Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yes & No, December Edition.

Yes, you can have a whole cookie. No, you cannot have a whole pie. Yes, you can flirt with the Salvation Army Santa. No, you can't stalk Facebook for college boys wearing Santa hats. Yes, you can buy yourself a present. No, it can’t be a car. Yes, you can cook a big family dinner. No, it can’t be catered. Yes, you can spike the eggnog. No, you can’t hire a cute bartender in a Santa hat to serve it. Yes, you can quit going to someone’s annual party. No, you can’t quit your job. Yes, you can make New Year’s Resolutions. No, you don’t have to keep them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book 'em.

A funny thing happened when I tried to build a tree out of books. 1) I learned that many of my books are upstairs. 2) I learned that I was lazy. But as I built my miniature tree from the books I keep near my workspace, I felt like I was standing on the shoulders of all the writers I admire, all the writers who have helped me, who have held my hand, who have lent their shoulders to cry on. Thank you for helping me build my career. And my tree.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On numbers.

The SAT score. The scale. The calendar. The checkbook balance. The address. The counted candles. The filed rejections. The miles on the car. The time in the race. The friends, the followers. If you really loved numbers, you'd follow Nate Silver's path, not Dorothy Parker's path. Remember that.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

What's lost.

Post-hurricane, with a miraculously un-flooded basement, I think about the things that can't be replaced, like family photos. And the things that can, if supplies can reach you. Many of the book clubs I've visited are in some of the most ravaged areas of the Northeast. I know it seems like a small thing -- but if anyone knows a voracious reader whose book collection was decimated -- I have lots of current titles to share, and many other writers who can donate. Email me at

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Mid-way through the day's writing, I often take a walk. Not a power walk. Just a stroll. Today I was reminded that even in autumn, winter's colors assert themselves. I swear I smelled evergreen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Happily, Foolishly, I Dance.

As I once explained to the dude at the Genius Bar . . . part of my social media strategy is to make an ass of myself. So when I told some folks recently that I did a dance whenever I hit 100, 200 or 300 pages, they extracted a promise from me. I hope they are happy now! Watch and weep.

Friday, August 10, 2012

On ephemera.

Something about being around footprints and sandcastles makes me think of the importance of permanence to a writer. We don't write our novels on train trellises (trelli?) or bathroom walls. A novel is not graffiti, just waiting for the inevitable painting over. We expect novels to last, because they take so long to write, build, bind. And yet. Have you ever been at a campground and witnessed someone throwing away the first half of a paperback to lighten their backpack? This is what e-books are: the lightening of our loads. The cleanliness, the refreshment of that is what tempts. But by making novels electronic, have we accidentally pitched them forward, light-speeding them, pinballing ahead? Do e-books force plots to go faster? Do they make sentences slide by before we appreciate them? This is how the journalist feels, the here-today-gone-tomorrow. Are we doing this now, with novels? Or are we betting that the experience will last, even as the form mutates?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No word.

My favorite time of night, there is no word for. Past sunset, pre-moon, when the sky approaches navy but still shows an occasional streak of pink or gold. Last night it struck me that this is how the middle child feels, sandwiched between the flashy orange and the needy stars, whispering: look at me. Aren't I pretty, too?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

___ in ____

An icon for writing a novel: uu in L Translation: butt in chair. (Aren't you relieved I am only showing you one side of that equation?) Forgive the lack of content this summer. Occasionally tweeting @kellysimmons. Even more occasional blogging. I'm butting-in-chair-ing as fast as I can.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

On Book Binding

My mother and father didn't read books, they read magazines. So while I can attribute my magazine obsession to them (from Oprah to People to The New Yorker to Rolling Stone) my book obsession I attribute to boredom, and confusion, and the desire for a safe haven in a complex childhood. This article in The Times today about a son's book club with his dying mother, touched me tremendously even though I couldn't relate to doing it with a parent. There is something very precious about a tiny book club of two. I've felt this way with my friend Suzie, who has incredible taste in books, and my sister, who is the only person who understood all the reasons I sobbed over The Lovely Bones. Book clubs aren't for everyone. But the right book can bind you forever, and give you memories as vivid as a shared vacation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Club Decorating

I love it when book clubs do something to celebrate the book. Yesterday I visited a group of 3 combined book clubs who decorated with bird houses in honor of THE BIRD HOUSE. A simple thing, but it warms my heart. Another group who read STANDING STILL served french fries because the lead character, Claire, was obsessed with them while she was kidnapped. Love.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On doing stand-up.

When Jim Breslin asked me to be a guest storyteller at West Chester Story Slam's April gathering, and tell a story on the theme "Rise Above" -- I was okay with it. Gulp. Glasses aside, I'm no Tina Fey, but there were no tomatoes thrown.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Two Great Novels in a Row.

How is this possible, that I just read another book I adored? Here is the sparest of premises: a professor overhears a therapist and patient speaking in the office next door. Overidentification ensues. Brilliantly written. Unbearably simple yet historically rich. Thank you Ellen Ullman for much-needed distraction -- and inspiration.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Just a reminder.

Sometimes where you need to be is right where you are. And it isn't at the computer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Every So Often, Wow.

Okay, first of all: the cover is genius. Perfect for public reading. This cover makes eBooks weep. Second of all, the plot is so subtle, yet so tense. And the writing. Oh. Oh. Oh. So simple, and yet so not. The last chapter absolutely stunned me with its tensile power. Myla Goldberg, the only thing that would make me more jealous is if you are Natalie Goldberg's daughter.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The lost art.

At the urging of a friend I started another blog This one is devoted to letters, which I'll add periodically. Happy to write one on any topic anyone needs, just ask.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Six word novels.

How long does it take to write a six-word novel? (If you're Hemingway, probably a minute; me, longer.) My attempts, presented in chronological order. I think I improved.

Left me. Took wheelchair. Still crawling.
Bet the house, lost the showgirl.
Around his neck: Purple heart, noose.
Abandoned. Adopted. Abused. Pregnant. Scared. Repeat.

Weigh in. Share yours. Have fun.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Making Breakfast.

It begins on the day she is born: A mother making breakfast for a child.
There will be rituals: clock, bottle, cloth.
There will be equipment: bowl, pitcher, curved silver spoon.
Then, just as astonishingly as it began, there is an end.
When do you stop making your child breakfast?

My girls have assembled their own breakfasts for a very long time. This is, after all, a skill. No one wants to send their child to college unable to fry an egg.

You wake up one day, and this simple act of daily mothering is gone.
The steel cut oatmeal, the frittatas, the whatevas – these become weekend treats.

Which is all fine . . . until I realized my oldest daughter, a senior, would soon be eating breakfast somewhere other than home.

My friend Ellen--who has a girl the same age--and I decided to spend this last school year cooking breakfast for our daughters.

While the rest of the house sleeps, we reconnect with the simple pleasure of whisking eggs and swirling blueberries into muffins. There are new favorites now: yogurt layered with strawberries, honey and granola. Asparagus and cheddar cheese omelettes. Hot rice cereal with cinnamon.

Will she remember I did this for her? I’m not sure. But I will remember.

I will remember watching her lift the spoon to her mouth.
Just as I remember all the other times, in the low pink light of sunrise, standing by her high chair with the kitchen clock ticking in the background, I lifted the small spoon for her.

You Know You're A Reader When . . .

You know you’re a reader when:

1) You don’t mind waiting at the doctor’s office.
2) At your birthday party, you really do open the cards first
3) When home shopping, the word “built ins” causes your heart to flutter
4) Power outages just don’t bother you as much as other people
5) You judge everyone you date by their shelves, not their shoes
6) You remember the copy on your childhood cereal box
7) Your library card wears out before your debit card
8) You can remember the first book you read but not the first movie you saw
9) When looking at colleges, you only wanted to see the library
10) There has always been a flashlight in your bedroom

I know you're gonna add to the list, so pile on!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Bulletin Boards.

When I walk in someone's home, I always peek at their bulletin board. There is usually something random and interesting there --a cute invite, a dried flower, a picture of their pet. This, I suspect, is why people are having such fun with Pinterest. It's like looking through someone's top drawer, chasing away the errant jacks and thumbtacks, and seeing what's worth keeping.

My parents kept a rotating photo album on a bulletin board in their hallway, filled with an ever-changing display of who and what they loved. And it was so much easier than framing. Pin away, people.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Rut?

All of the books on my nightstand currently have the same cover colorations. I wonder if I get into these weird hue grooves in other areas of my life. (Judging from line-up of grey sweaters in my closet I guess the answer would be yes.) RIN TIN TIN is a book that doesn't sound like my cup of tea -- I dislike dog books and don't read a lot of non-fiction -- but it's fascinating, truly.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gifts. Because February *sigh* is a long month.

I periodically, randomly, irrationally give away cute things that are tangentially related to my books. Just go to THE BIRD HOUSE fb page. Last week it was a bird bracelet, this week it's this adorable mini-journal necklace. You can buy it here or wait and see if luck is on your side.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


My first novel, STANDING STILL, sprang partly from my own fears and issues, and partly from an obsession with the case of Elizabeth Smart: How could a child be kidnapped from the second floor of a mansion with an alarm system? I reimagined the scenario, changing the story to save my "Elizabeth", and put someone else in peril.

Now, I learn that Elizabeth was married yesterday in a temple in Hawaii. How perfect that she wrote her own happy ending, too.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Other obsessions.

When taking a writing break (aka procrastinating) my other obsessions emerge. Over 50 degrees: riding bikes. Under 50 degrees: knitting hats. This one was for my buddy Sue and I had to document it quickly before wrapping it. (Note: also obsessed with photo apps. Obviously.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

On Thirty. A Valentine's Repost.

Here is my full post from last week's My Thirty Spot Project. Read all the essays here.

Part of me would love to be thirty again. (Specifically, my ass would love to be thirty again.)

But then the rest of me remembers how exhausting it was.

Your twenties are often spent searching and second-guessing. And your thirties? Finding, nesting, populating. Perfecting. It’s the perfecting I wish I could do over. (Irony: I want to fix my perfectionism because that would be soooo perfect.)

By the time I hit forty, I knew that Christmas cards couldn’t compete with Christmas mornings. That having the right furniture meant nothing unless you had the right friends. All those years I worried people might laugh at me? I should have been looking for people to laugh with me.

I want a do-over on all the hours I went shopping for things to hold other things. If I could be issued a refund, please, for the days spent pondering paint chips, I would use them to go out and consider the colors of the stormy sky and bending pines.

Light matters. Scent matters. Fresh flowers. Fresh air. All the rest just has to be replaced every five years.

And the kids, the school drama, the herding cats days. Sigh.

If I could get back all the time I spent trying to make my daughters smile simultaneously for the camera, or sit still in their color-coordinated clothes, I would use it to tickle them. To hula-hoop. And to fingerpaint under the shade of a tree. I would stop trying to keep them clean, and just keep them happy.

I know now it doesn’t matter what you wear to back-to-school night. And . . .shhhhh . . . don’t tell anyone, but . . . .it doesn’t matter if you go to back-to-school night.

For years, I avoided valet parking at restaurants because I was worried sippy cups and petrified french fries would fly out when they opened the door. Now, I let them sail and tip accordingly.

There is so much pressure now. Ways to live, eat, cultivate. Virtuous paths that require more of women, at a time when other things are scarce. We cling to jobs we can’t afford to lose. We learn to plant vegetables and when we get too good at it, we have to learn to can. We get up early to ride pretend bicycles up pretend hills. In addition to jumper cables and quarters. . . we have to remember to have a dozen freaking re-usable grocery bags in our cars.

It’s too much. It’s too much. These are not the years to dig in. These are the years to let go of the rope. To let the potato chips fall where they may. To let the organic cookies crumble in your happily un-made beds.

Nap, I say. Read a book. Take a walk. Hold a hand. The light is waning, always. Curl into it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Snow, laughter, nothing getting done.

Yes, I should be writing or reading on this snowy day. But as I race home from a meeting, then head out to take the kiddle to the doctor, the friend who is fixing up the broken things in my house (see pathetic older post called On Broken Things)said, "Hey, Kel, when the toilet flooded I grabbed some towels that looked like rags or dog towels and mopped it up. Where should I put them?"

You guessed it. Our clean, normal towels look like rags to other people.

I'm thinking a visit to Bed Bath & Beyond The Pale is in order.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Perfectly happy to not be 30 anymore.

Today, I'm so happy to be guest-posting on the charming website My Thirty Spot about the joys and challenges of that decade of life.

Please check out my post and tool around on the site -- no matter how old you are.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On coats and privilege.

Morning after morning, my teenage daughters fly out of the house without coats.
The car, replete with heated seats, is steps from the door. The driveway at school is steps from the sidewalk, which is steps from their lockers. We’re not cold, they say.

After school they join a parade of girls running with sleeves pulled down over the tips of their fingers, shivering as they make a short dash to the gym. Post-sports, they run outside to the car in shorts and sneakers, flushed with effort, not icy wind. They are not cold.

What if the car breaks down and you have to walk?
What if there is a fire drill and you have to stand outside?

They blink, say nothing, but I know what they are thinking. We’ll go wait at Starbucks. We’ll call Triple A. We won’t be cold.

Walking twenty blocks to a mean little Manhattan cubicle. Waiting for a bus to take you to another bus that takes you to the only internship you could find. Holding a traffic flag on an icy street, watching your breath condense into shapes to relieve the boredom. Dressing in a chicken costume and waving as cars pass you in the snow, as you wish you were inside them, and not your golden feathers.

The hard real world is coming, girls. And you are going to be cold.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rejecting rejections.

Where there is more than one child, inevitably, there is inequality. Just as some are born blonde, or hazel-eyed, some are born with perfect pitch. And some, alas, are not. That doesn’t keep both of them from trying out for a singing troupe. And it doesn’t keep one of them from falling short.

Yes, the one who can go toe to toe with Kelly Clarkson is cut. Does the other child, less musical, offer something else? Stage presence or joy? Of course. But even she realizes the decision is both unfair and typical. They watch reality TV. They know talent has nothing to do with anything.

I tell my middle daughter, as I wipe away her tears, that one audition is just a moment in time. That rejection is part of success. And finally, that you can’t let one man determine if you will or will not sing. Don’t give him that power over you, I say, and I am suddenly stopped in my tracks.

Because I sit, waiting on pins and needles, for my agent to weigh in on My Next Novel. Three years of work. A revision that took twice as long as the first draft. Other novels, finished or on their way, not chosen to go next, once shimmering on the desktop with possibility, fade. Up on the bookshelf, two published novels, and four years’ effort to promote them, appear to hang in the balance. They dangle too close to the edge. Their spines look fragile to me now, delicate as tidepool creatures. The vulnerability of paper and screen. Light a match, hit delete.

I, too, wait like a schoolgirl to see the audition list taped to the door.

Don’t do it, I tell myself. No one, even a wise and witty agent, has the power to hold your whole career in her hand.

I summon the presence of a small army behind me, the editors and readers and book bloggers who said yes. The reviewers from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews and Entertainment Weekly who said love. A flash mob with bookmarks approaches, the 250 book clubs I’ve visited, the women who have underlined my sentences and grasped my hands and fed me their homemade coffee cake. We hear you, they say.

Let no one tell you that you cannot sing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Feeling a little sashy.

In other parts of America, like, say, jail, the word “sleeve” has one meaning. But as Girl Scout cookie selling season gears up in Pennsylvania, it has another. No woman I know understands what a “peck” is. Everyone knows what a “sleeve” is. Noun: cookie containment device hidden in freezer. Use in a sentence: Damn, I just ate a sleeve of Samoas again.

My own attachment to these treats comes at a steep price: I was kicked out of Girl Scouts for “not earning enough badges” and “not being Girl Scout material.”

You’ve seen these kids standing behind folding tables at the mall: They let anyone in! It’s one thing to be a rejected cheerleader (do ya see a trend here?) but a rejected Girl Scout? How does this happen? I’ll tell you how: an evil troop leader hopped up on diet pills. Valley of the Dolls wearin’ a sash. That’s how.

For years I girl-cotted the cookies, then realized I was only hurting myself. But some flavors still burn. “Not earning enough badges” really irritates my achievement-oriented nature. I earned my novel writing badge, bitches!

Still waiting for an apology on trefoiled letterhead, along with reinstatement, so I can reject them. Still waiting. Still eating.

For those of you with sunnier attachments, here’s an article on what your favorite cookie says about you.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Things my agents & editors have taught me over the years. (In case they thought I wasn't listening.)

I have had the great misfortune, I mean luck, of working with 3 agents and 5 editors and a couple of sharp-eyed copyeditors during my fiction career. I've learned from every single one of them (even when I wanted to strangle them, like Editor #2, or as I lovingly called her, The Dominatrix.)

1. Your main character doesn't have to be likable, but he/she has to have spunk. Spunk in the past or spunk in the present. Wounded spunk, subtle spunk, suppressed spunk that slowly works its way to the surface.

2. When plotting, logic is your friend. Coincidence is your enemy.

3. When describing, be concrete. Mementos over memories. The soft hand of the sheets matters as much as the harshness of the dreams.

4. No one could ever sigh as much as women sigh in early drafts. It's not medically possible. Could they maybe breathe deeply once in a while, or shrug their shoulders, or shuffle their feet?

5. I tend to think of character’s back story as boring cocktail party small talk. Readers, not so much. Readers naturally wonder about characters' pasts. So clue them in now and then. Let their backgrounds shine through by constantly asking yourself, “Why?”

3. Try to leave every chapter with a hook to the next. But don't let this hook be obvious, like “Jenna was about to learn how very wrong she was.” Yes, this is harder than planting potatoes in a frozen field. But do it anyway.

6. Don’t let anyone tell you differently: A little bit of “telling” is absolutely fine. IF it’s brilliantly written.

7. The title of the book has to feel like the genre and style of your writing. You may have inadvertently titled your chick lit book with a high falutin’ literary title. Or your mystery may have a title that sounds like non-fiction, leading people to believe an actual murder has been committed. It needs to match, so the reader’s expectations are properly met.

8. Make the acknowledgments at the back of the book as complicated and effusive as you like, but keep the dedication simple and humble. A too-lofty dedication can set the wrong tone.

9. Read and revise your manuscript onscreen, sure, but also print it out, and staple the chapters together. The act of reading it on paper uses different mental muscles.

10. The opening sentence is far, far, more important than the closing one.

11. That being said, if you screw up the ending no reader will ever forgive you. Think long and hard about what would be an emotionally satisfying ending. Not a happy one, necessarily, or a beautifully written one. But an emotionally satisfying one.

12. If you screw up the middle, you won’t be alone. Many writers’ books have flaws in the middle. However, yours isn’t going to be one, so put some more plot in the freaking middle, would you?

13. There are really two types of writers: Those who need to be told no no no, no more of that! Get rid of that! And those that need to be told yes, yes, yes, more more more of that! Put more in! Figure out which you are, and try to act accordingly.