Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Curling Up with a Good Book

Because I'm working through a tough spot in my WIP, I decided to take a little break (ok, it's procrastination city around here) and troll some publishing sites to see what's going on in the world of books.

It seems Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is selling well, though I'm not sure if it's surpassed industry predictions. Has anyone read it? The reviews haven't been kind. I liked his previous books, didn't love them, so I can wait for paperback on this one.

The hub just finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson, so I think I might surprise him and hit Borders today for The Girl Who Played with Fire. I still need to read TGWTDT. I tried in the summer, but it was a slow starter for me. Maybe I had a hard time getting my head around all the Swedish names.

Three books I've been waiting for come out this fall: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr, and John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River (obsessed, I know). I'm too impatient to put myself on the long waiting list at the library, so it's hardcover for all three of these babies (better collect those Borders coupons or order from Amazon). I'm a little afraid to read Audrey's latest because I liked The Time Traveler's Wife so much. EW's review was not so hot, so I'm worried.

So, what are you guys reading now? I tend to go in spurts, and right now I'm in a voracious reading phase--give me some suggestions, please!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Scattered Brain

I'm all over the place today.

First off, my Mad Men obsession was off the charts after watching last night's episode. I won't give any spoilers away, but Mr. Weiner outdid himself, from the shocker opening to the "Company Man" song playing as the final credits rolled. Everything about this show is well-done, with a depth and richness not usually seen on television. I could have used last night's episode to teach my literature students about symbolism (the Victorian chaise? the Hermes scarf? The eclipse?). At one point, we're clued in on the exact date of this episode, July 23, 1963. The rumblings of the cultural earthquake to come are being felt by everyone, and we have no idea how each will come through in the end. I LOVE that.

OK, on to the next topic. Will someone please explain to me the allure of fingerless gloves? I saw some really cute handmade knit gloves on Etsy, but upon closer inspection I realized they had no fingers! Do I not understand this because I'm from the Midwest? Please, someone explain!

And, finally, the F-word. I've already posted my issues with saying it, but I apparently don't have much of a problem with other people using it on national television. There's a big brou-ha-ha over some chick on Saturday Night Live letting the f-bomb fly during this last week's broadcast. I've seen the clip, and you know what? Who cares? I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought. And, for those who complained about young ears hearing the word: if your children are up at midnight and watching SNL, then you've got bigger issues than dealing with a curse word.

Enough with the random. Happy Monday!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Freaky Friday

Friday came quickly this week, no?

Here's the top five for this fine week in September...

1. Mackenzie Phillips and the big secret. I must say consensual incest is a new phrase for me. Seems like it should be an oxymoron, but I'm guessing Mac is right when she says she's sure they weren't the first, but...ugh. Just, ugh. Denny Doherty is my new favorite Papa. Cass has always been my favorite Mama.

2. Health care. I have insurance but I know what it's like to live without. We need a new system before this one implodes.

3. Girl Crush of the Week: Oprah's friend Gayle. I swallowed my distaste for she that is O, and tuned in for Monday's swinging 60s extravaganza. Jon Hamm showed up, which was awesome, but what really tickled me was Gayle's visit to the Sterling Cooper set. She played a retro cute new secretary for Don Draper, and she rocked it.

4. The bread challenge. Two summers ago, I decided I would bake all the bread my family needs. I figured three months was a sensible test period--I lasted one-and-a-half before I ran screaming for Trader Joe's. I think I'm going to try it again, as soon as I go to Williams-Sonoma to buy these. Anyone have good bread recipes? I don't use a machine, though. I like to KNEAD--total stress relief.

5. Meeting other writers in random places is fun. The place? An old man bar in my neighborhood. Why was I there? A random get-together for local moms. There was one gal I hadn't met, and she turned out to be a former playboy scribe-turned-book-length non-fiction writer. She's about to start the query-go-round, so we had loads to talk about, and bored the living crap out of everyone else. I'm sure some of the other ladies woke up with hangovers because they couldn't get a word in edgewise and downed too many beers waiting for us to shut up!

Anyway, have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

I don't want to stomp my way onto Lisa and Laura's pop culture territory, but I had a great conversation about Rachel Ray while walking this morning with my friend Kathleen. RR's voice is like nails on a chalkboard, her "EVOO" mantra makes me want to hurl, and she kind of looks like a gremlin, BUT, and this is hard for me to admit, her dishes are practical, yummy, and easy to make. I've cooked more of her recipes than any other Food Network guru, and I love them all.

My favorite, Jamie Oliver (Otherwise referred to by the hub as my f*cking Brit boyfriend) cooks beautiful dishes inspired by his bucolic English country home. I would love to own a gorgeous English country home. Or a Tuscan retreat. Or a chateau in Bordeaux. What I do have is a 1/4 acre suburban plot with some pretty sad looking tomatoes and an overgrown patch of mint choking my tarragon, oregano & thyme to death. I'd give anything to step out my door to find fourteen different kinds of sage, but that's not going to happen. Don't get me wrong, Jamie still seems like the kind of guy who likes a pub and a pint, but his expectations of what the regular American cook has on hand are, um, high. Too high for me anyway.

Nigella Lawson is my Food Network girl crush (Funny, the husband doesn't have a problem with her.). For Nigella cooking is akin to a yummy-mummy noontime romp in the sack. She wears tight cashmere sweaters and sticks her fingers in her mouth a lot, and looks like she actually eats what she cooks. I love her. And if Nigella and Jamie hosted a joint cookery show, it would be the Food Network version of Cinemax Afterhours Programming. Total. Food. Porn.

But would I actually cook what they came up with? I don't know. I'd probably end up thumbing through my garish Rachel Ray cookbook, looking for something similar, but didn't require real Tahitian Vanilla or Golden Truffle Oil at $86 an ounce.

How about you guys? How many times have you actually cooked the stuff you've seen on the Food Network? What are your faves?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The World According to John

(I'm back online!!! I'm back online!!! With a super-long post because, let's face it, getting back online is like shaking up the bottle before you pop the cork...can't...stop...typing!)

OK, here goes...

I tried to be a serious writer after college. Really I did. I churned out self-conscious short stories and derivative screenplays, and even made a stab at a novel or two. I had a good imagination, and (pre-marriage/pre-babies) all the time in the world, but I just wasn't ready. Was I lacking in life experience? Maybe. Did I like the idea of being a writer more than the actual grunt work writing for a living entails? Possibly. I don't really know. I do know that I liked to sit in NYC bars like Kettle of Fish, drink cocktail after cocktail and bore pretentious tourists with my really great ideas. Ideas that did indeed sound pretty awesome after a steady stream of vodka and cranberries, but somehow never made it to the page.

When, in my early thirties, I decided to commit myself to writing--again--I pursued it with a vigor I simply didn't have in my twenties. This didn't make sense to me. I was a mommy twice over; I taught night school; I was exhausted. I should not have had time for writing, but somehow I made the time. I took help where I could get it--babysitting, beta-reading, backrubs from the hub. Though I didn't have the time or money to take creative writing classes, I did the next best thing to secure an education--I went to the library.

It was there I found On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, two books worth their authors' weight in gold as far as technique. I also found a great book about writing YA by K.L. Going, and a cheap copy of The Elements of Style, that old classic by Strunk and White, at the library book sale. All of these books taught me invaluable lessons about writing, and reinforced what I instinctively knew. Just thinking about these books can fill me with confidence, because the subtext of each is, you can do this!

But...sometimes...after staring at a blank page for an hour, writerly neurosis throws quick drying cement down the neural pathway devoted to creativity. Happened to me last week. I just...stopped. So, what did I do? I scrolled through my mental bookshelf, skipped over the books on writing and went to an old favorite about writers: The World According to Garp. Luckily I'm scary-obsessed with John Irving, so I found a copy on my actual bookshelf, and got to reading.

The World According to Garp is about many, many things, but what stood out to me on this read was the amount of time Irving spends showing us how a writer's imagination is formed and used in the process of becoming a writer. Real life will filter in, but, as Garp learns, it doesn't substitute for how the imaginary makes a story infinitely better. Irving explores this through Garp's short writerly life and the parallels to my own writing (and yours, I'd bet) are fascinating. I finished the book renewed and excited about my WIP again.

Incidentally, John Irving's new novel, Last Night in Twisted River, comes out in October. You can bet I'll buy it in hardcover!

Friday, September 18, 2009

(Let's Get) Freaky Friday

I've been computerless for a week now, so I'm deep in the withdrawal phase--DTs, nervous breakdowns, facial tics, AND I went totally batshit crazy ballistic on the Best Buy Geek. Those of you who know me in real life know I'm NOT a yeller. At all. This is the sad state I find myself in.

Which is why I'm not going to do a regular Freaky Friday list, but a super-fun sex-ay version to keep my mind off my troubles. I'm going to list five unusual things I find sexy about people in general (no need to get too personal here) and I want you guys to participate as well.

1. Buddy Holly glasses. Have you ever seen photos of Buddy Holly without his glasses? Ooh, la-la! I love that the thick black frames kept his beautiful face a secret. And I always thought Clark Kent was way hotter than Superman.
2. Barely noticeable imperfections in appearance. A hole in a flannel shirt. Crescents of dirt under fingernails. Unevenly cut hair. Pen marks on skin.
3. A man reading a newspaper on the subway. The newspaper has to be crinkled, with sections threatening to spill out over the floor. Ink stains on fingertips are a plus. Don't know how much longer people are going to be reading newspapers anywhere, given ad revenues, so I'll take this one when I can get it. Sorry, Kindles may be cool but they are not sexy.
4. A man waiting in line who is not jabbering away on a cell phone, punching buttons on a blackberry or listening to an iPod. A faraway look in his eye is a must. Daydreaming is sexy.
5. Using money clips instead of wallets. (But not the silver, girlishly monogrammed kind from Tiffany's--yuck!). It speaks of confidence.

(And here is my list of five so-not-sexy things: thong sandals, manicures for guys, Tom Cruise movies, high top sneakers, and those thin, filmy sports jersey/shorts matching sets. Ugh.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sea of Love

No computer yet, and I'm tired of writing my WIP in longhand. I definitely missed my calling--my chicken scratch handwriting is better suited to signing a prescription pad than writing out dialogue. Oh, well. I never would have made it through organic chem anyway...

So...about a couple of hours ago I was tired of writing and tired of cleaning the house. I'd finished grading papers and taken a long walk and eaten a healthy breakfast, and for the first time in about ten years, I found I had little to do. This concept is completely foreign to me. As is the concept of turning on the television while the sun is still shining. I never do it, but today...I did. 500 gazillion channels and nothing even remotely watchable. Finally, just as I was about to break down and suffer through Regis and what's-her-name, I spotted a movie I haven't seen since it came out in--get this--1989. Sea of Love with Ellen Barkin and Al Pacino. The only thing I could remember about it was I liked it once upon a time, so I settled in for the show.

And what a show it was. Murder, lust, loneliness, suffering, dissatisfaction, mid-life crisis--it was all there and more. The interesting thing was, I really felt it, the humanity of the story, even though it was a pretty by the numbers thriller. The acting was great, the script sharp, but what really got to me was something more. These people looked like real people--feathery lines about the eyes and dark circles underneath, frizzy hair and blemishes, a little bit of tummy hanging over a belt, a slightly deflated butt. These were people approaching middle age, and the director let them look it. No botox or sculpted bodies. None of them had the hollow-eyed, alien-like stare that comes after too many facelifts. And, you know what? The worn look is sexy, a messy but confident sexuality that only comes with experience. Ellen Barkin absolutely glowed with it, and you could see every line on her face.

When I think about some A-list actresses today--Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman come to mind--I can honestly say their vanity erases all sexual allure. Messy is good. Aging is interesting. A little wear and tear in the face sparks the imagination, no? Where has this woman been? What has she done? (Hopefully she'll never tell you, as the fun is in the guessing.)

When people inflate their lips and breasts and various other parts, or poke poison into their wrinkles to erase lines earned through living, something is lost. This is so apparent onscreen, particularly during love scenes. It's hard to believe someone who has iron-fisted control over her appearance would let loose in bed. Let me tell you, though, Ellen Barkin and Al Pacino had the windows steaming up in my family room. I'd add it to my netflix list, if I were you!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Forced Techno Break

The geeks failed. Miserably. I finagled a laptop, to be picked up next Tuesday. I'm hanging at the library again because my neighbors aren't around (Or maybe they're avoiding my pathetic, hang-dog Internet-deprived self). Anyhew, no time for a proper Freaky Friday, so here's a So-So Saturday:

1. Tried Beatles Rock Band on a Best Buy demo. I suck, but it was sooooo cool. Definitely sits atop my Christmas list.
2. Girl/Boy Crush of the Week: The hermaphroditic runner. Girl parts/boy parts--what's not to love? Middlesex is one of my favorite books of all time, so I have a soft spot for the herma crowd. If you haven't read it, you must!
3. The City of Bones/City of Ashes/City of Glass Trilogy. I've always turned my nose up at urban fantasy/paranormal books, but shame on me. I plowed through this trilogy like it was HP all over again. Loved it. Have a cougar-ish crush on leonine Jace. Roar!
4. Koombacha (not sure about the spelling) Fermented Drinks. Gives you energy, probiotics & other, um, instestinal support. And it doesn't taste bad. Slightly pricey, but it definitely gives me a lift. FYI--I still have yet to try a Red Bull or Monster or anything like that, and I don't drink coffee, so my reaction may be different from yours.
5. The sheer awesomeness of librarians. Seriously. And not just because they so kindly fueled my Internet fix.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

All You Need Is Love (and, um $250)

(My Internet access is down. The geek cavalry has been alerted, but can't come to my rescue until tomorrow. I'm sitting at the public terminals at the library, typing while a line of very patient people, mostly homeless and/or elderly, wait for a chance to cybersurf. So this will be a short one, possibly with typos!)

OK, Beatles Rock Band was released yesterday (Anyone get it? Do tell!) as was the complete remastered album collection, in mono, a project overseen by Giles Martin, George Martin's son! (I'm sure Beatles fans are hyperventilating--everyone else, please be tolerant! This is a huge deal!) The cover of Entertainment Weekly has a gorgeous photo of John and Paul, with a number of rare photos peppered throughout a list of the top 50 Beatles songs of all time. It's easy to come up with a list of 50, but much harder to come up with the top five. So that is my challenge to you guys today. Here's mine:

1. Let it Be
2. Hey, Jude
3. Norwegian Wood
4. Blackbird
5. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away

What are yours?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hope is a Thing with Feathers

I'd planned a big long post about Beatlemania (Beatles Rock Band comes out tomorrow!), but...


That's all I can handle right now; please forgive the brevity!

(Special thanks to my supremely talented agent, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe! Yay!)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Freaky Friday

My five bits of randomness for this week...

1. OK, I'm a total conspiracy theorist, but this whole Charlie Gibson retiring from ABC has me suspicious. I'd like to think Charlie and Diane are best buds, but do think there was a GMA smackdown at some point? Did Diane stomp a high-heeled foot and give an ultimatum? Hmmmm...

2. Got the September J. Crew catalog in the mail the other day and I just have to say: what is the deal with three-quarter length sleeves on sweaters meant to be worn through the winter? And, there's the $170 price tag. If I plan on dropping that kind of cash for a sweater, I want the whole sleeve, not something that 's going to ride up my pointy elbows.

3. Girl crush of the week: My neighbor, Nancy. She has three kids under the age of three. Think about the amount of diapers, cheerios and sippy cups in her house. Boggles the mind.

4. Etsy. Oh...Etsy. Major time suck for me. And I just love the idea of an alternative economy. I see something I like, pay for it, and the money goes right to the person who made it by hand. Imagine that!

5. I didn't speak my first major curse word until I was a senior in high school. I kid you not. When I was little a nun told me that swearing was for people with limited minds and non-existent vocabularies. I took what she said waaay to heart. My girlfriends were always trying to get me to swear, and it became kind of a challenge so I held off for a really long time. When I finally broke down and said "Sh&t" or something (see, I even have a hard time typing it!) everyone made such a big deal out of it I just didn't let those words seep into my everyday speech patterns. Even now, (I'm not exactly a sailor but I do curse.), it's hard for me to sound natural saying "F*ck." I pause a little before speaking, like I have to gear up to say it. I have a heck of a time adding curse words to my writing as well. In my WIP I have a character who uses the F-word so much it's almost a verbal tic (He's Irish--in Ireland using the F-word is just about as offensive as adding salt to your dinner.) I really have to work to make it flow naturally from his fictional mouth. And, if an editor has a problem with all the cursing, you know what I'm going to say, right? Sh*t, F&ck, Son of a B%tch!

Have a F*cking Great Long Weekend!

Being There

So, um...I'm a pretty liberal democrat. No big surprise, right? I voted for Obama and really want him to do well while in office. Plunged into crisis last January, a crisis not of his doing, President Obama went into battle knowing it was going to be fought charging up a steep, steep hill.

The thing is, I trust he's doing his best, but he hasn't done enough to remind us of why we should trust him. I do not feel the presence of Obama in daily life. I'm reminded of when Bush was in office and I could go months without thinking of the US as actually having a leader. Obama is not spending most of his first term on a ranch in Texas, though (short Martha's Vineyard vaca aside), he's been in the Oval Office. Where he should have been is in our living rooms.

During the Great Depression & WWII, Franklin Delano Roosevelt frequently addressed the country via radio, using his "fireside chats" to gather support for his New Deal programs and, later, for the sacrifices necessary to win WWII. They were enormously popular, and usually resulted in Roosevelt getting what he wanted, legislatively. Now, I recently discovered Obama's weekly address is available on YouTube. I didn't know this. Did you? Part of Obama's appeal is in his eloquence and logical analysis of the issues. As he goes to battle over health care for all, we need to see him, to listen to him, to really feel like he's got our backs. I'm not a marketing guru, but I know the present administration has access to the best. Let's hope they make use of it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Bucket of Fun

When my boys were potty training, the hub and I used a rewards system--on a particularly good poop day, my sons could stick their little hands into the bucket of fun (an empty milk carton full of stickers, action figures and various tchotchkes) and pick whatever prize they wanted. This system worked, more or less. They're older now, and handle potty duty by themselves, thank you very much, but for some reason I've gone and resurrected the old Bucket of Fun. For myself.

I'm trying to shed ten pounds. No biggie, right? My husband could go play a round of golf and lose a dozen. For the ladies, not so easy. So I've taken to power walking (can't believe I just used that phrase) for 45 minutes to an hour, after I drop the boys off at school and before I chain myself to my computer. And this would work IF I could stay away from my personal bucket `o fun (AKA my pantry) after I finish working out. There are no stickers in my bucket, but there are lovely squares of Dove dark chocolate, almond biscotti, fudge brownies and random pop tarts the kids have somehow overlooked. These are my rewards for breaking a sweat. And as a result I've not lost a single pound.

Intrinsic rewards aren't cutting it. The soft, ladylike inner voice telling me it's noble to resist is totally overpowered by the loudmouth shouting "Valrhona is classy chocolate--eat the whole bar!" Self-hypnosis isn't doing the trick either. I could sit the in lotus meditation pose, Ommm-ing until my lips chap and I still want to point the canister of whipped cream directly into my mouth and shoot.

So, do you guys have any tips for me? I really want to lose these pesky ten before the holiday season begins, and the buckets of fun are plentiful. Thanks!

Oh, and since I don't do Teaser Tuesday, I have this gem for your viewing pleasure. Stick around to see my man at the end.

Happy Tuesday!