I'll be teaching an in-person, weekly, ten-week fiction writing workshop this summer with my pal Chuck Palahniuk. Registration opens at noon on Monday (May 24th). I'll post details on my event page. Workshop is limited to 20 students, first come, first serve. 

It's going to be something. 

Can you get to Portland, Oregon?

Faint of Heart

I'm working on finishing up a new Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell book. It's called FAINT OF HEART. I've posted a few excerpts on my Facebook author page. And I can see by the fancy Google analytics that many of you are coming to my website to see, perhaps, where you might pre-order this book. *waves* I'm still writing it! Very close to finishing. But there won't be a pub date (or way to pre-order) until I actually turn it in. Honestly, I'm talking about the book sooner than I should - so I can see why that's confusing. And if you are here looking for info so you can pre-order, THANK YOU. YOU MEAN THE WORLD TO ME. Check back in a month. 

Tiny excerpt of Faint of Heart


"Hurt me," he whispers.

"Not yet."

Birthday presents


This is a story about Rosie and about my birthday and I haven’t copy edited it at all.
It was our first “new puppy” visit to the vet. Our first Boston Terrier. About twenty years ago. Her name was Lucy. We were finishing up. Our vet was cool, young, tattooed. We liked her a lot. We were all in our twenties.
“Before you guys go I just want to make sure you know what to do if your dog’s eye pops out,” she said.
She said it casually. Like a P.S. Like a thing a person might say, like, “I just want to make sure you know how to jump start a car,” or “I just want to make sure you know how to plunge a toilet.” In the category of a thing that will happen, at some point, and gah, it will be unpleasant, so best to be prepared.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
It was a Boston Terrier thing, she explained. Or a pug thing. Or a boxer thing. Dogs with bug eyes. Sometimes, she explained, their eyes popped out. She shrugged, like what are you gonna do?
I remember the example she used was that they might clip a coffee table. And then POP. “The important thing,” she said, “was not to panic.”
I made a mental note. NOT. TO. PANIC.
“Just get a damp clean washcloth and pop the eye back in,” she said.
She explained that when a dog’s eye pops out a lot of times their people start running around and sobbing uncontrollably and that the damage to the eye actually happens on the way to the vet when it’s just dangling there while the people are grappling their pet. (I’m summarizing.)
I looked down at our nine-week-old perfect puppy and swore to myself that if/when her eye popped out, I would be ready.
I thought about it all the time after that. For years. I winced every time Lucy passed a coffee table. We were first-time parents, my husband and I - this was our first dog - we worried.
Damp clean washcloth.
Damp clean washcloth.
Damp clean washcloth.
When I met other owners of Boston Terriers, I asked them if they knew what to do if their dog’s eyes popped out. You know how it is, at the dog park. “What’s your dog’s name?” “Who’s their ophthalmologist?”
Chuck Palahniuk (another Boston Terrier owner) and I talked about it a hundred times. We both have very violent imaginations. We ran through what we would do. Mental drills. Just as later we ran through what to do when the brakes on our Priuses failed (shift to neutral, step on the parking brake, turn off the ignition, DON’T PANIC).
Be prepared. See?
It was easy.
Eye popping became such a worry of mine that I wrote a short story about it, a horror story.
When Lucy died (this was eight years ago, she was old, but it still makes me sad) she had both eyes intact.
I exhaled.
Our next Boston came from a puppy mill. I didn’t know it at the time, though the fact that I had to pick her up in the parking lot of a McDonalds should have been a clue. (“What kind of car will you be driving? I’ll find you.”)
We named her Rosie Vixen Towel Rubber because our daughter was four.
Rosie was special. Maybe clinically special?
If I’m really being honest she caused some friction in my marriage. Because, if I’m really being honest, I was an asshole. I had wanted a puppy for my birthday and my husband thought another pet wasn’t a good idea and he wasn’t on board. I kept asking. Finally he said something along the lines of “Fine, you’ll do what you want anyway,” which I took to mean “Go ahead and get a puppy!” If you speak “husband,” you know that this is not an accurate translation. But there we were - a week after my birthday - me, fresh from the McDonald’s parking lot with this very quirky dog. By quirky I mean that Rosie almost certainly had Down’s Syndrome.
My husband came to love her. I want to make that clear. And I learned an important lesson about not bringing home pets (or crab-shaped dining room sets) without making sure we were on the same page.
Rosie was a weird dog. But she was always sweet. When we brought home a corgi puppy years later (with a family contract signed by all involved), she let him chew on her cheeks until they were scabby. She raised that dog like he was her own.
So, as you’ve probably guessed, Rosie died. She was old. If I’m being honest, we don’t know how old. I thought she was 13. That’s what I’ve told people. But the emergency vet clinic (where we’d taken her once after an allergic reaction to a yellow jacket sting years ago - oh my goodness she was lumpy) had her age at 10 and change. When we work it out as a family - how old Eliza was when we got her - we come out to about 12.)
Over the last six months Rosie deteriorated mightily. Ha. Whom among us hasn’t? Rosie is ALL OF US.
She had a half dozen tumors/cysts - some the size of kumquats. Her paws bled for no reason. She was blind and mostly deaf, and she couldn’t smell very well. She had arthritis and fell down the stairs, and sometimes tripped on the sidewalk and face-planted and skinned her chin. Because her senses were so limited she was intent on following me around the house everywhere - something she had always done - but now did obsessively, because if I managed to leave the room, she had a hard time finding me. So every time I went downstairs, I had to carry her with me. So she wouldn’t follow and fall. When we woke up in the morning the first thing I did was to carry Rosie from our bed to the front yard so she could pee, and then to the couch, where I would read the paper beside her and then (if she was up for it) take her and the corgi for a walk - which lately almost always meant taking Rosie for a half block walk and then carrying her the rest of the walk or returning her home and leaving again with the corgi.
Rosie has a history of eye ulcers. Bug eyed breeds. It’s a fact of life. Ask a canine ophthalmologist. Once we had to give Rosie 5 different kinds of eye drops every two hours. For two weeks.
Like I said, she’s quirky.
A week ago she developed an irritation, an ulcer, in her left eye - this is the eye that always gave her trouble. Usually it clears up on its own after 3-5 days. It’s not pretty. It hurts. It’s an ulcer. In the eye.
This one didn’t clear up. It got worse.
Here’s the thing.
I should I have taken her in to see her vet, to see her ophthalmologist. I was worried.
We’re not allowed into any of these places - it’s just parking lot handoffs to vet techs. You hand your baby to a stranger and then sit in the car for a few hours, waiting for news. I was afraid. I was afraid they’d see all her tumors, that they’d listen to her heart murmur and ask us if we’d make an appointment with the cardiologist yet.
Today is my birthday.
This morning I took Rosie from our bed and carried her down to our front yard and - I don’t know how to put this differently, I’m sorry - her eye exploded. This is a complication that can happen with eye ulcers, apparently.
Damp clean washcloth.
Damp clean washcloth.
Damp clean washcloth.
Jesus Christ, how many times did I go through that mental drill?
Her eye exploded.
And I’m standing there in our front yard, in my PJs, no coffee. And this thing that I have worried about for decades has happened. And all I can do is cry out to my husband. And then he’s there, in his PJs, and he’s saying “What should I do?”
And I can’t find the words.
Or can’t form them.
[Yes, I know my tense is all over the place here.]
All that mental prep, all the drills - gone. I am helpless. I stammer. I’m sobbing.
I say, “clean washcloth.”
Understand that I am shaking now, hyperventilating at this point.
“Clean washcloth.”
He hesitates. “Should it be… damp?”
He runs upstairs. He’s gone forever. Maybe half a minute. He returns with a hand towel, having not been apparently able to locate a clean washcloth.
I try to hold it to Rosie’s eye - which, again, not to gross you out, but there’s a lot of blood and eye goop involved when an eyeball explodes. It is…intense.
Rosie is clearly in distress - because, obviously - but she’s also kind of frozen - she’s not frantic - she’s not pawing at her face - she’s just like, holy shit.
So I take this damp towel and lift it to Rosie’s eye.
I have, after all, been waiting for this moment - preparing for it - for half of my adult life - and then I realize, no.
Her eyeball has not popped out.
It has POPPED.
This is an entirely different situation!
I have been preparing for the wrong emergency. An adjacent one. But totally different.
The husband and I trade the dog back and forth and pull on our clothes.
Then hustle into the Prius with our daughter and head to the emergency vet.
A vet tech comes and takes Rosie from our car.
We wait.
We wait so long our car battery dies and we have to call Triple AAA.
Rosie has suffered a ruptured cornea. That’s the fancy term for a “popped eyeball.” That goop was the stuff in her eyeball, leaking out. She needs to have her eyeball - or what’s left of it - removed. This should be simple, but it’s not. It’s a whole thing. Rosie, with her heart murmur and her tumors, our girl who we hoped would make it through the holidays, in a perfect world there would be an echocardiogram and a cardiologist consult and a surgeon and full blood work and all the rest, and we don’t live in a perfect world. And they have options. We can skip the cardio consult and go with the riskier approach. But then what? She’s been suffering for months. Her world is so small. She can’t see or hear us. And yet she still knows we’re there. At what point do we make this stop?
I guess now.
“She is clearly greatly loved,” the vet wrote in our discharge papers.
Another parking lot. Another birthday.
We gathered up our girl and took her home. And we called a doctor to come to our living room and give her peace.
After a last meal of cheese pizza from Hot Lips, her favorite. She died happily, with all of us telling her over and over and over again that she was a good dog.
Then she fell asleep.
Rosie always loved to sleep.
The doctor left to give us a few minutes with her body. We were all sobbing, obviously. And then we heard the doctor come back to the door - but it turned out to be a Fed-ex delivery person with a package.
It’s my birthday, remember?
It was a box - a cake, it said on the label. We brought it in and set it down, and then the doctor returned and we set our girl in a basket and the doctor took her away to be cremated.
And we cried.
Because Jesus Christ losing a dog is hard.
And then I remembered the boxed cake. And I went to open it. Because I didn’t know who it was from, and I wanted to be able to send the person a text and I was also like, really, a boxed cake? So I opened it, all of us crying, and sure enough, there’s a box inside with a lid and instructions for how to open it - basically lifting the lid off the box - which seemed, I don’t know, kind of obvious - and I lifted the lid - and a dozen butterflies exploded from the box. They fluttered and spun through our kitchen! - not real butterflies - don’t worry - paper ones - and the box sides fell open and there were pictures of me and candy and a very tiny cake. And we were all so - I don’t know - stunned - I think I might have shrieked. And we all laughed so hard. Because it was so beautiful. And it took us by the shoulders and shook us from our grief. And it was exactly what we needed. It was the most perfect gift I’ve maybe ever gotten.
It’s 11:48.
And that was my birthday.
We had a dog.
We loved her hard.
And she died.
And all in all, it was okay.



I am not a lady.

I have never received as many emails addressed to “Ladies” than when I dipped my toes into comics. I made a really active conscious choice to work with an almost all female team (something that is, weirdly, rarely lauded or even recognized). There is a lot of back and forth in comics - internally - and externally. Editorial notes. Production notes. Emails from journalists and stores and blogs. Many of them start out with: “Hey, Ladies.”

Ladies. Because they are addressed to me, and to Lia Miternique and to our artist (either Kate Niemczyk or Elise McCall). And we are, granted, ladies. True fact.

Maybe it’s because we are working in a male-dominated industry. Maybe it’s because I have a 15-year-old daughter who keeps me engaged and awake. But the “ladies” thing makes me crazy.

If you’re talking to your lady friends, arranging brunch or whatever, hey, go for it. Call them ladies. 

If you’re talking to someone professionally, what the fuck are you thinking

When you address an email to “Ladies” you are saying that our lady-ness is the most important thing about us. It’s not. Our work is the most important thing about us - which is why you’re contacting us. 

Why use the term at all? What does it buy you? 

Use “Guys.” Okay. That’s fine. That is - colloquially - a gender neutral term. 

You know what else works?


Use our names.


We came for the royal wedding, we stayed for the ice cream.

From the archive.


How did I end up hauling my 6-year-old daughter to London for the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton?


Such harebrained schemes don't just happen. They infect you young and lurk in your nervous system for years, like shingles. I can tell you exactly when I caught royal fever.

It was July 29, 1981. I was 9 years old. I wasn't a princess-y kid. I was an Anglophile. Blame my mother. Blame “Masterpiece Theater,” which for years was one of the few shows she let me watch on TV. (I was the only kid I knew who was breathlessly following "Brideshead Revisited.")


My mother and I watched the TV movie about Charles and Diana. (Not a BBC production, but with accents, so still fancy.) I was at my dad's house in Key West on July 29 and I got up at 4 in the morning and watched the wedding on TV by myself. I drew that dress all summer, and when I got back to my mom's in the fall, I got a Lady Di haircut.


So when Prince William and Catherine-don't-call-me-Kate Middleton announced their engagement, I did not think I was being particularly crazy when I turned to my husband and said, "We're going."


"Um, I'm not," he said.


Eliza and I arrived in London on April 26. The city was ready. It seemed as if every shop window had some sort of wedding-themed display.


But the locals we met sounded less than enthused. What are you doing on "the free day off?" we heard them ask one another. It was three days before we met someone who was actually going to participate in the fanfare, and he was just planning on taking his kids to his local street party. So who were all these people we were seeing camping out in tents along the procession route? Australians?


"We should get a tent," Eliza said as we rode past them in a cab.


"We aren't getting a tent," I said, thinking of our expensive hotel room. But as the wedding day approached, I started a campaign to control Eliza's expectations. "We probably aren't going to be able to see them up close," I said. "There are going to be a lot of people."


"Can we bring a ladder?" Eliza asked.


"No," I said.


"Well," she said. "You're just going to have to lift me up as high as you can."


The night before the wedding, we couldn't sleep. I thought about heading down to the procession route to wait for eight hours on the sidewalk. (I really did.) But here's the thing about doing that sort of thing with a 6-year-old: If one of you has to pee, you're both going to the Honey Bucket, and it's not as if anyone is going to save your place.


So we waited until morning when the alarm went off. Eliza wore an elegant gold dress and a red cape with a black and white fur collar. I wore jeans and a T-shirt, and the most English piece of clothing I own -- my London Fog trench coat. We started walking toward the palace, about a mile away.


It was quiet at first.


We hurried along the sidewalk. Everyone had been worried about rain, but the morning was beautiful. I was regretting the trench coat.


We could see people now up ahead. They were streaming along the sidewalks and streets. I decided to follow the crowd. Suddenly we were in a throng of thousands. Women in silly hats and tiny dresses teetered along in stiletto heels. Families pushed strollers festooned with Union Jack flags. Girls wore T-shirts that read, "It should have been me." The crowd surged into Hyde Park and suddenly we were in a sea of a million people. That's not hyperbole -- I read it later in the paper, there were a million people in that park.



Three enormous JumboTron screens had been erected to broadcast the action. Even so, I had to hoist Eliza up to see, because when those million people saw the queen arrive at the Abbey, they all stood up and waved their flags, and they didn't sit back down. These people had come for the day. They brought blankets, and were drinking beer -- at 10 in the morning. When William and Catherine began their vows, the crowd went silent.


"I thought her dress would be longer," Eliza said.


"Shh," I said.


Then it was over. They were pronounced married. The shouting was deafening.


I had one thing on my mind: kissing.


After a wedding, the royal couple stands on the balcony at Buckingham Palace and kiss -- it's what they do.


"Let's go," I said to Eliza.


I could see people peeling off, and Eliza and I followed them, assuming they were all going somewhere important. It turned out that somewhere important was the nearest tube station. I pulled out my map from our double-decker bus tour, located our position, and plotted our route to the mall. Eliza was excited for a minute about this -- thinking we were going to the Gap and then maybe Jamba Juice. I explained that it was not that kind of mall.


It took a long time to get there. People kept stopping us and asking to take Eliza's picture. Someone gave her free ice cream. "Ooh, royalty's coming!" a cop said as Eliza walked by in her cape.


"I'm taking this thing off," Eliza said.

The crowd was thick at the entrance to the mall. I had a firm grip on Eliza's wrist and pulled her sideways between people. I wasn't even sure where we were going. I just figured that this many people jammed together must be jammed together for a reason.


The mall itself was closed off by barricades, and guarded by police. I could see the police in their fluorescent yellow jackets chasing people in the park near the mall, forcing them out the gates. The crowd was pressing against the barricades and I picked Eliza up so she could get some air.


It was hot now. My trench coat was off, jammed under my arm, along with Eliza's cape. No one was moving, but it seemed everyone was trying to move. It was the first time I have ever felt the power that a crowd has, how it becomes its own sort of organism, capable of crushing people.


Suddenly, I didn't give a toss about the kiss. My main goal was to get Eliza out of there.


It took some doing. But we made it back to the hotel and turned on the TV in time to see the police lift the barricades and guide the crowd down the mall to the palace. If we had stayed we would have been right up front, with a great view. As it was, we saw the balcony moment, like most of the world, on TV.


After a few hours, we ventured out again. We saw the palace guard on horseback and the revelers still outside the palace.


Eventually, Eliza joined some other little girls who discovered that if they sat down in their puffy dresses, all that silk and taffeta made for excellent toboggans on a slanted marble monument in St. James Park. The girls slid on their backs and on their bellies, and the grown-ups watched. None of us told them to try to keep their dresses clean.


"This was the best day of my life," Eliza told me on the way out of the park.


"What was your favorite part?" I asked.


"The ice cream," she said.

The Unicorn Question

From the archive...

We were just arriving home from the park, when my daughter sprung the question. She was on her bike. I was on foot. It was a beautiful day, though overcast, and the park had been muddy, and she was a little tired from the bike ride home. She'd been quiet the last half-block. I blamed it on muscle fatigue. It turns out she was mulling the nature of reality.

"Can we go to the jungle and see unicorns?" she asked. She said it casually, as if she were asking to go to the zoo and see elephants. 

My daughter is approaching 4, and we expect these big questions every now and again. We'd watched "The Adventures of Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn and had an exhaustive discussion as to why Prince John could be a bad guy when he seemed so nice. ("But he's a prince," she kept saying, "and happy.")


But I was not prepared for The Unicorn Question.


I decided to attempt a sidestep.


"Unicorns don't live in the jungle," I said.


My daughter pushed her bike up the grass hill to our yard. "Where do they live?" she asked.


This stumped me. "Um, meadows?" I said.


She turned back and squinted at me, clearly dubious. "Meadows?"


"The old English countryside?" I guessed.


She wasn't buying it. "Where do unicorns really live?" she asked.


I had to come clean. "In a magic land," I said.


She frowned. "Can we go there?"


I forced a big excited, fake smile. "That's the great thing about magic lands, you can go any time you want, because they exist in your imagination," I said.


She stood in the yard, her pink bike helmet strapped under her chin, and looked at me the way she sometimes looks at her father. "Are unicorns real?" she asked.


There it was.


What was I supposed to do? Lie? It was a direct question. "They're imaginary," I said, immediately feeling like a jerk.


"Like dinosaurs?" she asked.


"Dinosaurs used to be real," I said. "They lived a long, long time ago. Unicorns are made up."


Her mouth tightened for a moment, and then she turned back toward the house and started to walk her bike toward the porch. "OK," she said.


I felt like a monster. I had destroyed her belief in unicorns. I was a unicorn murderer. I imagined piles of unicorn carcasses, their horns snapped off, their white coats matted with blood.


We went inside and sat down with my husband.


"I don't see the moon," my daughter said to him. (It was mid-afternoon, and the sky was entirely blanketed with clouds.)


"It's on the other side of the world," my husband said.


"No it's not," she said. She peered out the French doors to the backyard. "It's out there." In her defense, we had seen the moon in the daytime sky a few weeks earlier.


"It's too cloudy," I said.


"It's on the other side of the world," my husband said again. Sometimes he thinks we ignore him.


She craned her neck so she could see more sky. "I can't find it," my daughter said.


"Trust me," my husband said.


My daughter crossed her arms. "I want to see the moon," she said.


My husband reached for her toy phone, which was sitting on the coffee table.


"Hello?" he said into it. "Is this the moon?" He paused. "Where are you now?" He listened and nodded and then looked over at our daughter. "Oh, the other side of the world?" He paused. "Would you mind telling my daughter that?" He held the phone out to her. "The moon wants to talk to you," he said.


She took the phone and held it to her ear. "Hello, Moon," she said. She listened for a moment. "OK," she said. "I understand. Goodbye." She lowered the phone and turned back to my husband. "The moon says that it is half up today," she said. "And that you are wrong."


Her imagination was intact, unicorn massacre notwithstanding.

Good Luck

My daughter is 3 1/2 and an only child, so I spend a lot of time trying to keep her busy. This requires coming up with a lot of activities, and my suggestions are fast and furious. 

Why don't you draw a tree! Do a puzzle! Build a fort! Every idea has an exclamation mark.

If I Gatling gun enough ideas, one will hit, and my daughter will go off happily with an activity.


Sometimes she just wants to crawl on me.

We were in the front yard this past week, after a long walk. I had walked. She had been in the stroller. We/I had walked a very long way to a bike store, which had been closed, and then back home, up a slight incline that I had barely noticed on the way to the bike store, but became K2 on the way back up pushing a 35-pound kid.

So we were in the front yard. Because I was too tired to haul the stroller up the front-porch steps. "Let's rest," I suggested, collapsing on the bottom step.

But my daughter had not walked, and didn't need to rest. She wanted to throw her body as hard as she could against mine.

"Why don't you run around with the dog?" I suggested.

"I don't want to," she said.

"Why don't you run up and down the hill?" I said. Our yard slopes down to the sidewalk. This would wear her out for sure.

"I don't want to," she said.

I glanced out at the yard, blotchy brown in parts, green in others. Most of the actual grass had dried to a crunchy straw, but the clover in the yard seemed to be thriving.

Which gave me an idea. "Why don't you look for a four-leaf clover?" I said. This would keep her busy for hours. I spent my childhood looking for a four-leaf clover, searching every yard, every sidewalk crack, every park, carefully picking through 10 billion three-leaf ones. And it was only in this moment, with my daughter, that I realized that my mother had come up with that activity because I was 3 1/2, and an only child, and she wanted to keep me busy.

I never did find a four-leaf clover, but some of my favorite memories are of lying in the grass, trying.

"What's a four-leaf clover?" my daughter asked.

I showed her a three-leaf clover. "Look for one with four leaves. They're very special, and if you find one, it's good luck."

"OK," she said. She surveyed the yard, and pointed to a nearby clump of green. "I think I'll go search that clover family over there," she said.

I leaned back on the steps and looked up at the sky, enjoying the sun on my face and the peace and quiet of an occupied small child.

My daughter tapped me on the shoulder.

"I found one," she said.

It had been a few minutes. I smiled to myself. I remembered that. Thinking I'd found one, only to have an adult point out that one of the leaves was just folded over. "You want one with four leaves," I reminded her gently, "not three."

"It does have four leaves," she said.

She held the clover out to me. I examined it. It had four leaves. I had spent a million hours looking for a four-leaf clover as a kid and my daughter had found one in three minutes.

I counted them again.

One. Two. Three. Four.

"You have got to be kidding me," I said.

"Do you want me to find another one?" my daughter asked.

I looked from her back to the clover and to her again. "Do you know what this means?" I asked her. "How rare this is? This is incredible."

She placed her hand sweetly on my arm. "Mom," she said. "You can have it."

And she ran downhill to the sidewalk and back up again.

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