Tech Tuesday: Pinterest

Yorkshire Hills– from my Locations Board


What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a site that allows users to “pin” and save visual imagery from across the web, and create boards that group like things together, like a virtual scrapbook of ideas. Users can follow each other, or follow particular pin boards that have been curated by users. They can “like” or “pin” an item, and they can also send it to others. It’s visual heavy, rather than text heavy, but the visuals are less about your personal world and experience and more aspirational. Since it is such a visual-driven, scrapbook site, it’s best to curate from professional photos rather than creating your own images, like you do in Instagram. (If you are a pro, or a really good hobbyist then give it a try! And send me your boards).

Pinterest has an interesting (ha!) reputation in social media. I have the feeling that a lot of big media places don’t know what to do with it, and other places see it mostly as a “mommy-blogger” or “idyllic/unrealistic” wasteland of pins that make pinners go mad with desire and frustration. As a woman who loves pretty things and loves making her surroundings pleasant to be in, and loves cooking and crafts and art and design, I see how easy it would be to dismiss Pinterest as just that wonderland/wasteland.

Why use it as an author?

Even though it can be a little aspirational-heavy, and a source for frustration to some, it is also a great place to help an author or creator focus their brand, as well as a useful tool to inspire or stimulate creativity. I’ve gotten so many ideas from Pinterest for both my writing and my life, that even if it weren’t very useful for social media purposes, I’d still be writing this post.

So how do I use my Pinterest?

As a Creativity Energy Shot:

  1. When I am starting a new story I create boards for my major characters by “casting” the character. I have already spent a great deal of time thinking about these characters and about their appearances and personalities. Once I have a fair idea of the character, time period, and socio-economic status (to name a few factors) I start searching for actors who can embody this role. I think of what types of roles they’ve played before, what they look like when happy, sad, angry, flirting, and so on, and I look for them in shots, expressions or costumes that I can imagine my characters in. That helps me visualize and describe my characters in more detail, giving them a more realistic range of emotions and reactions.
  2. I pin clothing that my characters might wear. This is part of the “oohh, pretty!” reaction I so often have on Pinterest, but it’s also about realism. Clothing informs so much about our world, way of life, and way of seeing ourselves, that I’m always trying to learn more about how my characters would have dressed. For instance, if my character is wearing a corset, chemise, drawers,  petticoats, stockings and garters, plus her dress, she’s going to have a very different reaction to a hot, sunny day than I might wearing my jeans, tank top and flip flops. Or, if she’s wearing her ratty, around the house dress for a day of tidying and a guest shows up dressed for calling, there will be extra tension in the scene. I need to know about the costumes so I can help inform the underlying details of a scene.
  3. I pin locations and scenery. Basically, this informs my writing in much the same way that the clothing does. I want to know the world my characters inhabit because it informs their view of the world and their behavior. I also like to think about what a scene would look like if I were watching it in a film, so I love to have strong visuals of a potential room that I can imagine my characters moving through. I think about how a scene would be blocked, and that informs the reactions and behaviors too. This has nothing to do with Pinterest, but you will often find me sketching the exterior or the floor plan of an important location, including major furniture, so that I can more accurately visualize it while I write.

As a Social Media platform: 

I’m just starting to transition my Pinterest into a place that can work as both an inspiration to my writing and a platform for social media engagement, so this list might grow in time. These are ideas I’m already working with, or might try:

  1.  As a place to share how I stay motivated. I’ve been adding to a board all of the images, quotes and encouragements I appreciate and can read through when I need that extra pick-me-up. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll probably see some of my Inspiration Monday images from this board.
  2. As a place to showcase my novel inspirations. Although some of my boards are public now, a few are secret because I’m not ready to share them, or the work they’ve inspired yet. But, once I’m in a place where I’d want to publicize my work, I’d use the character, clothing or location boards I mentioned above, or create new boards that are curated from the others to let others see what my visual landscape was as I wrote.
  3. As a place to let characters “speak”. The movie Gone Girl did an interesting media campaign using Pinterest to display boards “created” by the character Amy, and inspired by some of the details she mentions in her diaries. If you are familiar with the book or film, you might like to see how they did it. I think it’s a very cool idea, and fits perfectly into the persona the character creates for herself, but it is a little creepy, when you think about this character’s true personality. I think it would be interesting for other authors to adopt this idea, so that their readers can have more glimpses into this character’s world.
  4. To showcase cover art. If you’re self publishing, this would be a great way to host a contest, get feedback and also some engagement from readers. If you’re traditionally published, it is a great way to show a visual catalog. Sometimes the cover sticks in people’s minds more strongly than titles, as any bookseller who has been asked to find a book with a “blue cover”. Make sure you follow Pinterest’s rules for contests and also know your audience.  (Both of those reminders come from Reedsy‘s great post giving a step-by-step approach to Pinterest).
  5. To generate images for Twitter. Images and Twitter go hand in hand. Using Pinterest, from your own boards, or what you’re liking, is a great way to generate content for Twitter that can be shared, discussed and re-pinned.
  6. To drive Pinners to your blog. By adding a “pin it” button to your images, or posts, you can let fans pin and save your work, or share it. Unfortunately, this does require a widget, which the free WordPress blog option doesn’t seem to allow, which is why I don’t have one at this time.

Want more tips?

Why not try Pinterest’s brand guidelines for business?

Or Reedy’s Step by Step Guide if you’re really new to the whole concept.

Maybe you want 34 ways to use it?

Are you an author who uses Pinterest? How and why? Follow me on Pinterest and I’d love to see what you’re pinning too! 


What I Wish I’d Said


Recently, as I was making my rounds in one of my British Literature classes, listening to what the groups had to say, and clarifying some confusing points, I stopped to chat with a group of particularly bright and funny students. I don’t know exactly how the subject of romance novels began, but I know I wish I had ended it very differently.

My students don’t know I write historical romance, so they don’t know how I feel about the topic. Like many writers I use a pen name. I do this for several reasons, as I’m sure you do too, if you use one. I am not ashamed of my writing, but I understand that some people might not see it that way, and at the moment I’d rather keep my writing life separate from my day to day life. Nor do I talk about my writing in the classroom. I generally say I write historical fiction, which is true but doesn’t carry nearly the same connotations.

So, when one of my bright students started lambasting romance novels for all of the tired reasons you’ve heard before she didn’t know she was speaking to a writer and reader of romance. She just thought she was talking to her professor of “High Canon British Literature”. And I was thrown off my game a little bit, trying to maintain my professional persona, and wasn’t prepared to defend the genre. So I said nothing and I did nothing. But this is what I wish I had said:

“Hey, B. I hear what you’re saying about romance novels, that they are ridiculous and overly romanticized and nothing is ever really like that.  And I agree. Romance novels are ridiculous, overly romanticized and unrealistic. But I want you to stop and think about why you are criticizing a genre that millions of women (and men) read and love. What is it about the genre that you find so distasteful? Is it the fact that it’s unrealistic or overly dramatic? Because in that case you should also be criticizing the Beowulf or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight stories we just read. Or the latest Avengers movie or Stephanie Meyer novels. Vampires and superheroes and monsters and green knights who challenge people to beheading games are unrealistic and overly dramatic too.

No, I don’t think it’s the overly dramatic quality that bothers most people. I think it’s deeper than that. We have a hard time accepting sentiment and emotion. We are uncomfortable with our soft, squishy feelings in the light of the day, and so we joke about them. We make them less important than they really are. We are uncomfortable with passion and so we pretend it is silly, except when we want it ourselves, and then only as long as it stays tidy and doesn’t expose our vulnerabilities to others. I do this too. I get it.

Or, maybe you think it’s a silly genre because women are the primary readers of it? In that case, I’m disappointed. It hurts all women when we look down on our gender as somehow less than because they make up the majority of fans for a specific type of creative endeavor. Do you see other men making fun of each other because of equally ridiculous action movies? No. So why do we think it’s okay for people to make fun of romance novels?

Perhaps it’s the sex? Perhaps you are uncomfortable with a genre that accepts and praises and revers sex? Why exactly? Why can people be okay with feeling emotions of fear and anxiety in a horror movie, and be moved to scream or cover their faces, but aren’t okay with being turned on or moved by descriptions of sex?

See, I think that people are afraid of all of these things when it comes to romance novels. They’re afraid that the overly romanticized plot lines will make women unhappy with their real lives, (and if they are, is that always a bad thing? Maybe they need to change). And they’re afraid that the “formulaic nature of genre writing” will somehow dull our brains (Law & Order, any body?). Or they are afraid of the emotions or the sex. It’s a sad world we live in when we accept monsters and fear and blood, but get squeamish at the thought of love and sex.

Or maybe it goes deeper. Maybe we make fun of romance novels because they are written by women and for women. We’ve been reading a lot of literature in our class and very little of it shows a woman’s voice. Not until recently were women even allowed to be writers, and even today women are rarely recognized for their writing as men are (See: Jennifer Weiner’s campaign to get equal reviews in the NYT). We call women writers “subliterary” and we call their writing “women’s fiction” or “chick lit”. And that’s a problem, because male writers don’t face the same kind of criticism, even when their writing is formulaic as well. We don’t say that mystery writers, or sci-fi, or fantasy writers who are men are “subliterary”. We don’t have a derogatory term like “bodice-rippers” for the types of lighter fiction that men write or read. No. We save it for women. And we save our disdain for the genre of romance because women write it.

In addition to the other issues we discuss, my class has been focused on helping you and your classmates see that women’s experiences are often overlooked, negated or not acknowledged. That women are accused of being “lewd” or “coy” and everything else, but are rarely allowed to speak on their gender’s behalf, or even on their own behalf. Many of you have stated that things have gotten better, which is true, but we still undermine women at every turn, and making fun of a genre of literature is just another example of this and I’m sick of it.

The romance genre is about people falling in love, and fighting for that love. It’s about a plot that ends satisfyingly, just like John Grishman novels do. It’s about acknowledging what makes us human, and flawed and working to overcome or accept those qualities. And I don’t see how those things are some how beneath us, or should be mocked. Do you?”

Had We But World Enough and Time I Could Make You Love Poetry Too

In addition to writing about love, I spend a lot of time talking about the literature of love, and of sex. I teach British Literature as a professor at a community college in Texas, and I get to teach high school students all about British Literature from 1000 to 1800.  I say “get to” because it is my privilege. I feel very fortunate on most days to be the one who gets to introduce them to the complex wonders of Chaucer, Donne, Marvelle and yes, Shakespeare. I love showing them why I enjoy sonnets and love extended metaphors and all the other ways that poetry challenges us, and makes us respond to the words on the page. And sometimes they point out things that make me pause and re-evaluate my own responses and then I have a deeper appreciation for the poems we’ve been reading for the past 500 years. Today, I got to experience that, and it was a great way to finish the day.

Today we discussed two of the better known “Carpe Diem” poems, Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” and Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”. (The latter happens to be one of my all time favorite poems and the link I’ve included has a great version of it read by someone who sounds awfully like Patrick Stewart.)

As we were reading the poem I pointed out why he praises various body parts of his lady, and what he is trying to do by focusing on her eyes, forehead and heart, and also why he is trying to convince her that if they had “but world enough and time” then he would be committed to loving her “ten years before the flood”.

One of my students mentioned that parts of the poem are really weird, and that the idea of worms trying her “long preserved virginity” was a really gross image. When she said this I agreed, and I also pointed out that he compares them to “amorous birds of prey” and suggests that they “tear [their] pleasure with rough strife,” and that these are not usually images or birds we associate with love. When we think of birds and love we think of songbirds, or doves or lovebirds. We rarely think of falcons and hawks.

But, I went on to say, this is one of the reasons I absolutely love this poem. Andrew Marvell contrasts these gruesome or unpleasant images with some astoundingly beautiful ones. He says to his mistress that “my vegetable love should grow / vaster than empires, and more slow” which brings to mind green growing life, and vines curling outwards across the land. I love the idea of vegetable love. It seems so precious and earthy, and yet it brings forth life and nourishes us. Or, if you aren’t a fan of vegetable love, you might prefer, “the youthful hue / sits on thy skin like morning dew”. I would swoon if someone said that to me. But, shortly after that he’s talking about death and ashes.

And for me, the contrast between the beautiful and the ugly is what makes this poem startlingly great. It’s like life, in that beautiful things are set right next to ugly ones. Amazingly beautiful flowers grow out of mud, and lovely, wonderful things are right next to gruesome, awful ones. This poem sees the reality and the beauty and isn’t trying to hide one with the other. And that makes the beautiful things all the more marvelous (get it? Marvell-ous?) and the ugly things take on their own sort of loveliness.

So many of the poems from this era try to disguise their intentions with flowery, lovely language, or complex rhymes so that we don’t notice the truth. Or, we might notice it but we see it as insincere. Marvell might be insincere in his commitment to this woman, but he’s honest about it. He’s saying if we had time, I’d make you all sorts of flowery speeches, but we don’t. We’re going to die and it will be awful. Let’s enjoy things now while we can, and even if we can’t stop time, we will give it a run for its money.

That right there is how I finished my class. *Mic drop*. Isaacks Out.

RESEARCH: Setting a Broken Bone: 19th century medical treatment was not for sissies

Oh dear! One of my characters has suffered a tragic fall from a horse! Don’t worry, she gets better and her injury only serves to bring her sister and the love interest closer together, so all is well in the end! Thanks to Jane Austen’s World for helping me get the details correct!

Source: Setting a Broken Bone: 19th century medical treatment was not for sissies

Why Anne Shirley Was My First Feminist Icon

I was thinking recently on one of my all time heroines, and contemplating how Anne Shirley has influenced my life.

I first learned of Anne of Green Gables because my mother borrowed the VHS of the two movies starring Megan Fellows. You know the one. And then, I checked the books out of the library and proceeded to read them over and over and over and over. All of them. For years. I can even re-read them now and still enjoy them, and get new insights from them (for instance, I recently re-read Anne’s House of Dreams, which chronicles her first few years of married life with Gilbert, and as a married woman as well, I gained a new perspective.) Yes, the stories are sentimental, dramatic and very romanticized, but Anne remains for me, as Mark Twain put it, “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”

When it comes to boys she might have done me a little disservice. I now have a tendency to over-romanticize boys and not see when they are actually just being normal boys. And I will never be as beautiful or as good. It has been a little disappointing to realize that no matter what, I will never be the mother she was to the Ingleside crew. But in general, Anne Shirley Blythe has taught me so much about being a strong, smart, creative girl that I never really stop to think about the influence she’s had until I am doing something and realize there’s an Anne quote that fits perfectly into the moment. Sadly, I know so few other Anne-obsessives that I can’t say the quote aloud without feeling slightly ridiculous (also happens with Lorelei Gilmore quotes). But, I do it anyway, because Anne would too.

So, here are my top lessons in being a feminist from Anne Shirley Blythe:

1. She is ambitious, and doesn’t let society’s expectations get in her way:

“Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.”

“We pay a price for everything we get or take in this world; and although ambitions are well worth having, they are not to be cheaply won, but exact their dues of work and self denial, anxiety and discouragement.”

“I’ve done my best, and I begin to understand what is meant by ‘the joy of strife’. Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.”

As any good fan knows, Anne was top in her class, except when Gilbert took that honor. She worked hard to learn geometry, and all of her other lessons to keep her place. She was so ambitious that she went to high school and college, earning a B.A. in English. But she also understands what it means to fail, and what we can learn from our mistakes.

When I was in college I used to remind myself of Anne’s study habits and this inspired me to work a little harder. I wouldn’t want to disappoint her.

2. She is smart, and isn’t afraid to admit it

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”

Anne is a reader, and an imaginative thinker. She isn’t afraid of being perceived as “too smart”. She accepts her love of literature, poetry and writing, and even though it makes her seem odd to others, she refuses to apologize for it. She says that she needs her big words because she has big ideas. Her example made me proud of loving books and being smart as well. The fact that she never hid this made me more courageous too.

3. She doesn’t let boys or romance distract her from her goals. 

“Young men are all very well in their place, but it doesn’t do to drag them into everything, does it?”

Not only is she smart, she’s not afraid to let boys know it. Anne uses her competition with Gilbert to become the best in their class. She refuses to accept any disrespect and refuses to be swayed by a pretty face, even when that pretty face is trying to apologize for wounding her pride and calling her “Carrots”. Of course, later on, when they’ve grown up she becomes friends with Gilbert, but even then, their feelings for each other don’t keep her from working. She earns her degree in a time when co-education is rare and not well accepted, then becomes an English teacher and also a high school principal in Kingstown while Gilbert goes to medical school.

4. She is a good friend, who won’t let others talk badly of those she cares about.

“We ought always to try to influence others for good.”

Too often we tend to disparage or insult our friends, or other women in general.  But Anne Shirley isn’t standing for it. Anne tells Phillippa Gordon that she won’t hear anyone talk badly about her friends, even if it’s self-disparaging talk. She encourages positive thinking, and friendship above all else. When I hear myself saying something negative about a woman in my head I remember her example and repent.

5. She knows herself and accepts herself.

 “Well, I don’t want to be anyone but myself, even if I go uncomforted by diamonds all my life,” declared Anne. “I’m quite content to be Anne of Green Gables, with my string of pearl beads.”

When Anne and Gilbert finally get engaged she wants a circle of pearls, even though Gilbert says that diamonds are traditional (actually this tradition didn’t start until the 1920s, well after Anne and Gilbert were married, but L.M. was writing in the 20th century, so we’ll excuse her. Besides, without the error we wouldn’t have this great quote). Anne learns to accept herself over the years and knows what she does and doesn’t want. And what she doesn’t want is a bunch of diamonds that don’t fit her, even if everyone else is doing it. I remember this lesson sometimes when I’m feeling discouraged because my path differs from the people around me. I remind myself to choose what works for me, not what others think I should be doing. I might not have monetary goods, but I still get to be me.

6. She understands the power of clothes.

“It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.”

“All I want is a dress with puffed sleeves”

Some might say that feminists shouldn’t worry about clothes, but to paraphrase Anne, it’s easier to be good if you look good too. When I like my appearance, and my clothes I find it makes me more confident and happier. When I take care of myself, I’m loving myself.

7. When she does have children she doesn’t play the mommy wars

Anne is ambitious, and loves teaching. But the social expectations of her day require her to devote herself to her family. But that doesn’t mean everyone agrees with her choices. Anne has five children, and little time to do the writing that she so loved. But when someone calls her out on it at a dinner party, trying to make her feel badly for having so many children! she responds gracefully, and tells the busybody that she is writing “living epistles now,” meaning that she is focusing on creating living, breathing letters to the world in the form of her children. She doesn’t feel guilty for her choices, and refuses to downplay her role as a mother. She might not have the same choices I have today to be married, work and have children, but she’s not about to let someone insult the choice she does make.

8. She’s human and makes mistakes too.

When she was a child, Anne once told Marilla that she never repeats the same mistake. Marilla replies by saying something like, “but there are plenty more out there for you to discover.” And it’s true. Anne is constantly learning more about herself, and growing from the experience. Whether it’s her hair dye fiasco, her red currant cordial mix-up, lashing out when people insult her red hair, her almost engagement with Royal Gardner in college, her poor love advice to Janet while she’s substitute teaching, or her jealousy over Christine Stuart (both during college and later, when she and Gilbert are married) Anne isn’t perfect, and she sometimes makes a mistake, driven by vanity, pride or jealousy. But she takes it all with the spirit of one who is optimistic, and wants to learn from her mistakes. And that’s some great advice.

There you have it, my top 8 reasons why Anne Shirley is a feminist icon. Who are your early fictional icons? Or, if Anne is one of yours, what lessons did you learn from her?

What Perfume Would She Wear?

But when were the scents developed? And can I use them in my books? What were people in the Regency period actually wearing.
Recently the Floris catalogue has been giving details about its scents and when they were developed.

When I was an all knowing little first grader we had to draw pictures of what we thought smelled good and what we thought smelled bad. My classmates all drew the normal stuff– piles of dog poo and cooked broccoli or whatever else a six-year-old might hate. I drew a bottle of lady’s perfume. I hated it. It was overpowering and stuffy and made my nose itch.

For most of my life I felt that way. I felt like I was being suffocated in a fuzzy, thick smog of scent whenever someone hugged me and I choked on the stuff. It wasn’t until I hit puberty that I wanted to give it a try, but even then I went for Gap’s scents of Grass or Heaven. Sweet, fresh smells that fit a teenager. Never the heavier stuff. And never the iconic scents. No Chanel No. 5 for me!

Not until I became an actual adult did I buy any true perfume. Like most of the cool, elegant things in my life this was inspired by my best friend, who was a year older and a generation wiser and cooler. She’s always had the best taste in things and when I first smelled her Jo Malone Orange Blossom cologne I wanted it in the worst way. But I wanted my own signature scent. So, I went to the department store and tried them out, at last landing on Wild Fig and Cassis, which is a unique, bright and fresh scent that years later still makes me happy. I also bought a darker, velvety scent, Black Vetyver Cafe, for date nights, that makes me think of slinky dresses and cleavage and smoky eyes.

While drafting my current story I wanted a scent for my character that fits the era and also her personality. Jasmine is too exotic for her. Roses too sweet. I didn’t know what else women in the Regency might wear, so I did some searching and came across Michelle Styles’ blog, which was full of both fact and also descriptions so I could imagine the scents for myself. Thank you Michelle! Great post!

Living in Regency England – Heating the House

When I’m researching for a new story I like to flesh out the world in which my characters live as much as possible. Sometimes that means imagining their homes, and sometimes it means imagining what they might have been reading or talking about. This blog post about chimneys hits both!
It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing historical so much, because I can rabbit hole down. I don’t know why I started wondering about chimney design. It might never make it anywhere close to a story or plot line, but it helps me get into my characters’ worlds when I know more about how and why their homes and lives were constructed the way they were.

Every Woman Dreams...

From the Georgian Period forward, the majority of the London townhouses were heated by coal rather than wood. Thus, members of Society and visitors to the City “enjoyed” the ever-preent film of coal dust in the air. In the late 17th and early 18th Century, the fireplaces remained wood-burning elements within the households. These fireplaces were designed with wide chimneys and a brick hearth.

Fireback in the house of Jeanne d'Arc in Domrémy Fireback in the house of Jeanne d’Arc in Domrémy

When coal came into use, a free-standing iron or steel basket was placed in the fireplace. These baskets usually had an iron fireback behind it. After 1750, these iron baskets occurred regularly in both country, as well as city, households. Quite often, down drafts drove smoke from these coal baskets into the rooms, and the heat escaped up the chimneys (i.e., the constant “smog” in London).  A fireplace fireback is a heavy cast iron, sized in proportion…

View original post 1,500 more words

Unfinished Work and Fun Factors

I’ve been steadily working on my second historical novel over the summer, plugging away at it, a few hundred words at a time. It’s slow, but I know where the story is going and for the most part I like my characters. It’s hard to say, as it’s just the first draft, but I care about them right now, and despite that, I’ve sent them through some shit and have more to come.

But, as I was working my summer job (waiting tables at a nearby restaurant) I’ve been bombarded with two new ideas that have come rapidly and nearly fully formed. In the first, parts need fleshing out, but the beginning structure, the voice, the characters are all showing up and taking over, even if I’m not ready to tell their story.

In the second, I had to get home and start writing immediately, too impatient to care much about anything else, and it is this story that has been driving me to the keyboard obsessively over the past few days. I started it last Sunday and I’ve already written nearly 11,000 words, which is a rarity for me. I can write 1,000 easily, and have to stop before I’m truly finished so that the pump is well primed for the next session.

I feel some guilt about putting the first story, the historical, on hold, but it was losing its fun factor, and although I like it and want to finish it, I need to find the fun again. These other stories (only one of which is in the draft process) are fun, and a challenge in ways the other one doesn’t have right now. I try very hard not to set stuff aside, because this is how I end up not finishing things, but I also believe that taking a break and finding the magic again might be good for me when other things are quite stressed in my daily life.

What are your thoughts? Do you do this too?

Swimming Pool Days

When I was a kid we did swim team. I say we and mean my brother and two sisters and me, but also our entire circle of friends. We spent summer mornings in the pool and Saturday mornings at meets. I used to complain about waking up early and plunging into a cold pool that turned our lips blue, but I secretly loved it, once the circulation came back. I loved swimming breaststroke in a line of others and watching the sun kissed bubbles emerge from the swimmer’s kick in front of me (this is why I was not fast. I was too busy watching the pretty bubbles). I loved the feeling of my legs pushing me forward and the slice of my palm as it cut through that blue water. I loved the tingle of fear I had as I swam through the deep end, imagining against all possibility I’d see a shark lurking below. I loved cheering my team on, and the competitive anticipation that comes right before the starting buzzer sounds. I loved stretching my arms and legs like the Olympians, getting ready to dive and push through my pullout (the kicking and stroking you do underwater) and pop back up from that silence to the churning of the race. At my pool we didn’t have diving blocks so if you had to swim backstroke and wanted a better push off from the edge you borrowed a friend’s legs to cling to as she or he stood on the pool’s edge before the race. I loved that. I loved how the crowd’s roar would crescendo at the very end of the meet as the older guys swam their relays. You could tell the end of the meet from two blocks away by that sound. I still love a good relay.

After Saturday meets there was an unspoken agreement that everybody who was anybody would be meeting at the local McDonald’s/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut everyone called McTacoHut. All the other teams would be there, their hair still sticking to their faces, dripping from their ponytails, shirts still damp and bathing suits peeking from underneath. We’d eat fries with our friends and crowd around the older kids as the parents gathered and exchanged stats on races and scores. Our dads would discuss form and who got DQ’d and why, and our moms would brag about how much time we shaved, or explain why we didn’t do as well this week.

Later in the afternoon, or on Sunday, we would be back at the pool. When we gathered with our family friends we’d go to the Olympic sized pool, Lake Newport. We knew all the lifeguards back then. They were our teammates or friends’ older siblings. We didn’t need an ID card for years, because they all knew us. We’d grill out and swim until the hot dogs were ready.

My brother and his best friend shared a birthday, July 27th. Perhaps this is why I’m thinking about it today. I am not close to my brother anymore. His religious beliefs make it hard for my family to feel comfortable around him. My parents divorced and his faith cannot tolerate that so he does not associate with them except for rare moments. Even though he’s as much fun as ever, and still the solid, sweet man he was as a boy, his jokes can quickly turn to serious discussions of a god the rest of us no longer trust. But as his birthday draws nearer, I am reminded of those summers.

Once, in the late afternoon, when the sky has just adopted that hazy purple that mutes the sharp edges of the day, I stood on a diving board and my whole world spread out before me. I could see the bright aquamarine of the pool, the long legs of teenage girls stretched on the lounge chairs, and the green tops of trees beyond the pool’s fence. The sounds of children laughing, the lifeguard’s whistle and the lapping of the pool were muted and my thoughts loud in my head. Our mothers were making dinner, and in a moment I’d swim over and dry off, and eat salty, ridged chips with my siblings and our friends, giggling at inside jokes long forgotten. While standing on that board, the sandpaper grip under my toes, the world open before me, I suddenly realized I was standing in a precious, perfect bubble, and simultaneously observing it all. I must have been fifteen, just starting to explore the shadows in the suburban picture I’d always known, but on this day none existed. It was the late 90s, and I was a pretty teenager in a wealthy suburb, about to dive into a cool pool in the early twilight of a beautiful, carefree day. But even as I stood on that bouncing board I knew this perfect moment couldn’t last forever.

And then I dove.

Stuck in a Book


I just finished listening to Joshilyn Jackson read her most recent novel, Someone Else’s Love Story, and I’m stuck in her voice. It has earwormed its way into my brain and will remain there, earnest and Southern and sweet. I want it to remain there. I want to keep hearing her voice reading her words and I want to just sink into them. But I am about to join my husband for a viewing of Outlander and the voice is about to be chased out of my head.

I sort of don’t want it to. I love the show, and I’m excited for the episode but I still want to live in this space for a while yet. Have you ever experienced this phenomena, where you are in a story and it fills up your eyes, and ears and nose with its world and then the story ends and you can’t quite figure out how to handle it? I feel as if some limb has been cut loose from me, or a past experience sliced out, or like I moved houses in the middle of the night and woke up in a new one. Even writing this I hear it read in Joshilyn’s voice. It is her cadence and inflections and I’m just repeating them.

I absolutely love her books, all of them. But this one spoke to me in new ways. I’d read it when it first came out.

ASIDE: My husband bought it for me for Christmas and I found it while innocently! putting away laundry. So, I started sneak-reading it. Just bits and pieces of it, when he wasn’t around and marking my place with a teeny-tiny fold so I could find it but he wouldn’t notice. I hadn’t finished it by the time he wrapped it so I didn’t feel too guilty, and was also really excited to finish it so it wasn’t like I was lying when I enthusiastically thanked him for the gift. I’m pretty bad at showing my excitement for gifts and didn’t want to fake it, as I already look like I’m faking it, even when I’m sincere.

Back to the present: This reading was different because I knew what to expect and could pay attention to the rest of it more closely, and god, was it sad. It does end in a positive, we can assume HEA, but man, it made me feel a lot of feels. And I’m sort of mourning for the characters’ pain as well as my own pain at having finished the book. This book is not a romance novel. Not in the sense you might imagine. But it is a whole lot about love, about all kinds of love, and about how to keep love. And about what happens when love is not always enough. God, it was good.

But now I have to go and try and pay attention to a really great show when part of my brain will be thinking about how much I adore William Ashe and his rational, odd and loving brain. And Shandi and Walcott too. Goodnight guys, I’ll miss you.