Friday, October 30, 2009

Freaky Friday

1. There are certain things I just do. Every fall I go to Woody Allen's latest. Every winter I buy one really nice cashmere sweater in a classic style I can hold onto forever. And every time John Irving comes out with a novel I break the bank to buy it in hardcover. Right now I have my hot little hands on Last Night in Twisted River. I can't even review it because when it comes to Irving, I'm completely biased, a squeely fangirl of epic proportions. I'll just embarrass myself. If I haven't already.

2. Plant your garlic. Now is the time.

3. My oldest boy is dressing up as a hobo this Halloween, so, after a lot of dithering, I decided to go as a gypsy (Get it, Mad Men fans?). I bought a long black wig and a crystal ball. The party should be a blast--thanks for all your recipes! My friends will be well-fed!

4. Book clubs are popping up everywhere. What could be better than sitting around someone's living room, sipping wine and talking about books? I mean, seriously. EVERYONE I know has joined a book club. Our local library reserves five very large shelves just for clubs in our neighborhood. I LOVE this. It's good for people, communities AND the publishing industry. I walked into Borders the other day and saw an awesome endcap displaying Penguin's meatier titles for YA, along with book club discussion guides for each title. Nicely done, Penguin!

5. I finished The Hunger Games last night. Now I understand why everyone would freak out when I said I hadn't read it. For anyone aspiring to write YA, this book is like a graduate level seminar. Characterization, pacing, symbolism, thematic exploration--it's all done brilliantly in one very un-put-downable package.

Anyhew, have the happiest of Halloweens! I hope you get loads of candy...and no rocks!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


OK, so we decided to have a post-trick or treating Halloween get-together in our backyard. A friend is going to set up an outdoor theater for scary movies; we'll have a fire for smores, and a fully stocked bar for the adults (a must after walking house-to-house for three hours).

What started as a casual gathering, though, is now a blow-out blast I haven't seen the likes of since college. I expect close to 100 people will show up. I am freaking out.

I can do dinner parties fairly well, thank you very much. But crowds? Oh, boy.

I need ideas for appetizers beyond the guac and chips/veggie tray standard fare. Got any recipes for large groups? Post in the comments box and I will be oh, so grateful.

And, if you're in the Chicago-land area, send me an email and I'll give you directions. Costumes are optional. I may dress up as a Query Letter.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Fear

Years ago I was shopping in the cavernous Gap Outlet store on Milwaukee Avenue, intent on finding the perfect top for this Christmas party-ish thing I had at work. Some rap-reggae music pumped through the sound system, louder than the usual musak, and the kids behind the registers moved to the beat with just enough energy to make me think the manager wasn't around. A perfect urban holiday scene. I sifted through the racks until a found a deep red cardigan with a gray lace tank to go underneath--yes!--and I began weaving my way through the crowd to head towards the register when I heard:

"Jasmine, stop playing! Where are you?"

My 25-year-old bitchy, pseudo-hipster self scoffed at a woman who'd name her daughter after a Disney character. I got in line to pay.

"Jasmine! Jasmine!" The woman began stalking the aisles, calling out the little girl's name.

The music took on a bam-bam-bam heavier beat, a mocking soundtrack to the woman's voice, which was pleading now, choked with the anticipation of tears.

"Jasmine! Please! It's not funny."

I'm ashamed to say I wasn't the first to step forward. It was the woman next to me who did, adding her voice. "Jasmine!," she called out, and left her place in line, heading in the opposite direction of the mother. I did have enough sense about me to push up to the registers and ask the kids to turn the music off.

"No," one said.

"We don't know how," said another.

"Find a way to turn it down," I said. I left my stuff on the counter and called, "Jasmine!", and began walking circles through the store. A minute or two went by. The music cut out. More women shouted the girl's name. The mother, frantic, the tears coming freely now, dashed through the racks. Someone ran out to the street--the busy, bustling, high-traffic street--and then we all knew this moment could get bigger than us. Much bigger. The mother slowed for just a second, as she realized every bit of the store had been scrutinized. "911," she said. "911," women repeated, and there was a mad rush to the register and they scrambled to find the phone. I looked at the mother and my insides shook, unsteadying my legs and hands and the muscles around my mouth. Fear. Naked, desperate, wild, frightening. As frightening as anything I'd ever seen.

And then, in less than five minutes, it was over. A Gap worker handed Jasmine off to the mother, and the little girl--so little--wailed as the mother grabbed her. A flurry of activity and they were gone. The mother hadn't waited around for an explanation; she'd gotten out of the store as quickly as she could. I doubted she'd ever be back.

The women asked the Gap employee for the story. Unlike the mother, who had her daughter to hold onto, we needed the story.

"She was in the storage room," he said. "She closed the door behind her."

"Oh," we all said, and stumbled back in line to pay for our stuff.

I only told my sister about it. And when I did, I cried. Maybe it's true what some people say about the 97% of our brains we don't use, that one of those percentage points is taken up with scenes from our future, and every so often a little bit leaks into our consciousness and we experience deja vu. Maybe this incident struck me so hard because I knew I'd be at a mall with a toddler one day, a little guy who thought it was hilarious to hide behind a display at Old Navy. Or that I'd be running down the street calling my almost ten year old's name, only to find him at a friend's, playing Wii bowling. Maybe that's why I recognized that fear; I knew it was inside me.

After that incident, and especially after I had kids of my own, I couldn't watch a TV show or a movie about a kid getting snatched or read a book about children gone missing. It hurt too much. Those narratives poked at the fear always residing in the pit of my belly.

Until, for some reason, this weekend (You didn't know this would end with a book recommendation, did you?). I picked up Losing You, a thriller by the husband and wife writing team known as Nicci French. It's about a mother's hunt for her teenage girl who disappeared while on her paper route. A pretty by-the-numbers thriller, but it captured that fear with such brutal, encompassing force, I couldn't put it down. Maybe I admired the skill, the technique, and I guess I could separate my fear from the character's, or maybe, it was a case of classic catharsis.

I still won't touch The Lovely Bones, though.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Freaky Friday

Hey, all! Halloween-ie weather here in Chi. Perfect for a little freak-ay Friday...

1. You don't want to know how tempted I was to buy this. My friends and I could take him to the pre-New Moon pub crawl--do you think he'll get carded?

2. This weekend our school district is turning its Science Center into Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. It's my job to bring kids through the TriWizard Tournament maze, dressed as, um, Mad Eye Moody. Uh-huh. Maybe I'll post pics.

3. OK, this book has been out for a while, but I'm going to sing its praises anyway: Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel, by Heather McElhatton. Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? Well, this is a super inventive adult version. It starts at high school graduation (Do you want to travel or go to college?) and can end in 150+ different ways. Fun, fun, fun.

4. Karmic avalanche. Thanks to LiLa's "spread the love" campaign, good news abounds. Thanks, guys--I'm feeling all full of mushy love for my fellow writers.

5. Na-No-Wri-Mo, or, er, Na-No-Ne-Mo, or Na-No-Na-No--anyway, November is National Make Yourself Crazy Writing a Novel in a Month month. I'm in the final stretch of my WIP, so I'm not participating. I'm also not sure how I feel about this. Pressure is good. Deadlines are good. But, I just don't know...Anyone out there gonna try it?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Instant Karma

OK, I read LiLa's post today about spreading the love, and thought, There's no time for love; I have to work on the WIP! But then I started to feel a little guilty. Then paranoid about my karmic balance sheet. So, I'm going to list a bunch of FANTABULOUS YA books I've read over the last couple of months. No time for reviews, but every one on the list is a winner. Feel free to add titles in the comment box. Here goes:

1. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
2. Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
3. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
4. Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehert
5. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
6. Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers*
7. Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

I think, in the interest of my career, I should change my name to Sara/Sarah. Yes?

*Review forthcoming...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Team Jacob

OK, so I'm officially a Twi-Mom. I have tickets to the midnight showing of New Moon on November 19 (Thanks, Kathleen!). I will be just like the hordes of 12 year olds panting with anticipation, with one notable difference (besides--ahem--age). I get to go out for drinks with my friends beforehand! Yes!

I seriously love the spectacle associated with Twilight. I love young girls crying all over themselves at the sight of Robert Pattinson. I love Stephenie Meyer appearing at the mall dressed kind of like Stevie Nicks and getting a reception worthy of a rock star. I love that there are graduate students formulating theories about the Mormon influence in the series or launching post-structuralist third-wave feminist critiques of Bella Swan. I love it all.


Because it's fun. And the fact that this kind of frenzy stems from reading is all kinds of awesome. Team Jacob all the way!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Falcon and the Snowed

I couldn't look at my news page without seeing Falcon, the six year old boy we thought might have flown away in a homemade hot air balloon, and his father, the one who thought exploiting his children in the name of a reality show was a good idea.

It got me thinking about reality, and our collective definition of the word. We've come to accept reality as being subject to editing, and, though that's super attractive to my writerly soul, it lessens our appreciation of basic human experience. Love, friendship, family, career, food--all of the elements of our day-to-day existence are now subject to documentation and manipulation. This destructive media influence goes beyond peppering fashion mags with models so severely photoshopped their heads are wider than their hips, it confuses the lines of what is natural and contrived until we just can't tell anymore.

Contemporary, realistic YA fiction offers one antidote to this. Stephanie Kuehnert, author of The Ballads of Suburbia, discusses this in a recent blog post. As she says, the characters depicted in these novels may undergo completely different experiences from those of the teens who pick them up at the bookstore, but the dialogue that follows validates the realities of the readers' individual experiences. Yes, we're talking fiction, but teens are classic "reader response" critics--their understanding of literature relies heavily on what they know of the world, and what they're curious about. They make it all about them, and in this case, I think that's a good thing.

I wonder, for these teens, how growing up in the age of created realities will affect how they view themselves and the world, as adults. What do you think?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Freaky Friday

Working hard on the WIP, so posts have been light--sorry! There's always time, though, to get a little freaky...

1. The Chicago Marathon was last weekend. 35,000 runners at the starting line and 33,700 made it to the finish. Absolutely incredible evidence of the driving force of sheer will.

2. Cupcakes. I'm obsessed. Red Velvet. Carrot Cake. Carmel. I spent my high school years working at a bakery and the love of flour and butter and sugar stayed with me. (Too bad my 110-pound frame didn't stick around). If you guys have recipes, please send. I'll try them ALL.

3. Hush, Hush is finally in bookstores! Becca Fitzpatrick's story of a fallen angel kept me at the very edge of my seat, but what really got me was Patch, a character who sent my thirty-something heart rocketing around my chest. He's Paul Newman, Marlon Brando and James Dean rolled into one sexily scarred package. Edward Cullen can go choke on a bottle of True Blood.

4. Don Draper crosses the line. It was the "you people" comment to Sal, followed by the "people like you" come-on to the future hippie schoolteacher. If I was in her place, I would have slapped him. Ok, then I would have kissed him, but definitely after the slap.

5. Girl Crush of the Week: Christina Hendricks. Probably the cutest bridal party I've ever seen. May she have a better marriage than Joan Holloway!

And now, it's off to work I go...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Beatles Break

I want to say something really profound about art or collaboration, or somehow tie this into writing, but I'm just too freaking wowed by it. Check this out.

Basically, it's an excerpt from a BBC special pulling apart some songs from Sgt. Pepper, and a few from other albums. They've separated the tracks, so you can hear each Beatle's individual contribution to a song, and how George Martin tied everything together so beautifully. Really worth a listen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Freaky Friday

It's been a tough week. So...I'm going to get a little goofy with the Friday list. Today I am shamelessly ripping off Elaine Lui from Laineygossip (best Hollywood gossip site ever), and conducting a Freebie Five fest. For those who don't know, a Freebie Five list contains the names of five celebrities with whom you could be, um, intimate, with no lasting consequences. No disease, pregnancy, divorce, and you won't see yourself on the cover of Star Magazine in the checkout line at the supermarket. Sound fun? It is. Post your list in the comment box. Here's mine:

1. Colin Farrell (He's cleaned up well, hasn't he?)
2. Jon Hamm (I would so be Don Draper's secretary)
3. Russell Crowe (We could throw telephones at people. Fun!)
4. Viggo Mortensen (That scene in Eastern know the one I'm talking about...)
5. Gene Hackman (Weird May-December fixation I have--I know--TMI).

And now, the twist. Add a sixth person who is of your gender. Yep. We're getting a little Friday crazy. Drum roll...

6. Maggie Gyllenhaal

OK? Let's hear yours...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Your #1 Fan

Ran over to the public library to pick up some of your awesome book suggestions only to find it's closed until October 12! I felt like Clark Griswald pulling up to the gates of Wally World. Wha??? Closed?? So I hopped on my bike and pedaled to the next suburb over where the library is perfectly decent, but significantly smaller. They didn't have anything I was looking for, and I was in a hurry, so I picked up something just because the author is from Chicago (feeling a little Chi-town sentimental after the Olympics debacle). The title? The Amateurs by a guy called Marcus Sakey. Crime thriller, not my usual genre, but oh, man, I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. Kept my eyes pried open until the wee hours just to get to the finish line. So exhilarating, no?

After finishing a good book, I usually bask in its glow for a while, thinking about the characters and the story and the art of putting it all together. Then, until this week, I'd return the book to the library or slide it back on my bookshelf, talk to a few friends about it, and that would be that.

But this time, armed with the @ sign and a Twitter account, I contacted Mr. Sakey just to let him know how un-put-downable his book was. I wrote a charming message in under 140 characters, hit enter and...felt like Annie Freaking Wilkes. I wrote a fan letter. I am truly a dork.

Or am I? Do people often do this? Do you? Social sites have definitely made our world smaller, ushering in an era of overfamiliarity. I felt well within my rights to contact Mr. Sakey directly, a far cry, I thought, from sending a letter to Ralph Macchio in care of Teen Beat magazine, complete with rainbow stickers on the envelope and purple ink. But, really, are they not essentially the same thing?

Then again, Ralph never wrote me back. I got a message from @MarcusSakey in less than 24 hours...hmmm...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Better now...

After watching this.

Have a good weekend!

Friday, October 2, 2009


Crap, crap, crap. Chicago is out in the first round. I understand Rio, but MADRID? C'mon, Spain had it in `92! And this is the city of broad shoulders, the city that works, the home of blues...and now we really are singing the blues.

Big flippin' belly flop for Chi-town.

What's Oprah going to do on Monday?

Too bummed for a proper Freaky Friday. Today is Failure Friday. Ugh.

Please, Please, Pretty Please!

Oh, great Olympics Committee, please, please, please pick Chicago!

(Can't focus on Freaky Friday until I find out!)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

In Which I Narrowly Avoid a Rant

OK, I nearly lost it today after reading yet another article about a school district's ban on walking and riding bikes to school. I was going to post about the idiocy of communities building car-accessible-only schools AFTER it's become apparent the oil age is not going to last forever, but I would bore you guys to tears and I don't want to do that on a Thursday. So...instead, I'm going to take a cue from my friend Lisa, who's been a fountain of positivity these past few days, and write about the very easy things you can do to promote physical well-being and earth-loving in your young-uns.

(Caveat--I am not a perfect model of environmental know-how. I don't have solar panels on my house; I bought these cute flats from Nordstrom instead of using the money for that rain barrel I've been meaning to order; I sometimes forget my resusable grocery bags in my trunk, and my garden was all kinds of pathetic this year. So please don't think I'm lording my enviro-goddess status over you--I just picked up some great tips over time and want to share...)

Here goes:

1. Stop treating bicycles like toys and make them the go-to mode of transportation for short trips. If my son asks to go to the library (1 mile away), I say, "Go get your bike." The park? "Go get your bike." The local pizza joint? "Go get your bike." Your kids will start seeing their bicycles as viable forms of transportation, for both kids AND adults. Get a little sidecar if your kids are too young for riding--it's never too early to instill this. Works for walking, too.

2. Stop making separate meals for the kids--the family dinner should be enjoyed by the whole family. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone says, "I can't believe your kids eat X (squash, broccoli, salmon, liver, etc.). Susie/Justin/Harriet will only eat chicken nuggets and cheese pizza." The hub and I made a decision long ago to always serve the kids what we're having. If they don't eat it, well, then they're going to be a little hungry. Believe me, a child who misses dinner will not waste away to nothing overnight. Allowances must be taken for something your child truly doesn't like, but honestly, kids who are expected to eat what they are served like pretty much everything. I have a wealth of anecdotal evidence for this!

3. Make "because it's good for your body" or "because it's good for the earth" a reasonable answer for the incessant "whys?" of toddlerhood. It's amazing how quickly kids accept this answer.

4. Grow something. Anything. Let your kids see the process of how food makes it to the dinner plate.

5. Make friends with nature/don't turn dirt into the enemy. True story: I was at a party held in someone's backyard. One woman would not put her baby down for a minute, because--get this--"grass is so dirty." And she had just fed said child little bits of cut up hot dog. I poured myself a big old glass of wine after that one...

6. Suck up to a farmer. We get a good amount of our produce from a farmer's collective. This is not as expensive as it sounds; if I get my butt in gear and plan what my family is going to eat for the week, it costs less than if I bought everything at the grocery store. And it's yet another opportunity to get the kids a little closer to the food chain.

So maybe I ranted a little. But climbing up on a soapbox every once in a while is one of the joys of blogging!

Happy Thursday!