It is endlessly bleak and dreary here so I am lighting every candle in my apartment and reading about Hygge, watching Christmas movies and knitting scarves and eating extra-dark pretzels dipped in mascarpone cheese. In December the cold makes me feel old fashioned, like someone who darns socks or has a root cellar, so I wrapped and sent out a bunch of Christmas packages full of bits and bobs from my overstuffed stationery drawer and made a bunch of dinners from stuff already in the fridge. It’s nice, this preparing kind of feeling. The notion that that something is on its way.
I was at a writing retreat recently and I heard a woman say that before she actually sat down to do it, she had been very smug about writing her second book. “I was like, I just wrote one,” she said, shaking her head a bit in disbelief. “How hard could writing another one possibly be?”
Spoiler alert: it was very hard.
I mean, not hard-hard. Not hard like working on an oilrig or being in the army or cleaning bathrooms. Not hard like being a surgeon, like saving lives, and yes of course books save lives but sometimes I feel like I don’t even write those kinds of books, the really important lifesaving kind, not that my books aren’t important and not that I don’t feel proud but why does this feel so difficult and and on and on and on.
Do you hear me? I trust you to hear me.
The point is: HOW TO LOVE I wrote for the fun of it, because at the time I was playing around and didn’t really know any better. My third book, the shiny neon tragedy I’m writing now–that one I’m writing for love.
99 DAYS? 99 DAYS was work.
And it was so, so worth it.
I love this book, you guys. I am so excited to share it with you. It’s about a girl and two brothers and love and families and friendships and secrets and candy and water and ghost hearts and how sometimes you can’t even pinpoint the moment when a mistake starts to happen—you just look behind you at the end of it and there it is stretching back to the horizon line, as far as your eyes can see.
Also there is like, a ton of kissing in it, if that’s your bag. It is certainly mine.
99 DAYS isn’t out ‘til next April (although hello yes it is available for preorder), but I’ve got a stack of ARCs sitting on my desk and I would love love love to send one of them your way, along with a host of other goodies. A 99 DAYS Prize Pack, even. How about that.
There are four ways to enter, and you can enter up to four times:
- Subscribe to this blog (if you don’t already) and leave a comment here telling me you’ve done so.
- Follow me on twitter (if you don’t already!) and leave a comment here telling me you’ve done so.
- Follow me on tumblr (if you don’t already) and leave a comment here telling me you’ve done so
- Follow me on instagram (if, wait for it, you don’t already) and leave a comment here telling me you’ve done so.
The contest will run until this Sunday, November 16th, and is unfortunately only open to residents of the continental US. I’ll post the winner on Monday. So go play!
UPDATE: this giveaway is now closed. Stick around for more chances to win!
In 2008 I was depressed so I started doing extreme couponing. Not, like, EXTREME extreme couponing, with the forty jars of mayonnaise and a year’s supply of Desitin for the baby I didn’t have, but extreme couponing nevertheless. I read the CVS circular the way I imagine other twenty-three year old women read Joan Didion, at length and with great attention. I was bored. I was looking for something. It was not six packages of oil-free Neutrogena wipes for a penny, but looking back I think I liked the weird obsessive logic of the endeavor—do this and this and this and this and this is what will happen. You will have something, you will have paid very little, and you will feel satisfied.
The other thing I did in 2008 was start this blog, and the two things feel connected a) because I used to TALK about my effing couponing here, as if that was the kind of thing that people wanted to read about, and b) because I think at the time it was satisfying to me in a similar way? The give and take of writing here and reading elsewhere, the click of my hands on the keys.
The point of all of this is that it’s six years later, I have two books under my belt that are happily not about couponing, I like to think that I’m generally less of a sad sack, but I still have a lot of other things to yammer about that are not fictional or my shopping habits (okay I want to yammer about my shopping habits a LITTLE). Most of all I miss making my home here, unwinding my words in this space.
I do this, and I feel satisfied. I am still here, if you are still here.
Plus if you’re interested I know where you can get some face wash WICKED CHEAP right now.
OH HEY, WHO WANTS TO COME SEE ME ON TOUR NEXT WEEK?
I could not be more excited about this next adventure, you guys: five bookstores, five days, four (and sometimes five!) super cool YA-writing ladies, including yours truly. Come say hi if you’re in the neighborhood, yeah?
Katie Cotugno (How to Love)
Melissa Kantor (Maybe One Day)
Robyn Schneider (The Beginning of Everything)
Courtney C. Stevens (Faking Normal)
*Special Guest Lauren Oliver (Panic)*
Saturday, March 1st @ 4:00 PM
South Hadley, MA
Sunday, March 2nd @ 4:00 PM
Monday, March 3rd @ 7:00 PM
Barnes & Noble
Fairless Hills, PA
*With Special Guest Lauren Oliver (Panic)
Tuesday, March 4th @ 7:00 PM
Little Shop of Stories
*With Special Guest Lauren Oliver (Panic)
Wednesday, March 5th @ 7:00 PM
Blue Bicycle Books
*With Special Guest Lauren Oliver (Panic)
read a bunch of john cheever for school and decide everyone in john cheever is an asshole the same way everyone on mad men is an asshole, except mad men has peggy and that other funny guy with the beard. fret. hold babies. send letters. discover a large cache of fanfiction for the art of fielding on tumblr, and feel largely unsurprised. wonder if marie will be the only person left standing at the end of breaking bad, and hope so. go to a matchbox 20 concert and smile like it’s 1996. visit a tailor. eat a lobster macmuffin at local 149. eat lobster risotto at lincoln. wonder what other foods you could eat with lobster in them before the summer is over. drink a caipirinha. drink another. buy a sweatshirt from your alma mater. house-sit in an apartment where you are allergic to the cats. wonder if john mayer’s head scarf is a sign of douchey eccentricity or actual mental illness. lie awake. visit your family. keep your head down. do your work.
“Joe still lives here,” is the first thing Jacy tells her, before hello or are you hungry or isn’t this so fucking hideous, this thing we have to do. “Across the street. I saw him washing his car.”
“Really?” Grace blinks. Joe was her boyfriend in high school. She is thirty-nine years old. She drops her suitcase on the carpet and gazes around at the mess in the living room, the mail and the knickknacks and the leaning paperback towers of books. Their mom, she liked to collect.
“Really.” Jacy sits cross-legged on the gutless couch like some kind of thin, blonde Buddha, two of the cats fast asleep in her lap. Grace has no idea how many cats there actually are.
“Okay,” she says slowly, and goes upstairs to wash her face. “All right.”
She sees him two days later, while she’s taking some garbage bags out to the curb–she’s salvaging what she can to bring to St. Vincent de Paul but a lot of it’s just trash, catalogues, stained t-shirts from vacations taken in 1974 by people who weren’t even her mother. She slams the lid down on the plastic bin with more force than is perhaps necessary and when she looks up Joe is standing in his driveway across the street, jeans and a t-shirt, one hand raised in a greeting. He looks like she remembers.
Grace waves back.
The whole place is caked with a layer of grit and dust, storm clouds of it in every crevice, under all the rugs. The cats pee in the bathtub. The cupboards overflow with ancient cans. “How the hell did she live like this?” Grace asks finally, halfway to tears and something sticky and unidentified dripping down her arm. They haven’t been able to get the air-conditioner to work since they got here, and sweat beads along the rising of her ribs.
“Well,” Jacy points out, pulling some cloudy-looking jars off the shelves in the refrigerator, tossing them into the trash. Jacy is only twenty-five, a miracle baby. Grace thinks she mostly raised herself. “She didn’t, in the end.”
In the closet behind a bundle of yellowing bed linens is a shoebox full of costume jewelry, plastic brooches, pop beads. Grace and Jacy sit on the moth-eaten oriental carpet, matching up broken pairs of clip-on earrings like little girls playing memory. “Where did she wear these?” Grace wonders out loud, pulling a rhinestone and enamel comb from the from the pile, its teeth broken like a prizefighter. “She never left the house.”
Tangled in a long, tarnished silver chain is a thin band of diamonds and sapphires, delicate, a gift for someone loved. “It’s real,” Jacy says, holding the bracelet up to the window, dust motes swimming in the light from the sun. “I’ll be goddamned.”
Grace reaches for it, hesitates. “Do you–”
“No,” Jacy says immediately, handing it over. “Take it.”
The clasp snicks shut, like the closing of a storm door. The stones shine on her wrist.
That night she wanders outside to get some air and he’s sitting on his front steps like he’s waiting, face bathed in sherbet-colored porchlight. “Hey, Grace,” he calls, when he sees her. His deep voice echoes up the empty street.
“Hi,” Grace says. She crosses slowly, looks both ways even though there’s nothing to see. Grace is cautious. She takes her time. She walks up the path and sits beside him, quiet. Cicadas call high in the trees.
“Was sorry to hear about your mom,” he says eventually. He’s less lanky than she remembers him as being, like he’s settled sturdy into his skin. There’s a glass bottle on the ground between his feet, a precarious thing.
“Thanks,” Grace says. “We were, you know.” She shrugs a little. “Estranged. So it’s odd.”
“I always thought that was such a funny word, estranged,” Joe says. “Clinical. And whatever else anything like that is…well.” He rocks forward a little, laughs softly. “It’s not clean.”
He gets her a beer and another for himself and they talk about all kinds of things, the kids they used to run with and the movies that they’ve seen, catching up, relearning each other. He’s a carpenter; he’s out of work. The flagstone is baked warm beneath her thighs.
“How are you?” she asks finally.
“Me?” Joe asks, ducks his dark head a little. “I’m okay.” Grace waits, and then: “I’m not so good.”
“That’s a pretty bracelet,” he tells her, and she kisses him to say, thanks.
They dated a summer, that’s all, seventeen and making out in cars and behind buildings and on couches in the middle of the day. She hasn’t been back home in a decade and a half, but here he is. It feels familiar and strange. He inherited the house from his parents; it smells like cigarettes and recycled air but it’s immaculate inside, everything in its place, like a hotel room.
Joe takes her to dinner but his card won’t run, so Grace pulls some cash out of her purse. She climbs onto his lap in the parking lot, her knee up against the door.
Oh, she gets it, she’s not an idiot.
The radio hums.
“Are you kidding me, Gracie?” her sister demands, catching her arm on her way out the door the third day in a row; Jacy looks exhausted, blue hollows under her eyes. They’re supposed to start the basement this morning. It’s possible Grace hasn’t been pulling her weight. “Seriously, come the fuck on.”
“I’ll be back,” she calls over her shoulder. The screen clatters shut behind her, a thin-sounding wooden racket. “Start without me, okay?”
“No problem,” Jacy replies, sighing. “Take your time.”
Joe smiles, offers her a drink even though it’s eleven-thirty in the morning, lays his capable mouth over hers. She falls asleep in his bed and dreams of home.
Later she thunders back down into the basement, blinking at the darkness, catacomb damp. “What’ve we got?” she asks cheerfully.
“Christmas decorations,” Jacy says, over the blare of an ancient boom box. “And two dead mice. So, thanks for your help.”
“I’m sorry,” Grace says. “I’m here now.”
They work mostly in silence, men’s shoes and broken appliances. She’s reaching for a cardboard box at the top of a stack in the corner when she notices a naked lightness on her wrist. She glances up. “Fuck,” she says.
“What’s gone? The bracelet?” Jacy shakes her head, disbelieving. “Oh, well done.”
“You haven’t seen it?”
“Me? Seriously?” Jacy laughs. “Ask your boyfriend,” she advises. “Maybe he could tell you where it is.”
So she retraces her steps, careful, looking for the telltale glint of sparkle in the light. She imagines her mother dressed up for dinner or a movie, a satin dress and pumps. Her heart labors. Grace stands on the front lawn, searching. She hardly knows where to begin.