Saturday, December 29, 2007

So long to 2007

I've already shared my 2007 Christmas letter summing up the year with most people who would be interested. So for this blog, just a short and non-comprehensive list of a few interesting bits and changes from my 2007:

Favorite discoveries: Spaced; cooking reality shows (Top Chef, The Next Food Network Star, The Next Iron Chef, etc.); Flip Happy Crepes; Scrabulous (online Scrabble)

Favorite new person met: My baby

Scariest experiences: Pre-eclampsia; turning 40; being stranded on a busy highway overpass at night in a small car with 3 kids; interviewing people by phone for the articles I was writing

Saddest experience: Losing our pet bunny after 10 years

Most unexpected experiences: Natural childbirth; writing a magazine column; eating mushrooms on purpose; connecting with so many old friends online

Weirdest experiences: Very quick childbirth; my husband having to travel with almost no notice; seeing my brother acting in a movie

Biggest blessings: My adorable, sweet baby; the generosity of others

Most impressive accomplishment (to my kids): Beating everyone else in the family in Big Brain Academy on the Wii

Things I missed most this year: Sleep; free time; silence

Out with the old: Good-bye to my defunct laptop computer, computer mice, car engine, radiator, alternator, and water-damaged kitchen floor (the last of which was removed yesterday and is being replaced Monday!)

Most ridiculous joys: My hilarious dancing baby; winning the Mountain Dew mini-fridge I entered 90+ times for, months after I thought they'd stopped sending out prizes

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Voice void

In college, when I took the one acting class UT allowed non-drama majors to take, I had to play Blanche in a duet from A Streetcar Named Desire. I kept practicing and it kept not working for me. For some reason, though, even though it's very southern and Blanche is very southern, having never seen the show before, it didn't occur to me to give her a southern accent. Finally, shortly before we were due to perform it for the teacher, it dawned on me to try a southern accent, and everything fell into place with a satisfying click. The teacher raved about our performance and gave us an A, so I knew I'd found what I needed.

Normally, my writing projects start with a voice, and that's what drives them. I mean literally, they often start with a character talking in my head, telling me what's going on in his or her life, and I just take dictation. I don't necessarily know where the ideas come from, they just appear.

My current NaNoWriMo novel, on the other hand, started with an idea, years ago, in the back of my mind. I let it gestate some, adding characters and ideas and a few plot developments along the way, but 16,000 words in, it still just seems like a random collection of words with a few fairly solid sections sprinkled in. I still don't think it has the right voice. I do think it has the right protagonist, but I haven't quite found her voice yet, the way I hadn't with Blanche. I am more convinced all the time, though, that this book cries out for unusual formatting--e-mails, lists, poems, lyrics, etc.--maybe to the exclusion of regular prose. Maybe the right format, when I find it, will prove to be the right voice. I'm not sure, I'm just wondering if, at this point, what I really need is more words like the ones I've already written, or if I need to pull a NaNo no-no and start tweaking structure first.

In any case, what I have now is nothing like what I want to have when I am done. And yet I see just enough promise there, under the surface, that I feel an intense need to find the true voice and tell the story.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Can' costumes!

Little scarecrow

In his brother's old giraffe costume

R2D2, to go with his brothers' Obi-Wan and Darth Vader costumes

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Baby steps

No, I don't mean I'm taking baby steps in relation to my writing, I mean real, honest-to-goodness baby steps. My baby took 4 steps in a row earlier, and then 5 steps in a row. I didn't see it, but my husband and 6-year-old reported it. I have seen him take one step before, or more like a half-step, but this was his first sequence of steps. (Not that he'd repeat it for me.) His 9-month checkup is tomorrow (he's 9 months 11 days), and his dr had guessed he'd probably be walking by then, so he probably wanted to oblige her!

(As for my writing, I'm 7318 words into my NaNo novel, but it's a hodgepodge of occasionally incompatible scenes!)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

NaNoWriMo 2007

So I'm doing NaNoWriMo again, for better or for worse, and have just under half of my needed word count for today, even though I haven't written in hours. I expect to have no problem making my quota today. (Though my computer is officially DEAD, and I'm having to claim the family computer, which I normally never touch...and which I can't easily use while holding my baby, eek. I'm writing the novel in a Google document so I can work on it from any computer with Internet access, which will probably include some library computers, etc.).

I updated last year's abandoned NaNo blog here: NaNo Madness 2007. To quote from my latest entry in that blog:
I've never been as open to writing a crappy first draft as I am right now, and it's kind of exciting. I look forward to just playing with words. E.B. White once said, "I dive into a story the way I dive into the sea, prepared to splash about and make merry," and that's how I'm diving into NaNo this year. (Of course, he also said, "Writing is hard work and bad for the health," but I'm going to go with the first quote for now!)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

3 unrelated things on my mind

I have got to get my article finished and turned in ASAP, because I have 3 books waiting for me to read them: Beige by Cecil Castellucci, Schooled by Gordon Korman, and my fresh-off-the-press copy of the book with all the buzz these days, Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. I need to read the last one in the next few days to figure out whether it has, in fact, rendered my own suicide-related novel redundant, before I consider whether to actually write said novel for NaNoWriMo this year (highly unlikely, anyway--I started off last year planning to write that one and changed my mind and changed projects, and then scrapped the whole endeavor). I really doubt there would be many similarities at all between Jay Asher's book and the one I have in mind, other than the main character feeling partially to blame for the suicide, but I have a feeling his will far surpass what I was thinking of, in any case! (Oh, and I'm not just reading it for my own selfish reasons... I would have wanted to read it anyway.)

In other news, I got my first writing check of the year today--hooray!--for an article about artificial Christmas trees, of all things. (Obviously an assigned article, not something I would have thought of.) I theoretically have another check coming from a sale to another publication, but I'm not sure when to expect that one.

And my baby turned 9 months old today (already?!), and took his first accidental steps yesterday... I'm not sure he's taken any purposeful ones yet, though. He can dance while not holding onto anything, though! Real steps should be any day now. He has always been in a hurry. We thought he said "Dada" meaningfully today (that is, "Dada" meaning "Daddy," not "Dada" meaning a cultural movement embracing meaninglessness...), but later he seemed to say it referring to me as well as to his father, so we're not sure. Maybe he thinks it means "parent" or "strange large person who keeps trying to stop me from eating anything fun like paper, cameras, or cell phones."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Paragraph contest

Have you seen this?

It amazes me how many first paragraphs there already are that, despite not being poorly written, don't interest me in reading any further... But it probably does hurt to see them all there in a row. They all start sounding the same to me after a while, like they're trying too hard (or not hard enough!), in a way that they might now if I saw them in isolation.

I doubt I'll dare to enter, but it's fun to read.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Crepe Happy

Recently on the show Throwdown with Bobby Flay, we saw a segment in which chef Bobby Flay was bested at crepe-making by Flip Happy Crepes here in Austin, a funky, trailer-based restaurant that apparently happens to make some of the best crepes in the country. My husband had a meeting downtown yesterday, so I went along with the baby so we could could check out the crepes when he was done. I had read an online review saying the savory crepes were so big, the reviewer and her companion shared one and still didn't have room for dessert. I knew I wanted a dessert crepe, so we decided to split our main course. Bad choice! They weren't really that big, and my husband's choice of crepe (shredded pork with cheddar) was just not what I would have picked (it was good, but tasted more like a burrito to me--I wanted something more French). For dessert, I had the vanilla cream crepe with strawberries and berry sauce... Oh. My. Goodness. That is my idea of a dessert. I love chocolate cake, but 4 times out of 5, I'd pick a fruit tart over anything else for dessert, and this was like a fruit tart with better pastry. I was in heaven. The only problem? After I finished it, I was still hungry. Very hungry. I wanted more crepes! I wished very much I'd tried the roasted chicken crepe or the ham crepe, but they take a long time to prepare and we didn't have time to wait for another. husband has to go downtown again today, and we're thinking of going back for more crepes!

P.S. Updated 5 hours later to say: we went back. I got roasted chicken with goat cheese, caramelized onions, and mushrooms in garlic sauce. This is extremely remarkable because it is the first time I have eaten a mushroom willingly and one of few times I have eaten onions willingly. I normally say "no mushrooms" and "no onions" on my food, or pick them out. But I wanted the whole experience, and man, it was good. Though it was still a lot like a fancy burrito--I actually picked it up and ate it as one, which you couldn't do with the crepe I had at La Madeleine a few months ago. But since burritos are probably my favorite food, that's not a bad thing! I also had another berry crepe. This time it had blueberries mixed in, and I'm not a huge fan of blueberries, but it was still very good.


I haven't been writing, given that the world's most active baby is nearly always with and/or on me, but I've been reading some.

First, I've been reading the short stories in 21 Proms, partly as a quick way to get exposed to the writing of some YA authors I haven't read before, as well as to read new things by writers I already knew. I've been skipping around (randomly, not purposefully) and haven't finished it yet, but so far, my favorites have been the ones by Sarah Mlynowski (written in second person!), E. Lockhart, and John Green. A few others I found very intriguing, including some, like those by Adrienne Maria Vretand and Will Leitch, which read more like adult literary short stories to me than typical YA fiction (especially Leitch's, as it's told from the father's perspective).

Second, I finally read Lauren Barnholdt's book Reality Chick, which I bought ages ago but just came across when organizing my bookshelves. The subject matter isn't weighty (which is fine with me) and the language was a bit in-your-face for me at times, but it kept me reading, and I Iiked the ending. 

Third, yesterday I read E. Lockhart's latest novel, Dramarama, about a summer theatre camp. I don't think I liked it as much as some of her other books, especially The Boyfriend List (I missed the footnotes!), but it seemed like a must-read book since I did theatre thoughout junior high and high school. Even though on the outside, I'm very different from the main character Sadye (she's tall and brash; I'm short and quiet), I identified with her singing problems and her feelings of not quite having what it took--while still loving every minute. When her acting teacher lectured her at humiliating length about never being late to rehearsal or otherwise acting unprofessional, I actually read the whole page and a half aloud to my husband, saying, "See, this is what I learned in drama!" because I've mentioned to him a thousand times how, if nothing else, theatre drilled into me to honor my commitments, and it's a lesson a lot of people in this world apparently didn't get growing up. The (initial) ending of the book almost crushed me for a moment, and surprised me. It was more real than I expected! And I so related. The epilogue-type chapter after that, all in dialogue like a few previous sections (a nice touch in a book about plays), didn't seem necessary to me as an adult reader, but I think I would have really wanted that part in there if I was still 16.

I went to the Borders Express store in the mall tonight. Even that tiny bookstore has a large YA section now. I was looking at all the books, and suddenly realized that the kind of small paperback YA novels I always read when I was growing up, the kind I imagined my own name on someday, have been replaced almost entirely by large trade paperbacks. There are also so many hardcover YA books for sale these days, when they seemed rather rare in my own teen years. Basically, there are hardcovers, and then there are paperbacks in approximately the same page size as the hardcovers. The paperbacks are very high quaity these days, and I particularly love the ones with the smooth, non-glossy covers, but it still seems weird that it's just not what I ever pictured. I suddenly wasn't sure my books would fit there. I wondered if I should concentrate more on my midgrades, because the midgrade section looked more comfortably familiar somehow. Not that I'd really change my writing for that reason; it just struck me. Though I did note that if I had a book for sale there, I'd be shelved between the A-List books and Sarah Dessen, and that couldn't be bad for getting people's eyes on my books!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Art and "the arts"

Questions at the bottom for those who prefer to skip to the end...

My 6-year-old son appears to have a gift for visual art. He loves art, and seems to have good control over his drawing hand, and an ability to copy what he sees pretty well. When we lived in Sarasota, a city known for art, I wanted to sign him up for an art class that was advertised a lot and looked good, but they had a minimum age of 6, and he was 5. By the time he was 6, we had moved back to Texas.

His school here offers art for 1/3 of the year, and he loves that, but honestly, I could tell the school art classes were not going to challenge him to work to the best of his ability and help him learn the techniques he could really benefit from. So I found an outside art class for elementary students, and signed him up. However...when we went to the orientation I wasn't impressed with much that I saw there, and I wanted to try somewhere else first. We went to tour another local art school I'd heard about, and it looked great. There are "classes" in that several students come at once, but the instructon is completely individualized. The room is great and kind of cool-looking (not a tiny childcare classroom like at the other place, but a studio where real art is happening), the grounds have a great atmosphere with chickens, ducks, turkeys, and peacocks wandering around, and best of all, the art on display looked really good. I saw kids not much older than my son making art that looked like someone much older had done it. So we signed him up for a trial class and he loved it, asking how many days until he could come back the next week. I think he is going to get a lot out of it.

I kind of wonder if I should consider taking art myself. In Sarasota, I had plans to take the same art class I wanted to sign him up for. They had a class that taught you to draw a portrait based on a photograph in 5 classes, and I wanted to do that, but chickened out of ever actually going in on my own! (I also couldn't decide who to draw...silly me.) This one would surely be a longer process. I have never really taken an art class. I always assumed real artists had an innate drive to create art, and that if I wasn't driven to do art above all, then I must not be an artist. I was also always stymied by paintbrushes and color choices. However, I've always enjoyed doodling, did take a cartooning class as a child, and particularly enjoy writing in different handwritings and experimenting with different fonts. I think I have a moderate amount of control over my pen. I have wondered if maybe I should take calligraphy. I've avoided that in the past because it looked like too much of the same all the time (basically Zapf Chancery over & over), but of course some people do some really amazing things with calligraphy. I also signed up for a Layout and Design class once that I didn't complete because they expected the students to come into it with good drawing skills. church has recently started helping sponsor an arts organization. The arts it covers are visual art, theatre, music, and dance. I always wonder why writing is not usually considered an art. So many of my concerns as a writer, especially a creative writer, are the same concerns other artists might have, but I notice that arts organizations often limit themsleves to visual and performing arts. I am trying to decide whether to get involved with this organization anyway. It would be a hardship with my baby and family and only one car. But this week, on a night when I can't figure out how I'd get there, they're having theatre games night. I love theatre games! In a way it seems crazy not to go, since I'd love an outlet like that. In another way, I'd be mortified to go, because I think many of the other participants are working actors in local theatre. I haven't done theatre in many years and am not really good at it. I just like it. It also interferes with my kids' activities that night, and probably with my baby's schedule. But I would have moved heaven & earth for such an opportunity last year, when I was in Florida without knowing anyone and feeling desperate for a creative environment.

I pretty much figured I couldn't go, and shouldn't since my main art is writing, but I just found a diary-type book from high school in which I wrote my future goals. 9th grade: "Things I Want to Do in the Future: Be an actress, write, be a wife and mother." 10th grade: "Things I Want to Do in the Future: Be an actress, wife, mother, writer." 11th grade: "What I Want to Be: Actress, writer, work on TV production...? museum worker?" 12th grade: "What I Want to Be: Actress, writer, something involved with Radio/TV/Film." Now, there were a few other things in there--I also wrote that I wanted to go to UT (which I did), live in Santa Fe (no), skydive (no), and ride in a hot air balloon (no), but note that actress came before writer every year back then. I am a wife, a mother, and theoretically a writer, but acting went bye-bye long ago. I don't know if there's any point in pursuing it now just because I said that in the distant past, but there is still a definite draw there for me.

So the questions I have for my patient readers is:

(1) If I might have any talent at visual art, would I already know it by now? Aren't artists generally driven to create art throughout their lives? Is there any point in taking up visual art as an adult? I don't aim to develop strong enough skills to be an illustrator or anything, it would mainly be for fun, but I'm sort of curious whether I could do it.

(2) Why isn't creative writing usually counted as one of "the arts"? I know it sometimes is, as I have read poetry as part of a church "Arts Fest" before, and it is possible to get an MFA in Creative Writing. But it seems like it's only counted rarely. Is it because visual and performing arts are easier to recognize as art or easier to display? Or because there's a very blurry line between, say, expository writing and journalism, some of which is very artful and some of which is purely practical, and art? I think film also gets left out of "the arts" a lot, and it also has some very blurry lines around the edges, but then some people consider it art, also. In fact, my Radio/TV/Film degree from UT-Austin is a Bachelor of Science degree, but at UT-Arlington, Radio and TV were in Liberal Arts, while Film was in the Fine Arts department!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sweet 16 again

So a couple of weeks after posting about my Sweet 16 birthday, I'm having a Sweet 16 again--only this time it's my 16th wedding anniversary! Can I have a big party with a band and a free car this time...? Actually, I settled for lunch at Old Spaghetti Warehouse with lots of sourdough bread (the real impetus for the restaurant choice) and a baby in tow. But it was still sweet. Happy Anniversary to my sweetie!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

Like most of my other blogging friends, I feel compelled to blog about the loss of Madeleine L'Engle, who died this week in her late 80s. Though unlike most of my other blogging friends, I don't feel I have much eloquent to say.

My 9-year-old son happens to be reading A Wrinkle in Time this week, for the first time. It's strange to think how, when he started the book several days ago, the author was alive, but he'll end it after she's gone.

I read and liked A Wrinkle in Time as a child, and I suspect my budding scientist son will like it, too. But my favorite book of hers--actually the book I usually consider my favorite book ever--was and is A Ring of Endless Light. Which in fact deals with death, and grief. Also with dolphins. Dolphins have been my favorite animal ever since I read that book at age 13. For some reason, I never read the whole series of books about the Austins... I think I may have read one other, but it was almost like that one book was so perfect to me, I felt like reading another would somehow take away from it. Irrational, I'm sure, but I was 13 and in love with a book.

I wrote a long letter to Madeleine L'Engle when I was 13. It was maybe 2 or 3 pages, which I suspect blathered on about how much I liked the book and the dolphins and how much it meant to me. But I also remember it was about my wanting to be a writer. Specifically a young adult writer. I think I asked for advice about my own writing. Sadly, stupidly, I lost the letter before I sent it. By the time I gave it up for lost, I felt I could never recreate it. So I never wrote to her. Years later, my father, who worked in Christian publishing for a while, actually knew her in person slightly from some conferences they attended together. I wondered if I should send her another letter then, but felt again like I'd lost my chance, or like I could never remember what I wanted to say, or at least not with the passion of a 13-year-old with a book fresh in her mind. I considered writing about how she'd inspired me as a child, and about how I still wanted to write, and my curiosity on how to juggle faith and fiction. But I didn't. And so now, it's like the last bell sounding to let me know I waited too long. I'm sad, realizing she might have written back, and I might have had a letter from her now. (I do have one somewhere from Judy Blume.) Maybe it would have even helped me to get started sooner on this writing thing!

But for Madeleine L'Engle herself, I'm not feeling particularly sad, given her age and her well-lived life, and all she left the world while she was here. I know she's in a better place, enjoying that endless light. And for the rest of us, I'm happy for the things she left behind for us and future children to spur our thoughts, inspire us, and expand our minds.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

My Smurfy Sweet 16

I have only seen a few moments here and there of MTV's show My Super Sweet 16, but the ostentatious sixteenth birthday party phenomenon has been creeping into my view, anyway, because of things like incredibly fancy cakes I've seen made for Sweet 16 parties on Ace of Cakes and on some sort of cake decorating championship show in which 5 cake decorators had to face off to win the chance to make some girl's giant Sweet 16 cake, and because of Sweet 16 party decorations I've seen in party supply catalogs that looked more appropriate for a prom, class reunion, or awards show!

So my mind went back to my own "Sweet 16"... Yes, I did have a 16th birthday party, thrown by my mother for me and my friends. Let's see, it involved a cake, some decorations, and a couple of picnic tables in a hot park. The budget might have hit...oh, $50. Actually, probably a little less in 1980s dollars and more in today's. And while the girl on the cake bake-off show said that the purse-themed cake (I believe) was a little too young for her, I actually went with the avant-garde theme of...Smurfs. No, I didn't "really" like Smurfs, like a 4-year-old might. I think I was 11 before I ever heard of a Smurf, though my 8-years-younger brother was smitten with them as a preschooler, so I'd seen my share of them since. I was trying to be humorously ironic. Not sure if it worked, but I think we had fun. We didn't have terribly high expectations. I think my main expectation was cake!

Me with my Smurfette centerpiece--I somehow missed the whole ballgown & tiara type thing and showed up in jeans & a t-shirt:

Excuse the photo quality, I had to go with the grainy, dark 80s-era instamatic or Disc camera, rather than hiring a wedding photographer to do the honors.

What I did not skimp on was the cake. While elaborate fondant decor was unheard of in 1983 and I lacked a four or five-tier cake, this was a Red Oven red velvet cake, which I am certain to this day tasted better than nearly any cake seen on those television shows. (From my experience tasting wedding cakes at bridal shows before our wedding, the fancy places seem to emphasize looks a lot more than taste!)

Sadly, the cake that wasn't served up right away was ultimately destroyed, ending up all over at least one of the guests... I also seem to recall the remaining ice and water in the ice chest being dumped on people's heads. The guests seemed to have fun, anyway.

And check out the elaborate touches--paper tablecloths! Balloons & streamers! Smurf plates & cups! A birthday sign! (Or is that Pin the Tail on the Donkey? Knowing me, it might be. I actually played Pin the Tail on the Donkey at my 40th birthday party with my family this year!)


And while I didn't hire any popular rock bands to play at the party, we did have entertainment:

Who doesn't like piñatas, after all?

Oddly, I think I appreciated this Sweet 16 party more than the majority of those girls on TV seem to appreciate their $50K or $100K bashes. (I didn't throw a single tantrum over getting a Lexus at the wrong time, like the girl I saw a clip of on The Soup. I'm not sure, but I think my gifts were more like...stationery and cassette tapes.) Better yet, my 16th birthday was not the best party I was to have until my wedding. I actually upped the ante with two parties for my 17th birthday--another silly park party with a Hawaiian theme, and a night out with some other friends at a clubby-type restaurant. Not sure I did one for 18, but I had a big party for 20. No Smurfs in sight that time...but I'm sure it was not a bit more elegant!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Like mother, like son

Tomorrow is the 1st day of school here, and my 3rd grade son was told to bring 2 favorite books to class on the first day, to be left at school for free reading time for a week or two. I assumed that since he mostly just wanted to read Star Wars books this summer, that's the sort of thing he'd want to take. Instead, he was insistent that the two books he wanted to take (no substitutes accepted, so we had to spend some time hunting them down) were Reality Leak by Joni Sensel and The City of Ember by Jeanne duPrau. Both of which he read this summer, and both of which I had bought for myself! Yes...! I assume the assignment is partly so the teacher can get an idea of the kids' reading levels and interests, and though I didn't tell him what to take, I am secretly happy he's taking two middle grade novels that I think show really good taste! ;-) (Actually, they're a result of the great company his mom keeps, since I bought both of those books because I was in online groups with the authors.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


August is here! My birthday month and my oldest son's birthday month! Hooray. As old as I get, I still get a little excited when my birthday rolls around.

Question for writers: do you ever write characters who have your quirks? And if so, is it weird after you've written it, and do you ever regret it? I mean, in some ways all our characters have to reflect parts of us, but I'm talking about writing a character with your quirks magnified and made very prominent, so they become a fairly big part of the story.

I was thinking last week I might give some character's mom some of my own faults, but then I thought it might also be fun to give one some of my nuttier, sillier tendencies. I assumed this would be in a midgrade or YA, since those are what I usually write, but I just got a hint of an idea for a picture book based on that. But do I really want to make fun of myself in a picture book?! That my kids would have and pass down to their kids?! Hmm! Though that reminds me, I already have a finished PB manuscript I meant to submit several months ago & never managed to do. D'oh! I'll have to do that this month...maybe even this week!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

About moi

Not sure if these are the truest representations of me, but none of them is untrue.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Five things on Friday

  1. I'm tempted to go to one of the Harry Potter midnight release parties even though I'm not buying the book at this time (still haven't finished books 4, 5, & 6!), just because it's such a cultural phenomenon and the whole release party thing will be over after tonight. But I'm not really going since the rest of the family wasn't interested.

  2. My 5-month-old baby is crawling! More like a combination crawl-wriggle-frog flop, but wow, can he get around. We're not prepared for his mobility!

  3. There's nothing to make a nearly-40-year-old feel old like joining Facebook. I'm the only person from my high school class, and out of 63,000+ people from my university, only 29 are from my graduation year. Still, it's worth it if only for the application that allows me to send my husband whatever song happens to pop into my head.

  4. I'm no cook...I can even mess up Hamburger Helper. But lately I've been obsessively watching Top Chef and The Next Food Network Star, and today we checked out a few books on cooking from the library. I think I have at the least decided to be a less picky eater--to experiment with flavors and textures I would usually avoid.

  5. After we toured a cave last week, which intrigued my nearly-9-year-old son, it occurred to me to suggest that he read Jeanne duPrau's novel The City of Ember, which takes place in a world of near-darkness. He finished it today, after 3 days of reading, and loved it! I was so excited about this because I think it's the first book I bought mainly for myself to read (3 years ago) and enjoyed reading myself, that I was able to share with him. It's so neat to share books with my child! Next I have to read Joni Sensel's Reality Leak, which I also bought for myself recently, but which he got to first and also loved! He's eagerly waiting for me to read it and discuss it with him. He won't agree to read much lately that isn't a Star Wars finding these points of common interest has been heartening.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

As of today...

As of today, we have been without a second vehicle for one full year. But on the bright side, I didn't have yet another July 3 wreck today, despite my approximately 1 in 20 chance of having one (based on the fact that I had 2 of them in 39 years).

Also, it is now exactly 1 month until I turn 40. My original plan, a couple of years ago, was to celebrate by going to the national SCBWI writing conference, which starts that day, but I didn't expect to have a nursing baby on my 40th birthday! Or my current financial limitations, for that matter. So that's right out, as is any kind of fancy trip like a cruise, and now I don't know what to do instead. I had big parties for myself on my 20th birthday and my 30th birthday, but I don't think I know enough people to invite to one now, nor can I afford to throw much of one. Cake, of course, is non-negotiable, but other than that, I'll have to think of something quickly!

And tomorrow it threatens to rain all day on the 4th of July. It's rained a lot on the 4th in recent years, both here and in Florida where we were last year, but we've never actually had it rain out all the festivities and fireworks. This year, the festival we normally go to has already been cancelled due to flooding in the park, and they say the rain chances are 90% for tomorrow, so there may be no fireworks, either! We'll wait and see. Meanwhile, I stocked up on 4th of July type foods (hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, watermelon, and red, white, & blue popsicles and cupcakes) so we can at least celebrate at home. Happy 4th of July to everyone! (Even nonAmericans--it may only be Independence Day here, but it's still the 4th of July nearly everywhere!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Look at this baby read!

My baby is growing up too fast! Here he is sitting up reading a book!

This was on his 5-month birthday, 2 days ago. You may note that the book is open to a page that says, "Baby's sitting. Wobble, wobble." At the time I snapped it, he was very wobbly, but 2 days later he can already sit without immediately falling over! (When put in that position.) Also, when he does fall, he can either catch himself on his own arms or flip into a tummy position before he finishes falling all the way. Strong kid!

I swear he will be crawling any moment. He can already roll all around, move in circles, and scoot backwards. But he also gets up on all 4's and rocks violently--almost hops like a bunny when he's doing it! In comparison, I think my second son crawled at 7.5 months and my first crawled at 8.5 months. Oh yeah, he's also really happy again and sleeping through the night again. I guess he was frustrated about not being mobile enough, but now he is too mobile!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Monday miscellany

  1. I think fried eggs are inherently funny. I'm not sure why, but toy fried eggs and pictures of fried eggs usually make me smile. Forks also strike me as slightly funny, though not as funny as fried eggs. (And of course sporks are funny, but that's more obvious.)

  2. On Saturday Cartoon Network had a phone-in contest to win a $30 Transformers toy, and my 6-year-old was one of only 100 kids nationwide to win one. The same day, my husband won a $20 "Wii Points" card from the Wendy's contest where they give contest codes on their drink cups. (I think it's good for buying old-style games for the Wii, so when we get a Wii, and someday we will...we can use it.) Not to miss out on the good luck, my brother got offered a full-time job (a Hollywood job!) that day, after being out of steady work for quite a while.

  3. If your restaurant chain sells a drink called a Frosty and for more than 25 years, the only flavor it came in was chocolate, then chocolate should still be the default flavor when someone orders a Frosty from you, even if you've recently started selling vanilla ones, too. Just saying...

  4. Also, if a vending machine is sold out of the drink you want, it should give you back your money instead of making you buy a drink you don't want. Especially if nearly all the other drinks in the machine are also sold out, so you have to get a diet soda, which you don't drink (I wrote down the code from the bottle cap and threw the drink away).

  5. Today we took the older kids to Vacation Bible School at the church where they both started preschool, nearly 7 years ago in the case of my oldest. What a blast from the past! I ran into 3 different people I'd known (from elsewhere!) years ago, and also saw the teachers who taught my son's 2-year-old class, now that he's almost 9. After dropping them off, we had some great breakfast burritos...and speaking of blasts from the past, and soda, I also had an RC Cola in a glass bottle!

  6. 12-packs of Dr Pepper (my lifeblood) no longer exist. After 3 stores including Walmart didn't have them, I mentioned it to the convenience store clerk, who told me they were all taken away, & were going to be replaced with 8-packs. Coke will apparently be doing the same. (I'm sure we'll soon be paying as much for them as for 12-packs...and I'll need 3 hands to carry 24 cans.)

  7. My sweet, rarely-crying baby has been replaced with a wildly restless, active, and frustrated one who will probably not calm down or stop moving and kicking until he finally learns to crawl, walk, or run! He's only 4 months old now, so I don't know whether to hope this happens soon or not...but he longs to be on the move.

  8. I heard the song "Hey There, Delilah" by the Plain White T's on the radio yesterday and thought it was sweet and catchy--the kind of song anyone would want written for them, so I bought it from iTunes today without even hearing it again first.

  9. The above made me think that even though Elvis Costello's "Alison" is not the greatest song to have as your namesake song, I have had a song and several poems written for me in real life, and I'm happy about that. (Also, considering that I'm a writer and have written quite a few poems over the years, it's surprising how few poems I've written for other people, though there have been some.)

  10. I think it would be really cool to have a '57 Chevy, a '63 Corvette convertible, or a '65 Mustang convertible. But my other dream car is a minivan! I loved my bright blue van and I really miss it. I also miss having a car with a power moonroof (which I had in my '84 Oldsmobile, once upon a time).

  11. This morning I was annoyed with people for complaining about their (nice) vehicles when I'd be happy just to have 2 vehicles--or even 1 big enough or reliable enough vehicle--for our family of 5. Then I realized I'm not grateful enough for all the things I do have that other people may lack--children, a husband, a house, my eyesight and hearing, mobility, an education, a safe neighborhood, a computer, food, air conditioning, etc., etc. Now I'm feeling very appreciative for all that I do have, and I hope I can keep that perspective in mind!

  12. In a Real Simple magazine section on favorite summer memories, a couple of people mentioned lazy drives, and rides in convertibles. I remember lots of lazy drives with my parents, often with stops for snow cones. I also remember one summer night in my teens, when I went for a ride late at night in my friend John's huge old yellow convertible (one of those 70s boat-sized cars) with him and another friend. We drove out towards nowhere with the top down, with no destination and no place else to be. I'm not sure that the guys were having much fun, but I felt free, like I was flying, without a care in the world. It's just a snapshot in my mind now, but it's still one of my favorite memories.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Yak & tats

There was a yak in my mailbox! Well, actually, a copy of K. Pluta's new picture book, There's a Yak in My Bed, which I won in an online giveaway from her! Yay! We found it when we checked the mail on the way out of the house a couple of days ago, and my 6-year-old immediately read it out loud to all of us on our drive. Then the 8-year-old wanted to read it to himself, even though he'd already heard the story! I'm guessing he wanted to see the pictures, by Austin's own Christy Stallop, better. Obviously, the book went over well here. It's cute and fun, and given that Blooming Tree is a small press that doesn't normally do picture books, I was impressed with the quality of the physical book as well. So congrats again, K. Pluta, & thanks again for the book!

Meanwhile, last night I started reading Jennifer Lynn Barnes' book Tattoo. My husband was out of town, I had finally gotten the baby to sleep around 9:30 (no small feat!), and I let the other boys stay up to have a movie-watching party (they watched Sky High, one of my favorites, and then a new Pokemon episode) and a "sleepover." They finally fell asleep around 11 pm, in sleeping bags on the living room floor. I wasn't sleepy myself yet, so I decided to read. Well, let me tell you that Tattoo may not be the book to read when you're alone in your room late at night! Heh. I got about halfway through, finally going to sleep at 1 am when the sense of impending doom was really starting to creep me out. Let's just say that Jen did a good job of creating suspense and dread. :-)

I woke up this morning with a baby in my bed (he joined me when he woke in the night), but no evil beings and no yaks, so I'd have to say it's so far so good today.

Monday, June 11, 2007

18 years ago today

18 years ago today I met my husband at a Jason's Deli (with mutual friends). Here's the oldest pic of us I have on my computer, from about 4 months after that:

Of course we'll go to Jason's Deli today, as we always do on June 11. And we won't have to drive 65 miles to get there this year, like we did last year living in Florida!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Books & bananas!

OK, this is really strange... in the "8 things about me" meme I just posted two days ago, I admitted, with some embarrassment, that I still like to eat banana baby food. Today, I checked out Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes from the library and read the whole thing. In it, the main character, Martha, and her grandmother tell each other something about themselves every day. And on one of the days, the grandmother happens to tell Martha two of which is that she ate a jar of Martha's little sister's banana baby food that morning!! I am pretty sure I've never read any other thing in which an adult admitted to eating baby food, and here it was banana baby food at that. Bizarre.

That was the second full midgrade novel I read today. First I read M.T. Anderson's The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, the sequel to Whales on Stilts. Parts of it had me laughing with tears running down my face. Though I'm not sure who it's written for. It looks like a book for 10 or 12-year-olds, but to get most of the humor, it seems to require an ironic stance towards children's series books from the past, not to mention a lot of general knowledge. My older son could easily read all the words, but he'd be completely lost. It seems like its best target audience is...well, adults with weird senses of humor who like to read children's books. But I must say, M.T. Anderson is extremely versatile!

As is Kevin Henkes. I loved Olive's Ocean, which was a Newbery Honor Book. I was amazed again (as with his book Protecting Marie) that he can get so fully into the head of a 12-year-old girl. I think his writing is full of true and perfect moments. I was just lamenting to my husband the other night that the little siblings in fiction books often don't ring true to me, but the 2-year-old in this one did. The adults also seemed particularly real to me, especially the father and grandmother. I think I'll have to buy a copy of this one to keep.

Number 9...number 9...

A 9th "thing about me" I thought of after posting the 8 things meme last night:

Some years ago, I participated in a "Life Vision" workshop at my church where I had to come up with the one word I thought described me best. Just one! I finally decided on analytical. When I later, well, analyzed it a little more (ha ha), I decided my one word should have been imaginative. Though perhaps it should have been indecisive!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The 8 things meme

This one has gone around, and I didn't do it because I already posted 100 things about me. But I suspect there are at least 108 things about me, so here goes:

  1. I once ran for office unopposed--and lost! However, the same year, I was elected to an office I did not run for (ran for one position and was somehow elected for a different one), and got to perform in a play when I wasn't in the cast or even the official understudy. So I guess it all evened out.

  2. I have never gone on a diet. (Not that I shouldn't have; I just haven't!)

  3. I am good at remembering birthdays, if I've known them. (Happy Birthday, David.)

  4. I have never tried sushi.

  5. I've been reading magazines about writing on & off since I was maybe 10 years old. My grandmother often bought Writer's Digest and I used to read hers. I also bought it in college, & have since subscribed to various writing magazines. My head is crammed full of writing knowledge, but somehow it doesn't always translate to actual writing.

  6. I don't wear glasses or contact lenses.

  7. I have liked banana baby food since I was a baby! I rarely actually buy it, but now I have an excuse again... though the banana baby food we gave our baby the other day was awful, sour instead of sweet, so I won't be buying that kind again.

  8. When my 8-year-old recently made a Mother's Day booklet for me, one page was little ovals with things about me, and here's what he said about me: children's book writer, uses computer a lot, is wonderful, is smart, likes me, is nice, likes refried beans, best mom ever. In another part of the book, he says I am "amazing and awesome," and I am not "dull," "dopey," "unsmart," or "other bad things." He also says I'm "one of a kind" and "not bad at all." :-)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

It's that time of year again...

We had our 4th annual Oscar the Grouch's birthday party on Friday, & put pics here. I suggest using the slideshow option for optimal viewing with the captions.

Meanwhile...where did my baby go?!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Prom Dates from Hell

With prom season just winding down, I read Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore this weekend. It's the fun, fast-paced story of a girl who has to track down something Evil and save her classmates from destruction--and possibly worse, go to the prom. One character says that the heroine, Maggie, lives and dies by wisecracks, and indeed, Maggie's narration is so full of witty comments and one-liners, it could be a stand-up comedy routine. It's funny, literate, and suspenseful, with memorable characters and more than one hint at romance. Maggie, who doesn't want to go to prom at all, ends up there with not one but two guys (pseudo-dates), both of whom are thankfully not from Hell. And while prom nights have a reputation of being this one all Hell breaks loose. Well, at least some of it.

This is another one I bought as a full-priced hardback, though in this case I do know the author. Not just online, but it turns out I knew her in person many years ago. I will now possibly embarrass her and definitely embarrass myself by sharing a pic of me and her as toga-clad pre-teens, dressed for a Musical Theatre production. She's the one who looks poised & confident; I'm the one who looks like a deer in the headlights!

I'm a little curious whether Prom Dates from Hell was set vaguely at my own high school, except for the natatorium--I'm not sure where Rosemary went to high school, but a few of the details of the school seemed familiar, especially the walkway where the opening action takes place. The college town enviroment rang true to my experience as well.

And since it fits in with the topic, I thought I'd share my own prom pic...though with my date's face blocked out! Note that my dress could have been a wedding dress now, but at the time strapless wedding dresses were pretty much unheard of. (It also turned out that the majority of girls at my prom showed up in white, including two at my table alone wearing the same dress as one another, but it was hard to find other colors that year! I looked for a black dress & couldn't even find one.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Recent reading

A week or two ago, I finally read An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. Although the math emphasis in it might have turned me off in the past, my own math & science-obsessed son has made me much more open to all things mathematical, and sympathetic in any case to brainy boys like Colin, the protagonist of this book. Although I did find it highly improbable, mathematically, that anyone could have even met 19 girls named Katherine between the ages of 7 and 18, much less gone out with that many of them, a lot of things in this book resonated with me, and a lot of things in it made me think. In fact, I think my husband would even enjoy it if I could get him to read it--he doesn't read much fiction and YA would be particularly unlikely for him, but I already shared a bunch from this book with him, accurately guessing that he would relate to things like Colin's long-standing desire to have a "Eureka!" moment like Archimedes. Loved the anagrammatic poem in the book dedication, too!

One thing that struck me in the book was the narrative voice. It's third person, not first, and while it's limited third in that it sticks with Colin's perspective instead of jumping into other character's heads, it's also kind of omniscient since it knows more about Colin than he knows himself. It's like--limited omniscient or something. I don't recall seeing that POV used much in recent books, but I rather liked it. I suspect something similar was probably used in some books I read growing up, but in a more invisible way, not as a means to comment on the character. I might experiment with a similar POV for one of my YA manuscripts. It's in first person right now and the voice has never worked for me, but my limited third person voice tends to be about the same as first with the pronouns switched, and that hasn't solved the problem. But a narrator who's slightly more distant from Dan, while still sticking with his POV, might work quite well.

I finished Going Nowhere Faster a few days ago. Still liked it. Though my recent reading has once again thrown me for a loop in regards to my own writing. My YA manuscript mentioned above is mainly about a guy struggling with what to do after high school. He finally decides, against his parents' wishes, not to apply for college (at that time, anyway), and goes in a different direction. It's a huge decision to make since his parents have placed a lot of expectations on him. When I first started writing it, (cough cough) seven years ago, dealing with college at all was a stretch for YA. He's a senior, and that seemed like the upper limit of YA, and there pretty much weren't YA books about people who were already out of high school. But now...I've read two YA books in the last two weeks about guys after high school, drifting around. And they both gave the impression that the college decision is not such a big deal. It's something to consider, but not the high-stakes decision it was for my character. So now my story seems misguided... I mean, it becomes a big deal for him because it's a huge deal to his parents, but my book is supposed to be humor, not some big family rebellion story, and it seems like my ending isn't as counter-intuitive as I'd thought it might be. Ah well.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Boys and girls and books

Earlier this week, I read Tanya Lee Stone's A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, which I'd heard a lot about. I admit I was a little uncomfortable with it at first. I assumed it was because of the subject matter (3 girls who get involved with the same jerky guy who's only after one thing), but I realized it was also because I didn't relate to it. I wasn't in a position where I needed to fight off the guys in high school, so I couldn't easily imagine being a high school girl attractive enough to get hit on by one of the most popular guys in school or to imagine I could wield any power over one, nor could I understand why any of the girls were interested in this guy at all, having never been attracted to that sort of jock for a moment of my life, and generally only liking guys I was friends with first. But I still read the whole thing through in about 45 minutes (it was a quick read because it's written in free verse), and had the realization, for the first time ever, that it might be a good thing not to be one of the more attractive girls in school. No, I wouldn't have liked a guy like this, but girls who have guys falling all over them must be faced with a lot of jerks, and must have to spend a lot of time sorting the jerks from the nice guys.

And speaking of boys, and girls, and books, I was suddenly slightly bummed last Saturday to find myself with a family of 3 boys and no girl, when we went to the public library together and it dawned on me that I had no daughters to share my interest in "girl" books or "feeling" books in general. Up to now, their interests in fiction have been pretty unisex. They've liked Magic Tree House, and mysteries like Cam Jansen or Nate the Great, and adventure stories like Narnia, or Time Warp Trio which is pretty boyish but also throws in a few girls (especially in the TV series). I've always been glad they haven't cared if the protagonists in their books were boys or girls. But last week I realized--they don't mind girl characters in adventure books. Or mystery books. But as they're getting older and there are more books for kids their ages that have emotional themes...they have no interest in those. Not with girl characters, not with boy characters. I tried to interest my nearly-9-year-old who has a baby brother in a book about a 9-year-old boy having to adjust to a baby brother while having wacky adventures with pets, and he wouldn't even vaguely consider it. He wanted Star Wars books. And maybe a Pokémon book, and he took a Time Warp Trio book mainly to make me happy (he likes them but was definitely in a Star Wars mindset), and threw in a series mystery, but he mainly only likes series books, and things about science fiction or time travel. Or heavy, hard non-fiction science books. And he only took Encyclopedia Brown under duress, even though I thought he would love it. My younger son likes some of those things, but also non-fiction about snakes or sharks or dinosaurs. In short, nothing at all like I read at their age or imagined sharing with my children.

Maybe I can eventually get them to read something like Running Out of Time (mystery/thriller), The City of Ember (same), or even Ella Enchanted (funny/fantasy), even though they aren't series books, but who will read something like Harriet the Spy or Because of Winn-Dixie with me? No one. A Wrinkle in Time? Sure. A Ring of Endless Light? No. Boo hoo. Maybe I'm wrong... maybe my second or third son will surprise me. So far my second isn't nearly as all-science-all-the-time as my first, and he's also more emotional and social. But he's also a lot more likely to say "That's a girl thing! Yuck!" (Then gain, at a school party this week when a mom gave little plastic maze things for boys or fairy princess wands for boys--he picked the wand!) I can see them reading these books as assigned school reading, and even enjoying them, but for leisure time reading I have a hard time getting them to read even boyish books if they're not exactly what they already had in mind.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Gold stars all around

I dreamed I got an A+ on a project. It was great to remember what that felt like! In recent years, I've been so worn down by writing rejections (and self-rejection, as I watch other writers soar past me and assume I could never compete) and various personal failures, that I'd forgotten, at least emotionally, that I used to do good work and get rewarded for it. I've focused on the times I slid by and got A's I didn't deserve (like when I wrote a paper the morning it was due and got an A on it), or the times I slacked off on the work completely and got bad grades, but it somehow slipped my mind that those were the exceptions. That most of the time, I did work I could be proud of, and teachers liked it. It was the shortest, simplest dream, but surprisingly it's made me feel more confident just having that reminder!

And a related mom brag: on the last day of school, everyone in my kids' classes got little awards. My kindergartener got the "Best Class Artist" award (he's got definite art talent), and my 2nd grader got the "Awesome Math Student" award (being the only 2nd grader in the school to ace all the 3rd grade math quizzes). Good grades, too--the 2nd grader even got an average of 100 for the whole 9 weeks in social studies!

Musings on parental guidance

Last night, on the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, we finally let our sons (ages 6 & 8) watch Episode III (Revenge of the Sith), which they'd been bugging us about for a while. We'd held off before because it's so dark & violent, & most reviews said kids shouldn't see it before 10 or 12 years old. But they are soooo familiar with the whole saga now, since they've been playing the two Lego Star Wars video games constantly, and reading Star Wars novels, blah blah blah. They did fine with it. I'm sure it was very different seeing it on just a TV screen, knowing some of the scariest things in advance (we'd warned them), than if they'd seen it on the big screen without being recently immersed in the characters & their worlds so much. As for myself, I didn't watch most of it (had seen it in the theater), but when I was watching, we had the closed captioning on to help the kids follow it, and most of the dialogue and line readings were so wooden, it sounded like an early cast read-through, or even a bad audition. I also found it amusing that the Darth Vader suit Anakin/Vader got at the end not only lowers his voice, but greatly improves his inflection. ;-) (I think if they can go back & insert Jabba the Hutt into the original Star Wars movie later, they should be able to go back & insert a different actor in Hayden Christiansen's place.)

That, plus a discussion I just saw on a writers' board about the appropriateness of certain books for young readers, has made me think about how differently I view the topic of appropriateness as a writer, as a reader, and as a mother! Actually, as a writer I always err on the side of clean & broadly "appropriate" material, because that's what I prefer. I can't imagine myself ever writing an R-rated book, and even as a reader and moviegoer, I'd rather not be bombarded with explicit language, sex, violence, or whatever. Cary Grant & Audrey Hepburn didn't need to spout f-words for their movies to appeal to adults. But because I want to encounter good stories, I put up with that stuff, to a degree, as a reader and a movie watcher. If it's not too in-your-face, I look beyond it. (And I'm afraid that if it's really funny or clever, I may look beyond it even if it is in-your-face... though I would like it even better if it was really funny without all that.) But I only just realized now that I have no idea how to balance my own ability to filter out what I don't like with my maternal tendency to want to protect my children.

I mean... as a YA reader & writer, and as a former child reader myself, I tend to think that while some books may not be exactly beneficial for kids, or praiseworthy in their subject matter, kids are smart enough to read critically and make their own decisions. I don't think they mindlessly accept everything they read as being the norm or the way things should be. And frankly, I assume that they hear things in their lives every day that are worse than a lot of things they may read on the page. I sure did, and no one is filtering or editing what teens really say and experience. But I always think of these things in the abstract--about teenagers in general, or about me as a teen. I had never until today thought to extend it to my own children as teenagers! It hadn't seemed relevant yet. Of course, my kids are only 6, 8, and 4 months old. They still need a lot of parental guidance. They do seem to believe everything they hear for the most part--even that Bounty is the "best" paper towel and we must buy it now! They even believe the TV ads for Floam even though we already bought Floam and they were already horribly disappointed in it! They keep thinking next time it might be different... And naturally I don't want them exposed to things before they are ready.

But looking back on my own childhood & teen years, my parents had no idea what I knew, and no idea what I was reading, either. They looked down on YA fiction in general, but only because they thought it was brain candy & not substantial enough. They suggested other books I could read (which I never took them up on...), but I chose all my own books and no one ever bothered glancing at them, as far as I recall. But even as a fairly young kid, I knew what I liked and what I thought about stuff. My mother would have passed out if she'd known I read Forever at age 11 (had she known what it was about), but even at 11, with Judy Blume being my favorite author, I thought the girl made a stupid choice and I didn't want to emulate it. When I read books with lots of swear words, I often tossed them aside on my own if they started annoying me too much--but I would have been patently offended if my parents had presumed to tell me not to read them! So I wonder how often I underestimate my own children, or if I'm not now (and I haven't had much cause to worry about this stuff yet), how much I will. I can't imagine being quite as uninvolved in my own kids' reading choices as my family was--but it's not like I've been reading all the mystery and fantasy adventure books my 8-year-old brings home, either. I trust him to choose what he likes. I'd love to be able to discuss things like this with them in the future and help them to analyze things critically, but I also have to remember I would never have wanted to discuss some of this stuff with my parents & can't imagine I would ever have told them everything! (I recently read in a magazine that if your 12-year-old daughter tells you she's in love with a boy, you shouldn't scoff that she's too young, but ask what she likes about him. I thought, wow, when I was 12, I never would have told my parents I was in love with a boy!! And I did think I was.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Strange dreams are made of this

For my 2nd post of the day... I'm not prone to posting about my dreams, but I had the world's weirdest dreams last night. The weirdest image was of dead mutant dolphins hovering in the air! They were sort of like swordfish & mostly purple... There was something about a comedy horror movie, similar to Shaun of the Dead but eerier. At one point, I was in a hotel lobby and ran into a writer friend, Kay, who was wearing white mime-style make-up on her way to do a school author visit. I was wearing a loooong black t-shirt & black jeans & was horrified to note I was wearing really grungy pink pig socks. I ran to change either my pants or socks, & found myself in a place that was a combination homeless shelter, Goodwill store, and health club for people aged 50 and up. (?!) And all I could find was a pair of yarn shoes that turned into socks I had accidentally grabbed a whole handful of, all attached to each other, but which I couldn't wear unless I "hand-conditioned" the yarn by somehow unraveling and spinning every thread in the yarn with my fingers until it looked right. Yeah.

And then it got weirder. ;-) Because I've almost never dreamed I was anyone other than me. But suddenly, in this dream, I was a teenage boy! This may be because of all the YA fiction I've been reading & trying to write, often with male protagonists, but anyway, I was a teenage boy who was alternately the best friend, step-brother, and newly adopted brother of another guy who was the son and heir of a billionaire who was a combination of Bill Gates and a successful wacky inventor (the father in the book I'm reading is a wacky inventor, though not a successful one). In the dream, the rich guy was my step-dad for most of the dream, but somehow I had no share in his riches. I had this female friend and sidekick, the kind who's always coming up with crazy schemes, and suddenly she started coming on to me. I had thought she mainly hung around me to get closer to my rich friend/brother, and I told her so. She said that had crossed her mind, but she also thought he was a spoiled brat. So we were in one of those tense moments where she was hoping that I (being a teenage guy to her teenage girl) would feel the same, and all I could think were horrible things I felt guilty about thinking, like that her eyes and nose were too big and she wore way too much make-up, and that I could only see her as a friend. (This slightly echoes back to something in one of the books I was reading last night, but still, it was weird.) And then I woke up. So who knows, maybe I can tell Dan's story after all!

(P.S. Shortly before falling asleep for the night, I had murmured something about hoping the protagonist in this book I'm reading didn't end up being like the protagonist of the very strange, dream-oriented movie The Science of Sleep, so maybe I was asking for it. Could explain the sock yarn stuff, anyway, since fabric arts figure prominently in that movie.)

Book therapy

I've heard that when women get depressed, they may shop. Especially for shoes. I had a very bad day yesterday, and feeling very depressed in the evening, I escaped to go shop for...books! Who needs shoes when there are books?!

I didn't even know what I was going to do or why. I just had to get out of the house and found myself making my way, like a homing pigeon, to Barnes & Noble. It was one of those bad days with the baby where I felt the full weight of what I'd gotten myself into by having a baby at nearly 40 years old, not just an "oh no the baby's crying and I can't catch a break" day, but an "oh no my life was finally supposed to start now but this puts it off 5 more years and there's no way my dreams could entail waiting until I'm 45 to pursue them so they're all defunct" day. I think I instinctively went to where I feel most myself, where the things I care about are. I thought I'd look at magazines, but I couldn't get interested in them. (In a move that would shock & horrify my children, I even chose not to purchase the latest Neopets magazine....) I found myself going to the YA section, where I stood in amazement looking at all the pretty covers and all the enticing-looking books. They have made the YA section much bigger in the past year, and the books mostly looked fantastic! I looked through many of them with longing.

Finally, I treated myself by doing something I have probably not done in 20 years: I bought two full-priced books I'd never even heard of before! One even by an author I'd never heard of before! And a hardback, at that! I will occasionally buy a hardback by an author I know personally, though usually at Amazon prices. I pulled out all the stops this time. I bought a graphic novel, of all things (the first I've read), The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci, and then Going Nowhere Faster by Sean Beaudoin. Further maximizing my retreat into comfort items, I found myself stopping on the way home for a Coke Slurpee and a Twix. Mmmm.

I read The Plain Janes as soon as I got home, which only took about 20 minutes. I enjoyed it, even if it did seem improbable that a town would react to something like bubbles in the town fountain as an act of terrorism or frightening criminal vandalism...but then, I guess comics are supposed to be a bit over the top (most real-life bad guys don't go to quite the lengths of, say, the Green Goblin). Still, it made me think of Footloose, with the town that banned dancing until the young people revolted, and the 80's song "99 Luftballons," with its idea that the sighting of some balloons by paranoid people could set off a nuclear war. I found the graphic novel format interesting and realized I could tell most of my stories in a lot fewer words. I also particularly liked the way the protagonist's eyes told the story a couple of times where her love interest was involved. There's an ad in the back for another graphic novel I'll definitely keep an eye out for (Good as Lily), about an 18-year-old girl who suddenly finds herself in the presence of versions of herself at 6, 29, and 70 years old. I'm fascinated already.

I'm halfway through Going Nowhere Faster, and loving it so far. I said before that I liked books with footnotes, but this one has something I relate to even more: parentheses. It's loaded with parenthetical remarks, and that's how I think. The character also reminds me a lot of my protagonist Dan, in my mostly unwritten book Can't Beet It, only funnier than Dan in ways that make me hit my head for not making Dan funnier. I'm beginning to think I can't do my story justice at all, when I see how much more other writers are doing with theirs than I'd even thought to do with mine. But no matter, the point is that I'm so glad (so far) I took a chance on this book. It has some things in common with An Abundance of Katherines (which I started to write a post about, which I haven't posted yet), in that the protagonist was a gifted child who has grown up without reaching his potential (something I have particular interest in, as a person who graduated high school at 16 and is still waiting for a book contract at nearly 40!), and it has those parentheses while the Katherines book has footnotes, but it's not too similar otherwise except that I like them both.

I have so much to post about, I'm breaking it into 2 or 3 posts, so that's all for that one.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Meet the Robinsons

Recently, we saw Meet the Robinsons in 3-D. Although the reviews I'd seen were mixed, and most parents I'd seen mention it online seemed to think it was just okay, I really liked the movie. The 3-D was a cool extra, and I'm sure we will buy the movie on DVD, 3-D or not. However, it's impossible to separate my feelings for it from the fact that I have a science nerd, inventor wanna-be son very much like the movie's main character, Lewis. Lewis's diagrams in the movie, which might look crazy to other viewers, reminded me a lot of my son's own diagrams! Also, even before my son existed, I had met William Joyce, whose book inspired the movie, and I'd been looking out for this movie for years.

About 10 years ago (yikes!), before I had children at all, I attended an SCBWI conference in the Dallas area. One of the speakers was William Joyce, and I bought a signed copy of his book A Day with WIlbur Robinson, and also a copy of George Shrinks. I found his work delightful, and at the time, he told us he was working with Disney to make a movie of the Wilbur Robinson book. A year went by, and I had a son, Ryan. Then I had another son, and somewhere in there William Joyce came out with an animated kids' show, Rolie Polie Olie, which Ryan chose as the theme for his 4th birthday party, even though there was almost nothing available for it. (I made Olie cupcakes for the occasion.) Later, there was a show based on George Shrinks, which also became a favorite of Ryan's. Ryan seemed to come out of the womb with an intuitive sense of math and a strong interest in science, so he's always wanted to be an inventor, and William Joyce's wacky, retro yet futuristic worlds, with quirky characters and lots of cool inventions, have always been right up his alley. But that first movie I'd heard about never showed up until finally, after I had yet a third son, Meet the Robinsons came out this year. I hadn't been thrilled with Robots, which William Joyce also had a hand in (though of course Ryan liked it), so I wasn't all that excited about this movie--the book is a short picture book that wouldn't support a movie as it was, so I felt pretty sure they would have ruined it. And the reviews were fairly lackluster. But when I found out it was showing in 3-D, we took the whole family out to see it, even taking the baby! (It was a weekday afternoon when it had been out a while, so there was only one other family in the theater--and the baby slept through the whole thing.)

I walked away from this movie with such a positive feeling. I know that not everyone would have the same opinion--many reviews mentioned it feeling too fast-paced or frenetic, and I didn't even notice that! But even though I had many reasons to like it, for us the best thing about it was the theme, "Keep moving forward." Both Ryan and his brother Kyle have SUCH a hard time with that. Ryan often panics and gives up very easily at the first difficulty, whereas Kyle stubbornly digs in his heels and refuses to change what he is trying to do even if it is very clear it isn't working and isn't going to work. Neither one moves forward easily. So we have probably repeated, "Keep moving forward!" about 10 times just since we've seen it, when difficulties have arisen, and it has proved very careful to have that catchphrase they can relate to. It helped them both to finally learn to ride their bikes without training wheels last week, learning that they could work through the frustration and failures and eventually succeed. And of course, it's a great lesson for me, too, especially as a writer!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

You know you're on the computer too much when... want your empty drink cup thrown away, so you ask your husband to please delete your cup. Yes, I said that, and no, I wasn't trying to be funny. That's really the first word that came into my head for that action. (Though since I also wanted him to bring me a new drink, he said I should have asked him to reboot my drink!)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Write like you meme it

From memegirls: Copy the questions into your blog and answer them. Then tag five other writers to do the same!

1. Do you outline? Not exactly. I usually just start writing, and eventually find myself needing to write a general outline of sorts to get me to the end, but it's usually more like a summary or synopsis of the major story points. And I don't always do even that. Sometimes I don't do it until I finish a draft, when it's time to start on revisions and I need to fix the plot. But I tend to start off writing off the top of my head.

2. Do you write straight through a book, or do you sometimes tackle the scenes out of order? Almost always straight through. Sometimes I jot notes or partial scenes for future parts of the book before I really get to that point, but I prefer to write most of it in order.

3. Do you prefer writing with a pen or using a computer? Computer, but I sometimes write notes for the story in longhand, or switch to writing in longhand to shake up my perspective and get through a block, or write in longhand when I'm not near a computer! I really enjoy writing in longhand, but it's usually just not fast enough.

4. Do you prefer writing in first person or third? I prefer first, but I usually try each story both ways just to make sure I'm picking what works best for the story. First person may come easier because of my theatre background, or maybe just because I'm used to talking and thinking my own thoughts in first person!

5. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, do you create a playlist, listen randomly, or pick a single song that fits the book? It seems unusual these days, but I don't listen to music while I write! If I'm really into the writing, there could be a rock band playing in my living room and I'd hardly notice, but I don't go out of my way to listen to music while writing. I've tried a couple of times and it usually distracts me too much when I'm getting started.

6. How do you come up with the perfect names for your characters? My characters normally show up in my head with names already! When I have to brainstorm about one, it's hard, but I usually just try out lots of possibilities until something seems right. I've always loved reading books and web sites about names and naming, so I have a lot of names in my head as it is.

7. When you're writing, do you ever imagine your book as a television show or movie? Sometimes I do that on purpose when I'm stuck in the story. I try to picture it as a movie or TV show, and imagine what I'd like to see happen next--or how I'd start the story or approach it in general. The medium really changes the way it's presented, and that sometimes kickstarts new ideas for approaching the text. I'm probably inclined to do this because I have a degree in Radio/TV/Film. I never imagine it will get made into a TV show or movie, though...the stuff I write doesn't usually lend itself to that. But that's one reason I like the exercise of imagining it that way, because it forces me to think more of action and visuals instead of getting stuck in the character's head too much (unless I start imagining it as something like Scrubs, where there's a ton of voiceover narration!).

8. Have you ever had a character insist on doing something you really didn't want him/her to do? I expect so. My characters definitely surprise me all the time! One time, I wanted to change the narrator of my story, but the character I was switching to just wouldn't tell it the way I liked it, so I had to take away her microphone and give the story back to the original MC.... Odd how that happens.

9. Do you know how a book is going to end when you start it? Sometimes I don't even know what it's about! (I tend to start with just a character in a situation.) But if I do know what it's about, I usually have at least a vague idea how I want it to end. But then, maybe I shouldn't. Maybe I'd get to the ending more often if I wasn't trying to find my way to an ending that might not fit the story anymore...hmm.

10. Where do you write? On my laptop, on my lap, wherever that happens to be! Generally, on the couch, on a chair, on my bed, or occasionally in the car (either parked or as a passenger, not the driver!), or at Barnes & Noble (in longhand) or at the library. I've worked at a desk or table a few times, but don't have an office. I wish I did! I thinks it helps me to focus if I have a dedicated space for writing. Once I'm going, I can keep going, but it's easier to get started in a good writing environment.

11. What do you do when you get writer's block? Brainstorm. Try writing in longhand. Journal about the story or characters. Try to imagine it playing out on a screen. Sleep on it. Take a walk or drive. Give up for a while and work on something else! Any or all of the above, and probably a lot of other things, too. And of course, just write through it, and throw out all the crap that comes out the first few tries, and keep anything good that comes along when I finally stumble into something that works. (And don't tell me writer's block doesn't exist, because it's one of my pet peeves when people say that. Maybe it shouldn't exist, or doesn't exist for you, but it exists for me. But I won't do the Emma Thompson in Stranger Than Fiction thing and refuse to try writing anything until I'm sure what's going to work...and definitely won't get an assistant sent to me by a publisher to help me break my block! Though in that movie, it did work out best that she didn't write anything until she did....)

12. What size increments do you write in (either in terms of wordcount, or as a percentage of the book as a whole)? Any and all! I don't normally have a wordcount-per-day or page-per-day goal, but I've tended to write between 500 and 2,000 words in a day (when writing novels, not picture books!). But I've probably had 10-word days (not to mention all the 0-word days), and I've had at least one 10,000-word-day during NaNoWriMo, as well as some 7,000-word days. I write manuscripts of all different lengths, though, from poems and very short picture book texts to my longest manuscript, a YA novel of about 60,000 words.

13. How many different drafts did you write for your last project? I don't know how to count revisions. I'm always tweaking, so except for the first time through, I never know when one draft is "finished" and the next draft begins. Suffice it to say, more than one!

14. Have you ever changed a character's name midway through a draft? Yes. In one case, I realized I had three characters with one-syllable names with a long "a" sound, so Paige ended up becoming Gena.

15. Do you let anyone read your book while you're working on it, or do you wait until you've completed a draft before letting someone else see it? I prefer not to share it before it's done, but because I've occasionally needed something to submit for conference critiques or critique groups, I have shared chapters of unfinished manuscripts. (It's also much easier to get someone to read a chapter than a whole book!)

16. What do you do to celebrate when you finish a draft? Rest! And probably jump up and down and shout it to the world. Sadly, this doesn't happen often enough for me to really know what I "normally" do.

17. One project at a time, or multiple projects at once? I've done both. I normally have one "main" project, but if things aren't going well, I sometimes have a bad habit of skipping around, unable to settle on one thing for long, and if things are going well, I often find that writing begets writing, and I have so many ideas I start writing more stuff! The month I did NaNoWriMo and completed a YA novel manuscript, I was so inspired I also wrote 16,000 moe words on two other projects! (But only after meeting my NaNo word count quota.) I guess it helps that when I was a technical writer, I often had to work on 7 or 8 manuals at a time.

18. Do your books grow or shrink in revision? Both. I tend to write long so they have to get tighter, but I've also had to add scenes or even chapters. My longest manuscript got a little longer, but my short stories usually shrink.

19. Do you have any writing or critique partners? I've been in critique groups in the past, but I'm not now. I have asked individual writers to read stuff for me on occasion, though. Actually, two local writer friends recently asked if I wanted to form an informal critique group with them & I said yes but nothing has happened with it yet & I'm not sure if it will. I have also paid for critiques in the past.

20. Do you prefer drafting or revising? Drafting!

I tag anyone who wants to answer.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Getting going again

I finally read a book for the first time in more than a month! Last night I read the moving midgrade verse novel Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown. And I agree with one of the reviewers at Amazon that it takes a lot of courage to write a negative mother character without softening it or watering down the hurt at the end.

It occurred to me that, since much of my writing focuses more on exploring feelings than on action plots, maybe I should consider writing one of my novel projects in free verse. It wouldn't work with most of my projects, but there's one story I haven't landed on the right voice for yet, and I'd already planned to intersperse poems and lyrics throughout it, but now I'm thinking maybe it should be mainly verse. But there are so many characters, and so much exposition is needed, I'm not quite sure how it would work. It might be one of those novels that's made up of multiple things like poems, article clippings, diary entries, quotes, dialogue...I'm not sure yet, but it's something to explore.

In other news, I've decided to stop being a couch potato. You'd be hard pressed to find someone less athletic than me, and it's been that way since I was a kid. But being a kid, I still did things like riding my bike, roller skating, and taking tap dance classes. As an adult, those things fell by the wayside, and I've been quite sedentary. I've only gone to a gym once (YMCA), several years ago, and after one try on the treadmill I never went back. But after a physically taxing pregnancy and recovery, I decided that if I got my health & range of motion back, I wanted to enjoy it and not take it for granted. Also...I was taking a women's magazine survey and they asked for article ideas. I started thinking they should write about someone who went from being a complete couch potato to being moderately active, and they could call it 50 Days to Fitness or something like that. But then I thought that if anyone were to write that, it should be me, but first I would have to do it! So with that idea as a starting point, I just started walking, not with any major goal except to stop being a couch potato, and to invest at least 50 days into it before letting myself call it off. I wanted to log my daily activity in some way, and being an Internet addict, it seemed like the easiest way to keep track of it would be with a blog. So I started a blog for my "No Potato Project" at It's mainly just for me, but if other people know it's there and could theoretically check up on me, I figure that will give me more impetus not to quit! The cool thing is, I think I've walked about 11 miles in the past week that I never would have walked otherwise, and that is huge for me.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

An abundance of books (and baby laughs)

My parents finally got to meet my baby, now that he's already 12 weeks old! They visited for part of Thursday & part of Friday. Blake did not disappoint, as he was a giggly bundle of joy most of the time they were here.

Meanwhile, I've only read a couple of books since he was born, so my reading list has been stacking up. I kept seeing people go on about John Green's An Abundance of Katherines, but when I found out it had footnotes, I had to go check it out... For some reason, I've loved every fiction book I have read with footnotes in it, as different as they have been from one another (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson, and The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart--maybe the sequel to it, also). It's partly because the footnotes are usually clever and enjoyable on their own terms, but probably mostly because I'm a pretty parenthetical thinker myself. I have no problem with tangents...I have more trouble staying linear. So I suspect that on some level, I'm on a similar wavelength with authors who think to use footnotes in fiction, so their writing resonates with me in general.

But that's just one of many books I have piled up to read. I also have lots of books by authors I know: Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown, Tattoo by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement Moore. I also can't wait to read Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson and Reality Leak by Joni Sensel, as well as some other books I've heard of recently. I just can't figure out when I'm going to read them all!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Never mind

Things are not looking up after all.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Things are looking up...

Yeah, our car needs a new engine...but at least we got our tax refund this past week, just in time! I also found a large surprise win on my porch from a Quick and Simple magazine contest--a Black & Decker power scrubber and a Black & Decker garden cultivator. And yeah, my poor baby had to get immunizations this week, which made him cry much of the day, but in the doctor's office, we found the Parents magazine my son Kyle and I are mentioned in--we're on page 142 of the April 2007 issue--and the dr told us to take it home. It was Kyle's turn for Show & Tell in his kindergarten class this week, so he took a copy of the article, along with the pictures referred to in it, of him covered in peanut butter as a toddler. Also, my husband had an interview on Friday. He has another interview elsewhere this coming Friday, but we're really hoping the one from this past Friday works out. It would be great in about 20 ways.

Meanwhile, oddly, it sleeted at our house in central Texas in April yesterday! We made a mini ice bunny, and also made our poor baby wear an outfit with bunny ears and a tail:


Sometime in the night, a certain bunny found its way to our house and left goodies for the kids. Today, we went to church, had a nice lunch out at Brick Oven Pizza (not crowded on Easter!), and had a few Easter egg hunts in the no-longer-frozen yard.

Happy Easter to everyone who celebrates it, from me and my Happy Easter Baby!

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Bored this April Fool's Day? Check out this long list of April Fool's pranks being perpetrated by various web sites today:

My favorites so far are Gmail Paper (see also Learn More About Gmail Paper) and the whole front page of

Here on the home front, my 6 & 8-year-old sons are notoriously sound sleepers who have been carried to their beds asleep on many occasions without waking up, so we tried to trick them by switching them into each other's beds in the middle of the night, so they'd both wake up in the wrong rooms. Unfortunately, this time they both woke up when being moved. My husband continued moving them anyway, hoping they were mostly asleep and would forget the sleepy conversation, but they didn't. Oh well, we tried! We may still come up with another prank today.

Meanwhile, in less funny news, our car pulled a prank on us a day early. The same car that just stranded us on the highway last week, necessitating a tow truck, a rental car, and a new radiator, gave out again on the highway last night, only 4 days after we got it out of the repair shop. This time, it decided to die completely on a highway overpass after dark. Cars were zooming by at 70 mph very close to the driver's side, and on the passenger side, we were within inches of a concrete wall--on the other side of the wall was a drop-off onto a major intersection a story below. I have almost never been so frightened, especially with 3 small kids in the car, including a screaming baby! I was sure we'd get hit from behind, there was no easy way to get out of the car, and nowhere to walk to nearby. Our roadside assistance service eventually sent a police car, and the policeman helpfully pushed our car down the exit ramp in front of us and into an empty driveway nearby, then a friend came and took us all home in his van. A tow truck apparently showed up and took our car to yet another repair shop after we left. We had to miss Palm Sunday church today, but the friend who picked us up last night offered us his family's Toyota 4Runner until our car is back from the shop (isn't that nice?!), and they'll be bringing it by today, hopefully in time for us to make it to the city Easter egg hunt at 2:00!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blog haiku

Haiku2 for ambd
imagine it as
a rope to hoist himself out
of the theater
Created by Grahame