Goal #3: Wonderland

Goal #3: Go to an East-coast liberal arts womens’ (sic) college. FIRST CHOICE: **Smith**

STATUS: Complete

DATE (S) COMPLETED: 1997, 2007

In 1989 I was obsessed with THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB, and by extension its creator Ann M. Martin. I read Ann M.’s bio at the end of every book, even though I already knew it by heart: She did a lot of baby-sitting when she was growing up in Princeton, New Jersey. She had two cats. She graduated from Smith College.

P.S many notable writers went to Smith, not limited to Madeline L’Engle, Julia Child, and Piper Kerman, author of the memoir ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (which turned into the TV show that became my new obsession to replace the BSC. I responsibly binge-watched until Netflix decided they’d add a new season whenever they dang well pleased. So here we are). (Adding to this P.S side note, a bunch of politician’s wives went to Smith, and Google lists them before Ann M., which I think is an outrage because, hello, which do children of the 80’s remember more fondly, Ann M.’s books or Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign??)

Anyway, I wanted to be just like Ann M. (still do!). As it was too late to grow up in Princeton, New Jersey, and I was allergic to cats, I instead focused on going to Smith College.

Smith College was the school of my elitist dreams. I could only imagine it was full of ivy-covered red brick buildings and intelligent, studious women and old libraries filled with floor-to-ceiling books. Where professors nurtured their students and no one had to take P.E.

Where I could become a writer. Because always, I’ve wanted to be a writer.

Enter, Hollins University, with a creative writing program called “the most productive writing program in America” by Creative Writing in America. I was sixteen when I read about Hollins, and I’d never stopped dreaming of an East-coast (Roanoke, VA: check) liberal arts (check) women’s college (check).  I found out about a summer writing program for high school students and begged to go. And life was never worse but never better.

(I am the one in the gigantic polo, because I obviously still had a thing or two to learn about style).

Even then part of me knew I’d never be able to afford the East-coast liberal arts women’s college I craved. I resigned myself to this fact, and attended a large, highly ranked, co-ed university an hour’s drive from my home.

That university is where I first heard about a program in Vermont offering a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Children and Adolescents. At Vermont College of Fine Arts, students lived in the small, East-coast town of Montpelier for two weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter, where they had an intensive schedule of lectures and workshops. Then they returned home, to work one-on-one and be nurtured by faculty members. Who were all notable authors for young people! And while none of them were Ann M., some of them were authors whose work I’d loved since childhood. The campus was comprised of aristocratic red brick buildings. There were books everywhere. I was hooked.

And while it wasn’t QUITE a women’s college, it was close enough for me.

Goal #2: Style

Goal #2: Wear cool clothes STATUS: Complete-ish/Always in progress

DATE (S) COMPLETED: 2009 (after creating the Hot List) to present.

If it is not yet obvious it soon will be that I was a tad bit of an elitist in 1989. I was into literature and jet-setting, after all. The other kids (“the bourgeoisie” as I called them) (j/k, even I was not this elitist) were into kid stuff. So again, 1989, not a good year for me.

I knew I needed an outer personal style to match my inner personal style. Only my budget didn’t allow for the appliqued polo shirts and natural-fiber sweaters (tied around the shoulders, natch) that one generally associates with 1980s preppies. Besides, that wasn’t my fashion inspiration. This was:

Fashion 1989

(This article, clipped and added to my scrapbox before Pinterest was even a gleam in her mother's eye, is a page from Consumer Reports for Kids, which was an actual magazine, which I read faithfully).

My coolest outfit was this:

Emily 1989
Emily 1989

I have my doubts that this was ever cool. Except, of course, for my pride and joy: L.A Gear hi-tops with hot pink laces. Vogue.

Wearing cool clothes is an on-going project for me, one I attribute to my complete weirdness about spending money and my accompanying negative feelings toward shopping. Shopping and spending money, it turns out, are paramount to buying cool clothes. But bit by bit I'm accomplishing this goal, thanks in no small part to my friends.


This is my favorite dress, a gift from the uber-cool Sara Zarr, who deserves major kudos for helping me discover MAD STYLE. (I am the one on the left. On the right, my sister-in-law Annie, who is also wearing a dress and who also has mad style).

Another favorite, picked out with fashiony friend Kelly:


Geometric-print shirt with leggings-like skinny jeans? The only thing left to complete this look is a pair of neon L.A Gear hi-tops. Excuse me, I'm off for a Google search...

Goal #1: I Know Places

Goal #1: Earn Traveler Badge and Visit Washington, D.C STATUS: Complete

DATE (S) COMPLETED: 1990; 2014

When I began the Girl Scout program in 1989, I started work straightaway on two badges: Books (kind of obvious) and Traveler (also kind of obvious if you know me, and especially if you knew me in 1989, at which time I would have traveled to Kuwait itself if it meant getting away from where I was).  I completed them straightaway, too, because a quick scan of my Junior Girl Scout Sash shows that these badges were sewn on, as opposed to later badges that were stuck on with hot glue.

What I remember about this badge:

* “Helping” my parents plan a trip to Southern California and keeping a detailed travel log.  This must have been when I started scrapboxing, because my log includes postcards, business cards, restaurant menus, a feather from the beach, an early -generation hotel key card, a napkin from someplace called “The Rusty Pelican” and the pink-and-brown wrapper around my ice cream cone at 31 Flavors/Baskin-Robbins.

*SOOO many references to travel agents

*Planning several different trips to Washington D.C:  One for a sixth grade class, one for a couple who didn’t want to harm the environment in their travels, and one for a group of college students. I got a bunch of dimes out of my bank and went to the library, where I made copies of city maps and suggested itineraries.  All those imaginary people had an efficient, fun-filled trip carefully customized to their needs. I, however much I wanted to, did not get to go along with them.

Flash forward twenty-four years to last month, when I made this dream a reality with my friends Amy and Melissa.  In true Em-Dawg form, I kept a detailed travelogue of the day-by-day and saved museum maps and menus and used-up Metro cards (however, places don’t put wrappers around ice cream cones much anymore, so my trip to the Georgetown Ben & Jerry’s goes woefully underdocumented).

The only remaining evidence of  my trip to the Georgetown Ben & Jerry's:

I saw other stuff, too, though.  First stop Library of Congress, just as I'd planned way back when:


The monuments!

And the next two photos selected by my husband Great Guy Dan, when I was having trouble inserting any more photos into the post.  An angry red exclamation point kept telling me ERROR!  But from his computer at his office down the street, Dan was getting no such message.  So I asked him to choose two more pictures to insert and he chose well-- one  from the Air and Space Museum (his favorite) and one from the Supreme Court (everybody's favorite, because justice, yo).

Isn't this satisfying, seeing these goals fulfilled?  And we're just getting started!

Party Like It's (1989)

Last week was my birthday.  As a result, I was thinking about the goals that I’ve made on various birthdays throughout my life.  The good news is that despite some setbacks, I’ve managed to accomplish most of my adult goals.  The bad news is that the remaining goals are overly reliant on other people. The glaringly obvious example is my desire to see Barry Manilow perform. Oh, how I pursued this goal, researching his Vegas haunts, reconciling myself to the fact Barry only played there on weekends when hotel rates were high, forking over large sums.  Yeah, and then he canceled shows and stopped his gig.

But I’m resilient, so when I found out he was coming to Salt Lake last summer, I jumped on it, pre-ordering tickets and securing lodging for the night lest too many encores of Copacabana kept me out late. Walking to the arena, my elation deflated when I found out the concert was now postponed. Fifteen months later the concert is still postponed, with no new date scheduled.

My goal went unmet not because I lacked due diligence, but because I was not in charge.  Because my seeing Barry Manilow depends, to extent I didn’t properly appreciate, on BARRY MANILOW.  Life lesson learned.

In goals-met news, I finished writing a YA memoir about my experiences growing up, and the manuscript is currently with my editor.   As I was looking through my childhood “scrapboxes” while working on this memoir,  I found birthday lists not unlike the birthday lists I’ve made in recent years.  Goal-setting, it seems, has long been a birthday tradition.

It’s eerie, really.  And cyclical.  My third grade goals included showering every day, a goal I met by making a calendar on an index card and religiously crossing out the box corresponding to each squeaky-clean morning.  Mission accomplished!  Thanks for the habit of hygiene, third grade self!

Now, however, I realize that even though I feel like I still shower every day, this is more “truthiness” than actual fact.  And my goal at 29, to “gain a working knowledge of very basic technology”?  Well, yes.  But now, five years later, much of what I learned then is obsolete.  It was true once.

Then I came across my set of goals from 1989.  The end of a decade.  The year to which Taylor Swift pays homage in her forthcoming album 1989 (releasing six days from today, happy belated birthday, Em-Dawg).  1989 was a good year.  Not so much for me, but for my goals.  This was the year I made goals I could reach, goals dependent on me more than—shudder—other people.  I’m pleased to say some of these life ambitions have been reached.

The rest of them?  Well, I'm working on it.  Because I’ve decided to make my 2014 goals identical to my 1989 goals.  Because after 25 years, it’s amazing how much different I’m not.

I’ll be documenting my journey here on this blog, in accordance with one of my goals (ooh, the intrigue! What could a blog have to do with 1989?)  So stay tuned!  It’s turning out to be a hilarious ride.



Sara Z. and Me Talk Shop

So, since this blog (and entire website) has been dormant for months, and then again for months before that, I thought this entry would fit the theme of "why I don't do much" perfectly. Some of you may know about my health challenges and how that affects my writing, and YA author/ generally rad person Sara Zarr gets to the heart of it in her interview with me on her podcast This Creative Life.

I still haven't heard it because I hate listening to the sound of my own voice, and also when I try to open it on itunes it won't work yet.  So hopefully it is as hilarious as I remember it to be.  And in a good way.  In fact, if someone could let me know, that would be great.

Meanwhile, it is less than a month to the great WIFYR (Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers)!  June 18-22 at the Waterford School in Sandy, UT!  There are still spots available if you want to sign up for this truly life-changing conference.  I won't be teaching full-time this year, but I will be speaking on Friday afternoon and I am PSYCHED.  If you, too, are psyched about writing and the writing life, this is the place to be.  Tell them Em Dawg sent you.

The Skinny:

For all children's authors seeking to be published and/or improve their work, Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers in Sandy, UT, is the conference not to be missed. This year the five-day conference, June 18-22, 2012, offers nine morning workshops for the chance to get your manuscript critiqued by an experienced author/illustrator/editor faculty and afternoon classes.  http://www.wifyr.com/ This year the conference sponsors its first annual Writing Contest and Scholarship. Don't miss your chance at a $1,000 award. http://www.wifyr.com/blog/2012/03/09/1rst-annual-wifyr-writing-competition-and-fellowship-award/


Tired of Being Normal?

I moved a few months ago. Nothing major—just from the north end of the Salt Lake Valley to the south end, to be closer to my husband’s office (and, of course, to be closer to Bree Despain and all the other awesome South Jordan YA writers).  One thing I was very much looking forward to was the change of scenery along the roads I traveled most often.  I found one North Salt Lake billboard on Redwood Road to be especially troubling.  Tired of being normal? it asked in obnoxiously big letters.

This is something I personally I have never had the luxury of tiring of.  The less normal I got, the more frustrating the billboard became.  No, I would think, I am not tired of being normal.  What I am tired of is being abnormal.  Normal people don’t have to remind themselves to eat, or go to the bathroom.  Normal people don’t have to remind themselves how to sleep, or how to wake up.    Normal people’s brains belong to them and only them.

So much runs on auto-pilot when you’re a normal person.  The thought that someone wouldn’t be grateful for that— would even WISH IT AWAY—got me so worked up I had to consciously calm myself.  Let’s face it, I probably shouldn’t be driving anyway, but I definitely shouldn’t be driving angry.

Why is being normal not good enough?

Do you feel normal?  Are you tired of it?

Now we’ve moved into our new home.  It’s different on the south end of the valley than the north.  Now, I like by a lake that isn’t full of saltwater.  Now, I live equidistant from four libraries.  Now, I live across the street from a blue house.

But when I was driving around  my new city the other day  I passed a billboard.   And yep.  In obnoxiously big letters it asked:  Tired of being normal?


December 8

On December 8 years ago I came face-to-face with death.  On December 8 this year I came face-to-face with life. Even more than my birthday, I think of December 8 as my day.  It’s the day I circle on the calendar; the day I make plans for.  My parents give me chocolates.  A college roommate thought it quite bizarre that I celebrate the day I was hit by a car.  I’m sure others think so, too.  But every December 8 I put on my shoes and think:  I’m still here.  I’m still putting on my shoes.

For reasons making perfect sense in my mind, I spent most of my life after that December 8 believing I would only live to twenty-six.  By this same unique brand of logic, at twenty-six I got the distinct impression that I hadn’t completed my life mission yet—to be an author—and I had five more years to do so.  That gave me until thirty-one to get the book(s) out there I needed to.  I was confident I could get it done.  And I was fine with the idea that by thirty-one, I too would be done.

What I didn’t count on was getting sick just shy of my thirtieth birthday.  I always assumed (you know, like you do) that I’d suffer brain death: that at some point, my brain would just stop working.  I hadn’t counted on that happening slowly, but each day my mind betrayed me more and more. The end was coming—I could feel it, and I was prepared.  I was almost thirty-one, and I was tired of suffering.  God had promised me—had PROMISED me—it would be over soon.

And then it was over.  But not in the way I expected.

I started getting better.

When my brain told me right hand to move, it would move.  When I wanted to sit up and look down at the same time, I did it without dizziness.  I walked down grocery store aisles unafraid of collapsing.  I could type again.  I could write again.

And then another December 8 rolled around.  I was invited to a Christmas party at a local bookstore where I signed my two books.  I mingled with friends and remembered how many good, good people I know, and how much I love them.  I heard about a long-distance friend’s good news and was so genuinely thrilled for him it felt as though I were experiencing the joy as my own (MM, this is to you) .  It hit me real and tangible:  I need more time with these people. I’m not done living yet.

It’s a mixed blessing.  I'd grown accustomed to not wanting more for myself, I had learned to be content, I was at peace with finishing my life.  And now that my life isn't finished, I need to keep going.  And it isn’t easy to keep going, especially when you’re anyone, but especially especially when you’re an author and writing is HARD, and finding the strength to finish that next book can look impossible.

But I’ve found that some pretty strange things are possible, and not just for other people, but for me, so for now I am just going to put my shoes on and think:  I’m still here.  I’m still putting on my shoes, and remember just what a lucky thing that is.


How My Book and I Are Spending Summer Vacation

When your book releases in the spring, it makes for a busy summer.  BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE and I have become fast friends, like summer-camp-BFFs who form a lifelong bond in a couple of days.  Right now, we're touring the world wide web on a blog tour courtesy of Teen Book Scene. We've already visited The Book Butterfly and Bookmarked (I highly recommend you check out both of them for some laughs) and we've only just begun! Here's where else we've been:

Bunch of signings in the Bay Area with my BFF J.L (Jessica) Powers, including a stop at premiere indie bookstore Kepler's.  Besides meeting a bunch of new writer friends--and seeing old friends, too--I learned something very interesting about YA bookselling guru Angela.  She closes her eyes in EVERY SINGLE PICTURE.

Next we were off to:

Oh, okay, so this is not where we were off to next.  Next I went to meet some delightful high school students, and this picture is of a mannequin in New York City, so you see how I could get the two confused, right?  And the picture isn't even turned the right way but I'll keep it because whether or not it's the right picture, it took a long time to load.

So this is the trip to New York I took with writer pals Brodi Ashton and Bree Despain.   We went for writing-related purposes, of course, but we did squeeze in a couple of hours to shop  (I ended up buying nothing, and all Brodi bought was a fan, but whatevs).  All I could find were clothes designed to fit the mannequin pictured above.  And alas, I am not shaped like the mannequin above.  There's a picture to prove this, but I think my site is too family-friendly to post it.

Speaking of posting pictures, I was trying to do that just now and got three errors in a row, so maybe I'm doing something wrong?  I will check and get back to you tomorrow.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Book Launch

*UPDATE:  If you have not entered my amazing giveaway yet, you have until Thursday, May 19 at 11:59 MDT to do so!!  I'll announce the winner on Friday.*Want a copy of my book? Enter my BFF J.L Power's giveaway. Do it now, don't wait, or I'll look unliked. And I really, really hate that.

A funny thing happened on the way to my book launch.  And by "on the way to" I mean "on the way to, and then throughout."

Apparently, during my reading/signing, something struck me as HILARIOUS. If only I remembered what it was. Oh, the jubilance. Spell check just told me jubilance isn't a word. Forget you, spell check. Forget you.

I count any night when I am on a sign to be a PARTY. And what a party it was. For one thing, there was music, when The SIX performed LIVE as The Barely Manilows. It was a one-time-only gig, but you can relive it if you want to (And you do. Trust me on this):

Plus, there was food. The desserts weren't chocolate, but they were--dare I say it?--better. At least as far as BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE is concerned.

By the way, I should add that all photos are courtesy of Heather Gardner at Fire and Ice . My husband took pictures, but they are all of me. To make matters worse, in every one of them I am talking, my mouth contorted in various expressions that lead me to wonder why I look like a raving street person while discussing my feelings on German surnames.

Anyway, the night was a huge success, and I even held the honor of having the best-behaved line Rachel at King's English had ever seen. I was proud, until I realized that maybe it was because this was the one time I wasn't actually IN the line (I'm not great at waiting my turn. So sue me.)

If you would like to book The Barely Manilows for your wedding/bat mitzvah/high scool reunion, please contact Brodi for details. In fact, if we can flood her blog with requests, that would be good.

Looks like we made it, friends. Looks like we made it.