Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Almost New Year

And where the heck did 2007 go? Let's see if I can recap briefly:
  • Spark revisions
  • Repeat above
  • Spark submissions
  • Spark sale and contract negotiations

Yes, it takes that long. Yes, it is totally worth it when you're finally done.

  • Two final semesters of college for the kid
  • Semester early graduation!
  • Subsequent celebrations including a wonderful gathering yesterday afternoon

Yes, he did it! Yes, it was worth it!

  • A number of trips out to Tempe
  • A rip roaring trip to Vegas
  • A wedding in Chicago
  • Various Texas road trips

All quite memorable, each in its own way.

And in the in between times, family joys and sorrows. Death of a beloved aunt on one side. Adoption of a long awaited child on the other side. Another baby almost here. Some health scares for people we love. Some really fine books, movies and even some rocking tv. (Harry Potter 7, Jenny Downham's Before I Die, and Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely- are 3 books that come to mind immediately. Juno comes to mind for movies cause I just saw it and LOVED it. And my new guilty pleasure Gossip Girl (the OC goes to the Upper East Side) is my tv pick for today.)

And for me in particular, the roller coaster ride of a life time. When I set out to write a novel, I had absolutely no idea what that would really mean in the long run. I just knew I had a story that I wanted to tell. I did not know that not only would it evolve, but so would I. It's an evolution that's still ongoing, so I plan on keeping you posted. Next comes revisions with my editor Lyron Bennett at the wonderful independent publisher Sourcebooks. And after that, well, like I say, I'll let you know.

Tonight, we'll celebrate. Right now, I'm working. Wednesday I'm back at school. Somewhere in the next week, I hope to finally wrap up novel 2 and send it off. Somewhere next week I'll post more about the ongoing Spark journey.

And next time I throw a party, would someone please, please, tell me that just because the double ginormous pack of mustard at Sam's is only $3, it is so not worth it. And that 72 mini yeast rolls for 50 people is about 30 rolls too many if you're also serving other stuff. (and that's not counting the other 20 rolls I bought and froze) Also, if you place dips and chips on the stovetop under that outdated enormous wooden exhaust hood, unsuspecting guests get the bonus of a mini concussion each time they go for the dip. (Ooh, hummus. Thwack!)

Til next year...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

musical heaven

Yes, I know I have yet to post another part of the Spark journey. Sort of keeping it to myself so it continues to feel all shiny and new. Soon, though.

It's been musical heaven around her. Sweeney Todd on Friday. And this afternoon, the off Broadway production of "Altar Boyz" - mildly cute, okay a bit sacchrine, story of a five boy band (4 Christians, one Jew) on their soul saving mission. Was our annual family event where we add the kid and the mother in law to our December theater outing of our subscription package. Went rather well, except that when we changed tickets so we could be a party of four rather than two, we ended up in the first row. Stages theater in Houston is a wonderfully intimate theater. I love it. But if you are in the first row, you are basically on stage with the actors. "We're sooooo close," son whispered to me while mother in law fiddled in purse for cough drop and kleenex. "We're so close" I thought, when one of the actors finished his solo by placing his hand on my knee. Yup. My. Knee.

Then tonight we watched "Once." Irish indie film. Score/songs by Irish band, The Frames. "I don't know you/but I love you" Oh! Romantic. Story between the notes. Loved it. Watched it with the kid and one of yesterdays' football friends. No, not the lovelorn one. Watching a romantic musical with the testosterone crowd means moments like this:

Me: Oh. Look Aer Lingus. When you go to Ireland (kid is planning a trip to Europe) maybe you'll fly Aer Lingus.
Football friend: Aer Lingus. Heh.
Me: Shut up. Seriously.
FF: (Rolls eyes and thinks Aer Lingus) Seriously. I know this is what he was doing.

Still working on meeting my end of year deadline for first draft of novel two. Still thinking I'll make it. Gee, no pressure on that one...

Til next time...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

happy happy joy joy

Waiting for our pizza. Family game night tonight. Yes, we are total geeks. When kid is home we have game night once in a while. Play some Trivial Pursuit or Scene It. I kick ass on books and entertainment. I suck at sports questions. I can remember every tv ep. I've ever seen. And trust me, I love tv, so that's a lot of wasted brain hours.

Bake banana bread. Cleaned the house. Brave Sam's Club for stuff for next week's graduation party.

Holiday spirit. Yup.

So... Sweeney Todd. Boy oh boy is it gory! But Johnny. Depp. Captain Jack with razors. Edward Scissorhands giving people shaves. Teensy, tinsy cameo by Anthony Stewart Head (son and I screaming quietly to each other "It's Giles!! Rupert Giles!!! Wait. Where did he go??? Why was he only on screen for three seconds. Giles!! Come back" ) Lots o' spurting blood. Gobs and gobs. Seriously, we were supposed to go out for lunch afterwards and coversation went like this: So.. where do you want to go?
Son: Hamburgers?
Me: Ack
Me: Too red
Son: Chinese?
Me: Maybe... but only if I can get vegies and rice. Aren't you gagging?
Son: No

The football gang came over last night. One was rather lovelorn and wanted to TALK about it. Finally, he occupied himself by alternately spinning a large wooden dreidel and eating the scripture mints a student had given me. (What can I say? We're an odd household) I looked over after awhile.
Me: What are you doing?
Lovelorn Football guy: Gave up smoking so once in a while I dip.
Me: Ugh
LLFG: (spits brown juice into an empty Ozarka bottle)
Me: Why the hell are you doing that while sitting on my new leather furniture?
LLFG: Sorry. I'll pour it out. (goes to sink)
Me: NO!! @@@ Pour it down the toilet.
LLFG: (shuffles off; pours; flushes; comes back and eats four more scripture mints then goes outside and calls the girl again)

As always, you just can't make this stuff up!!

Til next time...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

in which I recount the SPARK journey, pt.1

So how do you get a book deal? Well, I'll try to make it concise. But as with most things, it's a rambling, crazy journey. And although I've certainly seen my share of quick fixes of fame for folks as I've plodding patiently along, I think that for most folks, it's a long haul to get to this point.

For me, the story starts with a love of writing. I've written since I was a kid. Always loved telling stories. Vivid imagination. Crazy dreams. Typical stuff, I'd think. Broke into publication with non fiction. Professional essays, newspaper personal essays that garnered some local buzz and totally jazzed me each time I got to see the byline. My name. My article. In a real paper. That actual people actually read.

But that was about it. Working full time. Doing the mom thing. Piddled around with picture books. And let me say, there's a reason you don't see one on a shelf. I wasn't a little kid person. I loved my own, but never really could get in their heads as a writer. But I knew there was a book lurking in me. Many of them, actually. Just had to find a way to pry them out. Kept letting life get in the way. Easy to just go along. All our days are so full with just the regular stuff.

And then one day, SPARK came to me. My MC's voice, really. Actually, the scene that originally emerged one rainy afternoon while I was still at school and trying to get out so I could get home and then to critique group doesn't appear in the book anymore. Book itself wandered in another direction. But a girl named Anne had knocked on my brain. She was funny and brave and a little snarky. And she was destined for an adventure of a lifetime. In the original pages, she was trapped in history class, bored out of her head, writing a note to her friend. But I had a voice. And eventually, I gave her a story. (more on that later)

So I started writing. Some weeks, I wrote only two pages or so. But I kept going. And about a year later, summer of '05, I had a book. I called it Spark, the title it still retains. I'd had some pages critiqued at an SCBWI conference. Got some positive feedback. Moved on to revisions. Finished book in early fall of '05.

And then I hit one of the worst professional semesters of my life. Oh, I loved the kids I taught. But some other things at my school were not as jolly. Okay, things sucked. I was in a word, miserable. I think now that it was fate slamming me on the head, saying, get off your hind end and get that book out there. Now.

Sent it to one agent. Got a request for a partial. Just about peed my pants. But she rejected the project. I went back to moping through the bad school year for awhile.

Last day of January of '06, I pulled myself together. This time I did my full research. Picked a list of agents. Sent out the first batch of queries. Got three requests for partials in the first five queries. One request for a full after that. Couple of nos. And a silence for a few months from Laura Rennert at ABLA. And then in April, I status queried her. And discovered, to my undying gratitude, that she'd passed SPARK on to Michelle Andelman, who was building a client list. Michelle would call me, she said. I think I did the happy Snoopy dance for two hours.

So... Michelle called. We talked for very long time. Could you revise this, she asked. And gave me a very long list of suggestions. One included the word organic. I think the phrase overarching quest came up a couple of times. Sure, I said. I will revise. Of course I'll revise. Oh, heck, I'll revise the crap out of it. Please like me, please, please, please. (possibly it was all less desperate sounding. Somehow I doubt it)

By July, we'd signed to be buddies for life.

Revisions continued. Many things happened to SPARK. I learned that someone can love your story, get chills from your story, and still have a laundry list of changes so it will be commercially viable.

And then... one day... in its own good time... Somewhere around March.... we were ready to submit.

Tomorrow I will post about that.

I am still doing the Snoopy dance of happiness. Michelle still rocks. ABLA is still an awesome agency.

And I'm gone to cleaners, grocery, bank, blah, blah, blah.

Till next time...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

SPARK is sold!

I have been holding this secret in for so long (okay, not from some of you, but nothing that I could post about) that it feels odd to actually talk about it. But I can finally say that my debut young adult fantasy novel, SPARK, has sold to Sourcebooks. Right now we're looking at Fall of '09, but all that is yet to come. I will post the longer version of the SPARK journey tomorrow when my head isn't spinning from excitement. Graduation Thursday, kid coming home today, and the deal announcement, all in less than a week!

A huge shout out to my fabulous and hard working agent, Michelle Andelman, who put her heart and soul into all this on my behalf. She is the best agent a girl could ask for.

And without further ado:

Joy Preble's SPARK, a contemporary fantasy of Anastasia Romanov's disappearance, in which a teen ballerina's line of descent becomes her destiny as she joins forces with a mysterious boy, battles those who betrayed the royal family, and rescues the princess from a legendary Russian witch, to Lyron Bennett at Jabberwocky, in a nice deal, by Michelle Andelman at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (World)

Til next time...
and let me add: squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

That's my boy!

Stuffy nose, backed up grading, messy house, no holiday cards sent, unmade banana bread for little work gifts...

But none of it matters. Why? Because my kid just graduated from college! Watched him walk across the stage at Arizona State. Took tons of pictures. Ate and drank far too much good food and drink. Celebrated til we dropped. Soaked in the great weather. Cold, but sunny, sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. Stayed in the hotel we were always too cheap to stay in but figured if we didn't do it this time, when would we do it. Were accompanied by our best friends who have been like second parents to the kid. Stayed gone and didn't even check email from Wed. til Saturday night. Really clears your head of all the things that don't matter quite as much. Well, most of 'em anyway.

Gonna pound out the last three days of school. Gonna try to finish WIP by New Year's. But other than that - I'm going to dance about with a smile on my face.

And in case anyone is headed for Scottsdale - Breakfast Club is pricy but trendy and delicious. Pink Taco is great chips and salsa, okay food, and Mexican folk art ambience. Lots o' Virgin Marys and crucifixes and the like. And Roaring Fork has lovely glasses of wine. (no memory of the food that night. I'm thinking everyone enjoyed it, though. But that wine glass never seemed to be left empty)

Til next time...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Francheezie

So I don't know. Maybe it's the holiday time. Maybe it's having so much to do trying to finish a book. Maybe it's school with endless and senseless and mind numbing benchmark testing that is sucking the soul out of education. Maybe it's all of those things or none of them. But I've been waxing nostalgic once again over Chicago foods I miss. Actually, I think this all started because two years ago I ordered Lou Malnati to go pizza for husband's birthday and the Taste of Chicago catalogues keep a'coming. I like to peruse them while I'm eating my perfectly healthy bowl of oatmeal in the morning.

But whatever it is, my tired brain happened upon the francheezie. Okay, so the francheezie is the ultimate of bad for you food that I used to adore from my childhood when no one actually had heard about sodium counts or nitrates or foods that will kill you if you even look at them. (yes, that last part is supposed to be hyperbolic. Go ahead. Eat that piece of cheesecake if you must or that latke or whatever)

But back to the francheezie. Take an all beef hot dog. Split it down the middle. Stuff it with gooey American cheese. Wrap it in bacon. ( yes, you read correctly) Fry it up. Put it on a poppy seed bun. Serve with crispy french fries and a side of coleslaw. And if you were me, add a chocolate phosphate to drink. Phosphates are choc syprup and seltzer, basically. No redeeming value other than yum. Okay, even back then I think we all knew this just had to be bad for you. But hey, the "diet plate" included a hamburger patty, so what did we know? I loved those things. Every restaurant seemed to have them on the menu. I'd imagine no one does anymore.

Shouldn't they? Wouldn't that be awesome? A side of the menu for the devil may care crowd. Francheezies and cheese fries and monte cristo sandwiches(I've never eaten the latter, but as Rory or maybe Lorelai commented in a Gilmore ep, it's nice to have it on there as an option), and bricks of onion rings and all that crap that's really bad for you but let's face it makes life worth living once in a while.

All things in moderation. Even the bad ones.

If you're celebrating Chanukah, let the light spread. If you're getting ready for Christmas, sprinkle some more tinstle.

And go ahead, eat that cookie.

Til next time...

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Great Title search and other random stuff

So I do believe I have found a title for the WIP. At least I've typed the new one in the header that appears on the top of each page. Gonna try it out for awhile and see how it goes. Actually, I'm working on the chapter about midway through where title becomes significant in a more obvious way. It will be (in theory) be significant in every way, but this is sort of the title's defining moment. So I suppose I've stumbled upon it none too soon.

Played hookey and watch Heroes just now. Am I the only one who wishes they'd stop bellowing "You killed my brother..." and "You killed my father"? The cadence simply reminds too much of Princess Bride. 'My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Actually the intent of the line is exactly the same. Leaving me wondering if they actually mean to steal the riff from PB or if it's unintentional aping on the part of the writers.

Thoughts, anyone?

Til next time...

Friday, November 30, 2007

The great title search

Beth asked in comments on my last post if I'd discuss the process of finding a title. So I'll attempt to explain as best I can.

First, let me say, that ultimately, one's editor (when one sells a book) has a say so. As I've yet to work with an editor and only an agent, I'm not fully sure of all the ins and outs of that. But I know they probably have final say.

That being said, I think titles come from many places. The essence of the story, a phrase from the story... it could be any of these. My current agented novel got its title from a word that is crucial to the action of the story and is really a metaphor for what occurs in the book.

Current WIP is a harder nut to crack for me. I'm looking for a title that connects two concepts that aren't normally connected. (would say more but then I'd have to make you eat this post!) So it's been rough going. Think I'm almost there.

Okay, gotta run to holiday party and to get Robitussin for ailing husband!

Til next time...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Random stuff

Stuff that's floating in my brain:

  • My delight at the addition of the "She Pratt" to The Hills
  • Justin Bobby's headdress on this week's episode of the above
  • Whether or not the colleague whose retirement party I just attended really wanted a rocking chair as a gift
  • How thankful I am for the people in my life who've become my "friend-amily" - you know - the family you make when you move away from yours. They all rock.
  • How I wish I could find a title that works for my WIP. It's like naming a baby. And folks, I am coming up empty. Ack!
  • How happy I am that I took Michelle's suggestion and discovered Gossip Girls and how addicting it has become after only two episodes.
  • How I need to get back to work or this darn book won't be done by the end of the year. Onward, Macduff!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A blast from Thanksgiving past

So... when I was seven and in 2nd grade, I wrote my very first play. And since it is a Turkey Day extravaganza, I present it for your reading pleasure. Can't you see the great career for which I was destined? Such fantastic dramatic tension. Especially about the clothes. In case you're curious, I played Julie. My two best pals played the other roles. And how Holland got in there is anyone's guess. Or that thing about the clothes.

Scene 1

Mary: Oh, we hardly have enough food to last us on the whole trip to Virginia, Sue.
Sue: I know it, Mary, but we will soon be there. We will have good crops and maybe the people there will show us how to make our homes snug inside.
Julie: Sue, we are near to shore now.
Sue: But Julie, all I see is trees and grass and how cold it is out.

Scene 2

Sue: The men are going down on the new land now, Mary.
Mary: But look, what is on the land, Sue?
Sue: Maybe the Indians are going to welcome us.
Julie: I certainly hope they're not angry at us, Sue.
Mary: Julie, listen to what the Captain is saying. All women go to shore.

Scene 3

Julie: Now we are on land, Mary and we must wash our clothes.
Joe: Hey, Jack!
Jack: Yes, Joe, those Indians are pretty friendly!
Joe: Well, let's start building and cutting down trees, Jack. Jack! I've made friends with some Indians.

Scene 4

Sue: We're certainly having a cold winter, Mary.
Mary: And a hard time finding food, too.
Julie: We are having so much snow this winter.

Scene 5

Mary: Now that the winter is over we shall have to thank God by having a feast.
Julie: We shall invite some Indians to share it with us.
Mary; When we are done, some of us shall go back home.
Sue: now we shall start our feast. The turkey is good and the cranberries are delicious.
Julie: Now that we are done, we shall say goodbye to some of us.
Mary: They shall go back to Holland.

All: Good bye. Good bye.

Til next time...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bbbbbb...Beowulf... plus previews

Okay, so the digital 3D glasses thing simply rocked. There is nothing like having giant strands of monster spit lingering over your head. Or ooshy gooshy monster blood squishing around you. Or previews in 3D, too, which seriously was fantastic - there's a new Journey to the Center of the Earth coming out next summer that has my name written all over a seat in the multiplex.

But the rest of Beowulf was a mixed bag. If you've read the story, well, Neil Gaiman (truly a god of literature) takes some liberties with the story. Anyone who's seen the Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother previews knows that. Cause hey, Grendel's mother in the original - more like Sasquatch lady, less sexy sea beast with high heels and really huge breasts -albeit -oddly - minus nipples and minus well, the other thing one would see in full frontal nudity. And Beowulf fighting Grendel naked? Uh??? Without weapons, yeah. Starkers? Not so much in the poem. Got to be kind of Austin Powers-esque each time they used something 3D to hide the male stuff... But the plasticized looking heinie - lots o' shots of that.

About 2 stars on the Joy o meter, I'd say, and most of those were for the funky special effects and yet another opporunity to see John Malkovich in a creepy role. If you know the poem, he's Unferth, the guy who taunts Beowulf when he first arrives to save Herot. But other than that, and a lot of digitized cartoon folks talking dirty ... well, not so thrilling, I'd have to say. I mean, how many times can you repeat the theme of guy can't keep it (not they would show it in this version - everyone is very Ken doll esque) in his pants? I get it. Move on.

However... the preview of Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd!!!! Oh my!!! I am sooooo there. Seriously. There. Johnny. Depp. Ahhhhh.

Til next time...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Say it isn't so!

It simply can't be. But it is. Serendipity 3 in NYC, home of the famous frozen hot chocolate, setting for lots of my favorite movies - closed because of roach, rat, and mice infestation. But only, so I see as I read the story, temporarily.

Clean up your act, Serendipity. I once made my family hike from the Natural History Museum across Central Park and down 5th Avenue, threading our way through the Salute to Israel parade and numerous falafel stands in order to have that frozen hot chocolate. We got turned around in the park, my husband pulled out his boy scout compass, son and I cringed in embarrassment. All for that frozen hot chocolate.

Til next time...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

fast tracking

Just eased past the 11,000 word mark on the WIP. Not quite as fast-tracky as I'd like to be, but not as bad as I'd feared, either. Part of me likes this whole spill it out method; part of me feels a little cranky. But one thing's for sure, these characters are wedged into my brain and not leaving anytime soon. And when I get like that, NaNoWriMo or not, I write. And that's a good thing.

But for now, I'm off to grade papers. Ack!

Til next time...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why didn't I see this sooner?

Finally got to rent Transformers. Now I must own it. How did I not make time for this even though I really, really wanted to?Autobots rule! Your dad buys you your first car - a falling apart piece of crap yellow Camaro and it turns out to be a heroic Autobot? Yes!

I'm never going to be able to walk by my car without wondering if it's a Transformer hiding in plain sight again.

And sadly, I've now approved husband's plan for the purchase of the new ginormous flat screen. Cause then I can watch it all again... I am a sick, sick person. But smiling.

til next time...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

NaNoWriMo update

Current NaNoWriMo word count: 8,000 words and climbing. Actually probably have more like 15,000, but the other scenes aren't ready to attach yet. That's the problem with getting inspiration while you're outlining and smacking a piece of a scene into said outline. You have to go fish it out later on. Hopefully this is working for me. Or not...

My beloved critique partners, minus Bob who had business to attend to, seem to feel I'm headed in a good direction. As usual, Suz found ways for me to be more concise, Dede pointed out where I'd gone a little over the top and Kim poked around at certain other stuff I might want to consider.

Obviously fast tracking like this precludes too much critique. Theoretically, by the time we meet again after Thanksgiving, I'll be a LOT farther. (further? I'm endlessly confused on that one)

But they all agree - fast or not, my heart's really tangled up in this one. Bunches of very imperfect characters trying to find their way. Just like imperfect old me.

And I swear, I simply cannot keep running into our plumber's wife in the grocery store once every six months or so and telling her the same thing: "I still have to get back to you about that new water heater we need." Eventually she's gonna catch on that I've been saying this for the past two years. Or else the darn thing really will just go splat.

Til next time...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

favorite day of the year

It's my favorite day of the year. Finally. The day we turn the clocks back. Only 7 AM and the sun is shining - at least more or less. I'm awake, cheery, focused, and an entire day is still spread out in front of me. Yay! And I'm pushing toward 10,000 words in my own version of my NaNoWriMo committment which is to finish my current WIP this month. Double yay!

Hope it's a good one for every one, however you choose to spend it.

Til next time...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

If you're happy...

Our journal today in Creative Writing was to list things that make you happy. And in one of those moments that make you go hmmmm...., in my other classes, getting ready in some to study Antigone and others to study Macbeth, we were talking about tragedy. And how the ancient Greeks believed that everyone would have suffering in their lives. That it wasn't tragic. It just was the way it was.

I'm with the Greeks, really. I think we all spend way too much time "navel gazing" and worrying about why we're not happy. Maybe it just isn't our moment today. Maybe it's okay if we're a little gloomy. (Garrison Keillor talks about this a bunch. He's way funnier than I am at this moment. So feel free to reference him if you like...) But honestly, my genetic pool simply doesn't allow me to trust anyone who smiles all the time. I simply figure they drank too much of the purple koolaid and try to ignore them. (if you aren't old enough to get that last reference, look up Jim Jones and Guyana)

That being said, I still have a long list of happy stuff. On it currently:

1. Being represented for the past year by my lovely agent Michelle Andelman of the Andrea Brown Agency. Michelle believes in me and my books and projects. She trusts me to revise. She has an uncanny way of seeing the bigger picture of my pitches even before I fully see it myself. In short, she rocks!
2. the cool weather we've been having. Cool as in below 60 in the mornings, sometimes below 50. Sweaters. Tights. The occasional pair of boots. Yay! It's not "real" fall, but it's close enough.
3. Laughing with my kid on the phone or in person. Darn funny boy, my guy. He "gets me" too. And sometimes he even lets me steal pieces of his life and stick them in spots in stories.
4. Wine on the porch with our next door neighbors. Talk, laugh, sip. Divine.
5. Husband calling this afternoon to check on me because he knew I was worried about something. Good guy, that guy of mine.
6. True friends. 'nuff said on that one. Lots of wanna -be ones out there. But the tried and true ones who are always there. More precious than anything.

I've got tons more. Good movies, good friends, speed dial, Gilmore Girl DVD's...

Not a bad little life, this one. And I know it.

Til next time...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In which I avoid work and enjoy the day

Should have been grading and/or writing this morning. Instead, I was finishing Before I Die by Jenny Downham, which I mentioned the other day. Had started reading it a couple weeks back and then hadn't had the time to finish. But once I got to chapter 31, I couldn't put the book down. Was weeping by the end. I have not been this emotionally wrecked by a book in a very, very long time. And that includes my weepiness at the lovely epilogue on HP 7. Simply put, this book is wrenching. Tessa Scott is sixteen. She is dying. And she wants to live. But it isn't going to happen. That's not giving anything away. The book jacket tells us as much. But it is a book as much about life as it is about death. If you want a more eloquent review, the NY Times has a lovely one, which I should probably link here, but am not going to fiddle with at the moment. May go back when I have a few more seconds. But suffice it say, this is not a book that will leave you anytime soon. And as the NY Times reviewer notes, it's labeled YA cause the protagonist is 16, but it's a book that transcends any label. (Actually, I think that can be said for most older YA, but that's another conversation)

Followed that up by our trip to the Hobby Center to see Avenue Q, the "puppet musical." It too, is about life and all its ups and downs, esp. for the post college 20 somethings. Loved the song "It Sucks to be Me." Loved most of it, actually. Funny, a little poignant, certainly grossly irreverant, which is perfect for me. Even the set is sort of the anti-Sesame Street. Rude, very adult puppet people. Worth the price if you get a chance.

Anyway, now I'm playing catch up with all I have to do. Including getting a jump start on my commitment to my own NaNoWriMo, which will be to finish by current WIP by Nov. 30th. Yes, I know that's sort of cheating to start early, but it's all for a good cause - finishing!
Have some students who will be WriMo-ing with me. We will see how we all fare... And if you don't know the acronym, November is write a 50,000 word novel in a month time. A worthy but lofty challenge.

Til next time...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Some things need to be up to you

Caught the last half of Oprah on Monday. And I 'm not sure what I think. Topic, as far as I could gather, was about death and dying. And yes, I know, it's the great scary unknown. Certainly not something that makes any of us jump up and down with glee. But still... somehow Oprah crossed a boundary I didn't want her to cross. It's one thing to have Nate Burkus tell me how to decorate or Dr. Oz explain my colon functions, or Oprah herself pontificate about those "aha moments." But having guests who are dying from cancer whose sole function in their segments seemed to be to tell us how to die properly while still enjoying life, well, I mean come on. I don't know how I'll act when it's my time. Maybe I'll go with dignity. I hope I will. Maybe I'll be pissed and angry. Most likely I'll be some combination of the two. Who knows. And while I'm impressed with these people's candor and bravery, mostly I was left feeling Oprah had gone somewhere she didn't need to. It's not enough that we have to read what she picks, watch the movies she suggests, buy what she likes, and cast our votes for her candidate choices. Now we have to die like she tells us, too. We have to "be brave" and "learn something."

Well maybe I'll want to be a coward. Maybe I'll rail and rant and won't want to "go gentle." And honestly, I think that when that time comes, it will be no one's business but my own.

If you want a YA novel that touches your heart and treats death as realistically as I 've seen in while, pick up the new "Before I Die" by Jenny Downham. Or don't pick it up. As I said earlier, it needs to be up to you.

Til next time...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

It's got to be written on my forehead...

Husband says I have "Please, please, tell me your life story, I'm bitterly lonely and in need of some humor and irony" written on my forehead. I think he is right.

Standing in line today - a long, ridiculously long line - at the local bagel shop. Clearly we were the only two in line with ethnic bagel knowledge in our blood. But whatever. Older teenage girl in front of us. Alternating between talking on cell phone, annoying her brother and nagging her mother about going to Ren Fest. She turns to me in mid rant - me whom she does not know and has never met or seen. "Tell her," she says. "You've been to Ren Fest, haven't you? Tell her how much fun it is. Tell her about Ded Bob."

Husband eyebrows do a dance at the top of his head.

And I, of course, simply turn to the mom and tell her Ren Fest rocks.

"Ren Fest," she says. "What's that?"

"You know," I say, "Renaissance... uh... kings, queens, fairies, jousting..." (Here I begin to feel like I should have run over to Starbucks instead and had a scone)

"Yeah, Mom," says the daughter. "You know. Turkey leg. Ded Bob. The perfect day."

Luckily it was their turn at the counter next.

"Do you know her?" husband whispers in my ear. Then.. "Never mind."

Cause he knows I don't. Just my crazy world.

People talk to me. They just do. And it's probably why I can write. In fact I know it is.

Til next time...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

barely standing

I've had it with the pace lately. Seriously. I am exhausted. Just woke myself up from a legitimate nap. No, not a fall asleep while grading papers or watching something, or slump head down on laptop and wake up hoping I didn't drool all over it nap. But a just couldn't move any more, covered up with a blanket cause it was too much to make it to bed nap.

And why? Because like everyone I know - and I mean everyone - there's too much to do squeezed into too little time. Trying to write while working full time with overloaded classes mostly works out for me. I simply sleep less and multi task more and get it done somehow.

But this week's been a killer. At school early twice for parent conferences. Do you know that morning conferences start at 6:50 AM? I barely know my name at 6:50 AM, much less why Johnny isn't doing what he should be. This morning, while the rest of the staff proctored the PSAT, the English dept. - well some of us - sat and graded benchmark test essays and short answers. Think I evaluated about 170 or so essays and equal amount of short answers. (won't be discussing the whole issue of benchmarks here. it will just make me steam) Then after teaching the rest of the day, went to dentist so they could remind that I inherited crummy gums and poke and prod a bit. Why do they always poke you in the gums with a sharp tool and then berate you for bleeding? And besides, don't they remember the whole crown debacle, for which they were wholely at fault, that caused me to chew only on the left side for a solid month? Don't they?

And who hasn't sat on that chair, with the lobster bib hooked around your neck and lied your ass off about how much you floss? :: I swear I floss twelve times a day. Really::

Til next time...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

walking with the fairies

Lovely Sunday afternoon at the Renaissance Festival in Plantersville, Texas. We haven't been in at least five years so it was time we went back. Perfect day for it. Relatively cool, nice breeze and for whatever reason, not too crowded. Laughed our butts off at the Ded Bob show, ate and drank what we felt like, which for me included a rather nice portion of fish and chips, watched a little jousting, and even had my tarot cards read which is not something I've ever done but was glad I finally did. (Thanks, Sister Glo!) Won't impart her super secret observations, but will simply say that she kinda floored me with some of them. Floored as in wow, that was rather accurate how the heck did you know that.

Anyway, it's been a good weekend all the way around. My alma mater Northwestern even beat Minnesota, 49-48 in overtime, so that was good too.

And if you don't know about Ded Bob, feel free to go to Dedbob dot com.

Til next time...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm trying to like her... really I am

Okay, so here's the thing. I'm trying and trying to like Bella Swan. Really I am. But I'm falling short. If you don't recognize and immediately salivate over the name then you haven't read Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular Twilight trilogy. I've just finished the third book, Eclipse, which took me much longer than it would have in the summer, but hey, I'm a-writin' the books and a-teachin' the classes, and trying to shove some life in between...

But back to Bella. She's thoughtless to Jacob far too often and realizes it but doesn't change. She doesn't spend enough quality time thinking about how her changing into a vamp will affect her father and mother. Okay, yeah, they're not perfect people, but STILL!!! And honestly, I'm not sure if she even appreciates Edward. (okay, yeah, I admit it - I'm a Jacob fan over Edward. I know I'm in the minority on that one. But I seem to have a tender spot for the guy. Go figure.)

I know there are hordes and hordes who disagree. Which actually is quite cool because I love when a book generates conversation and strong opinion. Means that Stephenie Meyer has done a fantastic job at creating a fictional world that feels real to people. So hats off to you, Stephenie. Our YA librarian told me today that hundreds of people are on the waiting list for Eclipse at the public library. Amazing... and fantastic for the YA community and books in general.

Anyway, it's on to Scott Westerfeld's Peeps and also the new Before I Die. Not exactly a matched set, but I take what I get my hands on.

Til next time...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Love is in the air

If you are the romantic type... or perhaps even if you're the cynical type - take yourself to see Jane Austen Book Club. No, I didn't read the book. But I've read some Austen and even if you haven't, well, it's a delightful couple of hours. Personally, I wallowed in it all. Love, in all its many, many incarnations. Or at least some of them.

Who are we? Suckers for love, marrying over and over and never giving up on finding "the one"? Afraid to let go of the familiar and take the leap? Been hurt and want to forget about it all? Ready to give up on the one we used to love but aren't sure if we do anymore? Hopelessly romantic? Romantically hopeless?

Love is a factor for all my characters, all my books. What we do for love. What we'll sacrifice for it. What we won't. What did for it and might now regret. How it informs all we do and all we are.

Personally, I'm the cynic who's always hoping for that happy ending.

Where do you fall in the world of love?

Til next time...

Monday, October 8, 2007

how do you write?

My latest work in progress is coming to me differently than most anything else I've ever written. Lately, it's happening like this: As I write more detailed plot points, scenes come to me. And so I write them. So now I have this bullet point plot outline interrupted every few points with a full blown scene that may or may not be usable in the long run. The result is that I have scenes written from all parts of the book, but not necessarily the pieces in between. Those I'll have to go back and put in.

It's been weird, but I'm taking it as the gift I suspect it is.

If you're reading this and you're a writerly type, what are some ways stories/novels have come to you?

I'd say Happy Columbus Day, because to me, it's quite happy cause there's no school today and I think I'll even get to squeeze in "The Jane Austen Book Club" this afternoon. But if you're one who finds it politically incorrect or inaccurate or it reminds you of that nasty Inquisition going on in Spain then, simply have a rockin' Monday. Personally, it's my second Monday off in a row (last week's jury duty exursion and all) and I could get used to it. Except of course for the brutal Tuesday that follows.

Til next time...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Okay, loyal poster and friend Beth is right. Chuck! Monday nights. NBC. It is the best. Plus Adam Baldwin. The facial expressions alone are worth the time watching. Yes, Chuck. Working for the Nerd Herd. Reluctant hero. Sucked me in after ten minutes. And honestly, made up for Claire Bennett's whining on my former favorite Heroes. Oh, poor Claire. Cutting off your pinky toe just to see if you can. Well, okay... but whatever. And why is the Rouge gone? Cause Nissan is no longer the exclusive sponsor?

Chuck - you had me at Adam Baldwin (Jayne!!! Oh how I miss Firefly and that other set of reluctant heroes...)

Til next time...

Monday, October 1, 2007

doing my duty

Was called to jury duty today. In our county, we still meet in an old theater to get sworn in and divided up into the different courts. Gives it kind of a festive note. Jurors. Oaths. Posters for the upcoming production of "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Didn't get picked, though, so once I got my forms and signed off my ten bucks to a worthy charity, I got a Monday all for me. All. For Me. Went to the grocery store on a week day morning. Got my oil changed on a week day morning. (seeing a theme here?) Got to write for three uninterrupted hours on... a week day afternoon. In the fall. Baked mini banana bread loaves I thought about baking last week and never got around to.

And I also discovered that the Today show now seems to last for hours and hours. Some frilly extra hour of fashion and whatnot. With guest Meg Cabot, which was a nice surprise. She was on a panel about gossip. Meg was basically pro. Maybe Britney will change her behavior if we all keep gossipping about it, says the author of the Princess Diaries.The other author, not so much.

Anyway, Mondays off rock. Especially when you get to feel all the self righteousy goodness from having done your civic duty first.

Til next time...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

so how wild is it?

Went for a great birthday dinner last night to Benjy's, one of my favorite restaurants. Good food, good company, good pomegranate cosmo. (okay, yeah, me likey the fruity drinks sometimes. Get over it) And I love the recitation of the off menu specials. Like dinner theater, honestly. Luckily for our waiter, I did not have that second pomegranate cosmo, or the recitation would have gone like this:

Waiter: Our second special is a wild salmon, served on a bed of micro greens with a basalmic something, something reduction and teeny side vegetables grown by blind Tibetan nuns living on a collective farm north of Austin where they also make tangy goat cheese and grow grapes for a Cabernet that has hints of chocolate and a good head.

Me: So how wild is the salmon exactly? Just a little wild? Or did it have a really bad rep? Swimming downstream all the time? Asking the sturgeon how their eggs are? Posting drunken pictures on Facebook? Seriously, Jonathan, how freakin' wild was it?

Til next time...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

changing your expectations

Everyone's changing on tonight's Grey's Anatomy. (slight spoiler alert...)George is starting over; Christina is learning that Burke is gone (clearly she hasn't been watching Entertainment Tonight and every tabloid in the land, but oops, I guess that's real life not the show...); Meredith is deciding whether to deal with her sister; McDreamy and McSteamy whether or not to be friends; Izzy whether or not she can be someone other than the dreamer she really is... the list goes on.


Makes my heart beat a little too fast sometimes. But I guess I've always embraced it. I think I like the rush of it. The not knowing. Even if sometimes it makes me want to hide under the covers eating Crispix and Twizzlers.

Lots in the air right now. Some I'm liking. Some I don't. Some changes I need to make but am dragging my heels. Some are in the works and taking their own sweet time. Some change takes patience.

I lack it.

Sometimes I think we change because we're afraid of standing still. In the world of education, too often things change because everyone is just too busy looking for the next best thing and no one is willing to nurture the old. A lot gets lost that way, methinks. We end up with the old sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Change. The balance between standing still too long and moving too much.

Til next time...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Feels like fall

So okay, it doesn't really feel like fall. Still close to 90 degrees most days. But still... I think it's just in my blood or something. In Chicago, by October, there's a nip in the air some days. A smell of the cold to come. Here there's just the whiff of humidity and mold - same as always.

But still... I'm contemplating baking banana bread this week. Bought the super secret ingredient. (all right, it's sour cream; makes it oh so moist and yummy) I've plotted out the fall shows I want to watch. (Heroes tonight. Bones tomorrow. Gonna record (cause yes, we're too cheap for tivo when we still have a breathing VCR and some tapes...) Reaper. And then there's Grey's... and okay The Hills, although that's almost over. I figure if I'm working full time, writing the books, reading other books and generally living the clean life (well, as clean as it gets for me, anyway) I can have my tv. Even if I have to record it all and watch it after the fact. Can't give up my Meerkat Manor!

Now if only it would get cool enough so I could wear my rocking black high heeled boots without my calves sweating.

Til next time...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Let's go WIP!

I am finally rocking my way through a fuller first draft of my newer WIP. Been wandering around the plot for weeks now. Researching... pulling at threads of ideas. Writing and deleting. Playing with characters. And finally, tonight... plot points are flying at me out of the ether. Guess all that putzing around finally stuck. Yay!!

Sometimes my first drafts leap out fully grown like -who was it? Athena? - from Zeus's head. This one is eeking out in a sort of summary form. Plot points, snippets of dialogue and the general gist of things. I love the dialogue snippets best. Ah those voices in my head... Good voices. Be nice to Joy. She is typing as fast as she can. Really. I promise. And she also graded three sets of short answer quizzes on To Kill a Mockingbird. That'll squeeze the creative juices out of anyone. Still she persevered. (although she's now speaking of herself in third person which certainly doesn't bode well...and wondering if anyone has ever used the word bode in a sentence other than one in which things did not bode well??)

And that's about all I'm saying for now. Ms. Muse will punish me if I blabber. And possibly make the television go blank when I'm all ready tomorrow night for the season premiere of Heroes. Wouldn't want that to happen.

Til next time...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Let him drill, let him drill, let him drill

I think my dental woes are finally easing off. It all started quite innocently, then turned into a five act drama. Something like this:

Act I
Dentist's Office
Outisde the Houston humidity is filling the air.

Dentist: Well, Joy your old huge filling in your back molar is falling apart. And oh look, there's decay under there. Let's put in a crown.
Joy: Sigh... Okay.
Dentist: No worries. I will make the crown on my new spiffy porcelain crown making machine. It rocks. Really.
Joy: Cool. I guess.
::Sounds of crown being made in a machine. Sounds of drilling as decay is removed. Slight moaning because someone's mouth is almost impossible to properly numb and her whole face goes dead but the tooth keeps on ticking.::
Dentist: Look, isn't it pretty?
Joy: Ooh, crown. You're hot. I love you crown. Anything but more drilling.

Act II
Las Vegas
Caesar's Palace
Rao's Italian restaurant

Joy: La, la, la. I am having fun.
21 year old son: Yup, mama. Me too. Oh no. What's that odd look on your face? Aren't you enjoying your biscotti?
Joy: WTF! Look at this! :: fishes piece of something discreetly from mouth along with a hunk of biscotti::
21: WTF! :: bites the piece to check:: It's a piece of tooth
Joy: Aaaaarggg!!!
21: Walk it off, mama, it's Vegas.
Joy: Sigh... okay... only warm beers for me til we get home...

Dentist's office

Dentist: Huh... that wasn't supposed to happen. Guess this material isn't strong enough for a back molar.
Joy: Now you tell me?
:: Moaning while temporary crown is inserted::

Act IV
Dentist's office

Joy: Are you ready to put on my new crown? It's been two weeks and I'm flying to a wedding. Don't want to go with the temporary.
Dentist: We need to order a new one. The machine just isn't cutting it.
:: Sounds of drilling, crying:: Eventually dentist is cradling Joy's head and telling her that it will be okay and it's not often that the super cement sticks to the gums like this and has to be drilled off.

Act V
Dentist: Isn't the new crown pretty.
Assistant: Yes, isn't it lovely.
Joy: Just put it in. I'll close my eyes and think of England.

Til next time...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

That old balancing act

Balance. Defined as keeping all your plates spinning. Keeping all the many things ya have to do from toppling over and squashing you to the ground. Balance. Tricky this time of year.

School starting. Works in progress wanting more work. Family stuff. High holy days. Crazy. Me. Yes, crazy.

What do you do when life is yanking your chain? Last night I curled up on the couch with season 1 of Gilmore Girls, as much as I could watch before my eyes started rolling back with exhaustion. Me, the new leather love seat, the new plushy pillow, my freshly washed hair, comfy shorts and t shirt, big comforter, and the Stars Hollow gang. Not that I haven't watched these eps before. I have. But starting about 10:30, I watched 'em again til, as I say, I was bleary eyed.

Balance. A little easier with Miss Patty and Luke and Kirk and Lorelai and Rory and dear old Paris filling a piece of my head.

So what do you do when you're stressing?

Til next time...

Monday, September 10, 2007

oh those little meerkats

Thanks to those who have suggested I watch Meerkat Manor. Not of course that I really have time to add something new to the schedule. Not with two WIP's, some impending revisions, 157 students (yes you read that correctly) and all the other things that I won't bore anyone with listing.

But okay, I got sucked in. The tale Len and Squiggy. No one - I mean NO ONE - told me that this was nature in the raw. One baby carried off by a hawk, the other left behind because he just couldn't keep up. Other than the day of poor Steve Erwin's demise, I don't think I'm generally sniffling while watching Animal Planet. And then there's poor Mozart. Female meerkat, just trying to be the dominant female. (I feel your pain Mozart. So does everyone other chicka in the workplace. But I digress) So Mozart gives birth. Comes up out of the burrow to eat so she can nurse the babies. And the wanna be dominant female ( who happens to be the lookout for the meerkat clan) sneaks in and - good God - eats the babies. Yes eats them. And all that's left is a foot.

Yes indeedy - it's just like department politics. But like I say, I digress.

Til next time...

Friday, September 7, 2007

RIP Madeline L'Engel

I'm a little late to the news, but just read of the passing of Madeline L'Engel, author of one of my very, very favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time. As a kid, I never, ever got tired of re-reading that book. I'm probably writing fantasy today because of it. Heck, I'm probably writing today because of it - at least in part. Meg. Charles Wallace. Tesseracts. And that planet (Camezotz, was it?) where all those kids were bouncing the balls exactly the same and the one little boy bounced out of synch and his mother rushed out and dragged him inside. Even at nine when I first read Wrinkle, I knew how horrible that was. Knew how wonderfully subversive it is to be a non-conformist. And - I think - I never fully followed some of the rules again.

Rest in peace, dear Ms. L'Engel.

Til next time...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Ah, Chicago

Went to a family wedding in my hometown of Chicago over Labor Day. And now I'm back in the suburbs of Space City and it's - big shocko - raining yet again, and I'm panging with homesickness for the Windy City. But the weather was travel brochure gorgeous, the sailboats were out on Lake Michigan, the downtown streets were packed with the young and trendy, the wedding was terrific, my family was a delightful hoot, the Cubbies won (oops - against the 'Stros!), and I got to eat and drink 'til I was sorta stunned with excess. My kind of trip. Made up totally for the part where I left before the butt crack of dawn Saturday morning. (Even the most wonderful of events does not make me leap cheerily from my bed at 3:50 AM)

And Sunday morning - in between meals and celebrations - I rediscovered my adoration for the wedding announcements in the NY Times. If you've never indulged in this oddity, get thee to a local store or Starbucks next Sunday or go on line. How can anyone resist the lure of lines like"By June they had fallen in love while milking the farm's dairy cow"? I mean, seriously.

Til next time...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Whoa! It's Wednesday

Yikes. One of those crazy weeks. So rather than focus on my current exhaustion, or how my mouth is still traumatized from "the incident with the temporary crown and a piece of super cement that simply wouldn't allow itself to be pried from my gums," let's play the glad game and focus on more happy thoughts.

::pause while I work some up::

1. Reading "Guyaholic" by Carolyn Mackler and loving it. Feels searingly honest. Recommend it highly. It's the sequel to her Vegan Virgin Valentine, I do believe.
2. Also reading "Eclipse," the third in Stephenie Meyer's vampire trilogy. Not as fast of a read for me as I'd like for some reason. (possibly the above mentioned exhaustion) But I'm fascinated to see how she ends the Bella/Edward story. One of my colleagues loves the books so much she made up an "I heart Edward Cullen" t shirt.
3. Caught the last ep. of the Scott Baio show I've been nattering about. Won't give it away if anyone plans on still catching it on the VH1 rounds, but I have to say I was delighted that the very end actually surprised me. Surely a good thing for a VH1 show. (not that I'm judging, cause, hey, I watched the darn thing!)
4. Even though I cancelled my Vogue subscription because I simply don't have time to read it (which sounds ridiculous since it is mostly ads, but humor me, please), I still just opened my mailbox yesterday and found the fall edition stuffed inside. 840 pages of Voguey goodness. At my current pace, this should last me all fall. Yippeee!

Til next time...

Monday, August 27, 2007

I miss the snickerdoodles

When we first moved into this house twelve years ago, it was basically because my mother had passed away and left enough money for a downpayment on the bigger house we always wanted but never seemed to be able to afford. Crappy reason. But this house has always felt like a big embrace to us. Big enough. Cozy. Home. And the kid got to move to a new school and escape one of those teachers from hell you get every once in awhile, especially if you're a square peg type of person and have a great sense of humor and end up in a pod person's classroom.

But I digress.

So here's the thing. Life had been spitting on us for awhile. Economic downturns. Job down sizing. Money leaking out to pay for this and that. Enormous suckage.

And we move into this house for this very sad reason even though we love the house.

And on the first day of school, I drive home with my kid and discover that our new neighbors have a tradition. Couple of moms set up card tables on the one of the lawns. People bring out lemonade and cookies. And stay there as each wave of kids - elementary through high school - come home.

Can you picture it? Every kid from age five to eighteen gathered on the lawn, hanging out, sipping warm lemonade and munching snickerdoodles. Honestly, I thought I'd died and gone to cookie heaven.

Life had been giving us lemons. But now we had lemonade. Really.

Missed that today as I drove home just now from picking up my dry cleaning. The core group of kids has grown up. No more lawn parties. At least not this year.

Til next time...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday thoughts

Don't normally post on Sunday. But school starts tomorrow and I'm antsy so this blog seemed a good place to release some of that energy. (already did the amazing and washed the kitchen floor - something I normally ignore til I can't, but still have buckets of jitters to work off) Ooh- buckets. Floor. Washing. I'm so very unclever at the moment... Sorry.

Anyway, random things popping through my brain:

1. I hate it when I settle in to a school inservice and the presenter starts with some version of "I know you hate to be here, so this won't take long" and then reads off the powerpoint for thirty minutes in a monotone. Actually, I don't hate being there. I'd like to learn something. Don't disappoint me.
2. I'm still hooked on Scott Baio, 45 and Single. Currently, his "life coach" (quote are used because I'm still not sure there really is such a thing...) has him convinced that his friend Johnny V. is toxic for him. Interesting idea - can some of our friends be toxic for us? It's something I'm exploring in one of my WIP's.
3. My agent, Michelle Andelman of the fabulous Andrea Brown Literary Agency, totally rocks!
4. Will Heidi Montag of "The Hills" ever kick boyfriend Spencer to the curb? Seemingly not.
5. I'm constantly finding myself in situations where I find something hysterically funny that others don't. Like when my work pal Heidi (not "The Hills" Heidi in case you're wondering. Which I'm sure you're so not) and I amuse ourselves by me calling out "Grandfather, grandfather" in a very lame attempt to reference the book Heidi. Okay, yeah, it's not funny is it? Oh yes it is.
6. I enjoy having friends who feel safe enough to call me and say, "Do you have five minutes? Can I just vent?" Because then I know I can do it to them, too. Sometimes you just have to blurt it all out. No answers needed. Just a bobble-head doll type nodding. Or steady breathing
on the other end of the line.
7. And everyone should be watching Mad Men on AMC on Thursday nites, if only for the wicked accurate 1960 era details. Kids bouncing around in cars without seatbelts. Ad men boozing it up at the office. Women in girdles. Girdles! Constant cigarette smoking. Everywhere.

Til next time...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Harry Potter Review: The Final Installment

No time to post the rest of this yesterday. But without further ado, I present the end of my conversation with bestest pal Beth G. about Deathly Hallows:

J: Well, Beth, when I asked you what questions you might have for the mighty JKR, you didn't have much to say. So we'll gloss over that one and move on. Any favorite characters in Book 7? My personal ones - besides my already discussed admiration for the moral ambiguities of my dear Snape - happen to be Ron and Neville. Ron for all the obvious reasons - not the least of which is that the sidekick gets to play a rather central role here. And his love for Hermione is so touching. And he grows up to be a rather wonderful (and still Ron-like) adult in the epilogue. As for Neville, I simply have to say he grabbed my heart and held it tight. (metaphorically speaking, of course. Otherwise, ick) He kept up the good fight. He came out bloodied but not bowed. He told Harry he'd kill the snake and he simply did it. And I tear up just thinking about him. The bedraggled nerd who is so much more than his enemies ever gave him credit for. Bravo, Neville. Bravo.
So how about Beth?
B: My favorite characters in Book 7 - that's tough. I'm an equal-opportunity gusher about how neat alll the characters are. I have always admired the women who are able to keep it all together without being helpless or needing rescuing like Mrs. Weasley and Hermione. I've always really like Lupin (and, as an aside - I'm quite ambivalent about the whole 'married to Tonks' storyline. Wasn't being a werewolf code for being gay? Why wouldn't it have been okay to go down that road?) But, in the end, I am in total agreement with you - Ron and Neville were the awesome-ist in Book 7. Geeky boys who can save the day do it for me very time.
J: Let's pause here while Beth and I collect ourselves. Ah, the mutual love for the geeky guys. Nerd solidarity, anyone else?
J: Okay, pause over. Now the last question. So, how did you feel about how it all turned out? Meet your expectations? Any surprises? Were your predictions correct? Are you satisfied with the outcome? How'd you feel about that 19 years later epilogue? Personally, I love it. Just knowing that Harry and Ginny named a son Albus Severus made me cry yet again.
B: I'm relieved that my dire predictions regarding Harry's demise were not correct. All in all, The Deathly Hallows was very enjoyable and a wonderful way to tie together the series. Albus Severus Potter - what a heavy legacy for one little boy to carry to Hogwarts. The little conversatin between Harry and Albus at the end made me tear up, too. The overwhelming grace of that little moment, the redemption of Severus Snape, was really beautiful. The epilogue was a wonderful way to see that it all turned out the way it should have. We readers deserved to know there was, literally, light andjoy when the mists cleared out. There is something every satisfying in the knowledge that all these young people lived and were able to carry on and marry and have children of their own. They didn't grow up to be minister of magic or headmaster at Hogwarts or lords of the magical realm. Just normal people, living normal happy lives. The best revenge against fascists and tyrants of all stripes.

J: Wow! A fantabulous final answer, Elizabeth. You've said it all, so I'll put this to bed now. And just for the record, I just read Stephen King's review and he, too, loved Mrs. Weasley's "You b----". So we are in great and esteemed company.

Til next time...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

In which Joy and Beth continue the HP discussion

J: So, Beth, we're off to a good -albeit longwinded- start. Now tell me, was there anything you didn't like? Anything you'd change?
B: Too much mucking about in that smelly old tent!! That didn't work for me at all. I'd like to think that the story would have been stronger with a little less tent-centered action and more about what was happening to those who were fighting the death eaters on the "outside." This was supposed to be the big climax of the series and it felt like most of the exciting action was hpapening elswhere for huge chunks of the novel. But honestly, that's a minor nit-pick. It wouldn't have been a Harry Potter novel if it didn't ramble off somewhere that didn't quite make sense for a while.
J: Well, I've got to agree about the tent. Plus I did keep getting the sense that said tent was a little too convenient of a device. Got everything - well okay, many things - you need all tucked in the bag that you don't lose. So our Scooby gang (pardon the mixing of genres here) is "riding under the grid" but not really. I would also - if pressed, and remember I adore this book with all my heart - have liked a little less info to be presented through Harry's mind meld with Voldy and fewer references to how Harry's scar "prickled."But hey, as you say, these are minor points.

J: Okay - next question might not be for everyone, but it's my blog, so here goes. Since you're my cohort in crime in all things Joss Whedon, are there any Whedonesque (ooh, cool word) parallels you'd like to make? (I personally think JKR is a Joss fan, but that's just me.)
B: Joss Whedon rules!!!!!!And I like that - cohort in Whedonverse crime! We should have a secret handshake or dark mark or something.
J:Great HP reference, Beth. Now on with the rest of your answer.
B: I know you are thinking that I'm going to talk about Snape here, because he's the most obvious Whedonesque character, but I"ll leave that toyou since I know he's totally your secret Harry Potter BFF.
J: So true. So true.
B: The 'verse parallel I keep coming back to is the strength of the ensemble and how it works out that triumph over the dark monsters is not always accomplished through some single person or miracle. If any of the characters had been eliminated from the main triumvirate of Ron, Harry and Hermione, things would have ground to a halt. (And they kind of did when Ron left). They learn that they truly need each other, they grow into their unique strengths and they come to understand that they don't exist in a fate-driven vacuum - no matter what some darn shanshu prophecy might say - it takes a village to kill a dark overlord, what else can I say.
J: Heck of an answer, Elizabeth! I was even reminded of the end of season one of Buffy. Like Harry, she believes she has to die to save the world. And she's willing - sort of - to do so. But you're right, I will focus a bit on my darling Severus Snape. Guess I've always got a soft spot for the redeemable baddie. Spike. Snape. Yup. Seeing the similarities. Willing to sacrifice for the pretty lady. Not what he seems on the surface. Morally ambiguous right to the bitter end. Just how I like 'em. I adored discovering that the silver doe was Snape's patronus in honor of Lily, his unrequited love. Okay, Sev didn't build a Lily-bot or anything (hey, now wouldn't that have been cool!) but still. The parallels are definitely there. And of course, I've always thought of Harry=Buffy; Hermione= Willow; Ron=Xander. Always. Even if I'm pretty sure that was never JKR's intention. It was still there for me.

J: Guess this post is gonna end up with a part 3. So just one more for today. I have my own list of favorite moments and moments that made me cry. One that stands out is in the Malfoy's Manor chapter when Hermione is being tortured by Cruella Deville - oops - Bellatrix. Ron's cries of "Hermione!" when he is not only terrified for her safety but clearly finally willing to admit how much she means to him, just got me. Ron also made me laugh hysterically during the "Silver Doe" chapter. All that meditative dream like narration, interrupted by Ron's classic, "Are you mental?" Love, love, loved it. So how about the Beth list of faves?
B: There were so many moments in the book that I enjoyed: the Oceans Eleven style break-in at the Ministry of Magic, the reunion of Ron and Hermione in the woods, the craggy relatives at the wedding. Oddly, the moment that sticks with me the most is a very sad one. Having to bury Dobby was soo difficult. I still get teary just thinking about it. But really, didn't it all just gel at that moment? It was terrible and awful and very grownup. Burying the people we love is the most difficult and humbling thing we have to do as we get older. Also - Mrs. Weasly cursing as she opened a big ole can of whoop-ass on Bellatrix Lestrange was worth the price of admission all by itself.
J: Yes! The most shocking application of a swear word in all of children's lit!! And totally well -deserved!! (by the by, did you notice the use of "effing" in this book? Also a little jarring considering where the stories started out. But I digress)An awesome kick ass moment. I'd also have to add that I shed some tears during the epilogue. I know some folks aren't fond of it, but I very much liked it. That's all I'll say, because I know you're going to discuss it tomorrow.

Til next time...

Monday, August 20, 2007

In which Joy and Beth chat about HP, part 1

Beth G. is a great pal. She shares my love of all things Whedonesque (translate: Buffy, Angel, Firefly). We watched the series finale of the Buffster together. We were there in the theater the opening weekend of Serenity, which for the sadly uninformed was the big screen version of Joss Whedon's far, far too short lived sci fi/western series Firefly. And like me, she's been a loyal Harry Potter fan since book one. She's also mom to two delightful kids and works in a job I can't quite define but know is really really cool down at the Medical Center. If pressed against a wall, I think she coordinates educational programs for med students transitioning to residencies. If she had taught Mc Dreamy I'd probably remember better. But I know she does it well!

In any case, since she's uber smart, uber articulate and has a better head for the minute detail than I do, I thought it would be fun to have a co-blogger for the great Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows review. Here goes:

J: So Beth, what did you think of Deathly Hallows? Did it meet your expectations? How would you compare it to the other six books?

B: Well, to be honest, I tried to keep my story expectations as grim as possible going into the book. I convinced myself that the only way JK Rowling was oigoing to get out of writing Harry Potter novels for the rest of her natural life would be to kill off Harry. (Brutal, yes- and that strategy doesn't even always work. c.f. Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes). With these dark expectations, I felt I would be okay with however the story unfolded. It could not possibly be worse than the worst thing that I expected - it could only be better and I would only be pleasantly surprised. And I was. Even by all the bad things that happened, because I really felt like it took guts to make grim things happen in a novel written with a young adult audience in mind. It has also been tremendously exciting for me as a reader to return to these stories to see how the quality of the writing has matured along with the characters. I think this one is the best 'novel' so far. (Please know that isn't intended to sound as snobby as it reads, airquotes and all). the writing has cretainly become more cinematic as the series has progressed - she's bringing us into the story using different angles and voices. I love the way we enter this story by sidling along with Snape into the dark fesast at the Malfoy estate in the first chapter - like a long tracking shot into the mansion. I hope she keeps writing and I'm very interested to see what comes next.

J: Whew! You were really long winded on that first answer, there, Elizabeth! Not much I can add except that I agree - it's the best one yet. Very fast paced, very - as you say - cinematic, and pleasantly lacking in over use of adverbs in the dialogue tags. Plus, dark, scary, and more emotionally arresting than the others, at least for me. The torture scene over the dining table in Malfoy's mansion as a starter just took my breath away. Yikes!

Guess that's enough for today. Look for more q and a tomorrow.

Til next time...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

In which Joy recounts her Vegas top ten

Ah Las Vegas. I love it and I hate. All at once. So without further ado, I present the Vegas top ten from this past week's visit.

10. The cabby who drove us from airport to Caesar's. Gotta admire the guy who, prompted by the woman who walked blithely in front of our speeding cab as it sped up Caesar's driveway, rolled down his window, stuck his head out and screamed "Stupid b--ch!" at her. Certainly sets the tone for the afternoon.
9. Watching some stranger win 10,000 on the Rocky Contender slot machine.
8. The pools at Caesar's. Garden of the Gods. Icy water. Cool slate. Comfy lounge chairs. Waitress in gold lame bikini taking drink orders. Coulda stayed forever. Wealthy old guys with dark tans, sloping shoulders, and beer bellies complaining about the angle of the umbrellas. European men in speedos. People in the topless bathing pool (the Venus pool!) who really shouldn't have been there. I love it.
7. The Atomic Testing Museum right off the strip. I now own an Albert Einstein action figure from the gift shop. And learned a lot, too, lest my gentle readers think I am just a shallow shopper.
6. Our room on the top floor of the older section with a full view of the Strip.
5. The Buffet at the Bellagio. Burgers at Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay. The Triple Star with fruit penny slot machines. (I am seriously the world's worst gambler, so I stick to the bottom rung)
4. Getting a bellman at the Luxor let us ride the Inclinator with him to the top floor even though you really needed a room key.
3. Eating breakfast next to Pete Rose (okay, he's an autograph junkie but whatever) at Stage Deli. "So Pete," says my college son, "Guess it's weird eating at a place where there's a sandwich named after you." Pete declined to comment. He did however complain to Jeffrey the waiter about the crispness of his bacon.
2. Managing to miss all of Tropical Storm Erin while I was gone. The news in Las Vegas consisted instead of extended coverage about Elvis since it was the anniversary of his death. Much better.
1. Spending three full days with my kid who is now officially old enough to gamble.

Til next time...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Clearly in need of r and r

Re-read yesterday's post and almost pulled it. But what the heck. Whine, whine, whine. Apologies to those clumped together as "non writer" friends. Ack! Clearly I'm in need of a vacation. And so I'm off to see my kid. More on that later. Gotta pack. Gotta get OCD about did I do this, that and the other. Nothing like those little travel traditions. Gotta find my ziplock bags and three ounces of fluids.

Til next time...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Living vicariously

I've enjoyed reading the updates from those who attended the recent SCBWI LA conference. Couldn't get there myself this time, but hope to next year, or maybe the NY one in February.

Conferences are part of the lifeblood of many writers and now that I'm trying to make this a major part of what do (as I learn to introduce myself as someone who writes and also teaches as opposed to the other way around) I understand why.

Writing is such a strange, wonderful, but solitary activity. Your non writer friends don't really "get it" even if they try to. What do you mean you don't want to talk to me on the phone now? I've written letters and the occasional essay. How long could it take you?


And they see books on shelves but not the sweat that went into writing, revising, querying, editing, revising. Don't know that even if book A sells tomorrow it will still be twelve months or more before it ever hits a shelf somewhere. Or they see their friend or cousin or neighbor who printed up a book on Glockenspiels via POD (print on demand) and they think, huh? What the heck is taking this girl so long?

But at conferences, or on line at places like Verla Kay's "blue boards" or at critique group or SCBWI local meetings, everyone "gets it." Especially in the field of childrens books, it's a pretty small little world. So even though I've not yet been privileged to meet, say Holly Black or Sarah Dessen or Libba Bray, I read their blogs. I might get to hear them speak at a conference or a reading. And I know what a monumental and fantastic thing it is to see a trailer for the movie version of Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles. I know how much blood and sweat went into writing and into the living that came before the writing and inspired it. And I can follow the career of debut novelist Melissa Marr on the Verla Kay blue boards. So amazing to do the real time journey with someone as you read that they've sold a book. And watch all that occurs between that point and riding up the escalator at Barnes and Noble this summer and seeing Melissa's Wickled Lovely rise into view as I got to the second floor.

So thanks to everyone who's ever posted their experiences or talked about them at a conference. It makes those of us still climbing the ladder feel a little less lonely. Inspires us to keep pushing at the craft.

In any case, I'm gonna see my kid tomorrow on my mini vacation and I have a brand spanking new shiny storm door with unbroken glass. (and a garbage can holding - no joke - about 75 pounds of swept up broken glass) Still no bare feet around the outside of our house for awhile, or else we'll be... well, you know the song. Don't you?

Til next time...

Thursday, August 9, 2007

It's coming

Even if I didn't teach, by this point in the summer, I'd know school was coming. Whole sections of Target and Walmart are suddenly havens of pencils and paper and pens and notebooks and lunchboxes and the like. Stores have cleared out the summer stuff and are setting out the fall clothes - even here in Houston where suddenly after two plus solid months of rain and amazingly cool temps it's summer with a vengeance and 97 degrees in the shade and ridiculously humid. The Hallmark store actually has their Christmas ornaments and Halloween stuff out already -which is another story entirely.

But back to the school supplies. Okay, I'll admit it. I love the stuff.

Do you remember when you were a kid? And you'd get that new box of crayons and be really really excited? Well maybe you don't. But I do. And oh how I coveted that silly box of 64 crayons. Probably because my ever practical mother said I didn't need that many. She'd only pop for the 24 pack or sometimes the 48. But never that gorgeous 64. The one with the -ooooh - sharpener on the back. So even today when I see it in Target I get kind of woozy with excitement. Ooh, the 64 pack.

Love new pens too. In junior high I had this thing for turquoise ink. Little fat roundish pens by Lindy, if I remember correctly, with this wonderful peacock blue ink. I'd use it when I wrote notes to friends. You know - the kind you fold into intricate little shapes and then slip it to them in the hall or toss it to them in class. (Of course if I were in junior high today, I'd be the one sneaking the text messages and hiding my iPod cords under my hair... or maybe not since I was the one who wasn't even allowed the jumbo pack of crayons so I'd probably be the little nerd who still had - gasp - a portable cd player!)

If you haven't been Targeting lately, check it out. Buy some Elmer's. Get yourself a new lunchbox. You'll leave smiling. I promise.

Til next time..

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ever have one of those days?

Okay, so I've had worse. But definitely it was one of those days. The kind where you're wondering by two in the afternoon if it's happy hour somewhere. Preferably here. Now.

The kind of day where the lawn service comes uncharacteristically early and in fine spirits. And sends a rock through your tempered glass storm door as the ginormous mower zooms by. And you walk by the front door and look out and think, huh? - the storm door looks kinda pocky and you open the door and an entire door of glass falls at your feet.

That kind of day.

So you call the insurance company only to discover that your policy no longer covers glass before the deductible.

And the glass place can't come out til tomorrow. Maybe.

And while you're sweeping and sweeping and kinda getting zen about the whole thing, the guys who were coming next week to trim all the trees decide that today would work better, so now there's an army of people cutting and branches are falling and sawdust is in your eyes as you're still sweeping glass pellets off the front porch. And your foyer. And the grass. And...

Well, you get the idea.

Not the worst day I've ever had. Probably not even in the top ten. I mean, errant rock or not, I still can afford the lawn guy. And the tree guys. At least until I replace the door. And right before everything went to hell in a hand basket I had gone for a pedicure. So that was awesome. Only now I had fresh toes and so I decided I would risk all the sweeping in flip flops since I didn't want to crap up the polish.

Oh vanity, thy name is Joy.

Til next time...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Two for Tuesday

Two quick thoughts before I dash around getting paint so the outside of our house can look all shiny again.

1. Was devestated to realize that I'd forgotten to watch the latest installment of Scott Baio, 45 and Single on Sunday night. Yes, when you've sunk to this low place - so low you need a crane to lift you out - you might as well announce it to the world.

2. Have discovered that our local grocery sells pre-packaged single servings of carmel flan. Custard with even extra sugary goodness. Oh my.

Til next time...

Monday, August 6, 2007

New characters

Worked some yesterday on fleshing out the world of a new book I'm poking away at. Guess every writer starts differently, creates differently. For me, even more than a story, I have to have characters. A main character comes to me somehow. Don't know how, really - that's the muse talking, I suppose. Sometimes it's just a voice, sometimes a whole person pops up. And honestly, a lot of what I write at first may not even end up anywhere. But I get to know this person. Well.

Conflict comes next. What's the MC's problem? What's going on in her/his world? What's about to drop on her head? And for me, that has so far come from my musings about who this person is. Easier if you know them to know exactly what needs to be added or taken away.

And so the process begins. Write. Rewrite. Revise. And then do it again. And again. And multiple agains until you get it right. Or at least close. Or until you're ripping your hair out and primal screaming. Whichever comes first. But in any case, for me, it's a character driven process.

Yesterday, and last week, I've worked on who my newest MC hangs out with. Friends and foes alike. Gave 'em names, gave 'em backstory. Added names for family members, too. Backstory for them as well. It's hard grunt work, really, but fun, too. These people pop out of the ether and plop themselves down and I get to find out who they are and what I can do with them.

Also took time with husband yesterday to rent the movie "Breach" which had some interesting characters in it, too. Based on the true story of the largest breach in American security ever. And we wondered when we finished watching and debated while we made and ate dinner, what would it take for a person to betray his country on such an enormous level? For the character in the film, we decided it was enormous ego. I can do it and you can't. I'm just that much better than all of you and you don't know it or appreciate it or even like me so I'm going to show you. Typical bully behavior, really, right down to him having had an abusive father figure sort of thing. But it went back to one of my favorite writer's questions - why is the villain doing whatever it is he's doing? Gotta have a reason.

As for the FBI agent who takes him down, played by Ryan Phillipe, I confess that I spent too many moments when he was on screen wondering the same thing, over and over. So, Ryan, what happened, really, between you and Reese?

Til next time...

Thursday, August 2, 2007

weirdest tv moment of yesterday

So while I was supposed to be totally butt in chair and moving ahead on a new project, I will confess I got sidetracked by the Rachael Ray show.

I'll admit it - twelve steps style - My name is Joy and I used to be a Rachael Ray junkie. Used to find that thirty minutes of 30 Minute Meals at 5 PM was soothing. Cheery little chipmunk Rachael racing about the kitchen with her Evoo and dramatic carries whipping together some yummo meal while I shook off the day with a cup of coffee or glass of wine (or sometimes both just to confuse my system utterly and make me race around myself) and tried to throw something together for our dinner too.

But then she got famous. And more famous. And suddenly, cheery was frenetic. And my little secret guilty pleasure got Oprahized and now even 30 Minute Meals has been redone and the set is ORANGE like her cookwear and the camera work is filmy looking not digital, which works for Giada Delaurentis and her slow moving sexy style but not so much for little cheerleader, president of every club Rachael who simply now looks muted and far away while she runs amok and even that's been slowed down, although her delivery style has not so it's simply a mess as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway - I was going to turn off the tv, I swear. But who was her guest star? President Bill Clinton!! Bill and Rachael? Together for an hour? It was too good to pass up.

The main thing I was supposed to get was that both of them are promoting healthy eating programs for kids. A good thing. Very good. American kids need to eat a more healthy non-nugget diet. I agree. (Even though someone convinced Rachael to call hers which honestly is a deterrent for me, but whatever.)

But the thing I couldn't look away from was the fantastic role reversal thing. Cause Bill isn't running for pres anymore. Hillary is. So yes, President C. is promoting his health program. But the subtext is - here's our first first man, doing a cooking segment. Cooking turkey chili with Rach and stirring a pot and talking (albeit a tad reluctantly but still) about how he now snacks on some gluten free granola with berries and yogurt and how he has a slight wheat allergy. And because he's Bill, he's doing it with a smile and style.

But still. How awesome was that?? Even if he did seem a little dumbstruck by Rachael and the whole evoo thing.

It still is no excuse for why I didn't actually get writing as soon as I should have. But it certainly was food for thought. Pun absolutely intended.

Til next time...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

almost done reading

Unlike so many of you, I have not quite finished Book 7 of Harry Potter. In fact, I find that I'm stretching things out because I'm so in love with this book that I don't want it to be over. I'm already agonizing over what I'll read next and feel lucky that I have a few books in the reading bull pen ready to go. (Did you enjoy the baseball metaphor?) I haven't typically re-read the Potter series, but this one, I know I'll go back to.

Anyway, this all made me wonder - what are the books we have that we love so much that we do indeed read them over and over? I've talked about books in this blog a few times already, but this is a slightly different spin.

Here are some of mine that I've read multiple times:

A Wrinkle in Time
To Kill a Mockingbird
Up the Down Staircase (written in the 60's but still very accurate -sadly - about schools and teaching)
The Great Gatsby

Of those, the last is one I truly never tire of. To me it says everything there is to say about love, lust, greed, and all that is good as well as seductively toxic about the American dream. If you were assigned it in school but never read it, go back to it. I guess I first read it when I was ready - 17 years old and full of myself - never yet having loved someone I'd do anything for. Gatsby's love for Daisy and what he did to get her back just grabbed at me. And her casual dismissal of him... well, that grabbed me, too. As well as seeing that if you're rich enough, you can cover up your sins with a little cash. At 17, the idea of characters who simply got away with murder was astounding.

These days, I'm less surprised by all that - but no less in love with the book.

Til next time...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

so what's in your cart?

Okay, I'll admit it. I peek in people's grocery carts when I'm standing in line waiting to check out. At least until I get close enough so I can read a copy of National Enquirer or something else of equal literary status. (actually got in a discussion last week with the man behind me - initiated by him about Rachael Ray's current weight status. We both agreed that we all have bad days and luckily the papparazzi didn't hover around us in Kroger's waiting to see us put two apple fritters in a bag)

But back to the carts. I can't help myself. I always look and I always wonder. I mean seriously, twelve cans of cat food and a box of twinkies? What does this tell me? Do I want to know?

Figured today, I'd wonder about myself for ya. Giant sized Quaker Oatmeal, a bottle of calcium pills, a twelve pack of Coke Zero, twenty four pack of Ozarka water bottles, a birthday card, box of Cheerios, three for a buck Hershey dark chocolate bars, and the People mag with Lindsay Lohan (poor Linds!) on the cover.

Tis a sad commentary, I would say. Sad, sad, sad. I feel much boring shame from this cart.

But the real question is - will the benefits of the oatmeal and the calcium outweigh the dangers of the carmel coloring in the coke? Or the toxic effects of looking at Lindsay's mug shot?

Til next time...

Monday, July 30, 2007

What I write

I'm transitioning today between revision work - sent off again at last - and digging back into a new project. Excited to move ahead. Hoping I can stay moving ahead. (Butt in chair... butt in chair...)

My brain has also -reluctantly - shifted to planning ahead for school. Thought I'd ignore it a little while longer, but the email from my department chair with five (5!!) attached, detailed documents to peruse kind of screwed up that idea. Hard to play ostrich when you've been sent a list of your meeting dates through May, your schedule, your rosters and all the rest of it. Our computerized rosters even now include pictures of the kids, so I can't even just imagine what Amos Snickerdoodle might look like. Now I know for sure. (for those whose sense of humor was removed at birth - although why you are reading this blog I would have no idea - Amos is not a real person. He is not in one of my classes. You do not need to unleash some rant wherein you relive all the baggage of your school days and dump it unceremoniously on my little head)

But speaking of poor, fictional Amos Snickerdoodle - truth is, I think of him when I write. And I think of my reality. And my kid's. And everyone else's, for that matter. Truth is, as they say, always stranger than fiction. And crucial to good writing.

And really crucial because I write for teenagers. And there are few more accurate BS meters in the world than teens. They deserve - okay, we all deserve - characters with a real core, dialogue that sounds like real people talking, a plot with some meat on it, and something solid underneath to chew on. What's this story all about? What do I really believe?

Speaking of which - since it's Monday and perhaps I need reminding -

I would like: My women characters to be strong. My characters' choices to be difficult. My readers to come away knowing that I think that everyone is capable of making the wrong choice. We can hurt the people we love. Even good people can do this. And that the consequences of those choices are the only way we grow. That goes for my villains as well as my heroes.

But for now, I need to put that butt in the chair.

Til next time...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

If William Shatner says it's true...

There are two types of people in this world: those who enjoy the gamble of the unknown inherent in booking hotel rooms on Priceline and those who think - well, not so much.

Husband is in first category. He who loves poker, gets slot machines to do his bidding and who lives by the motto of Michael J. Fox's character in American President - "all plans are soft til 30 minutes before the event."

I on the other hand, hate poker, can stuff 20 bucks in a slot machine and never see a winning spin, and like to plan ahead like it's D Day coming. Priceline makes me itch.

Don't get me wrong - if I'm somewhere far flung or exotic, I'm happy to go with the flow. Stay where I can. Whatever.

But if I'm on a business trip or at a conference and I've worked all day, I DO NOT want the directions to my hotel to read "Turn right after the Greyhound Bus station." (no offense meant, but this does not bode best neighborhood possible. It just doesn't)

All that aside, had a mostly enjoyable time traveling with Mr. Priceline for the past few days. Even if I am now convinced that Sirius radio is no less repetitive than the regular stations.

In any case, we're both geeky enough to really enjoy road trips.

And somewhere before it started raining - yet again- we stopped at Amy's Ice Cream in Austin. Homemade ice cream served by people with an awesome number of piercings who can tell you the entire life history of the vanilla beans in your ice cream. It's the best place ever. And peanut butter/honey/choc chip ice cream on a sugar cone? Wow!

But Priceline I could live without.

Til next time...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How many ways can you say it?

There's a lot o' action in one of the projects I'm working on. So I'm always pondering different ways to indicate that the character is excited, nervous, scared, terrified, ready to pee her pants.... well you get the idea.

One thing I've realized is that being a mom really helps with this. From the moment that kid pops out, you have no shortage of opportunities in your life to go, " Oh s---, what am I going to do now." So now when I write, I simply mine those moments for the physical symptoms and describe accordingly. (yikes, that sounded rather clinical, but let me forge ahead with this)

Did my stomach clench? Did my jaw tighten? Did I get a rush of panicked heat from toes to scalp? Did my heart feel like it was going to beat out of my throat and into my mouth? Did my pulse do the Indy 500? My eyes widen? My mouth hang open? My fists clench? My throat tighten? My tongue loll like a hound dog on a bad, bad day? Did I feel like the air had been sucked out of my chest? Out of the room? Out of the universe?

If you're a parent, all those are the least of it. Sometimes you can experience them all in one day. Occasionally in one hour. (Like a couple days ago, when college son informed us that there was a meth lab bust next door to where he works. Squad cars. Swat team with rifles. Lots o' running around) So I always have lots to choose from. Even with that, I still have to make sure I'm not repeating myself too often.

Til next time...

Friday, July 20, 2007

How big is a cubit?

It is Friday. And it is still raining. We went to sleep with it raining. Woke up with it thundering and raining.

It's draining my brain. It's giving me cabin fever. I'm going to turn into Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Which is especially apt since I've spent the past month in heavy revision mode. Husband will peek at my laptop and discover that I've typed 500 pages of "All work and no play makes Joy a dull girl."


Til next time...
When maybe it will be sunny...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Are either of you a paleontologist?

Won't bore you with the details of the evening except to say I was at a meeting of a committee I've volunteered to co-chair in some other facet of my life. The important thing is - I met my very first paleontologist. He's a geologist, too, this guy, but his business card actually says "certified paleontologist."

"So, like, I could bring you dinosaur bones if I found some," I asked. My geeker core was pulsing with joy. Seriously.

"Well," he said. "I really do most of my work under a microscope. But if it was a very small dinosaur..."

Yes, he was teasing. But yes, that's what he does for a living. And other than Ross on Friends, he's the only one I've met. (Maybe I've led a sheltered life. Maybe my parents purposely kept from these people...)

Anyway, he's talking and all I can think of is that line from one of my favorite 80's films, War Games. When Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy find Professor whatever his name is so he can stop the Wopper computer from launching all our nukes at the Russians. The Professor (Joshua's father!) asks, "Are either of you a paleontologist?" Great line.

Which got me thinking on the way home about favorite 80's movies. Some that come to mind immediately that I'll watch over and over are Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink. Pretty much anything with Molly Ringwald or with James Spader as the bad boy. Oh and Lost Boys! Who didn't love Lost Boys? And Goonies! And St. Elmo's Fire with the entire Brat Pack and that great sound track. And of course, the 80's tour de force, Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Ah yes, 80's movies. Nothing like them. The hair. The shoulder pads. The tights and tunics and off one shoulder shirts and lurid colors. And did I say the hair?

Any of you have any 80's favorites? Anyone, anyone? Bueller?? (I know I've ended with that line before on a post, but I just had to throw it in there again)

Til next time...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Group

I had to miss critique group last night and I hated doing so. Personally, I live for "group." Mine meets once every two weeks, and sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes it's all that keeps me writing. Because that's always been our rule -you don't come if you don't have something to share. And while we break that rule sometimes now that our group has been the same five people for a few years, mostly we honor it. We know it makes us stronger.

When you are writing novels while also keeping your day job, it helps to have a strong force besides your own too easily strayed inner compass to keep you honest. Sometimes it's only the looming presence of Tuesday night that gets my butt in the chair. I'll make a million excuses - probably half of them truly legit - but the reality is, I won't finish a book unless I, well, finish it.

We're a diverse group, the five of us. Formed under the umbrella of SCBWI, although some of us also write for adults, too. Four women and one guy. We cheer each other on and commiserate with the rejection that comes with the territory. And we try to be as honest as we can. For us that means we generally don't read our own work aloud. We let someone else take a cold read instead. Works for me. I'm often too close to my work. I know exactly what it says, how it sounds. Only it doesn't always sound that way. So these four people I trust let me know when I've missed the mark.

Another time I'll brag on each of them. Want to get their permission first. They've become my writing family, and you take care of family. They're the people who sneaked wine and cheese into the library conference room for my birthday last year, see.

Anyway, if you write and don't have a group, find one. Ours celebrates big sales with the red boa. It was mine originally - I had to wear it on the Senior Football Player's Mom's Homecoming float one year. And when soon after Kim sold one of her romance novels, it seemed a good second life for the boa.

Til next time...