Monday, November 4, 2013

I'm actually going to post this!

I've started at least 10 new posts in the last month and a half and have finished none.  Just now, my email bling-sound blinged, and I'm not even going to check it.

So, now I have this sweet new baby, and she is amazing-- she doesn't cry much, she sleeps for long stretches at night (6-8 hours sometimes!), and is the cutest ever (see photos).  Despite how great she is, I can get nothing done.  Start things?  Yes, I'm good at that.  Finish them?  No.

Honestly, I don't even have something I plan to say just now, I'm just impressed with my ability to take these 10 minutes to write words. Like a free-write where all you write is "blah blah blah," because that is really what's happening in your head just then.  But still, you're writing something!  Hooray!  I feel the same when we leave our house on time lately.  It doesn't matter where we're going, but if we leave when I plan to leave, even to go to the grocery store, I feel like I just took 1st place at life-living, and I call people to brag.

Phoebe (now 5 weeks old) and I have been making our way out into the world on a regular basis, which is great.  I took her to the office on Wednesday to meet my work-people, and we took her to dinner at Tex Tubb's on Friday and to Chloe's birthday party at Brocach on Saturday (the smoking ban is definitely the greatest thing that ever happened for parents).

On Saturday, I read with some wonderful local poets, including Cynthia Marie Hoffman, at "Beyond the Water's Edge," a collaborative exhibit of photography and poems put together by the Dane County Watershed Committee and Verse Wisconsin.  The poem in the exhibit, "Water, Water Everywhere," will also be in the anthology Echolocations.  The launch party for the anthology is in 2 weeks-- on November 23rd-- and it will be a great time (I'll be reading there, too, I think?)!  Check it out here.

In other news, my one-handed typing abilities are getting better by the day... OK! That was well over 10 minutes!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

So much to do, so little time to write about anything...

Lately, I've been feeling bad about letting things slide.  For instance, I haven't actually written here in so long, and there have been so many things to write about!  Like how great it was to teach at Rhinelander School of the Arts in July. Or how many amazing friends I have who've thrown such fantastic baby showers. Or how great it was to spend a few weekends at the cottage this summer. Or the great places I will be published soon... I never really wrote much about being pregnant and balancing all of these things, which I thought I'd do.  But I guess balancing all of these things meant not having time to also write about them.

And I haven't been just not-writing here, but I've been not writing in general, which I also feel a little bad about.  But here's the thing: I sometimes don't write at all, and I think this is healthy for me.  I often hear people say (and I am sometimes the person who says) that they don't take pictures because they want to experience the moment. This is why I sometimes stop writing.  It feels good to not write and get caught up in a moment instead of being hyper-aware of a moment.  And it feels good when those moments come back to me later, when I can reevaluate them and find the language that never occurred during those moments.  To piece those experiences back together and understand the moment from a new angle and let others into the moment is so much more exhilarating and honest-feeling than trying to find the language for a moment at the moment... Hmph.  So. I haven't been writing lately, but I'm deciding now to not feel bad about it, and I don't feel any less poet-like.

Contributing to my still-poet-feeling, are a few great bits of news:  I have poems coming out in Hayden's Ferry Review, Post Road, and Best New Poets 2013!  I'll also have poems in Echolocations, an anthology of poems about Madison, which will be sold to fund the Madison Poet Laureate position.  I recently had to update my CV, and looking back, I can't believe how much I've done since January, including teaching at SOA, at the library, and presenting at the UW Writers Institute.  I've also read at a few readings and have been to a few great readings and have been working full-time and submitting my work and going to poetry workshops and making dinner and moving and growing a baby... we even bought a new couch (which sounds like a small thing, but it was a pretty big deal. It's the prettiest sofa-sleeper ever.) I guess being exhausted and taking it easy for the last few weeks of this pregnancy is not something I should feel guilty about (so I'm trying hard not to...).
Sofa-Sleeper! Hooray!

Instead of writing, I've been reading in my down time. I'm finally getting around to reading Gone Girl, which is fun, and I'm picking up the story collection, A Guide to Being Born, from the library tonight. It's been so long since I've been so excited to read a book I've never heard of. (Amy Budnitz' Nice Big American Baby was the last book I was this excited to read based on its description.)  Of course, I've also been washing and folding baby clothes and putting the baby's room together and packing bags for the hospital, timing Braxton Hicks contractions to make sure they're not real contractions, reviewing and reviewing the signs of labor, and crossing days off 3 different calendars in anticipation... my down time is never really down, I think.

16 days...


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It's almost fall?

Last Tuesday I picked up my first pint of grape tomatoes at the Farmer's Market.  In a normal year, by now I would've eaten my weight in little tomatoes.  And while I usually mourn the browning of leaves on trees and long preemptively for the return of spring as soon as the sun starts setting earlier, I can't wait for fall this year. (My first post-baby drink will be a pumpkin beer!) And I'm even excited for winter.  I have a new appreciation for these seasons that really messes with my sense of self and my perspective of the whole world.

Since the last time I even looked at my blog, so much has happened, so much has changed, so much and so little time has passed.  We've been in our new place for a little over 2 weeks now, but I woke up yesterday and finally felt like we live here. Matthew was in the shower and I had to go to the bathroom, so I jumped out of bed and headed downstairs to the second bathroom and thought, "Yes! This is why we moved!"  Everything is still in a state of disarray, though, which really upsets my balance and my crazy-intense nesting tendencies.  C has been away at camp or visiting relatives so often this summer that it won't really feel like home until he's back.

I keep thinking there are only 8 weeks left until this baby decides to make an appearance, which means I lost 2 weeks in the move, because I actually only have 6 weeks left.  I should be packing a bag for the hospital already?  Eek?

And speaking of things that take forever: I've come to appreciate the lengthy poetry submission process, because while I haven't had the time nor the headspace to write anything that closely resembles a poem lately, a bunch of poems are about to be published and a few were just published in Vinyl Poetry!  If you haven't seen the issue yet, you should check it out!  Traci Brimhall's poem is spectacular (as are all of her poems, so this shouldn't surprise you...).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

White Noise

There are so many ridiculous things out there that a baby allegedly needs, but the white noise machine might be my least favorite—especially the ones that simulate womb sounds.  Because let me tell you what: my womb is rarely just making pleasant swooshy sounds.  It would be more accurate to play zoo noises, I think: the buzz of pedestrian traffic with intermittent roars and monkey screeches.  What is happening in my digestive system? I don’t know, but it is happening a lot and it’s loud from the outside—I can’t imagine what it sounds like from the inside.  But this is good, I think.  We will be able to vacuum and C can play guitar and the cat can cry all night long, and the baby should sleep through it all, right?

C was always a sound sleeper. I vacuumed his room and made all sorts of racket while he slept as soon as he was home, and I’m glad I did.  He’s 14 today, which is both hard to believe and not.  He has always seemed so much older, and I can hardly remember my life without him, yet it feels like he should still be a little kid.  I mean, he’s still a kid legally and in the way most of us are still kids, trying to figure things out, but he’s so responsible and thoughtful and kind and independent already… it’s pretty impressive. 

For his birthday, he had friends over for a backyard movie party—they watched Back to the Future—and tonight we went to Monty’s Blue Plate, where he ate Chicken in a Pie, I had huevos rancheros, which I’ve been craving since 8am, and sadly, neither of us had room for dessert.

I’ve never been a huge cake/cookie person, but this baby wants me to eat as much sugar as possible, which is bad, because it turns out my blood sugar level is pretty high, so I’ll have to have a 3.5 hour glucose screening.  The lab tech told me I need to eat 150 grams of carbs for 3 days before the test, then she said, “I know that sounds like a lot…” but I didn’t think it sounded like much.  I can just eat Fettucine Alfredo and garlic bread each day, right?  Because my Alfredo craving has been out of control for some time, and I’d like an excuse to eat it 3 days in a row.  So far, I’ve been pretty good about controlling myself, I’d say!
The beautiful cake display at Monty's...

Just before I went in for the first glucose test, I ate this delicious, huge chocolatey cookie, and after I drank the glucose drink and started getting shaky, I thought, “Duh. Don’t eat sugar before a glucose test.”  I’m thinking that’s why my level was high, so I’m not too worried about it.  And I’ve been reading up—if I do have gestational diabetes, I mostly have to stay away from sweet things, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the next 80 days. 

That’s right: only 80 days left (if all goes according to estimation)!  If I leave now, I can still make it around the world before I’m due!  (Or teach a few workshops, go to work, make it to all of these doctor appointments, visit the dentist, pack the house up, move all our stuff to another house, unpack the stuff in the new house, make a baby room, go to a few baby showers, take a few childbirth/baby classes, go to yoga each week, and get Carter settled into high school…)  

Wasn’t it just January last week?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Poetry Toolbox-- Parts 2 & 3

It's almost July, which means the workshop at Madison Public Library is coming to an end soon!  While the workshops have been building off of one another, you can still jump in if you haven't attended the previous sessions.  We've been having a great time!

In the second workshop, we:
* read poems and discussed patterns (& how and why repetition works in poetry)
* used lists as a way to break free from obvious language and images
* talked about list poems (like "Where I'm From") and anaphora (poems like "Jubilate Agno")

If you'd like to come to the next workshop, anyone who has written an anaphora-- a poem in which each line begins with the same word or phrase-- or a list poem has the option of sharing, so feel free to give it a shot and bring it along!  We're a friendly group!

On Monday, we'll be reading and discussing other patterns, focusing on poetic forms and techniques like the ghazal and syllabics.

You can register here!!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Carter is spending the week at Fine Arts Camp learning to fuse glass and create metal sculptures and the like.  He'll be there the whole week, sharing a dorm room with a guy he doesn't know (whose name is the same as a famous English writer, which I consider a sign that it will go well).  This is his first time away at camp for a week, and I'm super-excited for him!  It's also the first time in so long that he'll be the youngest in a group-- it's for high school kids.  I can't wait to hear about it, though I'll likely need to wait until he returns.  I told him I'd cry if he didn't call me to check in sometime, but he'll probably think to call on Friday.  It's just the way he rolls.

I didn't have my camera, so I'm sharing someone else's
baby raccoon photo to exemplify their sheer
adorableness. (Of course, the raccoons we saw
were way more adorable than these.)

On our way home from dropping Carter off at camp, we spotted over 100 white pelicans on this tiny pond in the marsh just off the highway in Sun Prairie.  We decided to stop and see how close we could get.  The marsh was was warm with chamomile and overgrown and wonderful, and we got really close to one shore where there were about 25 pelicans.  When we started back, I heard a rustle in the grass just ahead to the left of the path.  The animal didn't scamper like a bunny or chipmunk, so I tried to get a peek at it-- it was fuzzy and black.  Of course, I panicked and pushed Matthew in front of me to investigate the noise...  a baby raccoon!  He tried to scare it off, but it just sat there.  And then another one came out, then another, and there were four baby raccoons coming to check out what the commotion was all about.  When we were sure there was no mama in sight, we passed them.  Man! They were so adorable!  How can anything be so adorable and terrifying at once?! 

And on that note, I have about 100 days before the baby is due.  So many things, so little time!  We'll be moving to a bigger place in August, so we need to start packing soon!  And I have a list of 300 things to make, like baby clothes and a crib set and a new cushion cover for my glider and etc.  And there's the list of things to do this summer, like have baby showers and spend time with family and yoga and Rhinelander and etc. And the worst part is that I am stuck at this point where I can currently do nothing about any of the things to do except look at the lists, reevaluate the lists, and try to figure out what I can do ahead of time so that I don't have to do all of this stuff at once (when I'm a giant, exhausted pregnant lady and we are in dead-middle of the hottest time of the year).  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Poetry Toolbox

I'm teaching a free workshop at Madison Public Library! It's a series of three workshops, and while they do build off of one another nicely, you by no means need to go to all three (it's summer, and I know how hard it is to commit to three weeks of anything inside when the sun is out!).

Last time, we:
* read great poems and discussed how imagery, sound, and metaphor were working in them
* participated in a great metaphor-writing exercise
* talked about conceit poems

If you're not familiar with conceit poems, they're essentially poems centered on an extended metaphor. Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," for example, when read literally, is about a guy standing in the road, while metaphorically, it's about the decisions we make.

If you'd like to come to the next workshop, anyone who has written a conceit has the option of sharing, so feel free to give it a shot and bring it along!  We're a friendly group!

Next week, we'll be talking about repetition, rhythm, and anaphora-- poems starting with the same word or groups of word.  We'll read and discuss poems and work on a writing prompt or two.

You can still register here!!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Where Our Eggs Come From!

We picked up our first CSA share of the year yesterday!  This year, we decided to switch to Christensen Farm for a few reasons:

1.  Pick up is on Tuesday at the farmer's market down the street from our house. This is ridiculously more convenient than our last CSA's Saturday delivery.  And our farmers are there at the market, so we get to meet them!

Chicken in the Field!
2.  They are closer and smaller.  It's run by a family from Monroe with adorable children.  I like to live vicariously...

3. They have eggs! I would like to share with you the video of the chickens who lay my eggs and the coop in which they lay them, but I can't get the video to link up here, so you will have to trust that they are some of the happiest chickens you've ever seen.  Also, their eggs are amazing.  (You can see the video on the homepage of the farm-link above, and I did find this photo of one of their happy flock.)

This week, we got asparagus, spinach, lettuce, rhubarb, radishes, carrots, and a jar of red currant grape jelly (and eggs). We had eggs and toast with jelly for breakfast, and it was the happiest way to start a rainy day! At the market, we also picked up a bag of Farmer John's cheese curds-- they were the squeakiest, freshest cheese curds any of us had ever eaten.  We'll never buy cheese curds anywhere else, ever!

OK, I'm starving now...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Finally Summer!

This past weekend was the first weekend we spent at home since... err... a long time?, and we got so much done!  On Friday, we drove through Horicon Marsh and while we didn't see many birds, we saw a doe giving birth, which is kind of better.  I don't know why, but I was surprised to see her on her own, hunching over in the tall marsh grasses.  Of course she didn't need help, but I guess I thought (somewhere in the back of my head, because it's not something I actually think I've ever considered) that maybe a doe would be surrounded by other does while giving birth.   (These back-of-head-thoughts may be rooted in the Golden Books/Disney rendition of Bambi.)  What a remarkable thing to experience.

On Saturday, we went to the Farmer's Market and bought some plants to eat (asparagus and baby kale) and plants to grow (swiss chard, a jalapeno, and kohlrabi).  We also bought a tiny cherry crumb pie from an Amish stand and, of course, cheese curds.  Oh wait. We also shared a strawberry rhubarb crumb bar while we were there...  It was good.  We walked there and back, which isn't too far at all, but I can definitely feel the extra 15 lbs I'm carrying around with me these days!

After the market, we went to Happy Bambino, which is a fantastic baby store with the friendliest, happiest staff anywhere, and I finally learned what I needed to know about cloth diapers!  Hooray! And then we bought some potting soil and topsoil and compost and came home to plant!  Matthew put baskets on my bike, we put our plants in pots, and we moved our sage, which we were able to keep alive since last fall, back into the earth.  We also have peas coming up and chives that came back this year.  Now, we cross our fingers that the earwigs don't come back...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lost My Voice

I'm constantly fascinated by baby-creation. Suddenly, all of the intricate parts and details that make up a person come together piece by tiny piece.  There is nothing, and then there is a heart and a brain and a whole nervous system.  Even the creation of a fingerprint is pretty amazing.

As the keeper of the parts coming together though, the lack of control and the lack of empirical information is often unsettling.  Sure, I take vitamins and don't drink, etc., but I never really know what's going on in there.  I'm reassured after a doctor's visit,  but then I accidentally read about a baby whose umbilical cord was tied in a knot, and I can't sleep.  I could buy my own little ($8,000) ultrasound device to check in on it once in awhile, but, quite frankly, I would never get anything done, and it would just contribute to a deeper sense of worry.  (There's the baby's face, the leg... is that a knot in the umbilical cord?)

In addition to the fear that comes from not-knowing, there is also the fear that comes from knowing.  I listen to the news and panic-- why would I want to bring another person into this world?  People are evil, politics are disgusting, etc.  I have to constantly bring myself back to the whole picture.  Some people are evil.  Politics are disgusting, but politics have always been disgusting (and have sometimes been more disgusting), etc.

So, instead of thinking too much, I've converted to full-time do-mode.  There is a sense of urgency that I must accomplish physical tasks. My nesting instinct is extreme, and anything that doesn't produce physical results seems pointless.  I want to sew things!  I want to get the baby's tiny living space in order!  I've been talking to friends and family more often and reading.  But the things I read and talk about are lighter, perhaps more frivolous.  Although I have a lot more energy than in the 1st trimester, I still sleep a lot.  I avoid the news.  Overall, I am excited and patient and enjoying each day (because while scared and etc., I love being pregnant, and it only lasts 9 months!).

Since I've been pregnant, I've written a handful of poems.  Maybe 5, and only 2 are complete.  My writing always starts with a desire to investigate the things beyond my control-- the things I can't understand or know completely.  Right now, I can't handle the things I can't understand completely, because what is happening to my body and to the baby's body is too much in itself to comprehend completely.  I don't want to play in the gray space or wade into darkness just now.  I just want to enjoy the sunshine for a while.

Throughout my writing-life, I've gone through periods, seasons even, of not-writing, so I'm not concerned that I won't get back into the swing of things.  Even now that my dreams are more vibrant, I  can sense a sort of almost-readiness for my writing.  A different writing.  As though this incubation period is both physical and mental.

In other news, today I get to meet my brand new niece, and soon I'll know if this little pumpkin (currently the size of a large banana) is a boy or a girl.  I'm so excited lately that I just cry all the time.  That kind of happiness is so good (and exhausting!).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dear Day, I've Been Listening

Because my thoughts won't complete themselves, I sit on the back porch watching birds at the feeder, or luring birds to the feeder, and I think about what I can plant that doesn't need much light to live.  Otherwise, I'm learning to live with juglone in the soil and bastard squirrels burying toxic walnuts in my beds.  There are so many undeterminables.  There are no proper equivalents or equations.  There is only one complete, and it's barefoot.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How Teenage Pregnancy was Easier than Adult Pregnancy

By no means am I promoting teenage pregnancy.  I have a teenager, and I know teenagers, and I promise I would never suggest that getting pregnant is something any of them should do for at least 10 more years.  However, I was 18 when I found out I was pregnant (young, but at least out of high school), and now, at 33, I'm finally getting ready for baby number 2.  While the biological process is exactly the same, it blows my mind how much I have changed, and how much baby-culture has changed, in the past 15 years.

15 years?  Wow. Should I really be surprised that so much has changed?

In October of 1998, I was in my first semester as an undergrad.  I planned to study Psychology, but I hated Psych 101, and I decided becoming a psychologist wasn't what I wanted to do at all. This left me, when I found out I was pregnant, with no big plan for the future, except that now when I looked into it, I saw this baby, and I knew this baby would grow into a person, and my plan was to do whatever I needed to do to give this baby-person a good life.

Throughout my pregnancy, I lived with my parents and worked full-time in customer service.  I made a decent amount of money and had amazing insurance, so beyond going to work and thinking about my baby, I had no real responsibilities or passions to occupy my time.  I essentially grew up with my son, discovering my passions and what mattered to me while he was doing the same (though he was also learning to talk and walk, etc.).

15 years later, I'm working full-time again, but also raising a teenager and being a wife and trying to remember to feed a cat and finding time to write and teaching writing workshops and trying to find time to cook amazing things and finding time to sew, and I have friends I like to spend time with, and I have family (and in-law family) living close by, and I like to see them sometimes.  Now, instead of growing my own life around my baby's, I have to fit this baby into my life.

So far, it's been hard to balance life and pregnancy-- because I actually have a life that I spent a lot of time building, and I care deeply about maintaining all of its frenzy and joy.  And this balance is especially difficult because so much has changed: BPA free? Cloth or disposable? Organic? Homemade?  I have so many more decisions to make, because my values have changed and the world has changed and baby-culture has changed.

Cloth diaper research alone has taken up so much of my writing time and brain-power. I'm not the kind of gal who needs to know everything about cloth diapering, but I'm pretty serious about making informed decisions, and there's so much information!  I'm also determined not to be bamboozled by the baby-marketers, which makes me extra-leery of anything I read.

At the end of the day (which is now around 8-9pm), I remind myself that all a baby needs is love and a safe space.  I did this once when I was just a kid-- how hard can it be as an adult?  Even if Lil' Bean is drinking out of a bottle and suffering from "nipple confusion," he/she will eventually grow up to be a good person (fingers crossed?), like his/her big brother. It's just a matter of shifting priorities a bit and saying no to some things. Like any other animal, I'll have to adapt.  We'll all adapt.  By now, we're professionals at adapting.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Oh. Right. I was a finalist!

So, last week was so crazy-busy, I completely forgot to share this amazing news!  My manuscript, Here Begins the Account of Worms, was a finalist for the Milkweed Editions Lindquist and Vennum Prize in Poetry!  I'm so excited to have been in the company of such amazing poets-- I love Rebecca Dunham's work.  Fellow Madisonian, Oliver Bendorf, was also a finalist, and you should check out his work, because, of course, it's fantastic, too.

Many thanks to  Milkweed Editions!  Their books are as beautiful as the writing inside them!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Writing about a Place You've Never Been: An Interview with Jesse Lee Kercheval

This weekend I had the pleasure of teaching two workshops and offering 1-on-1 consultations at the UW-Writers' Institute. One of the workshops, "Write Where You Don't Know," focused on the types of research one could use to write about a place they've never been. For more information about the experience, I interviewed Jesse Lee Kercheval, whose forthcoming novel, My Life as a Silent Movie (Indiana University Press, Break Away Books Series, Sept. 26, 2013), includes scenes from Moscow-- one of the few places she has never been.

Jesse Lee Kercheval is the other of twelve books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and is currently Zona Gale Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Research and Study Center at Harvard, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Corporation of Yaddo, and James A. Michener and the Copernicus Society.  (And this is an abbreviated version of all of the wonderful things she is doing and has done!)

You’re a well-traveled writer—what prompted you to write about a place you’ve never been?

I think my first experience of writing about a place I had never been was in my first novel, The Museum of Happiness, which is set in Paris--but in 1929. I was born in France and have spent a great deal of time in Paris, but in 1929 Paris was a very different city. For that book, I used a tourist guide book, a 1927 Baedeker, and also a 1929 Plan de Paris par Arrondissement, the standard map book of Paris. I also looked at period photographs, newspapers and magazines. I wrote this book in 1990 so all my research was pre-internet, in dusty libraries.

When I returned to writing about Paris for my latest novel, My Life as a Silent Movie, writing about the city was easier! It is a contemporary novel. But near the end, I decided to have my characters fly to Moscow even though I was in Wisconsin and I didn’t really have the time to go there. I had been in Eastern Europe--Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary--but never Russia.  What to do?

How much time did you spend researching Moscow?  What were your main sources of research?

I fell back on the same methods I used for my historical research. I needed my characters to arrive at the airport, go to a hotel, then on to a Russian Orthodox monastery. I read about visas requirements and what airport arrivals and customs were like in several guidebooks. I watched a couple of youtube videos of the crowds waiting for taxis outside the airport and of the ride into the city. I made up a typical older hotel after looking at hotel websites to check out their decor. I researched the monastery on line as well, looking at pictures, reading about the lives of monks, and listening to MP3s of Russian church bells (very different than ones in the West). The resources available on line make this all much easier now than when I was writing The Museum of Happiness. Google street view is an amazing resource, as is Google images. And there are blogs written by visitors or residents for almost any spot on the globe that will help give you a sense of the place.

Did you run into any difficulties?

I worried endlessly about the airport--because so many people would have had that very experience--but in the end, I spent too much time thinking about that. The scene goes by quickly. I have been in Charles de Gaulle many times and O’Hare more times than I can count, but I would be hard pressed describe either to you in any detail. I find this is one thing to watch out for when using research--you end up wanting to use everything you find. For example, at first the ride from the airport into Moscow read like directions from Google maps.  

Do you have any advice for writers who are interested in writing about a place they’ve never been?

Do your research, then put it aside and imagine the world and place your characters inhabit! That is the fun part. But also be very careful not to use any of the actual language from the guidebooks or websites or blogs you use for research. If you take notes and write down sentences that are not your own--mark them clearly so that when you go back, you do not think the words are your own. You do not want your name in bold on one of those websites that specialize in outing successful authors as plagiarists!

If you're willing to share an excerpt that highlights some of your research, that would be wonderful!

You can see how short the airport scene ended up in the book! The narrator, Vera, and her brother, Ilya, arrive in Moscow. She is the one (like me) who has never been there before.
            We landed in Moscow just before midnight, but Sheremetyevo Airport was locked up tight. Not a kiosk or food stall was open. We followed our fellow passengers into a dingy basement and stood in the passport control line. A bored and sleepy official fingered our newly acquired visas and then stamped our passports. At customs, none of the three agents on duty seemed interested in searching my purse or Ilya's rucksack, though they descended on a poor African from our flight. Free to enter Russia, we wandered across the terminal, walking in a daze side by side. Then I heard someone whistle, high, shrill. "Ilya!" a man shouted. Ilya was slower. I poked him. A man with a silvery Elvis pompadour came toward us. He was as wide and tall as a door, but a whole lot thicker. Now Ilya saw him, too. For this friend he opened his arms. They hugged, Ilya clapping his friend on the back. Pavel, his Russian friend, rubbed the knuckles of his right hand on Ilya's head. Ilya let go first. He waved a hand at me.
            "Pasha," he said, "meet Vera. Vera, meet Pavel."
            "Enchanted," Pavel said with a much better French accent than mine. He looked around. "No luggage?"
            Ilya shook his head. "We're living out of our pockets." Pavel laughed, as if this were either a joke or maybe an expression in Russian for traveling on nothing but raw nerves.
            "Well, come on then," he said. "The car is parked right outside. I don't want to have to bribe the security guy twice."
            Pavel's Mercedes was parked half up on the curb. Three security guards stood nearby, but when they saw it was Pavel, they all studiously looked away. Ilya got in the front seat, me in the back, and before I could figure out if there were seat belts or how to work them, Pavel put the car in gear, floored it, and we shot off the curb and into traffic as if someone had waved the checkered flag. The acceleration flattened me against the seat. "I didn't know you knew how to drive, Pasha," I heard Ilya say with what I thought was a light touch of irony.
            "I didn't when I saw you last, Vanya," Pavel said. Someone cut in front of us, and Pavel stomped on the brakes, then just as rapidly put his entire weight back on the gas. "But I took lessons."

Many thanks to Jesse Lee for answering these questions!  I had a wonderful time meeting so many enthusiastic and talented writers this weekend, and I look forward to seeing them on the lunchtime "Success Panel" at next year's conference!