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Journalism. News writing is generally about current events (as opposed to 1873) which tends to feel more relevant and engaging. It can involve interviews and attending unusual events (as opposed to sitting home and playing Halo). Its purpose is to provide information to peers and community members (as opposed to just their long-suffering English teachers). And it involves a very clear, concise, facts-based style.

Suddenly, it hit me — this was the hike’s worst day.

Brian blows on a fire in the pouring rain, desperately trying to get it to light

Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingways’s Girl

It’s been six years now, and I have yet to meet anyone in scouting who voiced anything but opposition to the anti-gay policy. And it was not swept under the rug—it was discussed. When the National BSA temporarily re-affirmed its homophobic stance in 2012, our troop leadership was unanimously opposed. Our district council asked for statements that it could present to National on the matter. We immediately submitted one, happy to learn that council was just as concerned as we were.

She took it off and handed it to me.

And yet there was always a part of me that struggled with the moral inconsistency. My husband and I were clear with our kids that we were against that policy, and any rule that unfairly discriminates. In the end we felt that the good in scouting—the focus on helping others, community involvement and leadership—outweighed this one misguided aspect. If we had felt for one moment that our troop reflected any of National BSA’s homophobia, we would have pulled our son out.

“No!” I said, caught off guard. “That’s not what I meant.”


(Photo credit: Wikipedia. Publicity photo of American actor and musician, David Cassidy promoting the September 25, 1970 premiere of the ABC comedy series The Partridge Family.)

Oh, how I hung my head in shame when the edits came back.

Lay/Lie It’s all about who or what is descending. You lie down. You lay other stuff down. Think of “lay an egg.” The past tense of lay is laid. So the hen lays an egg today and laid one yesterday. Pretty straight forward. What makes everyone nuts is that the past tense of lie is lay! So, you lie down now, but you lay down yesterday. Come on, who’s responsible for this stuff!

What are your favorite grammar crimes?

I finished the first draft early last month, and then spent a couple of weeks cleaning it up, fixing problems, making it do pushups and sprints, getting it in tip-top shape to send off to my early readers. These women are wise and kind and so darned good looking (and are hopefully taking a few minutes off from inking up my “perfect” manuscript to see these compliments to their wisdom and beauty).

I smiled as I put the necklace in the mail and assumed the story was over.

“I love mine, too,” I said. “I wear it all the time.”

I learned a great many new words that day. I do not remember what they all were; but I do know that mother, father, sister, teacher were among them--words that were to make the world blossom for me, "like Aaron's rod, with flowers." It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my crib at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.

When they got home from the walk, the package with my necklace had just arrived in the mail.

(Originally published in the San Diego Book Review.)

So we have empathy, and we’re fine tuning that empathic thinking with every new character we write. The next thing we need is a sense of anticipation. A description of personhood, while it may be fascinating, beautiful, grotesque, depressing or inspiring, is not a story. Anticipation of what will or will not happen to this person is what makes the story. What is the critical problem that needs to be solved? Will that hungry caterpillar ever get enough food? And what will happen if it doesn’t? And what surprising things might happen along the way?

“I love my necklace by the way,” she told me. “I get so many compliments on it.”

“Thanks, Dad, but I don’t really think that’s the topic for me.”

Not perfect perfect, of course. It’s honeymoon perfect. It’s sunny, flag-fluttering, best-wave day at the beach perfect. Which is to say, it can’t last.