Tag Archives: writing

Writing and Reading

I’m not going to lie, the past couple of days around here were pretty miserable. Joe was out of town for work and Thursday night I was up every hour from 2:30 a.m. on with a vomiting child or screaming baby. By the end of Friday, I was covered in the barf of three different people and my back ached from slipping down our steep staircase while holding Eileen.

Let’s just say, we were all asleep by 8:30 p.m. Friday night and this morning I was awakened feeling not quite refreshed, but alive enough to survive two hours without coffee (our machine broke last week) before hauling my kids into the van so I could get a latte and giant cinnamon roll. Things improved greatly from there.


I was even gifted a moment today when Eileen was napping and Emmett was playing quietly that I stopped going for the world record of laundry done in a 12-hr period and gave myself 20 solid minutes to read. Because reading>housework, every single time. I’m reading Homegoing by Ya Gyasi right now, and the voice in this book is wonderful.


It’s our book club book, and I got a late start because it took me awhile after our last meeting to get through The Argonauts (which is an important book, I can sense, but not a casual read. It’s very much a text that might be assigned in a feminist methodology/gender studies course). I’m reading it with extra pleasure because I’m simultaneously listening to lectures/working on assignments for the University of Iowa “How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women” MOOC. And that shit is hard! I haven’t written fiction since my creative writing course in college and although I can sense I’m not totally horrible at it, the writing is not effortless.

We were supposed to focus on voice and identity and write a short story or scene (suggested length 1-2,000 words, which I did not achieve) in which the main character is a female child. The instructors encouraged us to “think about how you can invent identity and voice without falling back on stereotype, on assumed knowledge, on predictability. Consider who you want your character to be, and how you want her to show your readers who she is, and how much you want her to consciously know about who she is. Consider how the people around her might speak to her or describe her; consider what she might understand or not understand about how they relate to her and how they relate to the world.”

If you want to read my piece (super rough, like typed at 2:30 a.m.) it’s after the jump. Posting it here because I don’t know what happens to our work once the class is over, and in case anyone wants to provide constructive feedback. It feels very YA and one of my workshoppers said the voice feels more like a teenage voice than child, which I kind of agree with. WIP!

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Now in print: DSM Jan/Feb Issue

I have a feature in this month’s issue of DSM Magazine! “Setbacks and Silver Linings” (p.91-97) profiles three individuals (athlete/administrator, artist and entrepreneur) for whom adversity served as a crucible for their character and career.

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I truly enjoyed interviewing Sandy Hatfield Clubb, the Drake Athletics Director. I’d been around her on campus, but from a distance and hadn’t heard the story of her growing up and it was a privilege to put her experience into words.  I love writing for DSM because it keeps me meeting fascinating community leaders.

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You can read the full issue online here. Also: Put a DSM unveiling party on your local event bucket list. This past one was hosted at the Des Moines Playhouse and was bananas busy. I mostly hung out with Mike Wagner (read about him in my story) and stuffed my face with delicious appetizers.


I also ran into my friend Lesley, whose ultra-globetrotting life (she lives in Osceola but regularly attends events like the People’s Choice Awards) I can normally just follow on Instagram. Gotta love Iowans who seize every opportunity for glitz and adventure!

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Now in print

I have a fun piece in the latest issue of DSM Magazine on the signature wall Maddy and David Maxwell created in their home! (Starts on Page 128 here.)


Maddy is so much fun to interview. I was able to see the wall in person, and then because the Maxwells spend a good part of summer in Maine, the followup  interview had to happen while they were driving the back roads on the East Coast, with their dogs in the car. I was on speakerphone, and we just happened to be traveling back from Chicago, so I was feverishly taking notes at a rest stop. It was a pretty challenging scenario, but I loved hearing David and Maddy tell stories together. They were very When Harry Met Sally in their back-and-forth style.


Not MY work, but a friend-of-a-friend had a piece in Parade and because our babies were born around the same time/we follow each other on Instagram, I’ve been following Violet’s health journey from the beginning. Whenever I would get stressed about Emmett’s eczema, I would think about all Virginia was going through and it helped put my self pity in perspective.


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Back to School

Summer flowers are browning around the edges, and the sound of the high school band practicing out on the field provides some pep for our morning walks.


Back-to-school time is one of my favorite fleeting seasons. I have the urge to dress in corduroy. But instead, I’ll do what a grownup lady who has grad school in her rearview mirror will do, and go bag shopping. I ruined my old one with hard boiled eggs — don’t ask. CARRY_-_GREY_TRIANGLE_15_grande

My friend Katy recommended bookhou and it looks like my new autumn companion will be this lovely Grey Triangles tote. 

And, in the vein of lifelong learning, I’m taking a Skillshare class about nonfiction writing. It’s a series of pre-recorded videos and some discussions, resources and a mini assignment, “taught” by one of my favorite writers. More on that later.

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Filed under At home, Life lessons, What I'm into

Go Girl Guides at Mars Cafe

Confession: This week, I took three trips to Mars Cafe in a 24-hour period. I mean, it is only a couple hundred paces from my basement office, and most of the time Mars is filled with some of my favorite people in the city, so that’s not too excessive, right? I met with Libby from The One Campaign and my grad class group and Emily Genco, the new Juice reporter. I think I freaked her out with all of my stories.

I’m going to swing by Mars again this evening before my writing group because the Cafe is hosting “Go Girl Guides” tonight (March 20, 6:30-8:30 p.m.) to share safety tips for women traveling on a budget, and stories about what it’s really like to be a travel writer. My inner travel-writer-wannabe feels like this will be a cool event. Check out Go! Girl Guides online.


The writing group thing is once a month, at a friend’s house. We’ve only done it once so far, but it felt amazing to just put pen to paper for a couple of prompts. We’re focusing on personal essay kind of nonfiction, but it’s definitely more creative than any writing I do for myself on a regular basis. Peer pressure!

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Flex your fiction muscle

If I were able to say I left any legacy with Juice magazine, it’s probably that I started their annual “5 minute fiction” contest when I was on staff there.


When I was little, I used to write stories all the time. (This is what happens when most of your friends are imaginary, right?) My family tells me that I used to pen plays for them to perform before I had a real command of the alphabet, so they used to try to get away with an improv of what they thought I’d written, and I’d yell at them.

At Mizzou, I majored in journalism and English and took one creative writing course in college. I had a short story published in the student literary magazine, but the vast majority of my writing is more of the journalistic bent.

I’d like to flex my fiction muscle a little bit more (these micro shorts on Elephantine are inspiring) and so I was intrigued when this Facebook event popped up in my feed. Note: I have nothing to do with this contest and don’t even really know who is behind it/what Spoilage is. Also, I’m not sure, but my guess is that they’re hoping to focus on mostly local submissions? Think you can crank out a story by Feb. 1? I might attempt it.


For its first issue, Spoilage is hosting a writing competition. Submit your original story (3,000 words or less) in compliance with the following guidelines to spoilageDSM@gmail.com with the subject “Contest.”
PROMPT: Everyone wakes up to discover that all of their screen-printed t-shirts are now blank.
SETTING: Present-day Des Moines
OBLIGATORY CHALLENGE: Include the sentence “How often should one use a colon?”
Entries must be submitted by Feb. 1st. The winning submission will be published in Spoilage’s inaugural issue, and its author will receive a screen-printed Spoilage t-shirt.
Commence writing!

I think writing fiction is scary! At least with a piece for the paper or a magazine, I have a deadline, a line of communication with an editor and the knowledge that even if I have to totally tweak what I originally submitted, I will be published and paid. With fiction there’s so much more rejection and fear of the unknown and it feels more heartrending to create.

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Filed under Books, I love Des Moines

So glad I had a passport handy

When I graduated high school, my goal in life was to become a writer for National Geographic. To travel the world and write about all of the interesting people I met and places I visited. My grandpa keeps stacks and stacks of the saffron-bordered magazines in the attic (or “cold room” as we call it), and as a little girl, I would spend hours after school and in summers reading about the brain or an ancient civilization or specie of whale.

photo via

I still remember the night my freshman year at Mizzou when my college roommate and I went to see a group of National Geographic photographers (including the amazing Sam Abell) speak. I was captivated. To be in the same room with the people who achieved my dream was a rush — the intellectual high I’d hoped to get in college. After the lecture, I remember literally running through the columns on the quad and back to our dorm with hardcover photo books tucked under our arms.

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I also remember the stories the photographers told about how long their assignments were and what that meant to their families. And gradually, the dream shifted for me. I still love to travel and my nine-year-old passport is tattooed with stamps (thanks, Girl Scouts!), but I came to realize that the nomadic life wasn’t for me.

There are so many breathtaking destinations and fascinating cultures and I am interested in seeing as much of this planet as I can. But I also started to appreciate the fact that all of the world’s interesting places exist because there are people who commit to them and keep them alive.

At one time, I was convinced that the only way to uncover life’s meaning was to stand in a headwind at earth’s rugged edges. That the only way to be a writer was to get out of Dodge. I still believe that when we put ourselves in unfamiliar, uncomfortable situations — and to travel is to embrace this — we come to a better understanding of ourselves. But I don’t know if I’m convinced that essential truths are only caught after a cross-continental chase.

I’ve written a lot about Des Moines becoming home to me and choosing to be part of a community. I write about my house and the friends I’ve made here and sometimes I feel like — for the people who knew me back when I was a high school travel-writer wannabee — these moments read like I gave up, or settled. Perhaps I’ll spend the rest of my writing life trying to put into words what it feels like to make roots like these. Maybe I’ll never get it right. Or maybe I’ll write a novel instead.

Then this week I had the most exciting news. Just as I’ve felt like things are beginning to settle down (I’m convinced the water here in Iowa has some sort of baby-producing boosting agent), I got the most amazing e-mail. I will be heading to Doha, Qatar as a TEDxSummit attendee along with my friend, Alexander. I couldn’t be more excited for this unexpected adventure. It’s the perfect mix of being able to see a place I’d never even imagined in my girlhood National Geographic dreams, and taking part in a global event meant to enhance my community back at home.

I (along with a small group of talented people) helped Alexander put together the last TEDxDesMoines event (something I wasn’t going to be able to work on if I’d stayed in journalism at the paper), but I definitely don’t feel worthy of this opportunity. I’ll keep you all updated and hopefully will post from Doha this April!

This opportunity is something I feel I never would have had living in a bigger city. It’s one more reason to love Des Moines. I’m still pinching myself that it’s real!


Filed under BS outside the Midwest, I love Des Moines, Life lessons