Sarah R. Callender

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category


In Faith, Writing on July 10, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Now if that title doesn’t titillate you (or make you throw up a little), I don’t know what will.

Today, friends, I’m blogging over at Writer Unboxed . . . but don’t let that scare you. The message in the post applies to writers AND anyone else who sometimes gets a little weary. Maybe you have, at one point or another, felt a little weary?

Please note: if you found me because you have a foot fetish and the title of this post suggests something footish, you will want to take your footish fetish elsewhere cuz my puppies ain’t pretty.

With that disclaimer, off we go!  



In Faith, Writing on April 10, 2013 at 6:18 am

For most of the winter, I have been sitting at my computer, working on Book #2, wearing my long, down puffer coat that, according to Lands End, will keep me warm in Northern Michigan in the month of February.

It wasn’t until mid-March that I realized how silly that was. Uncomfortable too. Not that I do a lot of moving around while I’m writing, but a puffer coat–for good reason–likes to really snuggle up against its human. I felt constricted and puffered out. I had had enough.

So of course, I went to Amazon. Of course I did a search for “Snuggie Blanket with Arms.” Of course, I stumbled across a Wonder Woman Snuggie. This one:

Of course, I purchased it. Really, have you ever seen such a flattering, slimming Snuggie?

Now, when I am writing, I am much more comfortable. I am snug as a bug AND I have full use of my arms. Plus, I crack myself up each time I see my reflection in the window. Warmth and comedic relief in one Snuggie? I’m sold.

But what about the tough and chilling times of life when there is no Wonder Woman Snuggie? When there’s nothing we can order on Amazon to make us feel more comfortable with Life’s discomforts? When our only choice is, simply, to muddle through?

Friends, follow me over here where I blog about the challenge (and the importance) of getting comfy with life’s inevitable discomforts. And should you want to purchase a Snuggie for yourself, you know where to go.


In Faith, Writing on February 1, 2013 at 7:41 am

Hi, dear readers. I finally found a way to weave The Evil Dr. Doofenschmirtz into a blog post. Follow me . . .


In Faith, Writing on January 20, 2013 at 6:23 am

Just this past Tuesday morning, my brain and I decided to reconsider my dreams of being a published writer.

Instead, I told myself, I would apply for a job with the USPS. Or see if Nancy Pearl needed a Reading Assistant. Or I’d hold babies at the hospital, because while I didn’t especially love holding babies when I had my own, I think that was because I was depressed and sleep deprived and leaking milk and pee from various places. I’ve since learned that holding babies is funner when you’re not crying and leaking.

Of course, on this Tuesday morning, I knew that fear was making me want to pretend I am not a writer who is trying to get her book published, and while I’m not a Fear-ologist, I do believe fear is at both root and core of everything bad in our world. Fear leads to genocides; fear is the cause of bullying; fear can make religious people act judgey and intolerant; fear makes NRA supporters say silly things; fear makes gun control advocates say equally silly things.

Fear makes me want to don a blue polyester outfit and deliver mail instead of write books.

But after I shared my USPS aspirations with Husbandio (who patiently nodded), I went to my Bible Study, and without even asking for encouragement, without even sharing a word about my professional change of plans, I was bombarded by very specific-to-me wisdom and reminders of the importance of hope. I remembered there’s a good plan, writing-wise, for me, and it probably doesn’t require a blue polyester outfit and dog repellent or the holding of babies. Plus, there’s this fact: I love writing. Without writing, I’d turn into this lady.

crazy lady

I also remembered that we humans live better when we focus on Living rather than Fearing.

Which is all fine and well until you start thinking about all the scary things in life. Getting married. Having and raising children. Being real, even when being real means showing others you’re a bit of a mess. Learning about a second round of cancer. Having a husband die from a brain tumor. Sending our children off to elementary school on a normal Friday two weeks before Christmas. Watching our children fail their classes. Sending our children off to college. Sharing one’s faith with people who think Christians are utter whack-jobs.

(When I look at that big scary list, well, sending out one’s novel to New York editors seems like small potatoes. Or maybe like fingerling potatoes that look like fingers but taste like buttery potato heaven.)

What’s even more fascinating to me: that big scary list doesn’t deter us from doing all of those scary things, which tells me we humans are hardwired to be courageous, to take risks in spite of all the scary things that might happen. We still do crazy things like get married and have children and choose to believe in things we can’t see, because (this is my best guess) we have Hope that’s much bigger than Fear. Or at least we should. Plus, we know the rush of joy that comes when we risk and dare and tremble and somehow manage to survive.

Therefore, I try to say “yes” when someone asks me to do something that gets me a little trembly. Why? Because I think and hope that saying yes to small scary things will better prepare me when I have to say yes to living with cancer. Or living through a family member’s death. Or living through a child’s bad choices. Or on some particularly bad days, just plain living.

I also try to surround myself with others who don’t mind putting themselves in situations where their legs get a little trembly. One of those people is the lovely and talented (and brave) Lydia Netzer, author of the weird and wonderful debut, Shine Shine Shine, my favorite book of 2012 and one of my most favorite books of Ever.

I haven’t met Lydia in person, and I doubt she knows this, but because of Lydia, I know what to do when writer-me encounters a bit of rejection, a snarky review, unhelpful feedback from the wrong audience: Laugh.

Preferably like a hyena or a loon.

You know why? Because laughter disarms fear. That is a proven, unscientific fact.

I had the opportunity to interview Lydia for Writer Unboxed, so today, I want to share some of the witty and wise responses I couldn’t squeeze into the interview . . . ones specifically about Fear and Living. Reading her writing makes me a braver person. Take it away, Lydia!

Lydia, what’s the scariest thing about being a writer? 

I honestly don’t think there’s anything at all that’s scary about being a writer. There are things that make me nervous about it — talking to strangers, meeting with groups, waiting to hear back from my agent — but fear? No. This job is ultimately about entertaining people with ideas. Books are lists of words, wrapped in pretty paper, and each one is someone’s attempt to pin the zeitgeist or illuminate a thought. Bookstores are awesome. Libraries are wonderlands. Being part of that is a dream. Whether or not someone likes my book, or whether I do or do not reveal some dark fact of my self, or whether or not my book gets on this or that list or sells in this or that market — these things are not frightening. I do believe that literature is critical and valuable to humanity, and I can certainly paint myself a dramatic picture of books defining a metaphysical wall against some existential abyss. But it’s not the actual wall around the village, you know?

Scary is letting your kid stay home alone for the first time. Scary is getting pregnant in the first place. Scary is a sinister medical diagnosis or a tornado or a fire. So I think the brave writers are just the ones that are keeping things in perspective, and not letting these collections of words throw a shadow over their lives.

My husband (who read and loved your book) wonders whether you experienced a “wig flying off the head” moment, a time where you realized, “Oh crumb. The jig is up.” If so, what was the result?

When I was a brand new mother, living in a brand new town, I had a number of arresting moments. There was the time I invited the other mommies on the block over for lunch, and proudly set the table with every piece of china and silverware I had, including many serving dishes, and napkin rings, and cloth napkins. The unsuspecting neighbors arrived clearly wondering who was supposed to be coming, the Prime Minister?

There was the time I caught my husband attempting to give the frozen casseroles which I had so earnestly and carefully prepared from scratch away to the guy who had come to cut the grass.

There was the Easter Sunday I once stood on the sidewalk outside church in a handmade skirt, clogs, a fringe jacket, and a black plastic bag over my shoulder. Inside the bag was the most enormous frozen turkey ever, hopelessly thawed and dripping. I mean, I could give you context, but some helpful onlooker did take a picture which I have seen, and really, yeah, it was a “Oh crumb” type of moment.

Sometimes the biggest bumps or failures in our writing life turn out to be the greatest gifts. Will you share one such bump and explain how, in the end, it had a silver lining?

My kids were bumps, are bumps, will always be bumps. They keep me from writing novels, from answering interview questions for a month, even from thinking. But without them, I would still be cleverly fadoodling around with hypotheticals and braintricks, stories that didn’t really hurt about ideas that didn’t really bleed. Parenthood plunged me into the deep end of a cold pool, but without it I’d still be fluttering around on the surface, dry and unaffected. They inspire my best work and then prevent me from doing it because they have handwriting practice and nightmares, but they are all silver, lining and otherwise, and I’m lucky to be their mom.

And just so you know, I’m not the only one who loved her book. Nancy Pearl, The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalPeople magazine, and Amazon all shouted, “Hooray!” after reading Shine Shine Shine. And you might, too. Find Lydia at her website. Find Shine Shine Shine at Indiebound or Amazon.

Now get out there and do something that makes you trembly. Jump off something with or without a parachute. Climb something really tall. Swim in the deepest of oceans. Make art and then share it with someone.

And if it doesn’t go well, if it doesn’t turn out as you expected, then just laugh.

Preferably like a hyena or a loon.

Crazy Lady Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Orin Zebest.


In General, Writing on December 7, 2012 at 6:20 am

Hello dear readers,

Today I have the pleasure of blogging at Writer Unboxed. Follow me, and I’ll explain what happens when a sexy carpet cleaning gentleman knocks on the door of a lonely housewife, plus some other stuff about how it can be tricky to put a label on art. And, we’ll conclude with a learning lesson about how mocking someone almost always comes back to bite you in the arse. Just click here!

Of course, this photo will make more sense after you have read the post. (Incidentally my carpet cleaning friend is the guy on the left.)



In General, Writing on November 6, 2012 at 6:53 am

Oh, how I love a man who reads!

This fetish, however, wasn’t always so pronounced. When I was just a wee high school lass for example, I liked butts. A guy with a nice arse. In fact, as I type, I am remembering two particular arses that earned much of my attention, focus that might have been better spent on studying British poetry or dissecting a frog heart or memorizing African geography. Useful stuff.

And as I sit here typing, twenty-five years later, still not totally clear on African geography, I wonder . . . have the ravages of time somehow spared those two particularly fine specimens of male tush? I know not.

(I also know not why I just wrote a sentence with Shakespearean diction. But I’m going to go with it.)

As I have aged, of course, I realize that a nice arse can only take a man so far, that other attributes are slightly more important in a male mate.

Kindness. Sense of humor. A solid faith. He thinks I am funny. He doesn’t mind that I wear the weirdest conglomeration of clothing as pajamas. Forgiveness. He doesn’t get mad when I park too close to one side of the garage, thereby forcing his 6’4″ self to scrunch up in order to exit the passenger side of the car. More forgiveness. I’m not a good house cleaner. Willingness to attend Sound of Music sing-alongs.

My college beau loved to read, yet literarily, he was nearly impossible to please. This was, in fact, also hot. He would get so easily fired up about all the things he disliked about a piece of fiction, voicing astute opinions about narrative structure and character, finding strands of plot that were gratuitous or just plain silly.

Of course, now that I am a writer, his discriminating taste is not hot. It’s terrifying. I imagine him raking my writing, my novel over the coals, just as he did with all manner of canonical literature. Just as he still does when we (as we are among the lucky ones who are able to be friends) chat about the books we read.

When I met Husbandio on a blind date, I fell for him the moment he uttered this sentence: “I’m learning Russian, Sarah, because I thought it would be cool to read Dostoevsky in Russian.” 

He then proceeded to talk about books he had loved . . . Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. Tolstoy and Chekhov.

Wouldst that someone might hie ye hither to retrieve the fire extinguisher! Post Haste!

Of course, a few years into our marriage, I realized that his hot, first date monologue had been, well, not a lie or a ruse. Not even an exaggeration to get me to go out with him again. He didn’t (yet) realize that he was to be my betrothed, my sweet-breathed Romeo. As I would be his dear Juliet.

On that first date, as he shared his literary dreams, he just thought we were chatting. You know, about things and stuff.

Not me, man. HE WANTED TO READ DOSTOEVSKY IN RUSSIAN. He loved The English Patient.

Thoughts of arses flew by the wayside! Arses mattered not even a jot! What, after all, is a nice arse when compared to a passion for literature?

And, Husbandio’s Dostoevsky dreams were truthful. In college, he had read and loved those novels. In the early years of our marriage, he did study Russian with older, thick-waisted women named Irina. They were all named Irina. And they were all thick-waisted. And they were all about as cheery and encouraging as you, dear reader, might imagine.

Still, he stuck with it because, darn it, he really did want to read Dostoevsky in Russian.

His “passion” for fiction, however, might have been a little exaggerated.

Maybe he wanted to impress me, on that first date, in those first years of marriage. Or, maybe when you are single, as he clearly was when he walked into my marriage snare, you believe you will always have time to dream and read and study languages that require knowledge of an entirely different alphabet.

Of course, that’s not the case. Work becomes more consuming. Young children ingest your free time as if it were cotton candy. Things like reading and shaving your legs and knitting sweaters fall by the wayside. Life gets very busy.

Therefore, for a lot of years, Husbandio read very little fiction. Sure, I forced him to read The Great Gatsby. I captured him and his attention whilst on lengthy road trips, popping in a book on CD while we drove.  But when he had time to read, he mostly picked up non-fiction. And non-fiction, as you likely know, is only vaguely hot.

A man out for a walk with his chocolate lab puppy has the same hotness as a guy reading a novel from the Man Booker short list. 

A man reading non-fiction? That’s like a man taking a walk with his cockatiel on his shoulder.

(Not that he’s not hot; he’s just a little more pirate-y than I can handle.)

But just this summer, fourteen years into our marriage, something miraculous transpired, something to make me realize that First Date Husbandio is still alive and well.

Husbandio started to read fiction again. Five or six books since the summer.

He’s like this guy, but with books instead of hot dogs.

It’s a change that makes me wonder why a fiction-reading man is so attractive. Do I prefer a man who prefers to reside, for brief periods of time, in a fictional world? Do I just like being with someone who loves reading as much as I do? And why doesn’t non-fiction have the same hubba hubba effect on me?

Alack and alas, I know not the answers to any of those questions, be that I am a mere, muddle-headed pigwort of a wife.

I only know that this morning, I put Husbandio on a plane to Atlanta with a fresh novel in his backpack. Ha-cha-cha-cha-cha!

Pirate-parrot guy photo courtesy of Flickr’s mnassal’s photostream.

Hot dog eating guy photo courtesy of Flickr’s Space Pirate Queen.


In Faith, Writing on October 5, 2012 at 6:14 am

Hi friends. I’m blogging over at Writer Unboxed today, discussing rejection and the nasty chafing and heat rash that occur if we try to hide from rejection.

If you have never felt rejected in your life, no need to click over; otherwise, come join me over here. You need not be a writer to read this one!

Thank you, dear followers of Inside-Out Underpants.


In Faith, Writing on July 3, 2012 at 7:36 am

I have always been pro-hope. I tend to gravitate toward overtly hopeful people, those who, in their 60’s, enter the dating scene, trying to re-find true love; or those who start their own businesses; or those who stare down cancer with an unblinking eye.

Obama nabbed me with his Hope posters. My faith and belief in God are tightly tied to hope. I love the Olympics.

Yes, hope has always seemed like a good and beautiful thing, something to name a baby or a soap opera star.

Something that looks like this:

Or this:

Or this:

But I’ve realized lately, that hope can also be scary as, I don’t know . . . a party hosted by Anne Coulter and Sarah Palin? An earwig crawling into my ear and using its pinchers to prune important segments from my brain? Realizing the parachute is not going to open?

To clarify: Hope (the noun) is not scary. It’s the verb (to hope) that’s as scary as the Coulter-Palin Party/Earwig/Broken parachute thing. It is scary to hope.

I know this because a week ago, my fabulous agent (who is the perfect balance of arse-kicker and mother-figure and literary Buddha) started sending around my manuscript (AKA my book) to editors, with the hope that one of them will love it enough to convince her colleagues to purchase and publish it. As a result, I’ve been flapping and flopping around in a pool of my own hope. It feels equal parts terrifying and heart attacking.

My agent tells me that editors move slower in the summer. She tells me that all of publishing shuts down during the week of July 4th. She tells me it could be weeks before we hear anything. In spite of all this, I am still checking my email like a crazy person (which, in fact, I am). The refresh button on my email is now called my hope button.

And it’s this fervent hoping that I find surprisingly scary.

Sure, I must have had some form of hope (the noun) when I was writing the book. But that wasn’t scary because I didn’t have much choice in the matter; it was a book that needed me to write it so I wrote it. Also, it wasn’t scary to hope that I could write a book because accomplishing that goal was dependent only on me and my follow through.

Now though, I have to hope that some important editor likes it enough to convince her publisher to purchase it. My hope is dependent on other people. Smart professional people who love books and only want to publish the best ones, the ones that will sell. Will mine fit that category?

Yes, it’s scary to place my hope in the hands of another. But in writing this, I realize it’s even scarier to NOT put myself in situations where hope is required.

Back in March, the Mega Millions jackpot grew to $640 million. Imagine that. $640 million.

Apparently, in spite of very long odds, a lot of people imagined $640 million. According to this CBS News article, ticket sales were unprecedented. A cafe employee in Arizona sold $2600 worth of tickets to one person. Other Americans doubled and tripled their typical weekly lottery ticket spending, creating “unprecedented” ticket sales.

That’s hope, right? Hope + Mathematics; the more tickets I purchase, the better my chances of winning.

But in the same article, Mike Catalano, chairman of the mathematics department at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., provides “a good dose of reality.” He states the following:

“You are about 50 times as likely to get struck by lightning as to win the lottery, based on the 90 people a year getting struck by lightning,” Catalano said. “Of course, if you buy 50 tickets, you’ve equalized your chances of winning the jackpot with getting struck by lightning.”

Based on other U.S. averages, you’re about 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery, and about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than hit the lucky numbers, Catalano said.

Some might say that the likelihood of getting a book published is a lot like the likelihood of winning the lottery. Maybe that’s true. Only I don’t play the lottery. I find it a little silly and a little depressing . . . to be so hopeful about something with such long odds?

The article shares the example of David Kramer, a lawyer in Lincoln, Nebraska. He says,

buying his Mega Millions ticket wasn’t about “the realistic opportunity to win . . . It’s the fact that for three days, the daydreaming time about what I would do if I won is great entertainment and, frankly, a very nice release from a normal day,” he said.

Ah yes. There’s the hope. The flower on a wire fence kind of hope . . . I suppose. But is it the same kind of hope as Obama hope? As the hope of a teacher who believes in her students? As the hope of someone praying to a God who–let’s face it–may or may not be there? As the hope of someone who spends nearly a decade writing a book that may never get published?

Lottery hope seems different, a little sadder, maybe because I believe the act of hoping must be paired with a bit of work if it’s to be powerful. If hope is paired with hard work, hope can only be admirable, not pitiful.

In this TED talk about the power of hope, surgeon Sherwin Nuland, notes that when he looked up the word “hope” in the OED, he found that the root of “hope” is the Indo-European word, “curve.” Therefore, he says, hope can be understood as “a change in direction, going in a different way.” He found that a great way to understand such an abstract concept.

[Furthermore,] Hope [he explains] does not consist of the expectation that things will come out exactly right, but the expectation that they will make sense, regardless of how they come out.

So is buying $2600 in lottery tickets an example of that kind of hope? Sure, it’s an attempt to “curve” one’s life in a different direction. But I think hope is more than that.

Dr. Nuland goes on to say (and I’ll paraphrase here) that hope gives us the knowledge that the world can be saved by the human spirit, that we can all rise out of our ordinary selves and achieve something that initially, we didn’t know we were capable of achieving.

Yes. That’s it. Hope as action. Hope as a change agent. Hope as a catalyst.

Just think about it: the world’s greatest humanitarians, leaders, teachers and artists have dared to hope. They have taken their hope (the noun) and made it an active verb as they go public with their hope. Is there risk? Yes. Did Martin Luther King, Jr. ever have stomachaches? Probably. Did Abe “the hunk” Lincoln ever worry that he was pushing the country in a foolish direction? Most likely. How about my friend who is on round four of cancer (and she’s my age). Man, that girl is filled with hope!

Getting a book published? Big whoop. Small potatoes in the scheme of things. So OK, I have a wee stomachache. So I’m having trouble sleeping. So I had to call Husbandio, worried that I was experiencing a heart attack. (I wasn’t. My shoes were too tight AND MY BOOK IS BEING READ BY EDITORS!)

I may win the lottery and get my book published. I may not.

But I think I will.

I hope I will.

If our country’s most famous hopers, Abe and MLK, Jr and Obama (shoot, why are they all MEN?) can accept the inherent scariness of fervent hope, so can I.

After all, the scary heart attack feeling is certainly better than attending a scary Palin-Coulter party.

While you are pondering the image of Sarah Palin dancing the Macarena and passing hors d’ oeuvres, please share with me your opinions and experiences with hope, with lotteries, with earwigs. When have you been most driven by hope? How did you deal with the scariness and the risk of getting egg on your face? What’s your “hope button”? 

I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Just, please, don’t send me a photo of an earwig. It’s been a bad week for earwigs.

Hopeful post-it photo courtesy of Flickr’s Natasja db.

Hopeful flower photo courtesy of Flickr’s Fountain_Head.

Hopeful paper crane photo courtesy of Flickr’s Photography-andreas.


In Writing on April 13, 2012 at 6:11 am

Hi Friends,

I am thrilled to now be a regular contributor at Writer Unboxed. Want to pop over for a visit? My post today is about writing, sure, but it’s also about Audrey Hepburn and Kenny Rogers and lemon drop martinis. And friends . . . the importance of having a trusted circle of friends who will tell you when you’re being a doofus. Friends who will celebrate your victories with only minor jealousy. Friends who will not drop you during a trust fall.

Feel free to click on over. Come on, it’ll be fun!

Happy weekend and happy springtime, dear readers.


In General, Writing on January 3, 2012 at 11:14 am

I’m thrilled to be blogging over at Writer Unboxed today. Don’t worry if you’re not a writer . . . if you have a brain, you are more than welcome to mosey on over. Just click here. Thanks for reading!