Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Crooked Truth

Kristen's Crooked Truth: A Crooked Coincidence
My life felt weird. It was the early 2000’s and I was living in the Midwest, finishing my Ph.D. in Poetry. In the middle of a hectic week, I got a phone call from the property manager in the apartment complex where I lived. She left a message, demanding that I visit the office.
When I got there she told me that we needed to talk about the community pool. This surprised me, because I’d never used the pool. I’d never even learned how to swim. She handed me a written warning for violating pool rules. She told me that if I received a second warning I’d be permanently banned from the pool area. “I’ve never used the pool,” I said, thinking this a solid defense. She replied, “You let your friend use it. She can only be in the pool area when a resident is present. Plus, she brought an inflatable lounge float, and inflatables aren’t allowed.” My friend? An inflatable lounge float?  Of course I wanted to believe there was a mistake, but as my property manager recounted the whole story of what had happened, how she’d approached my friend, kicked her and an additional friend (with inner tube) out of the pool, I knew exactly why I was holding a written violation.
My “friend” was the first person I’d met in graduate school, a fashionable memoirist. We’d stopped speaking the year before, when I realized she was more drama than I could handle. I didn’t try to explain any of this to my property manager, and I felt like an idiot for even accepting the written warning. I also felt oddly stalked.
Teaching at the university had also become weird and complicated. At first, I’d loved it; then I got a bad class. Actually, a bad student. He was bright, but troubled. He missed workshop often due to a pole-vaulting injury he’d recently aggravated. After he blew off his report on Marianne Moore, I sent him an email explaining that he’d failed the course. He exploded. And in an email that I imagine he regrets sending, he threatened me. Not sure what to do, I shared the email with another member of the English Department. The result? I had to teach the rest of the semester in a locked classroom. Also, the department chair, a tall and cautious Scotsman, often insisted on escorting me from the locked classroom to my car.
Romantically, things had hit an odd point too, when I got an unexpected package in the mail. Years earlier, I’d fallen madly in love with a fiction writer who lived in Vermont. I thought he was the one. He wasn’t. But for some reason, years after pressing the eject button on our relationship, he sent me a diorama--crafted mostly of twigs--of a story I’d written. He’d tucked a tiny note inside that said, “I love you and I miss you.” While the diorama was truly impressive, I wasn’t sure what it proved. For days, I weighed whether I should call him. In the end, I didn’t.
It probably doesn’t come as a shock that I began to develop an anxiety disorder. Leaving the house felt particularly stressful, because I no longer trusted my ability to “pick” people. The one thing that kept me grounded during this time was writing. I didn’t stop. Poetry. Young adult novels. Middle grade novels. I read and researched around the clock. So when I got an email announcing a regional SCBWI conference, I should have been thrilled to go and show the fruits of my labor, right?
Not exactly.  I’d only recently joined SCBWI and wasn’t sure I was any good at writing for children or young adults. I’d spent a decade writing poetry and identified myself as a poet, even on government forms. Saying I wrote fiction made me feel like a terrible imposter. My first impulse was to stay home and write until I had something “solid” to share. But Kate DiCamillo was coming with her editor Kara LaReau. I went back and forth. In the end, I decided to go. And in a burst of optimism, I also decided to pay for a manuscript critique.
My meeting with Kara turned out to be fifteen of the most nourishing minutes of my life. She really liked my story, but more than that she liked my writing. She told me I could send her future work and even gave me her business card. It was a moment that motivated me even years after it happened. Okay. I’m going to speed this story up now. Not long after the conference, I signed with my agent, Sara Crowe. Soon after that, she sold my first book. My second. She sold two middle-grade novels. I decided it was time to leave the Midwest and my weird life and move to my dream city: San Francisco. I arrived there and continued to write. I sold seven more books. I made friends who weren’t insane. And when the time was right, I fell in love. With Brian.
Sadly, Brian didn’t live in San Francisco. He lived in Rhode Island. Three months into our long-distance relationship, even after I knew he was the one, I was reluctant to leave San Francisco. Other than Brian, I didn’t know a single person in Rhode Island. Then I thought of Kara LaReau, who I followed on Twitter. Even though she lived in Boston, I thought I could write her, and somehow get her to introduce me to nice and normal people and maybe trick her into becoming my good friend. I stalked her Twitter feed. That’s when I found out that she didn’t live in Boston; she lived in Rhode Island! I called Brian. I couldn’t believe my good luck! I started telling him all about this great coincidence, and he said, “Tell me more about Kara.” And so I told him a bunch of stuff I’d learned about her in her Twitter feed, and then Brian said something that to this day amazes me. He said, “What I’m going to say next is going to blow your mind.  Kara LaReau is my next door neighbor.”
Mind blown. Today. Right now. Kara LaReau is my next door neighbor. We share a peony bush. I contacted her right away and we started meeting up when I visited Brian. She baked me things and showed me around my future neighborhood. She was fantastic! By the time I finally arrived in Providence, after eloping in San Francisco, visiting Paris, and shipping all my belongings across the country, I was several weeks pregnant. Here’s where my story gets weird again (in a good way). Within weeks, Kara found out she was pregnant. Yes. We weren’t just neighbors; we were pregnant neighbors. Fast forward a few more months, and we both have sons. Three months apart. Kara is one of my dearest friends. And it all comes down to going to that SCBWI conference. I feel so lucky. Lucky to be a writer. Lucky to have met Kara. Lucky to have a family. And lucky to be lucky.
Here is a picture of our husbands and sons on Halloween. Kara is the mother of the tiny elephant and I am the mother of the baby fox.
Is life good? No. Life is great. And still a little weird.
P.S. The other photo is of our books. In the midst of starting this blog, Kara and I found out that both of our next books came out on the same day, March 4, 2014. That’s right, our sons might not have had the same delivery date, but our books did. 


  1. I love this story! It actually made me tear up. I have a soft spot for Sara Crowe, too. Long story, but she was the first agent to ever ask me for a "Full"--nearly a decade ago. I will always love her for that. :)

  2. This is Kristen. Glad you like the story! And happy to hear you've got a soft spot for Sara. She's a good one.