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Monday, October 31, 2011

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

I've got:
Corpse Bride & Nightmare Before Xmas for the eldest
Dora's Halloween for the youngest
Shadow of the Vampire and Shaun of the Dead for me and husband.

I've got:
Whoopie pies in the oven
Enough peanut butter cups to fell a horse
A slightly dubious Coraline costume

I've got:
an awesome roasted pumpkin seed recipe (below)
And a little germ of an idea to attack for the start of NaNoWriMo tomorrow.

How are you enjoying your Halloween?

Finally, I leave you with a sweet, spooky little video courtesy of Spike Jones. Be forewarned, it's got adult language/situation, so if that might bother you, please censor yourself, my friend!



Spike Jonze: Mourir Aupr├Ęs de Toi on Nowness.com.



Have a wonderful, safe, sweet Halloween!

Roasted Pumpkin Seed recipe:
(Disclaimer - I'm super sucky at measurements, so don't expect precision!)

1) Preheat oven to 350.
2) Disembowel your pumpkin. Rise away all the orange guts until you're left just with the seeds.
Dry off the seeds. (A big pumpkin will net you about a 1 1/2 cups of seeds)
3) In a bowl, combine seeds with 2 teaspoons of melted butter.
4) Throw in a couple of dashes of Worst This Year sauce. (Worcestershire to you.)
5) Instead of salt, I use a couple of sprinkles of garlic salt.
6) Spread seeds in one layer on a pre-greased baking sheet.
7) Bake for 45 minutes. Stir a couple of times just for kicks.
8) They will be burning hot when you take them out so be careful. Let them sit for 5 minutes.
9) Scarf some down before your kids get their mitts on them and eat them all.



Friday, October 28, 2011

Killer Blogfest - Unholy Triumvirate

For the last installment of E.R. King and Deana Barnhart's Killer Characters Blogfest - the baddies addition - I had trouble. It's not that I don't like villains, I DO. It's just that there are many, many to choose from. Also, the baddie doesn't have to be as good, as finely drawn as the MC. We don't need to sympathize or understand them the way we do the MC and SC. But it's so much better when we do.

For me, I picked what terrified me the most. The evil in the prosaic. Zombies and unsparkly vampires do suck (no pun intended) but they don't terrify me like these ladies do.


Dolores Umbridge
When asked what my least favorite HP book is, I answer Order of the Phoenix, hands down. I know it's unfair because it's a great story. But Umbridge nearly ruins it for me. She makes my blood boil. She makes me want to hit something. She makes me want to hide behind Peeves (which, of course, would be useless.) She's so potent because she's not a Death Eater, because she's part of the establishment that should be protecting HP and his pals instead of terrorizing them and turning Hogwarts into the gulag. She's the perfectly bad combination of injustice mixed with brutality - all wrapped up in pink tweed jumpers.




Fanny Dashwood
You don't have to raise a hand or even raise your voice to be a baddie. All you have to do is manipulate people around you to ruin someone's happiness. Enter Fanny Dashwood. In the early pages of Sense and Sensibility we see Fanny slowly chipping away at her weak willed husband's good intentions of providing for his father's widow. Even a deathbed promise to his father to take care of Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters, a few words from Fanny and the Dashwood girls are nearly destitute. Why does she do it? Mostly it's just greed, but I think there's also an element of wanting to keep them in their place - below hers. She is insensitive and casually cruel and thinks nothing of destroying Elenor's dreams.


Mrs. Danvers
If she has a first name, I don't remember it. It's like she was born 'Danvers.' All I can say about Danvers is - CREEPTACULAR. She's the viper in the nest, a possibly psychotic housekeeper perfectly placed to make the new Mrs. DeWinter miserable. Danvers will also never let her forget that the old Mrs. DeWinter was far better, more beautiful and more accomplished than she will ever be. Danvers undermines everything the naive Mrs. DeWinter tries to do. She sabotages her and subjects her to psychological warfare. It ain't pretty, especially as Manderly burns to the ground. If you haven't read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, you should. Danvers is seriously twisty.

So, who are your favorite 'antagonists'?

I want to give a shout out to Deana and Emily and a BIG thank you for hosting a great blogfest. Happy Halloween ladies!

Check out the other cool posts on the blogfest here.












Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Killer Character Blogfest - Lyra Silvertongue

Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra
For the Killer Character Blogfest, there are so many good characters - I mean that's why I read books, the characters. Plot is awesome, but if I can't climb inside the characters and feel like I'm there with them, then there's no point. I digress. There are so many good main characters that I'm sure when I hit the blog-hop I'll be smacking my forehead and going "Of course! Why didn't I think of him?"

But for my MC pick, I'm going with my first thought. Lyra Silvertongue, nee Belacqua from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

Here's why I love Lyra. From the time you first meet her, sneaking into a place she's not allowed  just to sate her curiosity, she's not lovable. She's a liar (that's why she gets rechristened 'silvertongue'), she fights dirty - literally throwing mud at other kids while playing 'war'. She doesn't like to learn, hates authority, is often rude and petty. Sounds like a charmer, right?

Philip Pullman never resorts to sentimentality to get you to cheer for Lyra. Sure, she's on orphan and she becomes a pawn in a battle for supremacy between two powerful factions. Bad things happen to her but you never feel sorry for her. She's not an object of pity. She's too strong for that.

It's that strength of identity that never leaves her, no matter what she discovers about who her parents are, who she is destined to be and what she's destined to do, that makes her one of my favorite heroes. These kind of revelations would throw most into an identity crisis, but not Lyra. No matter what happens and how she grows, she is never less then her self. She's irreducible. I admire that so much.

Did you ever look up the meaning of your name? I did, probably around when I was 13 and looking to figure out who the hell I was. My name comes from the greek for 'helper of man.' I can't say that knowing that formed me, after all I haven't moved to the slums of Mumbai to help the poor. I'm too selfish and fearful for that. But I do believe that names can help form identity. That's why my youngest daughter's name is Lyra.


So, who's your favorite main character and why?

Check out some of the other blogs on the Killer Character Blogfest here:



Monday, October 24, 2011

Killer Character Blogfest - Helen Burns

Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns
You may be thinking, who?

Helen Burns is a secondary character in one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre, and she gets my vote for Killer Secondary Character.

If you haven't heard of Helen Burns, or if you are wondering if she was the one with the axe (that was Lizzie Borden), let me elucidate.

When Jane is a child her hateful relations (after bullying and mistreating her) ship her off to a girl's school for the Perpetually Neglected. Food is meagre, it's effing cold and discipline is the only subject most teachers excel at. Jane is a stubborn, independent, opinionated young girl. In other words, she's doing the girl thing all wrong. But her classmate Helen Burns is a paragon of femaleness. She is docile, she suffers in silence, she submits to unfair punishments with grace. She's a freaking saint. Did I mention she's also consumptive? She gets a whopper of a death scene, calmly accepting her doomed fate and urging Jane (who she's developed a fast friendship with) to do the same.

So why is this milksop my choice for killer secondary character? Because she IS the secondary character, not the star of the show, despite all her good behavior. The one the story is about, the one that you root for, the character that stays with you is the anti-feminine ideal. Plain, fractious, disagreeable and steadfast to her ideals, Jane Eyre is the hero of the story.

I love how beautifully painted Helen is, how Charlotte Bronte allows her to develop as a role model for Jane. She's tempting fruit. If Jane can be more like Helen, her life will be easier. If she just submits, follows Helen's lead, she can be as 'good' as Helen. Jane loves Helen, is drawn to her kindness and wants to protect her. But when Helen dies Jane doesn't become like her. She tames herself, finds a way to get along, but never submits, even at the end when she could so easily close her eyes to the crazy wife in the attic.

So, who's your favorite secondary character and why?

Check out some of the other blogs on the Killer Character Blogfest here:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

No, You're Wrong OR Agreeing to Disagree

Before I wrote my book I wondered how the hell I'd ever survive a critique.

I mean, I was the kid in elementary school paralyzed by scrutiny. Standing at the blackboard, 46 eyeballs burning into my back, my sweaty hand clutching a stick of chalk. I'd pray for the answer to the math problem to pop into my head or the bell to ring early, or the earth to swallow me up. Then there was college where I'd sit through excruciating art critiques, convinced that I must be bleeding somewhere from the verbal savaging I'd just gotten.

I'm not good at critique.

For sensitive people like me, critique can feel like wearing all your organs on the outside of your skin.

But I'm (pleasantly) surprised that a) all the feedback I've received on my writing has been respectful and b) that I can say, "No you're wrong."

I guess I was afraid I'd be swayed by opinion. If someone (or worse, sometwo) says "You know, this is a middle grade book." I think about it (a lot) and come back with "No." From some magical font or just from bloody mindedness, I've gotten the strength of conviction.

That doesn't mean that I disagree with all feedback, of course not. But, dammit, I've got a bell in me  that I can sound. And if it rings true, I know it. Even if I don't want it to be true, I know. Same with feedback that doesn't ring true. What the hell is this bell thing anyway? Is it confidence? Authority? Stubbornness? I don't know. But it's my frigging bell.

This is a very long way of saying that, I've learned to not be reduced to jelly by feedback. I've learned how to rely on my vision for the book and not be sabotaged by others opinions.

Can you tell I'm in deep revising again? But it's good! I am understanding things I didn't fully understand before. And the story is getting tighter and tighter.

So, how do you stand by your convictions in the face of critique? How do you say "No, I won't change that." to crit partners, beta readers, your mom?


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NaNo BOT

As usual, I don't know what kind of crack I'm smoking (and if I did know what kind, would it matter? But I digress.) I'm scheduled to have minor surgery the week of Thanksgiving, I'm trying to finish massive revisions in the next three weeks and I STILL SAY I'M DOING NANO.

But that's kind of the point, isn't it? To be as daredevil, as seat-of-your-pants as possible. If I waited for the right set of circumstances to start writing, I'd still be staring at the fuzz in my navel. Last year, NaNo helped me give messy book to my novel, BookEnd. I'm as near as dammit to final revisions on that sucker. (No, really. I mean it this time.) I can't resist finding out what the crucible of NaNoWriMo helps me create this year.

I have a germ of an idea. I don't know whether I should outline it or just jump in like I did last year. I'm leaning towards outlining since my stories tend to be multi-layered. My germ-y idea contains the following:

  • A 17 year old named Lorelei who was born without a sense of humor
  • Her sister, Sera, who's been in a vegetative coma for twelve years but who still 'talks' to Lorelei
  • A sarcastic mermaid that haunts the Passaic River

Hilarity ensues.

So, questions:
Are you doing NaNo? Are you excited? Outline or Jump? What's your idea?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It All Comes Down to Peter Falk

Before last week, the last film I saw in a movie theatre involved a renegade stuffed teddy bear on a mission to recover stolen honey from a cell of terrorist bees. There was a manic-depressive donkey and a bunny hopped up on goof balls. Or at least that's how I wish it had gone down.

So, yeah, don't get to see grown up movies very much. But last week my (amazing) husband got a babysitter, got out of work before midnight and packed a cooler (with paris ham baguette, wine and dark choc courtesy of Pain Quotient.) He wouldn't tell me what we were seeing and even the marquee outside of The County cinema in Doylestown didn't say what was playing.

I nearly cried when I saw the ticket stub. It just said 'Wings.'

Wings of Desire is one of my favorite movies. It's a movie that is so rich in meaning and detail, passion and hopefulness, that even after almost 25 years, it still has the ability to make me think and feel deeply.

Yeah, it's about angels in Berlin, trapeze artists and Peter Falk (played by Peter Falk), but it's mostly about love in the most bald, unapologetically sentimental way a film in german can be.


I know I'm not doing a good job of selling it here, but if you haven't seen it you don't know what this film can do for you. It can strip you clean of your cynicism. At least for a while.*



from ew.com
The other big movie news (for me) this week was the 25th anniversary reunion of the cast from The Princess Bride (please tell me that you've seen this movie. I will have to come over with my DVD and popcorn if you say you haven't seen it.)

What can I say about Westly (sigh), Buttercup, Inigo and the rest? Should I tell you that I recently spotted Wallace Shawn having dinner with Fran Liebowitz at Cookshop? Or that I had such a crush on Cary Elwes (Lady Jane, anyone?) that I defended Men in Tights knowing it was an awful movie?


Suffice it to say that I still make my sister crack up by saying "You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."










This reunion video from GMA made me smile.



And The Princess Bride has Peter Falk in it, too. Coincidence? Not on your life.



What are your favorite movies and why?

*Not to mention, though I'm mentioning, that WOD has two of my very favorite bands performing in it. Crime + The City Solution and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Oh, man. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Hate... Writing Books

writing books nevermore?

I don't, not really. There are about 1000 creative writing books that give good, solid advice, advice I could use. But I made a mistake with writing books. I bought them by the truck load before I began writing.

This isn't as daft as it sounds. I like to learn from books, so when I was getting married I bought married-type books. When I was pregnant, I bought baby-having books. I like to be prepared, though I'm woefully aware that how-to books only give you a foundation, a peek at a real experience.

So I figured writing how-to books would do the same. They'd help me understand what was involved. You don't read a cookbook after the souffle has flattened into a discus, do you? So I figured I had to read as many writing books as I could before getting started.

If I'd known myself better, I would have realized that this was grade A procrastination. Another problem was that everything described in the how-tos was abstract. Don't use these dialogue tags. Show don't tell. Make the reader feel the emotion. These books always have example text included to show good writing and bad. The good writing is always the Great Gatsby and the bad writing is always someone you've never heard of. But until I had completed my own book and revised the crap out of it, until I understood writing terms not only intellectually but by instinct, all that advice was so much noise.

Until. (You knew that was coming.)

Hooked by Les Edgerton

My beta reader extraordinaire, Becky Levine, after reading my book's first chapter, recommended Hooked to me. The fact that she recommended a writing book to me after my first chapter made me cry inside, just a smidge. OK, a lot. I thought I was beyond writing books - I'd read them and they hadn't helped - and being told I needed schooling did not feel warm and fuzzy.

Hooked is about beginnings and how getting the beginning right can have a positive knock on effect on your whole book. The beginning is a microcosm of the whole book. And if it isn't in your book, you may have a problem.

But here's the amazing part. After reading the first three chapters of Hooked, I knew what to do. I mean, I knew exactly what was missing in my first chapter. And a new scene, with Fin, Hero, a cleaver and a chicken, bloomed in my mind, complete. It was perfect. In a short, mundane kind of scene, I set up characters, set up conflict, story problem, surface problem AND foreshadowed the end. SLAM DUNK.

I couldn't have done that without writing BookEnd first. I wouldn't have understood what was missing. I sure as heck couldn't have come up with a solution without understanding my book the way I do now that it's finished.

So, if you are just starting to write and you haven't finished your book, I say save your money for lattes and chocolate to get you to the writing finish line. Then get Hooked. It will open your eyes.

What's your favorite writing book?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Insecure Writers' Support Group - Permission to Give Up


You know how some people are afraid of speaking in public? How they are just not able to get behind a podium without shaking like jello and spilling the water all over the mic, shorting out the entire sound system?

That's not me.

In fact, I've gotten up on that stage and presented everything from budget projections to speed networking (like speed dating but without the creepiness.) But that was for clients. I can talk any kind of nonsense in front of any number of people as long as I'm representing someone else. But as myself, as a writer?

Naked. Completely, uncomfortably and embarrassingly naked. That's how I feel. So when I realized I wanted to be a writer, I tried to come up with some structure, some thing that would give me the authority to say I'm a writer.

Yep, your looking at it. This blog. Then I went out and made bloggerly friends and read a ton about the industry. I went to a conference. I went to another conference. I blog-hopped. I lurked and commented and stalked. I was faking it until I made it. And I felt pretty good, pretty official and kosher.

Until I started getting rejections. I KNOW it's part of the process and I shouldn't take it personally. Tell that to my ego which is cowering under the (imaginary) BElieve in YOUrself embroidered pillow next to my desk. Insecurity for writers is a daily work hazard.

So I'm going to share with you my secret for soldiering on. Ready? I contemplate giving up. I think about what it would look like, feel like to just stop and say "I'm done." I let the idea of never doing this again fill my soul.

After I graduated from college I moved to England with my boyfriend. I was going to graduate school  in my favorite city in the world with the man I loved. It was going to be AWESOME. Until immigration deported my boyfriend (long, long story) and I was left alone with two duffle bags full of useless stuff and not a soul to talk to. I tried to be a grown up, find a flat, store my duffle bags, figure out what bus went to my school. But I was so lonely, so completely freaked out about not knowing ANYONE that I often cried (ok, ok wept is more accurate) myself to sleep.

I didn't know how to fill my time while I waited to see if boyfriend would be allowed back in (wrong visa, delays at consulate blah blah). One day I took the train to Oxford. it was shagging down rain. I got on the Oxford sightseeing double decker anyway. I sat behind the driver, watching him give his pater into the mic while me and a couple of Japanese tourists tried to make out the dreaming spires through rain smeared windows. The rain dripped onto my head until it drove me crazy. I went back to the train station and called my dad.

Now, brace yourself. This is before email/text/cell phones. I used a payphone with a phone card that you shoved into a slot. I cried at Dad. I told him how I was feeling and everything that had happened and why everything was so terrible. And he said the magic words.

"So, come home."

Nothing stops a weepy tizzy faster than some common sense. I could go home. I could give up. It would be easy to do. He'd pick me up at the airport and we'd forget all about this little adventure. By giving me permission to say "I give up." Dad made me realize that was the last thing I wanted to do.

I stayed for almost five years. My boyfriend eventually was allowed back in the UK. And, reader, I married him.

Go on, imagine what it would be like to throw the writing towel in. If it fills you with relief then, yeah, maybe its time to take a break. But, if like me, it makes you nauseous, like you'd rather suffer any indignity other than that, then - congrats - I confer upon you the title of 'writer.'

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Forgot Something


This is a picture of a bagel with ham and cheese I gave my three year old. That was two days ago. I found it this morning (thanks to intelligence from the eldest in my spy ring) under a pillow.

It's not like I don't know that I can't let my littlest wander off half-cocked with a sandwich. I know she's as likely to put her sandwich in one of my rain boots as she is to eat it. But I was busy, and I have a head cold and I just plum forgot.

Just like I forgot about the gun. Failing to follow through on Checkov's Gun is a classic rookie writing mistake, one I've even written about before.  I gave Fin, my MC a gun. I figured he'd need one what with a revolution going on and his own family turning on him. I gave it to him and forgot all about it. It never gets used.

This is the kind of thing that's keeping me up at night, now that the ms is in the hands of 3 beta readers. It's a huge wake up call, because before I asked for beta readers, I thought I was ready. I queried a little. I sent out partials. I don't know what kind of crack I was on, thinking I was done.

One of my beta readers has already gotten back to me on chapter one. She has figured out what's wrong with it after one reading - something I couldn't figure out after a year and a half with the frigging thing. Granted, Becky is a genius, but I'm kind of embarrassed. How did I miss that? And how many other huge OOOpsies are still lurking in my ms?

I know what you're going to say (because a magic eight ball sits on my desk, that's why) that it's just lucky that this stuff is being found out now, before it gets sent to more agents (and, specifically, my girl-agent crush, Barbara Poelle.) You're right, of course. Doesn't make it easier to bear.

At least I found the bagel before littlest rediscovered it and decided she was hungry. Yeah, she's done that before too.

What have you realized you've forgotten, only after you've hit 'send' whether to a beta reader or, gasp, an agent?

Tomorrow I'm participating in Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group bloghop, so stop by and see my neurosis in all it's glorious wonder!


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