Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A blog chain and contest! Don't miss out!

Check this out!

Today is release day for the fabulous Jill Myles' debut GENTLEMEN PREFER SUCCUBI, and, if it's not completely obvious from the hunk of mantitty on the cover, it's a sexy supernatural tale full of adventure, humor, and...um...sex.

Jill will be stopping by Writes in the City on January 18 to talk to us about--wait for it--writing sex scenes. Of course. And just to entice you some more, there's a contest:

Jill's agent Holly Root of the Waxman Literary Agency is offering a personalized query critique to the winner. How awesome is that? To enter, just follow the blog chain and comment, starting today with Amy Bai's The Purple Patch. One entry per blog, please, and the winner will be chosen at random on the last day of the tour (January 27) when Jill will also be posting an interview with Holly.

So what are you waiting for? Get over to Amy's! And buy Jill's book!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Merry Merry

hospital and skiing
MySpace Graphics - Myspace Layouts,Graphics, and Comments!

Oh yes, bloggy friends. It's that time of year again. Time for the annual pilgrimage to Colorado where I will tumble down the bunny slopes once or twice before calling it a day. Can you feel my excitement? Those of you who have been around a while know how much I love to ski.

I'll be in and out for the next few weeks. Have a happy/merry/joyous whatever. See you 'round the intertoobs.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Drinking the Kool-Aid

My mother used to be terrified I'd one day join a cult.

Sounds ridiculous, but who could blame her, really? Back in the 70s the media fixated on Satan worshippers, Jonestown, and the Manson Family, not to mention all the teenagers high on Angel Dust hallucinating roaches crawling all over them. It probably seemed like weirdos would creep into your window at any moment and carry your kids away.

All that percolated in her brain throughout my childhood and heightened when I started wearing a lot of black and listening to the Dead Kennedys. Definite proof of my cult activities presented itself as a cassette tape on the passenger seat of my '68 Mustang:

What could all those symbols mean? Nothing good, god knows!

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that she flipped out in front of all my friends at the public pool when she caught me sipping a Dr. Pepper and reading Dianetics in 9th grade. Remember those mysterious volcanic TV commercials about "discovering the answer to it all?" I just didn't want to miss out.

She should've sat down, slathered on sunscreen, and waited for me to lose interest--it only took about four pages or so. Bor-ing. Instead, she screamed DON'T YOU KNOW THAT'S A CULT? I FORBID YOU TO JOIN A CULT!

OMG. Time stopped. Some girls laughed. The cute boy who'd been checking me out abandoned his flirtation with Crazy Mother Cult Girl. I could never return to Fassnight Park Swimming Pool ever again.

And mom? Just so you know--no cult activities to this day. Although if I had to choose one, it would be the hare krishnas. They seem fun.

That was her deal: cult fear. I wonder what's going to be my phobia? 'Cause you know it'll be something once I have two teenage daughters to stress over. Any bets? Maybe I'll have nightmares about them starring in a reality show?

Has your mom ever embarrassed you?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Blog facelift

Yes, she's had a little nip here, tuck there. Doesn't she just look so rested? Of course, she's having trouble smiling, what with all the Botox, but hey, anything for beauty.
I've also updated my These Blogs Rock section. Take a look.
Next, I think I'll have her lips done.


So, whaddya think? Too much?

Friday, December 4, 2009


I'm kind of belated with this, but wanted to congratulate some fellow writerly types on recent successes:

--Courtney Allison Moulton snagged a 3-book deal with Katherine Tegen / HarperCollins.

--Debra Schubert signed with Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Baker's Mark Literary Agency. You can read all about her journey here.

--Jill Myles has not one, but TWO books coming out in the upcoming weeks! She'll be making an appearance here on the blog soon talking about...what else? sex.

I'm sure I'm missing a few. Please comment if you know of anyone else!

Now I'm off to do some Christmas shopping. What mother of two girls would miss out on picking up one of babies to teach important life skills?:

Awww, isn't she adorable? But I have to say, she won't earn many tips with THAT outfit. Take it off! Woo!

Oh dear. I hope this is a hoax.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

'Tis Book Season

Once again, I plan to give books to everyone on my Christmas list. Lots of rectangular-shaped packages shall sit under the tree. What can it be? Why, it's a book!

I did the same thing last year and hey! turns out a book is kind of a personal item, and choosing the right one isn't so easy. Mistakes were made, let's just say.

Wouldn't it be great if Barnes & Noble had a matchmaking service for book gifts? Like an eHarmony device? That way, you won't accidently send Chuck Palahniuk's latest novel to your Aunt Sophia who lives in a convent.

Until then, you'll just have to settle for my low-tech version and hope you have a few characters like these in your family.

For the Stylish Big Sister Who Watches HBO's True Blood and Wears Sexy Shoes:
Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler
Soulless by Gail Carriger

...and her teenage Twihard daughter:
The Evernight Series by Claudia Gray
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

For the Uncle Who Volunteers at the Humane Society:
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote

For the Workaholic, BlackBerry-Loving Husband: (this one is real)
The Return of Depression Economics by Paul Krugman
The Myth of the Rational Market by Justin Fox
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

For the Peacenik Younger Brother Getting His MA at Berkeley:
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Living Off the Grid: A Simple Guide to Creating and Maintaining Energy, Water, Shelter, and More by Dave Black
The Fight for Peace: A History of Anti-War Movements in America by Ted Gottfried
A subscription to McSweeneys

For the History-Buff Sister-in-Law with the Heavy Damask Curtains in her Living Room:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Katherine by Anya Seton

For the Neighbor You Never See Because She Has a Hellish Commute:
Audiobooks, of course. I'd listen to Stories by Garrison Keillor. Love him.*

For the Mom Who Won't Allow Anyone to Leave the Table Without Eating Seconds:
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (She's probably lost it by now. Get her another copy.)

For the Dad Who Whoops It Up Every Thursday Night with his Masonic Brethren:
The new Dan Brown, naturally!
In Pursuit of Honor by Vince Flynn

For the Hard-to-Buy-For, Ph.D.-Toting Mother-in-Law:
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

For the Southern Belle Cousin in a Book Club: (I have lots of these)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter by Lisa Patton

See? There's something for everyone! Even the Right-Leaning, Conservative Brother-in-Law:
The Reagan Diaries by Ronald Reagan

What would be on your Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/Whatever list?

*Uh, hmmm. Maybe not as much after reading this.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pumped up for the show

Can you get up in front of an audience and tell your story with no notes, no papers, just you and a microphone? My friend Jayne can, and she invited me to a fundraiser last week to celebrate just that. The Moth is an organization that hosts storytelling events all over the city (and beyond) featuring a nightly theme and five storytellers who share a ten-minute tale about their lives.

Watching the performers that night reminded me of my college weekend job at a comedy club. I worked as a bartender/waitress and often served drinks to the comedians gearing up in the green room. Even with the uber-confident performers, the vibe in the room (which wasn't green, by the way) skewed tense, and I was careful not to disturb whatever process they needed in preparation to go on stage. Some comedians became arrogant, even belligerent, pumping up their tough persona only to slip out of it like a dirty suit after they finished. Others withdrew in the green room, quiet and nervous, muttering punch lines to no one.

Whatever their behavior in the green room, I rooted for each one when the show began. Even the guy who grabbed my ass (and apologized later.) Okay, yes, I had some skin in their success as well -- more laughs = bigger tips. But I respected the people who could get up on the stage with nothing but a microphone and open themselves up like that.

The Moth doesn't allow stand-up comedy at their performances. Still, some performers kill and some bomb. And the prerequisites are the same: you, a microphone, and a pair of brass balls.

Rejection through email is bad enough. At least writers rarely deal with hecklers.

How about you? Could you get up and tell your story?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Oh, you women and your little trifles!

You might have heard shouts of indignation emanating from your computer last week over the decidedly penis-heavy Publisher's Weekly Best Books of 2009 list. I'll admit I haven't read the majority of books they chose. I love John Cheever and should probably pick up his biography. I'm sure the rest of those dudes are full of awesome. The last thing I want to do is diminish another author's work. I'm in no way saying they are undeserving.

But friend of the blog Moonrat posed a challenge for her readers: post your own list of 2009 favorites by female authors. As a reader and writer of women's fiction (no, not chick lit, you turkeys) how could I not participate?

Here are my picks:

PICKING BONES FROM ASH by Marie Mutsuki Mockett


THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett


REAL LIFE AND LIARS by Kristina Riggle

Okay, so THE HELP and HEDGEHOG were actually published at the end of 2008. But I haven't had the chance to read some of newly-published books like WOLF HALL and THE CHILDREN'S BOOK, and Alice Munro's new collection isn't even out yet, so I decided to make my sample Fall '08 - Fall '09. Cheating? Perhaps. But there you have it.

ETA: Check out this thought-provoking post on women and writing by Marie Mutsuki Mockett.

How about you? Any favorites from the ladyfolk (any genre will do)?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Just trying to avoid cutting off my own ear

I haven't been blogging as much as I would like this fall. It's true. This is primarily because every moment of my day has been filled with commitments, writing, or general angst. I just finished up a time-suck project (co-chairing a fundraiser at my kids' school--I know, I know, very PTA mom of me. Don't mock.) so now I'm free to blog away, provided I can think up topics.

I knew the fall would be crazy. I'd be dealing with/revising book 1 plus writing the first draft of book 2, in addition to my kid administration duties, which are plentiful. So when the school asked me to help spearhead a hugely labor intensive project, I took that on as well.

Prithee, tell, you might think, why bring this upon yourself? What are you trying to prove?

Actually, I'm no martyr, nor am I someone who has trouble saying no. I do, however, know how I can get when I'm writing. It can be summed up in two words: crazy hermit.

I can go for days without leaving the apartment. Weeks without wearing real pants. Months without calling friends. And sadly, I'm not even all that productive with my writing. There are days when everything that comes out of my fingertips just SUCKS SO BAD ARRRGH YOU THINK YOU CAN WRITE?! HA! GO EAT WORMS!

So yeah. Not really great for the mental health. Besides, it's true what they say, at least in my case: if you want something done well, give it to a busy person. It's all or nothing with me.

Balance. I haz none.

How about you? When are you most productive? I hope for your sake, you are nothing like me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Taking a risk

Unless you live far, far away from these United States, you probably had more than a few kids at your door begging for candy on Saturday night. It's kind of a big deal.

So a few months ago, my daughter decided that the "Cone of Shame" used on the dogs in the movie UP was pretty hilarious, and she wanted to fashion her Halloween costume around it. We gathered all the makings of a humiliated dog and put them in the closet until the big day.

Saturday morning, it was time for a trial run. She dressed in her costume, ran to the mirror and...cried. Tears, sobbing, the whole deal. She just didn't have the confidence she needed to pull it off. It's a fear I know well. Looking stupid. Failure. If I'm trying to be funny in my speech, will I flop? If everyone knows I'm writing a book and then it never gets published, will I crumple up in a ball and die?

She searched through some safer costumes left over from years past. No one would laugh at a colonial girl or a knight, perhaps she should go with that? I told her that was fine with me. It takes guts for a 10-year-old to walk around in public looking completely uncool. She's also entered the age where everything is just sooo embarrassing ohmygod. If she was doing the funny costume thing, it would be a risk. She just had to be all, "Yeah, that's right! I look ridiculous. Ha!"

In the end, she decided to go for it:
Thank Dog it was a hit.

How about you? Are you taking any risks lately?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Knee deep in it

I recently got the big ole happy agent-approved Go Ahead for my next novel. Hooray! I've been working on it for a little while in between Novel #1 edits, but just getting an atta girl from Rebecca spurred me to delve into my new stuff. It's fun and exhilarating and stressful and angsty all at once. I love getting to know new characters and settings, living with them in my head and figuring out their fates.

The stress all comes down to one element: my writing speed. It's...not fast. I admit I'm jealous when I see Facebook status updates of "I wrote 15K words this weekend!" or I hear the rapid-fire taps of keyboards around me at Paragraph, while I'm sitting there going Hmmm, should I use "at" or "in" here? I convince myself that those people are just writing gibberish. "Ha!" I say, "he's probably just emailing his mom." (Even though I know it's not true--he has his wireless disabled just like me.)

But no more, my friends. No more. I've decided to silence the voices in my head that remind me, daily, of how far I have to go and just freaking write it already. Chug along, little engine. Because anything else will make me crazy.

How about you? Are you a fast writer? I promise I won't hate you. Much.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Netflix knows me better than my own mother

So I was chatting on the phone with my mom the other day, and she said to me, "Oh! We watched the funniest movie last night. You HAVE to get it. You will LOVE it! SO FUNNY!"

Great, I love funny movies. "Which one?" I asked.

"Write this down, honey...GRUMPY OLD MEN! IT'S HILARIOUS! HA!"

Huh. I pretended to write it down, what with her excitement and all, but...really, Mom? Grumpy Old Men sounds like something I'd LOVE? I'm thinking no. I mean, no offense to people who like men who are old and grumpy. As far as I know, I've been missing out on something amazing. But wow, I could not be less interested. I'll cut my mom a break, though, since I've done the same thing to her, several times. I was emphatic about recommending Slumdog Millionaire and she just has No. Interest.

I logged on to Netflix to fill my queue (not with Grumpy Old Men, mind you) and lo! I found that most everything on my home page was something I'd enjoy! The categories that apparently describe my tastes are:

Dramatic Movies Featuring a Strong Female Lead
Dark, Independent Dramas
Visually-striking Suspenseful Films
Critically-acclaimed Satires
Movies Starring Ewan McGregor

That last one made me laugh. But hey! Lots of stuff I'd watch, right there. How do they know me so well? I feel like we could be friends.

How about you? Describe your movie categories.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Theme Song

When writers talk about theme, especially on message boards and in writing groups, I can almost hear the clucking of tongues. Few readers wish to be chugging along in a story just to be smacked upside the head with overt author preaching. 

It's unlikely anyone is going to find my writing to have great socio-political implications, but I do have a few themes that pop up in one form or another in my writing. Fortunately, they make for rich plots:

1) Something wicked bubbling under a veneer: I find the idea of carefully controlling outward appearances appealing, especially when it's hiding an ugly struggle within. Much of this comes from growing up in a family that really could have stepped right out of a Southern Gothic novel. (I'm talking about my extended family, not my mom and dad, who are stable and borderline boring.) This might explain my obsession with Carson, Flannery, Tennessee, and Truman. I don't write this genre, but I love reading it. 

2) Scandal and public humiliation: I can't pinpoint why this has evolved into such a theme for me. I cringe at witnessing humiliation. When Jan Brady wore her brunette wig to a party and was ridiculed by her classmates, I had to look away. I can't stomach watching auditions for American Idol or any other kind of Shame TV. Awful! Yet here I am, writing a scene in which the main character is outed for past sins on the evening news. 

3) Good/Bad Moms (or a sprinkling of each in one): I don't always write about mother/daughter relationships, but I do so quite a bit. And hopefully no one will read too much into my Bad Mother examples. Oy. It's fiction, people.

Wow, this all sounds kind of heavy. I do try to lighten things with humor and mix it up. Right now, I'm working on something new that is mostly #2, very little  of #3, and the reverse of #1. I didn't set out to write it this way, but here we go again!

What about you? Do you have any elements that keep appearing in your writing?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dear McDonald's: Bite It

My husband, who puts up with my Wild Feminist Rantings* with far more grace and patience than most men, actually got a taste this weekend of what's been annoying me for years.

Background: I grew up the type of little girl who preferred to play with the neighborhood boys. I'd rather be Luke Skywalker over Princess Leia any day, nifty hairdo notwithstanding. I received far more babydolls and Barbies for Christmas than I ever wanted, which mostly sat in a sad pile of neglect in the corner of my closet. Surprising most of the concerned adults around me, I turned out relatively normal and able to function in society. 

Dear husband took our 7-year-old daughter to McDonald's for lunch (I'll put my disgust over the whole ground meat controversy aside for one moment) and she ordered a Happy Meal. For the toy, of course. 

The toy choices on the wall were between a Build-A-Bear stuffed animal (girl toy) and a plastic Bakugan...somethingorother. I don't know what it is, exactly, but it's the boy toy. She opened the box and found within a pink stuffed animal with "Baby Rocks" printed on its shirt. 

She frowned. "I wanted the Bakugan." 

"Okay, we'll see if we can switch," said the husband, ever the doting dad.
Back to the counter they went. The employee looked startled. "But she's a girl. She got the girl toy." Now, this couldn't possibly have been the first time she'd encountered this scenario. Maybe she just startles easy.

"Yes, but is it possible to switch?"

"I suppose. You really want the boy toy, honey? Okay." 

My husband said she was nice and all. Polite. Even let daughter pick which Bakugan she wanted. Still. Daughter was taken aback. She would NOT want to be confused with a boy. No no no. She's not even all that tomboyish. 

I realize that if she were a boy who wanted the girl toy, the level of shit from the employee, and from society overall, would have been much greater. No! Stay within your pre-defined gender roles!

Anyway. I'm sure she won't be scarred for life. But, grrr. Sometimes parenting really is like reliving your childhood. 

What kind of kid were you?

*By "wild" I mean "mild."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Show and Tell

Over at Absolute Write, member Dee Garretson had an idea: writers constantly talk about showing vs. telling, but what's the difference, exactly? Many of us get a little tell-y from time to time (there's a reason no one sees my first drafts.)  It's often difficult to understand the concept because, when done right, it's invisible. You feel the tension right along with the characters. 

So several of us took up the challenge to SHOW some examples of show vs. tell. Mine is from my own work. Same scene, two ways. Here's the setup:

It's 1976 in a pretty little suburb of Chicago. Housewife Ilona is trying to convince her kind-but-traditional husband to allow her to get a part time job. She's just taken her children to see the Sears Tower, now they are getting ready for dinner. 

“Where’s my beautiful wife?” Dennis said every evening when he arrived home at 5:30. Then a kiss. He was taller than most men, much taller than Ilona, and had a stoop to his shoulders. Like living an apology.  This evening, unlike most others, she had dinner waiting, the housework completed, and kids sitting clean at the table.

“Hi honey,” she said. “We are having steak tonight.”

“Terrific. I could smell it when I walked in. I love steak.”

Jamie and Ryan told their father about the Sears Tower, interrupting each other in excitement. Remember those trucks, they were saying, so tiny, and when we got down to the street they were still there, huge!

Ilona cleared her throat. “I made dessert tonight, too. Brownies,” she cut in, “and shirts. I bought some new shirts for you on our way home today.” She set the steaks on the table. The family sat down and passed the food clockwise. 

“Perfect. You’ve all been busy. Thanks.”

“So, honey, can we talk now? About that job?”

Dennis looked up from his plate, catching her eyes, but he did not respond.

“Can we?”

He sighed. “This again? Can I at least finish my meal first?”

They worked their way through dinner, talking only intermittently of the day’s events. The silences in between their remarks were punctuated by the chink of forks hitting porcelain. Her daughter, Jamie, finished quickly. She excused herself and turned to Ryan.

“Let’s go.”

“But I’m not finished yet,” he said. “And what about the brownies?”

“Come on.” She picked up the plate in front of him and walked toward the kitchen. “We’ll take some brownies into my room.”

Ryan shrugged and followed his sister into the kitchen, then down the hall to the bedrooms.

“Now?” Ilona asked her husband.


Ilona was nervous about asking Dennis about potentially working part time at the library. He took pride in providing for his family, and had tried to dissuade Ilona in the past from working. She'd been busy all day making conditions perfect before he arrived home, in an effort to show that her duties as a mother would not be forgotten. 

When dinner began, Ilona blurted out the question that had been inside her all afternoon. “So, honey, can we talk now? About that job?”

Dennis was exasperated. She just wouldn't drop it. 

The kids sensed the tension between their parents all through dinner and finished the meal rapidly. Jamie escaped with Ryan into her room and the parents continued their conversation.

Got it? Good. Now see how everyone else handled it. 

Melia (Dee Garretson)  http://deegarretson.wordpress.com/

Ink (Tracey Martin):  http://inkwench.wordpress.com/

Blond (Gretchen McNeil): http://gretchenmcneil.blogspot.com/

Tas (K.A. Stewart):  http://literaryintent.blogspot.com/

Sunna (Amy Bai)  http://amybai.wordpress.com/

Red (Bryn Greenwood)  http://bryngreenwood.wordpress.com/

(Regular followers, I know I'm off schedule this week. I've been a little ARGH-MAKE-IT-STOP busy with life stuff. I'll be back on sched Friday. I'm sure you've been up late worrying.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

I am not a chick

How much am I loving this movie reviewer's mea culpa in the Toronto Star for his use of the phrase "chick flick" when he describes a film? Peter Howell, I don't know you, but you are now a friend for life. 

From the link:

I hate the term because it's a form of contempt masquerading as hip lingo. Implicit in every use is the qualifier "only," even if the word is unspoken: "It's only a chick flick."

A film that supposedly appeals mainly to women can't be taken seriously because it's only a chick flick.

I've been annoyed by this for a while. Not the term "chick flick" per se, because I think it can describe a movie's overall tone. Sex in the City, Confessions of a Shopaholic, even my beloved Bridget Jones' Diary might fall into this category. Might. It's still pretty derogative, if you ask me, but I'm willing to go with it. 

However, the definition seems to have widened to include EVERY movie with strong female leads and that appeals mostly to a female audience. Regardless of tone or theme. Your friend gets raped outside of a bar and you are trying to escape from the police after killing the jerk? Chick flick. Your daughter is diabetic and dies after having a baby? Chick flick. You are a poor black woman in the 1930s who is raped repeatedly and forced to marry an old man? Chick flick. Why is it that so many films with female leads get this dismissive label?

Julie & Julia is the most recent film to be branded as a chick flick. And yeah, it's a comedy, but it's not about shoes or making it in the big city. Meryl Streep is not a chick. Nor am I.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book Reco: Sima's Undergarments for Women

I have this friend who reads absolutely everything and gives me lots of good recommendations. Love that! We both like women's fiction, so recently she mentioned two books--one big and splashy and one quiet and delicate. I ordered both. Being in a splashy frame of mind, I started with the fictionalized biography of Laura Bush. I heard it was juicy and well-written and while all that was true...I just couldn't get into it. So I picked up Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross. 

It takes place in one of those little shops I always see in New York, half-hidden on the ground floor, this one under a Boro Park brownstone. Women from this Orthodox Jewish neighborhood all visit Sima for bra fittings and conversation. Mostly the latter. 

Sima's life consists of running her shop and tending to Lev, her husband of many years, until a gorgeous young Israeli woman named Timna starts working as a seamstress in the shop. 

Timna soon becomes, at least in Sima's mind, the daughter she couldn't have of her own. And also a bit of an obsession. Timna provides a glimpse into the self Sima never was, but longed to be: sexy, carefree, with a lifetime of possibilities ahead of her. Sima is a deeply flawed and nuanced character (she reminded me a little of Olive in Olive Kitteridge) but I connected with her and found her interesting (much more so than pretty Timna, actually.)

Have you ever had a bra fitting? It's personal, to say the least. Much bare flesh is involved. So I can understand how, along with stripping off physical clothes, it's an easy atmosphere to share intimate feelings.  Anyway, if you are in to literary women's fiction at all, pick this one up.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The guilt, it consumes me

So I have this cat. She's dying. I gave her to my husband for Valentine's Day 15 years ago. She's not exactly young and spry, and she's been in so-so health for quite a while now. The fact that she has untreatable kitty cancer wasn't a huge surprise. But sad. 

I had a long talk with the vet and she urged us not to wait too long to put her down, as most people do when they can't let go. I've never had to do this before and I'm dreading having to make the final decision. 

Anyway, bleh. What a downer. Sorry. 

Maybe this video of a cute baby will make up for it. It made me laugh, anyway:

What do you think her mom is like? A little chatty, maybe?

Friday, September 25, 2009

I love this!

I saw this on Jezebel the other day and thought it was pretty awesome. Tara Wheeler, last year's Miss Virginia, promised to shave her head to raise money and awareness for children with cancer. Even though she didn't meet her $500,000 goal, she went ahead and shaved it anyway. "Beauty is as beauty does," she said back in April. Indeed.

I've considered well, not shaving, but cutting my hair and donating it to Locks of Love. A little girl in my daughter's class grew her gorgeous blonde hair out and did just that. But, let's face it, nobody wants my hair. Sure, it might look thick (or at least acceptable) in some of my pictures, but that's due to clever blow outs and a copious use of products. Bed Head. Volumizer. Flip upside down. Spray. Pray it doesn't rain.

In any event, Ms. Wheeler was unable to shave her head while she reigned as Miss Virginia (even though she likely would have been able to raise much more money, so booooo Miss America Inc.) but good for her for going through with it. I'd probably chicken out. 

Monday, September 21, 2009

Silver Phoenix book signing and get-together

Over the weekend, my dear (and, up to this point, virtual) friend Cindy Pon was in town and I hosted a book signing for her in my apartment. I had about 16 or so people over for coffee, mimosas, and many, many sweets. "What?" you might be saying, "You let a bunch of strangers into your house for a PARTY? Are you nuts?" 

Possibly. But that's a different issue. Cindy couldn't book an official signing, being it Rosh Hashanah and all. She asked about coffee shops that might be fun, but the problem with coffee shops in New York is that very few look like Central Perk and they are ALWAYS full of people. Full. And my apartment is not. So. Come on over!

And it was worth it. I met a bunch of Absolute Write friends, who weren't exactly strangers, since I know so much about them (but yeah, still kinda, since I didn't know what they looked like. Turns out Lara is NOT a smoking teddy bear. She looks like this):

She's the woman in the middle. Not even a little bear-like!

Some of Cindy's other writerly and arty friends came as well. Such fun. A veritable salon. Of course, I think that any group of people gathered together talking about subjects other than a) children, b) the stock market, or c) travel plans is some sort of great intellectual exchange. Really, my standards are low. Still, books were discussed. 

Lawrence Wong was nice enough to take these pictures, plus many others, including some great shots of my dog. Thanks!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Making an effort

Part of my September resolutions, aside from blogging on a regular (albeit light) schedule was to make an effort to get out there and join the writing community. "Wow, Manhattan," people from points West say, "you must know a lot of people in the publishing world!" 

Er, no. Not really. Sure, I met quite a few people at the Southampton Writers and Algonquin conferences I attended last year. And yeah, here and there through the kids' school or whatever. But in terms of hanging out with writerly types? No. (Finance and lawyer-ly people, on the other hand? Plenty.)

My first baby step into this strange and wondrous new world was to find a real live, in-person critique group. Not words on a screen and user names--PEOPLE. Okay, done. We haven't met yet, so I've no idea how this will go. Perhaps terribly. But I'm getting out there! 

My second step I completed today: I joined a writer's workspace. This means that a few times a week, I actually have to change into pants, pack my laptop, board a subway, and LEAVE THE UPPER EAST SIDE OMG. 

The space I joined is just 3 stops on the express train and 2 blocks over, so, yes, convenient. It's really just a loft filled with desks and cubicles writers can use, with a kitchen and tables down the hall. Being as noiseless as possible is strictly enforced. I took a seat and listened for a while--nothing but taps on a keyboard. I think I can ignore that. I'll try not to get too competitive with the fast typists. 

There is a place to chat (softly) and they run a bunch of evening discussions and member readings at the KGB Bar, which just, face it, sounds awesome. Is the bar filled with spies? Arty people smoking the hookah? Who knows! Guess I'll find out soon enough.

Writing is such a solitary activity and sometimes it makes me a little crazy. Like I forget how to be social. So I think I need this. How about you? Does your work/hobby draw you away from the world? How do you deal?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The problem with role models

I have to preface this by saying that, although Serena's actions at the US Open were dreadfully unsportsmanlike, the racist comments and general dumb-assery I've read on teh intrawebz following that outburst were -- hello?--a million times worse. 

But wow, role models: my kids sure can't pick 'em. My tennis-loving daughter adores Serena Williams. She relishes the fact that the younger sister is just a bit more athletic than older sis Venus and is also into fashion and being fancy. She plays with a Williams sisters racquet and reads every newspaper article about her she can find. We watched much of the US Open together, and every day she would ask, "Is Serena still in?" So I was relieved that she lay asleep in her bed when Serena went nuts on that line judge. My daughter read the entire article the next day, and, well, we had a teachable moment and all, but I could tell that she was a crestfallen about her hero. (She still admires Serena, for the record.)

And this was my older daughter's hero from the 2008 Olympics:

Bong boy himself. That was a fun conversation. More teachable moments than I care for, frankly. 

Now, I know neither infraction is THAT big of a deal. Athletes lose their temper (football, anyone?), young people screw up. People make mistakes. Everyone's lives will go on, and I don't think my little darlings will be too terribly scarred. 

Oh well. At least they don't idolize Kanye. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

How (Not) to Attend a Fashion Event When You Are Maybe Not So Fashionable

Last night was Fashion's Night Out in New York, an event where 700 retailers kept their doors open until 11 pm. Many threw cocktail parties to prod people into drinking and buying, since the economy still, frankly, sucks. 

So anyway, Akris was kind enough to host a party and fashion show to benefit Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, and I thusly finagled an invitation. Believe me, there is no way I'd be invited otherwise. I'm just not a fashionista, by any stretch. (She said as she sits in her pajama bottoms and stretched out t-shirt.)

The moment the invitation arrived in the mail, my thoughts went from Fun! Something different! to Oh hell, what do I wear? (For the record, a fairly safe knee-length black dress and long dangly necklace. I know. Boring.) 

Here are some more helpful tips I picked up along the way. Use them at your own risk:

A. Fashion people are thin, and you've eaten too much pie over the summer, so it's time to starve yourself--Well, okay, I didn't actually do this, but I did eat a light lunch and skip dinner in the name of minimizing stomach poochage. This turned out not to be such a great idea (See D.)

B. Carve a big chunk out of your leg with your razor in the shower--Because aside from the searing pain, drips of dried blood poking out from your dress is beyond chic. But hey, no unsightly stubble. 

C. Arrive with your gorgeous and fashionable friend--The upside of this is that she gives you an air of legitimacy. The downside is that you are now the plain one.

D. Drink champagne on an empty stomach--Especially if you can't hold your liquor, like me. Oh yes, and make sure you slur a little when you are meeting new people. That's a great impression to make, along with your shredded legs and summer pie pounds.

E. Take lots of pictures like a rube who has never been to a fashion show before--Okay, so I did this furtively. I don't think anyone noticed. Or at least they were polite enough to pretend they saw nothing. But still. Whipping out a camera for blog pictures doesn't exactly scream hip and blase. And if you are going to go ahead and do that, make sure you...

F. Lose your cable that connects the camera to your laptop--So that the picture-taking is moot. Sorry, blog friends. I can't find it anywhere!

I did end up having fun, and the clothing was amazing. 

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Resolutions

Ah, September. My favorite month of the year. It always feels like the beginning of the calendar and the best time for resolutions, more so than January 1. New Year's resolutions have never worked for me. So why not try it this way? While I'd love to resolve to lose those last five pounds, become more organized, or learn to make baklava, I think I'll stick with something fairly simple: to maintain a regular blogging schedule. 

Up to now, I've been sort of a seat-of-my-pants, blog-when-I-feel-like-it kind of girl. The problem with that is that I can go for a loooong stretch between feeling like blogging. Stuff gets in the way. I can't update every day (trust me, you do not want to hear that level of minutiae.) So I'm going to shoot for twice per week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

It's still Tuesday! This one counts!

See you Friday.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

I hope everyone's enjoying their Labor Day weekend. It's gorgeous here on the East End, so I'm heading outside while it's still possible. It's been a big summer for hanging out outdoors--my dermatologist is going to kill me.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mom, Killer of All Dreams

I've always considered myself a supportive mom. Wherever my children find joy, I'll support their choices, no matter what. Like when my little one declared she wanted to grow up to be a dogwalker, I said "Great! Let's practice," and handed her our dog's leash. She gave up on that dream when she found out that picking up poo was involved. Sorry, kid. I don't enjoy it either.

Up to now, this strategy has been conflict-free. My eldest loves fencing and wants to be a scientist (for now, of course. I realize this may change.) Okay. So we schlep to fencing lessons, sign up for classes at the Natural History Museum, and escort her out to marine bio camp. Great. Knock yourself out.

My little one likes tennis and wants to be famous. Tennis is easy enough. Kind of a pain in the ass in Manhattan, but doable. Famous? Oh sure, how cute, right? No. She wants to be famous RIGHT NOW. She's caught on to the fact that kids can be models and actors. A child we know has a small part this summer in her second movie, this time alongside a very dreamy movie star. So little one wants me to send some photos off to a talent agency and set her on the road to stardom. 

I explained that it was a tough business. IF she even got started, she'd be trying out for jobs just based on looks and often she wouldn't get them. I know (well!) how much rejection sucks. I'm a grown woman and sometimes I die a little after reading "...not for us. Good luck." I can't imagine being a child and someone telling me I wasn't pretty enough, or tall enough, or thin enough. The feminist in me is screaming--positively bursting to get out!--but I toned her down. 

At least with writing, I can pretend that my manuscript was good, it just wasn't right for their list. No one's implying that I'm ugly, or too chubby, or have stumpy legs, or whatever. And even if everyone hated my writing, I could always put an effort into improving. Not so with modeling.

I'm not maligning other people's choices for their children. Not every child in that business leads the life of Toddlers & Tiaras. I do think most stage moms probably have what's best for their child in mind. But, just...I can't. Not yet.

So I said no. When she's older, fine. And I'm happy to sign her up for drama lessons or whatever she likes. If she still wants to act when she's grown, I'll be sitting in the front row.

I did the right thing. Right? Yes? I hope so. Or am I foisting my issues on my kid? 

What would you do?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bring it, Bill.

You know those idiots you see on the news, checking out the dangerous waves just before a hurricane comes? Yeah, that's me. Hurricane Bill is (way) offshore today and he's kicking up some huge swells. 

We went out to Flying Point this morning and there was NO beach left. The wooden steps to the sand went directly down into churning water--plus one of the lifeguard stands was in danger of floating away. 

So what do we do? Drive to the Montauk Point lighthouse to check out some EVEN BIGGER and MORE DANGEROUS waves. Of course, also like an idiot, I didn't bring my camera. The photo above is captured from another site. It was sunny today, so just picture some crashing waves.

There must have been, I don't know, a hundred surfers out there in the 12 ft waves and they were amazing to see. Although being a mommy has ruined me for watching risky activities. I was stressed the entire time "Watch it! Oh! He's going to run into that guy! Be careful! Hey, be safe out there!" ("OMG, mom, shhh!") And no, I wasn't about to let my daughter out there with her board. These were grown men and women. We watched from the cliffs. 


Friday, August 14, 2009

While I'm out...

...enjoy some vintage ads with stereotypical women.
Always fun!
For the love of God, watch out! A woman is at the wheel!

I think I know where I'd tell this guy to stick his coffee.

This commercial makes me want to kill myself. I don't think Jello is going to solve her problems. She needs something a little stronger.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mad Storytellin' Skillz

I hear a lot of debate among the writerly inclined about the literary merit of certain popular authors. Just head over to Absolute Write and post about how much you love Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer if you want to see some serious ire. 

Now, I'm not defending either author. Conspiracy theories don't do it for me, and neither does hot vampire loving (I don't mean to offend, dear fans of Lestat, Edward, and Bill. Whatever gets you going is fine by me.) But I have read at least a bit of both TDC, and while I doubt they will win any prestigious awards for prose, the authors have one thing in common: they can tell a hell of an interesting story. 

Nor am I some kind of lowest common denominator-loving philistine. I love exquisite prose. I love when I read an insightful passage that makes me read it three times over, just to experience it again. I love when writing makes me go "Oooooo!" and I look at something in a different way. 

But I also love a good page-turner. Or a book that keeps me up giggling late at night. It's doubtful Comparative Lit majors are going to study the intricacies of Bridget Jones' Diary for generations to come, but I'm happy I experienced her charm--how could you NOT love Bridget and her granny panties? (Well, some might not. That book, like any, can be filed under Not My Thing.) 

All the anger just makes me shake my head. I read an article recently about how some foodie bloggers hated Julie & Julia because it wasn't true to food and pure or somesuch. Let me tell you how much that will come into my enjoyment of the movie: not one little bit. I similarly doubt that most readers care that Meyers used too many adjectives, or used SHOW over TELL too much, or whatever. She's got herself some mad storytelling skillz. I'd like some of that!

Anyway, that's just my opinion. What's yours?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Women's Fiction winners

I've recently read a couple of amazing books I thought I'd share:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This book took some serious balls (and talent) to pull off. A white woman writing in 1st person from the POV of two different Southern black maids in 1963? I doubt I'd have the guts to attempt it. There is such potential for things to go so, so wrong. Luckily for us, the author is not only brave enough, but skilled as all hell, because I can't remember feeling such adoration for a character in a long time. The way she captured each of the three voices (2 maids and a well-to-do white woman who takes an interest in their stories) was just...well, I'm not one to gush, but they felt so real. The novel the theme of racism head-on without ever once falling into the same old tropes. 

Real Life and Liars by Kristina Riggle
Okay, so here's another book with several different POVs interweaving into one cohesive story. The Zielinski family has some problems understanding one another, which is all too apparent when they get together. I loved pot-smoking hippie matriarch Mira right away--her attitude just appealed to me. So much so that at times I forgot she was dying of cancer. Each of her three children have their own issues, but I rooted for all of them to get it together. They felt, at all times, like a real family. Aside from the characters, her prose is lovely and full of little insights. It drew me in right away. 

Both of these books are well worth your time. And you know I'd never steer you wrong.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Links aplenty

Since I have nothing interesting to say today, I thought I'd let you know about some of my favorite new-to-me blogs:

The Worst Review Ever--This one is Oh My God funny. Authors (or any other kind of artist) submit the worst review they ever received, professional or otherwise, then answer questions about how they felt after reading it. Hilarity ensues. 

The Intern--A clever (and entertaining!) intern helps us press our noses against the glass of a NYC publishing house for a peek inside. 

Pimp My Novel--What happens after you get your book deal? I wish I could tell you personally, but for now, you will have to visit this blog. It's stuffed full of info writers need to know, so read it!

Edittorent--Two editors give writing tips and industry news. 


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Let's do the time warp again!

Many of you already know that I spend a lot of time with my parents in the summer months. As in, we live in the same house. One big (mostly) happy family. It's been great, I have to say, but it's not without its challenges. 

My mom is pretty much a walking stereotype of a nurturing, midwestern mother. Her mission is to take care of things -- people, animals, bugs struggling in the pool -- and she does it well. I enjoy hanging out with my daughters, but all the tasks that accompany it, like cooking and cleaning, are decidedly NOT a perk, in my view. My mom on the other hand...well, if you'd like your laundry done, just swing on by. 

Most of all, my mom loves to feed people. Finding new and exciting dishes are an all-day quest, and her cookbook collection rivals the entire New York Public Library. Just now, she's stepped into a time warp and is on a 1960s retro food kick. It's a little...um, yeah, different.


The main problem with these cocktail sausages (aside from the whole ground up pig lips and entrails business, which I choose to ignore) is that my mother insists on calling them "weiners." What are we having tonight? Little weiners! Mmmm, weiners. Weiners are good. Would you like some more weiners? Yeah, no. That doesn't sound appetizing. If that makes me juvenile, so be it. 

We get things in varying shades of this:

Casserole! Who doesn't love it?

We've also been served up lots and lots of jellied foods. Sweet, savory--makes no difference. Just put it in a mold and refrigerate to make it "fancy." Behold, the wiggle! 

I likely come off as a total ungrateful brat in this post. That is not my intention. I adore my parents. I do. 

But tonight, I'm cooking.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

We made it back alive

Honestly, there was some concern. I don't love flying, to say the least, and this was my first time traveling alone with my lovely children. Of course, I had to pick a 6-hour plane ride, followed by a 2 hour layover, then a quick  30 minute flight, then a rental car pickup. But no fear! It all turned out fine. And no alcohol abuse or sedatives involved! Hooray!

After we got my older daughter off to marine biology camp, I had a whole week to hang out with my 7-year-old. And no one else. At all. Luckily, she's a pretty cool kid and we have similar personalities (except she's more chatty. MUCH more chatty.) This kid was ready for some serious mother-daughter bonding, and she couldn't wait to get rid of her older sister for a few days. 

We did a lot of this:

And this:

And some of this:
Note the shopping bags from our day in Carmel-by-the-Sea. She's still a little peeved that I wouldn't buy her a black, ruffly evening dress (um...no. Why do they even make black evening dresses in kiddie sizes?) but she'll get over it.

Oh yeah, we also did 17-mile drive, the aquarium, whale watching, all that stuff. 

Older daughter came back happy, tired, and smelling weird. (What is that smell? From the bay? I can't get it out of her clothes!)

Whew. Now I need a vacation.

So, how was your week?

Friday, July 3, 2009

I'm AWOL this week

I'm off to take daughter #1 to sleepaway camp in California next week and spend several days hanging out in Monterey with daughter #2. Smaller One is keen to have me all to herself 24/7. "Oh yay, we can be together all day and even sleep in the same bed!" I was kinda hoping to get some writing done, but somehow that's doubtful. Oh well.

I'll miss you! Mwah!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Nice Interview!

Huge congrats to my friend Justin Fox who rocked it on the Daily Show last night! He's a smart guy and all, but the most important part of his interview is that I can claim to know my TV boyfriend Jon Stewart through ONE degree of separation. 

If you are a finance geek, or have a finance geek in your life (like I do), check out his book.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sad Sack

I don't know if it's this crappy New York weather, or being outside of the city or what, but man! I've kind of let myself go in the last few weeks. I'm not typically a fashionista by any stretch, but at least at home I feel compelled to put myself together every day. Out here at the beach? Pffbbtt! I've left that all behind. I need the peer pressure. If you saw me right now, you would be appalled. Trust me. 

I always have such high hopes for summer as I walk by little boutiques. Flirty little dresses and chic sandals--they beckon. Or perhaps something like this:
That's me and my fashionable pretend friends, just out for a day of shopping, some lattes, and maybe a pedicure.

But after a few weeks of writing solo and the schleppery that is my life, I usually end up more along the lines of this:
Okay, well maybe not THAT bad, but it captures how I felt showing up for tennis camp pickup in my dirty running shorts just to meet my daughter's adorable Brazilian coach. And all his Brazilian friends. Oh yeah, hi. I'm frumpy. Nice to meet you. 

I mean, I'm not going to dress up next time for them or anything. That's a little too Mrs. Robinson. But jeez. I need some maintenance work.

That's it. I'm calling for a haircut tomorrow. 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

I've been kicking around a bunch of new concepts for a novel recently (eight, in fact) and my mind couldn't settle on just one. All eight seed ideas had to do with family drama and controversy, something I've been led to believe I write well. I'm not sure exactly what that says about me, but I'm running with it anyway.

I typically start with a character with whom I would like to spend a great deal of time. He or she can be complicated and flawed, but must posses something interesting. Problem was, all my MC ladies were in a huge catfight for my brainspace. The aging ex-Playboy bunny knocked the over-stressed ad exec and the rest of them on their asses for a while, but now she's taken a back seat. Maybe she'll have her day, but for now she's filed under "Brainstorming.doc."

My agent gave me some sage advice, and with her help, I think I've picked a winner. The plot's pretty much down, so now for my favorite part--fleshing the MC out. Love this. It's like getting to know a cool new roommate, but you have a say in who she is and won't get stuck with a clunker. I'm fanatical about getting to know my characters before I write anything. She has her own dossier and I'm forming her style. After she simmers for a few more days, I'll get going. Can't wait.

How do you get started on something new?

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I don't know about you, but I can't stop watching the news of the Iranian election fallout. Just amazing. Jezebel posted an interesting piece on the role of women in the protests, old and young, rich and poor. They also have the "Neda" footage, which is terribly graphic and sad, but you don't have to click the video to read the article if you can't stomach it. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Animal Drama

So the snails haven't been at it again, at least as far as I can tell. I can't blame them for their celibacy after being pried apart with a giant spoon and all. Kinda kills the mood. 

But we do have something new to fret about just outside the back door--a wren has some baby birds in a birdhouse. Not a problem, except for the fact that the birdhouse is old and rickety and just about to fall completely apart and plunge to the ground. Certain death. It's hanging by ONE NAIL. The roof pulls open a little more every day and now we can see all the babies inside. Oh no!

Compounding this problem is the fact we have four, count 'em, FOUR cats here at Casa Cebula, who are wise to all this and sit patiently waiting, mouths open, for breakfast to fall from the sky. 

Now, most Darwinists might say to leave them be, but no, not us. This has become a family project. SAVE THE BIRDS. I built a net contraption out of pieces of  old trellis and torn-up soccer goals and hung is just below the branch. It's very pretty. But at least it will break their fall. Then my dad hooked twine around the bottom of the house and tied it off on an opposite limb. Whew. It looked like the babies were safe. Success!

Until today when it started pouring. THEY'RE GETTING WET! POOR THINGS! MOMMY! 
So there I was, climbing a tree in a rainstorm, so that I could hook an umbrella to the branch above. I froze and nearly killed myself, but those freaking birds are dry. 

These are the kinds of things I worry about. I just came in from checking on the birds for the 40th time today.

This might be a sign from the gods to go out and get a real job.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Congrats to Jamie!

Friend of the blog Jamie Mason has found a (truly amazing) agent! She's keeping the details at the moment on the down low, on the Q T, say no more say no more. But hop on over and congratulate her! She's a fantastic writer and has a great blog.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Snail Drama

So yeah, remember how I said it was impossible to get anything done with my kids around? Here's a little example of that:

This morning I was upstairs on the computer when I heard shrieking and sobbing from the floor below. Oh no! I rushed down to find my younger daughter, Charlotte, hovered over her pet snails. (Yes, snails. And they are big and gross.)

"THEY ARE EATING EACH OTHER!" she was yelling, and sure enough, one of the snails seemed to be consuming the other in its shell. Foam dripped out the side. Worse yet, the victim was alive! Gah! Snail homicide!

So I grabbed the pair and tried to pull them apart. The aggressor held tight, jerk that she was. She wasn't giving up easily. So I ran them both under the faucet. Still she clung. That bitch. At this time, my mom ran in. ""Knock on the shell! Make her stop!' Clack clack clack I went. 

By now my daughter was red-faced and drenched with tears. "SAVE HONEY! SAVE HONEY!" (Honey was the victim, Daisy the perpetrator.) I was getting those damn snails apart no matter what it took. I put them on the table and began prying one snail from the other with a spoon, hoping to save that poor nearly-eaten smaller one. 

Finally, Daisy retreated, but it looked like the carnage was done. Thank God, after a few seconds, Honey began to move. Hooray! I'd saved her! I'd saved the day!

"Um, mom?" my nine-year-old said from the top of the stairs, "Maybe they were just mating."



Probably so.