Friday, December 30, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Lost in Austen

Once again, Foreign Service Friday is a little light this week. All I can tell you is that we got really, really lucky, because apparently a bunch of people were just added to the register with incredibly high scores (must be a lot of people learning Arabic and Mandarin these days). Someone with a 5.8 is somewhere like 45 on the list, which means John's 5.575 would almost certainly not have gotten him called off the register for a very long time. I guess it was meant to be!

This week, John is in Italy with friends. Even worse, it was my idea. What was I thinking, you ask? Well, I was just coming off of my Cancun high, and I was feeling generous. As the departure time approached, however, I started to wonder what the hell was wrong with me. But it's actually not so bad being on our own. I get to watch all the bad TV I want when John's away, and I have a little more time to write. Speaking of TV, this week's inspiration comes in the form of a British miniseries I discovered on Netflix (desperate times, my friends - all of my shows should be starting again soon, thank goodness!). The series is called "Lost in Austen," and I'm in love with it.

I was a little late hopping on the Jane Austen bandwagon, at least compared to most women I know. The first Jane Austen novel I read was Pride and Prejudice, and that wasn't until the Keira Knightley movie came out I think. But thanks to a Jane Austen collection I got back when I used to work for a book distributor and got all my books for free, I read all of her novels at once, so I caught up fairly quickly. Since then I've watched almost every film version of every novel, but I'd never come across "Lost in Austen" until the other day. The thing that's so great about this show is that it's basically every Austen-loving female's fantasy. The main character, Amanda Price, lives in London with her lazy boyfriend and reads Pride and Prejudice over and over, wishing she could be a part of a world where chivalry and manners aren't dead.

Jemima Rooper as Amanda Price
One day, after her boyfriend proposes in a drunken haze, Amanda goes into her bathroom and discovers Elizabeth Bennett standing in her shower. Amanda then goes through a secret door in her bathroom wall and finds herself in the Bennet's home, Longbourn. Elizabeth locks the door from the other side, and Amanda is forced to stay in Longbourn while Elizabeth roams around 21st century London. Amanda finds herself right at the beginning of the novel, with Darcy and Bingley having just come to town.

Amanda does her best to keep things in line - Jane should marry Bingley, Elizabeth should marry Darcy, and Mr. Wickham should get what he deserves - but try as she might, Amanda can't seem to help screwing things up royally. And she can't help falling in love with Darcy, even though she knows he belongs to Elizabeth. I won't give away too much more of the plot, but I will say the series is funny, romantic, and surprising, which is pretty much as good as it gets in my book. There's also this:

Like I said, every Austen-loving female's fantasy.

Do yourself a favor and watch "Lost in Austen" this weekend (or give your wife/girlfriend/partner a few free hours to watch it). Happy New Year to all of you - see you in 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: New Year's Resolutions, of the Writing Kind

Every year I have a few recurring New Year's Resolutions: worry less, live in the moment, be a better wife and mother, run more, etc. See last year's post for the whole list. And every year, I think I get a little bit better about all of those things.

But every year, I also have my separate list of Writing Resolutions, and those ones seem to be a little harder to stick to. For example, it's been a goal for about five years now to get a literary agent. Obviously that's not as easy to do as running twenty miles a week. I can write the best book I'm able to write, and an awesome query letter and synposis, and still not guarantee that I'm going to get an agent. Running, on the one hand, requires putting one foot in front of the other. Whether I succeed or fail depends on nothing but my own dedication. But publishing? That requires about a dozen moving parts, ten or so of which are completely out of my control.

One of my goals last year was to finish a book I started in 2003, the first book I ever attempted to write. I did work on it for a while, but I found myself stymied fairly quickly, and after that I floundered around aimlessly, sending out a few last queries on The Book Collector, then revising an old book and querying that without success. But I finally realized that just like with running, what I really needed to do was move forward - to put one foot in front of the other and refuse to look back at all the failure and rejection. The wise words of one editor and the idea for an undead girl named Friday helped me to stop obsessing over the past and get excited about the possibility of future success.

As much as I love writing lists and crossing things off, as awesome as it feels to set goals and meet them, there are some things in life that simply refuse to stick to the timelines we set for ourselves. John always tells me that you don't have to make resolutions on January 1st; there are 364 other perfectly good days in the year to decide to change your life. And guess what? 2012 is a Leap Year, so we all have one extra day to make something positive happen.

What are your Writing Resolutions for 2012? Please share in the comments!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mommy Mondays: A Christmas to Remember

I'm sure most of you are still enjoying your holidays, so I'm keeping this week's blog posts short and sweet. I just wanted to share a few of the highlights of Christmas 2011, particularly those involving Jack. I mentioned in a recent post how the spirit of Christmas was alive and well in our house, and that certainly proved true this year. Having Grandma Patti, Uncle Mike, and Auntie Shasha here to celebrate helped immensely. Jack was introduced to the vintage Rankin/Bass Christmas movies thanks to Grandma Patti, and Rudolph is a big hit around here, let me tell you.

What's not to love?

On Christmas morning, Jack came downstairs to find his Christmas gift (the main event, anyway - this kid is ridiculously spoiled by friends and family members; I have a feeling things are going to be a little different next year when we're living in BFE). I was hoping to recapture some of the joy on his face when everyone sang happy birthday at his party. It wasn't quite to that level, but it was still pretty good.

Elmo AND a bike? Woohoo!
I think everyone received something really special this year. John got the Kindle Fire, courtesy of me; Sarah got a gift card to Forever21 and clothes from Anthropologie AND Urban Outfitters; Mike got a dive watch for his upcoming training at the Commercial Dive Academy (we're incredibly proud that he earned a full-ride scholarship there); and I got a beautiful necklace I spotted in Annapolis from John, as well as a family heirloom ring from John's mother, and the cutest pair of hot air balloon tights ever from Sarah. Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Bob also bought Jack a little tractor to go with his farm - it's adorable, but the song it plays is probably going to drive me crazy in the next couple of weeks.

Thanks a lot, Grandma.
 Of course, the thing that REALLY might drive me crazy is this dog.

The singing dog, also known as the antichrist.
Sure, it may look like a harmless stuffed Basset Hound. But let me assure you, this thing is from the devil. If they ever need a new interrogation technique at Guantanamo, they need look no further than this hound from Hades. He sings a song that is so obnoxious it literally makes my stomach turn when Jack pushes that little red button on his arm. I hate him. And I told Patti that if she left this dog in my house, I could not be held responsible for what happens to him. Guess what? She left him. He is so horrible that I'm not sure it would be the kind thing to do to donate him to charity. This dog belongs in one place and one place alone - the fiery pits of Mordor. But it would take a fellowship far stronger than anything Tolkien dreamed up to maintain their sanity in the company of this wretched creature.

I think I could probably devote an entire blog post to annoying children's toys - the people who create these things are clearly parent-hating sadists - but it's the holidays so I'll end on a positive note.  I'm grateful for so many things in my life, but first and foremost are the friends and family I am lucky enough to be surrounded by. Thank you all for your support and generosity this year. We love you guys so much.

Oh, and the dog is going to get it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I know today is technically supposed to be a Foreign Service Friday, but unfortunately there isn't much new to report. John got his salary offer and it was the best we could have hoped for, so that's one less thing to worry about. He also got his package of paperwork, which means at some point this weekend we'll be doing a lot of research into health insurance plans. That's one thing about the military I'll miss - free health care.

As far as this week's inspiration goes, I should clarify that I haven't seen the new movie yet. John and I are hopefully going tomorrow (thank you, Grandma, for the free babysitting!). I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for book club last year, and to be honest it wasn't my favorite book. I think Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating character, but I was left wanting more of her. That's one of the things I'm most looking forward to in the American film version (I'm almost finished with the third Swedish film): unlike the Swedish films, which are apparently quite true to the novels, the American film explores Lisbeth's character in further detail. To which I say: bring it on! Talk about a badass female character!

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander
I'm glad that they chose a relatively unknown actress for the role. Rooney Mara has some pretty big shoes to fill - Noomi Rapace made an excellent Lisbeth - but I don't know if I would have believed some of the people who tried out for the role, including Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson (I mean, seriously?). And I'm thrilled they chose Daniel Craig to play Mikael Blomvkist - perfect casting in my humble opinion. It will be interesting to see how violent this version is - the book is very graphic and the Swedish film doesn't leave much to the imagination. For now, I'm going to hop on the treadmill and finish the third film (they're all streaming for free on Netflix, by the way). I'm hoping afterward I'll feel inspired enough to rewrite the first chapter of my novel...

I hope you all have a very happy holiday weekend! In the meantime, here's a little something to tide you over until Monday.

The resemblance is uncanny, right?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Tweet This!

Yesterday I entered a contest on Kathleen Ortiz's blog. The winner gets a query critique from an agent, which is an awesome prize, right? But the contest ain't easy: Pitch your book in 140 characters or less, aka, in a single Tweet.

I for one am not a Twitter user. I rarely even update my Facebook status these days, so I highly doubt I'd have much to Tweet about. I do enjoy following a few agent and author Twitterers (I don't even know the damn terminology!) but that's about as far as my involvement goes. So I'm not really used to this whole "think in 140 characters" thing. If you've never Tweeted, let me tell you something: 140 characters is nothing. It's hard enough to limit a single thought to one or two sentences. But condensing an entire book into 140 characters is a true test of one's summarizing capabilities. Here's what I came up with:

Seventeen-year-old Friday Anderson discovers that the hipster musicians she's working for are actually immortals, and she's one of them.

That right there is 136 characters my friends (including spaces). I've noticed that many of the entrants in the contest did not stick to the parameters, and in my experience, people aren't always held to the rules in these sorts of things. This irks the living twit out of me. For example, I entered a writing competition once where the word limit was 300, and several of the winning entries were close to 400. Why have rules if people aren't going to be forced to stick to them, I ask you? What can I say, I'm a stickler for rules. And besides, I kind of enjoyed the challenge.

This picture is worth at least 140 characters.

So, my writing friends, you still have a few hours to enter the contest. And even if you're not at the querying stage, I'd love to hear your 140 character pitch in the comments!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mommy Mondays: All Growed Up

Yesterday our little guy turned two years old. It's hard to believe that just three years ago he hadn't even been mentally conceived, let alone physically. Back then, John and I didn't have a clue what the next couple of years would bring: we couldn't imagine the joy we'd feel when we got to hold our brand new baby for the first time, or the fear we'd experience when we brought him home from the hospital (as John would say repeatedly, "They're really just going to let us take him home? Just like that?"); I couldn't anticipate all the countless laughs John and I would share just watching Jack experience the world around him, or the way our bond as a couple would be strengthened by the presence of one little boy. Like I said, we didn't have a clue what life had in store for us for the past two years.  I think it's safe to say that's going to prove true for the rest of our lives.

Photo by Courtney Halvorsen

As I watched a gaggle of toddlers terrorize a soft play room yesterday, I marveled at all the individual personalities on display, the way these miniature people interacted with each other, their parents, and a pit full of plastic balls. The joy on Jack's face as his friends sang "Happy Birthday" to him was beyond priceless. He ate his homemade cupcake with complete abandon, then spent the half hour while I opened his presents playing with a single card. A friend posted a blog to her Facebook page last week, in which one mother explained why she wouldn't be teaching her children about Santa Claus. On the one hand, I could sort of see where she was coming from - yes, it's a "lie," technically - but part of the wonder of childhood, and to be perfectly honest, parenthood, is being allowed to believe in magic, to live in a world of imagination without price tags and credit card statements. I am so grateful to be able to provide that magic for Jack, and to have such amazing friends and family members who helped make Jack's special day just that - special.
Which is why, for now, Santa Claus is alive and well in our house. After all, it won't be long before Jack is all grown up and doesn't believe in magic anymore. At least until he has children of his own one day, and gets to experience that wonder through their eyes all over again.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Foreign Service Fridays: Let the Games Begin

Okay guys, so I know I usually do an inspiration post on Fridays, but I've been waiting for quite some time to make all my alliteration dreams come true with the introduction of Foreign Service Fridays.

That's right - John got his offer, and he has accepted! Which means he'll be starting the 165th A-100 class (or "Intro to the Foreign Service") on January 17th. For those of you who are wondering if this means we know which country we're going to - nope, not yet. We'll know somewhere around February 24th I believe, just in time for my birthday. But on January 18th we'll get the bid list - aka the list of available posts. And that is going to be an interesting day indeed.

According to John, there are 60 people in the January class. That means there will be 60 posts on the list (not 60 countries necessarily, since some countries have multiple posts). I feel like 60 is a good number. There should be a nice variety, but it won't be completely overwhelming. Of course I say that now - I'm sure 60 will feel totally overwhelming when the time comes. But for now, it sounds good.

For other Foreign Service folks who might stumble across this blog, John's score was a 5.575. He would have eventually had a 5.75 with his veteran's preference points, but he couldn't get those until after he officially gets out of the Marine Corps, some time in April. It turned out that having the January offers go out much later than usual worked in our favor - so many people who aren't local turned down their offers, because a lot of them have jobs they can't just up and leave on short notice, or because they can't move out here in less than a month. I'm not sure if a 5.575 would have been high enough under normal circumstances, but fortune smiled on us this time around. Not that I'm necessarily ready to move as early as next April or May (if we were to get a non-language coded country). Most likely we'll move some time next fall I'm assuming. It's so hard to say at this point. But I have a feeling the next few months are going to FLY.

So there you have it. I'll continue to update you guys on the situation in the coming weeks. But for now, all I can say is - IT'S ON! Let the Foreign Service games begin!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: When In Doubt, Ask An Agent

Every Thursday (well, most Thursdays), literary agent Meredith Barnes of Lowenstein Associates holds a forum on her blog, La Vie en Prose (isn't that a great title?), where you can ask a real live agent any question you have about publishing. Even if you don't have questions to ask, reading other people's questions - and Meredith's answers - is still extremely useful. Last week, I asked how quickly requested materials need to be sent to an agent. This question arose from having read about several people who queried while they were still doing revisions, and then waited up to six months before sending their manuscript. Anne Mini also says there's no rush to send materials. But I wondered how true that was from an agent's perspective.

Here was Meredith's answer:

"If you're querying, I assume that you think the book should go to print the next day. It's PERFECT. (It won't be, but that's ok.) It should be written, edited, read by beta readers, re-edited, and copy/line edited. Ready. And, of course COMPLETE.
So, if I request your book and never hear back, two things will happen:
1. I probably will forget that I requested it, since I'm requesting 10 other things that day.
2. When I do remember "Hey...where was that one thing..." I'll feel grrrr because 1. you queried when you didn't mean it; you faked me out or 2. you signed with someone else and didn't have the courtesy to let me know. I won't know which...but those are the most common scenarios and I'll feel negatively.
There are cases, though, where you've queried multiple agents (totally fine) and someone wrote you a nice fat editorial letter that you're working on right as my slow a$$ requests, too.
So you might think "Oh, can't sub to her until I'm finished!" But then I'm in NYC thinking "Damn. She 1. faked me out or 2. signed elsewhere." And I'm in a bad mood!
What you should do, if you're caught in this scenario, is email me back and let me know what's going on. You're revising, here's the gist of what's changing, and what should you do.
I might come back and say "oh sounds good, let me know when you're finished" or "Oh, no, I think it's fine as is, send me the original." OR I might say "Send me the Frankenstein manuscript." Just tack on the original for whatever you haven't revised and explain anything that needs it.
But either way, you've got to let me know what's up or I'll get all cranky. 
And if you've just queried an unfinished book, shame on you."

Pretty thorough, right? In response to her answer, I mentioned that it was sometimes difficult to know when your manuscript is really "perfect," especially when you're getting different feedback from beta readers. This prompted two separate blog posts regarding the subject. Talk about thorough! The first post talks about knowing when it's time to query. The second discusses what to do when you're getting different feedback from beta readers. Both were extremely helpful to me. I hope they'll be helpful to you too!

And just for fun... Some of you will recall our Christmas tree from last year, Custer. John and I hiked through Custer National Forest (in Montana) and chopped him down ourselves, with baby Jack in tow, in the snow, and we were quite proud of him. There were some haters on Facebook who made fun of Custer, but we loved him just the same.

Custer, naked.
This year I asked John if we could please just get a nice little tree, maybe even a tabletop tree, so that we (meaning I) wouldn't have to deal with Jack pulling off the ornaments and potentially trying to drink the water out of the tree stand. But no, no, we had to have a REAL tree, a BIG tree, a tree that smelled good and would take up roughly one third of our house. We had to have, in other words, the anti-Custer.

This year's monstrosity.
"This tree is massive," I said to John as we attempted to squeeze him into a corner of the living room.
"He's the anti-Custer," John said. "We'll have to name him Sitting Bull."
And so there you have it. Our tree, Sitting Bull, is REAL, he's BIG, he smells good and takes up roughly one third of our house. So far we have had one ornament casualty and no attempts at drinking out of the tree stand. But it's early days. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mommy Mondays: The Great Pacifier Dilemma

Ever since Jack was a teeny tiny baby, he has loved his pacifier. It wasn't something I ever set out to use, but if your child is a pacifier user, you understand its power. Why wouldn't you want to give your child something that helps him sleep through the night, helps calm him down when he's upset, and looks so cute all at the same time??

Jack at 5 months. Photo by Erin Manfredi.

For a while I was in denial about Jack's dependency on his "sucky"(my mom called our pacifiers "suckies" when we were little, and what can I say? It stuck), but eventually I had to face the truth. I knew that the day would come when I would have to take the sucky away, and I knew that day would not be pretty. In the meantime, I did what any sensible mother would do: I found ways to justify his addiction: It's just for now, while he's little; Once he's sleeping through the night on his own, then it will be time to take the pacifier away; Hey, it's better than thumb sucking! You can't throw that away! I promised myself that by the time Jack was a year old the sucky would be gone. But a year came and went in the blink of an eye. Eighteen months, I said, that's when we'll ditch the sucky. But eighteen months flew past, and still, Jack was using his sucky. Now, one week before Jack's second birthday, the decision looms once more: take the sucky, or put it off for another six months (or, let's be honest, quite possibly another year)?

A friend told me that her pediatric dentist said pacifiers are okay until three, which was music to my ears. After all, what harm IS the sucky, really, if it's not going to permanently damage Jack's teeth? Braces are inevitable in this kid's future anyhow, since I had mine for four painful years; of course, I also used a pacifier until I was four... Jack only uses his sucky at nap time and bed time, and when we're traveling. (Sure, sure, he's a little old to have one in public, but as far as I'm concerned all's fair in air travel with a toddler. I'm sure countless fellow passengers would agree.)

Of course, the sucky isn't just beneficial to Jack. I'm terrified that if I take the sucky away, the three hour naps will disappear with it. Jack sleeps eleven hours most nights - I shudder to think what might happen sans sucky. And on a deeper level, I think there's a part of me that doesn't want to say goodbye to the pacifier because it means Jack isn't a baby anymore. Sometimes when I go into his room to wake him up from his three-hour naps (the kid can SLEEP), he snuggles into his blankie and sucks a little harder on his pacifier, like he's willing me not to wake him up. It melts my heart.  But with his second birthday looming, I'm afraid I have to face the truth: Jack is growing up.  And yet...

Can you blame me?

Fortunately, I know that when the time does come (confession: I'm probably not going to take the sucky away just yet), Sesame Street will be there to help me, as always. There are several clips about Elmo giving up his binky, including the adorable Bye Bye Binky. And there's always the Pacifier Fairy if things get desperate.

Or I could just make Jack throw his sucky away on his fourth birthday, like my mom did to me. I still have the scars. (Just kidding Mom.) In the meantime, I'll just keep praying that Jack gives his sucky up on his own. Because if there's one thing that never fails to work for this mom, it's denial.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: One-Liners

When I work out, I like to watch TV. It's the only thing that distracts me from the monotony of the treadmill. Unfortunately, when my favorite shows go on their annoying winter hiatus, I'm forced to scan the Netflix archives for something decent to watch. Today I stumbled upon a fairly boring - yet surprisingly gory - film called "Ironclad."  I'd never heard of it; chances are you haven't either. I wouldn't bother. Except...

There's a scene between the stoic Templar knight and the young and beautiful wife of the lord of the castle. Naturally the lord is old and "uninterested" in his wife, so her roving eye falls on the handsome knight, who is doing his very best to stay away from her. Of course she continues to pursue him, handling his sword (I kid you not) and asking if she's holding it properly, just in case she needs to defend herself. Cheese-o-rama. But then, just when I think I'm going to have to look for something else to watch, the knight comes along with one of those great one-liners that I just can't resist: "I fight so you don't have to."

I admit it - I'm a sucker for a good line. Take, for example, Daniel Day-Lewis in "The Last of the Mohicans:" "No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you."

Outta my way, lady!
Clark Gable in "Gone With the Wind." Ryan Gosling in "The Notebook." Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice."

They all have great one-liners (it helps that they're all hot, too. Yes, even Clark). Sure, on their own the lines might seem a little over the top, but if there's enough blood, sweat, and tears to raise the stakes high enough (or if you're Michael Fassbender, in pretty much any situation), you can ask me my sign and I'll probably fall for it.

What about you? Are you a sucker for a good movie line? Feel free to share any favorites I may have missed!

And happy weekend, all!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Interview With an Immortal

Normally I regale you with tails of writerly woe on Wednesdays - or occasionally, if I'm feeling particularly upbeat, something I hope will be inspirational. Since I'm still stuck on revisions at the moment, I don't have much to report from the trenches. So I thought I'd try and do something more in keeping with a lot of writing blogs - pose a question to the readers, and see what you guys have to say.

So, my question for today is: Do you use a character profile worksheet?

I have never done one of these before. Usually my characters are pretty well formed in my head and I think of whatever details I need as I go along. The main character for my current WIP is Friday, a seventeen-year-old high school student (Technically she's sixteen, since she "died" just before her seventeenth birthday, but she doesn't like to be reminded of that). You'd think given my own miserable high school experience my main character would be plagued by insecurities, but I've written that character before, and I was a little sick of her. Friday is amazingly resilient given everything she's been through, but that comes from her upbringing (a lot of moving around, never having many friends), her tough-cookie mother, and the fact that she's actually very pretty. I'm told that helps in the self esteem department. Basically Friday is nothing like me - although we do share the same sense of humor, since I'm the one writing her and all.

I scrounged around online for a while and came up with quite a few character profile templates, but many of them are pretty dull, just sort of a laundry list of physical traits, background, likes and dislikes, etc. I'm not saying those things aren't important, but I think most writers probably know that much about their characters anyway (they certainly should!). What I wanted was something a little more unusual, questions that would force me to think a little harder about Friday's character. I found a pretty cool interview questionnaire on Here are a few of the questions I liked the most, and the answers I've come up with on Friday's behalf (I don't think she'll mind).

Favorite pig-out food: Nothing. Friday isn't much of a foodie, and now that she's immortal, she has no appetite anyway. But Glenda's apple pie is pretty good when she's feeling crappy.

Favorite book: Friday is into fantasy novels, so I'm going to go out on a limb and guess The Lord of the Rings. We haven't discussed this though, so don't take my word for it.

Every New Year's I resolve to: Have a boyfriend. Finally she can cross that one off her list.

I'm a sucker for: Long eyelashes. On horses and boys.

The worst advice that my mother gave me was: Not to be afraid. Sure, they were her dying words, but how is Friday supposed to not be afraid when she's got crazy immortals after her? Of course it's probably the best advice Friday's mother ever gave her, too. Life's like that sometimes.

My pet peeve is: Trucker hats.

I can die happy when: Friday can't die, so I liked the irony of this question. Friday doesn't appreciate my sense of humor in this particular instance, however.

So, do you use a profile worksheet? Inquiring minds want to know! And if you've got a good one, please share!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mommy Mondays: Thoughts From a Rabbit Mother

Yesterday Jack had his second preschool playdate, where the families from Jack's class got together at a park so we could get to know one another outside of school. If you've ever seen a bunch of two year olds playing together, you know that they're not actually playing together. So, for the most part, these playdates have consisted of parents scattered across the playground, watching their children amuse themselves with an abandoned ball or a broken pushcart.

For the first ten minutes Jack hopped back and forth across a small suspension bridge, gleefully shouting, "Jump, jump, jump!" Eventually a couple of other families made their way over to the bridge, including a kid who looked to be about three and a baby who had recently learned how to walk. I watched in a mixture of pity and amusement as John introduced himself to the children's parents, but finally I had to step in and tell him that their children didn't actually go to our preschool, so he was in essence introducing himself to random strangers for no reason. "I'm never speaking to anyone at a playdate ever again," he said.

Once John had recovered from that experience, we tried to make our way over to the swings, where the really friendly, outgoing, dare I say "popular" mom was. I've been trying to make friends with this woman since orientation, but alas, her son and Jack do not seem to be particularly close, and she's always surrounded by other mothers anyway. While Jack wandered in circles in the "stockade," as John dubbed it (you know, that metal cage thing with a pole in the middle), the popular mom was laughing gaily with several other mothers whose children had enough good sense to be interested in the swings. Try as I might to herd Jack in that direction, he inevitably decided to play with something as far away from the swings as possible. My other attempts at conversation were not well received. John and I stood with our hands in our pockets, feeling rather out of place while Jack wandered aimlessly around the playground with a plastic chair. Hey, at least we had each other.

Perhaps parents who weren't social outcasts in their youth don't share the same fears as me. But sometimes when I watch Jack I see glimpses of the future, visions in which Jack is sitting by himself in a corner (eating grapes, most likely) while the other kids play tag and dodge ball. He is pale, plump, and prefers the company of small mammals to other human beings. He's described as "gentle" and "introspective." He is picked last for softball. He has braces and glasses; his pants are far too short.

I know what some of you are thinking - Jack is fine! He's not going to be a nerd! How can I project such a terrible future on a two year old! But the thing is, that was ME! I HAD braces and glasses. People talked about "floods" in my presence and I had no clue what they were talking about. I was picked last for everything. Sure, I turned out okay in the end, but no one wishes that kind of a life on their child. I want Jack to be secure, even if he's not the most popular kid in school. I want him to fit in, even though deep down I know that being different is a good thing. I don't want him to be like everyone else - I just want him to be happy.

When Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother came out, there was a lot of talk about different kinds of mothers. There was a very touching op-ed in the New York Times called "Notes From a Dragon Mother" (warning: you will need a box of tissues for this one). There are "helicopter moms," the ones who hover constantly over their children, and soccer moms and mother hens and granola moms and everything in between. I think a lot about what kind of mom I am, and what kind of mom I want to be. I try not to project my own insecurities on my son (although I know I fail at that more often than not). I try to be firm without being stern (but sometimes I lose it). I try to comfort myself with the fact that John is one of the most secure people I know, so hopefully we'll at least balance each other out. I tell Jack twenty times a day (at least) that I love him. That's one thing I can say I'm doing right.

I guess I'd like to think of myself as a Rabbit Mother: soft and gentle for the most part, but protective if I need to be (high-pitched squealing and furious leg kicking can be quite effective). I value my family more than anything, my home is warm and safe, and I enjoy watching my offspring fill his cheeks with as much food as they can hold (fyi, it's a lot). And while I may not be the most popular mommy at play group, some day I'll be able to tell Jack from experience that you don't have to fit in to be happy; you just have to find that one person to stand next to who never makes you feel out of place.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Imagination

I've been having a little trouble drumming up the ol' inspiration this week. I think it's a combo of struggling to get back into the swing of things here on the home front, and the fact that this cough medicine is SERIOUSLY messing with my brain. I spent most of yesterday in some bizarro drug-induced stupor, sitting on the couch and staring at the computer screen, which simply refused to come into focus. I'm feeling a little better today, but still not exactly inspired. I contemplated several different things, from the fact that Sarah is currently in Uganda getting ready to film mongooses (and sharing her hotel room with a gecko and a giant spider - sounds fun, right?), to the holiday season (because I really do love it; peppermint bark, anyone?), to the utterly fabulous chick flick Never Been Kissed (because I was watching it on Netflix and honestly, does it ever get old?). But none of them were truly inspiring me.

Then Jack pulled lightly on my pant leg and said "Cram? Color?"

Jack contemplates his next artistic move - squiggle, or dot.
And so I said, "To hell with inspiration," and came downstairs so Jack could color with his "crams." It lasted all of five minutes, but it was the first time Jack had ever asked me if he could color.  And inside I was doing a happy dance, because I love art, and I want my child to love art.  His parent-teacher conference had me a little freaked out, to be perfectly honest ("Jack Jack needs to practice painting with brush strokes and rolling clay" sounded more like "Jack Jack is going to be drawing stick figures for the rest of his life" in my head). And so I say to all the nay-sayers out there:

How's THAT for creative genius?!
Sure, a one-pawed cat could do better, but do you see those LINES? He's not just stabbing the paper anymore, he's actually (sort of) drawing! Most of us grow up believing that we have no artistic talent whatsoever - and if you've seen John's rendition of a squirrel, you'll understand why - but I love the fact that each and every one of us starts out with the desire to create, to put cram to paper and convey whatever we imagine to the world. (Perhaps this was Jack's artistic interpretation of his mother's Robitussin-fueled trip.)  Even if Jack is genetically inclined toward his father's stunted creative potential, I plan on encouraging him every step of the way.  After all, without imagination, how would any of us ever find our inspiration?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Just Keep Swimming

As many of you know, I spent the month of November with a group of intrepid writers, revising our manuscripts until we didn't think we could stand it anymore.  For me, it was a great way to get excited about revisions, which I normally hate, and also get to know a fabulous new group of writer friends I never would have met otherwise.

Somehow, November is over. I don't know where it went.  I don't know where all of 2011 went, to be perfectly honest. My son turns two in less than a month. How is this possible?

At any rate, NaNoReviMo officially ends today, and I'm very sad it will be over, especially because I am still waiting for four more readers to send me their feedback, which means I've got a lot of revisions coming up in December. Fortunately, a fair number of NaNoReviMo-ers have agreed to carry on into December - and who knows, maybe even January (God help me if that's the case). This is officially NaNoReviSe (National Novel Revising Season, for those not in the know), and it will be glorious!

Even still, I'm not entirely satisfied with where I'm at right now. I've got query fever - I want to get my novel out into the world and hear what agents have to say. But I know that I have to be patient (not my forte, I'm afraid). I hate when life doesn't have forward momentum - hence my willingness to let John join the Foreign Service. At least I know things will be constantly changing.

Jackie, caught in the wheel of time.  Okay, so it's actually a swing set, but you get the idea.
I think the real trick here is to find another way to move forward. As Catherine Coulter once told me, "A writer writes." To that end, my goal until I get the rest of my feedback is to start the next book, even if it's just an outline. As Nemo would say (or "Emo" if you're Jack): Just keep swimming! And that's just what I plan to do.

Finding Emo, by me (this is what happens when you don't have Photoshop).

To my fellow NaNoReviMo-ers, it's been lovely knowing all of you. Thanks for all the encouragement this past month and for making revising so much fun. And for those of you carrying on into December, I'm looking forward to your daily last lines.  See you tomorrow!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hasta Luego, Mexico

Sometimes you spend months and months planning and anticipating an event, fantasizing about it, clinging to it during crappy times like a life preserver, only to be sadly disappointed by the reality when it finally arrives.

But every once in a blue moon, something turns out far better than you could have possibly imagined.

Enter Cancun.

I can't think of a more relaxing or indulgent time in my entire life.  Four days of eating, drinking, sleeping, shopping, and flopping on the beach?  Yes please!  I was worried Cancun couldn't possibly live up to me expectations, but it did me one better: it exceeded them.  Sitting here at my computer in the basement, it's hard to believe that it wasn't all a dream...

En route to Mexico, before the sh*t hit the fan.
Sarah, Lauren, and I were pumped.  By 7:30 am on Tuesday morning we were heading out to board our plane to Charlotte.  Sure, it was raining, but nothing could spoil our day!  We were going to Cancun, baby!  We settled down in our seats, took out our fashion magazines, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  To make a long story short, our plane broke.  We watched in horror as the minutes ticked by, our two hour layover slowly dwindling before our eyes.  Pretty soon, it became clear we weren't going to make our next flight.  Our only hope was to find another flight that would get us to Cancun TODAY.  The hotel was already paid for, Kimmy was flying solo, and I would be damned if I was losing an entire day of freedom.

Sarah eventually managed to get us all booked on a flight to Chicago, followed by a four-hour layover, and finally on a flight to Cancun that landed at 9:00 pm.  We lost almost an entire day of fun, but we made it to Mexico, and that was all that mattered.  We found Kim at the hotel, walked across the street to the mall, and looked for a restaurant.  Our options were endless, as long as we didn't want actual Mexican food.  Johnny Rockets didn't seem appropriate and we weren't in the mood for Italian, so we found the closest thing we could to the real deal: Chili's.  Let me tell you, those chips and salsa never tasted so good.  The margaritas helped immensely.

You know what also helped immensely?  Waking up to this:

The view from our balcony.
After gorging ourselves on the breakfast buffet, we headed down to the beach.  We pretty much didn't do a damn thing that first day, other than eat, shop, and play in the ocean.  It was phenomenal.  Later that night we had an AMAZING authentic Mexican dinner at La Distilleria.  If you go to Cancun, go there.  They have fried cheese covered in potato chips.  That's pretty much all you need to know.

The water really is that blue.
The next day we decided to do something semi-cultural (I use that word loosely) and took a ferry out to Isla Mujeres, for more shopping and eating.  We had over four hours to kill, so we did the only sensible thing: ate, drank, and took tons of pictures of ourselves.

Note the coaster stuck to my drink.  I was too happy to notice.

We had a lot of fun with this here doorway. 

You say, "Jump!" I say, "How high?"
 Eventually we found a lovely little cafe and had a cold Coca Lite before getting back on the ferry.



When we hit the mainland, we walked past a bungee jumping center.  "Come on ladies!" the vendor  yelled.  "It's gonna happen!"

Of course, it absolutely wasn't gonna happen: we're talking a fifty-foot tall rickety wooden tower over about five feet of water.  But I admired his tenacity.  Until he asked if we were from Louisiana.  Seriously?  He finally guessed California and I forgave him.  But bungee jumping still wasn't gonna happen.

That night we decided to go to a club.  We just had no idea which one.  Fortunately, our towel boy came up with the perfect solution.  "Go to Coco Bongo," he said.  He seemed pretty serious about it.  So we went.

Coco Bongo was the single most bizarre experience of my life.  It's one part night club, one part Vegas show, one part Cirque de Soleil, and eight parts insane.  I know that's a lot of parts.  You just have to take my word for it.  We somehow ended up in some kind of VIP section, which was great in that it separated us from the riffraff.  Unfortunately, it meant we showed up on the big screen at least a dozen times.  Dancing in public is not my favorite.  Seeing my ass on a giant screen in front of a thousand people is right up there in "worst nightmare" territory.  Fortunately, I was distracted by the spectacle of a Mexican Freddie Mercury, a pervy Beetle Juice, and a loincloth-clad Jesus on a cross made of curtains.

There are no words.
The next morning Lauren and I went for a walk on the beach.  It was sublime.  I seriously didn't want our vacation to end.  Yes, I missed my boys terribly, but I would have been happy to have them fly down to Cancun and live with me in the Westin.  You'd think refried beans, fresh tortillas, queso, and giant tubs of guacamole would get old after a while, but they didn't.  Neither did being called "your highness," "beauty," and "princess" by the hotel staff.

Ah, memories.  I shall always look back on this photo and smile.  Or weep.
I can still feel the warm breeze, the cool ocean, the guacamole in my belly and the saltwater in my hair.  It's going to be hard to readjust to reality, but I'm looking forward to seeing my boys again tonight, to getting back into my writing, and to gazing fondly at the photos we took this week for years to come. 

And so I say to Mexico: "Hasta luego, amigo."  Until later, my friend.  Because I will be back.  Oh yes, I will be back.

Monday, November 21, 2011

His Way

Yesterday John and Jack set off for California, without me. This is the first time since Jack was born nearly two years ago that John has spent more than a day with Jack without me, and the first time either of us has flown without the other for backup. I have to be honest, I didn't think it was going to go well. And if I'm being really honest, I kind of hoped it wouldn't.

Here's why: When you spend all day every day with your kid, you learn a few things. You know exactly how many snacks to pack, when to fill up the wipe container, whether or not it's cold enough for a hat, what time you need to leave a playdate to get home in time for a nap. When you're a stay-at-home parent, nothing can be left to chance, because you're the one who will face the repercussions if you screw up. Dealing with a toddler on a regular basis is like trying to predict the mood swings of a manic-depressive: small things like whether or not you have enough juice on hand can mean the difference between an enjoyable outing or a complete public meltdown.

On Saturday night, Jack was having trouble falling asleep. I was getting panicky, thinking, "If he doesn't go to sleep, he's going to be extra cranky tomorrow." John (as usual) told me to calm down, that Jack would go to sleep eventually. And for the first time I thought to myself, "You know what? I don't care if he doesn't go to sleep, because I'm not the one who has to sit on a plane with him for six hours tomorrow. Go ahead Jackie, live it up! This one's on dad!"

It's not that I'm rooting against John. I obviously don't want him to have a miserable time without me. But every now and then, I wouldn't mind hearing, "Wow honey, you really know what you're doing.  I didn't understand it until I experienced it myself."

Either John is a very lucky man, or I'm an idiot who spends way too much time worrying about everything (I have a feeling it may be a little of both). Everything went fine yesterday. Yes, the plane took off an hour late and Jack's nap was interrupted by the woman next to him, but from what I hear, there were no major meltdowns, no tantrums, no angry looks from nearby passengers. In fact, people commented on how well behaved Jack was. I can't help but wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that John was on his own. If I'd been there, I have a feeling expectations would have been different. Everyone thinks it's just adorable when Dad screws up. Society can be a little rougher on Mom.

And let's not forget that I filled up John's backpack with toys and snacks, that I purchased a special neck pillow for Jack, that I made sure he had on comfy clothing and an extra pacifier on hand. I packed Jack's suitcase. I counted out how many diapers Jack would need for the week. I remembered the car seat bag, the children's Tylenol, the crib sheet.

Jack on the plane with his "wolf pup."
If I hadn't done those things? Who knows? I like to think it makes a difference. I have to believe it. Being a mommy is my job right now, and I want to know I'm doing it well. If earning that acknowledgment means John has to suffer for a few days, well, it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

But if I know John, everything will be smooth sailing for him this week. He has his mom and two aunts around to help, a dog and a lively uncle for entertainment, a park around the corner and the beach two blocks away. Jack won't care that John sings "Hush Little Baby" completely wrong:

"And if that diamond ring done break, Papa's gonna grill you a tuna steak.
And if that tuna steak's too rare, Papa's gonna buy you a dancing bear.
And if that dancing bear's too mean, Papa's gonna buy you...something that rhymes with mean."

I should probably save myself the frustration and concede that John is just a naturally great dad. But I'm secretly praying that something goes ever-so-slightly wrong this week. Because smugness is a drink best served cold, and I like mine blended. With salt.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Tumble Bee and Wildwood

This week's inspiration is a fabulous combo of art, music, and literature. It all started last week when I was hunting down music for Jack's birthday. I was on the iTunes children's page when an adorable cover caught my eye.
I had never heard of Laura Veirs, but anything with a cover that cute is worth checking out, right? I knew I would like the album from the first sample. Veirs has a sweet, clear voice that kind of reminds me of Aimee Mann. "Folk music" makes me think of James Taylor, but this is actually a wonderful combination of songs I loved from my childhood ("Jump Down Spin Around," "Jamaica Farewell") and songs I've never heard before ("King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O," "The Fox"). Jack loves the album just as much as I do. He even started singing "Why Oh Why" with me. Over all, a highly recommended purchase.

A couple of days after I purchased "Tumble Bee," I saw a thumbnail image of a book on one of the blogs I read. The artwork on the cover looked familiar, so I decided to investigate. The more I read about the middle grade novel Wildwood, the more intrigued I was. The illustrations are adorable, and at only $8.99 on Amazon for a 500-page hardcover, how could I resist? I'm only a few chapters into Wildwood, but so far so good. The story follows a seventh-grader named Prue on a quest to save her baby brother from the Impassable Wilderness, where he is taken by a murder of crows; I can just see the author hearing that phrase and coming up with this story. The book just looks and feels special in your hands (definitely not something you want to buy on your Kindle) and would make the perfect Christmas gift for a young reader.

I didn't realize at first that the author of the novel, Colin Meloy, is actually the lead singer of The Decemberists (a great band worth checking out if you haven't already). Oddly, I thought I'd heard Meloy's voice on "Tumble Bee," so I did a little further digging. Turns out Carson Ellis, the illustrator of Wildwood and Meloy's wife, did the cover for Veirs' album, which Meloy does in fact sing on. And they all live in Portland, where Wildwood is set. I KNEW I loved that city.

An illustration from Wildwood. How cute is he?

Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Just Say Yes

It's remarkable how resilient the human spirit can be. Just six months ago, I was languishing in the Pit of Despair, having started out strong in the querying process for The Book Collector and then finally accepting that maybe it just wasn't meant to be.  Looking back at my neat and tidy Query Chart, it really did seem like I was on to something.

Out of my first 10 queries, I had 2 no responses, 3 rejections, 3 partials, and 2 fulls, one of which later turned into a resubmission.  So a fifty percent success rate (if we're considering getting requests for material a success, which I do). That's pretty good in querying statistics, actually. In a Times interview from 2008, Stephenie Meyer said, "I sent 15 [queries], and I got nine rejection letters, five no responses and one person who wanted to see me."

"All it takes is one yes."  That's what everyone likes to say in this business. And for some people, it may take as few as a dozen "no's" to get to that yes. For some, it may take a couple (dozen) more. But even Stephenie Meyer had to read nine rejection letters, and every single one of them sucks. Conversely, every request for material is a tiny bubble of hope, making it all the more painful when a rejection follows.  I kind of appreciate those "no responses"; in a way, they're better than seeing that rejection letter in your inbox.
Some people are able to go back and revise their novel and start over again. I'm sort of a clean-slate kind of girl, so I took some time off from writing and editing after giving up on The Book Collector. Fortunately, the kind words of one editor, who suggested I try writing YA, gave me just enough hope to claw my way out of the Pit, dust myself off, and start over.  Once the idea for my new book wormed its way into my brain, I found myself excited to write again. I tried not to focus on the querying process and to just enjoy the writing, but if you have any desire to get published, the reality is you're going to have to face that querying process at some point. I'm getting close to that point. And believe it or not, I'm kind of hopeful.

Of course, that could all change once I get feedback from my readers (or as soon as that first rejection letter rolls in), but the fact that I'm able to get excited about this whole process all over again is encouraging. Knowing my NaNoReviMo peeps are going through this too helps a lot; so does having supportive friend and family members who haven't given up on me after all this time. Querying in a new genre is exciting: "Look at all these agents who haven't rejected me yet!"  If nothing else, I've learned that I'm braver than I gave myself credit for before I started down this long and winding road.
And I've learned that even the biggest cynic (i.e., me) can somehow convince herself that if she just keeps trying -- even when she feels like giving up (especially when she feels like giving up!) -- all those "no's" will one day lead to "yes."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mommy Mondays: The Middle

Today I had my very first parent-teacher conference.  I had no idea these kinds of things started so early.  Turns out there are a lot of things I don't know.

For example, Jack is doing well in things like pattern recognition and vocabulary, but his object manipulation needs work.  Apparently Jack isn't great at molding clay.  This comes as absolutely no surprise whatsoever, considering I have never given clay to Jack.  I figured Jack's interest in clay would involve eating it, not rolling it into snakes.  The good news is that Jack can apparently recreate patterns with blocks and other objects.  The bad news is I've never once tried that with him.  It didn't even occur to me.  Same goes for yoga (which Jack likes, supposedly, although I think it has more to do with the balance ball than downward dog) and recall (apparently Jack is supposed to be able to remember what he ate for breakfast.  Oops).  This is why I'm grateful for preschool.

By the time I left the parent-teacher conference, my emotions were mixed.  First, I was glad that my meeting only took ten of our fifteen slotted minutes, while the mom ahead of us went over by ten minutes (not sure what that means, but it can't be a good sign).  I was happy to hear that Jack is gentle and gets along well with others, that he knows a lot of words and can ask for things directly (this is good, from what I'm told), and that he is generally well behaved.  I felt bad when I heard that Jack is sort of a loner, that he would be happy to sit in the teacher's lap all day and eat grapes rather than participate in some of the activities, and that he doesn't know the difference between boy and girl (I SWEAR we've practiced that one).  I came away with a few things to work on (Jack's painting technique leaves something to be desired) and I was able to pat myself on the back for the fact that my child isn't a holy terror.

Basically, I think I'm somewhere in the middle when it comes to motherhood, and I'm okay with that.  I'll never be a super mommy like my friend C, who knows every single mom/toddler activity in the area, always has a dozen different snack options (which Jack inevitably prefers to whatever I've packed), and is so gentle and nurturing I sometimes wish she was my mommy.  But I think it's safe to say I'm not exactly Mommie Dearest either ("How many times do I have to tell you, Jackie!  No wire hangers - EVER!!!").  Jack can't count to ten or recite his ABCs, but he can say, "Hey, 'sup!" like a champion.  Yes, he may smack me in the face from time to time, but he loves animals so much he actually tried to kiss a fly once.  And while he might not remember that he had vegetarian sausage for breakfast this morning, I think he'll be talking about the cupcakes Daddy made for him for quite some time. 

Jack may not be the perfect kid, and I'm certainly not the perfect mom.  But at the end of the day, Jack snuggles up against my shoulder and presses his nose to mine while I sing his requested song, and we both know that we are loved and appreciated exactly as we are.  And in the end, isn't that all that matters? Let's face it: there are some things you just can't learn in preschool.  Even I know that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Grimm

2011's fall television line-up has been a real mixed bag of winners and losers for the discerning critics in my house.  There are shows that have lived up to their hype (in my humble opinion): "New Girl," "The Secret Circle"; and there have been some that have fallen decidedly flat: "Up All Night," "Once Upon a Time."  But there is one show that didn't even appear on my radar screen until someone else pointed it out to me (it should be noted this is the same friend who turned me on to "Game of Thrones," so I am doubly indebted).

"Grimm" is the story of a young cop who has just been told by his dying aunt that he is next in line to carry out his family's legacy: fighting evil-doers straight out of Grimms' Fairy Tales.  The premise sounds pretty cheesy, I'll admit.  Most people don't consider fairy tales to be particularly scary (not if they're thinking of Disney princesses and their children's story books, anyway).  But anyone who has actually read the original Grimms' Fairy Tales, or taken a class on them, like I did, knows just how utterly creepy they really are.  And it's this creepiness that "Grimm" does such an excellent job of tapping into.  The first two episodes covered "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."  That might not sound scary, but I nearly fell off of the treadmill twice during the first episode.  The fact that actual crimes are being committed in "Grimm" (even if they are being carried out by monsters) is what makes the show work.  It has a real-life sense of danger that "Once Upon a Time," the other fairy tale-inspired series to debut this fall, fails to create.

Also, David Giuntoli, who plays Nick Burkhardt, is completely adorable.

David Giuntoli and Russell Hornsby at Comic-Con
The third episode of "Grimm" airs tomorrow night.  I'm hoping it doesn't let me down (and make me look like a complete moron).  But if nothing else, I have "Grimm" to thank for the last line of my novel, which I just came up with this morning.  Let's just say it has something to do with a wolf with a penchant for girls in red cloaks.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Marine Corps!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is That You, Voice?

Some of you may recall a post I wrote about Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art a while back.  I follow Pressfield's blog, and his post this morning resonated with me for a couple of reasons.  First, the title of the post, The 10,000 Hour Rule, refers to the idea that it takes approximately ten years of practice and study to master your craft.  I'm not quite at ten years yet with this whole writing ridiculosity, but I'm getting there - I wrote my first novel in 2004.  Since then, it's been nothing but practice, practice, practice.  When I finished my first book (which is languishing somewhere in a desk drawer, exactly where it belongs), I did what most writers seeking agents did back then: I bought that year's Guide to Literary Agents.  That's right, an actual book.  I also took a writing class at UCSD, attended a writer's conference, went to several writing workshops, and took an unpaid internship at a literary agency.  I snagged any job I could that had anything to do with books, and I networked my butt off.  By 2008, when we moved to D.C., I had two more novels under my belt and some pretty good connections. 

Unfortunately, practice and study alone do not an author make, and despite all my hard work, lost sleep, and tears of disappointment, I wasn't necessarily any closer to publication than I'd been in 2004.  There's no such thing as "almost" having an agent, or "almost" being published.  You either are, or you aren't.  Pressfield's second point in his blog post has to do with something a lot more elusive than time: voice. 

"But what exactly are we learning when we’re beating our brains out all those years?" Pressfield writes.  "Skill, certainly. Patience, professionalism, many other things. But it was something much more subtle—and far more difficult...What these masters were learning was to speak in their own voice. They were learning to act as themselves. In my opinion, this is the hardest thing in the world."

Once again, I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Pressfield.  I didn't realize it until several months ago when an editor told me my voice was well-suited to Young Adult writing.  My voice?  I didn't even know I had a voice, per se.  I thought I was writing in my character's voices, and while that may be a part of developing your own voice, I'm learning that it's only one small part of a much larger whole.  It has to do with style, word choice, dialogue...everything that goes into making a novel belong solely to the author.  You can imitate another author's voice, but if it isn't your own, it isn't going to be authentic.  And if it isn't authentic, people will know.

I love YA as a genre.  I don't know why I resisted writing it for so long.  And now that I'm waist-deep in revisions for my first attempt at a YA book, and actually still enjoying it (which is due in large part to my fabulous NaNoReviMo partners - I seriously haven't been this motivated to revise EVER), I'm starting to think that maybe that editor was right: maybe this is where I belong.  For the first time in a long time I can actually see a light at the end of this very long tunnel.  Maybe it will take a few more years (like I said, I'm not at ten, yet), but I'm hopeful that I will reach that light some day.

And if that means that my "voice" is actually that of a seventeen-year-old girl, well, I'm okay with that too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Of Screwdrivers and Salmonella

Yesterday I got away for a brief girls outing with my sister Sarah and two friends.  Lunch conversation inevitably turned to men, in particular one friend's recent "date" with her current boyfriend, who apparently considered lighting a single candle foreplay.  She wanted to talk since they hadn't seen each other in a while; he had other things on his agenda.

Since I was the only married one in the group, my friend asked for my opinion of the situation.  Unfortunately, I have very little to offer in the way of experience, since John was my first real boyfriend (and things have clearly worked out for us).  But having been with the same man for over ten years, I have learned a few things along the way, and as far as I can tell, most relationship problems stem from a single fundamental difference between men and women: men are single-minded; women multitask.

Here's what I mean: Man sees one problem, resolves it, and moves on to the next problem.  Woman sees 15 problems and 40 possible ways to resolve them, and then spends half an hour deliberating over the best course of action.  20,000 years ago, this probably meant that the man got away from the saber-toothed tiger and the poor woman got eaten.  But it also meant that the woman had managed to collect food for dinner, kept the cave nice and tidy, and watched Pebbles and Bam-Bam while Fred was out hunting down a single saber-toothed rabbit.  Evolutionarily speaking, this all made sense.  Man did what woman couldn't, and vice versa.  "You complete me," Fred grunted, and it was true.

But in today's world, where so many of our responsibilities blur and our roles are not so neatly defined, it often causes more problems than it solves.  It means that while a girl is thinking about how lovely it would be to have a romantic dinner while catching up with her suitor, said suitor has only one thing on his mind.  It means that in the time it takes John to come to the conclusion that he wants, needs, and shall have an $1800 bike, I have come up with thirteen pros and cons regarding a single $25 sweater at Target (which I inevitably put back).

It also means that when it comes to parenting, what John considers a good idea doesn't necessarily mesh with my own.

When I got home from my outing John and Jack were waiting for me on the front porch.  "How did it go?" I asked.
"It was good," John said.
"Mm-hm, and what did he have for a snack?"
"Brownie batter, animal crackers, and dried fruit."

That's probably how the whole thing played out in John's head.  Here's what really happened:
"How did it go?" I asked, watching from the corner of my eye as John casually handed Jack a screwdriver he'd been using.  I grabbed the screwdriver out of Jack's hand before John even realized he'd given it to him.
"Mm-hm, and what did he have for a snack?"
"Salmonella, sugar, and stool softener."

This is the thing with men and women.  Men live for the here and now.  They see a problem -- child needs snack! -- and they solve it.  They have fun with their kids, not worrying about the consequences of their dietary choices or whether or not it's actually a good idea to play in traffic.

And women, well, we keep people alive.  We see the consequences for today's actions three years from now.  We may not be quite as much fun as good old dad, but we take pride in knowing that our family members have lived to see another day, thanks in part to our hard work and vigilance.

I'm not sure what will happen with my friend and her boyfriend; maybe she'll be able to teach him that he has to eat his dinner if he wants his dessert.  Maybe she'll somehow be able to explain what I still can't seem to get across to John after all these years: that while he's thinking about one very specific thing, I'm thinking about laundry, about groceries, about dishes, about that sweater from Target and whether or not I should return it, and about what five pieces of dried fruit are going to look like on the wrong end of Jack's digestive tract.

With all of that to contend with, boys, you're probably going to want to arm yourself with something a little more substantial than a candle.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Hanna

Earlier this year a movie came out that immediately became one of my favorites.  (Mike, you may want to look away).

I can't help it - I love movies with badass female protagonists.  And Hanna is the ultimate badass.  A sixteen-year-old girl trained (and genetically engineered) to be the perfect assassin, Hanna finally leaves her life in the woods to come face to face with the woman who tried to wipe out her entire family when she was a baby.  Cate Blanchett (who I also love) is such a fabulous villain in this movie, with her perfect auburn bob and her green suede Prada shoes.  Eric Bana plays Hanna's father, who has spent years training Hanna to be a killer instead of acting like her father (once you know the stakes, you can't really blame him).

The scene where Hanna escapes from the CIA is AWESOME.  It reminds me of The Fifth Element meets Run Lola Run (two of my other favorite badass chick movies).

Hanna goes on to hitch a ride with a British family on vacation in Morocco and eventually makes her way to Germany to meet her father.  Of course everything goes totally haywire, thanks to the b*tch with the perfect red hair.  Good people die, bad people die, and Hanna gets an awesome closing line.  What's not to love?  By the end of the film I wanted to bleach my eyebrows and get a perm. 

But mostly, I was inspired by Saoirse Ronan.  What an amazing actress, and this role is entirely different from her roles in Atonement and The Lovely Bones.  I was so inspired that I based the main character of my novel, Friday, on Saoirse.  If by some miracle my book ever got made into a movie, she would be Friday (except she'd probably be way too old by then, but regardless...).

And on that note, better get back to work.  I have a henchgirl's attempted murder scene to write, and NaNoReviMo is well under way!