Category Archives: teenagers

Leaving Town

What did we forget to pack?

Confession: I need a shot of adrenaline in order to leave town.  Other people routinely lower thermostats, lock doors, and depart on schedule, but in the fraternity house we call home, I can’t find the thermostat behind last night’s pizza boxes and we’re lucky if our doors are closed.  Nobody organizes so much as a toothbrush without a packing list and the packing list can’t get created until the increasing pressure of a departure date triggers an adrenaline boost.

Warning: dependence on brain chemicals can have unintended consequences.  For example, one’s desk must be cleared before leaving town and clearing one’s desk becomes so fun and easy on adrenaline-spiked blood that hours are squandered resolving dust-covered medical claims and writing past due thank you notes while the mail and the newspaper cry out to be stopped.

But: This summer, my energy boost took a detour.  Instead of toughing it out in my household office: where work-in-progress goes to hibernate and creative writing takes a backseat to hauling vitamin water, my husband established a window corner of his office just for me: a table, an internet cable, and a chair with a lovely view of the world below.  Cool blue walls and busy co-workers encouraged progress.  No one there fusses about summer reading, whines for snacks, or obsesses over 4-player screen mayhem.

Behold: in the serene setting of my “corner office” the needs of my novel became clear.  Ideas and words packed themselves into efficient paragraphs and problems cleared the revision list.  The closer departure date loomed, the more I accomplished.  I allowed the adrenaline boost go straight to my writing.    How could I worry about thermostats when the motivation of my male antagonist was stark staring clear to me?  The only packing list I could generate was the one my protagonist needed to get out of that lake house before it was too late.

Alas: at the very last possible moment I came to my senses and we left town like a moving target.  It comes as no surprise that some teenagers packed only flip-flops, t-shirts, and cell phones.

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Filed under Cindy Jones, hazards of writing, Motherhood, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers

Memo to Younger Writing-Self

Me and My Literary Agent

I will never be able to go back in time to visit earlier versions of my writing-self, but if I could, I would offer my younger writing-self a firm pat on the back and tell her that the endless rejection and setbacks would eventually result in a published book. 

Last weekend, I got to do the next best thing.  As a speaker at the Writer’s League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference in Austin, Texas, I was able to tell my story to an audience of aspiring writers who occupied the same seat I occupied four, six, and nine years ago.  In addition to advising them How to Solve Their Soggy Middle Problem and What to Do After Landing an Agent, they got a healthy dose of reassurance from me that, although it might seem as if they took a wrong turn and got sidetracked in rejection and setback, the same path leads to publication, and they are indeed on the right track.  I told them that if they exercised patience and continued to persist through countless revisions, pushed their imaginations two generations beyond capacity, and actually did what the Writer’s League of Texas told them to do, they would one day return to the very same hotel ballroom to sign copies of their published book and deliver their own Craft of Writing Talk. 

But that’s not all.  If they would stand in line to pitch their idea to agents now, they would someday find themselves leaving the Pitching Session early to meet their literary agent for a long conversation about their writing career–over a glass of wine in a quiet corner of the hotel lobby.  And if they would network diligently now, they would someday be invited to mingle among agents and editors at the Conference Faculty Party, not your usual cocktail party chitchat.  And I can witness that the glow from spending a weekend among people who get to work in the publishing industry would persist even after they returned home to a refrigerator full of The Colonel’s leftovers and a kibble bin refitted as a feeding trough by two enterprising dogs. 

I wonder if there is anything my future-self would like to tell my present-self about raising teenagers through structure-free summers.


Filed under Agent, Cindy Jones, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers, The Writer's League of Texas

Earth to Cindy

Calling Cindy...

My family was hopeful that after the launch of my debut novel, things would return to normal.  And ideally, I would have dropped everything and gone back to matching socks, if only my novel-in-progress had not been weighing on me like a term paper for a class I’d stopped attending.  Since I was already short-listed for Space Cadet of The Year, and considering how little time remained before summer, it hardly seemed worthwhile to switch gears.  If I could just take the momentum from my book launch and apply it to finishing next novel, I could be present for an earthling summer and sort socks in time for camp.  Unfortunately, over the previous year I’d only demonstrated ability to focus on next novel while in solitary confinement, at least 450 miles from home.  Sacrifices would be required to replicate the intensity.  Earth would have to go.  

I printed the existing draft and read it aloud, plunging deep into the world of my characters, maintaining an iron grip on the narrative line while my grasp of reality flirted with black holes.  I solved literary problems while driving the car, but my passengers rolled their eyes as I passed destinations, again and again.  I rallied for the dinner hour, but was no good for conversation, and relied on the puppy for homework patrol.  At the very moment it seemed our household chaos could not possibly get worse, oldest son arrived home for the summer and unloaded a year’s worth of dorm life just inside the back door.  He left a narrow path to the kitchen but that hardly mattered for obvious reasons.

For the record, I entered a grocery store during all this, but the minute I tossed the first item into my cart, a distressed text message originating from afterschool sports screamed:  WHERE R U??  I had to ditch.      

Yes, I managed to finish the novel, but for the first time in my life, I truly understand my late grandfather.  I laughed at the absent-minded professor stories, but now I know why he backed out of the garage before opening the garage door and why he sometimes wore his pyjama bottoms to work.  And I’m with him on driving to the university and taking the bus home.  At the most distracted point of this episode, I hauled three teenagers out of bed for a very early morning obligation at church and then had to explain to them, and the assembly of church people whose morning I disrupted, that I was operating in a different week of the month.  If they had flipped their calendars ahead one week they would have understood exactly where I was coming from, or where I was at that moment.  Someday it will seem funny.    

And then I reached the end.  I pressed send, launching new novel through cyberspace and into my agent’s orbit.  After a brief personal celebration, I reorganized The Sock Department of our Laundry Room, patronized three grocery stores, and relieved the puppy of command.  At one point a teenager grumbled, “don’t you have a book to write?”  It’s nice to be back.   



Filed under Agent, Cindy Jones, hazards of writing, launching things, teenagers

Life After Launch

I have been a published author for a full week which qualifies me to observe that the old uneasy feeling of handing my precious manuscript over to my husband or my writing group and then WAITING for the verdict, now seems cozy and quaint, compared to the dizzy sensation of surrendering 40,000 copies to the United States of America, its territories and possessions, the Philippines, Canada, and the rest of the world, with the exception of countries listed on Schedule A, and WAITING for the verdict.   

Regardless, it has been a full week and although it was great fun to be surrounded by family and friends on my book’s big day, the party’s over and, as one of my sons pointed out yesterday, we still have no bread.  Now that the book is out in the world where she will have to rely on her merits to survive, it is time to resume grocery shopping, address maintenance issues deferred for the last five years, and lower the boom on homework procrastinators.  And promote the book.  Although they claim to love their new “sister”, one family member asked when are we gonna get all these books out of the living room?…  (She’s not going back to the hospital).

Many thanks to all who joined me at Borders for the launch event.  You honored me with your presence.  And thanks to Bob Jones who provided pictures to share with those who are far away.  For more pictures, click the Facebook badge to the right of this post and check out photos on the My Jane Austen Summer Facebook page.



Surrounded by friends and family

The bookstore is only 4.7 miles from home but it took 10 years to get there!


Filed under Cindy Jones, launching things, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers

Holiday Post Partum: The Grocery Store

They sell snow sleds in Santa Fe supermarkets. (say it fast)

I made my first post-holiday trip to the grocery store a few days ago, a necessity since we were living on Christmas cookie crumbs and smoked turkey from the bird delivered to husband’s office weeks ago.  From Thanksgiving to Christmas I’d shopped in a hurry for things like maraschino cherries and artichoke-spinach dip, navigating a flat-bed and four teenagers who came along to make sure I bought banned items like sugar cereal and pop-tarts in adequate supply for Cousin Week.   

First thing I noticed in my post-holiday shopping were the wide open spaces.  Gone were the mountains of candied fruit bits, condensed milk, and brown sugar draped with tinsel garlands.  Santa displays no longer obscured the dairy aisle and frantic shoppers casing the grocery store for a thoughtful gift had moved on to new emergencies.  I enjoyed the calm and felt uplifted, (except for the valentine hearts, but let’s not go there). 

Walking right past last month’s false friend–the heavy whipping cream–I drove my cart to the produce section where I hugged the romaine.  The bananas said, “Where the heck have you been?”  My old friends were still there: the grape tomatoes, the pre-washed vegetable medley, and carrots.  Dear, sweet, baby carrots.  “I survived the holidays,” I said.   

And then I remembered.  But I was afraid to look.

I turned slowly, and gazed over the heaps of grapefruit and clementines, fearful of what I wouldn’t find.  The apples sat in plain view:  red, green, and golden delicious.  But they looked smaller than they’d been in the fullness of autumn, in the days before holiday chaos and cocktail party-thinking led me down the path of caloric ruin.  I parked my cart and approached my old friends, seeking the beautiful apple that had spent every lunch at my desk, satisfying both sweet and crunchy cravings while I contemplated word choices.  If my apple was gone, I would survive the seasonal absence, but I wasn’t ready to let go yet.  I hadn’t said goodbye.  The large sign proclaiming its name was missing and I didn’t immediately recognize it among the varieties whose tiny labels said, Fuji, Jonagold, and Macintosh.  I lectured myself on the folly of sucking up to sour cream in the crush of the holidays, and my grandmother’s voice said, see how you are?  And then I found it.  The most beautiful name in apples:  Honeycrisp.  I tore off a plastic bag and gathered as many as I could eat in a week, grateful to have more time with my lunch buddy before the constraints of its season forced its absence from my life.  “The holidays are over, little apples,” I said.  “Let’s go home and write a novel.”


Filed under Christmas, Cindy Jones, My grandmother said..., My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers

The Holidays: Part Two

If you are behind in your Christmas shopping, haven’t ordered your cards, and couldn’t bake a cookie without a gun to your head, you have come to the right place.  In comparison to me, everyone can feel good about their progress.  I am in React Mode.  If something bites me, I deal with it.  Otherwise, I’m spiralling downward to holiday disaster at an ever-increasing speed.  Take yesterday.  My mother finished her Christmas shopping, boys and puppies got away with who-knows-what, and people sold Second Novels while I searched for an old photograph.  I spent hours digging through boxes and drawers while my to-do list waited for me to come to my senses.  I stayed on the trail of the elusive picture to my utter and totally unnecessary peril.      

It started when the boys unpacked the red and green bins last weekend.  They pulled out photos and decorations seen once a year, relics of the past.  They talked while they worked and it was clear they were looking back.  And I looked back, too.  Year by year, all the way back to their births.  And I realized that there was a last Christmas when they were all four little boys.  And we took a picture of them that year. 

I found it.  Or at least I found a scan of it. 

I have now safely re-scanned it for posterity, or at least until my computer gets upgraded.  I will spare you the details of how I feel about this picture and why I had to have two hankies (make that three) to finish writing this post.  But in this chaotic season, in this year of birds leaving nests and debut novel launch preparations, it feels good to hold onto things that are not moving.  And to be able to put my hands on them.


Filed under Christmas, Cindy Jones, Motherhood, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers

The Holidays: Part I

Little Person Wearing Tutu

In the spirit of Pilgrims and Indians, I shut down my Word files the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and invited Niece and Nephews to spend the afternoon with me.  We would prepare our Thanksgiving Turkey and take the puppy for her first walk ever.  The Little People, as their older cousins call them, never refuse an invitation.  (Aunt Cindy is still fun!)  They wear superhero attire at all times because The Call could come at any moment.  Niece wears a tutu and Nephews dress as Spiderman or X Man.  Don’t be fooled by their height, they know an empty gas gauge when they see one and two of them can read traffic signs.  At the grocery store, all of The Little People wanted to carry the celery.  At the lake, all of The Little People wanted to walk the turkey–I mean puppy.  (Aunt Cindy is still funny!)   When I mentioned we might have time to read Thanksgiving stories, oldest Nephew said, “Oh yeah, baby, baby!”  (Aunt Cindy still does cool stuff!)      

It was all fun and games until the Teenagers came home.  Three-year old Niece ditched her Thanksgiving book to run slo-mo (think: Elvira Madigan in a tutu) into the arms of her home-from-college cousin, while Nephews dropped their onions and celery to take up Nerf arms (superheroes, see?) against the invading teenagers, all of whom declared there was to be no noise and no making messes. (Aunt Cindy loves the irony!)  Action-adventure notwithstanding, a Rockwell moment occurred when we took the perfect turkey out of the oven.  So good-looking, it could have starred in a Hallmark Thanksgiving Special, and if the teenagers hadn’t seen it come out of my oven, they would have accused me of take-out.  

Little People never take an intermission and the holiday was a three-day symphony, all movements conducted allegro con brio.  With two grandmas, the turkey smell, and total chaos of Batman versus the Pilgrims, football and piddling puppy, and–I am not kidding–the adoption of three baby kittens (not me), we counted our blessings, and nobody got seriously traumatized or lost, except maybe some of the kittens.  At one moment in the melee, my mother remarked that I seemed to be showing signs of readiness for grand-parenthood.  Not the point, mom.  In fact, you got that exactly backwards.  (Aunt Cindy’s still got it!)  

We’re finding Nerf bullets and getting sticky off everything in time to launch The Holidays: Part II.


Filed under Cindy Jones, launching things, Motherhood, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers

I Am Thankful for Instant Messaging

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wish to express gratitude to technology for promoting close ties with my loved ones (pictured right) even if it occasionally feels too close for comfort.  Take my cell phone.  Please.  Family members can catch me in the book store, girl lunches, and the hairdresser’s shampoo station.  Husband invariably calls both times I visit the pedicure salon, and since he doesn’t really know what a pedicure is, makes me repeat the word five times and seek other words to describe what I’m doing, until all 17 fellow pedicure clients glance up from their magazines to lament my short leash.  

Take Instant Messaging.  Please.  By touching a few letters, my sons can cryptically inform me if they are in any kind of need, a state they interpret widely to include hunger, gym clothes, and homework.  But.  Instant messaging is a two-edged sword, and thanks to the  high school family network, I see their grades before they do, (if I’m paying attention).  Thanks to Facebook’s lack of privacy, I know what they’re broadcasting on the cosmic information superhighway soon enough to protect them from themselves.  

If I’m paying attention.     

You can experience this same degree of intimacy with MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER.  Enrolled in Facebook?  You can click on the icon to the right of this post to gain instant access to the intimate details of a novel’s birth.  You can experience the labor and delivery of baby fiction as if you were present at the printing press, bear the author’s endless self-promotion, and know what reviewers say the moment their thoughts first occur to them.  How many of your closest friends are books?  MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER has a total of 22 fans.  While this is high achievement for a lemonade stand, it will not impress the Head Office.  So go ahead and friend the book.  It can’t talk back and will never text you for homework, lunch, or gym clothes.


Filed under Cindy Jones, First Reader (aka Husband), launching things, Motherhood, teenagers

Parent’s Weekend: New Families Are All Alike

New Family Weekend Football Game

If Tolstoy had attended New Family Weekend at Texas A&M University he might have revised his famous line to read, New Families are all alike.  I had imagined a weekend among New Families just like us, helping our freshman find his way, establishing new traditions, and being part of something bigger than ourselves.  

But we missed the New Family check-in on Friday night because of teenagers not interested in driving to College Station.  Thereafter, captive teenagers restricted communication to text messages, and they really had something to text about when we checked into the last motel room in town.  Note to new New Families: reserve hotel room at time of initial application to school.  We missed the Second Chance Check-In and showed up at an Aggie football game wearing sky blue, to the mortification of our freshman.  He tried to lose us in the sea of maroon (official school color) but failed, owing to the blueness of our shirts.  The one family member wearing a maroon t-shirt, did however, get lost.  Everything was in confusion in our row as we spent most of the game searching for the lost family member and responding to emergency text messages from stay-at-home-son requesting a remote pizza order (parent refused) and informing us that the family dog had chewed a bottle of melatonin (dog survived). 

And then a cannon fired and I thought we were finished forever.

But our team had scored, and the marching band launched into the Aggie Fight Song.  Our freshman knew the words.  All eighty-three thousand people stood and the maroon shirted  person next to me reached out with his left arm and told me to place my right leg behind his left leg so he could catch me if I fell.  He didn’t care that my shirt was blue and my teenagers were texting or lost.  We swayed, along with eighty-three thousand other maroon shirted  people, and I realized the sense of unconditional belonging, a reason we’d wanted this school for our freshman.  And I silently blessed my neighbor for taking us newbies under his wing.     

If we hadn’t missed the New Family Tailgate Party I’m certain that we would have met others just like us.


Filed under Cindy Jones, moment of clarity, teenagers

My Silent Hotel Room


My son rowing in The Head of the Oklahoma Regatta (he's tallest in the middle)

Last weekend I drove to Oklahoma City to cheer my son’s crew team.  I went alone.  What this really means is: I left my personal fraternity house (on Pizza Friday) for the absolute solitude of a remote hotel room.  Husband felt sorry to cancel on me, but I pulled out of the driveway before he or anyone could reshuffle their schedules and get in my car.  For three hours I drove, imagining a block of time in a silent hotel room to work on my novel.  No dog jumping on the bed, no boys arguing over TV controllers, no husband expecting ducks in a row.  I was so excited I nearly missed my exit.

Alone in my room, I experienced the joy of thinking in a straight line.  I read without losing my place, revised without stopping and starting, generated ideas without interruptions.  I glided effortlessly through a fertile field of inspiration, stunned by new perspective.  I bloated my notebook with ideas, dispatched research materials that had idled since June, and noticed how quickly the friction-free time was passing.  Too fast.  I hadn’t figured out how all this stuff I’d gathered, informed my subject.  If only I were smarter, had greater capacity, I could close the gap as I went.  By the time I packed my car and headed to the regatta, I felt cerebrally hung over and lacking in accomplishment.

Physically present at the river, but mentally stuck in my head, I actually wished someone would ask me to feed them or find their socks or something, just to help me transition back to reality.  I sat alone by the river and watched boats proceed to their starting line.  While synchronized oars dipped in and out of the water, churning tight puddles in their wake, I stopped thinking entirely, and focused on water dripping from blades.  My ideas drifted away and I let them go.  But instead of dissipating, they found each other and gathered, creating their own wake, returning to me in a current of meaning.  Suddenly, I could see how the new perspective fit perfectly into my back story, illuminated my front story, and allowed me to understand my own novel. 

Driving back to Dallas I refereed an argument via cell phone, remotely directed the pick up of one Boy Scout, and recalled the serene hum of the refrigerator in my hotel room.


Filed under Cindy Jones, teenagers, The art of writing...