Category Archives: writing

Moving Up and Moving Over

U-HAUL In 1993, when I moved from Texas to Wisconsin, I packed everything I owned (which wasn’t much) into a fourteen foot U-Haul truck and coaxed my sister into riding along with me. She was very kind. And, brave. She had three young kids who claimed her full attention at the time; plus, when she climbed up into that U-Haul, she sat down next to a manic twenty-two year old me, who knew nothing about long road trips or intense emotion that would come soon after leaving home 1000 miles behind.

That year, the Mississippi River flooded like crazy, so we drove more East than we might have otherwise and stayed over in Memphis, Tennessee. All night in my hotel bed, I worried that someone might cut the giant padlock I put on the truck and take my futon or my boxes full of thrift store jeans and worn t-shirts.

While I was anxious in Memphis, I didn’t think twice about driving that same U-Haul truck through the streets of downtown Chicago later on, paying a parking attendant $20 to squeeze the truck between sports cars and sedans, and handing him my whole set of keys — including the key to the giant padlock.

Silly me. I was all nervous and excited and so out of my element. It’s a good thing my sister did ride along, or who knows where I would have ended up.

Moving.

There are so many unknowns. But, at certain times in life, we take the plunge anyway.

That’s what I’m doing now: taking the plunge, moving again. Not from Wisconsin, but from the comforts of this blog. I’ve been at this address long enough to get my feet wet and learn what works (or doesn’t work) when it comes to running a site. It would be easy to stay here for who knows how long, but I’ve got an itch to make my own way into cyberspace.

So, I’ve rented a new place — my own domain: www.christicraig.com.

I hope you’ll come with me. Because, see…while I can pack up all my old content from here and bring it along to my new home, I can’t carry over any subscribers.

So click over, take a look around, and if you like what you’ve been reading here – the essays, the author interviews, the flash fiction – I hope you’ll subscribe there.

The new place won’t be half as much fun without you.

* Photo courtesy of ashmann 88 on Flickr.com

Wednesday’s Word: Kleptocracy. Say that three times fast, and then write a story.

The last few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking: about new routines, upcoming projects and books unfinished. Planning, but not so much creating. It seems right, then, to click over to Wordsmith.org and spend some time with the Wednesday’s word of the day* — and my muse.

(I hope she’s listening.)

Today’s word:

kleptocracy. Noun. A government by the corrupt in which rulers use their official positions for personal gain.

A word and definition applicable to many, I’d say.

*****

Head of Household

Under the muted glow of the nightlight, Nora pulled at her lip. In the mirror, she could see a growing line of blood trickle down the inside of her mouth.

“Damn,” she whispered.

“Guess I got a little crazy, huh?” Glen came up from behind her and put heavy hands on her shoulders.

“Crazy!” Nora said. “You bit me.” She wriggled out from under his grip.

“Yeah, just making sure you knew who was in charge.” He slapped her ass. Nora flipped him off and marched back to the bedroom. She heard Glen laugh, but he didn’t apologize.

Glen wasn’t always so rough and crass. It wasn’t until the day after they’d gotten married, when Nora woke to the sour smell of morning breath and Glen’s face staring down at hers, that he started declaring he was now “master of her domain.”

“Good morning?” she’d said, as she’d laughed and pushed him aside. She had thought he was kidding around.

The next week, though, he began claiming her time, telling her exactly how many nights a year she could go out with her girlfriends. No more Happy Hour meet-ups or impromptu coffee dates. And “Ladies night out” was a conspiracy, he said.

During dinners, he got greedy, taking much more than his share and leaving her with scraps some nights. She called him out on it, but he told her she’d just have to start cooking more.

“The King has a right to seconds,” he said on the night she served tenderloin. “And thirds.” He stabbed at the last piece on the platter.

And after the lights went out, he was like an animal in hiding most nights. He waited until she was almost asleep and too tired to fight back and he took her. Tonight, he’d been vicious.

“How’s the lip?” Glen asked as he crawled into bed.

“I can still taste blood…just so you know,” she said.

He patted her head and turned over without saying goodnight. Nora sat up on her elbow and studied the shape of his silhouette. When she heard his breathing slow to a shallow rhythm, she reached out and put her hand on his waist.

She squeezed.

He was growing fat.

*****

They Might Be Giants – Don’t Let’s Start from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

* Wednesday’s Word means write something – an essay, poem, or flash fiction – based on Wordsmith.org’s word of the day and post it by midnight. Past pieces from this fun writing exercise can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.

Wanted: Time to Write

Clocks

Today, you’ll find me over at Heather Cashman’s blog, Better Off Read, talking about time and where to find it.

…[T]ime remains a mystery. I can’t figure out how to tame it, so I try to tackle it — stretch it out or squeeze it in or steal a little of it here and there. When I started up my blog a few years ago, I knew time would be my biggest challenge, so I titled my blog “Writing Under Pressure,” as a reminder to myself of what I was up against, and as a battle cry.
Read more….

It’s funny how the writing world works (hello, alliteration). Just as soon as I sat down to put my thoughts on paper, Twitter went all a flutter with links to posts on other writers searching for time, too.

Do a quick search using “find time to write” on Twitter and…No, wait. Don’t. You should be writing. That’s the whole point of my guest post on Better Off Read. So, when you’re done writing for the day, jump back over here and pretend I’m your Twitter feed:

  • From @NataliaSylv: My results from last week’s #writing experiment: How Much Time Do We Really Need to Write? http://ow.ly/6gSDf #amwriting >> Where Natalia reveals what happens when you devote an entire day to writing. A whole day folks.
  • From @elizabethscraig: Tips for making time for your #writing: http://bit.ly/nS5adm >> Where Mary Carroll Moore guides you through an exercise in assessing your needs and making changes.
  • From @annerallen: Why the Rush to Publish? wp.me/p1cBdi-2l from Nina Badzin >> @NinaBadzin has written several posts on managing Twitter (while not letting it run your life). This post from Nina suggests that Twitter might not be problem after all (ouch).
  • From @LisaRomeo: Getting ready to kick a few you-know-whats next week when *I Should Be Writing* Boot Camp begins. bit.ly/nbeigJ #writing #writer >> Lisa Romeo offers an online class where she (and I quote) will “help you: create the time to write…develop and maintain regular writing routines, deal with writing obstacles….” Bingo.

Time is money, folks, or at least a lot like money. You spend what you earn. So, hop on over to Heather’s blog and tell us how you tackle time.

*photo credit: blue2likeyou on flickr.com

Sometimes the words are just meant for me.

I’ve been sitting and studying the potential of this post for the last two hours. I had all sorts of ideas, inspired by an essay I read from Nathan Evans at Hippocampus Magazine.

You should read it.

He talks about first kisses, and the unexpected effects. And, deep in the middle of his essay is a message about the sweet taste of love.

I thought I’d write about my unexpected firsts, about how love came up on me all quiet and sneaky. And how it still comes, in waves.

But the lines read unfinished.
And raw.
And were maybe a study, in events, meant only for me.

You know?

Sometimes when we write, it’s because we have to see the words fall onto the screen, or onto the paper, in a comprehensible way so that our mind really gets it — whatever “it” is, that critical message we’ve been missing for weeks or months on end.

So, the early drafts of this post were an exercise in listening and understanding, and what the last two hours of writing yielded was a gift: that often, the quiet and profound revelations in life show up in unexpected places, even (and especially) when I’m not paying attention.

Where did your writing take you this week?

Blogs become books. Can a memoir become a sitcom?

Moving to the other side of the cash wrap…felt as disorienting to me as Alice might have felt when she slipped through the mirror into Wonderland, landing unawares in…a world populated by Mad Hatters, rushing rabbits, chatty chess pieces, and enormous mushrooms. ~ Caitlin Kelly in MALLED

Behind the scenes. That’s where Caitlin Kelly takes readers in her memoir Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail (out April 14, 2011 from Portfolio). Today, I’m hosting Caitlin here to talk about her journey from an essay in the New York Times, to a memoir, to contract talks with CBS.

From Caitlin’s bio:

The book combines her personal story of moving into low-wage customer service at 50; others, mid-career and mid-recession, taking these jobs and a detailed, national analysis of this $4 trillion industry.

A regular contributor to The New York Times since 1990, Kelly has written for USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, More, and other publications in Canada and Europe. A former reporter for the New York Daily News, Toronto Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette, she is the winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor), and five journalism fellowships. Born and raised in Canada, she has lived in the U.S. since 1988, and has also lived in England, France and Mexico.

As a bonus, Caitlin is giving away a signed copy of her memoir. At the end of her guest post, leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy of Malled. Random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, September 6th, at high noon.

 Welcome, Caitlin Kelly

If you’d told me that taking a low-wage job folding T-shirts in a suburban mall would lead to negotiating a contract with CBS on my birthday for a possible sitcom based on my life, I’d have laughed hysterically.

But that’s exactly what’s happened to me since Sept. 25, 2007 when I was hired to work as a part-time sales associate for The North Face at an upscale mall in White Plains, NY. I hadn’t worked a low-wage job since high school, was 50 and heading into a recession.

My own story quickly became just one of many in this ongoing recession. In February 2009, I published an essay in The New York Times business section explaining how moving from journalism – my only industry since graduating college in 1979 – to retail had turned out, then, to be a good choice for me. I liked the clarity of retail’s reported numbers: how much I sold per hour, my average daily sale, what percentage of my merchandise was later returned. In journalism, publishing and blogging, all judgments of value are totally subjective.

By June 2009, I had found an agent who felt confident we could find a publisher to take my memoir of working in the nation’s third-largest industry and single greatest source of new jobs. It wasn’t quite as quick and easy as we’d hoped, with 25 rejections before Portfolio, the business imprint of Penguin, bought it in September 2009.

I continued working in the store for another three months, taking many more notes than before, gathering as much detail, color, anecdote and dialogue as possible. No one at the company knew I was writing a book, and it felt strange to be writing things down while standing at the cash wrap.

I quit the job December 18, 2009 and began to write full-time. By June I was done, although revisions and some restructuring were necessary. Because retail is ever-changing, I read the business press every day, adding as necessary to keep the manuscript timely and up-to-date.

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was published April 14, 2011 and received a terrific amount of national attention, with reviews and features in People, Marie-Claire, USA Today, The New York Times, Financial Times and Entertainment Weekly. I also appeared on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show (2 million listeners), Marketplace and The Brian Lehrer Show.

Emails soon started showing up from major entertainment companies expressing interest in it as a vehicle for film or television. I thought they were hoaxes! But by June 6, 2011, my birthday, we had an offer from CBS to option “Malled” as a possible sitcom. They have since commissioned a script. The next steps, I hope, are a pilot and a series; if so, I’m signed on as a story consultant for a few years.

This fairly quick journey from a Times essay to a book to a possible television show is a combination of factors: timing, luck, story, competition, voice and a tough agent. There have only been three other books I’m aware of now on the market that really describe in real time what it’s like to lose a good job, move down the economic ladder and tell the truth about how it feels. I was fortunate enough to find a good agent and an enthusiastic publisher. The book is written as a memoir, but it’s not just my story. I knew from the start that my story alone was insufficient, so it also includes dozens of original interviews with other sales associates nationwide, senior retail executives, Wall Street analysts and others.

One way I managed to get the book produced fairly quickly was – as I also did with my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” – by hiring researchers. They conducted some of my interviews and gathered statistics.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken as the closing keynote at a retail conference in Minneapolis, celebrated the sale of “Malled” to China, where it will be translated, and chatted with the veteran screenwriter who’s now creating his characters, one of them based on me.

It’s all a little surreal, kind of exciting and a lot more fun than folding T-shirts.

~

Entertainment Weekly calls [Malled] “an excellent memoir” and USA Today says “Malled is a bargain, even at full price. Kelly is a first-rate researcher and storyteller.” Original interviews include consultant Paco Underhill, retailer Jack Mitchell and Costco CFO Richard Galanti.

Read more on Caitlin Kelly by visiting her website and her blog, Also, check out another book by Kelly, Blown Away, on American women and guns. Don’t forget to leave a comment, as well, for a chance to win a copy of her memoir.