Monday, September 27, 2010

Clyde and a Hogshead Halloween

Halloween decoration

Howdy Clyde, what’s shakin’?

Nothin’ much. You?

My kids got their Halloween costumes. Big Bear's going as a leopard, and Little Bear's got a fancy Ariel gown that’s already shed a pound of glitter throughout the house.


What was Halloween like for you?

Usually fun as hell, 'cept for one year. The famous 'hogshead' incident.

My mom had been promoted to principal that fall and she was in charge of the school’s Halloween Bash. The bobbin’ for apples, pumpkin carving contest, and fish-for-treats stand were all winding down by eight, but my mom had to stay an’ supervise the clean-up. She told me and Dil we could go trick-or-treatin’ until nine.

‘Course Dil was all put out. He didn’t want me taggin’ along with his buddies, but he was stuck. He grabbed the bandanna I was wearing around my neck and hissed in my ear, “Follow me and keep up.” Then he tossed my cowboy hat into some bushes and took off.

I caught up to him and his buddies, and we made the rounds with our pillowcases. I couldn’t wait to go home and dig in, especially after Dil and his friends had knocked my hat to the ground for the fiftieth time. Then Jimmy Deysher said there was one more house we had to go visit.

We trekked out maybe six or seven blocks to the Perilli’s, a young couple that didn’t have no kids. Instead of going up to the front door, Jimmy took us 'round back and told us to leave our pillow cases under the cheery tree. He picked up a ladder set along the back wall and almost dropped it on top of Dil. Those woodin’ ones are heavier than shit, an’ this one must’ve been ten feet long. They got it up against the house, right under a window and Jimmy went up first.

After about two minutes he came down grinnin’ from ear to ear askin’ who wanted to go next. I just sat down. I knew what they were doin’—spyin’ on Bianca. There was no way I was going up that ladder. Not that I would’ve minded seeing Mrs. Perilli or her titties, but I knew Dil and them would think nothing of rippin that ladder from under my feet and leaving me hangin’ from the sill, screamin’ my head off.

So Dil went next.

This wasn’t the first time Jimmy an' his buddies been up that ladder. Somehow Carl Perilli found out. Maybe all the footprints in the soft dirt behind his house clued him in. Anyway, he'd made a trip to the butcher’s that afternoon for a special order.

Days later, I heard Dil tell his friends what he saw. Bianca was sittin’ at her vanity in a pretty nightgown, brushin’ her hair out one long stroke after the other. After she was done, she stood up and raised her hands to the top button of her dressing gown.

Dil claims she was half-naked when it happened, but I’m pretty sure that’s bullshit. Carl was somewhere close, out of sight, when Bianca went to turn the lamp off. He had a broom handle in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Balanced on top of this broom handle was the gored-out head of a hog. When he stuck the flashlight up the critter’s ragged neck, the light shone through the open mouth, snout and eye holes, turning the grisly piece of meat into a boogie monster.

From down on the wet grass, my brother’s screech nearly made me piss through my fake leather chaps. I never knew a fella’s voice could turn soprano like that. The ladder tipped back and we scattered in all directions, not givin’ one dingly-damn to Dil’s welfare. Well, the ground was soft, an’ he didn’t break nothin'. Fact, he beat me back to our house by a long shot.


I can see why that's the worst Halloween for Dil, but why you?

‘Cause I left my pillowcase of candy under the Perilli’s cheery tree! As for Dil, he didn’t want no bacon at breakfast for a month.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Love Is In The Air And, Boy, Does It Stink

Hello Bloggers. Get yourself over to Justine Dell’s page for an awesome contest (258 followers). You will want the prizes: books, writing critiques, free copy-editing! Plus she is taking donations for an Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk. Rock on!

Okay, so I have two young adorable daughters, and the eldest just started first grade this month. I was worried about her fitting in after four years of Montessori school where she learned cursive instead of script. Yes, her handwriting is miles better than my chicken scratch. What I wasn’t prepared for, drum roll, was . . . the stalker.

Yes, my beautiful baby has already caught the eye of a young lothario. He started with a gift (sea-shells and sand in a baby food jar). Then came the telephone call. I put that thing on speaker because I don’t like putting a cordless up to my little one’s ears. (Note to parents: there is some discussion in the medical community as to a link between cell phones and cordless phones and brain tumors, so beware!)

Tumors are one thing, a seven year old hitting on my SIX-year-old is another. Oh, it started innocently enough. They talked about pets and Halloween costumes. Then he asked my baby if she could guess who his girlfriend was. She hesitantly asked, “Me?” When he didn’t answer right away, she pulled back and asked, “Or do you mean someone else?” He goes, “It’s you!”

SCREAM! (That’s me screaming, not my daughter.) What is the world coming to? Later I told her she was too young to be anyone’s ‘girl friend’, and she said “Okay.”

When she was a baby, a family friend took one look at her and said we’d need a baseball bat to keep the boys away. I was hoping to put off my bat purchase until puberty. Blog moms, what do I do?

I'll pretty this post up later. I've got to go pick up my darlings from school. Later!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist

For Book Review Wednesday, I'm digging deep folks. This one has a copyright of 1988, the year I graduated high school! Yes, I was twelve--wink, wink. If you have a teenager/twenty-something who is done with Harry Potter and the Twilight Series, this would be a good choice.

Faerie Tale starts with a tried and true premise: couple moves into spooky old house deep in the woods of upstate New York. Their blended family includes twin boys and the dad's teenage daughter, Gabrielle, from an earlier marriage. Legends swirl around their new home; it has a dark history of buried treasure, missing children, and strange encounters in the woods with mythical creatures.

The twins love exploring the Faerie Woods, except for the spooky bridge, where something evil lurks. Gabrielle loves two things: horses and her new boyfriend Jack. Alone in the woods, she meets Wayland Smith, a Paul Bunyon type blacksmith, who replaces her horse's broken shoe. In the stables, she is assaulted by Puck, the creature from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Two researchers into Faerie and Celtic legends witness a faerie "hunt".

William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream First performed c1596. Act 2 Sc 2. Ariel standing on toadstool conducting The Fairies' Song 'You spotted snakes with double tongue?' Chromolithograph c1858.

All these bizarre happenings lead up to the kidnapping of one of the twins by a Faerie creature known as the Fool, who replaces the child with deranged doppelgänger. While the parents whisk the changeling off to the hospital, his twin sets off on a quest to find his real brother.

Does this scream YA to you? I think yes. But even if you're outside that demographic, fans of fantasy, suspense, and horror will enjoy this fast moving tale backed up by tantalizing tidbits of actual German and Celtic mythology.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Window of old-fashioned house, fence with flowers, close-up

My family went to visit friends in Buffalo this past weekend. Their house is not big or new, but a treasure of curved archways, built in bookshelves, a corner sink in one bathroom, and a small cubby door once used for delivering milk in the back, by the kitchen. It is always immaculate, peppered with antiques, yet cozy and unpretentious—my kids’ favorite game there is to toss teddy bears down the stairwell.

My domicile, on the other hand, looks like someone dragged in a monster piñata full of toys, books, sticky popsicle sticks, dirty socks, and used Kleenex, busted that sucker and scattered the loot from hither to yon. I’d clean it, but it would revert to its chaotic state in 24 to 48 hours. I’d rather cover my eyes with my hands and sing La, La, La, cat barf is easier to clean if allowed to dry for a couple days, you know. Here is my dream home:

Cottage house on edge of lake

So in the grand tradition of finding more important things to do than clean, let’s ponder houses in terms of writing. Does a house or other building figure prominently in your ms? It doesn’t in my first book, a thriller. The characters are moving too quickly to detail their surroundings. But my next project will be set on a plantation in the 1850s, so I expect the main house and surrounding buildings to take on a bigger role.

Can you name any books in which the house plays a significant role? I must be tired because the only titles coming to mind are The Amityville Horror and Flowers in the Attic.

NEW YORK - MARCH 31:  Real estate photograph of a house located at 112 Ocean Avenue in the town of Amityville, New York March 31, 2005. The Amityville Horror house rich history and beauty are overshadowed by the story of George and Kathy Lutz, the previous residents of 112 Ocean Avenue, who claimed that shortly after moving into the house they fled in terror driven out by paranormal activity. The best selling novel and popular movie have marked the town as the site of the most famous haunted house in history, yet many are unaware that the true history of this house is much darker than 'The Amityville Horror's' icy drafts and bleeding walls. Six members of the DeFeo family were murdered at 112 Ocean Avenue one year before the Lutz family moved in and their tragedy haunts the citizens of Amityville to this day. (Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images)

On an unrelated note, the show House starts back up tonight. I’m hoping to get the kids to bed earlier enough so I can shovel a path to the couch, clear a spot to sit, and watch it. First, I’ll need to launch a search party for the remote.

A place card marks a seat for actor Hugh Laurie at the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California, August 25, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Book Review Wednesday has been moved to Thursday this week. I'm scrambling to wrestle my ms into tip-top shape, purging all typos, in hopes that a request for a full is in my near future. So blogging has taken a back seat. Stop laughing; it could happen.

Anyhoo, today Chris Cleave's Little Bee is on the hot seat. Why did I buy this book? The teaser on the back got me: "We don't want to tell you what happens in the book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it." Then it gives a three sentence description and ends with "Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds."

Hmmm. As a lover of fiction, I was sold by this marketing strategy. But as a writer, I thought of the websites which counsel: Look at the back of your favorite books to write the pitch for your query. Can you imagine an agent getting this in their inbox! "Dear Superagent, I don't want to tell you what happens in my book. It is truly special and I don't want to spoil it. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell all your agent buddies and all the editors on your rollerdex about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds." Yeah right. The Query Shark is salivating right now.

Seriously though, this is a beautiful example of voice. Chris Cleave tells the story from the point of view of a young black refugee from Nigeria as she escapes from a immigration detention center in England and sets off to find the only British people she knows. The content is not for the faint of heart. Yes, Katie, I'm talking to you. The political and military chaos in Nigeria's recent history that inspired this book (along with Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche) reminds me of Nazi Germany. It's brutal.

I love how Cleave's writing brings the title character to life. Little Bee's thoughts in the opening paragraphs on the British coin and the way she imagines describing England to "the girls back home" are exquisite. The ending is tough. It's hard to travel with a character away from the jaws of doom into the light and have circumstances drag her back. That's all I'll say, because I don't want to ruin the magic for you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Clyde And The Cricket Revenge

Morning, Clyde.


Whatever. I have a question for you.

Just one?

What’s the worst thing your brother ever did to you?

Hmm. Let me think about it. What’d your sister do to you? Short-sheet your bed?

No. That’s your generation. One year my sister got up in the middle of the night before Easter, found all the goodies, and laughed when she ended up with twenty eggs to my two.


So what about Dil?

Okay, I got one. I call this story ‘The Cricket Revenge’.


Every Friday in second grade, we’d have a special snack before recess. Each week a different kid was responsible for bringin’ in something from their momma’s kitchen: cupcakes, chocolate-chip cookies, brownies, what-have-you.

On my Friday, I sat down to eat my Cornflakes before catchin’ the bus. My mom was already gone—teachers had to report by 7:15, I believe. I don’t think my dad was around, maybe he was sleepin’ in or off hunting with Bob McGibbon.

Anyhow, a cookie tin sat on the table—the one with the Currier and Ives print of kids skatin’ on a pond. A note taped to the side was written in my mother’s careful script: Snack for Clyde. I opened it up, hoping for chocolate crinkles. Nope, Oreos. I figured she must have been busy gradin’ her papers and didn’t have time to fix nothin’ from scratch—which was damn strange ’cause I could have sworn I heard the oven door a couple times after I’d gone to bed. The door’s hinge squealed like a pig.

I took the tin to school and Mrs. Benabe drilled us on subtraction before our spelling test. Then she ordered us to clear our desks and called me up to the front. She walked the rows, placing a white napkin on each desk, an’ I would follow, handin’ out the cookies. I stuck my tongue out at Billy Schumaker and Dean Leahey, ‘cause they were my friends. No one could eat ’til all were served.

NEW YORK - JUNE 12:  An Oreo cookies advertisement circa 1924 is seen June 12, 2002 in New York City. Oreo celebrated its 90th birthday at the Chelsea Market where the original Oreo cookie was made. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

At my desk, I sat down and unscrewed the cookie. The crème was the best part; everyone knew that. I took one lick and spit that mess across my desk into Charity Jenkin’s hair.

Late last night, after my mom had packed the tin with chocolate crinkles, Dil snuck down from his bedroom, took the homemade cookies out of the box, and put in the store-bought Oreos. But first he whipped up a mixture of Colgate and salt to substituted for the crème—which he gobbled down, the bastard.

The class went berserk. Kids were cryin’, spittin’, and stuffin' their mouths with napkins. Betty Malone threw up on her new dress. Mrs. Benabe was runnin’ from kid to kid, not knowing what the hell was wrong with us.

Somehow my mom got wind that her son’s second grade class was suffering from some kind of food poisoning and dashed over. She took one of the cookies and sniffed it, then put a tiny bit of the white goo on her tongue. She spit it into a napkin and looked at me. We both said, “Dil!” at the same time.

He went to bed with ten licks of a willow stitch across his hide and no supper. I was pretty satisfied with his punishment until all the kids started callin’ me ‘Oreo’. The mastermind behind the whole business had the nerve to smack me upside the head on the bus and call out, “What’s shakin’, Oreo!” Everyone laugh their asses off, including Yvette Long, who I had a crush on.

That was a mistake. Starting in March, the area schools had a baseball tourney between the fourth and fifth graders and my brother’s team had made it to the finals more on the other teams incompetence than any real talent. But they were excited about winning the trophy. Plus the champions would get special T-shirts and bragging rights for a year.

The week before the big game, I got to work in our back yard and the McGibbon’s field, collecting grasshoppers and crickets. I stored about two hundred of ’em in Bugs travel box. Dad found the box one day an' I told him it was bait.

Boy Examining Large Insect

The night before the game, Dil went to bed around nine or so. Ten minutes later I heard him throw open his door and run downstairs to where my parents were watching Dragnet. By midnight, my parents had given up trying to smash the noisy critters with magazines and newspapers and shut themselves off in their bedroom. They told Dil to keep his door closed and sleep on the couch, but a handful of pissed-off crickets got out and spread throughout the house.

Despite the racket, I slept like a baby. Dil drug his seriously sleep-deprived butt to the breakfast table with twin sets of luggage under his peepers. He was too out of it to suspect fowl play. At the game I sat on the bleachers, jaw aching from trying not to howl with laughter when Dil struck out at bat—twice. The best part was seeing a pop fly to left field hit him on the head as the other team scored two runs.

Little League

After it was over, my dad said I was a good brother, sitting through that shit game to support Dil like that.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back to Ghoul

This is an odd week. Labor Day. Kid’s back to school on Tuesday (Little Bear in preschool) and Thursday (Big Bear enters first grade!). Hopefully I can get back to my normal schedule of posting and visiting blogs next week. Last night I woke up at 2 a.m. in a panic because I couldn’t remember if we had Little Bear’s nap mat or if it was still at her school from last year.

stlf1_0700 - Landscape reflected in a window - Bodie, California.

The nap mat was in the basement. Elementary, my dear Watson. Except when I went to look, the basement door was outside, a three-by-three square for a house I didn’t own. A man stood by, a friend I'd never met, who refused to accompany me. It’s too evil, he said. Fear coated the back of my throat and made my legs feel brittle and light. The dread was excruciating, like the ending of the Blair Witch Project—hurdling through an old, abandoned building toward an unknown death.


I went in anyway. The basement was enormous; the ceilings were low. Several small children scampered around too quickly to be human, their eyes dark hollows. They multiplied. First ten, then twenty, thirty, fifty. Some were playing, others urged me to look at monstrous Halloween projects they’d made—screaming pumpkins, twisted logs. The problem was, I couldn’t keep my eyes on all of them. I couldn’t keep track as some put down their lollypops and picked up hatchets.

close-up of a boy in a halloween costume eating candy

I never found the nap mat in the dream basement. I’m pretty sure it’s still at her school. At least, I hope it is. I don't want to go into my basement today. No telling what could be waiting for me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Title Game

Howdy, hey-dy, ho! How are we today? Got any fabulous Labor Day Weekend plans? I’m getting an early birthday present. My husband’s taking the kids to his parents for two days! I can sleep! I can read! And work my various writing projects!

First I need to enter a cool blog contest over at Falen Formulates Fiction. See the Sept. 1 entry for all the details and a link to enter. The prizes include some gorgeous journals among other things.

Stacks of books

So the game. Have you noticed the number of books with similar titles?

The Bonesetter’s Daughter
The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter
The Senator’s Wife
The Time Traveler’s Wife

Can you think of any others along this vein?

I suppose something comes along in fiction, sells like the dickens, and everyone else wants a piece of the action so they mimic the cover design and/or the title. I’m fully expecting a rash of title’s mimicking “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and its sequels, but is that title a mimic of something else? The Boy Who Cried Wolf? The Man Who Came To Dinner? Hmmm. Maybe someone out there knows.

So here’s the game. Take your wip and mimic one of these formulaic titles. I’ll go first:

The Invalid’s Daughter, bleh. Familial relations don’t really work well with my characters. Maybe The Psychic’s Keeper. Better. The Psychic’s Guardian. Okay, this is harder than I thought.

The Girl With . . . The Girl Who . . . uh, my character doesn’t have any tattoos, dragon or otherwise. Should I give her a natural streak in her hair? Big Bear’s hair is dark brown with a blond streak down one side. But that doesn’t make such a fantastic title. Ah hah! I've got it! The Girl Who Stole Christmas because she kidnaps a kid right before the holiday. There, that's it. What? That title's been taken by a green, misanthropic creature with a scrawny dog and an attitude problem?

381271 02: The Grinch, Played By Jim Carrey, Conspires With His Dog Max To Deprive The Who's Of Their Favorite Holiday In The Live-Action Adaptation Of The Famous Christmas Tale, 'Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas,' Directed By Ron Howard.  (Photo By Getty Images)

Bummer, back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Married . . . With Difficulties: The Books of Sue Miller

Hello, hello, it’s Book Review Wednesday. Today I’d like to bring to your attention the author Sue Miller. In 2008, she published The Senator's Wife, my personal favorite of her ten books. She also wrote Inventing the Abbotts which I believe is a short story and I know became a movie.

What’s so delectable about The Senator’s Wife? The writing, the writing, the writing. And the characters. I connected with Meri right off the bat. She’s newly married, pregnant, and more than a little resentful of her husband, Nathan. She’s facing the temporary loss of a job she loves, distraught over the changes in her body, the exhaustion, and the morning sickness when she overhears him telling someone at a party that the timing of the pregnancy is a ‘disaster’ with his (non-fiction) book due a few months after the birth. Men!

Then there’s Delia Naughton, the title character. She’s already gone through motherhood and her kids are out of the house. After having an affair with one of her daughter’s college friends, so is her husband. Yet she doesn’t divorce him. Through letters found by Meri and flash backs from Delia’s point of view, the reader gets Delia’s side of things through the years.

The ending is a bit of a shocker, but I won’t be spoiling anything today. My second favorite book of Miller’s is While I Was Gone. It’s also a delicious look into the complexities of marriage between a pastor and a veterinarian, but in this case, the wife is distraught over the long-ago murder of a good friend and contemplating having an affair. In the end, the murderer is revealed, giving the book a suspense/thriller feel.

Miller has a new book out this year, The Lake Shore Limited, which is going on my 'must have now' list.