Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Year in Review: 2009 vs 2010

Last year I summarized my accomplishments and jotted down goals for 2010. Let's see how I did, shall we?

"Goals for 2010 include fixing up the new novel, writing a NEW new novel, moving to Santa Clarita, and getting a bicycle and using it as my main method of transportation (keep in mind I live in L.A. so this goal is actually insane... but I think it's good to have at least one insane goal per year)."

Hmm, yes, well, hmm. 

Three out of four ain't bad.  Okay, 2.8 out of three. I did fix up that novel; I did move to Santa Clarita (and I love it here except maybe for the commute).  I also got a bicycle, but saying it's my main method of transportation would be wildly inaccurate. I mostly use it to go to the library.

And now, inspired by Kristin Nelson's year in statistics, here's what I've been up to since January, numbers-wise (2009's stats will appear in parenthesis so we can laugh at my best laid plans):

Books Read = 62 (100) For shame. Almost a 40% drop!

However, I stipulate that my time spent commuting directly correlates to the diminished number of books read. In 2009 my commute was 40 minutes/day on average. In 2010 it was 2.3 HOURS/day on average. The defense rests. 

Audio books would seem to be the answer, but I find it a wee bit problematic to pay attention to plot intricacies while fearing for my life on the freeway. This year we had fires *and* flooding.
 

Of the 62 books I read, 35 were YA, 14 were "adult"/literary fiction, 11 were non-fiction (including memoir),  and 2 were about writing ("Sin and Syntax" and "Spunk and Bite"). I also read 4 friends' WIP manuscripts, which are fab novels-to-be, another friend's ARC, and I'll probably get through several more over the holidays, so maybe I can fudge my numbers and give myself a total of 70.

Scripts Read = 438 (316) DANG I WORKED HARD THIS YEAR. 100 + more scripts than last year!


Hats Knitted = 0 (3) For shame, part deux. (My husband: "Your knitting group is really cool. They don't really knit, though." Pretty much.)
 

This year I revised two novels and started a brand-new novel for NaNoWriMo. I promptly abandoned it at 30 pages, but I'm back on track again with a fresh idea and oodles of fun books for research. (Yes, I genuinely enjoy research.)  I also hosted a writing retreat in Palm Springs this March, got to help welcome my niece into the world in April (on my birthday no less), and visited friends and family in Illinois and Wisconsin over the summer.

In 2011, my goals are to research, write and revise my newest YA novel, contribute to DearTeenMe.com, give audio books a real chance, and bring actual knitting back to my knitting group. I'd like to go jogging twice a week, and read at least 50 books, partially so I can surpass that goal :)

How did your year compare with 2009? Did you meet your goals?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Splendor in the Grass

About a week ago, Harmonic Feedback author Tara Kelly wrote an excellent post about what it's like to be a debut author, looking back nostalgically to the days before her project sold, when everything was still ahead of her, and anything was possible.

She theorizes that if you don't find satisfaction in writing anonymously, you certainly won't find it in being published. Writing for the pure love of it has to be what drives you. At least, that's what I took from the post.

In the past month I've read about publishing deals falling through, imprints closing, and the frustration of never-ending revisions. I empathize with writers who've made it through the submission process only to discover it wasn't quite what they expected. Of course, I'd love to join their ranks, but it's interesting to hear that the grass isn't always greener.

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on why we became writers in the first place.

Don't forget to celebrate every accomplishment, whether it's getting helpful feedback from an agent or editor, finishing a particularly challenging rewrite, brainstorming a new idea, or simply carving out the time -- day by day, week by week -- to tell your story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Recommended Read (and Holiday Gift): "Thieves of Manhattan" by Adam Langer

If you're making a list and checking it twice, and having trouble finding the perfect gift for the writer/aspiring writer/editor/publisher/book aficionado in your life, I have the solution for you: pick up a copy of Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer.

Not only is it a hilarious and clever skewering of every aspect of modern publishing, particularly memoirs, it also has at least two major plot twists I didn't see coming.

I really appreciate the fact that Langer didn't stick to one genre but let a variety of them (mystery, romance, revenge drama, old-fashioned adventure) unspool into a glorious mess; a mess that's perfectly set up from the get-go.

Writers who've been in the trenches a few years will recognize themselves, feel less alone, and be able to cackle with glee at the dead-on references to querying, literary reading nights, and insomnia and writer's block -- and the release of same. Also, it's in paperback so you can pick up several copies. I know I plan to. Happy shopping!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Celebration of Turkeys

Conversation I had in the dead of night last night:

Me: I don't get what happens when the President pardons the turkey. "So, you're pardoned, but we're going to eat you now"?
Husband: No, they don't eat that one.
Me: So where does the turkey go after that? Does it just live at the White House? Also, pardoning it implies that it's done something wrong.
Husband: They bring the best turkey they can find in from somewhere and the President goes, "You're such a great turkey we're going to pardon you." I think Roosevelt started it or something and now all of them have to do it.
Me: Huh.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Extra special thanks to my friends and family. I feel incredibly blessed to have you in my life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cover Girls

Two of my agency pals, Miranda Kenneally and Jennifer Wolf, sold their debut YA novels last week! Check out their blogs for more info and to wish them well.

I was wondering what their covers will look like, and it got me thinking about the eye-catching images on Amy Reed's books. Beautiful features an attractive blonde girl who seems to be trying on an adult persona. It's a compelling shot to go with a compelling and thought-provoking story, but it also provides a specific model/actress for the lead, which may affect the way a reader sees the role. Clean, Reed's upcoming novel, is similarly striking.

In contrast, Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series and Courtney Summers' books feature young women whose faces aren't quite seen, allowing the reader to fill in the characters' looks for themselves.

Do you prefer covers that include specific images, or ones that only allude to an image? Does it change the way you "see" the characters in your head if the book cover provides a precise image?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Seeking: One Muse

I like to think of myself as a worker bee when it comes to writing. One of those "put your butt in the chair every morning for two hours no matter what and get it done" types, but every once in a while, real life knocks the creativity out of you. Last week I found myself thinking, "What if I never get another good idea? What if I never get any ideas? HOW WILL I SPEND MY LIFE?"

Of course, besides being a worker bee, I'm also a drama queen… bee… who occasionally mixes metaphors. The point is, armed with some good books, a notebook, and a promise to take it easy on myself, I managed to coax my muse out of hiding.

What if you could just hire a muse? What would your job listing say?

Muse Requirements:

Must be willing to work flexible hours, including nights and weekends. Must be equally comfortable in my suburban home office, my '96 Toyota, my bedroom at 3 a.m. when I can't sleep, my urban day job office, and during long walks around the park. Commutes between each place are a prime time to hit me with inspiration. I assume you'll be fickle, but I still expect monthly progress reports. No water nymphs; I live in the desert.

Pay: All of the secret glory, none of the credit.

What would you ask of your muse?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mad Men 4x12: "I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach"

I sort of went on involuntary hiatus there from my Mad Men recaps but I'm back with a vengeance for the finale, because the finales are always legendary. Season Four's didn't disappoint. Well, it probably disappointed Faye. By the way, my husband will attest that I 100% called this turn of events like five episodes ago:

A) Faye herself told Don a while back that he'd "marry within the year"
B) Megan is very good with Don's kids, and he would get all misty-eyed watching her
C) Megan clearly adores Don, represents a fresh start, and already sees him the way he would like to believe he could still be

However, I didn't think we'd *see the proposal.* I thought we'd jump to Season Five and Don would come home, and there Megan would be, all wifey-like, and it would be the big reveal.

But no! We had to cringe and anticipate and watch Don declare his love. So Faye gets an entire razor blade to herself. At least she got the last word on the phone ("Does she know you only like the beginnings of things?"), but it was still brutal to watch. Carla also gets an entire razor blade because she was abruptly, coldly dumped by Betty after at least a decade of service, for letting Glen ("are you decent") say goodbye to Sally.

Other revelations: Joan is keeping the baby, which my husband called three episodes ago. We are Mad Men clairvoyants. I LOVED seeing Joan and a stunned Peggy chat about Don's news. "Whatever could be on your mind?"

For a finale especially, 2 out of 5 razor blades on the Depressing Scale is pretty low -- but it was nice seeing Peggy and Ken score a new client, and even kind of nice seeing Don, his kids, and Megan get to be happy. Besides, I'm sure it won't last! *

See you next season!

*edited to add: By "it" I mean the low rating of a mere 2 razor blades on the Scale won't last -- not Don and Megan. I actually think they'll stay married just fine. The show, however, will be back in fine depressing form soon, no doubt.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Interview: How Writing Contests Can Advance Your Career

Ever wondered what it's like to win a writing competition, and what effect it might have on your career?

My good pal Kristen Kittscher, a talented author of middle grade novels, won the YA category of the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association Literary Contest last year, so I thought she'd be the perfect person to interview.

Q: How did you hear about the contest? Were you a member of the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association, or did you join in order to participate?

A: I took an online class with Sean Murphy, whose first novel The Hope Valley Hubcap King won The Hemingway Award for a First Novel. He and his wife, writer Tania Casselle, both emphasized the value of entering contests to boost writing confidence, practice promoting our own work, and attract the attention of editors and agents... I figured, why not give it a shot? I wasn’t a member of the PNWA when I entered the contest. It is open to everyone.

Q: What were the guidelines to the contest? (Submit a full manuscript, a partial, a chapter?)

A: The guidelines were very detailed. When I was named a finalist, I joked that I was simply one of the few who was able to follow them! The guidelines have changed a bit since last year, but at that time writers submitted a partial and detailed synopsis. The entry fee is $50.

Q: Had you entered any other writing contests before?

A: I entered the Maryland Writer's Association contest as well. I earned second place in the YA category; however, the conference was too far away for me to attend.

Q: Were you always planning on attending the Seattle conference, or did you feel compelled to go because of the contest?

A: I'd been to Seattle quite a few times, as I have family there. I'd been considering going to the conference regardless, but becoming a finalist certainly helped my decision. Finalists receive discounted rates and free attendance to the awards banquet.

Q: What was the conference like? Did any of the events or speakers stand out as particularly helpful?

A: Held at a Hilton not far from the airport, the conference was much larger than I expected. Writers from all over the country converged to network and learn more about the publishing business. They came to the right place, as this conference was focused much more heavily on the business than craft.

Agents patiently stood and listened as long lines of writers pitched them projects. Writers could make appointments to speed pitch editors and agents. Workshops focused on query letters and panels discussed trends in the market. I especially enjoyed the panels focused on writing for children and young adults, of course. All of the workshops were helpful, but they were definitely more geared towards writers just getting started in their careers.

Q: What was going through your head when they called your name as the winner?

A: At the award banquet Saturday evening front tables were set aside for the finalists, and we were each seated according to our category. My husband was in town with me, so he joined as well — as did several of the finalists’ spouses. We joked that it was set up a bit like the Academy Awards.

Our photos were projected on a large screen as a host for the evening read off the "nominated" titles then announced the third, second, and — finally — first places in each category. I was hopeful I'd win, of course – and I could tell my fellow competitors were as well. Still, I was surprised when the host called my name for first place. As they ushered us up front for a quick photo with the conference organizers, I remember thinking how close I'd been to not entering the contest at all. I'm sure glad I did.

Q: Were there any immediate benefits to winning? Did you get approached by agents or editors?

A: That was the best part! Immediately after the awards banquet, winners were escorted to a hotel suite where a wine and dessert reception awaited. Agents and editors joined to mingle with us. After spending several days watching agents and editors swamped by authors pitching, it was a pleasant reversal to have agents hoping to talk to us! I ended up speaking with about twelve agents that evening — and getting several requests for either partials or fulls.

The only downside for me is that, naïve beginner I was, my manuscript was not nearly in good enough shape to send out immediately. Still, it was great to be able to make those connections and speak so frankly with agents. The party didn't end until the wee hours! Those agents know how to have a good time :)

Of course, there's one other lovely benefit to winning the contest. The Zola Award comes with a $700 check.

Q: What was it like to be a judge for this year's contest?

A: As a judge, I developed an even deeper appreciation for agents' and editors' work. The stack of partials I read was nothing compared to what they receive on a weekly basis, yet it still took a good deal of time to read and score them all. I was very impressed by the quality of submissions. I learned a great deal about my own weaknesses and strengths as a writer while trying to evaluate others' work, as well. I followed the contest closely and was glad to see that deserving manuscripts were recognized. I know what a boost in confidence the contest had been for me, so it certainly felt good to be part of the process.

Q: Tell us a bit about what you've done with your manuscript since winning, and what the next steps are for you. Will you mention the win in your queries?

A: You may be surprised to hear that I tossed [the manuscript] in the trash and started over! The conference and my subsequent talks with agents and editors helped me realize how much better shape my manuscript could be in – and should be in – before submitting. Thanks to careful readers and critiquers, I now have a new, tighter, more suspenseful draft of my manuscript.

I definitely will include my win in the queries... It's a way to show I take my writing seriously and have some skill. I’ve also been lucky to get editorial interest in the manuscript, so I will be sure to include the names of those editors who have read sections and are interested in reading the full.

Congrats, Kristen, and best of luck with your agent search!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Talking About Writing vs...Writing

My friend and writer pal Kristen Kittscher just started blogging, and she hit a home run her first time at bat. I was fascinated by her inaugural post, about the balance between trying to keep up with the fragmented online world while still maintaining good writing skills and finding time for true contemplation. At least, that's what I got out of it. She spells it out a lot more eloquently.

I'll be interviewing her soon about what it was like to win the YA category of the annual Pacific Northwest Writer's Association in 2009.

In the meantime, her post got me thinking about the differences between talking and doing.

Like most writers, I love hearing how other writers work. What's their schedule like? Do they prefer writing in the mornings or evenings? When does inspiration tend to hit? Do they write longhand, or always type first drafts? How often do they swap pages with a critique group?

The online world is fabulous for learning about and forming connections in the publishing industry, and I never get sick of these discussions. However, sometimes I find that if I start talking, I stop doing. Discussing the process can bleed it dry; strip away the magic from it.

Instead of Tweeting "#amwriting", why don't I just go about it quietly without an announcement? Why don't I turn off my Internet connection and revel in the privacy of creating? Do we fear that if we don't acknowledge something to the world at large, it didn't happen?

Before the Internet, writers were kind of recluses. And I think there was something nice about that, from time to time!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mad Men 4x9: Mrs. Blankenship Sets Sail

Aw man, I can't believe they killed Mrs. Blankenship. She had some of the best quips and moments on the show. Most recently, she delivered this line to Peggy: "It's a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are."

On the other hand, we got these great quotes as a result of her passing:

"I would have my secretary do it, but she's dead." - Don

"I don't want to die in this office. I almost have -- twice." - Sterling

"She died as she lived -- surrounded by the people she answered phones for." - Sterling

We also got to see Pete in the background, covering Mrs. Blankenship with a quilt and trying to maneuver her corpse out from behind the desk.

The real heartwrencher of the episode was Sally, who may actually be the best actor on the show. Did you notice that she's picked up her mother's inflections? She uses Betty's same flat tone when addressing Don -- and yet she can also throw a great tantrum and light up a room with her smile. I felt so bad for her when she fell down and no one would help her. Actually, secretary Megan (who kinda resembles Anne Hathaway) was great with her -- and for some reason I sense that's going to have consequences that Ms. Miller won't like.

Sally's devastation at being forced to go back to a home she clearly can't stand puts the episode at a 2.5 out of 5 razor blades for me. It was certainly upsetting, but most of the rest of the show (Mrs. B, Joan and Sterling's renewed relationship) was played for laughs.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mad Men 4x8: Betty is still a Child but Don is Growing Up, Awww

Here's how Time Warner Cable described Sunday's episode of Mad Men: "Peggy and Joan are forced to deal with some rambunctious office shenanigans."

Can you hear the laugh track and sound effects? Wah, wah. I feel for those summary writers, though, because that's part of what I do at my job and it's not always easy to logline something complex. I just used a noun as a verb. It is early in the day.

Still, "shenanigans" implies something harmless and adorable, which is inaccurate; the ladies suffered a lot of crap and verbal abuse. Peggy can never win; especially not with Joan.

Don was looking wrecked at the pool (and did people in the '60s really not notice the correlation between smoking and uncontrollable coughing? He lights up right after his workout) but I loved his (Vampire)diary voice overs and the fact that he's decided to take better control of his life. I like him with the marketing woman, too.

Favorite line: "That was my ex-wife, her husband, and some slob who's about to have the worst dinner of his life."

Least favorite moment: the Nausea Cam.

Although they're not being chased around office furniture anymore, Peggy and Joan do have a rough time at work, probably every day, which I have to acknowledge by giving the episode 3 out of 5 razor blades on the Depressing Scale. On the huge plus side, though, Don is finally getting to a better place and even looked genuinely joyful at his 2-year-old's birthday party.

Farewell, Freelancer Joey's smirk. (Sorry that he got the boot, Amy, but you should be proud: he had a good run.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

You're Finished! Maybe. What Now?

So you've finished your latest revision.

It took time, a lot of brainstorming, some back-and-forth emails with trusted friends and advisers, some sleepless nights, a couple long bike rides or walks, a dash of angst, some cutting and pasting and reconfiguring from old drafts, some creating of brand-spanking-new scenes, and a print-out and a red pen.

You got some more notes and updated accordingly. You finessed some awkward phrases and rewrote descriptions and metaphors. You printed it out again for a quick scan, and at long last you emailed a copy to your agent, your editor, or your critique group.

What do you do next?

A) Immediately start a new project
B) Take time off
C) Read a book or 20 to inspire you before jumping back in to writing

I'm torn between all three, leaning toward C.

Anyone else in the same boat? What did you decide?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mad Men 4x6 and 4x7: I am Slacking Horribly

The past two weeks galloped away from me. Because I'd jotted down notes while watching (Peggy: "It's a relief to see someone worse than me") I got it into my head that I'd blogged it, too, but apparently jotting things down in creepy slanted handwriting on a piece of legal paper while watching Mad Men in the dark does not equal blogging. (Or does it??)

And then the week after that, I was in Arizona visiting my grandparents.

So, let's combine and move on, shall we? First let's talk guest stars.

Jonathan! From Buffy!
Victor! From Days of Our Lives!
Flashback hair!

Let's also give both episodes 3.5 out of 5 razor blades on the Depressing Scale. Sure, Don had a Lost Weekend and woke up with absolutely no memory of the past 24 hours, and that was disturbing, and Peggy had to deal with a surprise birthday dinner she didn't want any part of, but the Peggy/Don bonding was long overdue, and they also discovered Sterling's hilarious book notes on audio.

So, yeah. Not much of a recap. I'll try to be better this week. Really, I will.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obligatory - But Heartfelt - MOCKINGJAY Post (No Spoilers)

"Don't read this one too fast. I did, and I regret it." - Sage advice to me from the cashier at the late, great Borders in West Hollywood, referring to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Helpful cashier, I take your advice many years later and apply it now to Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay, the third and final book in the amazing Hunger Games series.

Yes, I'm desperate to find out what happens, but I'm even more desperate to prolong the experience. I read Hunger Games in a day and a half, and Catching Fire in one feverish evening, but this time, I'm going to take my time. When this one's over, it's all over, and I'm not ready to let go of the adventure or the characters and the world they inhabit. I don't want to leave them behind.

I love the sense of anticipation I have right now, the not-knowing how it's all going to end, because no matter what happens or how I'll feel about the events of the story, the hardest part for me will be that it's finished.

Oh, to one day publish a book that someone will devour in an evening or lovingly procrastinate over!

(P.S. This is no small feat, reading the book slowly, because my husband's already done.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mad Men 4.5: "Your daughter's psychiatrist called."

Let's start off with Fun Casting Facts!

There were two (count 'em, two) True Blood actors in Sunday's episode of Mad Men: Don's occasional date, Bethany (who played the vamp-hating preacher's wife on TB) and Sally's school counselor (who plays Jane Bodehouse on TB). Of all the shows to overlap! I never would have expected the '60s ad agency to poach talent from the southern gothic vampire town, but then again, I never expected anyone from Angel to be on Mad Men, either, and yet we have Pete, who obviously rules.

(Know who I'd like to see cross over? Jason. Freaking. Stackhouse.)

Next up: Poor Sally. For some reason I'm usually a Betty apologist but she finally, finally crossed the line with me (probably long overdue), and her treatment of Sally immediately gave the episode a 3 out of 5 razor blades on the Depressing Scale (tm). A slap? Really? For cutting her hair?!

Roger Sterling's cringe-tastically appalling performance with the Japanese clients adds another .5 because even though he was a total jackass I also felt bad for him.

What's stopping the 3.5 from becoming a 4?

1. Everything Mrs. Blankenship does, especially announcing people long after their arrivals, and this priceless exchange about an incoming call:

Don: "What's it regarding?"
Mrs. Blankenship: (sigh) "Do you want me to go ask?"

2. Don's complicated bluff against his rival

3. The Honda businessmen ogling Joan ("How does she not fall over?")

4. Don opening up to the secretly-not-married focus group woman

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Things I Should've Done:

1. Taken my car in for a smog check
2. NOT parked in a tow-away zone
3. Blogged, Facebooked, Tweeted, returned emails, etc.
4. Vacuumed
5. Ridden my bike
6. I dunno; paid the bills?

Things I Actually Did:

1. Write

I guess that's how it goes sometimes. And it feels pretty good.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mad Men 4.4: "How the hell did it get so sad so fast?"

Actually, this was the least depressing of the season so far, and also the best Peggy episode in ages. I give it 2 out of 5 razor blades on the Depressing Scale (tm) because most of the time, I was laughing -- but then suddenly cringing in horror. Most of the sad parts were also hilarious, and most of the hilarious parts were also sad. 

Case in point:

1. The sobbing focus group (from which I drew the title of this blog post, courtesy of a perplexed Freddy)
2. Pete using his unborn child to essentially blackmail his father-in-law
3. Don's beleaguered secretary throwing things at him
4. Don's unfinished, pathetically drunken apology letter (how weird was it seeing Don type?)
5. Don's ancient replacement secretary, Mrs. Blankenship
6. The return of Cosgrove!

And there were things that were ONLY sad:

1. Pete and Peggy, and their rarely referenced baby

And things that were ONLY hilarious:

1. Peggy standing on her desk and peeking over the wall into Don's office
2. Peggy's new bohemian art friends

As for the nudity warning at the beginning of the episode, my husband and I speculated about what to expect ("Will it be depressing or happy nudity?"/ "It won't be one of the series regular women or it would've happened already -- so who's the poor guest star?" / "Will it be in an ad?") but didn't quite guess correctly. Alas, it was in a photo.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mad Men 4.3: Insert Title Here

Basically, there was cancer. So that automatically gives the show a base rating of 3 out of 5 razor blades. And then Joan and her husband were kind of depressing, and Lane Pryce spent New Year's Eve with Don and some hookers. So, yeah. Welcome to 1965.

In other news, I spent Saturday evening watching Lady Gaga videos on Fuse, hanging out with a writer pal, and analyzing my new TV obsession. Can that be every day?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mad Men 4.2: A Glass of Gin and a Box of Velveeta

GAH, the season is young but we've already reached 4 out of 5 razor blades on the Depressing Scale (tm), and it probably would have been 5 out of 5 if this episode had actually aired at Christmas. So, yes. Welcome to the Christmas episode. Won't you enjoy some eggnog and cyanide?

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is forced to throw a Christmas party to appease their demanding, obnoxious client (singular), and if that's not uncomfortable enough, the forced cheer is accompanied by a forced Santa-ing.

We also saw the return of Freddy (the drunken pee-er, now 16 months sober) and That Weird Kid, Glen, who was corrupted by Betty (or something?) back in season one and is now corrupting Sally by explaining over the phone in poorly lit rooms about the ways of mothers and stepfathers. In an odd display of adolescent chivalry, Glen and his friend trash the Draper house after Sally says she hates it there. They don't touch Sally's room, however, and they leave her a little gift of a bracelet. Weird, but almost cute, too.

So at this point in the episode, nothing is THAT depressing, right? I mean, it's kind of depressing, but there were still a handful of yuks: the Christmas party conga line, the Roger/Joan flirting, the shaky icing.

I was getting disappointed, truth be known, because if any show is going to do a depressing Christmas episode, it's Mad Men. So at first I thought, "Well, it sucks that Don is spending Christmas alone, and it sucks that Peggy's boyfriend knows nothing about her, and it sucks that Sally keeps thinking she'll see her dad everywhere, but ehh, it's probably a 3 or 3.5 rating", BUT THEN Don foisted a creepy, depressing quickie on his secretary.

See, Don is not supposed to be that guy.

In the pilot episode, he is specifically not that guy. He is kind to Peggy, and that immediately sets him apart from all the other men at the office. Yes, he cheats on his wife, but he's never creepy at work, and he's never creepy with his secretaries, and that's why, in part, we were able to root for him.

But now he's absolutely that guy and it's ugly and sad, for all involved. And the next day he gave the secretary some cash in a card as her Christmas bonus!!! NO!!!

It's gonna be a long season if we'll be spending it watching Don hit rock bottom. And I'm scared to find out what Mad Men thinks is rock bottom.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Inception": Inspiration for Perseverance

According to Wikipedia, it took nearly 10 years for writer/director Christopher Nolan to bring Inception to the big screen. He wrote the idea for Inception in 2001 but didn't think he was ready to tackle such a large project at that stage in his career, so he waited until 2009 before revising the script and selling it to Warner Bros.

At first I thought it must have been agony for him to wait that long to do his "dream" project (har) but actually... nine years is not that long. And it's not like he was idle all that time (ahem, Insomnia, The Prestige, Batman franchise), just biding his time and learning how to direct projects that were bigger in scale than his mind-bending feature debut, Memento.  I think it was smart of him to wait, and rather inspiring.

Depending on what you're writing, nine years of development is not unheard of, especially with historical fiction. Let's say it takes a year to research, brainstorm, and jot down notes for your novel; two years to write the first draft; one year to revise based on notes from family and friends; six more months to revise based on agent notes; six months on submission; another year or two to revise for the editor; and one more year before it's actually published -- BAM! Eight or nine years, in a blink.

The trick is that it wouldn't be the only thing you're working on, of course. You could have three or four projects in the wings, at various stages of development, until before you know it, you've built a repertoire. And with each project, the process is streamlined to go faster. Some projects would only take a year or two.

That's what I choose to take from it, anyway :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mad Men 4.1: Scrappy Upstarts, Slappy Prostitutes

Annnnnd, we're off to a rip-roaring start to the new season of Mad Men. I give this episode 2 out of 5 razor blades on the Depressing Scale (tm). On paper, perhaps, the episode is quite depressing, but there was so much humor mixed in, and I was so excited to see the gang after nearly a year's absence, that I was fairly giddy throughout.

The episode begins with a question. The central question, in fact, of the show's run: "Who is Don Draper?"

To answer it, let's look at the more depressing aspects of the season premiere. Since we last saw him, Don Draper lives in a hovel, yet still pays the mortgage and insurance on his and Betty's old house. Don Draper is irritable, and has no appetite. Don Draper pays prostitutes to slap him. Don Draper is decidedly alone on Thanksgiving. Don Draper gives really bad interviews to Ad Age Magazine. Don Draper's first "real" date (preacher's wife from True Blood! Speaking in the same accent!) since his divorce says, "The world is so dark right now," yet this episode is somehow not, because:

A) Ham! Fight!
B) Peggy has an underling -- and a fake fiance / protector
C) Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is pretending to have a second floor
D) Pete is as toadying as ever
F) Ham! Fight!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Mad Men" Returns Next Sunday

It's (almost) that time of year again, when I rate new episodes of Mad Men based not on the quality of the show -- which tends to be uniformly high --  but on how suicidal it makes the viewer.

Using a scale of 1 to 5 razor blades, I'll discuss the most depressing aspects of the program. It doesn't help that the show airs late-ish on Sunday nights, when most of us are already quivering wrecks anticipating the work week ahead.

Not surprisingly, my sympathies and biases tend to lie with Peggy and Joan. However, I'm also a sucker for Don Draper's melancholy speeches, especially when they involve the definition of nostalgia.

For a refresher on where we last left our booze-addled pals, who recently emptied out the office in the middle of the night to secretly start a new company, click here. (Aw, remember when Pete and his wife danced up a storm at Sterling's wedding, a la Donald and Daisy Duck?)

Next Sunday night/Monday morning I'll kick things off for the new season.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why Watching the World Cup is Like Reading a Bestseller

Farewell, World Cup. You are already missed.

I know, I know, Americans supposedly don't like watching soccer; we don't have the patience; and we don't think the refs' calls are fair. We just play it as kids and then abandon it as adults. And we already have a sport called football that we refuse to swap out.

But I was obsessed this year. I woke up at 6:30 am before work to watch. I planned my weekends around it. I discussed and debated it with other fans. I drove my husband a little bit nuts. I read heaps of articles, Wiki-pages and analysis on the sport and the players. I accepted the vuvuzelas. (Eventually. (In fact, now it seems strange to watch matches without them.)) And I WILL be watching more matches now, L.A. Galaxy's specifically, which is the first time I've felt entitled to root for an L.A. team. I've lived in California 11 years but I still root for Illinois in most sports. Well, no more.

Anyway, I was thinking about why I fell so in love with soccer this time around, and I think it's the same reason I like reading bestselling books: To feel connected to the rest of the world, at a time when society is becoming ever-more fragmented into smaller and smaller subcultures.

There's something wonderful and magical about reading the hot summer item, the one with all the buzz, the book that's been at the top of the bestseller charts around the world for months. First, there's curiosity: "What's the fuss about?" Then there's impatience: "I gotta get my hands on this book!" Then there's that lovely feeling of a shared experience: "Ooh look, my co-worker/friend/random person on the train is also reading it! I wonder what they think??"

At the moment I'm reading Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

What book has got you frantic this summer?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thanksgiving in July

I went home* to the midwest for Fourth of July weekend and enjoyed a great many things to be thankful for. I got to meet my wonderful two-and-a-half month old niece, visit with old friends, hang out with my family, and oh yeah, watch a wild turkey wander around the curb of a busy intersection.

Known as the Lake Bluff Turkey, the oddly majestic creature has received TV news coverage and inspired a Facebook page, T-shirts and bumper stickers. As far as I can tell, it's been there since early June. 

Why is it there? How is it still alive? What does it eat? Why has no one claimed it?  Has it caused many traffic accidents, or does it add cheer to everyone's commutes? So. Many. Questions. Also I LOOOOVE the cheesy local news headlines, all "ruffled feathers" and "let's talk turkey."


* Considering I haven't lived there full-time since I was 18, is it still home?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Print Journalism Reborn (At Least, Quarterly)

Heard an intriguing interview last night on NPR (I was in the "good" car for my commute last night, the one that gets radio reception on the 405. Although in some ways it's also the bad car because the ride is bumpy, whereas the bad car is "good" in that regard). Anyway!

Warren Olney interviewed Laurie Ochoa, co-founder of the new quarterly journal, Slake. And yes, it's a print publication. There is paper involved. Over 200 pages of paper, in fact, and it's all about Los Angeles. But not in the way you think; it's not about Hollywood or celebrities. There are pieces of cross-genre fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and what's considered longform journalism; the kind of measured, slower, indepth reporting that's hard to find these days. I'm drooling and have already ordered a copy off Amazon, though it's also available at independent bookstores like Skylight and Book Soup.

For more info, check out this article in Brand X, featuring Laurie and her fellow editor Joe Donnelly, in which Laurie states, "Everyone talks about print being gone already, but it's not gone, it's still here. And we don't want to give up on it."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Recommended Viewing: "The People vs George Lucas"

I caught a documentary screening at the L.A. Film Festival last night called The People vs George Lucas. It was a brilliant examination of the Star Wars franchise, its most ardent fans, and the disappointment/rage the fans felt when Lucas tinkered with the original trilogy and released the prequels.

I was a fairly casual fan of the series. I was born the year Episode IV: A New Hope first hit theaters, I rented the original trilogy on VHS as a kid, and my friends and I watched the films regularly in college. Oh, and I had a lifesize Han Solo cardboard cutout in my first apartment. And at one point I collected the cards... (Okay, upon further reflection, I was a medium-sized fan.) So I well remember the anticipation and frustration provoked by Lucas' misadventures in the late 1990s and early 2000s that seemed to undermine the greatness of his creation.

The People vs George Lucas is an often-hilarious and touching celebration of film and fandom, and poses the question: Does Lucas alone control the rights to his masterpiece, or, once something becomes a part of the global cultural zeitgeist, do the people who made it a success/were most affected by it have some say? *

As the film progressed, I changed my mind quite a few times regarding this central theme -- and that, to me, is a good indication of a well-produced and thoughtful documentary.

*edited to add: especially when it comes to the altered re-releases, which, some argue, fundamentally changed the characters (*cough* Han)

Monday, June 21, 2010

How to Get Published in an Anthology, Part 2

My friend Amy Spalding was recently published in the anthology CLICK: When We Knew We Were Feminists, which has been called "diverse, touching, and entertaining" by Gloria Steinem.

CLICK here (get it? get it?) to read an excerpt from Amy's terrific essay, "My Number One Must-Have."

I was curious about her experience contributing to the book, and how it might have differed from my experience writing for a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology (see Friday's post for more on that).

Ready, set, Q&A!

Q: How did you find out about CLICK? Was there a call for submissions? Did someone send you a link to the guidelines?

A: One of the editors posted at the blog Feministing about it with a call for entries. The theme was the "click moment" one realized they were a feminist. At this point, there were some recognized names in modern feminist writing and activism signed on to the project already, but they wanted a wider range of experiences and stories, so they were putting out a wider call. I didn't have to submit a full essay at this point, just about 100 words about what I would write, in the style and voice I would use.

It was several months later when I received notification that I had been selected to write for the anthology, and at that time I was given a word-count guideline and a deadline to complete the first draft of my essay.

Q: Did you know immediately what you wanted to write about, or did it come to you gradually?

A: I knew immediately what I wanted to write about, as my personal growth through my relationship with music - most specifically Sleater-Kinney, but other bands as well - has informed so much for me, and really came to define parts of my life that can pretty easily be labeled "before" and "after". So few events in life are capable of giving you a new era of yourself, so when they occur they're not too hard to recognize as such... at least for me.

Q: Have you submitted to any other anthologies before? If so, was this process similar, or different? If not, why did you choose CLICK?

A: I hadn't. At the time I sent out my short proposal, I had never before tried to get any writing published or represented in any way. However, like I said, this part of my life seemed so big and important to me. I'd actually for some time wondered if there would ever be an opportunity to express it in a large way, so the announcement for CLICK just really aligned with that desire.

Q: Was it difficult to write something personal? 

A: The process of writing my essay, "My Number One Must-Have" (which is a take on a title of a song of Sleater-Kinney's that is among the most outward in stating a particular ideology) was ultimately far more difficult in many ways than I expected. First of all, I hadn't ever really written any sort of personal essay, outside of some assignments in college when I was seventeen. The only writing I did was all fiction, and all novel-length. So just the format itself was daunting to me. I wasn't sure how to structure it or how much ground to cover.

But the personal aspect of my essay absolutely became the most difficult part of the task for me. I was used to writing about fictional characters and their fictional troubles. Not only did it feel rather foreign to stick to the facts, I had been so focused on the good parts of my story (the "after") that I hadn't really considered that a big chunk of my essay would be devoted to the "before". I had moved on, but I still had to put myself back in my former mindspace, where life was difficult and my options seemed limited.

Q: Did you have any trouble conjuring up memories from that time in your life, or was it still pretty fresh?

A: It became easier as I wrote. At first, it was just such a strange experience writing a personal essay, period, that it felt like a lot of work. As I settled in to the piece, the details began to emerge more clearly, and it was easier hashing everything out on paper.

Q: How long did it take the editors [Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan] to send a response? Also, did they have notes, or accept the essay as-is?

A: My essay was accepted based off a proposal, so by the time I sent in the actual essay to the editors, I already knew it would be appearing in the book. Several weeks, maybe a couple months later I received feedback, and at that point I revised a bit, sent it back in, and received one more request for revisions.

The revisions I made actually all had to do with digging deeper for more personal details, more emotion, etc. This was no small task as it's really not in my nature to dump what I carry around in my heart onto pieces of paper in this manner; while I love sharing thoughts online and maintaining a large social network, I'm not one who delves into the truly personal with strangers on any sort of a regular basis (unless therapy counts?). With each rewrite I think I conquered this a little, and I knew I'd completed the final version when it literally made me cry to write. And - yes - that was the version that was accepted officially for the book.

Q: How long after your essay was accepted did it take for the book to appear on shelves?

A: Actually not too long - about eight months.

Q: Would you submit to more anthologies after this?

A: I definitely would, if I connected with the overall subject matter and if I respected the editors and publisher. I'm not desperate just to get my writing out there any way I can, so I would never want to contribute just to contribute. That said, there are a lot of topics I'm interested in, and this was such a positive experience that I definitely hope it isn't the last.

Q: Were you ever nervous about the topic of feminism in general, since there are so many differing interpretations of and/or potential knee-jerk responses to it? 

A: I don't know; perhaps I should have been? But I really wasn't. I'm really active in educating myself on feminism, and through my readings and my life's experiences have definitely formed my own ideology that feels very solid and secure, and while I know the world doesn't necessarily agree with me, that doesn't really faze me. I also really hope that my story in CLICK can be a part of the book's overall inspiration for younger women, or women who haven't had their "click moment" yet. I also hope that my specific story, which has to do with music, might help dismantle some of society's stereotypes that feminism is for strident academic types who hate men and fun, when that stereotype rarely holds true - as most stereotypes don't, obviously. Out of those descriptors, only "academic" describes me, and I'm actually thrilled to let the world see that feminism doesn't have to only be about poring over Butler and hooks, etc., but can be about the joy of music and shared experience too.

I agree. Thanks, Ames!

Friday, June 18, 2010

How to Get Published in an Anthology, Part 1

A great way to build up your writing clips is to submit personal essays to anthologies. It looks awesome on a query, it's a relatively fast route to publication (usually within six months of acceptance), and it proves you have the ability to tailor your work to a specific market.

In 2006, my essay about martial arts as a stress-reliever got published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul: Healthy Living anthology. The Chicken Soup and a Cup of Comfort books are always looking for submissions, and have easy-to-follow guidelines on topics, word counts, and styles. I saw their call for submissions on Craigslist in 2005 and followed a link to their main site for specifics and upload info.

Once I hit send, I received an email stating that each essay would be evaluated by "a variety of readers, including professionals who are interested in that topic, editors, writers, and contributors to previous Chicken Soup books." They would score each essay based on "how it made them feel (its emotional or humor content), interesting development of character or plot, and values learned or lessons taught."

After they accepted my story, I had to get signed permission from the real figures depicted (such as my martial arts instructor) to publish the piece. It was a bit scary writing about my real life, but also exciting to think that someone might read and enjoy it. The book's been on my shelf for a few years and every once in a while I pick it up and smile. You won't get rich from anthology publication, but it's a fun way to stretch your writing muscles in-between querying or working on longer pieces.

Next week for Part 2, I'll be interviewing the lovely Amy Spalding on her recent experiences getting published in the fantastic feminist anthology, "Click."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mmmm, Apocalypse-y

Hey "Hunger Games" fans, the latest New Yorker analyzes the dystopian trend in YA novels. (Yes, it's the infamous "20 Under 40" issue that lists the most promising writers of a generation. Maybe the YA version of this list should be "40 Characters Under 20." That I'd want to see.)

By the way, is it still a trend if articles are being written about it? Does it mean the trend is on its way out, or just beginning? I hope it's the latter; I love dystopian books.

Either way, there's this AMAZING poster outside my office building. It looks like a relic that will be found one day in a dystopian future. Plus it is personally horrifying to me since it involves my commute. The guy in his car at the intersection when I snapped this image totally agreed that it's scary looking.

Click the pic to better observe the garbage, weeds, detritus of an election, danger sign, and chainlink fence, and shudder along with me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Recommended Reads: His 'n' Hers Rehab

I LOVE rehab books, ever since I read "Postcards From the Edge" by Carrie Fisher when I was in high school. Films like Girl, Interrupted and On the Edge also draw me in.

This past week I read two YA books set in rehab: "Cut" by Patricia McCormick and "Under the Wolf, Under the Dog" by Adam Rapp.

In both, the main character (male and female, respectively) doesn't want to talk, especially at group (that's "group therapy" for you rehab newbies), and isn't easily categorizable. Neither druggies nor a suicide risks, Callie and Steven fall somewhere in the middle and there's an element of secrecy surrounding how they ended up at their facilities. Coincidentally, both books feature a pivotal scene in a Dunkin' Donuts, which warmed my Midwest heart.

"Cut" is a lean, lovely 150 pages, and occasionally reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak," and "Wolf" clocks in at 310 pages, featuring a Holden Caulfield-esque narrator ("If you want to know the truth...") who has a series of breakdowns after his mother's death.

Both books were so well written that I'm already reading another book by McCormick, "Purple Heart," and I plan to read "33 Snowfish" by Rapp.

*Edited to add: Finished "Purple Heart," and it was so good I don't want to read any other fiction for a day or two because I don't want to move on from these characters yet.

Has anyone else read a book so good you hesitate to start a new one?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Something For Shel Silverstein Fans

Took this photo the other day and had to share.


"There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind..."


-Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Horror

I went to my new dentist this morning and he said he thinks I need braces for my overbite! GAH! Apparently my two dominant uppers are like grinding down my defenseless lowers. (Do you think I'm stressed?)

I managed to survive all of adolescence and my twenties without a retainer or braces so I have no intention of going down without a fight.

I've got a consult with an orthodontist next Wednesday. I've already refused a mouthguard at night because I've tried it before and it didn't end well.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Backstory: How Much, How Little, When, and Where?

Lost (RIP) was a master of backstory.

Starting with the first scene of the pilot, the show followed the cardinal rule of screenwriting: open in the midst of a crisis, and introduce your characters by showing how they react to it.

Having crashed on an island, Jack opens his eyes, gathers what he can of his situation, and springs into action doing what he does best: saving other people.

And once the audience sees the plane wreckage and starts to meets the survivors, they want to know A) what happened on the plane? and B) who are these people?

Using parallel stories (one taking place on the island, and one taking place before the crash), the show jumped back and forth between two equally compelling plots each episode.

I struggle a lot with back story. I don't want to overload the beginning with information that's not relevant, but I also don't want to provide too little information and risk alienating the reader. If the audience doesn't understand why someone behaves a certain way, they might lose patience or stop caring about the character altogether.

How do you balance "present time" versus backstory? Do any novels or TV shows inspire you in this regard?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Best Part of Going to the Magic Castle

(Beside the magic, of course...) is seeing the reactions of people who've never been before.

My husband Joe performed all last week in the Close-Up Gallery, and I brought friends on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday. I'd planned to go even more, but with my commute and his late schedule (he performed 10 pm to 1:45 am) it was a little tricky. 

The Castle is a private club for magicians and there's no place like it in the world. Seeing it through the eyes of first-timers is a blast because I never know what's going to fascinate them most: the portraits whose eyes follow you? Saying the secret code to get past the entrance door?  The winding, hidden hallways and a floor plan that mysteriously never quite adds up? The Houdini Seance Room? The fact that there are five separate bars? 

Joe's week was great because not only does he have a killer new show, the rest of the magician acts were completely different in technique, style, and tone, so the variety of performances complemented each other well. I think it was one of those wonderful combinations that only comes around once in a while.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Questions to Ponder While Stuck in Traffic on the 405

1. How did the graffiti artist get up that high?
      a) Why is the word "Wucky" spray-painted on the side of that truck? Was the creator a Wookiee fan who can't spell? Or is it an homage to Russell Brand's "My Booky Wook"?

2. Will I be able to drive 6 miles in 40 minutes? *

3. Would walking be faster, at this point?

4. Why is the guy in front of me letting everyone into our lane????

5. Is the 101 interchange the root of all evil?

6. Who is "Dr. Gutter, Inc." and does he have a PhD?

7. What genius coined the term "rush" hour? The same person responsible for the phrase "short sale"?

8. And finally, How much does the bus cost, and where do I catch it?


* No, no I will not.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An Abundance of Jonahs

In the last month or so, I've read three YA books featuring a lead character named Jonah:
1. "Jellicoe Road" by Melina Marchetta
2. "How to Say Goodbye in Robot" by Natalie Standiford
3. "The Black Book Diaries" by Jonah Black  (a fictional narrator)

This isn't a trend for anyone but me. It's completely random that I happened to read these books in a cluster.

Still, I'm curious why the name was chosen. Although most famous for the Biblical figure who was swallowed by a whale,  Jonah also means "dove," according to www.behindthename.com

None of the characters in the above-mentioned books are particularly peaceful or dove like. In fact, the first two are pretty antisocial and give the main female character angst.

How do you pick your characters' names? Do you ever study the etymology first, or do you just go with what feels and sounds right?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lotsa Love for "Lost"

I needed a few days to process the finale of Lost before I posted, but overall I loved how the series ended, and I'm keeping the Jimmy Kimmel special on hold just so I'll have something to look forward to.  

Lost was unique. I can't think of any other show on TV that so beautifully combined action/adventure, sci-fi/fantasy, romance, philosophy, mythology, time travel (!!), and mystery. There really was something for everyone.

I love the way epic TV events bring people together and in this case, Lost went all out. The episode was broadast "day and date" -- something usually reserved for blockbuster movie franchises -- meaning it aired simultanously across the world (like 5 a.m. in London) to avoid spoilers and bootlegs getting out.

The Internet kind of exploded, too. According to Variety, "Google tracked more than 1,700 online news articles and 245 blog posts about the finale by midday Monday." At my office, we've been literally talking about it around the watercooler for the past few years and I'm going to miss that. The characters on the show were so richly drawn I feel like I've had to say goodbye to some friends.

Reviews of the finale were mixed, mostly divided into two categories: the "But they didn't answer X!!!!" people, and the "Emotionally satisfied but slightly confused" people who enjoy analyzing and interpreting the different possibilities. 

io9 hated it...

But the Onion's AV club loved it.

As did Entertainment Weekly. Perhaps most intriguingly, someone claiming to have worked for Bad Robot (Lost's production company) also chimed in.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cyber Clean

Thanks for the brainstorming tips and encouragement yesterday. I haven't typed anything in the past few days, but I have written some free associations by hand, done a bit o' research and come up with some solutions to my plot dilemma. Gonna give the issue a few more days to percolate.

In the meantime I've discovered new and creative time wasters. Yesterday I cleaned my keyboard with ecto-plasma neon goop, er, I mean, Cyber Clean. It's completely weird. I love how they refer to cell phones as "high tech equipment."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Case of the Mondays

Or at least a six pack.

We set up our home office this week. My husband did an amazing job putting it together and I love it. Computer, printer, slide-out tray for keyboard, phone, back-up hard drive, ergonomic chair, coffee...

I should be writing up a storm but I screeched to a halt Sunday night. To be fair, I had been writing up a storm until that point, and then I got to the halfway mark of my revision and felt like I'd wandered over to the edge of a plot cliff.

Each option presents new problems.

I'm driving myself crazy so I've decided to stop thinking about it for a few days and see if my brain will come up with a solution when I'm not actively pursuing one.

Have you reached an impasse in your writing recently? What did you do to overcome it?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Small Advance, Huge Prize

According to the Christian Science Monitor, this year's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Tinkers" by Paul Harding, was rejected by 20 publishers and only earned him a $1,000 advance.

"Tinkers" story centers on a man, now dying, who repairs antique clocks. Despite the tough road to publication, the novel was lauded by the L.A. Times, the New Yorker and the Boston Globe prior to capturing the Pulitzer.

Do you think Harding's next advance will be bigger? ;)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Diabetes Research Auctions - With Literary Prizes

Attention writers!

Win a 30-page read and phone comments from literary agent Sara Megibow. Trust me when I say her notes will be AMAZING. Best of all, it's for a worthy cause -- all proceeds in the auction go to benefit diabetes research. You've got about two and a half more weeks to place your bid.

Live in the DC area? Love politics?

Here's another great auction, courtesy of the awesome Miranda Kenneally: Lunch and a private tour at the U.S. Department of State.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Writing Lessons From "30 Rock"

Tina Fey is one of my favorite writers and performers and I have a theory about why her character on 30 Rock, Liz Lemon, works so well.

In comedy there are two basic types of characters: the straight man, who reacts to everybody else, and the wacky one, who gets to do ridiculous things. Liz Lemon is both, depending on who else is in the scene with her. For example, when she's in boss mode and has to corral the talent on the show-within-the-show, she's often exasperated and deadpan, but when she's in employee mode and heads upstairs to Jack Donaghy's (Alec Baldwin) office in the corporate arena, she's a bundle of quirks and physical comedy. She's three-dimensional but never contradictory.

Nobody is just "one thing" and I think viewers relate easily to Liz because A) we all think of ourselves as weird or nerdy and B) we also think other people can be worse.

Do your characters change when they interact with different people? Does their language and behavior reflect the differences?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Is it Necessary to Have This Much Cranberry Juice?

At my local Von's, there is an aisle devoted to cranberry juice and every variation you can think of. This photo is just the tip of the iceberg. It's too big for my camera.

There's 100% juice, juice cocktail, plain cran, cran with apple, cran with pomegranate, blueberry cran, raspberry cran, diet of all of the above, "light" of all of the above, generic, brand name, six-packs, gallons.

It makes me think of Andy Warhol, and Western excess.


My mother moved to the U.S. from Zimbabwe in 1970, and the grocery stores overwhelmed her with the sheer amount and variety of what should have been basic items. I finally understand what she meant.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"How big the world is!" the ducklings said.

"The Ugly Duckling" by Hans Christian Anderson is one of my favorite kids' stories. As I'm sure you remember, the poor duckling is an outcast who spends a miserable winter alone, fending off the bitter weather and the other animals' cruelty and scorn.

But eventually... "He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him..."

I always thought that was a great lesson, because how can we know what it means to be happy unless we've also experienced unhappiness?

For those writers who are querying agents, out on submission, or just plugging away at a third or fourth draft, do you think years of hard work and uncertain toil will make success all the sweeter, or do you wish fortune would shine on you now?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Reverse Schadenfreude?

It's no secret among my friends that I like messed-up memoirs. In fact, most of the non-fiction books I choose to read depict a world or situation I'm vaguely horrified by.

Recent reads include "Among the Thugs," about soccer hooligans in Europe; "Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics' Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams"; "Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China"; "Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea"; and "The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective." Last night I started "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary lives in North Korea" by Barbara Demick.

Why do I read such downer books? Probably for the same reason I watch Intervention and Extreme Hoarders: not to delight in others' misfortunate, but to celebrate their hard-won victories, remind myself how lucky I am, and learn what life's like for people who A) grew up in other countries B) grew up in other time periods. Also, real life is definitely stranger than fiction, and can inspire me in different ways than fiction does.

If you read non-fiction, what topics pique your interest?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A note to inspire

"Who wants to become a writer? And why?... It's the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower of life, even if it's a cactus."

-- Enid Bagnold, British novelist and playwright

My mom sent me this quote in the mail a few years ago and it's had a home on my bulletin board ever since. Whenever I feel down about my writing or wonder what I'm doing, it perks me up.

Today's my birthday (my Facebook wall doesn't know what hit it) and I may be getting the most wonderful present later: a niece!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Quick Primer on E-Publishing

I have to admit I've been conspicuously avoiding most talk about e-books. When the words "e-publishing," "Kindle," "iPad," "Sony Reader," and "agency model" appear, my eyes kind of glaze over. I know I should be following this stuff. I know I should be informed.

Part of my hesitancy to delve into the topic is pure denial. (Always smart.) I'd like to think that someday I'll have a physical book on a shelf in a brick-and-mortar bookstore (another term that earns the Eye Glaze. "Brick and mortar"? Did anyone even use this phrase until recently?).

Because really, who dreams of one day having a downloadable file?

But last night I read a fantastic article, "Publish or Perish," in the New Yorker, about Kindle vs iPad, publishers' attempts to set prices with e-distributors, the hope that Apple may "save" the publishing business, and various insights from staffers at the six largest publishing houses.

And click ye here for Kristin Nelson's excellent posts on the Amazon / Macmillan war as it unfolded.

Friday, April 23, 2010

L.A. Times Book Festival and Another Idaho Pic

It's been quite a week! I returned from Idaho on Monday, got lotsa notes on my YA WIP (okay, a "yawip"  sounds like an exotic breed of dog, the bark the dog makes, or both) and tonight I've got a college friend visiting from out of town.

I also read two excellent books ("The Girl Who Fell From the Sky" by Heidi Durrow and "Albatross" by Josie Bloss).

If you live in L.A., be sure to check out the Festival of Books this weekend at UCLA. The line-up is amazing; guests include Meg Cabot and Dave Cullen.

And now, a random photo of Boise, taken by my husband. :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Trip to Idaho

I just returned from a lovely trip to Idaho, where my husband Joe is performing magic at Mystique restaurant in Boise for the month of April.

My agent-mate Natalie Bahm and her husband were kind enough to join me for a meal and show, and we got to chat reading and writing, which was really cool.

Fun fact: the Idaho state lotto features "Cheers" scratch-offs. It's almost like I designed it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Recommended Read: "The Tyranny of Email"

In "The Tyranny of Email: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox", John Freeman explains how globalization, the concept of "now," and the synchronization of time have robbed us of a sense of leisure, personal and private life, the importance of local events, and even identity.

Disclaimer: Yes, I realize the irony of writing about the perils of the Internet while on the Internet. Also: I love Skyping with friends and family across the world, and I know email's an invaluable (and addictive) tool... I just like to occasionally assess my use of it, and I found Freeman's history of mail fascinating.

Here are some eye-opening tidbits from the book:

* Long before instant messages, texts, and Tweets, the postcard was blamed as the reason for the end of elegant composition; the "reason our daughters write like housemaids and express themselves like schoolboys." (Ha!)

* Oscar Wilde's telegram to his publisher, regarding book sales: "?"
The response: "!"

* 65% of North Americans spend far more time with their computer than their spouse.

* Because emails tend to look the same (and are read on a screen) there's no tactile sensation in the communication. In the past, different paper was used (formal letters used to be printed on heavy stock; telegrams with dire news were rimmed with black around the edges as a warning).

Want more? Check out Freeman's Manifesto for Slow Communication in the Wall Street Journal, from which I culled this: "The speed at which we do something -- anything -- changes our experience of it...not all judgments benefit from a short frame of reference... We need time in order to properly consider the effect of what we say upon others. We need time to shape and design and filter our words..."

(Good thing Google added that "unsend" button ;)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Typo City, Population: Me

Per Amy's suggestion, I've been reading my latest manuscript out loud to myself, and DANG there are a lot of typos. I also abuse certain words. Without plopping the whole text into Wordle.net, I predict that my most common offenders are:

"Even"
"Totally"
"That"
"Ever"

How embarrassing! I'm purging my text of unnecessary qualifiers. I definitely recommend reading your work out loud because you really don't catch the same problems when skimming or reading silently. It's a bit tough and awkward at first, but worth it.

On the plus side, by the time I send it along to my agent it'll be in cleaner shape.

My voice will also be hoarse.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Commuter Mind-set

I've been commuting for a month now, and what have I learned?

If I leave at 10, I get to work at 11.

If I leave at 10:05, I get to work at 11.

If I leave at 10:15, I get to work at 11.

If I leave at 10:20, I get to work at 11.

For some reason, convincing myself of this basic fact has proven challenging.

Here's what usually happens. At 10, I think, "I should probably get going...but no, it's okay, wait just a bit longer for traffic to clear out."

At 10:05 I think, "Getting closer... but DON'T LEAVE yet, it'll just be bumper-to-bumper at at the 101."

10:10: "Don't do it... just WAIT... STEADY, STEADY..."

10:20: "OMG, GO! GO!"

Clearly, 10:15 is the golden moment. My best time heading in is 37 minutes, which is only about 10 minutes longer than my old commute. Woohoo.

Other things I've learned since moving: Santa Clarita doesn't have a police station. They have a Sheriff's Department! I feel so Veronica Mars.

P.S. I also have a commuter tan now, i.e. my right arm up to my shirtsleeve is tan, and the rest of me is pale.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lotsa Updates

Hey there! I'm back from my writing retreat, and about 2/3 done revising my YA novel. My friends Amy, Kristen and Heidi were the perfect companions. We were very focused (my parents were a bit scared, I think) and got crazy amounts of work done.

Here was our schedule of insanity for about 4 days straight:

8:00 a.m. - Wake up
8:30 a.m. - Walk into town for Starbucks or Coffee Bean, walk back, cook some eggs for breakfast
9:30 a.m. - Briefly discuss goals for the day; head to separate rooms/corners/outside shade tables
1:00 p.m. - Reconvene for lunch (Mom set out salad, bread, cheese, cookies, chips & salsa - Go Mom!)
2:00 p.m. - Read, write and revise more (I also played hooky one or two days and went swimming)
5:30/6/6:30 p.m. - Reconvene for a glass of wine, walk back into town for dinner (thanks, Dad!!) or farmer's market with my parents
8:00 p.m. - Hit Borders or head home, read, write and revise a bit more
10:00 p.m. - Meet up again, discuss our day, and read excerpts from past or present work. This was such a fun way to end the evening.

On Friday we stayed up till 2 a.m., like a slumber party. Special thanks to Heidi for flying out from Seattle. It felt like a real retreat with an out-of-stater and I think it motivated us to work harder.

Since then, I've learned that my blogging buddy Caroline Starr Rose sold her middle-grade novel. Big congrats to her! Looks like she'll be able to put all her publicity ideas into motion.

I won't be able to update my blog very much during the month of April. Two reasons:

1. My tendonitis is flaring up again (this tends to happen when I revise; it's not the typing, it's the scrolling, text-highlighting and clicking with the mouse that gets me)

2. My husband Joe will be in Boise, Idaho, performing his awesome magic for the lucky patrons of Mystique. Check out his video blog on the subject here. He's bringing the desktop computer with him, so I'll be limited to weekday usage and some weekends at the library. I think it'll be good to give my hands a bit of a break (and finish unpacking) while I wait to get feedback on my YA novel.