Welcome to a truly funny author and lovely person! I met Kim at the Romance Writers of America conference in Anaheim, CA, this past summer, and in the brief time I spent with her at the St. Martin’s Press party and in her car back to the hotel, I thought, “I like this chick. A lot!” She was just so breezy and fun, a natural comedienne and good sport. I’d never read her books, so as soon as I got home, I dove into There’s Cake in My Future and totally fell in love with the story and the characters. I’m so glad Kim’s here to share with us her own take on life, writing, and crazy holiday moments. Thank you, Kim, for reminding us to live in the moment, to laugh, and to love the people we’re with!
Happy Thanksgiving week fellow writer/Moms! We are about to embark on the most glorious day of the year – the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Of course, we’re all overwhelmed, getting ready for the traditional “Wednesday before Thanksgiving Christmas tree trimming”. What with pulling out all the lights, unwrapping the ornaments, getting out the Christmas china for the traditional Wednesday pizza, pulling out the Christmas wine charms to pour champagne and mulled wine for the grownups, baking the Christmas cupcakes….
Wait. What’s that? Some of you are actually defrosting a Turkey on Wednesday? You have yams on your grocery list instead of cupcakes? You’re peeling… potatoes? Huh. Weird.
My favorite day of the year is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving because it is the official beginning of the most magical time of the year. You’ve just had an early day at school or work, you have four days off in front of you, there’s nothing but the magic of the holidays and family to look forward to, then the promise of a bright New Year – it’s all about potential. I just don’t really care about that next day (Thanksgiving) all that much. Why? First off – I grew up surrounded by A) Irish Catholics and B) Actors and various other artists in the entertainment community. So let’s just say Thanksgivings were loud. Big. Filled with drama. Someone was always fighting with someone. Some years, everyone was fighting with everyone. It could be about politics, religion, schools, books, affairs people had had that year, why someone hadn’t called someone else after said affair, instead just sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night…
Oh, the years I longed to be an “orphan” and go to an “Orphan’s Thanksgiving.” The food always sounded bad (For example, one friend called the Butterball line after not realizing there was a plastic bag of gizzards inside the cavity that had melted in once the oven had been turned on, and the smell was scaring her dog.) But everyone just seemed calmer.
On the plus side of our family holiday, we all always dressed up, and that’s fun for a girl of any age. The food was always gourmet, the menu perfectly planned out and executed to perfection. The wine was the expensive kind you only got to drink once or twice a year. The table? Exquisite: sparkly antique china, gleaming sterling silver, ironed linen tablecloths and matching linen napkins. It was perfect.
Until the sniping started – sometimes the second you walked into the living room.
And sometimes fights started ramping up in September to crescendo to a big finale at Thanksgiving.
Once we had our son, we stopped going to my family’s Thanksgiving. It wasn’t fun, and fuck it, I was a grown up, I could do whatever I wanted that day. (I do see my parents, but not until Saturday. That’s now our tradition.) Which brings me to my in-laws. That is now part one of our Thanksgiving Day.
My in-laws have no drama at the table. Seriously – none. They don’t talk about politics, religion, or current events. Everyone seems to agree on sports, and since no one in the room except my husband and myself finished college, not a lot of talk about books. (To their credit, they frequently compliment me on mine.) There isn’t even drama when major announcements are made. My nephew came out one year to his parents (who were not accepting at first) and we were told in advance not to talk about it. Apparently on the Thanksgiving before I met them, my husband showed up to announce he was getting a divorce. Other than a quiet walk with his Dad after dinner, no one wanted to pry, so it didn’t come up. I mean, I had always heard that Protestants were quieter, but it’s ridiculous.
So why don’t I love my drama free environment with all its peace and quiet?
I don’t fit in. My husband, son and I dress up, because I think it’s important to dress up on special occasions, and theoretically Thanksgiving is a special occasion.
One year, my nieces and nephews showed up in – wait for it! – pajamas. Would you show up in pajamas for a wedding or bar mitzvah? Okay, in LA you might, but that’s because we’re weird.
No one drinks, so there’s no fabulous wine with dinner. There’s no wine with dinner at all. My husband has pointed out a zillion times that I can bring a bottle, but the one time I tried his mother just looked confused by the gesture. So I don’t bring one anymore. I do bring my own butter – they are a margarine family. They also call Cool Whip “whipped cream”. I don’t quite know why there’s a war on dairy in that family, but after knowing them almost twenty years, I’m still afraid to ask.
Lovely people all, but it just never quite feels like home to me.
However, it very much feels like home to my son, and that’s what’s really important. So we go.
Afterwards, we go to dinner #2, which is held at my son’s godfathers’ home.
I hope you’re not homophobic (if you are, I’ll assume you’ve never read me before) and I hope you are pro-gay marriage. But even if I offend some readers, I’m going on record to say this anyway: I defy you not to feel welcome in a gay man’s home. Can’t be done! We are supposed to come for dessert. We never want dinner, as we’ve already eaten, but Jeff always makes us plates full of amazing recipes from this year’s Food Network or Gourmet magazine or whatever it is gay men find to make their food and décor perfect. And his partner Brian always has a glass of something wonderful waiting for me and my husband the moment we walk through the door, and way too much dessert for my son to consume. Neither Jeff nor Brian are blood related, so I guess it’s technically an orphan’s Thanksgiving. However, Jeff shared a bottle of champagne with my husband and me the night we got engaged, he was one of the first people to ever hold my son at the hospital, and he is the person who would raise our son if anything ever happened to us. So, as far as my son is concerned, he is family. (As far as I am concerned too.)
But I’m the first to admit, the combination of the day is not particularly traditional.
Okay – back to tradition and writing. (I’m going somewhere with this – I promise). So, on Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, I never used to have anything to do that night. No one would let me cook, I didn’t need to clean as we never had guests coming over, and there was never anything fun on TV that night. So, 10 years ago, when my son was a baby, I decided to lug out our fake Christmas tree, and get the decorating started. And life was good. A few years after that, we invited over our son’s best friend from preschool and her parents, and while everyone else was travelling and cleaning and cooking and stressing about tomorrow, we put on Christmas music, had pizza, drank wine, and decorated our tree.
It made me so happy, I invited them to come back the following year, and the one after that, and the one after that, etc.
Last year, my son invited another of his friends to “our traditional Wednesday before Thanksgiving tree trimming.” And I realized that, because he’s been doing this since he was a baby – for him it is a tradition. Just like it is a tradition to go to his grandma’s and watch people arrive in pajamas, and to go to his gay godfathers’ house to fall into a comfy chair, attack the leftovers and have dessert!
So what does all this have in common with writing? Throughout my entire life, I always had an idea of what Thanksgiving was supposed to look like: and it never turned out that way. So over the years, I have experimented, tried new plans, kept what I liked, threw away what I didn’t, and kept moving. I no longer have any idea of what it’s supposed to look like. I do have some wonderful memories of what it’s looked like so far. And who knows? In ten or fifteen years, our son might announce to us that he and his girlfriend are throwing Thanksgiving in their living room in New Zealand or Idaho. And my husband and I will be on a plane to New Zealand or Idaho. (Please don’t let it be Idaho. Nothing against Idaho, but I hear they have this ice in the sky that falls on the ground there. As a Californian, it all sounds very strange and cold.)
So the next time you sit down in front of your computer with an idea of how a story should look, I challenge you to just start writing – let the characters go the wrong way. Hit a dead end or two. Experiment! Throw things out, keep what you like, and move on! In the end, you’ll have your story – you just might travel a very crooked road to get there.
Happy Thanksgiving Eve and Happy Holidays!
Kim Gruenenfelder lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son, and continues to avoid anything even remotely resembling a real job. Her acclaimed debut novel, A Total Waste of Makeup, has been published in six languages and eight international editions to date. In addition to her three published novels, A Total Waste of Makeup, Misery Loves Cabernet and There’s Cake In My Future, she has written feature films, episodic teleplays and two stage plays. Kim loves her fans and readers, who can contact her here, as well as follow her through her Facebook and Twitter.