Friday, August 28, 2009

Freaky Friday

My five bits of randomness for today:

1. Dominick Dunne has passed on to that great courtroom in the sky. I picture him as a bespectacled angel, sitting on OJ's shoulder and poking him in the ear. Years ago I wrote for a very earnest, rather boring trade magazine. We were, however, owned by American Media, which at the time also owned The National Enquirer, Star, and Weekly World News. Not only did I get a copy of each placed on my desk every Friday, I got to work elbow to elbow with the gossip hounds. This was during the OJ trial, and I had the inside scoop on stuff that never made it to the mainstream media. Those people worked hard. And they worshipped Dominick Dunne. I remember all of us walking across the street to a Chinese restaurant on the day the verdict was announced. We ordered Mai-Tais in the middle of a workday and sobbed when OJ was acquited of the heinous crime we knew he committed. "Dominick's going to be pissed," our office manager, Reggie, said. And he was, but Nick Dunne, ever the gentleman reporter, communicated his outrage eloquently with the written word. RIP, Mr. Dunne.

2. Girl Crush of the Week: Emiliana Torrini. Oh, this girl! This voice! Am I the last one to the party? Does everyone know about her already? This Icelandic-Italian songstress will have you humming her tunes in the shower, the car--wherever. My favorites: Big Jumps and Sunny Road. Get thee to itunes and enjoy...

3. Grapefruit seed extract is truly a natural wonder. It's anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, non-toxic, and you can use it internally, externally, and even on your kitchen sink. How `bout them apples? (Just don't ever use it full-strength--it has to be diluted, big-time!)

4. Alexander Sarsgard. Yeah, I know I had him on the list last week, but he deserves another mention. I want to wipe his blood-tears. Oh yes I do.

5. Nursing is hard with a newborn. I'm not currently nursing (DCFS would pay me a visit if I was--my boys are in grammar school!), but my sister-in-law and close friend had babies this month and are on the every 2-4 hours feeding schedule, which puts even the best of us in a semi-zombie, perpetually foggy state after a few weeks. If you can get through the first thirty days, girls, it does get better, I promise!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fight the Power!

From the files of the very, very strange...

I have a scene in my novel where the characters, who are fighting for a community garden, must state their case in front of a suburban zoning board. Where did I find myself last night? In front of a suburban zoning board, fighting to keep our village from paving a patch of land adjacent to my property. Life imitating art, right? When I wrote the zoning board scene, I figured I got the vibe mostly right because I've sat in tons of PTO & Town Hall meetings, and I watched a Village Board meeting on government access. Turns out nothing beats actually putting yourself in your character's shoes. I stood in front of the microphone, stating my reasons in a (surprising to me) calm manner, but a trickle of sweat ran down my back, even though the room was freezing, and I was keenly aware of the camera filming me--it made me self-conscious and put me at a disadvantage with the board, who, because our suburb televises board meetings, are so used to being filmed they hardly noticed. I was surprised at how cleanly some people fit into stereotypes--the glad-handing mayor, the smarmy rich guy who liked to hear himself talk, the no-nonsense son of immigrants capable of cutting through the BS.

In the end, the board voted against us, 3-2. I'm disappointed, but not ready to give up. The Village Manager told me, "It's not over until the shovel hits the dirt." And he's right. I can fight pretty darn hard, and I will.

But I also learned an important lesson about research. Internet research is great, but nothing beats the real deal. Don't you agree?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Calling Mr. Givenchy...

Right now I'm busy with final edits on my novel before it goes on sub to publishers (!!!!). In order to give myself a break every so often (translation: to keep myself from freaking way out) I peruse catalogs, browse online, comb through magazines in search of--Ta-Da!--the perfect fall ensemble.

Summer clothes don't do it for me. And Chicago weather makes spring a wet, muddy disaster. Forget winter as well--we hearty folk cover ourselves in down and wool. But, fall, or rather, autumn, is absolute glory. The clothes attached to this season are perfect as well. Knee-high coffee color leather boots. Herringbone tights. Corduroy jackets with leather patches at the elbows. Cashmere everything--scarves, sweaters, even socks! Ooh, la-la!

There's one problem, however, with my fantasy of waltzing into Prada or Burberry, or even the much-more-likely Target, and choosing my fall outfit: My husband and I are saving to remodel our kitchen, so my clothing budget doesn't really exist.

It's a good thing, then, that my look hasn't really changed all that much over the years. I don't rock a mullet or wear acid-wash, but my style is definitely that of a woman whose girlhood was spent watching way too many old-style Hollywood movies. One example: I wear ballet flats, all the time, and have for years. In fact, years ago, before ballet flats came back big-time, I'd buy real Capezio ballet shoes and have them soled at the shoe repair dude. That's my homage to Audrey Hepburn. My other purchases over the years have been reflective of my obsessions with Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Ali McGraw in Love Story, Katherine Ross in The Graduate, and Katherine Hepburn in just about anything. Oh, and Cher during her gypsy phase. More recently, the feast for the eyes known as Mad Men has made me want to scour every vintage store in Chi-town for tight cashmere sweaters and pencil skirts.

When borrowing heavily from the past, though, it is important to find balance in your presentation. I've made mistakes with this. Like Paris Hilton, ridiculous in head to toe Juicy Couture, I've gone all-vintage and ended up looking like a museum exhibit. A few key modern pieces must be added to the mix. It's kind of like creating a character based on someone you know in real life (You knew I'd bring this back to writing somehow, didn't you?). If it's a mere recreation on paper, then it's kind of a cheap copy, no? You have to add a little creativity to it, a little bit of you. Then the character really jumps off the page, right?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Freaky Friday

(Sorry for the light posting this week--I've been a busy little bee!)

My five bits of randomness this week:

1. The Sookie and Eric bedroom scene in True Blood. I don't care if he pings my gal Lainey's highly developed gaydar, that man is hetero-hotness on a platter. How tall is Alexsander Sarsgard? OK, I looked it up. Six-freaking-four. And most of it was visible last Sunday on HBO. Oooh, la-la!

2. No exercise plus too many on-the-go meals equals one grumpy Loretta. Unlike most people, I put weight on in the summer and take it off in the fall and winter, when the kids are in school and I actually have time to work out. I miss my endorphins. School needs to start, pronto!

3. If you have allergies and want to stay away from anti-histamines for a while (or just take a break for a year), start eating bee pollen right now, a little bit every day. By spring you won't be sneezing--seriously! It works the same way an allergy shot does, without the ouch! I've been ordering jars of cappings (pollen & propolis) from Really Raw Honey for years. Good stuff, but not for the squeamish. I often have to pick a bee carcass out from the jar before eating!

4. I'm a total Francophile. (Anglophile, too. In fact I would be perfectly happy taking the chunnel back and forth from London-to-Paris, Paris-to-London...). I play French music in my car on the way to work and sing along, top volume, because during that hour I can always manage to convince myself I speak French fluently, when in actuality I only took one disastrous semester in college. I've slipped and done this in front of people, but thankfully to friends who just say, Oh, Loretta, and assume I'm speaking in tongues. One day, though, I know I'll start singing in front of my friend Catherine, a real live French person, who will probably just laugh, but still, mucho embarrassing...I have to keep myself in check.

5. What's up with the recent spate of YA books about preacher's daughters? (OK, just typing that has me singing Son of a Preacher Man using my Dusty Springfield voice--in English, not Francais.) I'm excited about the amazing Sara Zarr's Once Was Lost, but I feel like she's coming in at the end of a trend. Not fair, I know. But I've heard of at least two other titles with similar themes, and more using religious communities as the primary setting. I loved Eileen Cook's What Would Emma Do? but I'm not sure about some of the others. Have any of you guys read Pure by Terra Elan McVoy? Whatja think?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'd Rather He Lived In My Head

I had a rare block of free time this weekend, and I wanted to do two things I never do: go to a makeup counter at Nordstrom's and beg someone do something with my face (inspired by those ubiquitous Mad Men makeovers) and/or go see a movie in an actual movie theater. Well, I got the face done (green eyeshadow--seriously, not so bad if it's the right shade!), but when it was time to choose a movie I was stumped. My first choice, 500 Days of Summer, wasn't playing anywhere near the mall. The next two in line, The Time Traveler's Wife and Julie & Julia, were, um, problematic...

I've read The Time Traveler's Wife three times. I want to live in that book. Henry is like, my Edward--I'm borderline obsessed with the character. I know exactly what he looks like, and it isn't Eric Bana (put a photo of Eric next to one of Corey Feldman--separated at birth, no?). To me, TTW was punk rock, and the movie trailer, well, showed a whole lot of easy listening. Does that make it a bad film? I guess I can't judge yet, but it makes me cringe to think that people who haven't read the book yet will go and assume TTW was written by Nicholas Sparks. So, even though the showtime fit my schedule perfectly, it was a no.

Julie & Julia was my final option (Couldn't do GI Joe. Could not.) Now, I've read both Julie Powell's book and My Life in France, but I didn't have the blood connection to those books as I did to TTW. And, with Nora Ephron directing, how could I go wrong? She's pretty much incapable of making a movie that isn't a crowd pleaser, but...

I couldn't do that film either. I guess because I knew the punchline. Julie Powell's book was very personal, and reading it was like peering into someone's diary, so I kind of felt I'd lived the experience with her already and I wasn't up for a repeat. I also saw, before she stopped talking about it, an interview with Julie during which she discussed problems in her marriage, a relationship portrayed onscreen as perfectly supportive and loving. I couldn't deal with the disconnect. If the movie was a bio pic of Julia Child's rise to fame, I might have done it. Instead, I hung out in the Barnes & Noble cafe' until it was time for me to head home.

I'm a a total loser? Too picky? Overthinking things? Yeah, probably all three. But, don't get me wrong--I really wanted to sit in the same spot for two hours, eat popcorn, and lose myself to another world. I just couldn't handle being disappointed.

Now, so you don't think I'm a Negative Nellie, I'm desperately trying to come up with movies that were as good or better than the books that inspired them. I think I'm the only person on the planet who's actually read The Graduate; the book was a bit perplexing, but the movie is probably my favorite of all time. And I guess the aforementioned Sparks did better onscreen with The Notebook, can't think of anymore. Can you guys?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Good Old-Fashioned Grit

Some writerly friends of mine recently finished a challenging revision on a manuscript. They stuck to it, day after day, setting goals and reaching them, reviewing and editing, over and over, and now this new version of their book really rocks the house. They're proud of it, and rightfully so. But they should also take pride not just in the end result but of their mastery of the revision process.

Ho-hum, you say? Don't all writers work like this? The answer is a resounding, no way.

I've known a lot of writers in my time. I've worked on magazines, newspapers, and currently freelance for a company where the MFAs far outnumber the MBAs. I've spent time as a grad student in the English department of a university well-known for its creative writing program. I was friendly with some of the MFA students, but the line between them and us teacher-track nobodies was drawn pretty thick.

I was jealous of the creative writer folk. They were brave, glamorous, eccentric--and loved for it. I wanted to be in their crowd, but the fear of sharing my work with any of them was so acute, I never signed up for a single workshop. I went to their WIP readings, watched them in our shared offices, rowdy as if they were in a bar at 2am, but I never joined in.

Being an observer (ok, maybe a loser) does have its benefits, though. After a while I noticed how much these people talked about writing. And how much they drank. And flirted. And postured. What I didn't have any idea of, however, was how much they wrote. Or rewrote. After spending two years learning, partying, existing in tandem, I had a pretty good idea: not nearly enough.

I saw this when I was in the working world as well. Talented people. Very, very talented people of all ages and walks of life, with half completed novels and notebooks full of ideas, but somehow the work never got done. Life got in the way, at times, but more often than not it was the lack of something else, something defined quite well in a recent Businessweek article about the power of stick-to-itivness. Intelligence and creativity will open many doors, and keep them open, but a better predictor of success, according to a recent University of Pennsylvania study, is good old-fashioned conscientiousness and perseverance. In other words, grit.

And I was recently given a real-life lesson in this, from my writerly friends. We roll our eyes when starlets tell People magazine, "It's all about the work." But you know? They're exactly right. It's a lesson I've learned the hard way, but it's one I don't think I'll soon forget.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Freaky Friday

The Friday morning list looks to be a staple of most blogs. I'm totally going to be a follower and subject you to my five bits of randomness. Here goes:

1. Feel good fact of the day: The iconic "Woodstock couple" is still together after forty years. Check it out: (In the bottom photo, don't you just love the "Hippies Always Welcome" sign?)

2. While driving to work, I saw a girl on a bicycle, dressed exactly as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's--dress, pearls, hat, oversized sunglasses, black elbow length gloves. I stared so long and hard I almost got into an accident. And this was no drag queen my friends, just a slim-hipped, Audrey-esqe gal. Where was she going? What was she doing on Elston & Belmont (not exactly a hot spot)? I must say the mind reels...

3. Girl crush of the week: Carla Bruni. I love her music. I love that she looks like she'd slap anyone who disagreed with her. I love that it's only a matter of time before she demands the French people give her The Palace of Versailles as her personal party house. I would give anything to see her take on Michelle Obama in a catfight. Barack would be embarrassed, but Sarkozy would LOVE it.

4. Mad Men. Sunday. AMC. Season 3 is here my friends. I love everything about this show--the set, costumes, subtle plotlines, the square-jawed manly-man that is Jon Hamm. But what I dig most is that history is gonna come a'callin' and these folks had better be ready...

5. I make my own deodorant. It's super easy. 1/3 cup of Aloe Vera/1/3 cup of Witch Hazel/2 tablespoons Vegetable Glycerin & a few drops of your fav essential oil (lavender is a good choice for it's anti-fungal properties, but I like patchouli--and, no, I don't smell like I follow Phish around and hang in the parking lot!). You will still perspire (our bodies are supposed to) but you will not reek. I promise.

Anyhew, have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


OK, I know the whole social networking discussion (Good or Bad? Effective Marketing Tool or a Great Time-Suck?) has been done to death, but I'm going to drag it out one more time, because I haven't seen this issue addressed: What happens when someone cyber-exhausts you?

This may seem a bit disingenuous coming from someone who's written four blog posts in less than a week, and is active on both Twitter and Facebook, but I'm going to do it anyway...

There is this author I follow on Twitter. Let's call her Miss X. When I first joined Twitter, I saw Miss X on a friend's follower list. Cool, I thought. I loved reading her books, so I knew the girl could really put a sentence together. I was curious to see what she could do with 140 characters.

The first time I logged in after following Miss X I thought my Twitter was stuck on repeat or something. Her face lined the left side of my screen. Post after post after post. Some mildly interesting, some not, some strange, some inside jokes, some randomness, some bordering on insanity.

New to Twitter, I read every post. It felt kind of rude not to. After a while it felt like a chore. After more of a while I found myself skimming, then avoiding, then sighing while clicking rapidly through whatever she felt needed sharing at just that minute. I know what you're thinking, why didn't you just stop following her? Well, I couldn't. It felt rude. Or, I thought, she would know I made the conscious decision to ban her thoughts from my day. Bad karma, see.

But it's painful. And, disappointing, like meeting your favorite actor and realizing he's shorter than you (Not referring to the Depp-ster, here!). Will I buy her next book? Probably. But then, after the trip to Borders, I'll de-follow her. I figure the karma will even itself out.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

That Story Again?

We all have them. The story you tell, again and again, because it's entertaining, or definitive of your personality, or just mind-blowingly strange. The one your friends ask to hear again and again; the one you truck out at parties when the conversation has dulled; the one that makes your spouse roll his eyes when you begin. Here's mine, notable because it's just so darn embarrassing:

Early 90s. Viper Room on Sunset Blvd. I'm about 22 and my IQ is hovering around that number as well. I spot a really hot guy just hanging out by himself, and, after a few glasses of whatever, muster up the courage to ask him to dance. He declines, graciously, and explains that he works at the bar so it really wouldn't be appropriate. I vaguely remember him wiping some tables and clearing glasses, so I'm not too insulted. I stumble back over to my friend, Susan, who is staring at me, mouth hanging open. "What were you just saying to Johnny Depp?" WHAT??? After a few "oh my gods" I laugh it off. A while later a tray of shots appears in front of my little group, I look over and HE gives a little wave, nothing flirty, just a friendly little "have fun" kind of wave. I get a little greedy with the shots, so there are a few gaps in rest of the story (apparently I danced with the guy who played Sal on 21 Jump Street!) but I guess we were among the last to leave that night. As I tripped out the door, Mr. Depp put a fatherly hand on my arm and asked Susan if I was going to be OK. "Of course," she said as I lurched forward, caught my boot on something and landed on my ass on Sunset Blvd, River Phoenix style. Baby-doll dress up around my neck, feet in the air...lovely. HE runs out with a couple of other guys and they all help me to preserve my remaining shreds of dignity and get me up and into the car. I can even remember him smoothing down my dress!

On the flight home the next day I threw up so many times I thought, at one point, the airplane toilet had sucked down my stomach. Even in my total humiliation, though, I could remember that Johnny Depp hadn't looked at me with disgust but with kindness. That helped. A little.

So, what's your story? We won't be judgy-judgy. Honest!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mean Girls Are People, Too!

I recently showed my nine-year-old son a group photo from my *mumble* year high school reunion. His first question? "Who were the mean girls?" He's only in 4th grade and he already knows. And I know how he knows. I've worked in his classroom; I've seen junior mean girls in action. The warfare is already strictly psychological. Some examples, all said with pointed looks toward shorter/less attractive/chubbier victims: "Eww, what's that smell?" "Why are your pants so short?" "How fast did you run the mile?"

The thing is, in a group shot of over a hundred people, I could pick the mean girls out quickly, efficiently, definitively. How could I do this after so many years? Because those junior mean girls, for the most part, grew up to be thirty-something mean girls. Some, either battered by life or surprised by its goodness, evolved into decent people. Most, though, flashed their large diamonds in the faces of women who obviously struggled financially, elbowed their way to the front of every photo op, spread nasty stories about women who weren't there, and couldn't defend themselves.

Mean girls are tough to write about. They shouldn't be. Every high school has them, as do most YA books about those years. When someone is mean to us, we remember the transgression in minute detail. This should make it easy to pull sensory images from real life when writing, but maybe this is the problem. Those instances become almost mythical for writers and can turn into caricature when we are loosely recreating them on paper.

I have a mean girl, Nina, in my novel. In my (super-smart) agent's revision notes, she wrote, why doesn't Nina get any closure? My first reaction was, because Nina doesn't deserve any! But then, I thought about it, and decided I was being a mean writer. And a short-sighted one. Do I still hate the mean girls, even though I now figure they all have inferiority complexes or unhappy marriages or personality disorders? Yes. Does it mean, from a writer's perspective, they aren't deserving of being treated as whole, multi-dimensional characters? No.

What do you guys think?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

John Hughes, RIP

"If somebody doesn't believe in me, I can't believe in them." Andie, Pretty in Pink

John Hughes really got people like me. Kids who lived slightly in the margins, left of center, on the flat side of the popularity Bell Curve (Andie, Allison, Keith, etc.). Kids who loved fully and completely without a chance of being loved back (Duckie, Farmer Ted). Angry, abused kids who cobbled together a protective armour from bits and pieces of attitude (John Bender, Andrew, Watts). Kids just trying to be, in an unforgiving world.

Serious stuff, but he did all this with a rockin', killer sense of humor. I left theaters wanting to live in a John Hughes movie. Little did I realize, I did. His films struck such a chord with my peers because they were so reflective of our lives--the confusion, competition, insecurity, chaos, and--fun. Absolute fun. John Hughes really understood what it meant to be sixteen. He believed in us, and we in him.

He will be missed.

What's In A Name?

When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Chris invited me for a sleepover party. This was mucho exciting because 1. Chris had 11 brothers and sisters, which meant parental supervision was spotty, and 2. Two of the 11 siblings were only a few years older than us, male, and HOT. Sleepover at Chris's house? Oh, yeah.

So I arrived for fun and games. But when Chris introduced me to the hottie bros, they mumbled "Get back, Loretta" and giggled to themselves. I had no freaking clue what they were talking about. Every time I saw them that weekend--passing through the hallway, eating in the kitchen, sitting on the front stoop--they'd repeat it, "Get back, Loretta", until I thought for sure I'd done something wrong, or they just didn't want a geek like me hanging around their house and were trying to get me to go home. Finally, I asked Chris.

"You know what they're talking about, don't you?"

I told her I didn't.

"It's the Beatles," she explained. "Get Back is a song, you idiot."

My parents were not music people. My mom had some Elvis albums from when she was a kid, and my dad played Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff occasionally, but that was pretty much it. I wasn't much better. There was a brief, unfulfilled flirtation with Michael Jackson in junior high. A fascination with Madonna. A longing to slip my hands in the back pockets of Springsteen's jeans after viewing the album cover for Born in the USA. I thought Duran Duran was as close to pop perfection as I would see in my lifetime. But the Beatles? I knew who Paul McCartney was (He did Say, Say, Say with MJ, right?) and I thought he was cute. I also had a vague recollection of John Lennon's death, and memories of watching Yellow Submarine on TV in the 70s. That was it.

Something told me I needed to find out more, though, so I went a-searching at Wax Trax Records in Evanston, and came home with a bunch of albums (yes--vinyl): Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper.

You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy wakes up and everything is in Technicolor? That was precisely my experience when I first heard what John, Paul, George and Ringo had done, more than 20 years before I placed those albums on my dad's turntable. Those four boys handed me a new life, one of creativity, imagination, freedom.

Good art can do that. The door opens, you pass through, and when you get to the other side you are still you, only better, enhanced.

I can only hope my writing can do this for someone someday.

I write books for young adults because high school is the time when there are so many doors, so many chances to grow, to choose, to start building who you want to be. It's an exciting time. Much has happened in my life since then, but those experiences are so fresh in my memory, and age has given me the opportunity to see how they continue to shape the woman I've become.

So, without any more ancient stories from the 80s, I hereby inaugurate this blog, in which I will discuss writing, life, music, joy, and what-not. Mostly what-not.