Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Just Keep Swimming

As many of you know, I spent the month of November with a group of intrepid writers, revising our manuscripts until we didn't think we could stand it anymore.  For me, it was a great way to get excited about revisions, which I normally hate, and also get to know a fabulous new group of writer friends I never would have met otherwise.

Somehow, November is over. I don't know where it went.  I don't know where all of 2011 went, to be perfectly honest. My son turns two in less than a month. How is this possible?

At any rate, NaNoReviMo officially ends today, and I'm very sad it will be over, especially because I am still waiting for four more readers to send me their feedback, which means I've got a lot of revisions coming up in December. Fortunately, a fair number of NaNoReviMo-ers have agreed to carry on into December - and who knows, maybe even January (God help me if that's the case). This is officially NaNoReviSe (National Novel Revising Season, for those not in the know), and it will be glorious!

Even still, I'm not entirely satisfied with where I'm at right now. I've got query fever - I want to get my novel out into the world and hear what agents have to say. But I know that I have to be patient (not my forte, I'm afraid). I hate when life doesn't have forward momentum - hence my willingness to let John join the Foreign Service. At least I know things will be constantly changing.

Jackie, caught in the wheel of time.  Okay, so it's actually a swing set, but you get the idea.
I think the real trick here is to find another way to move forward. As Catherine Coulter once told me, "A writer writes." To that end, my goal until I get the rest of my feedback is to start the next book, even if it's just an outline. As Nemo would say (or "Emo" if you're Jack): Just keep swimming! And that's just what I plan to do.

Finding Emo, by me (this is what happens when you don't have Photoshop).

To my fellow NaNoReviMo-ers, it's been lovely knowing all of you. Thanks for all the encouragement this past month and for making revising so much fun. And for those of you carrying on into December, I'm looking forward to your daily last lines.  See you tomorrow!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hasta Luego, Mexico

Sometimes you spend months and months planning and anticipating an event, fantasizing about it, clinging to it during crappy times like a life preserver, only to be sadly disappointed by the reality when it finally arrives.

But every once in a blue moon, something turns out far better than you could have possibly imagined.

Enter Cancun.

I can't think of a more relaxing or indulgent time in my entire life.  Four days of eating, drinking, sleeping, shopping, and flopping on the beach?  Yes please!  I was worried Cancun couldn't possibly live up to me expectations, but it did me one better: it exceeded them.  Sitting here at my computer in the basement, it's hard to believe that it wasn't all a dream...

En route to Mexico, before the sh*t hit the fan.
Sarah, Lauren, and I were pumped.  By 7:30 am on Tuesday morning we were heading out to board our plane to Charlotte.  Sure, it was raining, but nothing could spoil our day!  We were going to Cancun, baby!  We settled down in our seats, took out our fashion magazines, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  To make a long story short, our plane broke.  We watched in horror as the minutes ticked by, our two hour layover slowly dwindling before our eyes.  Pretty soon, it became clear we weren't going to make our next flight.  Our only hope was to find another flight that would get us to Cancun TODAY.  The hotel was already paid for, Kimmy was flying solo, and I would be damned if I was losing an entire day of freedom.

Sarah eventually managed to get us all booked on a flight to Chicago, followed by a four-hour layover, and finally on a flight to Cancun that landed at 9:00 pm.  We lost almost an entire day of fun, but we made it to Mexico, and that was all that mattered.  We found Kim at the hotel, walked across the street to the mall, and looked for a restaurant.  Our options were endless, as long as we didn't want actual Mexican food.  Johnny Rockets didn't seem appropriate and we weren't in the mood for Italian, so we found the closest thing we could to the real deal: Chili's.  Let me tell you, those chips and salsa never tasted so good.  The margaritas helped immensely.

You know what also helped immensely?  Waking up to this:

The view from our balcony.
After gorging ourselves on the breakfast buffet, we headed down to the beach.  We pretty much didn't do a damn thing that first day, other than eat, shop, and play in the ocean.  It was phenomenal.  Later that night we had an AMAZING authentic Mexican dinner at La Distilleria.  If you go to Cancun, go there.  They have fried cheese covered in potato chips.  That's pretty much all you need to know.

The water really is that blue.
The next day we decided to do something semi-cultural (I use that word loosely) and took a ferry out to Isla Mujeres, for more shopping and eating.  We had over four hours to kill, so we did the only sensible thing: ate, drank, and took tons of pictures of ourselves.

Note the coaster stuck to my drink.  I was too happy to notice.

We had a lot of fun with this here doorway. 

You say, "Jump!" I say, "How high?"
 Eventually we found a lovely little cafe and had a cold Coca Lite before getting back on the ferry.



When we hit the mainland, we walked past a bungee jumping center.  "Come on ladies!" the vendor  yelled.  "It's gonna happen!"

Of course, it absolutely wasn't gonna happen: we're talking a fifty-foot tall rickety wooden tower over about five feet of water.  But I admired his tenacity.  Until he asked if we were from Louisiana.  Seriously?  He finally guessed California and I forgave him.  But bungee jumping still wasn't gonna happen.

That night we decided to go to a club.  We just had no idea which one.  Fortunately, our towel boy came up with the perfect solution.  "Go to Coco Bongo," he said.  He seemed pretty serious about it.  So we went.

Coco Bongo was the single most bizarre experience of my life.  It's one part night club, one part Vegas show, one part Cirque de Soleil, and eight parts insane.  I know that's a lot of parts.  You just have to take my word for it.  We somehow ended up in some kind of VIP section, which was great in that it separated us from the riffraff.  Unfortunately, it meant we showed up on the big screen at least a dozen times.  Dancing in public is not my favorite.  Seeing my ass on a giant screen in front of a thousand people is right up there in "worst nightmare" territory.  Fortunately, I was distracted by the spectacle of a Mexican Freddie Mercury, a pervy Beetle Juice, and a loincloth-clad Jesus on a cross made of curtains.

There are no words.
The next morning Lauren and I went for a walk on the beach.  It was sublime.  I seriously didn't want our vacation to end.  Yes, I missed my boys terribly, but I would have been happy to have them fly down to Cancun and live with me in the Westin.  You'd think refried beans, fresh tortillas, queso, and giant tubs of guacamole would get old after a while, but they didn't.  Neither did being called "your highness," "beauty," and "princess" by the hotel staff.

Ah, memories.  I shall always look back on this photo and smile.  Or weep.
I can still feel the warm breeze, the cool ocean, the guacamole in my belly and the saltwater in my hair.  It's going to be hard to readjust to reality, but I'm looking forward to seeing my boys again tonight, to getting back into my writing, and to gazing fondly at the photos we took this week for years to come. 

And so I say to Mexico: "Hasta luego, amigo."  Until later, my friend.  Because I will be back.  Oh yes, I will be back.

Monday, November 21, 2011

His Way

Yesterday John and Jack set off for California, without me. This is the first time since Jack was born nearly two years ago that John has spent more than a day with Jack without me, and the first time either of us has flown without the other for backup. I have to be honest, I didn't think it was going to go well. And if I'm being really honest, I kind of hoped it wouldn't.

Here's why: When you spend all day every day with your kid, you learn a few things. You know exactly how many snacks to pack, when to fill up the wipe container, whether or not it's cold enough for a hat, what time you need to leave a playdate to get home in time for a nap. When you're a stay-at-home parent, nothing can be left to chance, because you're the one who will face the repercussions if you screw up. Dealing with a toddler on a regular basis is like trying to predict the mood swings of a manic-depressive: small things like whether or not you have enough juice on hand can mean the difference between an enjoyable outing or a complete public meltdown.

On Saturday night, Jack was having trouble falling asleep. I was getting panicky, thinking, "If he doesn't go to sleep, he's going to be extra cranky tomorrow." John (as usual) told me to calm down, that Jack would go to sleep eventually. And for the first time I thought to myself, "You know what? I don't care if he doesn't go to sleep, because I'm not the one who has to sit on a plane with him for six hours tomorrow. Go ahead Jackie, live it up! This one's on dad!"

It's not that I'm rooting against John. I obviously don't want him to have a miserable time without me. But every now and then, I wouldn't mind hearing, "Wow honey, you really know what you're doing.  I didn't understand it until I experienced it myself."

Either John is a very lucky man, or I'm an idiot who spends way too much time worrying about everything (I have a feeling it may be a little of both). Everything went fine yesterday. Yes, the plane took off an hour late and Jack's nap was interrupted by the woman next to him, but from what I hear, there were no major meltdowns, no tantrums, no angry looks from nearby passengers. In fact, people commented on how well behaved Jack was. I can't help but wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that John was on his own. If I'd been there, I have a feeling expectations would have been different. Everyone thinks it's just adorable when Dad screws up. Society can be a little rougher on Mom.

And let's not forget that I filled up John's backpack with toys and snacks, that I purchased a special neck pillow for Jack, that I made sure he had on comfy clothing and an extra pacifier on hand. I packed Jack's suitcase. I counted out how many diapers Jack would need for the week. I remembered the car seat bag, the children's Tylenol, the crib sheet.

Jack on the plane with his "wolf pup."
If I hadn't done those things? Who knows? I like to think it makes a difference. I have to believe it. Being a mommy is my job right now, and I want to know I'm doing it well. If earning that acknowledgment means John has to suffer for a few days, well, it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

But if I know John, everything will be smooth sailing for him this week. He has his mom and two aunts around to help, a dog and a lively uncle for entertainment, a park around the corner and the beach two blocks away. Jack won't care that John sings "Hush Little Baby" completely wrong:

"And if that diamond ring done break, Papa's gonna grill you a tuna steak.
And if that tuna steak's too rare, Papa's gonna buy you a dancing bear.
And if that dancing bear's too mean, Papa's gonna buy you...something that rhymes with mean."

I should probably save myself the frustration and concede that John is just a naturally great dad. But I'm secretly praying that something goes ever-so-slightly wrong this week. Because smugness is a drink best served cold, and I like mine blended. With salt.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Tumble Bee and Wildwood

This week's inspiration is a fabulous combo of art, music, and literature. It all started last week when I was hunting down music for Jack's birthday. I was on the iTunes children's page when an adorable cover caught my eye.
I had never heard of Laura Veirs, but anything with a cover that cute is worth checking out, right? I knew I would like the album from the first sample. Veirs has a sweet, clear voice that kind of reminds me of Aimee Mann. "Folk music" makes me think of James Taylor, but this is actually a wonderful combination of songs I loved from my childhood ("Jump Down Spin Around," "Jamaica Farewell") and songs I've never heard before ("King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O," "The Fox"). Jack loves the album just as much as I do. He even started singing "Why Oh Why" with me. Over all, a highly recommended purchase.

A couple of days after I purchased "Tumble Bee," I saw a thumbnail image of a book on one of the blogs I read. The artwork on the cover looked familiar, so I decided to investigate. The more I read about the middle grade novel Wildwood, the more intrigued I was. The illustrations are adorable, and at only $8.99 on Amazon for a 500-page hardcover, how could I resist? I'm only a few chapters into Wildwood, but so far so good. The story follows a seventh-grader named Prue on a quest to save her baby brother from the Impassable Wilderness, where he is taken by a murder of crows; I can just see the author hearing that phrase and coming up with this story. The book just looks and feels special in your hands (definitely not something you want to buy on your Kindle) and would make the perfect Christmas gift for a young reader.

I didn't realize at first that the author of the novel, Colin Meloy, is actually the lead singer of The Decemberists (a great band worth checking out if you haven't already). Oddly, I thought I'd heard Meloy's voice on "Tumble Bee," so I did a little further digging. Turns out Carson Ellis, the illustrator of Wildwood and Meloy's wife, did the cover for Veirs' album, which Meloy does in fact sing on. And they all live in Portland, where Wildwood is set. I KNEW I loved that city.

An illustration from Wildwood. How cute is he?

Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Just Say Yes

It's remarkable how resilient the human spirit can be. Just six months ago, I was languishing in the Pit of Despair, having started out strong in the querying process for The Book Collector and then finally accepting that maybe it just wasn't meant to be.  Looking back at my neat and tidy Query Chart, it really did seem like I was on to something.

Out of my first 10 queries, I had 2 no responses, 3 rejections, 3 partials, and 2 fulls, one of which later turned into a resubmission.  So a fifty percent success rate (if we're considering getting requests for material a success, which I do). That's pretty good in querying statistics, actually. In a Times interview from 2008, Stephenie Meyer said, "I sent 15 [queries], and I got nine rejection letters, five no responses and one person who wanted to see me."

"All it takes is one yes."  That's what everyone likes to say in this business. And for some people, it may take as few as a dozen "no's" to get to that yes. For some, it may take a couple (dozen) more. But even Stephenie Meyer had to read nine rejection letters, and every single one of them sucks. Conversely, every request for material is a tiny bubble of hope, making it all the more painful when a rejection follows.  I kind of appreciate those "no responses"; in a way, they're better than seeing that rejection letter in your inbox.
Some people are able to go back and revise their novel and start over again. I'm sort of a clean-slate kind of girl, so I took some time off from writing and editing after giving up on The Book Collector. Fortunately, the kind words of one editor, who suggested I try writing YA, gave me just enough hope to claw my way out of the Pit, dust myself off, and start over.  Once the idea for my new book wormed its way into my brain, I found myself excited to write again. I tried not to focus on the querying process and to just enjoy the writing, but if you have any desire to get published, the reality is you're going to have to face that querying process at some point. I'm getting close to that point. And believe it or not, I'm kind of hopeful.

Of course, that could all change once I get feedback from my readers (or as soon as that first rejection letter rolls in), but the fact that I'm able to get excited about this whole process all over again is encouraging. Knowing my NaNoReviMo peeps are going through this too helps a lot; so does having supportive friend and family members who haven't given up on me after all this time. Querying in a new genre is exciting: "Look at all these agents who haven't rejected me yet!"  If nothing else, I've learned that I'm braver than I gave myself credit for before I started down this long and winding road.
And I've learned that even the biggest cynic (i.e., me) can somehow convince herself that if she just keeps trying -- even when she feels like giving up (especially when she feels like giving up!) -- all those "no's" will one day lead to "yes."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mommy Mondays: The Middle

Today I had my very first parent-teacher conference.  I had no idea these kinds of things started so early.  Turns out there are a lot of things I don't know.

For example, Jack is doing well in things like pattern recognition and vocabulary, but his object manipulation needs work.  Apparently Jack isn't great at molding clay.  This comes as absolutely no surprise whatsoever, considering I have never given clay to Jack.  I figured Jack's interest in clay would involve eating it, not rolling it into snakes.  The good news is that Jack can apparently recreate patterns with blocks and other objects.  The bad news is I've never once tried that with him.  It didn't even occur to me.  Same goes for yoga (which Jack likes, supposedly, although I think it has more to do with the balance ball than downward dog) and recall (apparently Jack is supposed to be able to remember what he ate for breakfast.  Oops).  This is why I'm grateful for preschool.

By the time I left the parent-teacher conference, my emotions were mixed.  First, I was glad that my meeting only took ten of our fifteen slotted minutes, while the mom ahead of us went over by ten minutes (not sure what that means, but it can't be a good sign).  I was happy to hear that Jack is gentle and gets along well with others, that he knows a lot of words and can ask for things directly (this is good, from what I'm told), and that he is generally well behaved.  I felt bad when I heard that Jack is sort of a loner, that he would be happy to sit in the teacher's lap all day and eat grapes rather than participate in some of the activities, and that he doesn't know the difference between boy and girl (I SWEAR we've practiced that one).  I came away with a few things to work on (Jack's painting technique leaves something to be desired) and I was able to pat myself on the back for the fact that my child isn't a holy terror.

Basically, I think I'm somewhere in the middle when it comes to motherhood, and I'm okay with that.  I'll never be a super mommy like my friend C, who knows every single mom/toddler activity in the area, always has a dozen different snack options (which Jack inevitably prefers to whatever I've packed), and is so gentle and nurturing I sometimes wish she was my mommy.  But I think it's safe to say I'm not exactly Mommie Dearest either ("How many times do I have to tell you, Jackie!  No wire hangers - EVER!!!").  Jack can't count to ten or recite his ABCs, but he can say, "Hey, 'sup!" like a champion.  Yes, he may smack me in the face from time to time, but he loves animals so much he actually tried to kiss a fly once.  And while he might not remember that he had vegetarian sausage for breakfast this morning, I think he'll be talking about the cupcakes Daddy made for him for quite some time. 

Jack may not be the perfect kid, and I'm certainly not the perfect mom.  But at the end of the day, Jack snuggles up against my shoulder and presses his nose to mine while I sing his requested song, and we both know that we are loved and appreciated exactly as we are.  And in the end, isn't that all that matters? Let's face it: there are some things you just can't learn in preschool.  Even I know that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Grimm

2011's fall television line-up has been a real mixed bag of winners and losers for the discerning critics in my house.  There are shows that have lived up to their hype (in my humble opinion): "New Girl," "The Secret Circle"; and there have been some that have fallen decidedly flat: "Up All Night," "Once Upon a Time."  But there is one show that didn't even appear on my radar screen until someone else pointed it out to me (it should be noted this is the same friend who turned me on to "Game of Thrones," so I am doubly indebted).

"Grimm" is the story of a young cop who has just been told by his dying aunt that he is next in line to carry out his family's legacy: fighting evil-doers straight out of Grimms' Fairy Tales.  The premise sounds pretty cheesy, I'll admit.  Most people don't consider fairy tales to be particularly scary (not if they're thinking of Disney princesses and their children's story books, anyway).  But anyone who has actually read the original Grimms' Fairy Tales, or taken a class on them, like I did, knows just how utterly creepy they really are.  And it's this creepiness that "Grimm" does such an excellent job of tapping into.  The first two episodes covered "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."  That might not sound scary, but I nearly fell off of the treadmill twice during the first episode.  The fact that actual crimes are being committed in "Grimm" (even if they are being carried out by monsters) is what makes the show work.  It has a real-life sense of danger that "Once Upon a Time," the other fairy tale-inspired series to debut this fall, fails to create.

Also, David Giuntoli, who plays Nick Burkhardt, is completely adorable.

David Giuntoli and Russell Hornsby at Comic-Con
The third episode of "Grimm" airs tomorrow night.  I'm hoping it doesn't let me down (and make me look like a complete moron).  But if nothing else, I have "Grimm" to thank for the last line of my novel, which I just came up with this morning.  Let's just say it has something to do with a wolf with a penchant for girls in red cloaks.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Marine Corps!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is That You, Voice?

Some of you may recall a post I wrote about Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art a while back.  I follow Pressfield's blog, and his post this morning resonated with me for a couple of reasons.  First, the title of the post, The 10,000 Hour Rule, refers to the idea that it takes approximately ten years of practice and study to master your craft.  I'm not quite at ten years yet with this whole writing ridiculosity, but I'm getting there - I wrote my first novel in 2004.  Since then, it's been nothing but practice, practice, practice.  When I finished my first book (which is languishing somewhere in a desk drawer, exactly where it belongs), I did what most writers seeking agents did back then: I bought that year's Guide to Literary Agents.  That's right, an actual book.  I also took a writing class at UCSD, attended a writer's conference, went to several writing workshops, and took an unpaid internship at a literary agency.  I snagged any job I could that had anything to do with books, and I networked my butt off.  By 2008, when we moved to D.C., I had two more novels under my belt and some pretty good connections. 

Unfortunately, practice and study alone do not an author make, and despite all my hard work, lost sleep, and tears of disappointment, I wasn't necessarily any closer to publication than I'd been in 2004.  There's no such thing as "almost" having an agent, or "almost" being published.  You either are, or you aren't.  Pressfield's second point in his blog post has to do with something a lot more elusive than time: voice. 

"But what exactly are we learning when we’re beating our brains out all those years?" Pressfield writes.  "Skill, certainly. Patience, professionalism, many other things. But it was something much more subtle—and far more difficult...What these masters were learning was to speak in their own voice. They were learning to act as themselves. In my opinion, this is the hardest thing in the world."

Once again, I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Pressfield.  I didn't realize it until several months ago when an editor told me my voice was well-suited to Young Adult writing.  My voice?  I didn't even know I had a voice, per se.  I thought I was writing in my character's voices, and while that may be a part of developing your own voice, I'm learning that it's only one small part of a much larger whole.  It has to do with style, word choice, dialogue...everything that goes into making a novel belong solely to the author.  You can imitate another author's voice, but if it isn't your own, it isn't going to be authentic.  And if it isn't authentic, people will know.

I love YA as a genre.  I don't know why I resisted writing it for so long.  And now that I'm waist-deep in revisions for my first attempt at a YA book, and actually still enjoying it (which is due in large part to my fabulous NaNoReviMo partners - I seriously haven't been this motivated to revise EVER), I'm starting to think that maybe that editor was right: maybe this is where I belong.  For the first time in a long time I can actually see a light at the end of this very long tunnel.  Maybe it will take a few more years (like I said, I'm not at ten, yet), but I'm hopeful that I will reach that light some day.

And if that means that my "voice" is actually that of a seventeen-year-old girl, well, I'm okay with that too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Of Screwdrivers and Salmonella

Yesterday I got away for a brief girls outing with my sister Sarah and two friends.  Lunch conversation inevitably turned to men, in particular one friend's recent "date" with her current boyfriend, who apparently considered lighting a single candle foreplay.  She wanted to talk since they hadn't seen each other in a while; he had other things on his agenda.

Since I was the only married one in the group, my friend asked for my opinion of the situation.  Unfortunately, I have very little to offer in the way of experience, since John was my first real boyfriend (and things have clearly worked out for us).  But having been with the same man for over ten years, I have learned a few things along the way, and as far as I can tell, most relationship problems stem from a single fundamental difference between men and women: men are single-minded; women multitask.

Here's what I mean: Man sees one problem, resolves it, and moves on to the next problem.  Woman sees 15 problems and 40 possible ways to resolve them, and then spends half an hour deliberating over the best course of action.  20,000 years ago, this probably meant that the man got away from the saber-toothed tiger and the poor woman got eaten.  But it also meant that the woman had managed to collect food for dinner, kept the cave nice and tidy, and watched Pebbles and Bam-Bam while Fred was out hunting down a single saber-toothed rabbit.  Evolutionarily speaking, this all made sense.  Man did what woman couldn't, and vice versa.  "You complete me," Fred grunted, and it was true.

But in today's world, where so many of our responsibilities blur and our roles are not so neatly defined, it often causes more problems than it solves.  It means that while a girl is thinking about how lovely it would be to have a romantic dinner while catching up with her suitor, said suitor has only one thing on his mind.  It means that in the time it takes John to come to the conclusion that he wants, needs, and shall have an $1800 bike, I have come up with thirteen pros and cons regarding a single $25 sweater at Target (which I inevitably put back).

It also means that when it comes to parenting, what John considers a good idea doesn't necessarily mesh with my own.

When I got home from my outing John and Jack were waiting for me on the front porch.  "How did it go?" I asked.
"It was good," John said.
"Mm-hm, and what did he have for a snack?"
"Brownie batter, animal crackers, and dried fruit."

That's probably how the whole thing played out in John's head.  Here's what really happened:
"How did it go?" I asked, watching from the corner of my eye as John casually handed Jack a screwdriver he'd been using.  I grabbed the screwdriver out of Jack's hand before John even realized he'd given it to him.
"Mm-hm, and what did he have for a snack?"
"Salmonella, sugar, and stool softener."

This is the thing with men and women.  Men live for the here and now.  They see a problem -- child needs snack! -- and they solve it.  They have fun with their kids, not worrying about the consequences of their dietary choices or whether or not it's actually a good idea to play in traffic.

And women, well, we keep people alive.  We see the consequences for today's actions three years from now.  We may not be quite as much fun as good old dad, but we take pride in knowing that our family members have lived to see another day, thanks in part to our hard work and vigilance.

I'm not sure what will happen with my friend and her boyfriend; maybe she'll be able to teach him that he has to eat his dinner if he wants his dessert.  Maybe she'll somehow be able to explain what I still can't seem to get across to John after all these years: that while he's thinking about one very specific thing, I'm thinking about laundry, about groceries, about dishes, about that sweater from Target and whether or not I should return it, and about what five pieces of dried fruit are going to look like on the wrong end of Jack's digestive tract.

With all of that to contend with, boys, you're probably going to want to arm yourself with something a little more substantial than a candle.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Hanna

Earlier this year a movie came out that immediately became one of my favorites.  (Mike, you may want to look away).

I can't help it - I love movies with badass female protagonists.  And Hanna is the ultimate badass.  A sixteen-year-old girl trained (and genetically engineered) to be the perfect assassin, Hanna finally leaves her life in the woods to come face to face with the woman who tried to wipe out her entire family when she was a baby.  Cate Blanchett (who I also love) is such a fabulous villain in this movie, with her perfect auburn bob and her green suede Prada shoes.  Eric Bana plays Hanna's father, who has spent years training Hanna to be a killer instead of acting like her father (once you know the stakes, you can't really blame him).

The scene where Hanna escapes from the CIA is AWESOME.  It reminds me of The Fifth Element meets Run Lola Run (two of my other favorite badass chick movies).

Hanna goes on to hitch a ride with a British family on vacation in Morocco and eventually makes her way to Germany to meet her father.  Of course everything goes totally haywire, thanks to the b*tch with the perfect red hair.  Good people die, bad people die, and Hanna gets an awesome closing line.  What's not to love?  By the end of the film I wanted to bleach my eyebrows and get a perm. 

But mostly, I was inspired by Saoirse Ronan.  What an amazing actress, and this role is entirely different from her roles in Atonement and The Lovely Bones.  I was so inspired that I based the main character of my novel, Friday, on Saoirse.  If by some miracle my book ever got made into a movie, she would be Friday (except she'd probably be way too old by then, but regardless...).

And on that note, better get back to work.  I have a henchgirl's attempted murder scene to write, and NaNoReviMo is well under way!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Revision Time! With Cookies!

Sometimes the universe provides you with exactly what you need at exactly the right time, without you even realizing it.  Enter Peggy Eddleman, a fellow blogger, recently-agented author, and all around super sweet gal.  Any one who loves cookies enough to use the word "cookies" in their blog title is okay in my book. 

(Speaking of cookies, every time Jack hears the word cookie now, he says "cookie touch."  If you have a Sesame Street-watching toddler, you may catch the reference.  Here's a link, just in case.)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand.  Peggy proposed a spin-off of NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month).  For those who don't know, in the month of November, thousands of writers pledge to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty one days; I know, I know, most of you thought this was MOvember, but let me assure you, writing a novel in one month is a lot harder than growing a mustache (I mean, not that I speak from experience or anything, but it's hair.  How hard can it be?).  Like Peggy, my novel is complete, so NaNoWriMo isn't really in the charts for me this year.  But NaNoReviMo?  A month dedicated solely to revision?  That's what I need, people!

The truth is, I HATE the revision process.  I tend to get stuck, and then I start to feel like the entire novel sucks, and then I just want to throw it out and start something else.  But if I can get fifteen fellow writers (and potential cheerleaders) to do it with me, and hold me accountable at the end of every day, then maybe, just maybe, I can survive the revision process.  And at the end of it (well, three-quarters of the way through, anyway) I have our girls trip to Mexico, the perfect metaphorical carrot dangling from a stick.  Although in this case I suppose it's more of a margarita hanging from a stick, but you get the idea.

Yesterday I did indeed get stuck, but after dinner with Erin and Sarah last night, I feel like I'm back on track.  Maybe it was Erin's Shakespearean tie-in, maybe it was Sarah's quasi-time traveling notion, or maybe it was just the delicious panang curry that inspired me, but I've got ideas, baby!  And to prove that I'm really serious about this whole thing, I got up an hour early this morning so I could run my four miles before Jack woke up.  That means I can dedicate all three hours of nap-time to revising.  And maybe, if I'm really good, I'll treat myself to a cookie afterward.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lucky Lifestyle Contributor Contest: Update

So some of you may recall Sarah's persistent (i.e. incessant) nagging to vote for us in the Lucky Lifestyle Contributor Contest a few weeks back.  According to the rules, only the top 10-20 people (based on number of votes) would make it to the fifth and final round.  And since we came in 8th or 9th, I believe, I received an email stating that we had made it to the final round.  Yay!

Then a few days later I received another email, saying that the invitations to the final round were being revoked until further notice.  Apparently people had been complaining about the voting, a real shocker: basically, Lucky originally required every person who wanted to vote to create an account, after which they could vote once.  On the last day of the third round, Lucky made it so that you could vote an unlimited number of times once you'd registered.  Was it cheating to vote multiple times?  Not according to the Lucky Facebook page, where they encouraged all the voting people could manage.  The same held true for the fourth round, and several people spent literally HOURS voting for us.  I understand why the people who didn't make it to the final round were annoyed - it was a stupid system to begin with.  Lucky should have just taken the time to choose contenders themselves, rather than let us get them millions of advertising hits while they did nothing.  I can't help but wonder if this was their plan all along.  Because...

A few days after the email that revoked our entry to the final round, I received another email stating that, due to "voting irregularities," Lucky would choose who made it to the next round, and who the overall winner was.  In other words, all that voting was for nothing.  But you know, I still thought Sarah and I had a shot.  There were a lot of bad entries and about twenty decent ones, and I think ours was one of those.  Finally, after two full weeks without word, I received an email last night.  We did not make it to the final round of the competition.

I have no idea how the decision was made.  Maybe people who had "suspicious" numbers of votes were disqualified, although I don't believe even the people with over a million votes cheated.  You didn't need a bot to get that many votes; you could literally click every second.  All you needed were good friends and agile fingers.  Maybe because there were two of us we were disqualified (although there was nothing in the rules stating you couldn't have two people on one submission).  Whatever the case, we didn't make it.  I'm not that upset about the fact that we didn't make it, because I didn't ever expect to win this thing.  But I'm angry that Lucky set up such a terribly run contest in the first place, and then decided to completely do away with THEIR OWN rules.  We wasted so much time and effort getting votes that ultimately meant absolutely nothing.  Shame on you, Lucky, for letting it get to that point.  You could have stepped in at any time and changed the voting mechanism, put the competition on hold, or simply canceled it all together.  Now you can claim that MILLIONS VOTED!  And I'm sure your advertisers loved all that extra traffic (which probably translates to money for you, right?).  And in the end, you're doing exactly what you wanted to do: choosing the winner.

I still love Lucky magazine and have no intentions of canceling my subscription.  But including in your rejection email an invitiation to enter future contests?  I think not.