Friday, May 28, 2010

What's In A Name

Hello fellow aspiring writers. As part of our quest for super-stardom ala J.K. Rowling, one of our missions is to create a name for ourselves. Start a blog, twitter until it hurts, whatever. Name recognition is key.

Hands typing on keyboard, text and symbols superimposed

Now some people are very smart. Take mi amiga, Justine Dell. She uses her full name on Bransforums. (I picked a pseudo name, because for some odd reason I felt intimidated in the beginning. What? I’m going to offer other people writing advice? Gulp.)

Justine also has a rockin’ blog titled under, once again, her full name. I picked ‘Get Your Giggle On’. It sounded hip and silly. Googling this phrase, I came in today at number four behind an article written for an internet conference, a short story with GYGO as a title, and a site to help those recover from the loss of a loved one. Not too shabby, I suppose.

I guess my next mission is to look in buying a domain name. Check this out if you want to know more. I’ll get around to it, eventually. Maybe.

Somewhere, out there, my future publicist is getting a migraine. Did I mention I really want to publish under my maiden name, Burton?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve

Before I get started, there is a cool contest out there for all you query-weary folk. Go to the Creepy Query Girl's blog and check it out. Only one day left!

Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) with Kilimanjaro in background

I am so lucky. I saw A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve in the rental house down in Kiawah along with twenty others lying in a basket. Somehow I resisted the urge to steal half a dozen novels, but when I saw this in paperback at Target, I grabbed it.

Fantastic. It has adventure—deadly mishap on a treacherous ascent of Mt. Kenya. It has drama—a young couple’s marriage teeters on the brink of destruction. It has incredible writing—the plot moves, you feel like your inside the mc’s head and it is authentic with a capital A. Plus you get to learn a little about life and culture around Nairobi.

The best part, for me, is that Shreve has 14 other books. 14! I plan to wallow in each and every one. Lucky day.

Pig wallowing in mud

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Check Please!

Food and wine on a table

Before kids, I preferred booths to chairs in restaurants. They’re cushy. Now that I have two little daughters running an insane ‘I-love-mommy-so-much-I-want-to-crawl-back-into-her-uterus’ campaign, I’d rather have a chair. With armrests wrapped in thorns for maximum protection.

In a booth, my three and five-year-old will flank me, pinning my arms to my sides while I try to eat, grab crayons, cut their chicken, and squeeze the ketchup like a Tyrannosaurus Rex-lady with mobility only up to my elbows.

Maybe I should call Saturday Night Live. They could revive their ‘What is Love’ skit with my two munchkins in place of Will Ferrel and Chris Kattan.

When we went to the local Olive Garden for the first time, we got a booth. I was stunned when my older daughter volunteered to sit next to her dad. The kids colored happily until the meals arrived. My two only eat one thing in restaurants: chicken fingers and fries. Not only does the Olive Garden offer this kid-staple, they have the best darn chicken fingers and fries I’ve ever had in a chain restaurant. If you don’t have kids, borrow one and see for yourself. To top it off, they give out Andes chocolate mints with the check.

It was the perfect family dinner, that is, until my youngest stood up in her chair, leaned over, and vomited on her plate. Check please!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Literary Optimization

Question for all you writers out there: what is the optimal block of writing time? Too little, and you can’t get anything done. Too much, and you fritter the time away in Nathan’s forums.

Me: Ooh, ooh. Can I please edit this one query? It'll just take a minute.

Me Answering: No, close that window right now! I mean it.

Black hole abstract

I might have too much time. On schooldays, provided my two children are free from ear infections and mysterious fevers, I can write from 9 am to 2:30 pm. It’s the quickest five-and-a-half hours ever. I suspect a black hole hovers by my desk, gobbling minutes when I’m not looking. It must have been especially hungry last week considering what little writing was accomplished, i.e. none. Much of that time evaporated composing witty blogs for my followers. All five of them. I appreciate each and every one of you, but this has got to stop.

New Rule #1: Compose blogs on weekend nights after the kids are in bed. (It's Sunday night and I'm almost done with this puppy slated for next Friday. Score!)

New Rule #2: No visiting Justine Dell, Zoe Courtman, Nathan Bransford, Janet Reid, or the Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog until 1:15 pm. (Impossible)

New Rule #3: Get off butt and become follower of blogs I follow. Following that I will follow-up with more querying, researching, and writing. Follow?

How do you manage your precious writing time?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

Hi Readers! It’s Wednesday, so that means another snappy book review. Today we’ve got Jennifer Weiner’s Best Friends Forever. The strange thing about this one, for me, was the narrative’s dichotomy.

Certain chapters exhibit a literary fiction finesse that is just exquisite. The parts about Addie’s former relationship with an older man and her family history—especially the tragic story of her older brother—are manufique! I would throw roses, if I had any. These passages alone are worth the price of admission.

Holidays & Occasions

But the chick-lit parts—think ‘Thelma-and-Louise-lite’—just made me say, “huh?” I didn’t get it. Okay, I got it, but wasn’t groovin’ on it. I like how Addie was formally obese—that was choice. (In middle school, my best friend was blond, slim, and a jv cheerleader. I had the figure of an oversized toddler.) But the parts featuring Addie's best friend Valerie? Yurg.

You know what my problem with Valerie really is? Judy Blume has almost the exact same character in one of my favorite books, Summer Sisters. Blume’s bf character is also blond and beautiful, with flakey, hippy-dippy parents. The history and interplay between the mc and her bf is virtually identical in each book. Have you ever seen the same character in books by different authors?

Weiner has written other novels, so let’s pause for a moment while I try to discover if this author is chick-lit reaching for up-market women’s fiction or vice versa. Inquiring minds want to know. Okay, I’m back. And the answer is: neither. Weiner doesn’t mind the label chick-lit and vigorously defends the genre. And she’s got some serious writing chops: graduating summa cum laude from Princeton with teachers Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and John McPhee. Holy Moly!

Verdict? I'd like to read more of her work.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Out Of The Mouth Of My Babe

Close-up of a teddy bear wearing a party hat

I was in Toys 'R Us the other day with a plan. To throw the most awesome birthday party for my soon-to-be, six-year-old daughter, I had the greatest idea for party favors ever. Forget cheap sunglasses and pinwheels. Not cool. How about snagging a mega-pack of the Littlest Pet Shop figures and tying them to helium balloons? Rock and roll!

And then I saw the price. $30.00 for twenty tiny bits of colored plastic. $20.00 for eight. I couldn’t do it. I told my daughter. We had already cruised through Party City and decided their favors were crap.

So she looked up at me, and said, “Okay, genius, what’s your third plan?”

Did I mention this child is five?

Some mothers might have taken offense. But not me. A joyous, spinning sensation of glee filled my chest. Forget Tiger Woods putting on the Mike Douglas Show at two.Forget Steffi Graff lobbing tennis balls over her couch at three. I have a prodigy—a certified smartass—at the tender age of five! I’m so proud.

Kick The Bucket Or Be Kicked

Cat's Got The Cream

I love the SC Aquarium in Charleston. We go annually as part of our Kiawah trip. But last time I saw something that got my editorial knickers in a bunch.

There is a kid’s corner with a curious wall activity asking, “Which is the most dangerous?” Underneath are four pictures on plaques. Each plaque has a knob and a set of hinges. When you pull the knob, a number is revealed informing you how many people are injured per year by the object on the front.

Here are the four objects: shark, cat, beach chair, and toy bucket. What’s the most dangerous? If you guessed beach chair, I’m sorry, you’re out. Ditto cat. Likewise shark. The most dangerous item is the bucket. The numbers were, okay I can’t remember exactly, something like this: shark – 14, cat – 800, beach chair – (I totally forgot), and bucket – 1300, I think. Or was it 13,000?

Does that bother anybody? Wait, I see a hand-raised. What is it you ask? Oh right! Without a percentage, these numbers are worthless. How many sharks are there? How many buckets? To Wikipedia!

Chance of being attacked by shark: 1 in 11.5 million

Chance of being bitten by owned, not feral, cat in US: 1 in 226

Recall of Build-a-Bear toy beach chair: 8 injuries out of 269,700 chairs sold in US and Canada

Recall of child’s folding mini beach chair: 1 reported injury out of 100,000

Bucket Injuries: I’m not coming up with any numbers. I need a savvy web-searcher. Any volunteers?

Anyhoo, are buckets really dangerous? Or is it the people swinging them into each other’s heads? Or the water left inside that becomes a drowning hazard to a small child? I don’t know, but I gotta tell ya, if given the choice to swim with one of these four objects, I’m picking the bucket. What can I say, I like to live dangerously.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

''Surviving The Holidays'' With Valerie Bertinelli

I was in Barnes and Noble the other week and found a whole table of bargain books, many of which where thrillers. Yum! It was a struggle, but I managed to stop myself at three.

My third pick was The Condition by Jennifer Haigh. The book flap got me because it purported to be about a family in which one of the daughters had a rare condition called Turner’s Syndrome. I immediately thought, aha, this will be a Jodi Picoult type book like My Sister’s Keeper or Handle with Care. Shhweet.

I was wrong. It’s even better. The book doesn’t focus on the girl’s disease at all. FYI, Turner’s Syndrome is a rare genetic condition in which a female doesn’t experience puberty. They don’t reach a normal height, develop breasts, or have periods. There is no cure, but it can be managed with treatments such as estrogen.

Haigh takes the idea of arrested development and applies it to all the characters in the girl’s family. Each one is stuck, locked into various destructive behaviors. The dad is an academic, buried in his research, and boy howdy, could I identify. My spouse had the disgusting habit of staying at his office until 9 pm, but baby, we broke him of that habit—you bet your Pampered bottom we did.

Other characters also struck a chord with me, but describing why would only embarrass all of us, so I won’t go there. But this book is gold, the writing superb. It’s one of those page-turners that you suck down like chocolate mousse and once it’s gone, you pout. When I see a Jennifer Haigh novel on the bookshelf again, I’m buying.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Close Encounters of the Gator Kind

Our family just got back from a warm, wet and pretty wild week on Kiawah Island off the coast of SC. Kiawah is home to more than just tourists, outrageously huge, but rarely used beach mansions, and yard workers. The island’s natives include pelicans, dolphins, raccoons, bobcats, and gators.

It was mating season for the gators, and you could hear their throaty growls as they called to each other between lagoons. After lunch one day, we spotted a monster roaring for his reptilian amour off our back deck. I got so excited I yelled out, “Wow! Look at that! He’s Discovery Channel huge!”—thus revealing my dorkitude to the entire neighborhood.

Each afternoon, we would trek over to the pool, which hovered at the teeth-chattering 68 degrees. On one such trip, I was staring at my Croc-knockoffs, ignoring my five-year-old’s wail that something was in her sandal, again, and for me to fix it, like, now, when my husband called out, “Honey, STOP!”

Twenty feet away sat a ten-foot, who-knows-how-many-hundred pound American alligator right in front of the pool gate. We grabbed the children and stood there, contemplating our options. The pool was surrounding by a wire fence, so I suggested we jump it and go about our business of freezing to death in the pool.

After we were safely inside the fence, I asked my husband to go warn my mother, who planned on joining us. Her eyesight is worse than mine. While he was off on this task, a car came by and stopped, maybe five feet from the gator. Windows came down, a camera phone popped out. The car’s occupants must have wanted a better shot, because they left their SUV for a closer look.

Gators can move up to 30 mph for short distances, so I marveled as these people stood mere feet from their doom. Major Dufus Award, folks. Thank goodness they didn't have any children with them to dangle in front of the gator like, um, me. Okay, pass me a Dufus Award. Luckily, the gator accepted the gawking and frenzied picture taking graciously before lumbering off for the next lagoon in search of his lady love. I imagine George Clooney could sympathize.