Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why do they call it writer's "block" -- which sounds like something wooden and practical that you might pick up at Home Depot?

Really, "writer's ugly gray fog of despair" would be more accurate.

Anyway, regardless of what you call it, and for fun let's call it Fred, it has descended on my brain, infected my laptop and frankly, I think it's making my hair flat. Every time I sit down at the computer to work on my book, an evil troll pops out of my head and whispers increasingly depressing and just plain rude comments until I sigh and get distracted by something less difficult.

You know you have writer's block when giving the dog a bath sounds like a really good thing to do RIGHT NOW. Or you're suddenly tempted to start on those 23 thank-you notes from a 5-year-old's birthday party that are two months late.

I'm almost too scared to stay in front of the keys, worried what other task that I've been procrastinating might sound like a good idea. If I start on the family Christmas card that I haven't sent in two years, I'm totally screwed.

It's like one of those stupid summer colds that show up in July and you can't seem to shake. And you just know if writer's block were an actual disease, it wouldn't be one of those bacterial infections you could clear up with a z-pack. Nah, it'd be a virus, long and lingering. The kind that makes you want to climb into bed, read OK magazine and eat Cheez-its.

Wait, that's what I want to do all the time.


I knew things were bad when I actually took the latest issue of Parenting magazine to bed with me at 9:30 last night. To be fair, I'd already read all the trashy stuff and I was left with Time or Parenting. Food and Wine I considered, but it's for happier days. Deep down in my funk, twenty recipes for pea shoots was just more than I could handle. And let's be honest, I couldn't muster the brain power to fake my way through Time. Especially now that they've taken away my once-reliable Joel Stein column. WTF, Time? Why not take away the Tooth Fairy while you're at it. Speaking of which, my mental fog caused me to forget to put money under the pillow just last week. Sure, I spun it -- "look, the tooth fairy left you money in your shoe instead, you must have missed her. Silly tooth fairy!" but it was a close call. And clearly a distress signal that my writer's block is now morphing into mommy block. Possibly person block. Probably at some point I will just turn into a block.


Hold on. My computer just lost power. I plugged it in, turned it back on and came back to this post. That's gotta be a sign, right? Maybe writer's block isn't winning after all.

Take a hike, Fred. There's a new beast in town.

And she's fresh out of Cheez-its.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The beginning of Chapter 6...

“You definitely have a problem.” Maribel said, studying my hair in her pink princess mirror. Her face twisted as she grabbed a sparkly barrette out of her mouth and jammed it a little too close to my scalp.


“Sorry, but you gotta sit still for this to work.” I bit my lip and tried not to yelp as she yanked another hank of hair back with the hairbrush.

Maribel's grandmother was home from work in the afternoon for once, so Mama was letting me play at her house. Since we almost never got to play at Maribel's, anytime we did was an occasion for makeovers. At my house, Mama didn’t let me wear makeup and I didn’t really care – but Maribel told me if I wanted to make it in middle school I better learn to get cute now.

Maribel had all kinds of fancy hair accessories, hot rollers, a curling iron she actually knew how to use – and best of all, real makeup. Maribel's grandma brought home tons of stuff from her salon. I was jealous; my grandparents were all dead and the only things my Aunt Becky ever brought over was bad news and my cousin Preston.

“So you don't think I'm crazy?” I asked, as I handed Maribel the curling iron. I'd decided I had to tell somebody about what was going on at our house. My parents were clearly in no condition to help Bailey and me solve the closet door mystery.

“Nah.” She stretched the tip of her finger toward the end of the iron.

“Doesn't that burn?” I asked.

“You gotta test it to make sure it's hot enough,” she said. “Abuela does it all the time.” She nodded like this was something even I should have known, and then touched the iron.

“Oww!” She yanked back her finger and stuck it in her mouth.

“Guess it's hot enough,” I said.

Maribel muttered something in Spanish that I'm not allowed to say in English before she continued, “I heard Abuela tell plenty of ghost stories from back in Mexico. That kind of thing happens all the time down there.”

“Really? You think we have a ghost in the closet?” I was nervous, but also hopeful; maybe Maribel's grandmother would know what to do.

“Maybe it’s a ghost. Maybe it’s something worse.”

“What could be worse than a ghost?”

“El chupacabra. The goat-sucker.”

“A what?” I asked.

“This monster, he’s like a vampire for animals, and he sucks out their blood.”

“That’s gross.” I told her. “And we don’t have any goats, so he’d be out of luck at our house.”

Maribel shrugged. “Maybe he ate all the goats, and he’s going after people now.”

“Somehow, I don’t see a goat vampire hanging out in my closet.”

Maribel nodded. “Probably not. Maybe it’s the demon that sucks out people’s souls.”

I shook my head. “Now you’re just making stuff up.”

Maribel waved the curling iron around and I hoped she wouldn’t jab me by accident. “Not according to Abuela. El chupacabra is just something people made up to explain why their animals died. But the soul-sucking demon – they call him The Man – well, she said he’s real.”

“Maribel, there’s no such things as demons. That’s just in scary movies.”

Maribel looked me in the mirror, her big black eyes staring into mine. “But there’s demons in the Bible. And in church. And Abuela said The Man is a real demon.”

We didn’t read the Bible much at my house, and when we did go to church the minister just talked about helping people and giving money. But Maribel went to a different church and, for all I knew, we weren’t there the days our minister talked about demons. So I asked her, “how come the demon’s called The Man?”

Maribel shrugged. “I guess he looks sort of like a man, but the main reason is that he goes after the women. The moms.”

I felt all the hairs on my arm stand up. “The moms?”

“Yeah, Abuela said it happened in a village near where she lived in Mexico. The Man sucked the souls out of the women and just left their bodies behind. All the kids ran away and the whole village turned into a ghost town.”

“What about the dads? Didn’t they do anything?”

“Abuela said The Man steals from the men, too, but just enough to make them weak, so they don’t notice when he comes for their wives.”

My hands got all sweaty. “Is this for real?”

“If I was going to make something up, I’d come up with a much better story than that.” Maribel said, grinning. “Like my mom comes back and she’s totally rich and Abuela could stop working and we’d all go shopping together every day.”

“If you’re making stuff up, why don’t you make up a dad, too?”

Maribel sneered. “He left when I was two weeks old, so I already know he’s a total dud. At least my mom waited till I was in first grade to ditch me. Now, let’s check out your hair.”

Maribel cocked her head to one side as she looked at me. The front was pulled back in super-tight twists and the rest was supposed to curl around my shoulders like the prom hairdo we'd seen in a magazine. My hair wasn't cooperating, though, the curls hung limp like old banana peels and the twists were tight enough to yank my eyes up on the sides. I had an awful headache and I didn’t look like a cute middle schooler. I looked like a squinty, cranky ten-year-old with bad hair.

“Not bad, but I think we need more hairspray,” Maribel decided, and I closed my eyes at the sight of the giant aerosol can.

“Do you know anything more about The Man?” I asked, trying not to breathe in the fumes.

“No, that’s all Abuela told me.” Maribel frowned, then waved her brush in the air. “Hey, you know what they do in the movies when there’s a ghost or demon in their house? They move. In the movies, they never do it till the end when somebody’s dead or possessed or the whole house collapses, but you don’t have to wait that long.”

“Daddy lost his job, so we can't move, and Mama would have a fit. She'd never believe me anyway.”

Maribel nodded. “You're probably right; grownups never believe kids about anything – not in the movies or real life.”

“Maribel? What are you girls doing in there?” Maribel's grandma came into the room, dressed in a hot pink tracksuit.

“We're playing beauty salon; can't you tell? EJ's my customer, doesn't she look pretty?”

Mrs. Rodriguez smiled at me. “Of course she does, but why do you always have to play beauty salon? Why don't you ever play lawyer or brain surgeon?”

Maribel crossed her arms. “But I want to be like you.”

Mrs. Rodriguez laughed. “You are, more than you know.” Then she turned to me. “One of my clients just called, I’ve got to run over to her house. Mr. Nackett came by to give you a ride home, EJ.”

Maribel looked from me to her grandma, and asked in a small voice, “What about me?”

“You’ll come with me. Bring your homework and we’ll make dinner when we get back. EJ, let’s get your things.”

I grabbed my backpack and followed her to the door. “Find out everything you can about The Man,” I whispered to Maribel. “I need to know more.”