Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Big Yellow...Taxi?

Yesterday, DH broke down and bought Frick a cellphone. I've been anti-phone, mostly because this is a kid who can't find his own shoes half the time, and also because, well, he can't find his own shoes half the time. I wasn't too keen on having him have to keep up with a phone. Plus, he loses his natural mind around electronics, so I had these nightmare visions of phones going off in class, him answering, then shushing the teacher because he couldn't hear the bonehead on the other end. But DH was worried about contact, and let's just say testosterone won the day. Frick came home with a Motorola RAZR, and we have a bigger cell bill.

Today, I had to revisit my anti-cell bias. Frick spent his first afternoon at the YMCA aftercare program at school. Fine. He was having fun. Fine. We were on our way to get him--late, since we have to break our "stay late at school" habit still--when he texts to say "Go home. I'll meet you there."


So I call. He tells me "I got on the bus." At that point, about three thousand neurons in my brain, all of them in the protective mom lobe, melted. "What bus??" I'm screaming. "Oh, I'll just have the driver drop me off at the corner," he says blithely. This is sixth grade logic working. Since a bus picks him up at the corner, clearly a bus leaving school will be happy to drop him off at the corner he specifies, right?

Nightmare visions of missing kid ending up at the bus depot in the dark, clutching his 15-freakin'-pound backpack hurtle through the cortex. I can't get a straight answer out of him about where he is. I order him to hand the phone to an adult. The adult--the driver--has a thick Jamaican accent. So now I'm trapped in a calypso nightmare that still ends up with my kid alone in a dark bus depot.

Finally we suss out where he is. We tail the bus down the road and finally spot it. We follow it until it stops, and out pops Frick. He looks none the worse for wear. I decide to kill him. DH plays the voice of reason (a new one for him in cases like this--usually he's the one playing the role of freaky parent) and instructs me to be gentle. Good thing, too, because Mr. Frick had scared himself nearly to death, quivery lip and all. He won't be jumping on any strange buses anytime soon.

And now I have to take to my bed with a cold compress on my aching head. With a side of whiskey, thanks.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Here Comes the Sun

The sun's out! I had the top down on Inga this morning, and it was wonderful! Now that it's afternoon, it's threatening to storm again. Go figure. Summer in Florida, huh?

We could use a little more sunshine in the Sunshine State these days. Oh, well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cool Chick: Jennifer Garner


Frack and I adore the movie 13 Going on 30. Sure, it's a remake of Big, but it's the girl power version. It's the mark of great casting when you can't think of anyone else in a role, and I have to say that Jennifer Garner is perfect as Jenna, the 13-year-old so disgusted with her life (and herself) that she wishes herself into a 30-year-old über-bitch magazine editor. Thankfully, that über-bitch becomes both human and fun because the 13-yo brain is now running things. What woman my age didn't want to run to the floor and do the "Thriller" routine again? Or snuggle up to cutie-pie Mark Ruffalo? And there's that cute deleted scene where she "goes all West Virginia" about her mama.

Plus, she can kick your ass either Alias-style or Elektra-style. You've been warned.

In real life, she's Mrs. Ben Affleck (lucky!) and has an adorable daughter, Violet. Oh, and one on the way. Double lucky.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dog Paddling

It's wet here in Central Florida. This is our fourth straight day of rain, and it doesn't look like it'll be slowing up anytime soon. At least we're not in Brevard County. They had a freakin' monsoon yesterday--25 inches in one day! They had to close the Melbourne airport because of all the snakes and gators on the runways. It's not quite as bad in our neck of the woods, but we did hold walk/wade/swim in registration for fall Little League this afternoon, hahaha. Poor kids at school looked like drowned rats most of the day.

If this keeps up, we'll all have webbed feet. We already have raisin toes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

10 Favorite Olympic Athletes of All Time

We're home from school today (scary storm out there not raining on us right now, but oh well), so let's catch up on some blog stuff.
  1. Bruce Jenner - Decathlons are for badasses.
  2. Jackie Joyner-Kersee - Heptathlons are for female badasses. And she won three Olympic medals (two golds, one silver) in it!
  3. Edwin Moses - Do you have any idea how hard it is to run the 400 meter hurdles? Ed Moses looked like a gazelle.
  4. Jean-Claude Killy - Because his name is fun to say.
  5. The 1980 U.S. Men's Hockey Team - Duh.
  6. Katarina Witt - Unbelievably graceful and athletic. I met her in person once--just as gorgeous and lovely off the ice.
  7. Michelle Akers - Graduate of the University of Central Florida, and a great favorite 'round these parts. The rest of the U.S. women's soccer team called her "Mufasa" because of her abundant curls and her wisdom.
  8. Torvill and Dean - Ice Dancing pair from England. Check out their routine to Ravel's Bolero on YouTube sometime and wonder why the ice doesn't melt below their feet. Hawt!
  9. Sarah Hughes - Watching her face as she landed jump after jump in her long program was so fun! She was obviously having the time of her life, winning that gold medal.
  10. Greg Louganis - Technically amazing, and very brave. Out, proud, HIV-positive, and one hell of an athlete.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Welcome Back to School! Or Not...

First day of school today! The kids actually popped out of bed this morning and got dressed with very little prodding (or begging, or threats). Got the cute back to school pic, fed them real breakfast--chocolate chip pancakes, thank you very much!--and sent Frick off to the school bus. First day in middle school! Good thing he was early, because so was the bus. Frack is loving being the queen of the elementary school now that big bro is off amongst the tweens.

My day went pretty well, too. Nice kids, good questions. They mostly got to class on time, and everything went smoothly considering we had a gajillion classes to teach (six periods out of seven). But now I have a headache and need to get into my pajamas.

Plus, for extra fun, there's an almost-hurricane out there in the Gulf, so that means they've punched the panic button. No school tomorrow. Goodbye, makeup day in October, which we were hoping to use to visit the grands. Argh!! So now it's buy the propane and put water in jugs, just in case. I predict hellacious rain and boredom tomorrow. Maybe I can get the lesson plans done. Or the proposal. Probably the proposal--it needs to go out!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Today was the big go-to-the-Convention-Center-for-some-learnin' day (aka "Professional Development Day"). These are all-day extravaganzas with breakout sessions and usually a vendor exhibit with all manner of educational items for sale. Not that anyone has any money to buy anything in this lean year, but there you go.

So I'm strolling the booths when I get accosted by a salesman for a giveaway. Fill out this pink card, and you'll be entered into a drawing for a free iPod! I guess I didn't exhibit the requisite excitement over his offer (we're a four iPod family already), so he decides to pitch the closer: "...if not for you, then use it as a gift...maybe for a grandchild!!"

Okay, I know I'm going grey and all, but this is not a grandma face. Besides, if I were having a grandchild, you'd already know since I'd be all over the National Enquirer. My kids are 11 and 9. Yikes!

I guess the first week of school's taken more out of me than I thought!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mmm...New Pencil Smell

Teachers go back to school today for pre-planning (which is kind of a redundancy, since "planning" implies something you do ahead of time, but I digress). The first week of school where teachers are back but students aren't are kind of the back bar of teaching. It's all the inner workings without all that messy teaching and grading going on. Just the adults, doing their thing, and being able to eat lunch at a normal pace for the last little bit until the students arrive.

Plus, you get to unpack all your brand new office supplies!

I should have figured out I'd be a writer or teacher way early on. I love school, and I really love school supplies. Freshly sharpened pencils, rubber band balls, markers with glitter or stamps on the end, fun rubber stamps, stickers, cool paper...the list goes on and on. This year, I decided to treat myself to a new pen for grading that the kids won't be tempted to lift: a Pelikano school pen (a fountain pen), purple ink. Usually, they freak when they see a nib, so it's much less likely to go walking than my cheapie PaperMate ballpoints.

When I think school shopping, I think office supplies, not clothes. What are your back to school memories?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Whither High Concept?

One grace note to my Dream Agent smackdown at National was that she praised me for my ability to create a high concept story. I always thought "high concept" meant something truly groundbreaking and new, which meant that there was no way in Hades I'd ever figure out how to do it.

However, Dream Agent explained that an ability to capture the essence of the book in a fresh way that editors and publishers can grasp and market is the core of "high concept."

In my case, that means controlling metaphor. For each of my chick lit/women's fiction books, there's a controlling theme that guides how the characters grow through the story. In The Crash Test Dummy of Love, it's the heroine's view of men as types of cars (The Lemon, The Prototype, The Solid Performer, etc.) and her job to crash test them to make them safe for other women (never her) that provides the backbone of the story. In my WIP, the heroine faces catastrophic change in her life by regressing back to a Five Step Plan her mother taught her back when she was a teenager. Obvs, the book is titled The Five Step Plan. I have other story ideas centered on baseball terms (Life After Little League) and Chinese fortunes (...In Bed). I'm sure at some point, it'll be Jimmy Buffett songs or beach music or something.

Dream Agent says that this is a strength of my work (hoookay, I'll play along), and that being able to convey a story idea in this way is, indeed, high concept. Go figure! Is there a theme or motif in your work that can be incorporated into your blurb that will enliven it from the standard boy-meets-girl-etc. storyline? If so, you're entering High Conceptville.

What do you think about high concept, and are you writing it?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Wreck This Journal

One of my main partners in crime, Katherine Garbera, is amazing at finding exactly the right thing. I've been whining about writing (is there any other way?), and she emailed me before conference to say that she'd found me a journal. Now Kathy knows that journals and I don't always get along. I've posted on my difficulties with journal keeping before. I haven't gotten much better since then. But she was confident that this journal was just the thing to get the ol' creative juices flowing. So when she had a chance, she handed me this:

This is not a journal for the fainthearted. Smith, the author of other creativity works like Living Out Loud and The Guerrilla Art Kit, has produced a truly weird volume that just might be the key to unlocking folks who are stuck. Rather than inundating you with all of those lovely, yet intimidating, blank pages, Wreck This Journal gives you tasks to complete. And are they weird! A sampling of instructions:
  • Add your own page numbers. Starting here. (I did this one. I used prime numbers!)
  • This page is for handprints or fingerprints. Get them dirty then press down.
  • Draw lines while in motion, on the bus, on the train, while walking.
  • Tie a string to the spine of this book. Swing wildly. Let it hit the walls.
  • Make a paper chain (includes lines for cutting the page apart).
  • Sew this page.
  • Color outside of the lines.
  • Fill in this page when you are really angry.
  • Write with the pen in your mouth.
  • Collect fruit stickers (from bought fruit) here. (Two already, an ORGANIC sticker from some bananas my other partner in crime, Nancy Robards Thompson, bought in SF, and one from a Sunkist lemon in my fridge.)
It's not your usual journal. Some of the tasks, like "Crack the spine," will be hard (that's a pet peeve), but others seem fun. Freeing. Good for the unsticking that writers need to do from time to time. Last task: Tape the journal closed and mail it to yourself. There's an address box on the back.

Anything weird like this you do to get yourself unstuck?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Lovely Rita!!

So I'm on the plane from San Francisco to Atlanta when I realize the blonde woman sitting across the aisle and one row back from me is reading a Silhouette Desire. That, and the fact that she also has a laptop handy, prompt me to ask if she's been at the RWA Conference. She tells me she has, and that she's also noticed me reading my manuscript on my laptop. Then she puts out her hand, smiles, and says, "I'm Rita Clay Estrada."

Rita, THE Rita, is shaking my hand! OMG!!

Luckily, I do not go all fangirl stupid and actually manage to hold up my end of the conversation, which is basically me thanking her for making the conference and RWA possible at all and trying not to plotz all over her shoes, and she being warm and gracious and providing a valuable piece of career advice, given to her by inimitable editing legend Leslie Wainger: "Make a timeline. Put everything on it. It'll save your life."

So that's how you come home with a Rita, even though you're (as yet) unpublished. I think that's a sign.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

RWA National: Day 3 Recap

Workshops again. Up today:

Pump Up Your Productivity
Cindi Meyers
I don't think any of this information was new to me (I'm always trying to figure out how to better manage my time, with mixed success), but it's always helpful to listen to how someone else presents it in case they find the right crack in the ol' cortex. Three major steps:
  • Keep a time log to identify major time killers and wasted spaces, then convert that into productive writing time. Don't cheat yourself out of sleep!
  • Prioritize your time. If you claim your writing is important, act like it. Write in small chunks if you have to, but don't wait around for that magic hours-long writing block if you have a busy life. It won't turn up.
  • Remove temptations to procrastinate. Buy an Alphasmart, delete your computer games, create a special writing space with fewer distractions.
Along with these, manage your attitude. People who develop a contant negative attitude about their writing life (and this includes your fears about yourself and your work) often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Set realistic, challenging goals and work toward them, don't compare yourself with others, and above all, don't get hung up on things you can't control. Just write. She left us with a great quote:
Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you're doing. None of that is writing. Writing is writing.
--E.L. Doctorow

Home Is Where the Story Is
Christie Ridgway
I planned to come to this one because I'll be focusing on Southern women's fiction for the present, and also because the co-presenter was Elizabeth Bevarly. But alas, Liz had to miss the conference, so I was "stuck" with Christie. What a great way to be stuck! Alongside the hints on how to collect good research materials, she showed a bunch of great ways to use details of place to develop characterization, like thinking of the history of an area, who settled it, and what industry the area is known for, and using opposites natural to that setting to create stronger conflict between the characters. You can also use details of the setting to spur and create plot points, like isolating a hero and heroine in a Minnesota blizzard, or creating tension because a hurricane is bearing down on South Beach. You know it's a great workshop when you keep a separate notes page solely for your WIP and how you plan to enhance it with tips from the workshop.

Take Five! The Agent Cartel Reveals Its Top Five Pearls of Wisdom for Career Success
Pam Ahearn, Roberta Brown, Lucienne Diver, Elaine English, Michelle Grajkowski, Carolyn Grayson, Pam Hopkins, Jennifer Jackson, Natasha Kern, Kristin Nelson, Patti Steele-Perkins
I already have an agent, but it was fascinating to see so clearly how an agent search should be detailed and personal. Of this group, I would only query a few of them, if I were looking for an agent. All of them were incredibly knowledgeable, and each offered five different specific bits of information about finding and working with an agent. Here's the list of fives:

  • 5 Things to Help Me Help You
  • 5 Things Necessary in a Query to Make an Agent Notice You
  • 5 Things That Make Your More Attractive to Agents and Editors
  • 5 Things You Need to Write for Two Houses
  • 5 Ways to Nail the In-Person Pitch
  • 5 Things to Manage the Business of Being an Auhor
  • 5 Things Unpublished Writers do to Inhibit Their Success
  • 5 Things to Know About an Agent Before You Sign
  • 5 Things Agents Do Beyond the Deal
  • 5 Ways to Shoot Your Career in the Foot
I have detailed notes about all of these (and who said them), but the Rita Ceremony is tonight and I have to go put on the spackle and fancy clothes. Leave a comment with an email, and I'll send you details!

Friday, August 01, 2008

RWA National: Day 2 Recap

Workshops today, and lots of them. Some notes:

The Art of Voice
Teresa Elliott Brown, Catherine Kean, and Nancy Robards Thompson, along with industry professionals Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary Agency, and Tessa Woodward, Assistant Editor at Avon Books
I kicked off the day by moderating this workshop because they asked me to, and they're my friends. But I have to say without the slightest hint of favoritism that this was fabulous. By using visual prompts, they were able to illustrate two major points: that voice has to develop over time, and that thinking like an artist and using the five senses, authorial choices help hone your voice. Examples of the paintings they used and notes from the workshops are at their websites, along with a contest! Check it out.

Re-Energizing a Dying Project (Or a Dying Career)
Lynda Sandoval
Since I've been stuck in the doldrums, this was a must-see for me. One reminder up font: only two things in your writing career are actually within your control: your writing, and not accepting a crappy contract. Everything else is outside of your control. The trick is to let it have its proper place without allowing it to stifle your production. Some major tips she included were to create stillness within yourself. Too much everyday blather knocks you and your creativity out of balance. Another key aspect is fear, which is largely self-manufactured. According to Linda, living in a constant state of fear or anxiety about your writing drags you down. We have to learn to let let go, to refuse to give things power over your writing. Small steps, and being intentional about what you want and how you plan to achieve it, are the means to getting you out of a funk and back on track. (I needed this!)

Creativity for Life
Eric Maisel
This workshop was worth the price of admission all by itself. To get the most out of it, you had to be willing to "go with the woo woo," since much of the language he uses is straight out of the California self-help handbook. This was a two-hour workshop, so I'd strongly advise you to pick up a copy of his book Creativity for Life, which explains his points fully. Some highlights:
  • Hush the mind. Our panicky thinking about every tiny thing in the world ties up brain cells that could be used for creativity.
  • Brain research says that while we dream during REM sleep, we are thinking during non-REM periods. Going to sleep with a wonder or question and turning to your writing first thing in the morning (he strongly recommended developing this practice) can help you solve problems.
  • Honor your process. Things aren't always perfect, and you have to accept that. Decide to love your book even when you're hating it.
  • Develop a creativity practice. Make being creative an intention. Develop rituals, and make sure you continue to work even when you don't feel like it.
  • Use breathing techniques to center yourself and clear your mind for maximum creative productivity. Low-level anxiety is very powerful and can work against you. So can addictions (even to little things like computer solitaire and email), depression, and manias.
  • Treat the business aspect of your writing with the same respect you do the crative part.
  • Remember that the possibility of your book and the reality are never the same. The work is organic and will morph and change as you write. That what the creative process means. Your initial beautiful dream and your finished product will be different. Deal with it.
  • Train your family to respect your writing time.
  • Envision abundance. We have more than one book in us! Trust that the ideas will flow.
Again, great stuff. I can see why he's considered the pre-eminent creativity coach in the nation. I bought a copy of his A Writer's Space to help encourage me.

Then we went to the Harlequin party and danced and danced and went deaf and had a friggin' blast. And I made a fool of myself, but my friends say that it's okay to over-emote in front of a whole bunch of women. It was Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer," what can I say?

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