Monday, June 15, 2015

Post-silent Treatment

(The following is fiction.)

We've just dropped him at the office. He took with him a lunch and the choke-hold on our voices.

"Don't you think the mountains look like a green blanket thrown over some junk," I say.

My daughter squints through her sunglasses. They are pink with little mustaches. "I can see it," she says. "It does!"

"They're not junk!" my son protests. He's five and to him words have singular meanings.

"Stuffed animals then."

My daughter gasps. "I can see the folds. It's exactly like a blanket."

"They're not junk!"

"You're right. Bad comparison."

We talk about metaphors on the drive home.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jogging in Headphones

I don't hear my feet pound the sidewalk.
I see them--
Blue blurs, floppy laces.
I can't hear myself breathing.
          But I must be.

On the loop by creek,
The slugs' trails are silver dashes,
Like strands of ghost-pearls strewn over the concrete.
Some slimed across the walk only to loop back into the crab grass.
I am strangely relieved that most completed the journey.

I race past a few (four, five, six)
That were splattered by giants,
          and giant bicycles.
They were asteroids up against the Earth.

If I spot one struggling to the other side,
I pick it up and drop it safely across.
Have I saved it
Or denied it something?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I'm trying to read "A Rose for Emily" at the pool

I'm trying to read Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" at the pool.

Someone, Emily, has died, and there's mention of the Civil War, and my son, G, wants to go on the slide. The red one. No. The green one. Okay. We climb the tower, and he shivers in the breeze, stomps in the puddles, and says, "Mom will you ride with me the first time?" Yes. He pinches his lips together and his dimples show. The green slide wins.

I'm back with Faulkner. My towel soaks through. Miss Emily didn't have to pay taxes--under the ruse of...something. The loud speakers are pounding out a song that's more bass than lyrics. She has a crayon portrait of her dad. G drew his dad on the next page. And another of two people arm in arm on a beach at sunset. Is he, at seven, already a romantic? I don't fret; the next is drawing of Squidward.


They have their arms around each other.


This line, "She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water," makes me self-conscious lying in the sun in my shorts to conceal my thighs that touch. Could do without that bit, Billy.

There's a stench at Emily's and people are milling about trying to figure out how to kindly tell her. They push the job onto Judge Stevens. He chickens out. A couple of men sneak over to Emily's at midnight and sprinkle lyme under the house. A youngish girl hustles past, her arms in prayer stance, to her towel. Her body drips on my pages. They're not ruined, but now they, too, have a scent. Chlorine.

Emily buys arsenic. My ten-year-old wants a cookie. I dig them out of the cooler. The chocolate chips are firm. Miss Emily gives the eye to a Homer fellow. There's rumors of a wedding. Will Smith tells me to "get jiggy with it" and some hirsute "bra" is shouting across the lawn to a friend, "You only live once!"
     Emily--did she? Live? Or just tap her foot at Death's door?

Homer was the smell. Homer was the body poisoned. Now he is dust. From dust we began and from dust we must return. The sun pinches my skin. All this talk of dust...
I think I'll take another dip.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Smithey Night Live

It was our family's turn for to be spotlighted in the ward newsletter. This was the result. 

We’re a family of creatives and artists. Of nerds and gamers. We’re educators and trainers, athletes and scholars. We take swings at the status quo and karate chop our Netflix queues. Spike’s our mascot, and badinage, our native tongue.  We’re Whovians and Browncoats and have a summer home in Whedonverse. We’re wordsmiths and jokesterraconteurs.

We are the Smitheys.

Rena, 33: E, ask us questions for the newsletter. Anything. Completely random.
E, 10: Would you blow up a house? With TNT?
Rena: What’s my motivation?
Cole, 35: Was it built on an Native American burial ground and was it haunted by a vengeful spirit who trapped my kid in the television?
E: Erm…yes.
Cole: Yes.
Rena: Isn’t that a movie?
Cole: [Nods.] Polterguest
Rena: Ah. …Isn’t it Poltergeist?
Cole: Yeah. I didn’t want to come across as one of those pretentious film know-it-alls.
Rena: Like Siskel &—
Cole: —Eggbert.
E: Would you rather have feathers or fur?
Rena: If I have feathers, can I fly?
E: Yes…and if you have fur…
Rena: People can make a coat out of you?
E: …you can nap forever.
Cole: FUR.
G, 7: Fur, so I could stay warm and I could fly like a flying squirrel.
Rena: Touché.
E: Would you rather have a beak or a snout?
Rena & Cole: Snout.
G: What’s a snout?
Rena: Like a dog’s nose or a pig’s nose. [Sotto voce to Cole.] Imagine trying to find a body on the banks of the Hudson with a beak? Or a pound of White Pony in a Caddy’s rim? Not gonna happen. [Cole looks quizzically at Rena.] In this scenario, I work for a K-9 unit.
Cole: Yeah, I’m not rooting around for food with a beak.
G: Dog’s nose.
E: Would you be a superhero who smelled like socks?
Rena: Dirty socks?
E: Any kind of socks. Sweaty, clean…
Cole: Do I lose my powers if I take the socks off?
 Rena: Yeah, are the socks my Samson-hair?

E: What?
Rena: My Achilles’ heel?
Cole: Do I have to take my shoes off to use my superpower?
Rena: Are flip-flops my Kryptonite?
E: Yes?
Rena: Then, no way.
Cole: Yeah. I’d do that.
Rena: Okay, my turn. Favorite Mexican food?
Cole: Pass.
E: Churros.
Gavin: Lasagna.
Rena: Lasagna is Italian.
Gavin: Oh, then…tacos.
Rena: Chicken or fish?
E: Chicken.
Gavin: Fish.
Cole: Beef.
Rena: Strawberries or peaches?
E: Strawberries.
Gavin: Peaches.
Rena: Bacon or bacon?
E and G: Neither.
Rena: [Eye twitches.] The apples fell far from the tree.
Cole: More bacon for us.
G: Apple! Was "apple" a choice?

--Rena Lesué-Smithey,

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Manna from Storymakers 15, Part 1

Boy, do I have some writing k-bombs (knowledge bombs) for you. Last week was the three-day LDStorymakers conference at the Provo UVCC, and I, if I could scribble fast enough, would have a tome of advice from nine break-out classes, one 2-hr MFA intensive, a "new deal" author chat, keynote speech, and a publication primer workshop I attended. 

Instead, here are a few of my notes:  


  • The elevator pitch needs to be clever, interesting, concise and should include the title and sometimes comparative texts. (Mark Gottlieb, agent)
    • My attempt -- 
      • With wit similar to Jenny Lawson's in Let's Pretend this Never Happened and the darkness of The Liars' Club, A BIRD IN MY HEAD is a loss of innocence memoir about Rena, an eleven-year old, gap-toothed Mormon girl wrestling with familial expectations and her own ambition. 

  •  Synopses (Josi S Kilpack, writer)
    • Why do you need one? 
      • You need it for preparing for pitches or writing queries.
      • An agent will need to see how the story arc works
      • Editors - same 
      • Marketing Dept. - need it as a quick way to become familiar with the story
      • Art designers - same
    • Compress or condense your story down to the bones. Keep in mind your MC and plot.
    • Should be 2 pages or 1,000 words approx.  
    • 12 pt font, TNR, put info in the top right-hand corner
    • Capitalize your characters' names the first time you use them in the document
    • Single-spaced, unless the synopsis is two pages.
    • Write it in third person, present tense. 
    • Don't write as one of the characters. 
    • Tell how the story ends; no cliffhangers in the synopsis. 
    • When write one? Before or after? 
      • Before it can serve as an outline
      • Makes writing it easier
      • It's revisable
      • After it can assist you with revisions
      • Agents, editors want it

  • First pages (Jennifer Rofe, agent)
    • It is a promise to the reader that something in these first few pages will come true. 
    • If it isn't going to matter later, get rid of it. 
    • How does your first page reflect your last? 
    • When revising your first page, consider: 
      • Did you start in the right place? 
      • Do you place the reader in the world of the story? 
      • Do you give the reader a taste of the conflict to come? 
      • Is it tightly written? 
Up next: Slush Pile Secrets and Plotting: Hill-shapes and BEYOND. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Family Newsletter

Merry Christmas! 

Once again, I failed at sending out Christmas cards. (Do you think it's just me or a generational thing?) 

Here's a virtual one that doubles as a reflection on the past year. I asked my family some of the same questions. 

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
Me: I got a passport and flew out of the country. To Spain! For a grad school!

G: (he's 6) Played with my Ninja head-band.

Our walk on Thanksgiving 2014

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Me: I wanted focus my whole year on the craft, and as I've been in grad school all year finishing my memoir, I'd say, yes, I did. I'm querying my memoir right now, actually. My goal next year is to get an agent.

Gaudi's work

Cole: My resolution was to spend more time outdoors. I did.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
One of my former students, Kelci, had a little boy. And my sister is pregnant with her fourth.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit? Spain.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
Me: An agent.
Cole: A better paying job.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Me: June and July--the two weeks I spent in Barcelona studying writing. August--when the kids and I got to vacation in Vegas with my BFF, Melissa.

Hoover Dam. 

M&M Factory

G: The army men. Gramma's house, opened presents and I got an Indiana Jones hat and Indiana Jones whip.
When Short Round meets Indy...

C: When you [Rena] left and came back from Spain. It was a big deal, I was by myself for a long time. ha.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Me: Traveling to foreign country and almost picking up the language fluently. Plus, I finally got business cards. At work I received the Capt. American bear for being a hero because I write about our school for DH frequently.
My third teaching award. 
my business cards. 

G: My Lego Star Wars video game.
C: Maintaining my health. I took fewer sick days.
Layne (10): Piano lessons. And I won second place in the Reflections contest.
Her idea, her phrase. Love it. 

9. What was your biggest failure?
Me: Only running 3 races and letting my health go by the wayside. My word for 2015 is BALANCE.
Can still rock a backwards flip off a swing. Take that, thirties! 

C: I could've done better with my personal finances.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Me: I had bronchitis in November. It piggy-backed onto a cold so I was sick for quite some time.
C: Thyroid issues, but one of my healthier years.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Me: Plane ticket to Barcelona.

Reading part of my memoir at Atteneu Barcelones

I'm wearing one of my brother's tees. StatelyType. Oh, and delish squid. 

12. Where did most of your money go?
Food, mortgage, bills, grad school.
Feeding the free-loading chickens, until they started laying. We have 6 cluckers. They were a birthday present.

13. What did you get really excited about?
Me: LDStorymakers Conference, BCN, and Vegas. Also Christmas at my mom's in her new cabin.

14. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Me: Coldplay's "Magic"

And Meghan Trainor's "All About that Bass". It's just fun.
C: "Little Talks" by of Monsters and Men
and Pompeya's "The no. 90"

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
– happier or sadder?
Me: happier
C: happier
– thinner or fatter?
Me: fatter (by 10 lbs.)
C: a little bit thinner, but not much.
– richer or poorer? 
Cole: richer. They gave me a cost of living raise in July.
Me: poorer (Grad school = More school loans)

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Me: Exercise.
G: Make snowman
L: Not be mad at Gav.
Luigi and Cleopatra

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Me: Stress-eating.
L: I don't know.

18. How did you spend Christmas?
At Mom and Dad's in their new cabin. My sister and her boys joined us.
The Grand Staircase, So. Utah

19. What was your favorite TV program?
Me: The Bletchley Circle. They're a group of women who decoded Nazi messages during the war, but later go on to live fairly domestic lives. They reunite when a serial killer comes to town and they are the only ones capable of interpreting his patterns.
G: Kirby
L: The Haunting Hour and Goosebumps
She wigged b/c of potential weeping angels.

20. What were your favorite books of the year?
Me: The Book of Mormon Girl by Johanna Brooks
Try not to read my daughter's note in the voice of Joey Tribbiani. It's just creepy. 

Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
Blankets by Craig Thompson

C: Why Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

21. What was your favorite music from this year?
Me: Movie scores. They aren't distracting when I write.
My favorite Pandora stations were:

  • Indiana Jones
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Bourne Supremacy
  • INXS
  • Coldplay
  • Weezer
  • Lorde

22. What were your favorite films of the year?
Guardians of the Galaxy
Veronica Mars (I assume. I haven't the pleasure yet.)

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Me: I turned 33. I worked furiously on grad school homework and went to a movie(?). The week before I took my family to Draper during the LDStorymakers conference. They did a lot of swimming and pizza-eating, while I honed my skillz.
G: I turned 6. Hang-Time (trampoline place) with my cousins.
L: I turned 10. Camping with cousins.
I totally made that. Call me: culinary mastermind!

C: 35. Popped fireworks? With Trevor?

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Me: A live-in masseuse.  
C: Less car trouble.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?

Me: Yoga pants and 5K tees at home and boots and dresses at work.
C: A transition from jeans and tees to khakis and button-downs.
G: Ninja Turtle jammies
L: Snow boots and skirts. AND CHAPSTICK. I always have to have some close.
Batman seeking vengeance against the evil corn pit! 

26. What kept you sane?
C: Hope. Prayer. Family. Friends.
Me: Writing.

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014. 
Me: I learned that if I dedicate my year to the craft, I can undoubtedly improve, but I still have a ways to go. Plus, I can only be obsessed with one thing at a time, apparently, which is why my exercise tapered off.
Also, if you want to be something, stop making excuses and do it.

C: You're not defined by your position. The position is defined by you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Shout out to my friends, part 2

Hey-O, friends. This one's for you!
(Again, I couldn't fit everyone in a single post, so expect another soon.)

To quote White Christmas, "Sisters. Sisters. Never were there such devoted sisters," Sarah and I are hopelessly devoted to quality writing, laughing, and awesomeness, and therefore are willing constituents of Nerdom and Whedonverse. We prefer to see the world through an optimist's lens and never take ourselves to seriously. She is bright, talented, funny, and fully equipped to combat a zombie apocalypse with the frontal assault of bad puns, followed by an arsenal of survival strategies gleaned from years of research. Obviously.

I heart you, Sarah-ba-dare-ah.

Normalcy is overrated.

“True friends are always together in spirit. (Anne Shirley)” 


C is about 10 years my elder, so we didn't know each other much until I was well into adulthood, but I'm sure glad we had the opportunity. She is the most selfless person I know. If we even happened to be in a hostage situation, you could count on her to befriend the bad guys, talk them down with her amicable charm, and, later after the weapons were cast aside voluntarily, she'd take the whole lot, hostages and criminals, out for mani-pedis. She's a peacemaker with the heart the size of Virginia.
And I love her guts.

New Orleans, 1996. Three sisters in the finest 90s attire Walmart could provide. 

“Be slow to fall into friendship, but when you are in, continue firm and constant.” 
― Socrates


Kris is the inspiration behind my ENTIRE writing career. Back in 2001, I read something she wrote in a notebook and thought, "Hey, I bet I could write too!" I launched head-long into a life-long aspiration, and can firmly say that her words--though I don't recall the exact passage--galvanized me to dream, to achieve. For that I can NEVER repay her, but I hope she knows how much her friendship means to me. We are silly gigglers when together and share an obsession with Neil Gaiman and Doctor Who. She's got mad art skillz and superb taste in music. She is a forever pal. (You'll never be rid of me! bwahahahaha!)

Tube-tops aren't my thing. Kris is. 

“It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.” 

“There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.” 
― P.G. Wodehouse


Lisa - She and I met because...well, her brother and I were high school sweethearts. Despite our terrible, crippling break-up after senior year (the boy and me), I found Lisa again in my late twenties and just like that our friendship was restored. In some respects we have unassailable differences--*ahem* politics--but good friends, like boxers, can manage to feign right when confronted by an opposing jab, especially when the contender is irreversibly stubborn. ;) Nevertheless, we get along great. Superficially, the glue to our relationship is our affinity for shoes and clothes, and our fierce love for our babies, but the true adhesive is emotional support she provided me during a 2-3 year crucible.  She is the epitome a Christ-like sister. She mourned with me when I mourned and gave me the means to escape to her waiting shoulder. For that I am eternally grateful. Love you, Lisa!

When you wish upon a star, you get Lisa.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” 


Z-man and I have known each other for 17 years (12 1/2 of that as husband and wife), and our origin-story, circa 1997, could be the love child of My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks. I cannot wait to write that memoir. He makes me laugh, shares my interest in ALL things nerdy, and  dresses up for ComicCon or Halloween when I bat my eyelashes. He puts up with my nagging and shoe fetish--though, to be fair, his is just as strong--and is an Olympic-grade snuggler. I love you!

Last Halloween with my Z-man. 

“The best relationships - the ones that last - are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is... suddenly the only person you can imagine yourself with.”


Spike - Woman's best friend. An angel on earth.


“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.” 

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