There’s a commonality in most every book I’ve written and it won’t surprise those who know me that it’s food. I don’t profess to be a culinary genius or even a true gourmet (as my current lunch of black cherry yogurt and rolled-up deli turkey would attest). But, I do like to cook and to eat, and because eating is something many of us do every day, often in the company of others, the sharing of a meal or the search for a snack or the excitement of preparing a special dish crops up in a lot of my work.Continue reading “Recipes for readers: Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook dishes by Ericka Sanchez”
MVP Summer Is Almost Here!
I realized in making this post that I just might write books faster than I update this site. A good thing for books, a not-great thing for me when I come here and notice I have a lot of work to do! Anyway, this is just a quick note to say a couple things: 1. I really do hope to post a bit more frequently. Not that if you’re into hearing from me frequently you can’t already do that on Twitter (where I am… a lot) or Instagram, but because lately I’ve been thinking I’d like to use this space for updates (what a concept!) and the occasional post about a great thing I read or saw or did. But… we’ll see. Just know that I am often writing great posts in my head. And, 2. the second book in Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook series is almost here! MVP Summer, per the blurb:Continue reading “MVP Summer Is Almost Here!”
Gabby Garcia’s Haiku How-To
Haiku, here’s the thing
Seventeen syllables are
Easy-ish to string
Gabby Garcia is, above all else, a pitcher. An all-star pitcher. She loves baseball because anything can happen but she also loves that, to a degree, the rules make sense.
In GABBY GARCIA’S ULTIMATE PLAYBOOK, my first middle grade novel where I introduce Gabby and her strategies to the world, Gabby has to switch schools in the middle of the baseball season and struggles to keep a life win streak on track. When things don’t go as she hoped with her new school’s ball team, she decides she needs a new “thing” to be awesome at.
An Gabby’s writer and guardian, I had to figure out what that thing was. Though she prides herself on athleticism, she has, I think, the soul of a poet. Or, really, I decided she did when she was searching for a non-baseball area to excel in. (The reasons: She tends to ruminate on things, she likes to write, and she’s the kind of player who totally takes notice of small details on the field – the green of the grass, a bird’s happy chirp, the fluffiness of a cloud.)
If free verse is a messy game of tag on an endless playing field with words that can run to and fro (or decide to cartwheel or skip or fly) and a sonnet is perhaps more refined, with boundaries and schemes (maybe an elegant game of tennis, somewhat mathematical and aligned) then a haiku is, to Gabby anyway, a pitch.
Curve balls and sliders
Tossed stitches spinning so fast
Let balls (and words) fly
Each one is unique but has to hit a target – in this case a 5-7-5 syllable per line limit. (Note: the 5-7-5 syllable scheme applies to the English interpretation of haiku. Haiku is a traditional Japanese form for poems about seasons and nature, and the language contains many polysyllabic words so haiku as it was originally conceived in 13th Century Japan is often shorter than my examples and in fact the rules guiding it are more strict.)
In GABBY GARCIA’S ULTIMATE PLAYBOOK, When Gabby is down for the count with her friends, she goes to the haiku as a way not to solve her problems entirely but to express something to each of them to get herself back in the game.
I’ve always loved jotting haikus because they’re great as warm-ups to the heavier writing I have to do every day. And if I throw out a really bad one, I only used 17 syllables. And, like baseball pitches, which have different speeds and drops and curves, a haiku can take on different tones: comic, thoughtful, joyful.
Whatever approach you choose, here are a few fun ways to write haiku alone or in a group.
Infinite Possibilities. If you’re working on haiku in a group (or are a teacher or librarian), one great exercise is to pick a subject and have everyone pen his or her own haiku – then read them and see how many variants. It’s amazing that 17 syllables can offer so many possibilities.
I Spy Haiku. Another fun game is for each writer in a group to pen a haiku about something nearby without naming it. Then, have each poet read their creation and have other writers guess what they were writing about.
Haiku Me-to-You. This is a game of sorts, like a writing round robin. In it, the first writer pens a haiku with a reference to the season or month. From there, each subsequent writer adds a haiku verse, which should feel linked (sometimes even very loosely) to a concept or thought in the verse before. These should be fiction, and the collaborative nature of the game should lead to comic or wild poems by the end.
Haiku Diary. Grab a pack of index cards and write a haiku a day. It could be a form of diary keeping or a way to highlight one great thing each day or just a nice retrospective on what was important or interesting or funny or maddening that day (in 17 syllables, of course).
Mostly though, if you’re thinking of taking up poetry in any form or fashion, there are two main rules I have to offer: 1. Read lots of poetry. Read lots in general. 2. Write a lot. Get things right. Get things wrong. Play around. Keep going.
This lesson over?
Not to lessen what you learned
But it just started
Little, But Not for Long
I must have been in a Target fugue state when I bought them – matching pajamas in a 5T for Clark and 12 months for Nate. Never have I ever been the person who wanted to dress her kids in the same things. Like taking ocean cruises, I totally understand why people succumb to the urge but it doesn’t hold much appeal for me.
But I did and so it was that Nate’s tiny shirt wound up mixed in with Clark’s stuff.
After dinner a few weeks ago, he emerged from his bedroom – all three feet, eight inches and 42ish pounds of him – somehow with his big-brother torso jammed into little-bro Nate’s pajama shirt. His belly button peeked out. I don’t think he even noticed at first, until I said, “Is that Nathan’s shirt?”
He looked down and saw his belly. He wriggled his arms up and down, testing and examining them as if he was checking that his putting on the shirt hadn’t caused him to also switch bodies with a 10-month-old.
The sly grin that is his birthright claimed his face. “That’s silly,” he murmured, some kind of cue to himself to commence a loose-limbed dance performed for maximum laughs. He paused and dryly said, “I bet the shirt fits because Nate has such a big head.” Nate does. But so does Clark, another fact made ultra-apparent by his form-fitting crop top. Still, he will work Nate’s outsize head into a joke whenever possible.
But it struck me, as I later helped Clark extract his own sizable noggin from the shirt, just how very small he is. He may be one of the tallest in his class, he may be able to lift a heavy box from the bottom of a shopping cart, but here was my almost 5-year-old in my not-yet-1-year-old’s shirt.
I hugged him, my arms long enough or he small enough that I could easily envelope his frame and still have room for my hands to touch my own forearms again.
We think of our kids in terms of milestones and things they know and what they do and what they say. We know they are small. But so often we say or hear someone say, “He’s getting so big!” that – especially after the baby years are over and they gradually grow more adept at doing things apart from us – we fail to stop and take in that they are so very small.
As I write this, Clark is on the cusp of 5. Somehow, the coming age is like an alarm: He won’t be small like this for much longer.
He still holds my hand, often when I’m carrying his little brother, whose own tiny, chubby palm is often on my cheek, reaching for my glasses, grabbing my lower lip, or clasped to my shoulder. Nate’s hands still have that baby-ness to them. I squeeze them constantly, kiss the sticky palms and enjoy how tight he holds my index fingers when he wants my help to stand.
Clark hands are stronger and usually too busy climbing, making art, or writing letters to be squeezed with such frequency. But we walk places in our neighborhood a lot and as we do, he never fails to close his fingers around mine whenever we approach a street. Then I squeeze tight, knowing that once we cross, he’ll want to run ahead of me and I’ll watch, alert so that I can yell “stop!” if I see a hazard ahead of him.
But every so often, he’ll continue to hold on once we’ve made it to the other side. I don’t ask him why, just run a thumb over his fingers – growing longer and less fleshy by the day – and enjoy it.
He’s still narrow enough that I can fan my fingers out and cover the entire span of his back, as easily as Michael Jordan can palm a basketball. The bones beneath the skin rise against my hand as he breathes. It reminds me of his first breaths when the nurses set him on my chest.
I remember those breaths but I can’t fathom any longer the helpless floppiness of him as a brand-new baby. I can’t feel the featherweight of his body – 6 pounds, 14 ounces at birth but only 6 pounds, 3 ounces when they sent him home. The fear of harming him was of a quantity in inverse proportion to his scrawniness. I can remember looking at his wise but alien face in the dark as I walked him around the house trying to get him to sleep, always waiting for disaster and thinking “Why would they let such idiots take him home?”
He is so certain of himself now, and even Nathan, though still a baby, is so his own dense and directional being that, try as I might, I can’t call up even phantom pains of what it was like to clutch either of their newborn-baby selves.
When I pick Clark up from school, he’s standing on the ramp railing where the kids line up before they’re released. He’s not supposed to stand up there but he does – if it’s climbable he wants to climb it — and he’s scouting for me. When he sees me, he clicks into action, beginning to talk to me before I’m even in earshot, telling me where he fell on the color chart of his teacher’s behavior spectrum. I can always tell if he’s dropped below the baseline of green, as those are the days he doesn’t climb the rail, and his eyes shift to look at anyone but me.
But when his teacher sees me and gives him the okay to go, he runs down and if Nate’s not with me, sometimes I lift him up. I sweep him right into my arms, maybe sometimes foolishly because it doesn’t matter if I’m in heels. He reflexively folds his skinny limbs around me.
He’s not a kid that wants to ride in a stroller, even if his baby brother is. He practically never asks to be carried when we’re out unless he’s just woken on a long car ride. But he’s delighted to be picked up by surprise, even more tickled when I cross the street with him in my arms.
“You’re carrying me,” he says.
“I dunno. I like to.”
There’s a paradoxical greed to carrying him – he thinks I am doing something for him but it’s more for me. He’ll never quite get it, until maybe he has his own kids.
And he’s getting too big for it, probably. He’s independent to perhaps a fault and it might be better if I let him lead me off the playground. And he’s getting too physically big for me to keep lifting him like it’s nothing. Still, I’m certain that he will be the one to put a kibosh on being carried long before I make myself stop doing it out of concern for my back.
There’s a push and pull at work of wanting to carry him for as long as I can while also knowing that I want him to go as far away as he needs to or wants to.
It’s why I help him pronounce and spell things like “bioluminescent glow” but hesitate to correct him every time he says “I pick-ted the blue one.”
It’s why I cradle his head after the last bedtime story and stay with him. I know he won’t admit that he’s not crazy about the dark but it’s there in his suggestion: “Maybe you should stay a little and we can just rest.”
As he grows more and more in every way, he becomes not just my son but this interesting companion who I want to teach, of course, but who’s also teaching me. And while I find myself having to explain things to him or scold him or make sure he finishes the good stuff on his plate, it’s getting easier to easier to forget or to not see his size.
But yes, he’s also my little friend sometimes, beckoning me toward those easily accessed joys. Like when we’re walking home from the library and he gets a twinkle in his eye and says, grinning, “should we jump off that wall?” And it’s a small brick wall but to him it was a big deal when he finally took a leap from it and now he’s gotten better at it but is still tentative. And I think there’s something under his words, and he wants me up there with him, so I say yes and we climb up and jump down several times. “That was really great, wasn’t it?”
And it was.
At some point, he won’t want my company or witness to jump off that wall. But he doesn’t believe me when I tell him this.
And I have Nathan, still tiny and holdable for much longer. But I know it’s going to be different than with Clark. I see in him such admiration and love for his older brother that I already know he’s going to want to be by Clark’s side as much as he wants to be in my or his father’s arms. There’s a good chance I won’t get to absorb his smallness the same way I did with Clark, an only child for nearly four years. It’s the way of it and with a brother like Clark, I can’t blame him.
But I’ll carry him, too, when he needs me to, and hopefully sometimes when he doesn’t.
It would be nice to never forget the physical feel of our children in our arms, to call it up, like riding a bike. But it’s not like riding a bike at all.
Sometimes during our rest, Clark talks to in me the dark and says, “I’m worried it’s going too fast. I don’t want to grow up too fast.” Even after a day where he seemed to career head-on into growing too fast.
So I tell him he is always my baby, always my little boy. And he is but he also will not be. So why not carry him for as long as he’ll let me?
Falling In Love is Hard on Your Me(s)
Back in the day, the poets used to write about falling in love like it was magical, mysterious, complex, maybe even a little painful. We didn’t know the how, and definitely not about the why.
But, apparently, all those poets were idiots.
Today, things are warmer, fuzzier and explained in full in millions of listicles on the Internet. And the one fact we can all be completely sure of about love is that to fall in love, we have to love ourselves first. Not sure on the attribution, but my guess is Dr. Phil or another balding man in a turtleneck. Or maybe Nicholas Sparks, who then charged someone $8 million to use it as the entire premise of a movie. And if something costs $8 million dollars and is in a movie, you know it’s true.
But, hard-to-love contrarian that I am, I don’t know if I agree. I mean, if I look around at the people seemingly in love and think that if those people not only have to love each other but also themselves… Well, mathematically, the odds seem slim. Have you met most people?
Still, I guess I could do better than just tolerating me. So, I set out to finally, finally fall in love with myself.
Like a man, the way to my heart is probably through my eating parts, but since someone’s already cooked their way through Julia Child and since I’m not looking to waste much time on this whole loving-myself business, I needed something more expedient.
And according to the New York Times, there’s now an easy, foolproof way to fall in love with anyone. Yeah, I answered those 36 Questions that guarantee you’ll fall in love with their object.
So, get ready to watch me fall in love … with me.
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Someone who will return only the lids of any Tupperware I send home with them, because I never have enough lids. Also, any child who’s ever climbed up inside one of those crane machines. I may have a job for them.
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
In a way I can be famous for.
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
No. Because I never speak into telephones. Sorry to anyone I’ve called lately.
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Today would have been pretty perfect if you didn’t have to go and say “perfect” like that, “friend.”
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
I’m always singing. You mean you can’t tell? God, between this and your sarcastic “perfect,” I’m feeling super-insignificant.
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
By retain, what are we talking? Because I’d rather have a 30-year-old’s mind in a jar than the whole body. I don’t have much closet space
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
It’s not secret. The biological functions that sustain me will cease. What, you didn’t know about this?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
I am my partner. We seem to have most things in common. Especially our appearance and skepticism about these questions’ effectiveness.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
That I know a trick question when I see one.
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
That I prefer just climbing things myself. Please stop raising me when I haven’t asked you to.
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
I will do it in 4 seconds: Nothing like Abraham Lincoln’s but also from Illinois.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
I don’t know. By tomorrow I should be in love with myself so therefore will think I’m pretty amazing and in need of no new qualities.
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
If it thinks these earrings make my ass look big.
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
Because I don’t know where to get a unicorn so that I can drink its still-warm magical blood. God, like you’ve fulfilled all your dreams.
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
If I fall in love with myself by question 36, then that. Otherwise, meeting Rosalynn Carter when I was 3.
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
The ship. Because I can probably sell it.
17. What is your most treasured memory?
All the times I’ve been asked to think about treasured memories are pretty special.
18. What is your most terrible memory?
Any time I’m not answering question 17.
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
I would stop writing “Die today?” on all the boxes of my 2015 calendar. Because obviously 2016 is the year.
20. What does friendship mean to you?
Never telling someone that they’re going to die next year.
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
This question is setting me up to fail in a way I don’t like.
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
This seems time-consuming. No, thank you.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
I mean, you want to say it’s warm, but it really depends on the humidity.
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
Um, does your mom know you’re asking this?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
We both know there is only one of us.
We are the same person.
We don’t know if this questionnaire is working.
Bonus “we” statement: We might have better spent the time we used for these questions pursuing a mutual hobby or interest.
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
Single-serve packages of Nutter Butters. Wait, we totally do that.
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
I would never be friends with me. There, saved you some time.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
I like the honesty I see radiating from the very core of you. (Thus, me.)
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
That time I lied to you on question 28.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
Now, because our life is a lie and this is no way to start a new relationship.
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
That we’ve made it to question 31 together. Should we celebrate this milestone? I’ll get the gin.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
My Internet passwords. But you’re not supposed to just give those away. Total conundrum, right?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
Probably something flammable. For obvious reasons.
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
For next time, just know that this is a gruesome question to put at the end. Put the hopes-and-dreams stuff here and the deathy stuff at the top. Kills the mood.
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
I think I’m less in love with myself now than when I started. So what do I do, self, to make sure people know this questionnaire is a failure?
Verdict: I would not ask myself for a second date but I’d totally stalk me on Facebook. That counts as being in love, right?
If You Are What You Eat, My Baby Will Be a Smorgasboard
Just wanted to share this piece I wrote for Babble.com, about the terrors of wanting to eat everything while pregnant.
I want morels and mussels and slippery escargot with a crusty baguette. If I had long-distance telekinesis, I’d immediately order a poppy-seed bagel from Zabar’s, and that’s after I just had to stop myself from finishing a whole box of Good & Plenty. And hey, if you happen through a McDonald’s drive-thru, I’d like a double cheeseburger and an Egg McMuffin. I know they stopped serving breakfast at 11. I don’t care.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy Good & Plenty!
Get The Summers Free Through August 2!
I’m so excited to announce that the Kindle edition of my new book, The Summers, is free on Amazon through August 2 via Whispernet.
It’s super-easy to get your copy. Just visit alloyentertainment.com for details and the link. (And don’t forget to share the info with your favorite readers!)
Here’s a little more on the book:
For Kate Sommers, there’s nothing that compares to summer at her family’s beach house on Cape Cod: the ocean breezes, the clam bakes, the boys. She and her three sisters seemed to have all their “firsts” over those long months—first job, first party, first crush. Kate’s first crush is her only crush—Ryan Landry, the boy next door, and her older sister Eliza’s on-again, off-again summer fling.
But it’s been three years since Kate and her sisters have spent a summer in Cape Cod. When their mom died, no one could imagine going back without her. Now eighteen, the whole Sommers family is headed to the Cape for Eliza’s wedding and Kate must find the strength to be there for her family.
When Kate spots Ryan, she realizes how much has changed since he last set eyes on her. She isn’t the gawky fifteen-year-old that she once was, and this could be the summer that Ryan finally takes notice. Eliza says she’s moved on, but Kate knows better than anyone that Ryan Landry isn’t the kind of guy you give up without a fight…
Happy Casimir Pulaski Day!
I woke up this morning with the really strong feeling that I should have the day off work. Then, I checked my email and had a message from Millie’s Pierogi, a mail-order pierogi outfit based in Ohio. (Yes, I subscribe to a lot of e-commerce newsletters through which I can order meats, cheeses and starches.) This convergence of events led me to realize: It’s Casimir Pulaski Day!
This day is very important to me for several reasons:
1. I am not Polish but I know a lot of Polish people, having grown up on the South Side of Chicago. They make excellent food (see above: pierogi and let’s not forget sausages or kolacky) and excellent White Sox (see: A.J. Pierzynski).
2. Growing up, this day always marked a three-day weekend for Illinois public schools, even though most of us, when pressed, would not have been able to tell you much — if anything — about Casimir Pulaski. We should have been able to: Look at his amazing mustache, above, not to mention his showy horse-riding skills.
3. Pulaski is a street about a mile from where I grew up in Chicago and contains many landmarks of which I am fond:
- O’Reilly’s Daughter, a pub outside of which I met and shook hands with Barack Obama in 2000 at a fundraiser for the only election he ever lost;
- a Showbiz Pizza (I think now a Chuck E. Cheese) where I celebrated my birthday once, even though my mom was very nervous I’d be kidnapped there;
- a cigar-store Indian on top of an optometrist that I’d pass on my way to I-55, the Stevenson Expressway;
- Brother Rice High School, whose prom was more fun than my own with better music;
- Wojo’s, a hot dog stand with 60 flavors of milkshakes!
4. Because Casimir Pulaski Day weekend figures prominently in my book, The End of the World As We Know It. I can’t be sure, but I sincerely think it might be the only teen action-adventure sci-fi comedy ever to be set on and around this auspicious day. And, yes, I do promise that if you read it, you will have a more-than-cursory understanding of who Casimir was and why he was important. (Plus, other stuff.)
Now, how fast do you think FedEx can ship me some pierogi?
The Oscars’ Most YA-Worthy Moment That Probably Didn’t Really Happen
I’m supposed to be working a new project right now. But, every time I go to type, I instead picture the awkward moments we didn’t see at the Academy Awards.
So, in hopes of restoring some of my productivity, here’s the moment I want to see:
ANNE HATHAWAY, perky and flushed pink, is powdering her nose in the ladies’ room at the Governors’ Ball. Her GOLDEN OSCAR looks proud on the marble counter top next to the faucet.
The door swings open. KRISTEN STEWART, resplendently askew, enters, her fingers tangled in a knot of hair.
ANNE (placing protective hand on newly acquired Oscar statue)
What could-be YA moments, real or imagined, did you take away last night?
My first, and best, tip for aspiring writers:
Write like the Internet had never been invented.