"Over the last few years I've started writing a number of stories that, for various reasons, I never finished writing..." So begins Special Problems, the comic tale of Christie Hodges, a writer who can't seem to finish a story. The problem isn't that Hodges has nothing to write about - there's her recent divorce, her paralyzed foot, trouble with her daughter and job - it's that once she starts writing, she can't stop. One problem leads to another, and another. A story that begins with a disastrous Thanksgiving play at her daughter's school swells to hundreds of pages, straining to accommodate the history of every atrocity one set of people has committed against another. Her desk covered with failed drafts, Hodges faces her biggest problem of all: if she doesn't stop trying to say everything, she will end up saying nothing.
Desperate for advice, Hodges turns to her mother, a Project Manager at a software company who speaks almost exclusively in corporate lingo: "I'm putting you on a PIP," my mother said. "I don't know what that means," I said. "You know, a PIP," she said. "A Performance Improvement Plan." "Oh God," I said. "I'm giving you a two-week deadline," she said. "I want a finished story on my desk two weeks from today. That's the long and the short of your PIP." All I could think of was the Dickens character. "Sounds like you have great expectations for me," I said. "I do!" she said. "I always have." Part memoir, part fiction, Special Problems is the story of the troubles that carry us away, and the people who guide us home again.