronny’s mother breezes through saying she’s glad he’s met his new brother, and could he show them where their rooms are, thanks honey! The parents in this story are about of equal importance with the house.

Ronny mutters stuff and Jeremy mutters stuff and they shoot each other looks of pure poison, and Sarah sighs because they are making her suffer.

One point in favor of this story is that the chapters are really short.

Chapter 8
We learn a little more about this house when Sarah wakes up the next morning. She’s in a pink room in a pink canopy bed. Which raises all kinds of questions about whether Jeremy’s father bought it furnished, or actually bought a pink canopy bed to go in the room. Alas, these questions go unanswered.

Instead, this chapter is some comic relief from all the drama. To begin with, Sarah describes her dream after reading half her social studies book to get to sleep. It’s actually… not very funny.

“I dreamed Venezuela was fighting with the Carribean [sic] Sea. Then Cuba blew up California, and I got run over by Whitney, who was supposed to be Jamaica. And the U.S. and Russia—Jeremy and Ronny—kept yelling at each other. It was awful.”

The U.S.-Russia bit is, I admit, a some good vintage Cold War from someone who was a kid in the 80s. I still can’t spell Caribbean right the first time.

Her foot also hurts because she’d kicked Ronny last night. He and Jeremy had been fighting and Sarah barged in and stopped them.

She knew very well they had been fighting over her.

Of course it was over her, not about their new family connection or just general anger at their parents. I’m a little mortified at how Twilightish all this is. At least I had the excuse of being thirteen.

They head downstairs for breakfast. I didn’t waste any time explaining the layout of the house but surely it’s obvious that the girls are in a hallway outside the closed kitchen door.

“There went another! Can’t you break it in the pan?” Daryl was saying. Amy and Sarah exchanged glances.

“Tell me that didn’t come from the kitchen,” Amy said, looking at the kitchen warily.

Darn it! Get another strip of bacon, Daryl. Ronny just grounded this one.” Jeremy was obviously frustrated.

“Let’s go see about our breakfast,” Sarah suggested. “Before the boys get any further.”

“Let’s,” Amy agreed.

When they walked into the kitchen, Amy yelled, “Oh my gosh! What the heck—” She broke off and covered her eyes.

Sarah took one look at the eggshells, bacon, grease, and half fried eggs on the floor and all over the counters and burst out laughing. The boys stopped throwing eggshells at each other.

I guess John and Peggy are enjoying their little Christmas honeymoon too much to get up and cook for their kids. Sarah and Amy take over and make pancakes and clean up the kitchen a little. Sarah also spills flour all over herself. She tries to hide when Daryl pokes his head in, but he sees her and offers the following witticisms:

“You’re pale. At my wedding, will you be my flower girl? Why don’t you put some nose on that powder?”

Close chapter with bouncy comic music.

Trapped! (Ch. 1-3)

20161008_152718A rainy weekend seemed like a good time to go through the box in my closet where I keep all my old stories. I’ve got over a dozen of these handwritten manuscripts, the staples rusted and the paper marked from the spiral notebooks I wrote them in.

I pulled out one of my more dramatic ones, entitled Trapped! I was 13 when I wrote this classic story of danger, romance, and quippy one-liners. The suspense never lets up—how will our heroes get out of this terrible situation? That’s sure what I was wondering as I wrote it, anyway.

Since I don’t remember a lot about the story, I thought, what if we read through it together? Think of it as a fun online book club. One that you don’t have to attend or—this is the bonus—actually read the story. I’ll walk us through it, quoting relevant sections. Without edits. Honest.

This story features my first heroine, Sarah Robsin, who was pretty, popular, and had boyfriends. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking I created her as some wishful version of myself. Her name has an H on it, so it’s obviously not supposed to be me. Duh.

Here’s what I remember about Trapped!:

Five teenagers are spending Christmas break together and get lost in an abandoned mine. It’s up to their friends back home to find them in time.

But I’m sure there’s much, much more to it than that. I mentioned the quippy banter? Yes. Okay. Let’s get started.

by Sara Roberts, age 13

Chapter 1
“A whole week?” Sarah Robsin asked dubiously.

“Yes! You know, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday—” Amy White exclaimed.

“Honey!” Mrs. Robsin called. She must have picked up the kitchen phone. “Sarah, you need to get off the phone. You’re talking long distance, you know.”

Such a strong start off the mark here. Quippy dialogue? Check! Introducing major characters? Yes! Once-current telephone technology that makes no sense to 13-year-olds today? You bet!

But what has Amy suggested that Sarah is so dubious about? We’ll find out, right after this important infodump from our author.

This being the ninth or tenth story about these characters, I had a lot of backstory to drop here. But I was writing by hand and kind of bored with the recap. So I’m not sure you could say I was really “building my world” here.

To the middle of second grade, she’d lived in Coland. Then she moved to Perridale, onto Hartford Drive. She was well liked and soon everyone in Perridale called her the Queen of the Three Neighborhoods. The Three Neighborhoods, or the T.N., was Hartford Drive, Sun Street, and Greenwood Circle. They were all in a row.

There, that’s clear, right? I lived in a log house next to a creek. I had no idea how neighborhoods actually looked “all in a row.” Let’s just move on.

Sarah had two best friends, Amy and her boyfriend, Daryl Robinson. And a good-looking but rather moody boyfriend, Jeremy Wallace.

I didn’t set out to make Sarah’s boyfriend moody. But he’d done such jerky things in previous stories that I had to write in that line to justify it. Jeremy and Daryl are cousins; the rest of the paragraph goes on to explain how Jeremy’s parents were divorced and he and his mother lived with her sister’s family, the Robinsons.

Then Sarah moved again, this time to Lainsdell.

For the record, I’m still just as abysmal at coming up with town names as I was nearly thirty years ago.

She took it hard, since there was no kids living near her and she barely ever saw her friends.

Even though she went to school and made new friends because everybody likes her, got another boyfriend, and didn’t even die from her teenage sufferings.

Now she had a chance to be with Hartfour—Amy, Daryl, Jeremy, and herself—for a week at Jeremy’s dad’s “new” house, an old nineteen century house.

Apparently they had their own clique name, Hartfour, because they lived on Hartford Drive. That’s not as, um, clever as I thought it was. I’m more interested in this nineteen century house, though. 1900 years old—that would make it, what, an ancient mud dwelling built by indigenous peoples? That’s going to be a pretty rollicking vacation with four teenagers. One of whom is “moody.”

At this point in the chapter, I realized I needed to insert some justification for Sarah’s “dubious” reaction, so I added,

But she only had two weeks for Christmas vacation. If she spent one week with her friends, she’d only have the second week for Christmas.

Man. The scope of this girl’s sufferings is vast.

And on that intense note, the chapter ends.

Chapter 2
This chapter opens with Sarah returning to her old neighborhood to visit. Amy runs up to greet her, and Sarah exclaims, “Amy! What happened to you?” She meant it as a compliment, for as I explain,

Amy gave her familiar laugh again. She’d never really been pretty, just sort of pleasant. Sarah was the pretty one. But now Amy had her long, dark, curly hair styled and she had on make-up! Amanda White was definitely pretty.

Let’s pause to remember how thirteen-year-olds style their hair and apply makeup. Amanda White was definitely [adjective].

The scene continues, giving readers an uncomfortably clear view into the author’s psyche. I mean, assuming that Sarah is in any way a super-fantasy version of myself, which nobody has ever proven.

Amy mentions that although she’s now prettier than the neighborhood snobby girl, Susan, she’s still not prettier than Sarah.

“Oh, really,” Sarah said breezily, but she knew it was true. It would take a lot to top her natural beauty, and if she really fixed herself up, it was close to impossible. But she wasn’t really stuck up, unless dealing with her enemies.

… They walked slowly around the neighborhood. Sarah had just gotten over a broken foot from a faulty basketball game. She was good at basketball, the star player on her team.

Of course she was.

Daryl and Jeremy enter the scene. I forgot to describe the boys in this story, but I remember that Daryl has dark curly hair and blue eyes. Jeremy has blond hair and brown eyes, which I thought was the dreamiest combination in the world. So much so that when I finally did publish a novel twenty-five years later, I gave the hero blond hair and brown eyes.

Anyway. Sarah stumbles on her hurt foot, and Jeremy catches her. She says thanks, but steps away. She and Jeremy had broken up, but she still didn’t feel “just friends” toward him.

I think it’s impressive how I could write with such finesse about a romantic relationship, which I knew nothing about personally.

I slap down another recap of a previous story. It had been Jeremy’s fault that she’d broken her foot. Sarah’s now ex-boyfriend, Ronny Logan, and Jeremy made a bet. In order for Jeremy to win, Lainsdell had to lose the basketball tournament. Then Ronny talked Sarah to try out for the team. She made it, and Lainsdell had a good chance of winning. But Jeremy got a boy he knew to try to get her off the team. The boy had knocked Sarah down, and she’d broken her foot. Sarah’d forgiven Jeremy, though. They were now “friends.”

Oh, that silly Jeremy, hiring a hit man to get rid of his girlfriend so he could win a bet! He’s so… moody.

There’s more dialogue about how Amy is pretty now but Sarah is still prettier, which let me mention Sarah’s “honey-brown hair” that “spilled over her shoulders and down past her waist.” Not that this has any bearing on anything, but at the time my ordinary brown hair was barely shoulder-length and stuck out in odd places.

The next page brings in the snobby clique, Susan and her friends, who walked around the neighborhood in a group, by rank. It includes this editor’s nightmare:

Susan and Sherry—who was Amy’s enemy—turned an angry red. The others, Shameke, Lizzy Crew, Reagan—Sherry’s little sister—and Lisa—Susan’s—folded their arms and stuck their noses in the air. The four friends just laughed.

At long last, they get around to the burning question of the first chapter, namely, will Sarah come to Jeremy’s dad’s house for a week of Christmas vacation? They spend an entire page talking about how their moms will discuss the question, making fun of Jeremy’s “too nervous” mother.

If they went to Mario’s, a nearby amusement park, she would try to get Jeremy to take an umbrella in case it rained so he wouldn’t catch pneumonia and die.

I like how their town has an amusement park. At the time, my town didn’t even have a McDonald’s.

So Sarah’s mom gets everything arranged. I’m not actually sure why she had to talk to Jeremy’s mother about it instead of Jeremy’s dad. It’s almost like I didn’t even think that through. Mrs. Robsin says in exasperation,

“I can’t believe that woman! She dug up every single excuse in the book to keep Sarah from going. She even got to ‘What is she gets lost and starves to death? What if they have an accident?’

Real smooth, Mrs. Robsin, saying all this in front of Jeremy.

No one realizes that his mom is really a Voice of Foreshadowing.

Chapter 3
Here we meet Sarah’s other set of best friends. First there’s Bunny Jackson. I was beginning a phase where my girl characters all had cute nicknames, like a bunch of junior high strippers.

And more importantly, there’s Ronny Logan.

“What’s wrong, Ron? Mondays usually don’t get you down this much,” Sarah prompted.

“What would you care?” Ronny snapped.

“I do care, and you know it!” Sarah returned hotly. She’d be going with him now if he would get his nerve up to ask her again. He thought she still liked Jeremy. That was true, but she liked him too.

“Going with” was the then-current term for “going steady.” Can you even believe this guy, who won’t ask the girl he likes just because he rightly guesses that she still likes her ex-boyfriend? Some men just don’t deserve to have a woman, honestly.

But then we find out why Ronny is so upset, and we realize we shouldn’t judge him too harshly.

“My mom got remarried. I’m moving to the middle of nowhere. I’m even spending Christmas there!” Ronny complained. He walked off down the hall, and Sarah and Bunny fell into step beside him.

“Who’d she marry?” Bunny asked.

“Beats me. Somebody she met at her office. She just said yesterday that she got remarried over the weekend and forgot to tell us.” Ronny scowled again. “Ever since Dad died, she just forgets about Skip and me.”

I’m increasingly concerned about the level of neglect and neurosis among these parents.

“Oh. And I have a stepbrother, too. Mom says he’s my age and about as good-looking. Ha! I’m surprised she even noticed what I look like!”

He’s got a point.

Sarah wondered who Ronny’s mom could have married. It was no use. Probably didn’t even know him, she decided.

Well, considering that Ronny doesn’t even appear to know him, I’d think that would be a foregone conclusion. Unless… DUN DUN DUN… foreshadowing!

Be sure to tune in for the next breathless installment of Trapped!

Here’s all of them under the category title “Trapped!” They’re posted in reverse order.

A Couple of September 30ths

Today, on this last day of September, I was on the phone with DJ when I happened to glance at the clock. It was 2:15, and I thought, At this time sixteen years ago…

The September 30 then played out much differently than the September 30 now.

The Mississippi sky was bright blue, and the sunlight golden; but it was still very warm and very green.

It’s a rainy, gray Virginia day, not cold but hinting at the chill that’s coming. The trees are starting to turn.


We stood together at the front of the church and vowed unending love and fidelity.

I called his office. “Budgeting question. Do you know what we bought on Amazon for thirteen dollars and seventeen cents sometime last week?”


We were surrounded by family and friends. Those who couldn’t attend the wedding called to give their good wishes. Nearly everybody important to us was part of our day.

I can hear the kids out in the living room, listening to music, playing computer games, squabbling, laughing at stuff I don’t understand. Four people whom DJ and I love more than anyone else, who didn’t even exist on that day sixteen years ago.


We shared our very first kiss after our vows. (Yes, we waited until our wedding to kiss. But we, um, got to know each other very well even without kissing. “Non-verbal communication” was already a well-ingrained joke between us.)

We shared our usual kiss when DJ got home, but were interrupted by a seven-year-old who grabbed us around the waists and announced “GROUP HUG!”


We were madly in love, willing to commit our lives to each other. We had no idea what we were getting into, but we had no regrets. We were ready. Let’s do this!

See above.

Happy sixteenth anniversary, DJ. Then and now—you’re my love and best friend. How about some of that non-verbal communication, honey?

Us after a citywide scavenger hunt (hence the tie-with-tshirt) in which we finished 36 out of 36. But we were together, so it wasn’t like it much mattered.

Tomorrow’s Bread

stale-mouldy-bread-fungus-1631613-1278x846They shouldn’t be disrespectful or violent. That won’t make people listen to what they have to say. They need to wait patiently for change. They need to behave better.

That’s the rhetoric I keep hearing anytime a non-white person voices a protest against injustice. It doesn’t matter if it’s a peaceful protest or a riot, they always do it wrong.

Maybe I’d be more inclined to agree with my own people, the whites who are so concerned about everybody following all the rules, if I hadn’t come across a couple of relevant bits of cultural history.

DJ, in an ongoing attempt to expose the kids to poetry (they got my genetic indisposition to non-prose expression) tapes up poems all over the house. This month we’re surrounded by one of his favorite poets, Langston Hughes. A black poet and leader of the “Harlem Renaissance” in the 20s, Hughes’ poems read like a blend of Psalms and old Negro spirituals.  The one on our refrigerator is titled Democracy:

 Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

But thirty years after he wrote this, “the Negros” were still living on tomorrow’s bread… and white people were still lecturing them on the right way to behave.

Incident on a Train by Mabel Cleland Widdemer (a white woman) was written between 1954 and 1959; I found it in a collection of magazine stories called Stories to Live By. I’d read through the collection in years past—maybe before I got married?—and had tabbed the stories that I particularly liked. When I reread the collection a few weeks ago, Train wasn’t tabbed. I began the story without remembering much about it, and as I got into it, I wondered what about it had turned me off from marking it as “liked.”

It’s a vignette about Annette Marie, who attends a “large Eastern college” and boards the Southern Local train to go home for break. She’s a Negro, but at a glance passes for white. The porter puts her in the wrong car. He leads her to a seat in the white section instead of the colored section farther back. She doesn’t have a chance to protest, but is increasingly uncomfortable. She feels she deserves to sit wherever she wants to, but knows it’s against the law and that she’s courting trouble.

Two people notice her. One is the blond-haired, blue-eyed governor’s daughter who attends the same college. The other is a shriveled-up, sharp-eyed old woman who isn’t fooled by Annette Marie’s white-like looks. About the time that the old woman fetches the porter to have Annette Marie evicted from the car, the governor’s daughter leaps in and greets Annette Marie as if they’re good friends—offering her the protection of a powerful white person.

It’s a fascinating setup.

Then the story implodes. I can’t decide if the author lost her nerve, or if the story was “cleaned up” for publication.

Annette Marie recalls a speech given by the president of their college. He seemed aware that there was only one Negro in the audience, that being Annette Marie herself. He reminded the students “of different nationalities and races”:

I want you to remember that it will be up to you to make others respect and admire you. Not only you, as an individual, but the nationality or race which you represent… It isn’t always going to be easy for you. You will meet old prejudices. Sometime you may find yourself in a situation where it might be easier to repudiate your nationality or race. Never do this… We, at this college… hope to build in you a pride in yourself as an individual… and for your people. It is a heavy burden to carry on your shoulders. We hope that you will make yourselves worthy to carry it…

So Annette Marie, bolstered by the inspiring words of her college president who wasn’t talking to his fellow white people, lifts her chin and admits she’s black and doesn’t belong in the train car. She tells the governor’s daughter that she “hated herself for being a coward and not admitting at once to the porter than I was a Negro and under present regulations I didn’t belong in that car. …As a good representative of my race, I should abide by the rules. They may be changed someday, but until they are, I shall obey them.”

The governor’s daughter assures her that things will change, and can’t express her respect for Annette Marie enough. Annette Marie picks up her suitcase and heads back for the colored car.

The… end? That was the point of the story, to make sure you behave properly when somebody forces you outside the camp, so that they will think well of all the people they already consider inferior?

I guess I have to add the disclaimer, for people who always seem to wonder, that obviously I’m afraid of riots and looting, and obviously I think highly of honor and dignity. I respect Martin Luther King, Jr. and his peaceful stance. Of course, he got shot and killed by a white person who hated his protests, but oh well, it’s hard to please everybody.

I’m happy to live in a world where, officially, a non-white friend has the same status that I do. But a great deal still needs to be done. And I find it exhausting that the whites’ answer to cries for justice is exactly the same as it was 90 years ago.

It’s high time we stop offering tomorrow’s bread to today’s people. Justice and compassion are much more nourishing for a healthy society. Besides, by now that bread is stale. That’s why nobody’s swallowing it anymore.

Two-Scoop Sunday

Recently on a Sunday at the Joneses…

I let Gamerboy and Sparkler come along with me to my favorite hipster coffee shop where I go for solitude (and coffee). Gamerboy played with the chess set, while Sparkler sharpened her colored pencils. They convinced me to buy them a croissant, so I broke it in half and gave each part of it.

Then I picked up a little bit of the flaky crust off the table and popped it into my mouth.

Sparkler looked at me quizzically. “Did you just put a pencil shaving in your mouth?”

Why yes, that’s exactly what I’d done. It wasn’t nearly as good as the croissant.

Since I’m stalled between writing projects, my creative urge finds other ways to manifest. Today, a quiet Sunday afternoon, I thought kind of randomly, “I’d like to make something. Like, sew it.”

I’m really not good at sewing, partly because I haven’t had anywhere to set up my sewing machine for pretty much ever. But now my brain got to work. What if I…

  • … moved the TV desk to the window to become the sewing machine desk.
  • … moved the dresser to become the TV stand.
  • … glued foam bumpers on the dresser top to keep the TV from sliding.
  • … got the TV and cable hooked up again.
  • … tested the cable by watching 46 seconds of Food Network, and remembered why I don’t care if we have cable or not.
  • … take a moment here to add that the only reason we have cable was so we could watch the Olympics, and haven’t returned the box.
  • … set up the sewing machine.
  • … stared at the sewing machine with all of its various parts and wheels and hooks and wondered if I remembered how to do this.
  • …remembered how to do to it. Thanks, Mom!
  • … sewed a cute little cloth bag.
  • …looked up “easy sewing projects.”
  • … found instructions for making a simple skirt.
  • … discarded instructions.
  • … take a moment here to mention this is another reason why I’m bad at sewing.
  • … found cute ruffly sequiny dress that Sparkler has outgrown.
  • … turned it into a skirt, carefully following what I vaguely remembered of the instructions that I discarded.
  • … accomplished my creative goal. I made something.

Writing a novel is way less work.

Just to round things off, today Bookgirl is wearing a cat-ear headband for no discernible reason; and Ranger is laid out on his bed suffering from a condition known as “eating a dang lot of popcorn while seeing Kubo and the Two Strings with Dad and Sparkler.” I guess they’re the nuts on our Sunday today.

When You’re Worried Because of Your Skewed Ideas About Sex

This article has a compelling title—When You’re Worried Your Son Is Going to Go Too Far. I usually ignore parenting articles, but this one got me to click through.

After I read it, I realized that it that really should be titled,

When You’re Worried Your Son Is Going to Go Too Far… Assuming you operate on the presupposition that unmarried sex is always a bad sin. Also assuming you think the woman doesn’t really have a say in whether she has sex. Both of which are kind of shaky presuppositions if you really think about them but fortunately a lot of people don’t bother with that part.

(I don’t know why people don’t consult me about these things.)

You can click on the (original) title to read the whole article. I’ll just pull out parts for commentary, which I’ve italicized.

The gist is that a mom wrote in saying that they taught their son to court/date “with a purpose.” It worked so well that he’s head over heels for his girlfriend and definitely “marriage-minded.” They’re trying to avoid temptation, but this mom can see it: sex is gonna happen. She’s standing there watching this disaster about to crash down, and she’s worried.

The writer of the article first replies that sex is “not inevitable.” And I agree. DJ and I waited until marriage; so did a good number of our friends. It’s possible to do.*

Not only that, but we will encourage our own children to wait. We believe that sex is sacred, a celebration between two people who have promised themselves to each other. For DJ and me, as Christians, it’s also a picture of how Christ loves His church, and therefore to be as joyful, pure, and selfless as we can manage.

Delaying sex until a fitting time—ideally, marriage—has benefits. There’s the plain fact that sex can result in a baby, even for the most careful couple, and it’s best if you’re already established and committed before parenthood bursts upon you. “Waiting” also teaches you to set boundaries and keep to them, which involves communication, self-control, and creativity. (I’ll spare personal details for the last one there. Nobody wants to know.)

I have many friends who didn’t wait, and it didn’t necessarily blight their marriage. Still, I’m in favor of waiting till marriage and I think it’s possible to do so. Just like the writer of the article. So far, so good.

She goes on to say that this worried mom should have an adult-to-adult conversation with her son. She adds, “If young adults are determined to sin, it’s very easy for them to do that, as you know.”

That was the first jarring moment for me. Determined to sin. But this couple isn’t determined to sin. They’re in love and their biology says to go for it, there are babies to be made! We can argue all day about the sinfulness of sex between a committed but unmarried couple—especially if we want to drag in examples of sex between two people compelled to marry without love. Actually, we can’t argue all day because I won’t argue.

But I will take exception to the idea that two people in love and edging closer and closer to sleeping together are, by default, “determined to sin.”

Moving on, the writer makes several points about what the son needs to hear.

He needs to understand that his actions speak more loudly than his words when it comes to love. “If you[the son] decide to have sex before marriage, you are in effect saying to [your girlfriend], ‘I care more about myself than I do you. I care more about satisfying this physical urge than I care about you being humiliated…”

This brought me to a screeching halt. I thought we were talking about sex here, but the writer has leaped to… rape?

I don’t think she means rape. But she shows her mindset very clearly here. There’s actually nothing overtly selfish about a man satisfying his physical urge, assuming his lover is doing the same with hers. There’s also nothing humiliating about consensual sex.

Unless, of course, you assume that unmarried sex is always shameful, that the man forces his desires upon the woman, and that the woman is left impure and damaged by his actions.

You are, in essence, saying, “I do not love you,” because love puts someone else’s needs ahead of your own.’” That’s not a good message to send to someone you want to marry.

How about, “I am consumed by love for you, so much that I can’t express it in any way other than us giving ourselves to each other.” While it’s not always advisable… as a message to someone you want to marry, it’s not so bad, really.

He needs to realize that this sin undermines his role in marriage. “God made you to be the head of your home and the protector and leader of your wife and family, especially spiritually. Having sex before marriage says, ‘As your spiritual leader, I will lead you into sin because I want to sin.’

Good heavens, we’re back to forced sex again. Is it out of the realm of possibility that she isn’t being “led,” but is running for the bed at an equally swift clip?

He needs to really get that it’s his responsibility. “Son, it’s up to you.”

It’s halfway up to him. The writer consistently overlooks that there’s another person involved. Even if it is only a woman.

You have to make a commitment here… you need to set some rules for yourself to make sure you stay out of temptation. You need to make sure you handle this time in a godly and honorable way.”

Whew, finally, something to agree with. I do love a man who takes responsibility for himself. DJ knew his limits and set his own boundaries, and never tried to cross them. I never had to be the one to say “stop.” At the same time, I knew when I needed to pull back and simmer down, and I did so.

We built a very steady trust during that time, which has lasted through nearly sixteen years of marriage.

But it wasn’t because we avoided having bad sinful sex before we were married. And not even because he didn’t “lead me into sin” or “humiliate me.”

It’s because we loved each other, loved God, and kept our promise to ourselves and each other.

I’d be pretty happy for all my children if that’s how they spend their adult lives.


*Neither the mom nor the writer brought this up, but what kind of timeline is this young couple on? Are they teenagers who can’t think straight? Young adults who obviously are ready to think about marriage? DJ and I got hot and heavy only a few months before we got married. It’s way easier to wait when you have a definite “get out of jail free” point.

Cereal Romance

cereal-1254389-1280x960Recently, DJ confessed a secret to me. He tried some of that Honey Nut Kix that we bought for the kids… and he liked it. I, too, admitted that I liked it. It was the closest thing to a “fun” cereal we’d had for years.

Remember the fun cereals of our childhood? The type that I think of as “Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs” (thanks, Calvin&Hobbes) and won’t buy for my children? The more we talked about them, the more I realized that I needed share these experiences with others. This is why God made blogs.

Twenty Cereals of My Childhood, In No Particular Order, With Editorial Comments:

  1. Rice Krispies –It really does “snap, crackle, and pop.” But it’s pretty bland. I used to scoop sugar on it, which settled at the bottom, and you end up fishing among disintegrating rice grains to scoop up sludgy milky sugar from the bottom of the bowl. Which, to be honest, was probably the only reason I ate this cereal.
  2. Honey Smacks – This cereal was oddly-shaped, like weird little shells you’d find at the beach. It always tasted burned. Every bowl I ever tried tasted burned. You’d think they’d adjust the recipe, but apparently standards were not that high at the Honey Smacks Factory.
  3. BooBerry – I actually ate this cereal only a few times. It was a companion to Count Chocula and Frankenberry. All are scary, but BooBerry was by far the most terrifying. All I remember is deadly sweetness and blue milk.
  4. Cap’n Crunch – My love of this cereal was legendary in our family. I ate pounds of this stuff. The golden buttery barrel-shaped nuggets were good, but then add the pink “crunch berries,” and, well, Heaven couldn’t even compete. It holds up well in milk, crunches nicely, is deadly sweet, and absolutely tears up the inside of your mouth. Really, this ought to have been the death of me in my childhood.
  5. Cinnamon Toast Crunch – This is really nasty cereal. It’s just awful. It gets soggy almost instantly and you’re left with cinnamon-flavored milk with squishy debris floating around in it.
  6. Corn Flakes – People really ate this stuff? You couldn’t even sweeten it because the sugar just slid off. This was the cereal that kids always ate in books. It didn’t really fly in fiction, either.
  7. Corn Pops – Not actually a bad cereal. I mean, it wasn’t Cap’n Crunch but it would do if your only other option was Raisin Bran.
  8. Froot Loops – Forgive the reminder, but this was one of those cereals that gave you a heart attack two hours later after it went through your digestion system and emerged green.
  9. Frosted Flakes – “They’re grrrreat!” said Tony the Tiger. His longer script reportedly added, “Eat ’em faaast because they have a half-life of about twenty seconds once milk hits ’em.”
  10. Cookie Crisp – The ultimate cereal. A kid couldn’t not want a cereal shaped like chocolate-chip cookies. It didn’t actually taste quite as good as it was supposed to be, but your mom bought it so rarely that you had to savor every bit of it for the day and a half it took to finish the box.
  11. Fruity Pebbles – Tiny, brightly-colored sugar bombs. You could eat heaps and piles of this stuff in one sitting because it was so small. It had the same remarkable effect as Froot Loops, as I recall.
  12. Golden Grahams – Not a terrible cereal, although suffered from Rapid Onset Soggage.
  13. Lucky Charms – Some people, like parents, said you were supposed to eat the filler part that protected the marshmallows in the box.
  14. GrapeNuts – Betrayal in breakfast form. This “cereal” is neither grapey nor nutty. They just named it that because admitting it was chicken feed wouldn’t sell.
  15. Raisin Bran – “Two scoops of plump, juicy raisins!” I never once found a plump, juicy raisin in my Raisin Bran. But I ate them anyway because they had sugar on them, which the flakes didn’t. I’m pretty sure that if I’m doomed to Purgatory, I’ll have to relive those moments of eating the last spoonfuls of brannish sludge with chewy, sad raisins in it.
  16. Shredded Wheat – The frosted variety is edible. You pour yourself a big bowl and splash some milk on it. Six minutes later, all the milk has disappeared. Instead, you’ve got twenty-eight pounds of soggy wheat fibers in your bowl. If you try to eat it all, you’ll die.
  17. Trix – The Twizzlers of cereal. It looked good and there was that catchy slogan (“Silly rabbi, kicks are for trids!” Oh wait. That’s the punchline to that dumb joke, isn’t it?) But the cereal was kind of yucky. Like Twizzlers.
  18. Wheaties – Did not turn you into Mary Lou Retton. But according to reliable sources, she was nice to look at if you were a boy growing up in a church with a strict modesty policy.
  19. Honey Nut Cheerios – A decent cereal. Tastes okay. Doesn’t get too soggy too fast. Not flashy, but it’s always there for you. This is the cereal you grow up to marry.
  20. Kix – I used to think this cereal was a spineless version of Corn Pops. Bland. Didn’t like it. Now, dang it all if I don’t like the stuff! It’s crunchy and, you know what? Not too sweet! In related news, I became a grown-up.