Tuesday, June 24, 2008

it's been a long week-much to report

Wow, it doesn't feel like the last time I wrote was ten days ago. Does life ever seem frighteningly fast, like when you skid across a waxed floor on your socks?

First, the talk with Claire went great. I found a couple of good books to start her on, wrapped them up and presented them as gifts. I wanted to hype the whole "this is a celebration of your impending womanhood" thing. I told her about all the changes she's about to go through, told her some awkward underwear facts, and she told me secrets that I'm not supposed to tell anybody. I was honored. Then we went out for sushi and saw "Kung Fu Panda." It was true quality mother-daughter time. Oh, and in case there are parents with girls reading this the American Girl's series has good books. I got The Feelings Book, which explains the whackiness that a girl's hormones are about to insue, and The Care and Keeping of You, which talks about all the physical stuff.

Second, I got a good response from the literary agency that read the first 50 pages of my book. And I was pleased that they got back to me pretty quickly. But, like the first time they requested part of the book, I got the impression I'd been rejected when I first read it. Actually, I thought that they didn't even do me the honor of sending me a standard rejection. I thought they just sent back my 50 pages and the copy of the request letter that I'd included in the package. This new letter reads thusly:

Dear writer,

Thank you for your interest. Please do send your manuscript, a copy of this letter, and a SASE to:

(address listed)

Please forgive the form letter, but the volume of inquiries we receive obliges us to respond in this manner.


The Joy Harris Literary Agency

For those of you who read my earlier post, take a good look at this letter. Notice that only a couple of words have changed. It's the exact same letter, only instead of "Please do send your first 50 pages," it's "Please do send your manuscript." Now....again....I'm not complaining. I would rather a standard acceptance letter than a standard rejection any day. But AGAIN I had to read it a few times before I noticed the slight difference. Luckily, my sisters, brother-in-law and three friends were over for a gathering last night and I was able to pass the letter around to them and Chris so they could tell me they were reading what I was reading. That it wasn't a trick of my eager-to-get-book-published eye.

The downer is that I've had a grand realization about the book over the last week. I say downer only because it's going to involve a lot of rewriting so I can't send the whole book off right away. I figured out what doesn't work in the second half. See, my book is about two high school girls (based on me and my bud Jennifer when we were teens) who are very unpopular and begin writing fake obituaries about kids who make fun of them (which me and Jennifer did). They have a fake hit list, which is really just a list of people they intend to write stories about, and the book is about what happens to them when their hit list is found by a student whose name is on it. This is the story of what would have happened to me and Jenn in a post-Columbine world. We didn't actually intend to hurt anybody and neither do my characters. They're defending themselves in a non-confrontational way.

The problem is that I give them friends in the middle of the book and they become happier right before the hit list is found. But the list is found towards the end and they get better socially in the middle, so the story loses its tension for a significant chunk of the book. I need to keep the girls hated and unpopular for the story to make sense. Jenn and I didn't really lose our social awkwardness until college. Ok, we've still got some, but not nearly as bad. I can talk to boys now. But 10th graders, especially these tenth graders, don't mature that fast.

Wish me luck. I have many edits to make, I have an article to finish for work today, laundry must be done, children must be tended to, and I have a date with Chris tonight. The date is marvelous, but it means I will get no writing done so I have to do it this morning. Like, now. So I should stop blogging. Noooooooo! The procrastination has already begun!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

banana nut bread nut

So I'm on this new program called the "Make-Two-Loaves-of-Banana-Nut-Bread-Eat-Them-Both-And-Gain-Fifteen-Pounds-in-One-Day-Diet." And it really works!

I don't understand why I have an insatiable craving for bread lately, banana nut bread in particular. Bread (next to chocolate and watermelon) is my all time favorite food, and baking it from scratch and eating it fresh out the oven is one of my all time favorite ways to go up a pant's size - I mean, to enjoy it with some butter. I think the biggest reason for this feeding frenzy lately is (no, I'm not pregnant) I quit smoking not too long ago, and I promised myself that I could eat anything I want as long as I don't smoke. And I've made the most out of this offer. Gallons of coffee have been guzzled, mounds of homemade chocolate chip cookies have been consumed, empty ice cream bowls have been stacked in the sink after killer "Moose Tracks" cravings, and loaf after loaf of banana nut bread (with raisins!) have been devoured. No, damn it, I'm not pregnant!

I know I could go out and buy a pack of cookies, or individually plastic-wrapped slices of my favorite bread from Starbucks or PJ's, but it wouldn't be the same as baking it myself. I'm not saying I'm the best baker, it's just that I grew up with my dad baking everything from scratch and so I'm used to a certain level of quality when it comes to breads and desserts. In other words, I'm spoiled. I, like my father, have begun to turn my nose up a boxed muffin mixes and Bisquick. Sure, you can get pancakes out of Bisquick, but where's the love? Where's the crunch of a tiny bit of eggshell that got left in the batter? Where's the sour taste due to a baking soda mishap?

Everybody, even some of the worst-off kids I knew growing up, has atleast one warm memory of childhood. One of mine is how I would wake up in the morning to the sound of the coffee grinder. My dad would ground the coffee and then fifteen minutes later or so I could smell the coffee cake, pancakes, muffins, or buttermilk biscuits he was fixing up. It would get me out of bed.

Now it's the thought of coffee gets me out of bed. And I use the same damn grinder because Chris and I bought the house I grew up in, and the grinder (along with many other items) came along with the deal. But living in the house and the neighborhood I grew up in is another blog for another time.

I'm still trying to bake like my dad. When Chris and I first got married Dad gave me the James Beard on Bread book that he'd used for years, and I started to practice baking. But then I got pregnant with our first baby, and I was too tired to experiment with bread. And a year and a half after that I was pregnant again. And then nine months after our second baby, I was onto our third. So I stopped baking for a long, long time, and instead I practiced feeding the babies, changing the babies, learning how to function on two hours of broken sleep, and crying. Somewhere in all of that madness I finished three first-draft books. Don't ask me how. I..I just don't know. All three of them are lying in my closet and need LOTS of work, but it was from writing them that I learned enough to write this 4th one. But, again, another blog for another time.

Anyway, now that the kids are 5, 6, & 8, and like actual real kids who can do many things on their own, I find myself again with time to do something besides diaper children and pray for sanity. So I've begun to bake again. Chris, the kids, and the dog who likes to eat out of the trash are very happy with this development. This morning Emma and I made buttermilk bluberry muffins and they were intensely fluffy and delicious.

Great. Now I'm hungry again. Perhaps there's a a loaf of something in the pantry.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

4 days and counting

My 8 year old has four days left before I sit her down to tell her where babies come from...They come from Babies R Us. No! (smacks self) I have to tell her the facts! I won't be one of those parents who tell their kids about sex by turning on late night Cinemax and leaving the room. Sigh.

What's difficult about this, because I overthink everything and assume that my daughter is innocent to an unnatural extent, is that I keep thinking that she's only got four days left of being a kid. I keep thinking that once I tell her about the drastic changes her body will soon go through, and why she will suddenly find acne-ridden, squeaky-voiced boys attractive, she will suddenly become older. Instantaneously taller, sassier, and curvier right before my eyes. And goddamn it I'm just not ready.

What I'm forgetting is that she's already started asking questions. She's heard things about kissing from a friend with an older sister, she's seen a few smokey moments between teenagers on the Disney Channel (the hussies), and she's beginning to turn her head when cute guys walk by. My six year old daughter has always been boy crazy, so I'm used to her looking at cute 1st graders, but Claire has never paid much attention until now. Oh, and she's also asked about that song "I Kissed a Girl." So on top of the "your body is going to go through a lot of changes" speech, and the "how sex works" speech, I also need to include the "a lot of people go through sexual orientation confusion because sexuality is by nature extremely puzzling and schizophrenic" speech. Hmm. I have a feeling I shouldn't spring this on her all at once. Perhaps this will be more like a course than a one-time lecture.

There are so many things I want to tell her. I want to tell her about how this all ties into love, and self-respect - especially respecting someone you love. I want to tell her everything I've learned, and have her know it without having to go through the pain of experience. But then I know she's going to go through painful experiences. I want her to know how beautiful she is, because most women don't know how pretty they are, and how a guy she's with needs to respect her body as if it was his own. I want her to know that if a guy is ever manipulative enough to say that she needs to have sex with him or he'll blow up with frustration then she should tell him that if all he needs is an orifice then he can go suck his own dick. Ok, maybe someone besides me should hand her that line. I want to tell her that a lot of people I know, including me, have been attracted to and even fallen in love with someone of the same gender. I want to tell her to never listen to people who are overly judgemental of and laugh the loudest about people's fetishes, sexuality, and etc. because they are usually the type who are secretly turned on by feces. I want to warn her about what a therapist once told me, that men are usually stimulated visually and that women are usually stimulated when someone is nice to them. I want to tell her how freeing it is to be physical with someone who truly is a nice person, someone who's your friend, who doesn't humiliate you, who wants the same things out of life that you do, who you can be vulnerable in front of, and how much worth it it is to wait for that. And to warn her that even when you have all that you can begin to take it for granted.

But most likely I will tell her about her period, ask her if she has any questions, and then take her to see "Kung Fu Panda." There's no way she can process all of that in a single night. Even though I don't like it, I know that all of this information won't be revealed to her in one day, but will unfold over years of questions, discussions, and mistakes. And she'll still be a kid next week. Hell, she'll still be a kid when she's 20.

I'll let you know how it goes. For those of you who are squeamish on the subject of bird-bee-girly talk I promise that my next post will be much lighter. I will air my views on the The Onion's take on the housing market in the hot topic article "Realtors Blame Housing Market for Slump in Creepy Mansion Sales." http://www.theonion.com/content/news/realtors_blame_housing_market_for

It shall be riveting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A rejection/acceptance hybrid

The happy news today is that I heard back from one of the agents I queried and she would like me to send her the first 50 pages of the book. For those of you who don't know I've had two other agents request the book and one said, "After thinking about it...nah. But good luck!" and the other one said, "You should pay an editor to rewrite the ending. Then we'll talk." After talking to some other writers I decided not to go with the latter agent and work on the ending myself.

Anyway, this letter is different from any than other response I've gotten from editors or agents before. It's a request for the book, so it's sort of an acceptance but it reads like a rejection letter. It says:

Dear writer,

Thank you for your interest. Please do send the first 50 pages, a copy of this letter, and a SASE to: (lists the address).

Please forgive the form letter, but the volume of inquiries we receive obliges us to respond in this manner.


The Joy Harris Literary Agency

Dear writer? Does that not start off like a rejection or is it just me? I had to reread it a few times to make sure it didn't say "Please do NOT send the first 50 pages." So...is it that they request so many manuscripts that they've had to create a standard request form? Or is it that they're soooo uppercrust that even the writers they like get second class responses. Weird.

So I'm polishing the first 50 pages to send them. Along with a letter that reads:

Dear agent,

Thank you for your interest in my book. Here are the first 50 pages. Please forgive the form letter but the volume of praises I receive obliges me to respond in this manner. Once you read the first page you will find yourself flipping through more and more, much like how when you eat one potato chip you keep going back until eventually you are elbow deep in the bag. The work is genius. You know it. I know it. I await your acceptance with aloof nonchalance.



Now that the letter has been written, and it's just you and me I think I can let down my hair. OH DEAR GOD, PLEASE LIKE MY BOOK! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!! I'VE WORKED SO HARD ON THAT FUCKING THING, MY BRAIN HURTS! PLEASE TAKE IT AWAY!!!

Ok. I'm better now.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The wickedness of a passive person - warning: contains stuff about feelings

I know I just wrote a blog about how I love to write silly things, but I'm not in a silly place this morning.

I haven't been an entirely good person in the last year, and I'm reteaching myself things like honesty and responsibility. I'm not an asshole in the typical way. I'm not in your face about it, like a token jerk on a reality show that no one likes, but everyone watches to see what he'll do next. My meaness is more annoying than that because it's not intentionally mean. In fact, in the beginning it looks like I'm being a sweet person.

See, I'm terrified of people being mad at me. This is something I kind of knew about myself before, but in the last year it's become painfully obvious. I'll do anything to keep someone from getting mad at me or being disappointed in me which means I do a lot of the following: make commitments I can't keep, overextend myself to the point of exhaustion that makes me edgy around Chris and the kids, do things that I know are wrong, lie to make people happy, and lie to myself so that I can keep things going. An example of this is the frequent thought, "This is ok. I can handle this. I'm ok. I'm ok as long as they're not mad." So I've unintentionally hurt a lot of people recently. I'm trying to learn how to accept responsibilty for all the trouble I've caused without punishing myself so harshly that I don't learn anything. This is a tricky bit of self-displinary acrobatics.

Because I'm my worst bully. If I'm anything less than a perfect mother, wife, daughter, and friend I beat the shit out of myself inside. Plus I have to be a perfect writer. I drove myself so crazy trying to finish the book that I didn't enjoy writing it. I kept thinking, "I have to finish it quick, I have to send it out NOW" as if I only had six months to live. And I don't know, maybe I do only have six months to live, but even if I do why would I want to spend the short time I have left making myself insane?

I overextended myself so much last year that I flattened into paste. I lost sense of who I was, and finally had to tell friends and family that I needed a social break for a long while. Because, besides overextending myself for the people who are good in my life, I tend to attract people who take full advantacge of my inability to draw boundaries and I'm easily manipulated. This is my fault just as much as it is theirs and I sick of letting myself get bullied. I'm tired of being cowardly and pathetic. I guess that last sentence is a good example of how mean I am to myself. I would never call someone else cowardly and pathetic on the internet.

Hence all the yoga, therapy, and readings about truth, God, and the practice of happiness. I've only been practicing self-love for a couple of months, but I'm already seeing small signs of improvement. I stick up for myself. I tell people no when I need to (most of the time). I still lie sometimes, but a couple of times I've gone back and said, "Dude, I don't know why I said that. That wasn't true." Like, a week or so ago I told my friend Jennifer that I sent her a package that morning when, in truth, it was still sitting on my dresser. What was the point of that? It was a small lie, but it was unnescessary. Jennifer and I send each other presents way after Christmas and birthdays anyway, and we don't let little things like that get to us. If Jenn didn't send me anything for my birthday it wouldn't be a big deal. She's still an awesome friend, and has been for alomost twenty years. So I called her a few days later and said, "Dude, sometimes I lie and I don't understand why. I'm sorry." She laughed and said it wasn't a big deal. She didn't hate me like I was afraid she would. She didn't say it, but I also got the feeling that she already knew about my impulsive lying. Have I mentioned she's stuck with me for almost 20 years?

Anyway, I'm trying to be a better, more confident person who loves people right. Oh, and about the writing. I can honestly say that (with the excpetion of what I need to write for work) if I'm not enjoying what I'm writing I stop. Whipping myself to finish the book, an essay or a short story takes all the joy of it away. For me, writing is like breathing. I've stressed myself out so much about it that every now and then I'd give it up, but whenever I stop writing it's like holding my breath. When I sit down again to write a few frantic, breathless days later it's an intense release, like I've spent too much time under water and I break the surface blowing the retained breath out like an explosion and I gasp on the intake. I don't want to do that anymore. I want to breathe slow and easy. I used to stress myself out by thinking about other writers who were famous by my age. What was the point of that? Being famous sets you up for constant ridicule and, like I said, I want everyone to like me. I'm not ready to be well known. Until I build my confidence and become better at taking criticism without it eating me alive, I'm not ready to be published.

So now that I've been honest with all of you, of course, I'm terrified that you won't like me. But I suppose if you don't then you'll just stop reading and I won't know it anyway. So this works out great. You know how I'm flawed, I'm being 100% honest, and my audience can passively like or dislike me. Sweet.

Friday, June 6, 2008

writer quote for the day

I found this quote this morning. Thomas Mann said, "A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." I dig, Thomas.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pringles coffin beats the campaign trail any day

This morning tried to make myself interested in the campaign headlines, but I was distracted by the MSN headline, "Police Hunt Thong-clad Thugs." Now, how can I be expected to read election updates when a story like that is at the bottom of the page? That's like displaying fresh asparagus next to chocolate cake. I like asparagus, it's good for me, but then there's the chocolate cake and the story about thugs in thongs next to it. I'm sorry, I'm still stuck on the image of a masked bank robber fleeing into an alleyway so he can pull out his wedgie, and it became mixed with my asparagus-cake analogy.

Anyway, my point is that I've been trying to get myself interested in politics since I was twelve. Back then I idolized my Aunt Anne who, with no children of her own, took me under her wing and introduced me to amazing books that I wasn't assigned in school, art painted on old New Orleans buildings that I'd never paid attention to before, the sweet, tragically broken voices of folk music singers, and (mostly) left-wing perspectives on politics. Of these four things guess which one I was least interested in. She letured me on the importance of getting all the facts I could on a topic, and reading right, left and moderate views so that I could wittle out my own well-informed theory on how to make the world a kinder place for folk musicians. But try as I might I was, as I am to this day,more likely drawn to headlines that say, "Buried in Pringles Can- Fredic J. Baur, creator of the potato crisp's packaging system, had a portion of his ashes buried in the iconic container."

In my teen years all the way to my early twenties I figured that I just wasn't mature enough yet to care about the political state of the world. From ages 23-29 I chalked up my lack of interest to sleep deprevation from having three babies close together. But here I am at 32 still more interested in "Britain's Shin-Kicking Championships" than I am about a campaign that will directly effect the lives of everyone I know.

And I think I know why. Life is too damn serious. It's not nearly silly enough and I'm beginning to suspect that I wasn't brought into this world for serious purposes. When I read, see, or write ridiculousness it produces this energy that (as cliche as I know this is) makes me feel alive. Lately when I write in the morning I begin by listening to "Queen Bitch" by David Bowie.

It goes:

She's so swishy in her satin and tat

In her frock coat and bipperty-bopperty hat

Oh God, I could do better than that

Lord help me, I just can't take myself seriously after that. And I don't want to. Yeah, I'm prone to write serious dramatic stuff at times but it doesn't really pump my nads, you know? It doesn't make me happy. The problem is that sometimes I get thoughts that have nothing to do with anything and I don't know what to do with them. For instance, I'm taking yoga classes at this place called Wild Lotus. Every time I say it out loud I think it sounds like an erotic botanical garden. Just the thought of that trumps whatever points of spiritual enlightenment I'd orginally thought to discuss. There are two girls in my class whose real, legal names are Olwynn and Sunshine. One of them is a hippie and I suspect that the other is an elf mage with a 17 charisma and 6 hit points. I just can't take these people seriously, and for this reason I think they're fantastic.

I will keep forcing myself to read interviews with candidates on both sides, and stay alert on home and world-wide issues, as every nuclear-attack-fearing American should (yeah, I know the Cold War is over, but I don't think the fear of being nuked ever quite goes out of style). In the mean time, I will share a newsworthy link to the latest socially significant struggle - Barbie suing Bratz http://www.theonion.com/content/amvo/barbie_suing_bratz Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow, my good people.

ps- Ok, there's another reason it's hard to stay serious. I've only been editing my book for the last hour and I've been interrupted by the kids six times - twice for food, four times because of a fight over a stuffed animal. Sigh...keep remembering what they tell you about some day missing these early years, Gen. And stop gnashing your teeth, it's unattractive.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cookie Mother

Cookies were my favorite dessert until my daughter joined the Girl Scouts. Since then, cookies and I have had a falling out mostly because of the Cookie Mother. This was a kind of woman I’d never heard of before. I’d been warned about Soccer Moms with their rigid schedules, aggressive PTA bake sales, and sweaters tied around their shoulders, but no one had ever warned me about Cookie Moms.

When I first registered Claire I was excited. A human being had survived long enough under my care to make it to Girl Scout age. I had visions of her camping and learning how to glue Popsicle sticks together. What I forgot was, she wouldn't start camping until she was older, and also she had to sell cookies. Troop leader Brenda called before sales began to say that I needed to come to the next meeting to discuss the cookies.

"Make sure you bring your driver's license," said Brenda. "I need to make a copy of it and get your signature on some things."

And she did. Forms were signed, copies were made, fingerprints and blood samples were taken to assure that I would return the money when Claire made sales. It seemed they'd had problems with cookie money thieves before. They're shrunken heads were hanging from the back of the classroom as a warning to the rest of us in case we fancied snitching a box of Tag-alongs.

A week went by and I didn't take Claire to sell anything. Perhaps it was the formality and idle threats that forced my brain to forget cookie sales. Until the call came.
"Genevieve? This is Vickie the Cookie Mom."
Vickie the Cookie Mom introduced herself this way because that's her title. She's The Cookie Mom. It's what she does.
"I was just calling to see how many boxes you've sold this week."
"Oh, actually," I giggled nervously. "I forgot about the cookies. It's been-"
“That's fine. But sales will be over soon."
"Right. Thanks for calling-"

I got another call the following week, in which we had the same conversation only I felt more embarrassed than before. I'd forgotten cookie sales? Had I forgotten to bathe and clothe Claire too? At the next meeting we still had no sales under our belts and Brenda gave me a sympathetic look.

"We're going to set up a booth outside of Wal-Mart tomorrow. Would you like to sign Claire up for it?"
I signed her up, and made a mental note to call my parents and ask if they wanted a box, which of course I forgot to do. But I didn't forget about Wal-Mart. The day before the event Cookie Mom called to remind me and asked if I had made any sales.
"No, I-"
"See you tomorrow," she said.

It was with shame that I drove my zero-sales daughter to Wal-Mart the next day. The girls were positioned to attack from both entrances, and Claire and I were on the right side of the store with Brenda and her daughter. At the other side were more troops with their moms, and to keep track of each others' progress they had brought (and I'm not making this up) walkie talkies. We knew from the walkie talkies that their booth was doing better than ours. That was probably because Brenda and I spent the whole time talking and letting the girls play.
Brenda confided in me that it wasn’t just the Scout Leaders who were nuts on the cookies. The people who bought them were just as serious. Especially the Thin Mint People.

"The Thin Mint People," Brenda explained. "They're crazy. They'll buy ten boxes at once. They just have to have them."

But it wasn't just them. Others were just as starved for the cookies. People were walking past our table and assuring us they'd be back. They wanted to know, "Are you leaving soon? I won't be long in the store. You just wait 'til I come out."

They weren't just being polite. All of them came back, mostly for Thin Mints.

The steadiness of the sales made the time go by quickly. Soon Brenda said it was time to load the unsold cases into The Cookie Mom's van.

"The Cookie Mom...she's here?" I asked.
"Yeah, she's right over there."
I turned around and there she was. A wide-hipped woman, with brunette hair chemically frozen in waves along the sides of her head, perfectly made up eyes, and matching accessories. She extended a manicured hand.
"Hi," she said.
Your bra and panties match, don't they? I thought. You’re one of those chicks whose underclothes don't just match each other, they match your whole outfit. Don't they?!
"Hi," I said.

I began to load the boxes into her van, and as I did we began to talk. It turned out that Vickie the Cookie Mom wasn't so bad. When I looked into her van I saw why she was Cookie Mother. It was spotless. And it smelled good! I don't just mean that it didn’t smell bad I mean it smelled good. The Girl Scouts must have taken one whiff of it and said, "We've found her. She is the Chosen One."

Before she left she reminded me that there were still a few more days of sales.
So…Would anyone like some cookies? If so, please send your orders to Cookie Mom's attic where I am bound and gagged. She says if I sell five more boxes of shortbreads she'll loosen the ropes.

Monday, June 2, 2008

ah, whitman

I'm in the process of rewriting a book I finished a couple of months ago, and I just read something helpful on the Writer's Almanac about Walt Whitman: "Whitman continued to add poems to Leaves of Grass and publish it in different editions throughout his life. It eventually went through nine different editions; Whitman compared the finished book to a cathedral that took years to build, or a tree with visible circles of growth. In the 1880s, the Society for the Suppression of Vice called it immoral in a Boston newspaper, and that's when it finally started to sell. Whitman used the money to buy a cottage in Camden, where he spent the rest of his life."

My book is called The Daily Dylanson Obituaries, but I think I might change it to "The Supression of Vice." Narly.

If any of you are wirters out there, and you need the ocassional pep talk like I do, I highly suggest looking up The Writer's Almanac http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/, and Kevin Alexander's blog http://blog.writersdigest.com/writerslife/ Both provide comfort, and colorful musings. I will share more resources as I discover them.