Monday, May 24, 2010

Where’s That Dang Piñata?

Today is Bob Dylan’s birthday.

Today is also my birthday. I’m 21. Again. Or rather, twice. Meaning 21 x 2.

(I know most of you guys are writers so you may need to ask for help on the math here. Look for that guy in your office who seems to know where to plug in the printer cable. He’s probably good at math. He'll know the answer.)

I have no idea how Bob will be celebrating his birthday today. Probably by  writing some impenetrable lyrics that he will later sing through his left nostril. (Totally kidding, Bob. Modern Times is, like, one of my favorite albums of all time. I once listened to it several times in a row on a 14 hour flight from Seoul and thought I saw God. [OK, check on the music reference. Now I can keep my standing as a rock music blogger for another few months.])

For you younger folks out there who may have no idea who Bob Dylan is, here’s a picture. Ask your Mom and Dad about him. Unless they're very cool parents, they'll probably say they don't like him at all. Or they'll say they detest him. There is no middle ground with Bob Dylan. People don't say, "Eh, he's all right." You either love him or want to stuff his CDs down his throat until those concert security guys pull you off him.

I also share my birthday with Michael Chabon. One of my favorite writers. (Here he is as well.)

(By the way, I seem to be going nuts with the parentheticals today. [What’s up with that? {it’s really getting annoying, isn't it? |Good Lord, when will I stop? \Too bad, it’s my birthday, and I’ll do what I want.\|}])

Do please leave me some birthday love in the comment section and also tell me what celebrity you share your birthday with.

In the mean time, I’ll be swinging a stick around the house, blind-folded, trying to find that rainbow donkey piñata. I know it’s around here somewhere.

Oh, wait! Better yet. I think I've finally found a festive way to invade Troy. That and some Carvel cake should make for a good time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My Secret Laboratory

I usually try to post on Mondays, but frankly I was too tired from my paltry weekend attempt at landscaping to do so. It’s all kind of a blur to me now, but I do recall that my Sunday involved a lot of digging and shoveling and pushing a wheel barrow around. The yard looks virtually the same, so I have no idea what I accomplished. And now I have calluses on my tender, writerly hands.

I also didn’t post because I had to do some manuscript revisions, and revisions require total concentration.  I find doing revisions to be like rearranging the third layer of a house of cards. So to pull this off, I needed to go and work somewhere where there would be no distractions. And that meant going to the library, which isn’t an ideal place to work.

Why is the library not ideal? Well, for one thing, I can’t bring my barrel of Diet Coke in there on a dolly. Also, there’s the snoring. Every time I work there, some guy parks himself nearby and falls asleep at his desk. Like, dude, if I want to hear snoring, I’ve got a husband at home who will provide me hours of it.

I know what you're thinking. Why not a cafe or a Starbucks? No, no, no. I can't work at a coffee place, especially Starbucks. I find all Starbucks employees to be so obviously and ambiently bored and superior that it rubs off on me, and I become super, extremely snarky as a result. Also, I don’t drink coffee, and there are only so many croissants one can order before one’s thighs literally begin to swell before one’s eyes. And really, hanging out for hours at cafes working on a laptop? Seems like a 2004 sort of activity, don’t you think?

My search for a perfect place to work yesterday left me wondering why, in this great nation of ours, is there nothing like a public work bunker? There should be. There should be a chain of work bunkers all over America where they have no Wi-fi, no windows, and no cell phone coverage. Each work carrel would have two-foot thick walls made of concrete. It would be sort of like a sensory deprivation tank without the water and epsom salts. Oh, and they chain you by your ankle to the desk you’ve rented. The lock only releases when your time has expired.

Clearly what I need is a secret laboratory (that’s la-BOOR-a-toree). Just your regular secret laboratory that you access by moving a book ever so slightly on the top of a nearby shelf, and then twist the sconce on the wall above the fireplace. Voila! The bookcase would slide over, revealing a set of dark, twisting steps that would take me down into the bowels of the earth. There I would sit in total isolation in my form-fitting latex suit, writing and brooding and plotting ways to avenge my parents’ murder. 

Oh, and the other important thing would have to be that no matter how long I was in my secret laboratory, when I emerged, only minutes would have passed, and no one would have missed me. This time warp capability is important because otherwise I’d need some sort of Alfred the butler to cover for me when I was in there. Having a butler is a complete pain in terms of social security taxes and health care and so on.

You know what? Now that I’m thinking about it, why shouldn’t I have a costume? A writer costume. What would that be exactly? Oh! I've got it. A bathrobe and a pair of sweatpants. Now don't look at me like that. These would be really nice sweat pants. In fact, let’s throw some sequins on them. And maybe some of them Swarovski crystals on my desk chair as well. Although not on the seat cushion because that would be annoying and itchy.

Actually, you know what, forget the sequins and the crystals. I don’t need any distractions of any kind. And shiny things will definitely distract me. Might be better to have everything be brown and grey, and just light it all with a weak, guttering gas lamp. Dickensian. Yes! That’s what I need. My secret laboratory office would be a small, bleak, below-ground cell.

OK, I think I’ve basically just described a 19th-century prison for criminally insane moles.

Obviously I have a certain vision of what the writing life is all about that may differ from yours. If you have an idea for the perfect office setting, please share. Although I must request that you not taunt me with visions of sweeping vistas or sunshine. Bright lights hurt my eyes, even imaginary ones.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Multiple Choice

I hope you’ve got your number 2 pencils out and sharpened, people. It’s time for a test. You have eleven minutes. And your time starts…now!

1) The husband is away this week on a business trip. Last time he went away for a week-long trip, I started a blog. What should I do this time?

a) launch my own line of artisanal cheeses
b) continue to ignore my Facebook page in defiance of all those who keep telling me that I will “come around eventually” (no, I refuse to “like” it – bugger off already)
c) solve the series of baffling heiress murders in the quaint coastal town in Maine where I live

2) I don’t know what the heck a blogfest is. I see this term everywhere, but I seriously have no idea what people are talking about. I think it could possibly be:

a) nothing to worry about -- my cousin had it. Broad-spectrum antibiotics clear it right up
b) this thing where people all meet in an abandoned warehouse and engage in something known as voguing
c) something that Snooki and The Situation talk about a lot – not that I know who they are either

3) How many more ways can Nathan Bransford possibly explain how to write effective query letters on his blog?

a) Googleplex. He can write about queries googleplex more times and people will still not get it.
b) Why? Why? Why?
c) But Nathan is really nice. Don’t make fun of him.
d) I’m not making fun of him, I’m just, you know, asking why people still find this a perplexing issue when he’s already explained query writing six ways to Sunday over and over and over again. He’s not going to say yes to your query letter no matter how many times you rewrite it, OK?

4) In all seriousness, do you think ebooks are going to replace the printed word?

a) No.
b) Yes.
c) Let’s see, why don't we write humpty-nine billion articles and blog posts about this issue, and when we reach the humpty-nine billion and first one, the answer will finally be: “I guess we’ll freaking find out." Now everybody just relax and stop predicting the end of publishing because no amount of hand-wringing is going to replace waiting and seeing.

5) How much pleasure did Kristen taken in deleting all the agent contact information she kept bookmarked on her computer this week?

a) So. Very. Much.
b) She didn’t do it because the whole agent thing still hasn’t fully sunk in yet, and she fears she may wake up, and it will all have been a dream.
c) None. Because she didn’t. Because they’ll somehow know and be angry. She remains a fearful little cockroach when it comes to even discussing agents.

6) Whose nutritious, delicious blog is endorsed by the Office of the First Lady as part of her campaign to fight the epidemic of childhood obesity in America?

a) Sierra Godfrey’s blog. I can’t remember the name of it. It’ll come to me...All I know is that it's low fat and tastes of wheat grass.
b) Karen's Coming Down the Mountain: because it has giraffes, and I like giraffes. Well, I like them a heck of a lot more than I like pandas. Giraffes taste a lot better.
c) Jayne's A Novice Novelist. Because I needed to give an award to someone in the UK, in accordance with the rules and regulations laid out by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
d) Tina Lynn’s blog. But she’s a borderline case, because I swear I have gained 10 pounds from eating too many Sweet Niblets.

7) Kristen, you have received a few blog awards that you neither posted nor passed on to other deserving blogger friends. If you don’t mind my asking, WTF?

a) I’m prohibited by interstate trade law from posting blog awards, and suffice to say, I don’t need the freaking feds on my back again. Nor the FAA, for that matter. I'm sick of that Matt guy buzzing my house with his airbus.
b) Actually, the truth is, I only post badges for awards I receive from Meghan Ward.
c) Wendy Ramer hardly needs any promotion help from me. So just forget it. Don’t even mention that woman’s name to me.
d) That dear lass at Aleighopolis is way too organized, thus causing me to be resentful, and thus, I am ill-disposed to putting a link in my blog to hers. Spiteful? Perhaps. But I didn’t attain these lofty heights in my career by being generous-minded.
e) Since when is laziness something I need to rationalize? I mean, come on, Trav has practically raised it to an art form, and no one badgers him.
f) I'm not supposed to mention Lt. Cccyxx so, of course, I'm gonna. Don't go to his blog though, because I suspect he may be an escaped test subject from the NIH's secret lab in Maryland. The one where they mess with your mind and torture you. Oh, no, wait. That's writing that's warped him. Still, better steer clear. I hear his urine glows in the dark.

Post your answers below and no, I don’t grade on a curve so when you get your grade, do not show up at my office hours moaning about how I just screwed up your GPA for the semester.

Monday, May 10, 2010

An All-Too-Vivid Imagination

This past Saturday afternoon, my husband and I decided to take our three girls out for a “walk.” What this actually meant was that we decided to go to the book store, and we announced our intention to go on foot, and then we frog-marched the girls along while they whined and moaned and announced every few yards that we were the cruelest parents ever to have lived. They were sure we were, like, straight out of Grimm’s fairy tales, which is saying something because those Grimm guys -- they came up with some seriously messed up bad apple parents.

This is a fairly common occurrence – the walking, I mean. I’m big on walking places, especially if it’s only half a mile or so to the destination in question. Walking is green. It’s healthy. And by golly, it’s good for family togetherness. Not surprisingly, our daughters hate it. In years to come, I think they will recoil from the notion of “going for a walk” with the same intensity that I recoiled from the idea of “going to church” when I was their age.

But as we are the grown-ups in charge, and as they had no other choice if they wanted to continue to be fed and clothed by us, they did as we requested – although reserving the all-American right to kvetch every step of the way. We got to a point in our journey where we had to cross a street that can be quite busy, and my youngest, who is five, for just a moment decided that she wasn’t going to walk with us. In a not-infrequent burst of independence, she ran further ahead into the street, and as she did, I turned my head and saw this black BMW screaming toward us. I yelled at her, “STOP! OH, MY GOD!” and then grabbed her and quickly jerked her back. Had she continued to run and had the car continued at the pace it was going, she would have been hit and she probably would have been killed. Writing these words makes me sick all over again.

For a horrifying moment I saw it all happen. I saw what could have been. I saw the image of her getting thrown up into the air. I felt the impact and the aftermath. That night I could not get the scene I had imagined out of my head, and it so rattled me, I had trouble sleeping. It was just one of those moments when you realize how easily something awful can happen in your life.

I know this is not unique to writers – I think all parents have these moments -- but I do think that perhaps my inability to shake the images from my mind was exacerbated by the fact that I’m a writer. I could see the broken glass, smell the burning rubber, hear my own scream, and most of all, feel the guilt that I had not prevented it from happening. The whole scene bloomed in my mind with such brutal intensity, and I realized afterward that sometimes your imagination is most definitely not your friend.

Consequently I spent Mother’s Day feeling relieved that this was all just confined to the realm of imagination and what might have been. And I am very, very grateful for that, of course.

Have you ever had a moment when you wished, gosh, I really wish I hadn’t thought of that? Sometimes a vivid imagination is a curse, isn’t it? Let’s just put it this way, I really don’t know how Stephen King does it. The man must never sleep at all.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Yes, Well, Moving Right Along Then....

Much as I’d love to dwell in the warm afterglow of my good news forever, I need to get back to work. So let’s jump right into it, shall we?

Do you have any IKEA furniture in your home? Probably you do.

Maybe like me, you went out into the world after college and needed a cheap end table or a computer desk. And you were young and had a lot of free time on the weekends, and you also had a friend with a roof rack on his car. And because you had those things, you thought, gosh, I don’t mind driving an hour in heavy traffic out to the suburban hinterlands and wandering around this warehouse of stuff that’s set up like some kind of retail slaughterhouse, driving you onward through theses chute-like aisles toward the register where they’re either going to ring you up or electrocute you and drain all the blood from your body. And maybe, like me, as you were pushing your funky Swedish shopping cart around, you wondered, why on God’s green earth did I just buy lingonberry jam? I don’t even know what lingonberries are. And those Swedish meatballs from the IKEA cafeteria will no doubt come back to haunt me later as most meat-in-cream-sauce dishes usually do. But even knowing that, you still got right back on the path and followed the arrows, and you thought, why am I doing this? I’m no better than some cow the way I’m meekly following these slaughterhouse arrows. Except I’ve got a credit card. Yes, I’m a cow with a credit card. A cow with a credit card who doesn’t mind spending forty-five minutes trying to figure out which cushion covers fits the Helga dining table chairs. And I need that cheap sack of 500 tea lights, because God knows I’m forever putting my own furniture together with one of those Allen wrench thingies by candlelight.

So then later, you manage to get all the stuff tied onto the roof rack, and you get it all home, and you don’t fully realize that what you've done is sentence yourself to staring at blond-wood pine furniture for a decade or more. And actually, now that you look at it carefully, some of it’s not really even pine. It’s some kind of composite stuff, and when you put the doors on that wardrobe you bought, you can’t get the hinges straight, and you don’t care what the friggin’ directions say, there must be a damned screw missing or something.

Well, tough Swedish meatballs, because you’re good and screwed. You've got an entire apartment full of the stuff now. And little do you know that after ten or twelve or sixteen years of looking at that IKEA stuff – the table and the end table and the night stands and the wardrobe -- you will swear on Thor’s hammer that you will not enter into the fourth decade of your life with a single piece of IKEA furniture in your house because you HATE IT LIKE LINGONBERRIES.

But you can’t make good on that oath. No, you can't. It's like Thor's Day becoming Thursday. It's become a fact of your everyday life now. That IKEA stuff, it’s still around and ever shall it be. Somehow you just can’t get rid of it completely. Sure, maybe you chucked that Ektorp futon, but the rest of that stuff you bought that fateful day at IKEA? It still lingers on in some form. It has morphed from your bestest coffee table into a TV table in the playroom, and your crooked IKEA wardrobe is where you now store empty paint cans. And you realize, my God, it’s quite possible that I will never, ever be rid of this crap. Maybe no one ever gets rid of IKEA furniture. When the apocalypse comes, all that’ll be left will be Keith Richards, a bunch of cockroaches, a whole lotta Styrofoam cups, and IKEA furniture. I mean, nobody wants to buy the stuff off you. Heck, other people -- they’ve got friends of their own with roof racks who are planning to take a drive out to Newark, and they can buy brand new IKEA furniture for next to nothing. And you think, fine, go! You’re going to be in for the same surprise when you realize that these Swedish masterminds have sentenced you to a life of staring at pine furniture that’s all lopsided, and you can’t even blame anyone else for that because you’re the one who put it together. Those IKEA design guys might as well have tied that Helga dining room table to your leg and had you drag it around for fifteen years. And, sure, try giving it away if you want to. Nobody wants it. People will just laugh and laugh and laugh right in your face. It’s like trying to give away a box of shoe horns. Who uses a shoe horn anymore to put his shoes on? No one, that's who.

Where am I going with this? Hell, if I know. I just had IKEA furniture on my mind today. Actually I think I had intended to make a point about how sometimes you get this idea for writing about one thing, but then it transforms into something else. You start off thinking, hey, this is a great idea but then, after a while, you sort of realize that your idea is just, you know, kind of stupid.

Obviously things got away from me.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Now It Can Be Told

I’m not going to keep you waiting one more second.

Here’s my big announcement: I AM AGENTED!

Yes, that's right. This past Friday I signed with Molly Jaffa at Folio Literary Management.

As I write this, I sincerely believe that I have sobered up from my weekend champagne binge. But perhaps a breathalyzer test would prove me a liar. (Hi, Dad!*)

I know you guys know exactly how awesome this is. I mean, seriously. We all work for years to get to this moment, and I will not even attempt to put into words my sense of gratitude, relief, and joy.

You know what the greatest thing about this is though? I can now come out of the closet as a writer. I can tell people what I do. You know what I'm talking about. People ask you what you do for a living, and you tell them "I inseminate cows" or whatever your day job is. But really, that's not what your real passion is. You're a writer, but you feel you can't admit that publicly.

I have the added complication of being a SAHM. It's a noble profession, but despite all the lip service to the contrary, people do wonder about you. Or, at least, they assume things about you and your ambitions, specifically that you must not have any.

My youngest daughter will be starting kindergarten in the fall and of late I’ve been fielding that, “So what are you going to do with all your time?” question. Up until now, I have been using my tried and true response, “I'm looking forward to spending more time on my beloved pastime, parkour.” And that usually sends them packing, scratching their heads, which is exactly what they deserve.

But now! Ha. Now they're going to get an earful of self-promoting blather.

Am I nervous about the next set of hurdles that need to be gotten over? The not-insignificant “finding a publisher” hurdle? Of course. But I have long been a proponent of crossing bridges when I come to them, whatever troll may be lurking beneath. And fortunately for me, I can now just beat that troll over the head with these empty champagne bottles I’ve got lying around. See? Sometimes things do work out after all.

*Did I mention my dad is a retired police officer and former administrator of a Stop-DWI program? Yes, well, I wasn’t driving around at all this weekend, so that should count for something. Right, Dad? ... Dad?