Friday, January 30, 2009

You Might be an Writer If...

I can't believe another week has gone rushing by. Blimey. (Can you tell I'm still in 19th century New Zealand?)

After last Friday's post, I came up with all kinds of...well, let's say "quirky" things we writers do. Here is another of my favorites:

You might be a writer try out scene or plot scenarios on innocent, unsuspecting children.

I hang my head in admission. I do this to my children all the time. They are seven and nine and haven't caught on yet. God help me when they do. But until then, they are my real live guinea pigs.

I am ashamed to admit that I don't just stop there. If there is a kid in my car during carpool time, and I'm mulling over a plot issue, story idea, you name it, they may be asked for their opinion. Of course, the results are never what I'd expect. Never.

For instance, I was working on a pretty spunky character a while back, and I was trying to come up with a spunky reply to the classic parent question we all harass our kids with: "What they want to be when they grow up?" So, come carpool one morning, an SUV full of unsuspecting kids ranging from 2 to 7, I popped the question.

Most of the kids gave answers parents would more or less expect: photojournalist (7 year old boy), artist (my 6 year old daughter), I don't know (5 year old girl - today at 9, she still doesn't know. Probably grow up to be an insanely rich computer mogul), and then from my 3 year old daughter....silence. Nothing. Nada. Not even a peep.

Me: Honey, come on, what do you want to be?

Daughter: I don't know.

Me: Oh, you can come up with something.

Daughter: HUGE sigh. I wanna be a hot dog.

Hot dog????

Peels of laughter from all other kids in car.

Stunned silence on my part. I'd now completely forgotten the whole experiment thing I was doing because my kid wants to be a hot dog. A hot dog! She doesn't want to be the kid who sings the Oscar Mayer song. She doesn't even want to drive the funky hot dog car that tours the U.S. No, no. She wants to be the hot dog itself.

Me: Honey, you can't be a hot dog. (Yes, yes, I know, evil mother dashing her child's dreams and imagination at an early age, but, come on, she said she wanted to be a hot dog. I wasn't going for nuclear physicist at this point but at least something animate.) You have to be something alive.

Daughter: (HUGE sigh, not the I-don't-know-what-I-want-to-be sigh but the why-doesn't-my-mother-leave-me-alone sigh you'd expect from a teenage daughter, which made me wonder at that moment very much about what those upcoming years will be like for us.)
Oh, all right. I'll be an owl.

Me: (Stifled sigh. An owl? Well, at least it's a living thing.) Nothing else?

Daughter: (Adamantly). I want to be an owl!

I should disclose at this point that we were speaking in German, my husband's native language, and my youngest was having a hard time at that point understanding all of the German. What do you want to be? and What do you want to eat? are pretty similar, and maybe she mixed them up (which makes me worry for the owl).

Since then, I have learned from my all-too-honest carpool crew that I had the name completely wrong for my first picture book (it was changed before going to press), that if you are doing battle in the middle of the woods, your wand should shoot out a few squid for good effect. And that, when pressed to choose, my kids would rather a parent be killed off in a story than a dog. They expressed regret at this decision, but stayed firm. Not even bribes of chocolate could change their minds.

You'd think I'd have learned after that last doozy of a response. I haven't. I still ask them all sorts of things, but I do make sure the dog and I are no where close when it comes to issues of life or death. I'm only a parent after all.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Shout Out to the Little Guy

It's official. We're in a recession. Ugh. After watching all the lists and lists of big corporations laying off thousands and thousands of workers today, my mood hit the dumps, somewhere near where our economy is wallowing. But it wasn't because Home Depot or Target is going to have a flat year. I feel for them, and all the workers losing their jobs. It's the pits. But even more, I wonder, how can the little guy survive when the giants are stumbling?

By little guy, I mean, mom and pop shops.

I'm partial to them because I grew up in a household where my dad owned his own company. I learned all about profit and loss statements, cinching your belt, not just pleasing the customer but getting to know them, care about them, help them out, and most of all, hoping to hold your head above water while the economy is in the gutter.

I love little businesses. I love hole in the wall restaurants, small boutiques with quirky gifts, tiny jewelers with artisans who make the jewelry they sell right there, micro-vineyards, the local hardware stores, you name it. I love small businesses.

We went to a small, locally owned restaurant for lunch yesterday, Bali Fusion. My oldest daughter's find. She needled us until we finally gave in and made it our family lunch outing. On the door, the owners had written in improvised paint: "Welcome Friends." The restaurant was very cozy. The food, Indonesian, was awesome. The wait staff amazing. The atmosphere, family-run friendly. The price, more than reasonable. But there weren't many people there.

How can they survive, I wondered.

And without them, what does that do to Tulsa?

When my family moved here in the early 80s, the city wasn't very diverse at all, not much in the way of varying cuisine, people, art, you name it. Tulsa has come a long way. America has, for that matter. And it's mom and pop shops that help us get there. The independent souls who take that chance and put their ideas out there. They are the heart of the American dream.

I worry about the mom and pop shops like that in this economy. If slumps are tough on the big firms, they're a veritable h*** for the little guys. So here's my shout out to the little guy. Support one if you get a chance. The could use it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

You might be a writer if....

I've spent too many hours revising. I admit it. I'm in "the zone". I am for all intents and purposes presently on hiatus in 19th century New Zealand.

That part's not so bad. Temporary breaks with reality can be a good thing, so long as you don't get too carried away. Right?

Anyway, what's got me worried is the fact that writing is taking over my life. By that, I don't mean I'm seeing, eating, dreaming, walking in the world of my book, I mean, writing is now the medium through which I experience the world.

How bad can it be, you wonder? So bad, I think writers deserve their own weekly case study. We do some strange things, you know.

Case in point: You might be a writer if, you edit dialogue, not character dialogue but the spontaneous, I'm-talking-to-other-people-in-the-real-world-right-now dialogue.

It's a common writer affliction with a long history. Case in point: Shakespeare. He totally admitted to it when he said: All the world's a stage, and the men and women merely players. Could it be any clearer? I bet he spent half his free time rewriting conversations he had.

You know, I wonder if he tried to make his wife speak to him in verse? Because that would explain why he got to live all by himself half the time in London. And why when he finally came back to Stratford-on-Avon to live in his family's house, he didn't write anymore, not the last three years of his life. I bet his wife told him, NO MORE VERSE, William, or else.

Why am I so sure? Well, I was having this conversation with my husband the other night. It went something like this:

Husband: I'm on call tomorrow night. Shoot me now.

Me: (Does he really want to say shoot me now? This is a character, I mean person, who is highly educated. Shouldn't he say something like, How regrettable? Well, that sounds sort of British. Hmmm....How about, It's so taxing. I need days to recover. Well, that sounds kind of melodramatic. How about -)

Husband: Didn't you hear what I said?

Me: Oh, yeah, I was, just thinking....(long pause)....that really sucks? (Do I want to say, sucks? I mean really. I'm a writer. Shouldn't I be able to come up with another adjective or phrase or something better than that, like: I'm sorry. I know it's really hard on you. Yes, much more supportive)

Husband: Are you even listening to me? Or are you thinking about your book again?

Me: (Avoid eye contact at all costs, even though I was not thinking about book, but am feeling guilty for trying to rewrite spontaneous conversation.) No. I was just thinking how much I'll miss you tomorrow night. (Ooh, quick, get a pen, write that down. That's a good comeback! No revising necessary at all.)

Husband: Yeah, right. You're secretly glad you have a night to write.

Me: (I never thought about that. He's right....)

Husband: See, you are!

Me: No, no really. I didn't....

Husband: You're an awful liar.

And so goes my life. I need to have more spontaneous, unedited conversations. I need to reenter the real world, but until this revisions stuff is done, I just hope I keep the internal editing of spontaneous dialogue to myself. Otherwise my husband may really send me packing. Then again, I really would get more writing done.....Oh Shakespeare, where are your words of wisdome now?????

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

History in the Making

In 1997, I braved the winter cold on January 20 to attend my first ever - and probably only - presidential inauguration. At the time, I'd just moved back from Germany, was in grad school at the University of Virginia working on my PhD in poli sci, and lucked into a couple of tickets. My parents live in Oklahoma, a very very red state (Note: Oklahoma made the national news this election because not a single county went blue. Not one). So it was hardly surprising that there were loads of tickets to be had for the inauguration.

Being the good poli sci grad student I was, I scooped them up, gathered a group of other poli sci students, and we went to the inauguration.

It was Clinton's second term, so the crowds weren't all that big. It was also bitterly cold and rainy. That kept a few more away. And yet, as I stood with the masses, I couldn't help but feel like I was watching history take place - this peaceful transition of power that occurs every four years in our nation.

So it was with a little bit of envy and a lot of pride this year that I watched the changing of the guard amidst a sea of over 2 million people. I readily admit, I find political science fascinating, even the stuff that make people's eyes glaze over, like 100-page long Supreme Court decisions. But regardless of personal bent toward politics, isn't it something amazing, this changing of power without fighting or bloodshed? It's not a given. But it is a hard won freedom we enjoy here.

I have no idea how Obama's presidency will unfold, but he has done something for this nation that we haven't seen in some time. He's inspired us - both sides of the political fence - to support what we believe in. We've overcome inertia and turned into active, participating citizens. That's true history in the making. Let's keep it going.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Movements of Peace

It's Martin Luther King, Jr Day. When I was back in college, ages ago, I took a class on movements of peace. It was Notre Dame, a catholic university, after all. We studied Buber, Freire and Gandhi. We got into Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement as well.

Movements of peace can change nations. They can change race relations. They can change humanity.

But they don't stop there. Movements of peace are everywhere. Maybe it was the getting ready for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and all that entails, but last week I was sent two different animal stories about natural enemies becoming friends like in the picture above, acts of gentleness between the hunter and the hunted, and unlikely, unnatural animals becoming friends: The Animal Odd Couple

I marveled at the stories. They made my heart sing. They made me wonder about my own species.

And then life set in and I got back to my daily work.

Then yesterday, it all came back, and the perennial question - Can We All Get Along? - loomed larger than life in mine.

It all began with my husband trying to pull out into traffic. The lanes were full, the light red. But a hole opened up. The car in front of us pulled out - a right hand turn. Then my husband tried to scoot in. The SUV coming from the left cut him off and the woman driving got angry at my husband for trying to pull out. There was some unintelligible fist waving. My husband got angry. I, trying to keep the peace, told him he shouldn't automatically expect people to let him out, even if the light was red.

He didn't agree. When he pulled out a few moments later, he pulled up next to the woman and gestured toward her, as he told me how she was wrong.

I was monkey in the middle and really wishing I wasn't there.

For the record, he's a pretty decent guy, but he grew up in Germany, and if you drive like this person had in Germany, well, let's just say you should be prepared for rolled down windows, lots of yelling and fist waving, maybe even the finger. They are a very vocal people when it comes to driving. And very aggressive.

I tried to explain to him as we drove on that we don't do that in the U.S. He wasn't having it, so I pulled out some of my wise mother's classic lines that as a teenager I hated, but are really pretty on the nose right. I told him, if you act like that, you make yourself no better than the person who wasn't kind to you. You lower yourself to that level. Let it go and move on. He still didn't agree and the drive continued on with us batting points back and forth like a pair of relentless tennis players.

Did I mention we were on our way to see the movie, "Gran Torino," with Clint Eastwood?

My husband had traded me out shopping at the mall for what I thought was a classic guy flic, like "The Terminator", "Dirty Harry," "Hang 'Em up Higher" and now I was worried the movie was just going to exacerbate the point we'd been arguing over, reacting aggressively vs. letting it go.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

In the middle of the movie, when the Mong gang attacks Eastwood's neighbor's house and rapes the young girl who lives there, my husband turned to me and said, and when someone's that aggressive, do you let that go too? (Our car discussion was still sitting in both our brains, and I feared Eastwood was going to sink my husband's point home with a few well-aimed bullets).

It was really moving then that the man who has portrayed figures like Dirty Harry and played in so many westerns that had their share of violence, has chosen this movie as the last movie he will act in. It's his message to the world.

I won't give away the ending, but let me say that he doesn't resolve violence with violence. Clint Eastwood sends out a message that many of his fans might not be ready to hear, or at least will be incredibly surprised to see that this is the message he wants to leave the world with.

My husband and I were both thoughtful as we walked out. Eastwood's message was simple. It was Movements of Peace simple: You end the violence only by ending the violence, not by retaliating with it.

Thanks Buber, Freire, Gandhi, King, and Eastwood. With people like you, humanity still has a chance.

Peace out world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Good Intentions Gone Amok

I was soooooooo happy just two short months ago when my middle grade novel, Dragon Wishes, launched. I'd worked so hard, but here it was, out there! Nothing stood in the way of literary success anymore. More book could be read.

Fast forward to February 10, 2009, when the Consumer Product Safety Act goes into effect.

It had blipped across my radar in November when it was passed, but then, I was in the middle of a launch. I knew it was in response to the very real issue of lead in children's toys that we'd seen in the U.S. in the last year. But I didn't think any more of it.

All I thought at the time was, how unlike Congress. Quick action. I thought it might be a good thing, neglecting Thomas Jefferson's remark (I went to UVA, so you kind of breathe in all of the things Thomas Jefferson ever said, thought, did, or even thought about saying or doing) about why Congressional action should take time. He said something to the effect that like one uses a saucer to pour one's tea into to cool, so two houses of government gave feelings and emotions time to cool and good legislation to develop.

There wasn't much cooling on this piece of legislation, and we're now, just a few short weeks away from its going into effect, beginning to feel the backlash of the Act.

The Act is retroactive. And by retroactive, I mean forever retroactive. It affects EVERYTHING that is or has been produced for children 12 and under. And by everything, I mean, toys, games, and books.

Books? Hold on. Are they dangerous? Is my book dangerous?

According to arecent article in Publisher's Weekly, not exactly: "Chip Gibson, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books, goes further. 'This is a potential calamity like nothing I’ve ever seen. The implications are quite literally unimaginable,' he said, noting that children’s books could be removed from schools, libraries and stores; nonprofit groups like First Book would lose donations; and retailers, printers, and publishers could ultimately go out of business. 'Books are safe. This is like testing milk for lead. It has to be stopped.'”


Basically, everything produced for kids has to be tested, including books. Publishers are scrambling. The liablity is enormous. Think of all the books already out there in Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon. They all, theoretically, have to be tested. Every print run. Or returned, whether they are safe or not. Huge losses.

It gets worse. If you knit a pair of booties and sell it to a boutique, they now have to be tested. If you want to sell old car seats to consignment shops, they have to be tested. All of the pastimes that people have used to supplement meager earnings, are now subject to testing.

And by tested, we're talking thousands of dollars. Testing a picture book runs about $3,000.

Huge costs, rises in umemployment, closing businesses aside, here's what really unnerves me. Does this mean they are going to have to take all of the books out of my kids' school library to avoid issues of liability?

What's going on here?

I know Congress meant well, but gees, isn't this going a bit far? Do they know they've gone too far?

I for one am getting out the old American tool used in times of great trial - my voice. I'll be contacting my local state representative to voice my opposition to the law as it stands. We need something for sure, but not something that will put so many good businesses out of business, threatens so many books out there, and ultimately damage our already shaky economy more than it will ever protect our kids.

Friday, January 9, 2009

It's the Little Things

"Something good happens each day. You just have to find it." - my wise mom

When I was working on my PhD (and rarely saw the light of day), these words became my mantra. Now, long past that grueling period, I still use the idea when life gets little overwhelming. It's the glass is half full approach. It brightens me up. And in the end, it really is the little things, isn't it?

A phone call from an old friend.

Three green lights in a row.

Getting the kids off to school on time. (That alone makes me giddy for hours!)

This week, it's been something I never would have thought possible. Elven magic.

Okay, my seven year old's version of elven magic.

Here's an example. We had our carpets cleaned after the holidays. Everything had to come off the floors and onto the beds, which for my kids' room means everything they own ends up on their beds. Nothing had been put back by the time the time they got home. I told them about the chaos and that I'd help them rearrange when they got ready for bed. They nodded, groaned a little, and then we all went about our afternoon activities. At some point, my youngest disappeared off my mom radar. It was quiet. Very very quiet. I knew she was in the house, and being a mom, I just hoped she wasn't getting into trouble.

Soon enough, she came and got me. Made me close my eyes. All thoughts of pandemonium flitted through my brain. What had she been up to? Wreaking more chaos in her sister's room? In her room?

When I saw what she'd done, my jaw dropped. It's one of those things a mother is never truly prepared for.

She'd cleaned her room. And here's the part that made me stagger. She cleaned up her sister's room too. Took everything from the beds - all the toys, Webkinz, instruments, and books, CDs, chairs! and carefully put them back where they belonged.

Still, it was the smile on her face that melted me heart. She was glowing.

I did the only thing a mom could do. I scooped her up and covered her in kisses.

This morning, she was at her elven magic again. She got the backpacks and shoes ready for school. She brought down hers and her sister's laundry. And then she "surprised" me.

I know those backpacks and shoes don't look like much, but for me, they're the image I'll tuck away in my heart and treasure for a lifetime.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January Blues

January is a dark month, dark even here in the almost south of Oklahoma. It's not just the lack of sunlight that eats away at my soul this month, it's the downer that follows the holidays. I did a lot of celebrating this Christmas season, and coming down off of that is like coming down off of a dark chocolate high. I get a little grumpy, a little bored, and a little depressed.

There is all the usual to fill my day - writing, a work in progress that needs finishing by month's end, the day-t0-day administrative stuff of being a writer, like setting up school visits, planning trips for conferences, planning conferences. And then there's all the mom and housekeeper things - washing the kids' bedding (glee), running the kids to yoga, violin, gymnastics, japanese, the other stuff moms do.

But I've lost my sparkle. I MISS WINTER VACATION.

Oh Gees, I sound like my seven year old. But it's true. I really miss it. I miss the expectant flavor of the season, the crazy family get togethers, the relaxed time of Christmas. (And yes, there is that mountain still on my desk. I haven't even reached base camp yet).

Sooooo, I'm self-medicating....with chocolate, but that love affair is doomed for failure. I hope. That, or my waist is going to leave me really soon, no matter how many runs I get in. I really do love chocolate (sigh).

In desperation, I've grabbed for my one other vice, reading. I read a lot. It's part and parcel for the authoring gig, but this month, I feel like I'm back in school and feverishly trying to beat Ann Goebel - she was the mega-reader in my class from 1st through 8th grade - record of books read in one month. I'm going all out. It's like trying to run 13 miles for me, which for me is really really far. I'm going for a new personal record. I don't have any specific number in mind, more a state of being - not depressed and mopey. I wonder how many books it will take?

I used to read just one book at a time, until I read an interview with Charles Schulz, in which he said he had at least five going at once. I kinda like that idea. I mean, if I'm not up for a serious read one night - which sometimes used to make me turn to TV rather than pick up the hefty book I was reading - I can get lost in a lighter piece instead, or vice versa. I can read fiction to offset nonfiction, that kind of thing. So I am now a smorgasborg reader, with at least three things going at once.

This month, it's shaping up to be a doozy of a read. I just finished, Kringle by Tony Abbott. It was my Christmas read. Then, as a meat and potatoes balancer after that tasty chocolate morsel, I read Gossamer by Lois Lowry last night. It was a quick but, like any Lowry piece, a weighty and thought-provoking story.

On the adult side, I'm munching on The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen, Following the Equator by Mark Twain (my bit of nonfiction), Peony in Love by Lisa See, and plan to start tonight Replay by Sharon Creech, as well as The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John. Meanwhile, in my car as I haul kids around from point A to point B, I'm listening to The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I wasn't sure how my kids would take to listening to a piece about a woman writing a biography of a great writer - not exactly usual kid fare - but the wild thing is, they love listening to it more than Radio Disney. Whew!

It's the light of reading that I am guessing will carry me through this dark month, both creating stories and reading others. Thank God for books!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pike's Peak Monday

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It's been (gulp) two weeks since my last blog post.

Well, if I'm really confessing, it's even worse. It's been two weeks since I did a lick of writing. (Double gulp)

I could say it was the holiday madness, the baking, the cooking, the wrapping, the sending. And it was, partly, but it was more a choice this year. Forty is just over the February hill. So, throwing my OCD caution to the wind, I decided to try and chill out a little with my family this holiday season. You know, live life on the edge. Enjoy the holidays.

It was a good first effort, I think, but it was still crazy. My youngest's seventh birthday was Monday, December 22. Which meant, while my husband was in Germany visiting his parents, I singel-handedly organized a roller skating/sleepover birthday party on Friday, December 19. Then had a signing on December 20. Thank God for concealer. I wasn't looking scary, I don't think. I still sold a few books, but people did stare at me kinda oddly.

Didn't get a chance to sleep after that either. I rolled right into frantic, last minute baking for Christmas. There was the actual second child's birthday day celebration on Monday, more cooking on Tuesday and Wednesday, Christmas Thursday (and I'm one of those adults who cannot sleep Christmas Eve. I know there's no such thing as Santa, sort of).

Complete and utter exhaustion came on Friday. Did I mention that's my mom's birthday?

We tried to get to her house, honest, but my oldest interrupted our "spontaneous" dinner outing with a violent GI bug that brought took us straight home, no detours, no birthday cake, no presents, just a cool wash cloth and another sleepless night. Saturday, I had a signing. More concealer. More hidden yawns.

Sunday was the biggest day of all, really. It was my grandparents 65th wedding anniversary. Everyone flew in, all five of my dad's siblings with families. There's the family to the right. Not bad. They're a rowdy bunch. You've gotta love them. Take a look at my grandpa there on the far left. I wanna look that good at 87.

The party was a shingdig to end all shindigs, and spilled into the better half of the beginning of the next week, right up to New Year's Eve. Which sailed by with friends, then more sleepovers for the kids, friends over, cooking, and then, finally, Friday night - blessed reprieve. My parents took the girls for a sleepover.

I went out for dinner . I got to sleep in. No signings, no gymnastics meets, no cooking, no parties, no holidays, no packing, no unpacking, no putting away. Just relaxation. It felt like the universe aligned for one brief but glorious day.

And then Sunday came with all the chore of putting away the holiday. Ugh.

Now it's Monday, and I'm back at my desk. The mountain on it is so tall, I swear there's what definitely what looks like snow accumulating on its higher peaks above my head. Are we due for an early Spring this year, I hope?

But as I tackle the slope before me, I have to say, it was worth it. Amidst all of the craziness, I got time to cuddle with my kids, play with them, go to the movies with them, talk to them. I had time to reconnect, sleep in.

And I feel...what is the word...I haven't said it in so long...
Yeah, that's it. Relaxed.

So maybe climbing to the summit of neglected work won't be so bad. Maybe. I've got an oxygen mask this time, all of those memories.

And please check out these amazing reviews of Dragon Wishes:

J Aday and I talk all about Book Signings and Dragon Wishes

Brandy McDonnell the Oklahoma Daily did a great review too! Thanks Brandy.