A Trip to the Grocery Store, Dichotomies, and Bad Reviews

Okay, first of all– Mary G if you’re out there?  DON’T forget to e-mail me so I can get you your free e-book.  If I don’t hear from you by Sunday, I’ll have to award that to someone else, and I’d hate to do that, darlin’!

Second of all, I’m sorry to announce that a former fan has initiated divorce proceedings from my books.  Apparently, I’m too angsty for him.  Well, that makes me sad, right?  But facts are, I gotta be true to myself–isn’t that where all divorces start?  How couples grow apart?  They both have different needs and the relationship isn’t meeting them?  Well, sweetheart– I wish you luck.  I’m sure you shall find the author of your dreams out there–many new and promising authors are published every day, and they all deserve a chance:-)

Okay, okay–I know that sounded flip, but I do take things like that seriously.  When someone complains about angst in a work, I do look at what I’m doing and ask myself why am I doing it.  Did Deacon get sick in Living Promises because I was using a shovel for the angst when I should have been using a trowel?  Or did he get sick during Living Promises because I was trying to make a point that in the end, Deacon, Jeff, and Colin were ALL living with a life threatening condition that didn’t have to take over their lives, as long as it was maintained and cared for?  Or did he get sick because I’d been dropping hints for two books that his heart condition was something to worry about–you can’t LIVE life as worried as Deacon was, with the family health history that he had and the history of alcohol abuse and NOT expect repercussions.  I would have been remiss and blithe to say, “Oh, but no– HE wouldn’t have suffered from THAT!”

What about Xander and Chris?  Did I start out writing a book with the intention of capitalizing on the kleenex industry?  Or did I look at a pretty picture, see a moment of joy and a moment of yearning and an impossible, painful situation?

What about Chase?  Seriously– what about him?  Some people say that he was too full of self-loathing to go into porn.  The self-loathing didn’t really START until he went into porn, because that’s when he was lying.  What he was full of in the beginning?  Was a simple desire to be free.  (Which was almost his downfall in the end, by the way.)

I think the problem isn’t that I’m trying to kill us all with angst– and check out my list of stories, I’ve got PLENTY of Code Blue stories that are quirky and strange and adorable and sexy that DON’T have tragedies or tears so I’m obviously not– I think the problem is that (and this is gonna shock you all, I know) I tend to look at the world in layers.  There’s the quirky and funny and the bad and tragic, and they’re all layered on top of each other.  I will start a conversation with someone on a joke, and eventually hear the tragedies and pain that have flavored their lives.  I spend my life as the wedding guest in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner– I can be going along, having a wonderful time, and suddenly I am cornered by the wild-eyed and wounded, and my world goes dark.

I like it that way.

You want an example from real life?  Let’s look at yesterday, where all weirdness happens.  At the grocery store.

It started out simply enough.  I was at the grocery store.  Buy milk, turn around, go home, right?

Except I was BORED at the grocery story, and when I am bored, I do what all smart Amys do, and text my Mary, who soon alleviates the boredom.  I do, of course, add pictures.  And captions.  Because, well, what else ya gonna do at the grocery store, right?  (Do NOT say shop for food.  If I was any
good at that, we’d have more money and smaller waistlines.  Just sayin’.)

And I come across this:  Omigod would you LOOK at this?  Yeah, sure, it says “Granola Thins”  but you know what it really is?  It’s LEMBAS bread– you remember, that ridiculously good for you stuff that the elves wrapped in leaves for the Hobbits in Fellowship of the Ring?  Remember?  Smeogal couldn’t eat it, cause it was elvish?  Anyway, look– Nature Valley is selling it, and it’s CHOCOLATE COVERED.  Awesome.  I’m thrilled.  Lembas bread, for the taking!  And now you know.

And then there’s this– do you see this?  Snuggle Exhilarations.  Yes, it smells yummily of lavender, which is my achilles fragrance, right there, but more important than the lavender and the shiny box is the two dollar price difference between that shiny smirking bear and Bounce, my usual fabric softener.  For two dollars, that bear needs to either make me dream I’m bungee jumping or give Mate and I the ability to wake from a dead coma of sleep when the whole house is FINALLY quiet and to engage in marital relations without getting interrupted, cause I’m telling you, THAT would be exhilarating right now!  I mean otherwise, how do they justify the extra two dollars a box?

And now we come to the Amy’s Shame portion of grocery shopping– let’s start with gender politics, shall we? Uhm-hm– you see what I’m saying here.  We can’t even kiss their boo boos without a boys bandaid or a girls bandaid.  I mean, I COULD get the brightly colored, gender neutral ones, but they cost more, and considering my kids use these as stickers when I’m not looking?  Mickey Mouse and Tinkerbelle it is.

And this– yeah, you may think it’s simply portable lunch snacks, designed to put an end to all of those half eaten sandwiches and orange slices left to die, as well as the mandatory visit to fast food to comfort the swooning children because they didn’t eat their carefully prepared, nutritionally balanced lunch.  Sure.  See it that way.  Me?  I see it as my failure as both a mother and an environmentalist.  Yeah, don’t comfort me.  I’m unclean.

And dudes… there is CORN
SYRUP in this salami.  I don’t care if it’s aliens or leviathans, SOMEBODY is fattening us up!

And let us not forget the alcohol.  No, I didn’t buy any– if I was cool enough to be an alcoholic, I wouldn’t be uncool enough to be a romance writer!  Sayin’. As Mary said, she doesn’t know how Hemingway does it, and obviously, I’m not Hemingway.

And here we are, at the checkout stand, with lots and lots of graphic representations of prettier people with blacker souls.  I still feel pretty substandard– I mean, you’ve SEEN what’s in my grocery cart, right?  Yeah.  I’ll bet Kate and Kim and Khloe don’t have salami turducken in their grocery carts.  Of course, they don’t actually shop, so maybe that’s moot.

Oh, and look– do you see him?  Isn’t he just adorable?  Yeah, I don’t care if he’s straight– helLO plot bunny!  God, seriously.  I just wanted to pinch his little cheeks.  And he laughed at my jokes, too– he’s SO gonna be in a book, even if he’s just flirt-fodder.  Dude.

And I take that last picture, and I’m done, right?  I send it to Mary as I’m wandering outside, and I’m pretty happy with myself.  I’ve already got the captions written–I sent the captions with Mary as I was trying to crack her up, and she was like, “Dude!  You’ve GOT to make this a blogpost!” and I was like, “Dude!  That’s awesome!  I don’t even have to think about it– excellent!”

And that’s when I got outside to load up my car, as giddy as the wedding guest, laughing with his friends.

And that’s when the gaunt black woman–clean, in fraying clothes, with well cared for teeth and good skin– came up to me.

Oh no.  Oh no.  Panhandling.  Well, shit.  I just bought the turducken and the environmentally unsound and expensive lunch shit.  I’d better be able to give this woman who is down on her luck something out of my pocket, right?  I can afford to do this.  Okay.  Plan.  I’ve got some bills, that’s no problem.  But she doesn’t just take my politely offered money.

No.  I am the wedding guest, and she is the ancient mariner, and that is one archetype that I have never been able to leave behind.

And her daughter is in the hospital and she is caring for her grandchildren and they have no place to stay. Two of the grand children are in wheelchairs and they need adult diapers and social services is out of vouchers and oh, God, she just needs a place to stay, and please, can someone help her buy Depends, and oh, God, oh God, can someone just listen to her, and not blow her off, because her heart is breaking and she’s at the end of her rope, and she’s just trying to take care of her family.

So I listen.  She tells me.  She shows me pictures.  She cries.  And when I give her the help she came to ask for, she breaks down and sobs in my arms.  She’s destroyed.  Everyone is too busy and too angry to hear the story, and the story is what’s keeping her on her feet.  She needs to tell the story, because it helps ease the shame of asking complete strangers to help her live her life.  And thank you, thank you, for listening.  Not the money, mind you, just the listening.  Thank you for the help, for the looking her in the eyes and for believing her even if you think it makes you a sucker.  Thank you for dignity and good wishes and sincerity and for holding a helpless stranger in the middle of the parking lot at Safeway.

She pulls herself together and takes a few steps, and then her phone rings and she looks at me with joy.  It’s the pastor of the church she went to for help, and she has a hotel voucher waiting for her, and she and her grandchildren have put off homelessness for a little while more.  She’s radiant as she goes into the grocery store with the money I gave her to buy depends, and I am bemused as I get into the car.

See– I know that sounds extraordinary, but not to me.  I don’t know where this awareness came from–my childhood was not ideal, but I always had food (not necessarily tasty food, but food) and I always had a place to sleep.  Somehow, even that small amount of doubt in my life set me up for the big reveal: that while you’re goofing around with your friend on your smart phone, someone else is at the end of her rope.  That while the hero is off saving the world, the side character is dying in the hope that the hero can make it.  That while Jeff and Colin can celebrate the ways they’ve found to live, someone they care for very much may be on the brink of death.  That when Tommy and Chase are on the verge of having everything good come to pass, Dex and Kane are on the precipice of break up.  That when Craw says Aiden is the summer sky, Jeremy says he’s the sky just after dawn, with some lingering darkness with the dazzling gold, and that dichotomy reveals the truth.

So when I write the quirky and I write the tragic, I’m not “pouring on the angst” or “indulging my funny bone”–I’m just telling the story.  The story is the thing.  The story keeps us on our feet, the story makes us think, the story makes us question, the story is the carefully sorted puzzle of how we live our lives.  Very often, the story is so painful the words don’t do it justice.  Just as often, it’s hilarious, and we’re laughing until we can’t breathe.

So I am sorry if the angst is too much.  I am.  I know it hurts.  I know it’s uncomfortable.  I know it’s awful to think about– and I would stop thinking about it if I could.  But I can’t.  It’s how I’m built.  It’s how I write.  The world is a continuously happy and sad place, and I am endlessly fascinated by the two extremes.  Until I’m not, I’m afraid that’s what I will write about, and I will be continuously grateful for the people who continue to read.

0 thoughts on “A Trip to the Grocery Store, Dichotomies, and Bad Reviews”

  1. Anonymous says:

    You and I have the opposite problem. I can't write angsty stuff to save my life. All my stories have the precise flavor, texture, and nutritional value of a cherry-flavored Otter pop.

    …which you can get at a grocery store. 🙂

  2. Mary Calmes says:

    There is always a moral in your posts, something to say, to teach. I love that. And between the Turducken and Lembas bread, I was completely charmed.:)

  3. I love you. In a fangirl sort of way. Not the creepy stalker sort of way. The way you look at life is inspirational.

    As for someone complaining about the angst….have they read Clear Water? Because I am still laughing over the Squinky chapter. Just sayin'.


  4. Kim Williams says:

    This is funny to me because I just finished Gambling Men which I enjoyed very much but I actually said to myself that there just wasn't enough angst for me.

  5. roxie says:

    You're stronger than I am, and braver. Real life IS full of angst. I read to escape it. I do love your writing, and obviously I am not alone, but if the ancient mariner cornered me, I'd hide in the ladies' room.

  6. Liam Grey says:

    To me, there is shallow-angst, which is dropped into a plot to make it go somewhere, and there's drama-angst, which still moves the plot along but is born out of the situation and the characters rather than a need for "something to happen." In my opinion, you write the latter which is what makes your stories so much richer.

    And on the subject of someone never reading books again: While I'm not at that point myself as an author, as a reader there are authors I veer away from for one reason or another. We all have reasons we read, and if an author isn't meeting those needs on a consistent basis, I'm going to take my money and time elsewhere. Figure I need to afford others the same courtesy, even if I don't personally like their decision.

  7. Amychelle says:

    Well, I've published nothing so far, but I don't think I can write anything other than angst. Hopefully, I'll find my niche or I'll be writing for my own amusement! I LOVE all of your books, but the ones I tend to reread are the ones with the most angst. Something for everyone I suppose.

  8. Jackie B. says:

    I can deal with the angst (though my mascara runs and I go thru Kleenex at lightning speed when reading books like The Locker Room and Chase in Shadow) because I trust you to give me an HEA in the end. And because sometimes life makes people go through really horrible things to come out on the other end and I like following your characters on that journey and seeing them finally get to be happy. But I confess, I am still holding a grudge against Crick for Berlin. Deacon dealt with that way better than I did.

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