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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead on Eva & Meagan’s Middle-Grade Bookshelf

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead  on Eva & Meagan’s Middle-Grade Bookshelf

This post is the first of my new monthly feature, Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf.  To learn more about this feature — what it is and why we’re doing it — read here.

Meagan & Eva’s Middle-Grade Bookshelf Presents…

GOODBYE STRANGER, by Rebecca Stead

Published by Wendy Lamb Books, August 2015

A NYT Editors’ Choice and NYT Notable Children’s Books of 2015

suggested age range:  10 and up



When Bridge was a kid she got hit by a car.  She spent a long time in the hospital and she nearly died.  Now she’s in middle school and wondering whether she’s alive for a reason — whether anyone is alive for a reason — or if life is just one big accident.  At least she’s still part of a “set” with her best friends:  Em (with her “curvy new curves”) and Tab (who is “kind of a know-it-all”).  In seventh grade, Bridge and her friends face big decisions, big mistakes, first crushes, and new identities.  And the strange new teens they are in the process of becoming must say goodbye to the no-longer-familiar kids they once were.

IMPORTANT TOPICS AND THEMES:  Goodbye Stranger touches lightly on the topic of sexting, but it’s in a middle-school appropriate way.  The book also deals with friendship, divorce of grandparents, first crushes, and growing up.  



Eva & Meagan

So, what did we think?  

Meagan:  Overall, I loved this book.  The author has painted a painfully true picture of what it’s like to be in middle school.  The concrete details and well as the emotional details all feel super-realistic.


Eva:  I totally agree.  The book worked so well because it was true-to life:  specific yet universal.  The characters were fully-formed (and quirky).  The dialogue was spot-on for middle school.  The book was definitely character-driven, but even though it wasn’t a race-to-the-climax plot, I was never bored.  And speaking of character, I LOVE that Bridge decides her “thing” is going to be wearing cat ears every day:   

The cat ears were black, on a black headband.  Not exactly the color of her hair, but close.  Checking her reflection in the back of her cereal spoon, she thought they looked surprisingly natural.

I was so impressed at how Stead kept me engaged without a traditional plot.  And yet, there WAS some tension-building in the main plot as well as a triumphant and satisfying ending that I don’t always find in character-driven novels.


Meagan:  Right, it’s not what anyone would call a plot-driven, but the everything-is-high-stakes setting of middle school helps this work and still feel about as engaging as a more plot-driven story.  To me it sometimes seems pretty daunting to think about writing “literary” (vs. plot-driven) work for kids, but Rebecca Stead has clearly figured out how to do it.  I read another of her books, When You Reach Me, a while back.  It was great (and a Newberry winner). This is possibly even better, in my opinion.


Eva:  Yes, I remember reading When You Reach Me and enjoying it, but I might say Goodbye Stranger is more memorable, if not better.  Overall, I was very impressed.  The only thing I DIDN’T love about the book were the short sections that were written in second person.  For example:    

You paint your toenails.  You don’t steal nail polish, though.  Vinny calls you chicken:  all of her polish comes from the six-dollar manicure place…

The reader doesn’t find out until the end who these sections are about, and I have to say I found the mystery a bit confusing and unnecessary.


Meagan:   I actually liked those sections.  I thought they created a fun mystery for the reader to puzzle over, simply by withholding information (the identify of one of the narrators), but giving you enough detail that you could eventually figure it out.


Eva:  It was a gutsy move on Stead’s part to use second person, and I wonder about her decision to include this certain character’s story.  The sections DID add a layer of mystery, but I didn’t think the mystery was needed because there were so many other interesting storylines.  

Come to think of it, there were a lot of B plots in this novel, and I wonder about Stead’s decision to include them all — they certainly weren’t all necessary to the larger story.  And yet, they totally worked (except for the second person one, in my opinion).  It’s interesting to me how she so deftly crafted the novel with so many storylines.


Meagan:  What did you think of the title?  I normally don’t think much about titles, but this one stood out to me.  I think for a young readership, it does a good job of pointing to the book’s deep theme, without coming right out and saying what the theme is.  The transition from child to teenager is so huge that “goodbye” is not a bad way of describing it, and “stranger” is just about right for describing the person you are/were on the other side of the teen/child divide.


Eva:  I’m kind of dumb sometimes, so it took me a while to figure out how the title related to the book.  But once I got it, I loved it.  I remember being a kid and thinking how weird it was that I was going to become an adult who would essentially be a stranger to my kid self.  I’m not sure that middle school kids would get all the themes on their own, but this would be a great book to discuss with a group of kids.



The Middle Grade Bookshelf



A Judy Blume book because it goes through the realistic, day-to-day life of specific characters and touches on a hot button issue.    

In this case, the hot button issue is sexting.  It’s addressed in a serious, yet middle-school appropriate way (not too graphic). Still, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book under sixth grade unless the reader’s parent is ready to talk about this topic and feels their child is ready as well.  



  • Realistic contemporary middle-grade
  • Close 3rd person voice
  • Use of second person voice
  • Fully-formed characters
  • Character-driven plot
  • Weaving of main plot with several B plots
  • A difficult topic handled in an age-appropriate way (sexting)



Eva:  John Hodgeman once said “specificity is the soul of narrative.”  This is a specific story about very specific characters, and yet it feels universal and totally relatable.  I really enjoyed it.

Meagan:  As a writer, I could imagine coming back to this book for a closer read if I decided to tackle a contemporary, realistic fiction project (especially if I hoped for it to be more on the “literary” side).  Stead has done that so well here, I think there’s a lot I could learn from as a writer if I were to reread this and study the way she develops her characters and plot events.


A New Monthly Feature: Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf

A New Monthly Feature:  Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf

I am excited to announce a new monthly (or potentially bi-monthly) feature on In the Garden of Eva!

As many of you know, I am an aspiring novelist. And though I never quite intended it, nearly every time I write a novel these days, it comes out as middle grade. For now, I’m just going with it!

My friend Meagan Boyd is also an aspiring middle grade author. We have a mini writing group in which we give each other feedback and discuss books we’ve read… And naturally we read a lot of middle grade books.  Hence, the idea for Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf was born.

At first, it was going to be a podcast. (And it might be someday!) But Meagan has a toddler, I’m about to have a baby, and neither of us is particularly savvy in the technology department. So instead of figuring out a new medium, we decided to use the tried-and-true blog format for now.

Below is more info about this new feature.  And you can look forward to reading our first full-length post tomorrow, in which we will examine Rebecca’s Stead’s Goodbye Stranger.



Eva and Meagan with a few of our favorite MG books!




Who Are Meagan & Eva?

Two aspiring novelists currently writing middle-grade books and hoping to get them published. We are also both former teachers and graduates of The College of William & Mary (which is how we met). Meagan has a degree in English, and I have an MFA in Fiction Writing.


What Is a Middle-Grade Book?

A book written for the 8-12 age range. Think Harry Potter, Charlotte’s Web, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Except those books are old news. If you’re interested in writing (or reading) middle grade fiction, you should be checking out new stuff!  And Eva & Meagan’s Middle Grade Bookshelf will help you decide what new MG novels to read.


What Is This Bookshelf Exactly?

In an attempt to learn how to write middle grade fiction, Meagan and I have been reading A LOT of (relatively) recent MG books. We then discuss what we notice from a writer’s perspective. For example: “this book has an interesting point of view” or “this book is a great example of a character-driven plot.”

We wanted to share what we’ve been noticing and learning with other middle grade writers (both aspiring and established).  I think this will also be helpful for parents and teachers looking for books for their kids/students. Our hope is to create a resource of sorts; writers can use our posts as a way to find books they’d like to read as well as books that are good examples of whatever area of craft they are working on.



What Will I Find in Each Bookshelf Post?

Each Middle Grade Bookshelf post will discuss one book and include following:

  • A brief summary
  • A list of important topics and themes in the story
  • Our thoughts and comments (but no spoilers!)
  • A few short excerpts to give you a taste of the writing style
  • What “classic” children’s book(s) the novel reminded us of
  • The areas of writing craft that this novel is a good (or interesting) example of
  • News and resources for MG writers
  • Our final take-aways on the book overall


Meagan & Eva’s Bios:

Meagan Boyd studied English and Theatre as an undergraduate at The College of William & Mary and has her M.Ed. in Elementary Education from The George Washington University.  A former fourth grade teacher, Meagan is now a full-time mom of a toddler and an aspiring novelist.  She loves middle grade books with a passion she can never quite muster for a adult books.  Some of her favorites are A Wrinkle in TimeCoraline, and Ender’s Game.

bw- Boyd

Meagan Boyd


Eva Langston received her MFA from the University of New Orleans, and her fiction has been published in many journals and anthologies.  She is the Features Editor for Compose Journal and the leader of an adult writing workshop about YA and middle grade fiction.  A former math teacher for students with learning disabilities, she now tutors part-time.  Two of her favorite middle grade books are  Holes by Louis Sachar and Blubber by Judy Blume.


Eva Langston


Come back soon to read our first full-length feature!


How Will Having a Baby Affect My Writing?

How Will Having a Baby Affect My Writing?

I have been keeping a secret from you, dear Internet. But now it’s finally time to share… I’m pregnant!

I’m into my second trimester now, and little Bebe (as we are calling him/her) is approximately the size of an apple (more than 4 inches long and approximately 2.5 ounces in weight). I’m due in early February, and needless to say, I’m VERY excited. I’ve always wanted to have kids, and now it’s finally happening!

But I have to admit, every now and again I worry: how is having a baby going to affect my writing? I know that for the first few months I can pretty much kiss writing goodbye. I’ll be busy breastfeeding, bathing Bebe, changing diapers, doing laundry, and catching up on sleep. Not to mention trying to find the time to feed and bathe myself.

I’m very lucky in that I work from home, so I will get to stay home with Bebe. Technically I can take as long of a maternity leave as I want, but in reality not really. Because Bebe is going to be expensive, and Mama will need to keep bringing in the dough.

Right now, I spend my mornings writing and doing writing-related activities (like this blog!) Then, in the afternoons, I tutor, create math curriculum, and do freelance writing and editing. My husband and I count on the money I bring in from these jobs to help us do things like pay the rent.

So the plan is this: when the baby is about three months old, I’ll go back to work. While Bebe is down for a nap, not only will I be throwing in loads of laundry (we’re going to try for cloth diapers – are we insane?) and doing crunches to try to get back in shape, I’ll also be making worksheets about dividing fractions and maybe even doing some Skype tutoring.

The question is: when will I be writing? The answer: I’m not sure.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 4.32.43 PM

Bebe on board!


Maybe I’ll wake up early in the mornings (unless I’m already up with Bebe?) and try to get in forty-five minutes of writing time. Maybe I’ll wait until my husband comes home from work, slap Bebe in his arms, and then try to eek out a little prose. But I think the reality is this: I’m not going to be doing a lot of writing. Not for Bebe’s first year, I’d imagine. And that’s definitely scary to me.

In fact, I’m not even sure what will happen with this blog.  Will I have time to continue writing it?  In the small amounts of time that I will have, might I rather write in my journal about the craziness of being a new mom?

All of this is a little worrisome.  BUT, I have a plan. And the plan is this:

Step 1: From now until Bebe arrives, I am going into hyper-productivity mode. I’ve already started on a new novel, and my goal is to finish the first draft before my due date. I also want to revise a draft of another novel I’ve got sitting around before my due date. That way, I can relax when Bebe arrives and feel like I deserve (and perhaps need) a break from writing.

Step 2: From now until Bebe arrives, I am going to work my BUTT off doing math curriculum and tutoring. I have to admit, sometimes I’m lazy about math curriculum because it can be so boring. But now I have an incentive: bring in as much money as possible now so I don’t have to be stressed out about money when Bebe arrives.

Step 3: When Bebe arrives, enjoy him/her and let my whole focus be on becoming a mother. I will always have writing. I won’t always have a newborn baby to marvel at.

Step 4: When Bebe is little, there are lots of little things I can do that are related to writing. For example, I can read while breastfeeding, and since Bebe will be breastfeeding pretty much constantly, I can get a lot of reading done. I can also send out the first draft of the novel I will have completed (see Step 1) to beta readers and wait for their feedback. I can also query agents with the novel I will have revised (see Step 1) and wait for their responses. Just because I won’t have chunks of time to sit down and write doesn’t mean that I can’t do things to help my writing career.

Step 5: At some point, maybe when Bebe is five months old or so, I hope to start doing a baby-swap  with other moms in the area. I will find other stay-at-home/work-from-home moms near me. (I know of one already, and maybe I’ll meet more in prenatal yoga, birthing class, or my midwife’s community care group.) Two afternoons a week (or whatever we decide) I’ll take Bebe to another mom’s house where she will care for my baby and hers while I go off to write and do yoga and grocery shop. Then we’ll swap, and I’ll take her baby two afternoons a week so she can go do whatever she needs to do. Basically, I’m going to figure out a way to get some alone time so that I can get in some writing.

Step 6:  Assess what’s to be done with my blog.  On the one hand, I might really want an outlet and blogging will be just what I need to stay sane as I’m surrounded by baby poop.  On the other hand, it might be too much, and when I start having time to write, I might rather work on fiction than worry about keeping up with a blog.  Or, I could find a middle ground.  Post once a month.  Anyway, I can decide later, and the important thing is not to stress about it.


Here’s me, not stressing.


All in all, I think it’s a pretty good plan, but I also know that babies are unpredictable, and I have to be okay with the fact that things might not go according to my plan. I have to be okay with the fact that I might not be able to get back into a regular writing schedule for a while. But I’m okay with that. Because I’m going to have a BABY! And having a child will give me a lot to write about…when I eventually get the chance to do so.


What I’ve Learned from Agent Rejections

What I’ve Learned from Agent Rejections

Two years ago, I got an agent. He loved my middle grade fairy tale novel. While we worked on edits, he asked me, “so, do you have any other middle grade fairy tale retellings?”

“Um, no,” I said. I had a YA book that needed revisions, and an adult novel I was working on.

“It would be good if you could write one. It doesn’t have to be a sequel, but something similar to your first book. Publishers want to know you’ve got something else coming down the pipe. Maybe we can get you a two-book deal.”

Sounded good.  So I took his advice. I wrote another middle grade fairy tale retelling.

Seven months later, we finished revisions on my first novel, and my agent drew up a submissions list of New York editors from all the big publishing houses.

Then, he had a mid-life crisis. Or something. I don’t know what happened exactly, but he went incommunicado on me for months, and when I finally heard from him, he told me he had quit his job and was no longer agenting. He suggested I find a new agent.

And for the past year, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.


This is face I felt like making when my former agent told me I needed to find new representation.


I suppose you could say it has not been going well. After all, it’s been a year and I still don’t have a new agent. But, instead, I choose to look on the bright side. I’ve had a lot of interest from agents. My query letter is obviously working because I get a lot of partial and full requests. And my rejection letters are usually quite encouraging. In fact, I’ve been noticing something similar about my rejections lately.

Let’s take a look, shall we?


Dear Eva,

Thanks so much for sharing YOUR NOVEL with me. I really enjoy your writing style and think it’s spot-on for middle grade readers. Unfortunately, I’ve found the fairy tale retelling cannon to be so saturated of late. I simply don’t think I can sell another retelling right now unless it’s wildly different from the pack. I’m sorry not to have better news about this project, but if your agent search persists, I’d be delighted to consider any other middle grade or YA projects that you might have. Please keep in touch!


Agent X

Dear Eva,

Thank you for your patience while we considered your work. In the end, while there was much to be admired, we did not fall in love with the overall execution in a way we need to take on a project, especially given this is such a difficult time for fiction.

For what it’s worth to know, we think you have talent, and would consider other works from you in the future. With that said, the problem with this ms was that while not bad, and definitely better than most we see– retellings are VERY difficult to sell… It’s a breezy and interesting read, but in the end we don’t think it’s strong enough all things considered, again, since it is a retelling.

With much respect,

Agent Y

Dear Eva,

Thank you for sharing your work with me– for your lovely note — and for your patience in waiting to hear back. You write well, but I’m afraid that I just didn’t have that “Yes! This is for me!” feeling–so I’m going to bow out.

That said, I’d be happy to hear about any future projects you may have.

Whatever happens, I hope you will continue writing and sending out your work.

Again, thank you for sharing this with me.

All best wishes,

Agent Z


So they rejected me — at least they were nice about it!


And that’s just a few of the many nice rejections I’ve gotten over the past year. In a lot of ways, these letters are encouraging. In all of them, the agents say I am a good (or at least not bad) writer. That’s something to celebrate, right?

The problem seems to be that I’ve written something that is — at least for now — difficult for agents to sell.

It’s frustrating. It’s really hard to motivate myself to write a new novel when I have TWO completed fairy tale retellings just sitting around gathering dust. But as much as I want to throw up my hands and say “I give up,” I know I can’t. Because there’s something else those agents said: they would be interested in seeing other projects from me.

I guess that means I need to get busy writing something that ISN’T a fairy tale retelling. And that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’m 50-plus pages into the first draft of a middle-grade contemporary novel, and I’m feeling good about it so far.

I am sharing my rejections with you guys in part to show how difficult and fickle this business can be. Two years ago, my agent literally told me to write another fairy tale retelling. Now, agents are telling me that fairy tale books are nearly impossible to sell.



Maybe I just need a little literary luck!  (Photo by Umberto Salvagnin)

At the end of the day, traditional publishing is about the market and about what will sell. But you can’t write to the market because it takes ages for a book to get published, and what’s popular at the moment might not be two years from now.  So basically I’m getting rejected, at least in part, because of something outside of my control. And as frustrating as that can be, I have to take comfort in the fact that at least I’m not getting rejected because my writing is bad. In fact, I’m getting told that my writing is good.

So I’ll keep writing. And I’ll cross my fingers that the next novel I create will not only be well-written but also something that an agent thinks will sell. I won’t try to predict what that might be. Instead I’ll write what I want to write, hope for the best, and accept the fact that the road to publishing is a long one.


Flashback to Shirtless Bros at Yoga

It’s flashback day here at In The Garden of Eva.

I was looking through old blog posts a few weeks ago and found this one about a yoga class I attended back when I lived in Seattle three years ago.  As I read, I found myself laughing out loud, thoroughly entertained.  It’s so great when you can enjoy your own writing!

I hope you guys enjoy it, too!

Shirtless Bros at Yoga — originally published Sept. 5, 2013

The other day, thanks to a recently-purchased Groupon, I ended up going to a class I’d like to call bro-ga. Bro-ga is what happens when guys who seem like surfers or extreme mountain bikers or fraternity brothers (and perhaps they are these things, too) do yoga. Bro-ga involves shirtless dudes showing off their tribal tattoos and competing for who can do the most radical head stand. It seems to be mostly a west coast phenomenon, and if you’re unfamiliar with the type, consider Bradley Cooper’s character in Failure to Launch, a movie in which I happen to make a small cameo*.




Here I am doing yoga on a birdbath!


Why Is Writing Getting Harder Instead of Easier?

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Why Is Writing Getting Harder Instead of Easier?

A decade ago. I quit my full-time job so I could write a novel. Then, in the span of two months, I wrote one. It was terrible, but it was pretty easy to write. I guess it’s easy to do something badly.

Luckily, I recognized that the novel was bad. So I enrolled in an MFA program, thinking this would teach me to be a better writer. And I suppose it did, in it’s way. I got pretty good at writing literary short stories. Got a bunch of them published in literary journals that no one reads. (See here.)

After graduating with my MFA, I tried to write another novel. This time it was harder. I was much more aware that I didn’t know what I was doing. (Because, truth be told, my MFA taught me NOTHING about writing novels.) As I was writing, I started to hate the novel, but I forced myself to finish.  Then I stuffed it in a drawer, never to be looked at again.

Then I took a hiatus from writing and went back to working full-time as a high school math teacher.

pie 1

As a high school math teacher, I had a pie thrown in my face during a school fundraiser.  Ahh, teaching.  Good times!


For two years I hid behind a teaching job that sucked away all my time and creative energy. I didn’t tell anyone I was a writer. I wasn’t writing anything anyway. I was afraid of trying again and failing.

But then I turned 30 and told myself to get serious. I quit teaching and made the decision to focus on writing. I started reading books on how to write and plot novels. (In hindsight, I probably should have done this from the get-go and saved myself the thousands of dollars I spent on my MFA. Of course, then I wouldn’t have met a lot of my awesome writer-friends, or gotten to go to Spain and Mexico through my MFA’s study abroad program. There’s good and bad in every decision, yada yada.)

Anyway, I started writing novels again. Now that I knew the basics of plot, I understood better what I needed to do to write a satisfying novel. The first one came without too much of a struggle. (Although I spent the next three years revising it.) The next two were harder to write, and they weren’t very good either.

Still, I thought, I just need to keep trying. The next one will be better.

And I have continued to try. But here’s the problem: the more I learn about how to write a novel, the harder it gets to actually write one. I find myself practically paralyzed with the knowledge of all the things a novel needs to contain. I find myself stopping before I start, and when I do finally start, I find it nearly impossible to keep going.


Will I EVER get good at writing novels??


Oh, how I pine for those days of blissful ignorance when I just sat down at my computer and let the words come flowing out of me, not worrying about character motivation or where the story was going or what the climax might be. Now, I feel like all this knowledge I’ve obtained is blocking me from actually writing anything. I brainstorm and outline. I make charts and plotting diagrams. I sit at my desk and stare out the window.  But I can barely manage to eek out a page of prose without second-guessing what I’ve written and wondering if I should scrap the whole thing.

Back when I didn’t know how to write novels, I could write them with seemingly little effort. Not that I know (in theory) what to do, I find it agonizingly hard. And I’m getting really scared. I’m scared that I’m going to keep failing at this, and that’s making things even harder.

I’m not sure what to do.

Somehow I need to find a balance. I need some of that un-self-conscious, open-to-the-muses whimsy I had ten years ago. I need a part of myself that can stop judging my own writing for a minute and just let the words flow. But, I also need to make sure my novel has a decent plot and the sorts of things agents and publishers look for in a book.  (Because that IS my goal — to get traditionally published.)   So I need the planning and judgment aspect as well.

Perhaps most importantly, I need to stop being afraid because that’s making everything worse. In fact, maybe it’s not the knowledge that has been blocking me all this time. It’s been my fear. The fear that came when I learned how hard writing a good novel really is and started to worry I wasn’t up to the task.

My conciliation for now is this: if writing bad novels was easy for me, maybe writing a good novel will be difficult. Which means it’s okay for me to struggle – the fact that I’m having a hard time doesn’t mean I’m not cut out to be a writer. Maybe all this difficulty I’ve been having means I’m finally getting to the place where I’ll finally be able to write something good.

Eva Langston

I can’t let this professional writer headshot go to waste, now can I??


All of this reminds me of something Mary Kole says in her book Writing Irresistible Kid Lit:

“ …people trying to master something move through four stages, from “unconscious incompetence” to “conscious incompetence,” to “conscious competence,” to “unconscious competence.”

I guess I’m trying to move from conscious incompetence to conscious competence.  It’s not easy!  (You can read more about this idea here and here.)

Scuba Diving & Exploring the Dimensions of a Story

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Scuba Diving & Exploring the Dimensions of a Story

Over the weekend, my husband and I went to Lake Phoenix, a “scuba park” in Virginia about an hour’s drive south of Richmond. The lake bed is an old quarry filled with crystal-clear, algae-free water, and there are interesting things submerged at the bottom for divers to explore, such as a school bus and a helicopter.

Not that I scuba dive. As a person who has had two lung surgeries and who harbors a healthy fear of deep water and the things that dwell within it, scuba diving is not for me.   But Paul loves it.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have anyone to dive with, and scuba diving is one of those activities where you kinda need a buddy. The plan was that he, me, and my mom would drive down to Lake Phoenix on Sunday morning. Hopefully, Paul would find a buddy once we got there, and if not he’d just swim with me and my mom.

Lake Phoen6

Lake Phoenix in Rawlings, VA.  Photo by Margie Langston.


As we drove down the pothole-ridden road towards the lake, an anxious feeling began to blossom in my stomach just thinking about how terrifying scuba diving must be.  If I were the one about to go diving, I’d be sick with fear by this point.

“Are you nervous?” I asked Paul.

“I’m excited about diving,” he said. “I’m nervous I might not find someone to go with.”

Luckily for him, when we pulled up, the dive shop was crowded, and right away Paul found a guy named Trevor who said, “yeah, sure, you can come with us. We’re going right now.”

Right now.

Then began a frantic thirty minutes of Paul trying to buy his tank and assemble his gear as fast as he could. I watched him securing his tank to his scuba pack and felt the butterflies in my stomach multiply. By the time we had lugged all his equipment down to the lake’s edge, Trevor and crew were already in the water, ready to go.

“I’m coming!” Paul shouted to them, struggling into his wet suit. It was about a million degrees in the direct sun as I helped Paul into his hood and boots and watched his face turn the color of a ripe tomato. I was worried. I was worried they were going to leave without him, but even worse, I was worried that in his haste, he would forget something important that would compromise his safety underwater.

Paul pulled the zipper to his boot and the zipper popped off. “Oops,” he said. “Oh well.” He strapped on his air tanks, and I handed him his weights which he stuffed into pockets on his scuba pack. The sun was beating down on us, and my heart was racing. I felt slightly dizzy. Suddenly, I was seeing white spots, and my mom said the color drained from my lips. I knew if I didn’t get out of the sun and lay down immediately, I was going to faint right there on the shore of Lake Phoenix.

“I gotta go,” I mumbled, shoving Paul’s flippers at him. I hobbled up the hill towards a shaded wooden bench and lay down. I didn’t even see my husband’s decent into the deep.

Lake Phoenx 1

Paul and some other scuba divers.  Photo by Margie Langston


So, obviously, I’m not cut out for scuba diving. But after I recovered from my swoon, my mom and I went swimming in the clear, cool water, and that was really nice. An hour later, Paul came back to the surface, and as we ate lunch he told us about his adventures at fifty feet below.

One of the things Paul says he loves about scuba diving is that, underwater, you can move in all three dimensions. Instead of on land where we can only move on the axis of forward-and-back and the axis of left-and-right, underwater you can also move on the axis of up-and-down. It might not sound like a big deal, but Paul says adding this new dimension to your choice of directions can be both mind-blowing and exciting.

After lunch, Paul went for a second dive. My mom and I read in the shade and then took another swim. When Paul came back up, we all swam together then headed back to Richmond for dinner.  Despite my near-faint, it was a lovely day.

Lake Phoenx 2

My mom and me.


In other news, I’ve started working on a new book. Right now I’m writing to get to know the characters and explore the story possibilities. The stuff I’m writing now might not even make it into the final draft, and furthermore, the story might morph to something totally different from what I think it is right now. I’m still brainstorming, basically. I’m trying to figure out in which direction to go.

Normally this stage frustrates me because I feel like I’m not making progress. I want to start writing the actual chapters and feel like I’m getting somewhere, but I’m learning to embrace the exploration stage where, instead of moving forward in a straight line towards a finish, I’m fanning out in different directions from the starting idea, testing to see what works best.

This stage is really important, because often our first idea is not our best or most original idea.  (In fact, often our first idea is something we’ve actually seen or read somewhere else.)  Instead of just going with the first thing that pops into my head and running with it, I want to explore all the different directions I might go and then pick the best one.

As much as scuba diving terrifies me, I think there might be a link here. As I write, aren’t I diving down into my subconscious? Looking for submerged treasures?

And I wonder, is there some other direction I could take this story that I haven’t even considered? An up-down dimension, perhaps — something nearly impossible normally but possible in the realm of a fictional story?  It’s interesting to think about.  I doubt I’ll ever scuba dive in real life, but as I explore the possibilities for my story, I want to move in all three dimensions.  I want to be unafraid to go deep and see what I can find.



Paul found a skeleton at the bottom!  Photo by Trevor Mireles.



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