Friday, February 28, 2014

Preserve It

It's inevitable, you know,
that I forget something.
It could be the crushed tomatoes for the chili or a can of peanuts,
the extra bag of pretzels that someone had requested,
so that snack time will be perfect.
Or maybe even the fresh pineapple that I myself had been craving.
This week, it's the jelly.
The simple strawberry spread that Aaron loves to eat,
on top of the peanut butter
that goes into every single sandwich
every single day.
Except for the days he eats lunch with Harper
because she has a peanut allergy.
Can you have just peanut butter? I ask him.
And he swings his gaze my way,
those light green eyes so full of mischief,
the same ones that really don't ask for much.
Silently they plead for some jelly to put between the bread,
so that his sandwich doesn't adhere
to the roof of his mouth
like the duct tape with which he plays.
And so, Melina and I will return to the store,
to pick up the jelly,
say hi to Tom and Yiota and Evan all the other friends we have
at the local Kroger Fresh Fare.
And I'll forget the bread.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Study in Literary Fiction

I picked up a book two days ago off the library book shelf because the title sounded familiar. When I brought it home, I realized that I had stumbled across its recommendation a while back and had labeled it "want to read" in my Goodreads account. I read it. Was it a good read? It's difficult to say.

And that's because I found myself mired in the depths of literary fiction. And if you've kept up with me, at all, you know I have trouble with many of the books labeled as literary. Why? I'll tell you, again. It's because NOTHING HAPPENS.

So last night, I found my way 3/4 of the way through the novel, and realized that the only plot points were this: teenage child is sent a raunchy video by someone at school; he forwards it to someone, which causes a cascade of forwards; he's suspended at school and his family hires a lawyer; the entire debacle affects his family.

Well there you go. You have the book in a nutshell. (I think if I wrote literary works of art, I would have a much easier time writing query letters, since I wouldn't get stuck in determining the essential plot points. Of course, I would have trouble holding up a monologue for the entire book, so I guess we're back at me writing books that aren't considered literary.)

But really, this book wasn't that simple, nor was it that bad. I enjoyed rereading sections and looking at how the author created phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. As with most literary fiction, this author certainly did give us a true study of her characters. By that same point in the book (where nothing had happened), I understood pretty well who her characters were and what they might do in certain situations. This was, to be completely honest, a character-driven piece.

Who were these characters? I'll show you. And just to have some fun, I'll also show you what the character might look like if he or she had been written for a piece considered genre fiction. (And I'm being generous here, with the genre fiction parts. Some genre fiction is so devoid of description, it's difficult to take in.)
Genre fiction: Jake was Liz's oldest; he had long brown hair that brushed his collarbones and deep brown eyes.

Literary fiction: Jake, the eldest--his longish brown hair suddenly grazing his collarbones, his eyes the color of muddled mint--was on his own that night, of course.
Simple example, I know, but I think even with that description of Jake, you can see the difference.
Genre fiction: Audrey was in the same grade as Jake, and she had short, dark hair, cut so that it hung straight and sleek, until it curled under her earlobes.

Literary fiction: Audrey was in his grade, but as with almost everyone else at school, she was older. She had short, sleek, dark hair, thick and lustrous, black as an oil slick. It dripped perfectly down around her perfect head,like a shiny onyx glob. Audrey's hair was cut so that it hung straight and glossy and curled under just at the tips of her earlobes, like two commas, strangely sexual, tiny clefts; it was that little swing that made it girl's hair, not boy's hair, and it was the swing--more of a sway, really, and undulation, a quaver--that drove Jake crazy. 
Let me interject that I'm dumbfounded and awed at the same time, with the above description because an entire paragraph passes and I was still reading about Audrey's hair. But commas! Commas! That's genius!
Genre fiction: Juliana was a sweet kid.

Literary fiction: Juliana was a sweet kid, all button nose and sass and a sprinkling of cinnamon-colored freckles.
I really liked the above description. Something similar would fit well into my fairy tale.
Genre fiction: Henry thought for a moment, his eyebrows furrowed.

Literary fiction: Henry thought for a moment. His eyebrows were like twin caterpillars crawling across his forehead. They met in the middle and rubbed noses.
Ditto what I said just prior to this example.
Genre fiction: Kevin was a mountain of a man.

Literary fiction: The man was a mountain. He reminded Liz of one of those mozzarella pigs she'd seen hanging in the shops in Rome, his skin a little yellow and oily like a giant smoked cheese. On Halloween, he'd good naturedly don an XXX-large version of the Lower School girls' pleated gray skirts; it was the size of a beach umbrella, his mammoth naked calves goose-bumped and hammy in the breeze. 
What an image, don't you think? Can't you just see this Kevin fellow?
Genre fiction: He noticed that her eyes were blue, like the sky on a summer day.

Literary fiction: He noticed that her eyes were very, very blue. Almost as if these were holes in her head and he was seeing the sky behind her. Or mirrors, mirrors at two intersecting forty-five-degree angles reflecting the blue above. Like her eyes were a light box.
As much as I'd like this description, you can tell that a teenage boy thought it. Because which girl, of any age, would want to know that her eyes are like holes in her head?

Anyway, I've gone on long enough. The book is This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman (and all of the above literary descriptions were written by her). I wouldn't call it a must-read, but it was an okay read. I don't feel as though I wasted my time with it, although I am horribly disappointed by the ending. Or lack thereof. (That non-ending is another trend I see with many literary books. The author gets to the end, and because nothing happened and their characters will continue to live on, he or she doesn't know how to end the story. Or, a deadline looms and the agent asked for the book. Either way, the endings, unlike the character descriptions, are thoughtless and not well-planned.)

Enjoy it, if you will, or then again, don't.
 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Slinging Arrows

"Hey, kids," I said while sitting at the dinner table last night. "I received another rejection letter."

"Another one?" Talia asked. "For which book?"

"For my fairy tale," I said, and then was interrupted by Aaron, who forgets to be polite most of the moments of his life. We're working on that concept.

"What's a rejection letter?" Aaron looked interested in knowing, so I told him.

"It's a letter that says that the agent to which you sent your manuscript doesn't want it. Basically, this person didn't want my story."

Aaron nodded his head as if he understood and went on shoveling lentils and rice into his small mouth as he looked over at Zoe. He could tell she had something to say.

"No one wants your story, Mom." The words fell out of her mouth in such a matter-of-fact way, as if she'd been ruminating on them for a long time.

My first instinct could have been to feel hurt by Zoe's words, although I know she didn't really mean for them to wound me. But instead I laughed at what she said. No one? Really? Based on the fact that I have sent out less than twenty query letters, I don't think we can accurately state that no one wants my story. So I told Zoe as much.

She shrugged her shoulders and we moved on to a different conversation. Even though I didn't belabor the point, I hope the kids will someday look back on that dinner-time talk and realize that their mother, the one who sometimes lacks confidence and has trouble finding her way in life, completely walked past a moment to wallow in self-doubt. To be honest, I don't think they will. But they'll have me to dredge up the memory when the time is right.

Now, I'm moving on to perfect that query letter. I know that someone out there will appreciate this not-so-standard fairy tale that I have to share.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Best Rejection Letter Ever

This little morsel flew into my inbox yesterday:
Dear Ms. C,

My name is Saba Sulaiman, and I'm Rachael Dugas's assistant at Talcott Notch. Thank you very much for your query and patience--we sincerely apologize for not responding sooner, but due to the sheer volume of queries we receive, we find it difficult to get to all of them in a timely manner. 

We just reviewed your submission, and after conferring with senior members of the agency, I regret to inform you we are going to have to pass on X. We read your query with interest, but we're afraid your project does not fit our current list, as Rachael isn't looking to acquire any MG/YA fantasy titles at the moment. Please do not despair--we are confident that with your talents and some perseverance, your book will find a home with the right agent.

Of course, our opinion are entirely subjective and other agencies may feel differently. I encourage you to query widely, as you never know who will feel that "spark" for your book as it currently stands. We appreciate the opportunity to consider your work and wish you the best of luck finding representation.

Regards,
Saba
Saba Sulaiman, Assistant
Talcott Notch Literary Services

2 Broad Street, Second Floor, Suite 10
Milford, Connecticut 06460

ph: 203-876-4959

My heart fluttered when I read the words. Sure, I'd been rejected, AGAIN. But it was an actual response, almost four months after I sent the query, and it wasn't a form letter. Okay, it might have been a form letter, but Saba didn't make it feel as such. The only thing better out of this rejection would have been if Saba had recommended an agent that might be interested in my book.

Agents often get a bad rap from writers like myself. Rachael Dugas and her assistant Saba, at Talcott Notch Literary Services, do not. Look her up, see if your project fits, and send your manuscript her way! 

P.S. In the event you say, Didn't you do your homework? She didn't even want MG/YA fantasy, so why did you query her? Nowhere on her site did it say that she was not accepting those sorts of titles. My guess is that she's received too many and changed her mind over the last four months. Too bad my novel didn't sway her to take on one more.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Being Sneaky

Just when I think that my world is going to slow down, I get an email, stating that the week of March 10 is the elementary school Scholastic book fair.

What? I'm looking that far ahead? If you haven't noticed, it's already February 24. So March 10 is not all that far away (two full weeks and we're there!). And I love the book fair. I like looking at the new books, holding the paperbacks between my fingers, smelling the aroma of the printed page. I think my body was indeed, made for books.

Maybe I should print out a copy or two of my own novel and slip them onto the shelves...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Free Speech

I ran by a house this morning, in front of which stood an SUV. The vehicle's windows were plastered with decals, all of which looked very much like the one below.


I'm going to make the assumption that the people who own the SUV and the house are probably pro-marijuana. I'm not here today to say on which side I stand for that lovely plant. I think everyone is entitled to free speech, especially by way of decals and bumper stickers. They don't harm anything except the car, in the case of a sticker.

What I find so hilarious is that right next to that SUV, tied up in the front yard, was a collie with a muzzle around his mouth. Apparently free speech does not apply to their canine friends.

Friday, February 21, 2014

#TBT

According to Urban Dictionary, Throwback Thursday is "when you put a picture from a 'while' ago on your social media sites." I'm not sure when the trend started and I have no desire to actually do the research (I'm busy, don't you know? And research like that doesn't take precedence over what I need to do today. Sorry.). Furthermore, I won't even speculate about when the trend started. Knowing internet trends and how quickly they catch on, #TBT (as Twitter users say) could very well have begun only late last year. And now, everyone's doing it.

Can you see where this post is going? I should be predictable by now.

If all of your friends decided to jump off a cliff, would you? Did your mother ever posit that question to you when you were growing up? Have you found yourself asking that very same question (or something similar) to your own children? As much as I love to see old photographs of friends and unknowns, I have a problem with Throwback Thursday. And that problem is that everyone's doing it.

But I'm not here to judge. If you want to participate in Throwback Thursday, feel free to do so. (Remember I just said that I LOVE seeing the pictures!) Do me a favor though, will ya? Participate in the trend because you enjoy it and think it is a super idea, and not because everyone else is doing it.

That reason never has been and never will be a good one.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Busy

My life is busy. It's a blessed busy, but a busy nonetheless. Each week, I manage to get to the kids' school, my school, and the library. I bring Aaron to piano, the girls to singing, and Melina to the grocery store. I help with homework, investigate nature, clean the house, do the cooking, run, write, do the laundry, and a whole host of other things that I tuck into my days. As I said, my days are busy. (Sure, you've all heard this before. Stop complaining...I'll get to my point. And no, I'm not playing the martyr. This is a part of my job of being a parent.)

But if friend calls and asks if we can try to get together, I say yes, without even looking at the calendar, for I know that something already scheduled can be moved. If someone calls and asks if they can visit, I say yes, because the more people in my house, the merrier. If a colleague calls to see if I can sub for them, I find a way to make it happen. If I need to make another, unscheduled appearance at the elementary school, most of the time, I do my best to get there.

I move appointments on my calendar gladly. Many times, without hesitation. In fact, I execute many of the things I do with joy because for me, it's the right thing to do.

Because in each tiny piece of busyness that graces my life, I find a celebration. Call it hokey, I don't care, I'll probably agree with you. But remember, it's all in how you look at something, that perspective we take on a situation with which we are presented. Sure, I might have a thousand things to do today. If I have Melina by my side, though, then we're getting to spend time together. I might also have a plethora of commitments for the day that someone wants to have coffee. But if I haven't seen my friend in a while, then isn't moving a commitment or two to another day a good way to feed my soul? It's amazing what just an hour with a good friend can do for me, the laughter, the togetherness. It's a feeling I'd wish on anyone. Sadly, not everyone can capture it.

The people who consistently repeat that they are too busy, will never have that feeling. They are bogged down by inconsequential housework and other trivial pieces of life that really, if they are honest with themselves, can wait another day. Or perhaps they are afraid to move outside their comfort zone, as if seeing other people and extending a loving hand will force them to open up and reveal their true selves. Whatever the excuse, the busy will always be busy.

But won't we all always be busy?

Decide what you want to do with that busy and move on from there.

Because it's okay to try and make sure that everything is accomplished on a day-to-day basis, but always remember that sometimes, everyone  needs to stop and smell the roses. Take control of the busy and don't let it control you. And most importantly, do not put anything you consider a part of your busy life above the significant people who surround you.

If you can remember that last phrase, you, too, will find celebration and joy in the everyday busy. And living with joy in your heart, each and every day, is a fabulous way to live.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I Ran

He called to me this morning,
with a low growl, really,
a voice that sounded like it came from the back of his throat.
I looked out the window,
and saw his dark skin, glistening in the morning light.
Come play! he said. Slap your feet against my back!
It will be good to feel your weight,
since its been so long.
He has been clothed, I thought,
and wondered when his back had last seen the light of day.
Was it two weeks?
A month?
I couldn't remember and tried to count the days,
which piled up in my mind and made me look away.
And because I felt the need to release my energy,
I pulled on my shoes, tied up my hair,
and gave into his seductive purr.
But the moment my shoes first hit the long stretch of darkness,
I knew he'd only been playing,
toying with me like a cat would a mouse.
For his skin was not clear, but mottled.
The stripes of onyx I thought to be wet with morning dew
were really pieces of ice,
strategically placed so that
if I did not run carefully,
I'd fall into his trap, into his arms, onto my back.
Dazed and confused I would lay there,
listening to his booming laughter,
a clear I got you in his call,
wondering when spring and a clear running path
would be part of my day again.
Instead, I punched my fist into the cool, damp, air,
my middle finger rising in defiance at his surprised face,
and made my way up the road.
Slowly, but confidently, I ran.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Last One

The moment I saw that a friend took the "What Arbitrary Thing Are You?" quiz, I knew there was no hope for me. I had to spend a few moments with that quiz. To find out what a few clicks of the mouse would say about me. My friend, unfortunately, wound up as dead AA batteries, objects I would not equate with her at all. So what would I possibly find as my thing?

Any thoughts before I go on?

Well, hot of the presses, my responses to the quiz garnered me a (drumroll, please): New York Times trend story. I kid you not. Here's what the website actually says:

You’re a New York Times trend story! Are more people eating lunch? Are hats gaining traction? Is there an epidemic of teens going out at night and digging holes? Everyone can find out tons of ground breaking, definitely trendy stuff from you!

And yet, I wear fleece that causes some people pain and embarrassment. I think I see something wrong with my results...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lessons in Fleece

You've been waiting, haven't you?

I took two days off, and there you are, wondering if I'm okay. Wondering how I can keep my mouth shut for so long. Go ahead and admit it. I know you want to know where I am and what I'm doing and why I haven't said a word over the past two days.

Being berated at the hands of a sister can do that to a person.

It's a short story, really.

I hopped in the car on a snowy day to go see my sister for a very quick trip (I took three of the four kids and a friend with me). And the moment I arrive, she tells me that she doesn't like my fleece. Of course, she uttered the derogatory sentence right after saying, "I like your jeans," as if she could slip in the negative comment simply because she had praised me the moment before. (Passive-aggressive behavior, perhaps?) And if that wasn't bad enough, she continued to tell me that my fleece did not please her.

The fleece probably wouldn't please you, either. It's a half-zip pullover with stripes, that hits me at my hips and fits well in the shoulders. Apparently it's the stripes that bother my sister. They are gray, powder blue, neon pink, orange, and yellow. The yellow really got to her; she couldn't look at me without laughing or commenting for most of the day. I found the gem at Goodwill one dull, bleak morning and realized that with that fleece, I'd be walking around in my own spot of sunshine. (I can see you laughing, now, FRN.)

Call me loony, but I like the fleece and it's warm, so even my sister can't make me not wear it. I kept the offending garment on the entire day and even went so far as to wear it to bed, thinking I could make her suffer in the morning, too. I took it off to shower and replaced it with a plain gray fleece, something more appealing to my sister, who always dresses in black.

And I realized this. I don't care what she says about that fleece, and she knows I don't care. She knew I wouldn't be hurt by her words, and I'm not. I'll continue to wear what I like, no matter what anyone says, or despite what anyone says. And later on, in the future, I'll be the old lady in the grocery store line with her long white hair in curls and her lips lined with red; the lady that people look at and say, "Couldn't someone help her with her makeup?" because the outline of the lipstick doesn't completely match up with her lips. I'll see the people smile and because I'll have forgotten all about this interaction, I'll actually think that they are smiling at how nice I look when in reality, they'll be simply smiling, at me, because of my behavior, because they'll know I'm truly off my rocker, but are too nice to ruin the day of the old lady with a smile on her face.

I hope to be that old lady. Which means I'll keep wearing that fleece.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Can I Have Some Peace and Quiet?

Sung to the tune of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" from the movie, Frozen.

Me: 
Kids? 

(Knock, knock, knocking my hand against the table)

Can I have some peace and quiet?
Come on, please go and play.
I always see you near my door,
Or on the floor
It’s like you’ve never gone away!

It used to be so quiet,
but now it’s not.
I wish you would tell me why!

Can I have some peace and quiet?
It doesn’t have to be too quiet.

Kids: 
No way, Mommy!

Me: 
Please just fly!

(Knock, knock, knocking my hand against the table, again)

Can I have some peace and quiet?
Or at least a slice of pie?
I think your company is overdue
To leave don’t you?
What am I
Talking to the sky?
(Hang in there, Chris)
It never gets too lonely
All these cluttered rooms
Just watching the fights ensue…
(crash-boom, crash-boom, crash-boom, crash-boom)

Orchestral (during which I inhale through my nose and exhale via my mouth. At least twice.)

Me:
(Knocking)
Kids?
Please, I know you hear me!
People are asking you to play.
They say, “Can they come out?” and I want you to,
I’ll still be here for you,
Just please go play!

You always have each other,
Or at least the Wii.
What are you gonna do?

Can I have some peace and quiet?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Messages

Here's a message I received yesterday:

Date:2/12/2014 3:17:23 PM
From:S******, D***
To:C********, Christina
Subject:Lab Grade I was wondering what grade is a 41 out of 50 score

The message, shown exactly as written, is bothersome for many reasons, any of which you can imagine, but mostly because of the minor math problem that apparently escapes this student.

This is college, people. And I didn't miss it last semester.

At all.

(In case you're wondering if I'm too harsh, I asked the kids what a score of 41 out of 50 meant. They gave me this scoop: its 82% and a B-. Well, my college kids are in luck; we don't hand out minuses since we've been using the standard scale for ages. AGES. So this student gets a B. At least I know that my children will understand this concept before they go to college.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Neighborhood Vigilante

I tend to be a law abiding citizen, and when it comes to driving, I really try to keep in mind my safety as well as the safety of the other people on the road.

Last fall, an incident happened that irked me at the time, but happened so quickly, I didn't have much time to react.

Here's what happened.

As I traveled south in our neighborhood, I approached a four-way stop. There were cars to my right and left, both of which had come to a stop first, so I waited my turn. The car to the right of me (traveling east) nudged ahead into the intersection, and turned left, which means she was now facing my direction. Or partly facing my direction. Because the driver had turned the wheel such that she was in my direct line and unless something happened quickly, she would hit me.

"Are you kidding?" I yelled into the empty space. I quickly looked behind me, threw the car in reverse, and slowly moved the car, backwards, down the road in the direction from which I had just come.  The other car continued to approach as if she couldn't see my car at all. So I went through the same steps to move my car farther away from hers, all the time seething that this negligent person could be on the road. In my effort to keep our cars from hitting (or rather her car from hitting me), I had to hop the curb. Backwards. I kid you not.

As I sat half on the curb, I watched the car crawl by me at a snail's pace. The driver had sunglasses on and didn't look like she could see well. In the rear view mirror, I continued to watch her go on her way, straddling the middle of the road. In a huff, I went back to my regularly scheduled driving and eventually made it to my destination.

Imagine my surprise yesterday as I turned onto that same road and saw the exact car approaching me. I hadn't yet reached the intersection, so I sprang into action, moving as far to the right side of the road as I could. Due to the snow, my attempt was hindered, but in the end, I'd moved far enough away to keep from getting hit.

Again, I watched her in my rear view mirror, making her way up the road like a new driver. Or one that shouldn't be on the road.

"That's it, Melina," I said. "We're going to cut her off and get that license plate number. We're on a mission now."

To make a long story short, I peeled away from the curb and wound around the back of the neighborhood. We caught up to her just in time to watch as she gave no clearance to three school kids walking home. She turned the corner, and so did I, which meant I could clearly see her licence plate number. I wrote it down, called Tim and asked for the non-emergency number of our local police, and put the call into them.

The woman who answered my call took down all of my information, plus the numbers of the plate. She asked if there was a time of day that the car seemed to be out, and thankfully, I was able to answer that I'd seen the driver both times around 3 o'clock on a Tuesday.

What can the police do? They told me that they'd send a patrol car to scope out the area and see if it happens again. What do I want the police to do? Go to the person's house and speak with her. I'm annoyed and flustered and scared that this woman can cause some irreparable harm. What am I going to do? I'm the new neighborhood vigilante. If I see her again, I'm going to put a stop to this nonsense before anyone gets hurt.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Debate

As a wanna be a writer, no scratch that, as a writer and author (I have to count that one non-fiction, coffee table book as a publication, right?), I have this long-running debate percolating in my head. For those of you who have been with me a long time, the chances are good that you've heard a little snippet of this before. But that won't stop me now, because my brain is breaking with the words that need to come out. God help us all.

Anyway, the debate is this: literary versus genre fiction. Which one would I rather write? Of course, this leads to the question of, What the heck is literary fiction and what is genre fiction? There are so many good websites out there that can explain the nuances of both styles of writing, but I trust you can find those on your own. So let's cut to the chase and reveal what I've discovered (via some research, because you know that I'm a mostly untrained writer): that literary fiction depends on characters to drive the story, more so than plot. Therefore, literary fiction tends to be slower paced, if you will, and to some (including yours truly), that means uneventful.

Genre fiction, on the other hand, includes Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Western, Mystery, and more, and seems to rely on a faster-placed plot to move the story forward. There are a few exceptions, but I have more tolerance for well-written genre fiction than I do literary fiction. Many times, literary fiction can be so out-there (for lack of a better word) and so intent on exhibiting the lovely prose and perfect character descriptions, that I reach the end of the novel without realizing what the point of the story actually was. Cases in point for me: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. Both are well-lauded tales, both are beautifully written, both have sentences that I'd love to be able to piece together. Both bored me to tears.

In fact, recently I found this quote by Nathan Bransford, author and former literary agent, who wrote: 
"Sooooooooo much literary fiction I get in the old query inbox is plotless. It's just a character musing about the vagaries and eccentricities of everyday existence. The prose is lush, the character detailed, but one problem - absolutely nothing is happening and thus it's (forgive me) extremely boring. Good literary fiction has a plot."
I shouted Eureka! and sat in front of my computer, nodding my head and pumping my fist. Yes, yes, I agree with that! Plotless literary fiction? Not for me. I need to have plot!

So, back to my dilemma. Which would I prefer to write? I have no idea. I actually don't think I house enough depth within my soul to generate any novel that can be called literary fiction. And even though my first manuscript I gave to my author friend to be evaluated was termed by her to be "very character-driven," I can tell you (and so can the people who read the YA story) that the novel does not belong in the literary section of the bookstore. (Is there even a literary section for YA? I don't know. I'll have to look into it.)

Which means, I'm just going to write, and revise, and edit until I have my manuscripts in such great shape that it doesn't matter whether they're literary or genre fiction. They'll just be examples of good writing, ones that not everyone will like, but ones that no one can argue are at least well-written. I'll worry about categories when the agents actually come calling. And clearly, that hasn't happened yet.

Happy writing!
"Sooooooooo much literary fiction I get in the old query inbox is plotless. It's just a character musing about the vagaries and eccentricities of everyday existence. The prose is lush, the character detailed, but one problem - absolutely nothing is happening and thus it's (forgive me) extremely boring. Good literary fiction has a plot."
- Nathan Bransford (literary agent) - See more at: http://www.novel-writing-help.com/literary-fiction.html#sthash.yotIWuDg.dpuf

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chasing Dreams

I looked at my calendar this morning and hoped that something had been magically erased while I slept. Of course, that hadn't happened. The week is still chock full of busyness, with at least one volunteer opportunity, appointment, or party for each morning. I guess in all fairness, Tuesday is filled with teaching, a task I willingly took on as a favor to the college. But I haven't gotten used to going back to school yet and so I look at my trek over to the lab as a duty, but one that eats away at any writing time I might have. How selfish am I, right? At least I admit my shortcomings.

Weeks like this, though, when the mornings are so filled with events that some of what needs to be done at home (including laundry and grocery shopping and yes, writing) spills over into the afternoon, lead to large bouts of self-doubt. The feeling threads its fingers in between every crevice of my brain, takes hold, and squeezes tightly.

Will I find time to write? How can I write when Melina is home? It's not fair to use the television as a babysitter, right? Can I stay up a little later or get up any earlier to get it done? I'm supposed to get this manuscript to the evaluator on March 14; will I make it? And I'm supposed to be putting a profile into WordPress this week. I don't want my new writing family to think I'm a slacker. The thoughts spiral out of control, only to be pulled in by myself and a good cup of coffee. (Not much can't be at least soothed with coffee, you know.)

The questions are endless and I don't have any answers that seem adequate. I do know this: that self-doubt can cripple a person to the point of turning back and not following that dream. And if I let one week get in my way, which I could easily do, then I'm not made of the right material to make it as a writer in the first place.

And so I punt, as Tim would say. I give in to the idea that my time to write and edit and do anything creative besides post a few blog posts will be limited to maybe 15 minutes a day. I clear writing from the calendar for this week, and come to terms with the fact that very little progress will be made in that arena. Once I've made that decision, the self-doubt has been pushed away, and I can continue with my everyday, ordinary, life.

But I'm placing that writing at the top of the priority list for the next week. Because I'm chasing a dream here, and I don't want to be chasing it forever. I'd like to someday, preferably soon, catch the dream in my hands and never let it go.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Look Who Got a Haircut

For the third time in five years, the girls have donated their long, thick tresses to those who need them. I love their hair long, but when you take it all away, I'm able to see those sweet little faces so much more.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mastery

Those of you who know Aaron know that he loves math. And that he's good at it. Pi is his favorite number and he looks for patterns in many things. He understands fractions and percentages and many concepts that he hasn't actually learned in school yet. I don't tell you this to brag. On the contrary, I'm sort of jealous of his brain capacity. And I learn from him.

Despite that brain capacity, Aaron sometimes doesn't like to work hard. Why master math facts when he can just do them in his head? Sure it takes longer, but it will, eventually, get the job done.

Enter Mr. P., his teacher, who wants the math facts mastered to Level 5. I think Level 5 is mixed numbers 2-9, 48 of them in two minutes.

"What level are you on, Aaron?" I asked him last week.

"Uh, I still need to master Level 3 and then I can go on."

"Seriously? I know you know these, Aaron. You need to get faster. Mr. P. thinks you should have mastered them all by now."

"Oh."

"So here's what we're going to do. We're going to do flashcards for 15 minutes a night so you get quick and then take some timed tests. I'll give you a month to master Level 5 and if you do so, you can choose a new Wii game."

I was loathe to say what I said because I try not to bribe my kids. But the rule at school was that when you master Level 5, you get to have Mr. P. buy you lunch. He calls it an incentive. Bribe, incentive? Who's to say, but Mr. P. started it. (Nana nana boo boo!)

"Can Mr. P. give me a test each day?" Aaron asked.

"If we ask him and he has the time, I'm sure he will." 

I spoke with Aaron on February 2nd and gave him until March 2nd to accomplish the mission. I emailed Mr. P. on February 4th to make sure Aaron could have one test a day. Yesterday was February 7th and Aaron had mastered Level 5.

The one detail I didn't mention is that Aaron was taking his tests all wrong. Tim watched Aaron's technique and noticed that Aaron would write the answer down, pick up his pencil, then move the paper instead of simply moving his hand. Aaron wasted so much time moving the paper that he had no chance of finishing the tests.

With a little extra practice and the new found knowledge on how to actually take the test, our Little Man passed with flying colors. Doesn't this mean that the kid could do anything to which he sets his mind? Yes, I think it does. And there's a lesson to be learned here for him and for everyone else. Hard work and tips from experienced people can help you master life's little challenges. Hmmm....

Friday, February 7, 2014

One More for the Record

I did it. I took one more silly little quiz to find out my hidden talent.

Can anyone guess what it is?

If not, let me help you: my talent is ballet. And according to Buzzfeed,

Anyone who has seen Center Stage (aka the best movie in the world) knows being a ballerina isn’t just about effort (although you are really good at giving 110 percent). You may have a ballet-friendly body if you have high arches, long limbs, strong legs, and natural flexibility. Sadly, if you’re over the age, of, like, 10, your career passed you by. But, there’s always the next best thing: Get yourself to one of those Yoga Booty Ballet classes.

Yes, I am good at giving 110 percent when I want to and I have high arches; I also possess strong legs from running. But I don't have long limbs, or natural flexibility, and not only am I over the age of 10, but I never made it over the height of 61 inches. How many short ballerinas do you know? Furthermore, when it came down to a choice between taking a ballet class for adults and my first writing class, I chose the writing class. 

I wonder if my life would be different had I gone instead with Sandra to the ballet class.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Oreo Cake Recipe

Nothing like another snow day to put a halt on the posting. Actually, it was good that I didn't have a chance to post yesterday because truthfully, the need to put words on the page had become a compulsion, something sinister almost, that pushed me to sit in front of the computer even when I didn't have the time. So now that I've broken the posting streak, I should be fine. Phew.

Anyway, this post is practically like cheating anyway, because it's just meant to share a recipe.

For the girls birthday, I wanted something different, but also something both girls would love. I have, in the past, made the girls separate cakes for their birthdays, but this year, they said it didn't matter. So I looked for something special and found it. Just so you know, I didn't tinker with the recipe at all, and the kids loved it. So here it is, but please watch out! The cake is huge and can serve many!

Oreo Cookie Cake (Recipe shared supposedly from: Amy's Down Home Cooking, but it was tough to actually find it at her blog.)
•1 box Duncan Hines chocolate fudge cake, baked according to package directions using 9-inch pans.
•4 - 1 ounce squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
•1/4 cup butter
•8 ounces cream cheese softened (can be low-fat, but not in the tub)
•1/2 cup granulated sugar
•2 cups whipping cream
•20 Oreo Sandwich Cookies (not Double Stuff), divided 

Bake the cake using according to package directions in two 9-inch cake pans. When the cake is done, cool in pans for 5 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, remove the pans and cool the layers completely.

When the cake is cool, crush 12 Oreo cookies into coarse crumbs in a plastic bag Zip-lock type bag. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the whipping cream into soft peaks. Set aside. 

Beat the cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Gently stir in the whipped cream and crushed cookies. 

Cut one cake layer in half horizontally. Place one slice on a cake plate and spread with about a quarter of the filling. Place the second slice on top and spread with more filling. Cut the second layer in half and repeat, finishing with a layer of the filling on top of the cake. 

Place the chocolate squares and butter in a small microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for 2 minutes, checking and stirring every 30 seconds, until the butter and chocolate are melted and combined. Do not overheat the chocolate. Cool 5 minutes. 

Crush the remaining 8 cookies. Spoon the glaze over the top of the cake. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the crushed cookies while glaze is soft. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The only things I would change are the following:
1. Make this a day ahead so that the filling has time to seep into the chocolate cake.
2. Make this with a from-scratch chocolate cake, and it would be phenomenal.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Presentations and Pitches

Zoe entered the garage wearing a very long face.

"What's wrong, Zoe?" I said. "I can tell by your face something's up. What is it?"

"Nothing." Zoe has mastered the art of using as few words as possible. It could be because she's twelve and in the tween years. It could be because that's just a side of her. Either way, it annoys the stink out of me. Sometimes, I let it go, but the face she'd chosen to put on that day urged me forward.

"No, before we go pick everyone else up, tell me what the problem is," I said. I opened my car door and slid into the driver's seat.

"Mom, I don't want to do my gym presentation."

I felt relief, as always. So many other, far more wicked and egregious alternatives, pirouetted through my mind in the few seconds it took her to answer. This one, this simple answer, I could handle.

"Why not?" said Talia. "It's not that bad."

"And your presentation is good," I added.

"I don't know," Zoe said. "I just don't." She lugged her backpack into the car and slammed the door, then adjusted her belongings and leaned to get the seatbelt. I couldn't move the car until she was strapped into the seat.

"Well Zoe, think of this," I said, craning my neck so that our eyes could meet. "In April, when I go to that writing conference with my friends, most of the day I will be sitting and listening to speakers tell me how to be a better writer and what I need to do to get my work published. But there will be a small sliver of time where I will be speaking because I signed up for an agent pitch."

"And?" said Zoe.

"During those few minutes, I have to get up, in front of an agent I have never met, and attempt to sell her my story. I need to make her want to read my book so badly that she says, Yes, send it to me. The chances of her doing that are really slim, though. I'm sure I'll be sweating bullets, don't you think?"

A thoughtful look passed across Zoe's face and she whispered, "Yeah."

"And you get to get up in front of a group of friends to give your presentation, a group you know will be kind. That isn't so bad now, is it?"

"No."

I turned the key of the ignition. Time was ticking by and I had to get the other carpoolers. "So when you do get up there, think of me and what I'll have to do. If you do, you'll get through it. I promise."

"I know. Thanks, Mom." Zoe smiled again at me.

"You're welcome." We drove away.

But not before enormous bells began to sound off in my head. I had successfully transferred Zoe's panic out of her own body, but had sent it in the wrong direction, into my own.

A pitch! I need to get my pitch together! Sweet holy manna from heaven, I need some help. I gripped the steering wheel and hoped against hope the girls didn't notice how white my knuckles had become.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Old Dogs

This past Saturday night, we had the pleasure of housing two members of the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club. We attended their local concert, grabbed our assigned students, and headed back to the house. One student was a sophomore, the other a senior. Tim and I are old enough to be their parents, but they didn't make us feel too old. Really.

It was almost ten o'clock in the evening when we returned to the house and they were hungry. We were prepared with lots of healthy food, snacks, and some junk food, so I wasn't worried. Much to my surprise, each young man chose to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some fruit. "That sounds great right about now," they said, probably because they'd been eating on the road all weekend. They set to work making sandwiches while I washed some grapes and cut some strawberries.

In the midst of sandwich making, Tim said, "Look, Chris, peanut butter on one side and jelly on the other."

"Ah, yes, everyone but me makes it that way," I replied. I like peanut butter on both sides of the bread with a smear of jelly in between. More peanut butter and the jelly doesn't ooze through the bread.

The kids looked up at Tim. "What do you mean?" one asked.

"Oh, Chris puts peanut butter on both sides of the bread, unlike most people."

"OH. MY. GOODNESS. That's a great idea!" one of them said. "That would have solved all my problems back in high school!"

That's me, the problem solver. "You should have met me earlier in your life, I guess." I felt a smirk cross my face and I went back to washing the fruit.

Moral of the story? Old dogs might not be able to learn new tricks, but old dogs can teach new dogs old tricks.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Buzzfeed Buzzkill

I don't know the person at Buzzfeed who keeps manufacturing silly quizzes, but I'd like to have a word with him or her. Actually, I could find out who is coming up with them by reading the byline. I just looked and apparently anyone on the Buzzfeed staff can put together a quiz. I don't have time to investigate these people, but I can say that the quizzes need to stop. NOW. Because I also don't have the time to waste in taking them nor do I have the discipline to not take them. It's a classic case of blaming someone else. Don't you just hate that?

Anyway, each time I log on to Facebook, some friend has posted a new Buzzfeed quiz that he or she has just taken, and I get all wrapped up in taking that same quiz.

Damn. It just happened again.

So what have I discovered about myself? Here's the list and my commments.
  1. Career: Designer. Yes, this includes architect and editor and every other creative career out there. Okay, I'll go with that.
  2. Dog: Shiba Inu. Inu who? I had to look that breed up.
  3. Place I should live: Portland. No, no, and no. Too much rain.
  4. Harry Potter Character: Luna Lovegood. Yes, I can see this. If you can't, you don't know me as well as you think you do.
  5. 90s Alt Rock Grrl: Tori Amos. Rock on! I love Tori Amos, always have, and don't mind being Tori. Now, if I could just find some pipes like hers, we'd be golden.
  6. Food: Cheese. No, no, and no.
  7. 80s Pop Hit: Eternal Flame. I'll take it. I loved the Bangles way back when.
  8. Vacation I Should Take: Backpacking trip. Maybe. As long as I don't get too cold.
  9. Valentine's Day Horoscope: Things are looking good. Duh. My husband got a vasectomy. Of course things are looking good.
I'm not rounding out the list by taking another quiz. I promise. I think...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ghost Jumper

The girls stood in the study area of our home, about three feet apart and facing each other. They had a long chain of rubber bands in their hands, and rotated it in the space between them, like it was a jump rope. I walked through to place something on the table and looked at them.

And this is what they said: We're playing jump rope. With a ghost. He's really good.

So simple, so poetic, so funny.