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...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Two for Tuesday

Just a quickie today. Have working lunch with school colleague and want to write before I go. So two things for today:

1. Yes, I have watched one episode of I'm Scott Baio, I'm 45 and I'm Single on VH1. Yes, I will watch more. Watch it yourself before you totally judge me on this one. (and know that one of my YA author heroes, Sarah Dessen, is watching it too!) Yup, old Charles in Charge/Chachi is trying to find out why he's still single. So he's got to ask all his old girlfriends to be honest with him. And boy, have they been honest. Yes, I know reality shows are contrived. But still... Check it out.

2. YA author Gail Giles is hysterically funny. In one of those twists of fate that frequently occur in my world, I ended up giving her ride to an SCBWI speaking event. She did not even scream when I cut across six lanes of traffic to get to our exit on the tollway. If you haven't read any of Gail's books, go to the store or library today and remedy that. I've read two so far - Shattering Glass and Playing in Traffic. Very dark, both. Grab you and don't let go. My kind of reads. Gail calls it like she sees it and she's fearless in what she puts down on the page.

Til next time...

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sage advice

Watched a new show last night. Since it was on Lifetime, I watched it alone. Husband has a theory that he will suck in estrogen if he watches anything on Lifetime or WE. But whatever. Side Order of Life was not bad. Okay, it's not totally original or anything, but not bad. Reminded me a little of the short lived Wonderfalls. MC sees things, hears things that no one else does. But the premise still grabbed me.

Because the MC's best friend is dying of cancer. And she tells her this at lunch when they're ordering. Dying best pal tells her soon to be married friend that the bridesmaid dress she's stuck wearing is hideous. Then she orders lunch - sinfully rich chocolate dessert first, she tells the waitress. Then bring me a cheeseburger with bacon, avacado, fries - the whole thing. Waitress smiles. She's been waiting years to hear someone order that way. MC orders Asian salad. Dressing on side. Dying pal hollers at her - Don't. Don't put the dressing on the side. Eat it now. You only get one life. Don't order it on the side.

Metaphor is thusly set. Live your life NOW. Don't wait. Don't do it half way. Don't assume you'll be here when you're whatever age to travel or eat or go to the movies. Eat the damn Thousand Island dressing once in a while if that's what you want.

I won't say more here. We all know too many stories of people - ourselves included - who did otherwise at some point and missed something glorious because we thought we were too young, too old, too broke, too busy.

That being said, I'm going to work my hind end off today to finish revisions. While that may seem like putting life on hold to some, it's not to me. It's my biggest dream ever and I'm not letting it go til I get it right.

Tomorrow the Acme safe may fall on my head. Today I'm telling my story for all I'm worth.

Til next time.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Conversation with Mr. Potter and Co.

Me: Geez these previews are endless. (Snarfs down two Dots from giant sized box in purse)
Previews: La, la, la... fantasy movie (film breaks here so I never learn what it is, but it looked really good)... another Jason Bourne film... a movie about the Loch Ness Monster...
Me: I'm losing the will to live.
Projector: Creeeeeek. Break.
Me: I've got to pee. And the movie hasn't even started. (asks woman behind me to save my seat)
Me: Thanks lady. (eat more Dots. Decide I can really tell difference in the colors. Seriously)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: (SPOILER ALERT.....)

Dudley with a really bitchin' thick silver chain. Harry all dark and angsty. Order of Phoenix all dark and angsty. Scenery all dark and angsty. Dumbledore all dark and angsty. Hogwarts all dark and angsty. Sirius Black all dark and angsty and amazing hot looking since it's Gary Oldman. He who can not be named still lacking a nose. (marvels that it's Ralph Fiennes under there) Emma Thompson making too brief of an appearance. A delightful actress playing evil Dolores Umbridge. Lots o' glass breaking. Pacing, pacing, pacing - mad torrid pacing. (Another handful of Dots) Harry's first kiss (Mulls over the whole Harry running around starkers in Equus) A quick peek at the giant. Some centaurs. The Weasly boys kick ass. (Forces self to stop with the Dots) Mr. Weasly in the quickest torture scene ever.) Lots of Harry dreaming. (Imagines agent Michelle telling JK Rowling to stop being so meditative and get on with it) More dark. More angst. (Reminds self that this was a 900 page book for god's sake and am amazed that it's only about 2 hours long) A little Kreacher. An over the top whatsherface ( you know, that British actress; I think she played Ophelia once. And for good reason) playing Bellatrix and looking like she'd escaped from a Tim Burton film rather than Azkaban.

Me: In all, I'd give it 3 out of 4 Dots.

Til next time...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

balancing act

Somedays the balancing act is harder to do. Somedays not. If you have more than one role you play in life, you know what I mean. Writer, teacher, wife, mother, friend... the list is endless.

One thing that pulls at me in the summer that I wish didn't, is school. It drives me batty that a fairly huge segment of the American public thinks that teachers don't work during the summer. Hah! All those great lessons, all those new stories and books, new projects and writing ideas? Summer homework. For us. Have two meetings coming up in the next week with various colleagues. Have done workshops and will do more. Some years I take college classes. All to hone my craft.

Same with writing. When you write, you always write. Even when I'm not at the computer, I write in my head. Hey, sometimes I even find myself narrating what I'm doing. Or composing how I'd write about what I'm doing. Especially when I'm in the middle of a project (or two or three or four), I find it hard to turn it off. The muse works her own hours, and I just have to hop up when she pulls me by the hair. (Old Muse has been doing that a lot lately. Thank goodness)

But tomorrow, if the sunshine holds, I've got a date with the swimming pool. And a pile of magazines. And a very good friend. And gobs of sunblock since it hasn't been sunny here in like, forever, so I'm not exactly sunshine ready.

Til next time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Potter mania

I succumbed. Pulled out my copy of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince to re-read. I do admit I haven't reserved a copy of number seven yet. It's clear to me that all I'll have to do is step from my front door and someone, somewhere here in the burbs will be selling it for a steep discount. (Head of lettuce, Boca Burgers, copy of Harry Potter...) But I'll be snarfing one up as soon as it hits the shelves.

One of my colleagues says she's going to re-read all six. Or is re-reading them as we speak. I don't have that kind of fortitude. But I've caught the fever. Is Dumbledore really really dead? Will Harry live? Will Snape? And how 'bout old Hagrid? Bunches of folk are chatting up the idea that Hagrid will die because he's been a parent figure. Interesting thought.

My money's on Snape to kick the bucket. Always liked him. (okay, I didn't like his actions, but I like the character) I like my bad guys a bit ambiguous. Is he bad? Is he good? Nothing worse than a cardboard villain. Gotta have a reason for being the big baddie. Gotta have some possible redeeming quality. At least that's my take on it. Same thing for the good guy. I like mine a little bad. A little dangerous. Clearly capable of going in the other direction if circumstances shift a bit.

Anyway, I figured I'd chime in for a bit. Even if this whole topic's been discussed by better heads than mine.

Til next time...

Monday, July 9, 2007

Point of view

One of the exercises I do with my creative writing classes is to make them take a piece they've written and shift the point of view. For example, you've written a short story in third person limited point of view. You've got a third person - he said, she said - narrator who's in the head of your main character. So now flip it. Narrate in first person. Make your main character the narrator.

What they always discover is that: 1. it changes the story you're telling - changes everything from how it feels to its pacing. and 2. it's not always as easy as it sounds. In the scenario above, for example, that kind of shift would really alter the way many things are described. Going to first person means your narrator now knows only what's in his or her little head. But lots of that sometimes too intrusive writerly stuff (you know - the beautifully crafted paragraphs about how the waves are crashing against the shore, blah, blah, blah) disappears because suddenly it sounds very unnatural coming out of the character's mouth.

We've agonized over this in critique group, too. At least three of us have re-written something - novels, usually - from one point of view to another. Sometimes we like what comes from the change. Sometimes not. Often, we're not sure. Feels like that proverbial crap shoot.

Anyone else out there have point of view stories?

Til next time...

Friday, July 6, 2007

Rainy Friday

It's raining today - again.

It has been raining here for over a month now. Really. My poor kid is sweltering in 116 degree Phoenix, but here, temps haven't crawled about mid 80's most days (which is crazy cool for summer in Houston) because it is always raining. Dripping. Drizzling. Pouring. Or some combination thereof. The sun rarely shines. It's been perpetual twilight. And if you can't tell, it's making me a tad cranky.

I will try to remember this when I am grumbling about the heatwave that I'm sure will eventually arrive.

On a more positive note, the constant gloom has given me an excuse to start making my way through season 6 of Gilmore Girls. Had seen some in reruns, but not all. So I never did know what the catalyst was for Rory to finally come home. Now I do. And it was a terrific series of events, let me say, without ruining it for anyone who will still watch. And if you haven't, you should! Some of the best written dialogue ever. Ever! Which is a lot to admit for someone addicted to all things Joss Whedon. But I'm admitting it.

Looking forward to seeing either Evening or Transformers this weekend. Maybe both. These are the choices one makes if one is both an unrepentant geek and a romantic. (In Star Trek terms this means my favorite episode will always be City on the Edge of Forever where Kirk has to choose between letting his love die and saving the world as he knows it... which is by the way the same choice Buffy has to make in the last ep of Season 2, more or less)

Til next time...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

where I began

The very first piece of writing I remember composing - that I still have a copy of, amazingly! - is a Thanksgiving play I wrote in the 2nd grade.

I LOVED 2nd grade. Loved, loved, loved it. Mrs. Norma Bernsohn, wherever you are - you rocked my world in 2nd grade. We had our own class store to learn math, our own newspaper to learn about writing. We did science experiments and kept mice. We had guest speakers. Went on field trips to amazing places. And were encouraged to create and experiment. (Okay, yeah, I think some of those mice died in one of those experiments. And I will save my rant on the contrast between all that and the current state of public education for another day... or million)

So around Thanksgiving, I wrote a play. Not much going on in it, really. Just pilgrims landing in America and talking about their journey and - weirdly- worrying about how they would wash their clothes after such a long journey so they would be fresh for the upcoming feast with their new Indian pals. (Okay, clearly I had plot issues even then)

All girl cast, since I knew I wanted to perform it and I wrote it so I could cast all my best friends at the time and it wasn't until later in the year that I developed my first school girl crush on a guy named Bobby. Mostly boys were pretty icky in those days..

But the point is - I wrote a play. I cast it. We rehearsed. And Mrs. Bernsohn let us perform it. And I thought I was on top of the world. Got my first taste of what it took to write something and present it to an audience.

Been writing ever since in one form or another.

So thanks Mrs. Norma Bernsohn of Brenneman Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois. The journey I'm on now started in your room. I've never stopped loving the process of putting words on paper and making them mean something. Never stopped wanting this to be part of my life.

Til next time...

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

happy 4th of July - almost

I'm a sucker for 4th of July. Fireworks, hot dogs, watermelon, corn on the cob, parades... It's all good. And the celebration of freedom - a very good thing indeed. Wish the world had more of it. And understood what a precious and difficult thing it is to keep.

I was going to natter on about favorite 4th of July memories, but you know, not so interesting unless you're me.

So let's talk that 4th of July staple, instead - hot dogs.

If you grew up in Chicago like I did, you learn to love a good Chicago style dog. Tis a unique and delicious creation. Vienna beef dog, poppy seed bun, yellow mustard, celery salt, sport peppers, tomatoes, pickle slice... and shamrock green relish.

Some places that I think do it the best are listed below. They all have websites, so knock yourself out if you have nothing better to do today and look them up. They're all - obviously - in Chicago. (So sorry New Yorkers and fans of LA's Pinks. Write your own blogs about your own favorites)

1. Superdawg
2. Fluky's
3. Wolfy's
4. Herm's Place
5. Portillo's

At Superdawg - okay, I'm begging you to find their website, which I should link for you, but I'm in a hurry right now - they have these two gigantic hot dog people standing on top of the place.

Any one else have a favorite?
Til next time.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Notes from the Big D

Been gone a few days to Dallas. One of those few rare occasions where I could go with husband on business. Even got some revision work done while we were gone which was awesome.

And in no particular order -

  • Waved to the enormous statue of Sam Houston in Huntsville. Billboard as you approach it says, "Largest Statue in the World" Then in smaller print, it adds, "Of an American hero." Ohhhh.
  • Spent about 40 miles driving near a Toyota mini van with a stenciled sign that proclaimed it was "Funeral Transport Vehicle." Spent entire 40 miles speculating as to whether soccer moms now did coffin transport in between car pool runs. ( husband and I are easily amused, obviously.)
  • Ate in Dallas at an Original Pancake House. If you're from Chicago area, you know it as Walker Brothers Original Pancake House. If you've never been to one and there's one near you, go. It is totally worth the wait. And yes, you will wait on the weekends. Order the Dutch Baby or the 49er Flapjacks. Platefuls of pancake heaven. Seriously.
  • Discovered that combining me with martini happy hour on an empty stomach is one lethal combination.
  • Got to finish two books - Jane Yolen's Briar Rose and Holly Black's Ironside, which is the sequel to Tithe. Briar Rose masterfully combines a retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a story of the Holocaust. It is haunting, wonderful, and poignant. I could read it many, many times over. Ironside is a very satisfying sequel to the adventures of Kaye and Roiben. I never much liked tales of faery lore before reading Tithe. But Holly Black has hooked me. She too, is a masterful story teller.
  • Discovered that GAP is having one heck of a sale. Ditto every other store in every other shopping mall/strip center in Dallas.
  • Met up with good friend and her husband for dinner at one of the gazillion restaurants that dot the Dallas area. I am not kidding- you people in Dallas must really like to eat out. There is a restaurant every forty feet or so.
  • Managed to stay safe and not float away. Dallas has been having terrible rainstorms for weeks and weeks. People north of the city have been flooded out of their homes. The signs every two miles on the freeways say, "If water on the road, turn around. Don't drown." That is one serious sign.

Til next time