Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Preparing for the Release of My Novel: The Life of a FICTIONAL Mom Blogger

As the Picket Fence Post family girds itself for the release this month of my novel about an oversharing blogger who gets into big trouble when her previously anonymous blogging identity is revealed and her family goes ballistic after discovering what she's been writing online, I feel compelled to state the obvious. For the record. (Imagine that I'm holding a bullhorn to my face as I say this):

My novel, Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing, is a work of fiction. Sure, it may feature a blogger who's a mom. I'm a blogger who's also a mom. The main character, Maggie Kelly, may live in suburb in the greater Boston area. I live in a suburb in the greater Boston area. But . . . I am not Maggie and Maggie -- who blogs in a raw, profanity-laden, no-holes-barred, slash-and-burn fashion -- is not me. Clearly. But I will cop to dropping curse words a little too often, as Maggie is wont to do.

The other main character, Maggie's husband Michael, is not The Spouse, although, like Michael, there was a time when my husband's job required him to attend evening meetings when our children were young. The schedule was a demanding one to maintain. Then again, having three children within three years of one another is difficult in and of itself. The columns in my first book, A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum (available on Kindle!), along with my Boston Mommy Blog, are full of tales from those challenging, highly caffeinated years.

However, once Mortified is published on May 12 (Amazon link here), I'm guessing I'm going to be issuing this disclaimer quite a bit, particularly to certain people. (I'm talking to you Mom.)

How will the twin 14-year-olds and the 11-year-old react to all of this curiosity? Hopefully with the same nonchalance they treat most things involving their parents these days, unless it involves driving them someplace or handing out fistfuls of cash.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What I'm Reading Now ... A Primer on Raising Adolescents

I realized the other day that when my kids were very young, heck, even when they were still in the womb, I was voraciously reading up on the best parenting practices. Compulsively so.

Then all three of the Picket Fence Post children hit puberty and it dawned on me that it's been quite a long time since I've read anything about childrearing. Two are of my kids are teens, the other's not too far behind. And all hell has broken loose.

After hearing some vivid tales from the Picket Fence Post household, a friend recommended this:

I now feel as though I finally understand why my house is suddenly filled with such loud melodrama ... or, conversely, the eerie silence of sulking and somber offspring. Reading Get Out of My Life But First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall? is akin to stumbling upon a helpful translator who's explaining the goings-on that are occurring right in front of my eyes but seem to be in a foreign language.

The Youngest Boy, not liking the cover of the book one iota, was displeased to see me chuckling as I was reading it the other night.

"I'm gonna read that when you're not looking," he threatened.

"Go ahead," I taunted him, "at least you'd be reading a book."

"Grrrr," he muttered as he kicked a dog toy across the family room, "I hate reading."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A New Year, Lots to Celebrate in 2013

It's 2013 and I can proudly say that I've made no resolutions, although I have made a few, um, suggestions for myself for the new year.

As I skimmed through my brand, spankin' new 2013 calendar -- trying to ignore that nagging, superstitious feeling that anything with the number 13 is inherently unlucky -- and was taken aback when I realized several things:

I completely forgot to book my kids' annual doctor's appointments last year. Whoops.

My eldest two kids are not only going into high school this fall, but are going to turn 15 this summer.

Our "puppy" will turn 4 this spring.

Easter is very early this year.

Oh, and 2013 will mark the year that I become a published novelist. Seriously. Remember that book I talked about earlier, Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing? Well, it's going to be published this spring. More deets on this later . . .

After I marked down all the birthdays and anniversaries on the calendar, I thought about 2012 and what promises the new year holds and came up with several things we've got goin' on in the plus column:

-- I made it through Christmas without getting the swine flu or a stomach bug, both of which have sullied previous celebrations of Yuletide splendor.

-- The Youngest Boy did NOT freak out when he discovered that there was NOT a bow-and-arrow set beneath the Christmas tree. Katniss, he is not.

-- The older two went to a boy-girl New Year's Eve party while The Spouse, The Youngest Boy and I ate Chinese food (the adults had the take-out, the kid had leftover pizza . . . because I've been a lazy chef as of late. No judging!) and watched the second Lord of the Rings film, The Two Towers, because we wanted to have a quiet, family evening, save for our partying teens.

-- Our ice rink (pictured above) is actually operational! Longtime Picket Fence Post readers know that the subject of our backyard ice rink has been a source of tremendous angst for The Spouse, with the exception of one, spectacular year (the same year I got swine flu for Christmas, apparently because I'd been a wicked girl during the prior 12 months). Our history when it comes to this brand of home recreation is, shall we say, checkered, thus my joy at the fact that kids are actually SKATING on the rink into which The Spouse has invested so much money time.

-- The Spouse and I are both gainfully employed on a full-time basis. I'm currently on winter break from the university where I teach and am busily working on new syllabi for the spring semester. I'm very enthused about a course I'm developing.

Things in the minus column:

-- I haven't attended a yoga class in months. It was either sleep or yoga. I couldn't do both, so yoga got the shaft. And the kids have noticed. The Spouse has noticed. How did they notice, you might ask, other than by assessing muscle tone? Because when I'm actively practicing yoga I will experience moments, or stretches of zen-like, "yo dude" calm. That zen thing, my friends, has been noticeably absent, my patience practically nonexistent. Piling on a stress-filled Christmas season didn't help. Therefore, it is VITAL that I find a yoga class that fits into my crazy schedule. Soon!

-- I haven't had a real date with my husband since we celebrated our 20th anniversary in the beginning of November. (We did go to see Lincoln a few weeks ago while the kids saw a different movie with friends, but since the kids were in another theater and it was in the middle of the day, I don't consider that a date.) This situation, like the yoga one, also needs to be rectified.

Overall, the Picket Fence Post family is heading into 2013 with hope and eagerness, and I, personally, plan to laugh like a maniac when I gaze at our family calendar and discover that all five of us are scheduled  for something at the same time in different locations. Or maybe I'll just cancel all of our appointments and have us all go ice skating in our yard.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Talkin' Book-in-Progress & Families 'Over-Sharing' Online

*Cross-posted from Notes from the Asylum*

One of my favorite Boston Globe columnists, Joanna Weiss, invited me to participate in a very cool thing called a "blog hop," where one author "tags" another and the person who's "It" fields questions about her next writing project.

Weiss -- who wrote the sharp and amusing satirical novel Milkshake, about the lunacy of the political and feminist politics surrounding breastfeeding -- is working on a new book about a culture clash involving an uber-rich Boston family and working/middle class Bostonians. You can see what she wrote about her work-in-progress Beantown book here.

Weiss has tagged yours truly to answer some questions about my work-in-progress novel. Thanks Joanna! Here goes:

What is the working title of your book?

The Mortified: A Novel About Over-Sharing.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

After years of reading personal blogs, I became increasingly surprised and intrigued by how many vivid, personal details bloggers revealed online about not just themselves, but about their friends and family members. The notion of what is or isn't considered "over-sharing" fascinated me.

What genre does you book fall under?

Contemporary fiction.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The main character, thirtysomething Maggie Kelly, who has an anonymous and profane personal blog, could be played by someone like Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson on Mad Men), Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time, Big Love) or Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), all of whom I think could deftly balance Maggie's emotional intensity with her desperate and darkly comedic side.

For Maggie's husband Michael -- a kind, career-focused guy who doesn't understand (and doesn't want to understand) what's causing his wife's lingering melancholy -- I picture anyone from James Marsden (30 Rock, 27 Dresses, The Notebook) and Zack Gilford (Matt Saracen from Friday Night Lights), to Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, (500) Days of Summer) playing that role.

The third main character is Michael's mother Dorothy, who I describe as a militant Emily Post in sensible shoes. I could envision actresses such as Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls, Bunheads) or Mary Kay Place (Big Love) stepping into Dorothy's petite Easy Spirit loafers.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Mortified asks readers this question: What would you do if your spouse blogged about how you are a self-centered, unsupportive jerk, who happens to be lousy in bed, and then, after the blog went viral, your mother and your colleagues read the punishingly graphic commentary?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'm currently in talks with an indie publisher. (*fingers crossed*)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A year-and-a-half.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I'd liken The Mortified to something I might read from Jennifer Weiner who, like me, is a former newspaper reporter. Weiner's novel Then Came You, for example, explores the many complex and emotional sides of surrogacy, similar to the way I think The Mortified delves into the consequences of over-sharing online. Fellow New England resident Tom Perrotta's Little Children -- which addresses the loneliness of at-home parenthood coupled with suburban hysteria -- and The Abstinence Teacher -- that tackles the clash of sex education and religious values -- used similarly no-nonsense approaches to analyzing current social issues.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My mother made this off-handed comment about my writing one day, saying, "You used to be funnier." And she was right, at least when it came to my personal blog. Once my children got wise to this thing called the Internet and the handy little tool called Google, I started cordoning off vast quantities of would-be amusing anecdotes behind bright orange traffic cones in an "off-limits" zone. The result of choosing family privacy over material that would've made for good blog posts? Some of the best, funniest tales were banned from the blog, per my children's request.

But what was happening inside the homes of people who didn't seem to do much holding back on their blogs? Were their husbands or wives unhappy with having their sex lives dissected online? Did their children feel over-exposed? Did their families even know that they were being discussed on a blog? Hence . . . The Mortified, a book about a suburban woman who, to cope with her feelings of being oppressed by matrimony and maternity, started what she thought was an anonymous, brutally honest blog where she would vent her unpleasant feelings about her life's disappointments.

What else about your book might pique the readers' interest?

People who publish very personal information about their loved ones online -- whether on blogs or on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter -- might have a strong reaction to the question of what constitutes "over-sharing." While The Mortified chronicles incidents in various characters' pasts where they were embarrassed by something someone had said about them, the difference is that in the modern era, embarrassing accusations and remarks can now be detailed in blogs and social media. And they can go viral. Mortification via Google.

*Be sure to check out the author who I have tagged as she's working on her very own "Next Big Thing:" Suzanne Strempek Shea, the author of eight books, including five novels, such as Selling the Lite of Heaven, Hoopi Shoopi Donna and Becoming Finola. Suzanne and I both worked for the same newspaper in western Massachusetts back in the day. I can't wait to read her answers.*

Image credits:, Jack Rowand/ABC.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Back from the Brink (Otherwise Known as Being Buried in Work)

The Picket Fence Post family has not fallen off of the face of the earth, nor has it been swept away in the winds of the hurricane.

We've been here, in the Picket Fence Post domicile in the suburbs of Boston, with our three middle schoolers who've been busy doing their adolescent things (including busting a cell phone, overdoing it with the noxious and likely toxic Axe body spray and testing their, uh, independence). We've been here with our freshly emboldened canine thief who aggressively dives at any unattended food with surprising swiftness given his stout build (like that slice of apple pie Max stole from my plate the other night the second I got up from the sofa). We've gone to soccer games, hockey games, band rehearsals, basketball tryouts, and I broke my left ring-finger (I think it was broken but I didn't go to the doctor to confirm because I'm an idiot) while "helping" the kids prep for said basketball tryouts.

We shelled out a healthy fistful of greenbacks for a hideously stupid-looking orange bodysuit (see above), also known as our 11-year-old's Halloween costume. We mourned the horrific conclusion of a Red Sox season which, sadly, resembled the kinds of seasons I used to experience when I was but a young Sox fan in my Sox jacket decorated with my Dwight Evans button, never imagining I'd have to wait until I was the mother of three to see a Boston World Series victory.

Together, the five of us in the Picket Fence Post family have shared laughs during the new episodes of Modern Family (loved the bit about Luke besting Phil at magic) and The Middle. The Eldest Boy and I are still catching up on the new season of The Mentalist, a show we like to watch together.

But I haven't been doing any writing. For weeks. And it's been driving me crazy. It's like trying to hold your breath for too long. It's unnatural and not at all good for you, at least it's not good for me.

Likewise, I haven't done a few other things that I normally do at this time of the year, like take the family apple picking, visit a pumpkin patch where we pay too much for giant gourds, carve said gourds and leave them to rot in a moldly heap on our front doorstep until Thanksgiving, or go to the Big E, the New England fair held in western Massachusetts and indulge in overly caloric, fried grub that would make Michael Bloomberg woozy.

Why? Why have I been off of my writing game and missed my celebrate-my-favorite-season-of-autumn-activities? I've become a full-time assistant professor teaching writing and journalism at a local institution of higher learning. In short order, I needed to craft not just a syllabus for the writing course, but create a new course about online and social media. In addition to teaching/grading and researching/designing a class, I've been helping to advise the staff of the student newspaper two nights a week.

The other big thing that has rendered me exhausted to the point where I don't think mere flavored coffee alone is potent enough to keep me awake over the long-term (I may have to look into those Turbo shot thingies at Dunkin' Donuts) is a non-fiction book project I've been researching for months. I'm in the process of conducting dozens of interviews as well as observing an educational process (can't give you the details now) three mornings a week. We're talking EARLY in the morning. Six o'clock hour early. The if-I-don't-get-caffeine-into-my-system-NOW-somebody's-gonna-get-hurt early.

However, despite sleep deprivation, autumnal celebration deprivation and coping with pediatric complaints about my new gig (one of the kids accused me of ruining this individual's life by taking a full-time job because, you know, I have nothing better to do than to concoct ways in which I can wreck his life, right?), I'm hopeful that things are becoming somewhat manageable right now, or maybe it's just the sleep deprivation talking.

Image credit: and Jordin Althaus/ABC.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Dog is a Thief

Don't let that cute face fool you. That fuzzy, "ain't I cuddly?" mug is a simply facade. It's a front for a stealthily sinister thief who's becoming more brazen with every passing day.

Take, for example, a few weekends ago when we were having company here at the Picket Fence Post domicile. Seeing as it was a beautiful summer's afternoon and the pressing humidity had lifted, The Spouse and I decided to entertain his folks on our backyard deck. To keep the bugs from gorging on our food, we placed mesh covers over the plates of appetizers that we'd placed on the table, including a platter of hearty Vermont cheddar cheese and tangy slices of pepperoni.

But we'd forgotten that we'd left Max outside. The dog, lured by the aroma of spicy meat and rich cheese, hopped up onto a deck chair, climbed onto the table and removed the mesh covering. (It may stop flies, but not Havanese-Wheaten Terriers apparently.) At this point, we're not really certain about what happened next because we were still inside the house while Max was wilding on the deck.

All we know for sure is that several minutes after leaving him alone outside, The Spouse returned to find the green marble plate empty but for some oily smudges and a sad looking, slightly sullied pepperoni round that was curling up on one side. I was livid because my plans had suddenly been hijacked. All I saw unfurling before me was an afternoon and evening filled with taking care of and cleaning up after a sick dog who I didn't want to let back into the house until his ill gotten gains had passed through his system.

However a short time later, The Eldest Boy discovered a curious mound in our backyard: A pile of cheese and pepperoni slices -- largely unchewed -- covered in tasty combination of saliva, lively ants and grass, a not-so-expert attempt to camouflage the food for snacking later on the down-low. How he got all of that food from the platter to the yard is unclear. He couldn't have fit that large pile of cheese cubes and pepperoni slices into his small mouth, so he had to have taken multiple trips, all executed while The Spouse and I were cluelessly mixing up another pitcher of iced tea in the kitchen.

Although Max's thievery was ultimately foiled -- he kept returning to the spot where he'd left the food and rolled around in the grass so as to drive the pepperoni scent deep into his thick hair so he smelled like a muddy pizza -- it seemed to have whet his appetite for all things sneaky.

Since then, for example, he's developed an unhealthy affinity for a fuzzy gray, white and black stuffed lemur that he keeps stealing from one of the kids' bedrooms. He frequently grabs "Jack" by the neck and races around the house almost like he's advertising the fact that he cleverly got away with stealing the lemur but he just can't afford to hire a skywriter.

He's now figured out how to force my home office door open (it doesn't latch solidly so one push opens the door) and has been going in there, knocking over the trash can, eating the trash and then puking up what he'd consumed. He's stolen hair ties and dragged used tissues throughout the house, which is awesome when you have company over and you unexpectedly find one of those babies (or several of them) lying in the middle of the floor.

The Spouse thinks we need to bring Max back to doggie training school or start re-training him ourselves. I think we need to lock up our trash cans and not let him out on the deck unsupervised. What say you guys?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Notes from Suburbia: Mama's New Job, Insulting the Parents, Olympian Sleep Deprivation

Summertime Madness

It's, nominally, still "summer," a word that brings to mind thoughts of relaxation and restoration, of sipping sun-brewed iced tea with a sprig of fresh mint while lounging in a hammock as you clutch a beach read and soak up the deliciously cool shade of a regal maple tree.

Nothing like that is happening in the Picket Fence Post house these days.

Why? For once, the nuttiness around here has nothing to do with the onslaught of kids' extracurricular activities and national holidays bearing down upon me. You see, yours truly will be starting a new job next month. I'll be a full-time assistant professor at a local university teaching writing and journalism, plus I'm anticipating providing advice to the student newspaper. The gig was only made official a short while ago. I'd been hesitant to start putting in substantial prep work for these classes until it was a sure, signed on the dotted line kind of thing. The result: I've now got an intimidating pile of books to read in order to prepare for writing classes and a new course I'm developing, alongside the assignments and lesson plans I need to create.

Then there's a new book project on which I've been working throughout the summer (the subject is going to be kept under wraps for now) which has had me conducting many interviews over copious amounts of iced coffee -- some of the interviews multiple hours in length -- in coffee shops, restaurants, private homes and over the telephone, plus doing research for the project.

Neither of these new, wonderfully exciting and challenging professional developments leave me with a ton of time for other stuff . . . like sipping that iced tea in the shade.

So I'm guessing that when we finally receive the schedules for the Picket Fence Post kids' teams (two soccer teams, one hockey team, yes hockey . . . again), things'll really get nutty around here.

A Dog & A Diaper

The Spouse and I asked one of our children (who shall remain nameless) to accompany us as we walked Max the dog (he's doing fine, thank you very much for asking) around the block the other day. The kid replied by saying that walking around the block with one's parents, in public, is akin to walking around the block wearing a diaper.

Well, okay then.

The Sleep Deprivation Olympics

Thank God the Olympics are over. I don't think the kids could take it anymore.

The extended, late night NBC broadcasts -- where the much maligned network would needlessly draw out the most popular events, like gymnastics, into the late hours of the evening -- turned my kids into zombies. But the kids had to have their Olympics. They'd wake up with giant bags under their eyes after late night Olympic watching and then repeat the process again, growing more and more charmingly chippy as the Olympic days piled up, one after another and the intramural sibling skirmishes grew in quantity.

The Youngest Boy even started asking me if he could have coffee as he'd lean over my steaming mug and inhale its scent like an addict, like his caffeine-addicted mother. (I did not let him. The last thing that kid needs is caffeine.)

The highlight of the London Olympics: The U.S. women's soccer team capturing gold last week. The Girl hosted an energetic viewing party for several of her fellow soccer playing gals. I went a little Martha Stewart on her with all things patriotic, buying balloons, flag napkins, patriotic cupcakes (Martha would've made them, I just bought them) and placing a giant flag across our mantle. I was greatly relieved when the U.S. team won, not just because I wanted them to win, but because I didn't want The Girl to feel as angry as she did when the U.S. women's team lost the World Cup last year. (She can get pretty pissed off when her team loses. Seriously. Clear the path in front of her and stay far away.)

And, despite being sleep deprived, The Youngest Boy decided to try to impersonate the Olympic swimmers (without the obscenely low-slung swimming attire and the obnoxious Ryan Lochte diamond grill) and swam as though he was being pursued by a Cape Cod shark in search of a snack. I was pleasantly surprised when the kid started to swim lap after lap and wasn't winded at all. Me, I was practically hyperventilating. I may practice yoga and have flexibility, but that doesn't really help stamina. I could sure use some stamina right about now . . . or more coffee.