Word Nerd

In seventh grade, in the back of my parents’ car, on the way home from another disastrous school-wide dance, my friend Rebekah and I lied to each other in the nicest possible way.

“Nerds,” we told ourselves, “Are awesome.”

They were the most misunderstood subgroup in the high school hierarchy. Everyone should want to be one. Those snotty popular girls who had hurled insults down the school hallway toward us that night? They were just jealous. And they were wrong, too, because we were most assuredly not nerds.

Okay, fine, we admitted as the car turned a corner and a street lamp splashed yellow light into the back, highlighting our awkward hair and gawky arms. So what if we sort of were? It might not be permanent. If we could outgrow training bras, dollhouses with hand-painted shutters, and unrequited crushes, we could outgrow this. Nerdhood? Already speeding into the past, baby.

Only, that was a lie. The biggest of all.

Because now, two decades later, I have realized something. (more…)

I Want That Job! (Or, What I Learned About Careers by Watching Movies)

Considering a career change? Need a job for a character in your next novel? No need to ask an actual person for his or her job description. Just watch movies. According to Hollywood, here’s what a variety of different jobs entail:

Subway/Train Conductor:
Look horrified while pulling ineffectively at the brakes.

Random Politician:
Gaze sternly into camera.
Pound podium.
Spray spittle and vitriol.

President of the United States:
Fly around in helicopters.
Make grave speeches.
Walk in step with perky young aide.
Inspire. (more…)

The Time I Almost Went to Art School (Except I Had No Talent)

When my brother and I were children, my parents believed in nurturing our talents and helping us become whatever we wanted to be. Kindergarteners have a very small skill set, but they get to paint a lot, so one September day I brought home a roll of manila paper. It was heavy with paint, damp and creased from where my fingers clutched it on the walk.

Jackson Pollock No. 9 – It really does look like that long-ago painting, manila paper and all.

Prepared to gush over any bit of artwork, no matter how rudimentary, Mom and Dad watched me unfurl the paper and thrust it their way. Stunned, they stared at the masterpiece I’d so casually brought into the house. It was like something out of Jackson Pollock – The Kindergarten Years. Bright splashes of color dotted the paper, flirting and frolicking in an arrangement that dazzled the eye. Abstract and playful, it was the work of a confident painter, one much older than five.

The next day they quietly began saving for a fancy art school. I would be the first artiste in the family, and they wanted to make sure I had an opportunity to mix more media than crayons and fingerpaints.

Excited to show off their daughter’s talent, they had the picture framed and hung in a place of prominence over the dining room table, where we could admire it.

And then one night during dinner, as my brother kicked me under the table so my parents couldn’t see, my mom turned to me and asked, “What made you decide to put that dab of blue right there?”

“What?” I asked, more worried about Mom catching me kicking my brother back than about answering her. (more…)

Guest Post: How Dr. Frankenstein Inspired Two Totally Hot YA Heroes

Please welcome Liz Reinhardt! Not only is she one of my favorite bloggers, but I’m lucky to have her as a critique partner, too. She just published her first novel, a YA romance featuring snappy dialogue, a love triangle, to-die-for heroes (two of them!), and lots of humor. It’s the first in a trilogy, and is already netting some fabulous reviews. So read and enjoy her guest post, then go buy her fabulous book. Take it away, Liz!

20 or so people may be reading my book this very minute!

My newly published book is bumping around out in the world and, I don’t want to brag or anything, but a whole 20-something  readers (I can never remember the exact number…okay, I can! It’s 23 last time I refreshed the sales page!! WHEEE!!) are reading it! And tons of them are total strangers, NOT people who I shared Doritos and poetry and too many secrets with in high school, or who drank cheap keg beer at field parties with me and my husband back when he was my boyfriend, or who danced to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in a fist-pumping-Jersey-girl-dance-athon at my wedding.

Okay, maybe just I wish tons of them were strangers…because as amazing, awesome, generous, fun, sweet, helpful, and gorgeous as all these life-long crazy friends are, they know a lot. And they think they know more! And they’re guessing about people and places and events that are fiction. But, you know, fiction that’s based on reality, because I’m not that creative. And I’m sort of lazy. And my friends know that.

Even in college I was a woman of great mystery. A deep thinker whose musings and philosophies were rare gems, carefully polished and doled out in specifically measured, thoughtful increments. This picture probably depicts a small break from typing my great Western/immigrant/romance/mystery/literary novel instead of doing my Biology paper. Deep.

Even my husband thinks he knows more than he does. When I was writing Double Clutch, I was in love. Like swoony, butterflies in my stomach, can’t sleep, obsessive love…with this book and Brenna, Jake, and Saxon, the main characters who lived and breathed for me, through me! The need to share this love was absolutely undeniable. And I had a captive audience in my loyal, loving husband, who has a very hard time saying no to me when I get that maniacal gleam in my eye. Also our house is too small to hide in, and he could only stay at work until the bosses forced him to go home, kicking and screaming.He wanted to relax after a long, grueling day, watch “Overhaulin’,” work on his truck, and sit on the back porch quietly contemplating life while the stars appeared in a slow speckle across the darkening sky. He wound up listening to me read AN ENTIRE novel in rushed, breathy spurts, stopping frequently to edit sentences that rang wrong in my ears, and often abruptly leaving him alone on said porch under said lovely stars so I could get down the entire scene that had just blossomed in my brain before I lost it. (more…)

The Trouble with Audiobooks

Warning: Moderately explicit imagery ahead. If you are young and impressionable, easily shocked, or my parents, feel free to move along.

This morning I kicked off my list of errands with a stop at the fitness center, where I pounded out a 55-minute suffer fest on their diabolical machines. I find that ignoring exercise is the easiest way to get through it, so I queued up an old audiobook that I bought last year based on an inexplicable number of five-star reviews and never could finish.

Almost immediately, the two main characters jumped into bed together (and by bed, I mean the shower). Since I’m not one for the, uh, more intimate scenes, I set the player to double speed and hoped the hero and heroine found quick gratification.

They did not. Their staying power was impressive, their stamina improbable. And the author described everything in such detail that even the most die-hard love scene fans would find it tedious. It went on. And on. And on. Annoyed, I finally gave up, stopping the book well before the big finish (if their recent performance was any indication).

Over the next hour Sunshine and I drove all over town, ticking through my to-do list. Just before lunchtime, when my exercise session and the accompanying book were a distant and unpleasant memory, we hit our final stop. (more…)

News! (Or, Wow! This Querying Thing Actually Works!)

Last winter, as my daughter and I spent another chilly afternoon lounging around indoors, Sunshine babbling and me responding as if she had spoken in actual sentences, I pictured all the conversations we might have when she was old enough to string more than two real words together. Naturally, I would have intelligent and well-informed answers to questions such as “Why does the wind blow?” and “Why is the sky blue?” and “What is blue, anyway? How did it get that way?” (Note to self: Do a little research. Knowing the right answers would be good.)

And then I imagined a question that truly stumped me: “Mommy, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why didn’t you do it?” What would I tell her? There’s no Wikipedia entry for that one. “Mommy wanted to be a writer,” I could say, “but she just never got around to it. You can be anything you want to be, though, sweetie. Really.” Hollow words from someone who had several completed manuscripts languishing, mostly unqueried, on her laptop, plus a few unwritten ones banging around inside her brain.

Obligatory signing-of-the-contract photo

This answer – entirely truthful and seriously lame – haunted me. Did I owe it to my daughter to follow my dream? Maybe. More importantly, I owed it to myself, my passion for writing, and my abandoned books.

The next afternoon, instead of spending Sunshine’s naptime doing laundry or reading a novel, I pulled my computer onto my lap and opened my most recent manuscript, a young adult paranormal romance I’d written several years before. After an exhaustive round of revisions I shipped it off to my phenomenal critique partner. She was nice enough to tear it apart before sending it back to me to put together again. My query letter – all three reincarnations – followed. Then I zapped it over to my friends Shari, Liz, and Heather for their (very helpful) opinions.

Finally I could stall no longer. I had to get my work out there.

I knew that, in the face of rejection, the temptation to quit querying would be strong, so I made a list of potential literary agents and vowed not to give up until I had emailed every last one. I didn’t get that far. I didn’t need to. Because after several tumultuous months, I am happy to say that last week I signed with an agent.

Although it’s not a guarantee that this book will sell, it’s one giant step closer to my being able to tell my daughter from personal experience, “Dream big. Because if you keep at it, you have a chance to make your dreams come true.” Here’s hoping that soon we will indeed make my publishing dream a reality, for this and future books. In the meantime, I have revisions to make, and a career to plan, and a new novel to write. Better get to it.

Playing with Pixels

Before Sunshine was born, the only portraits I had taken were candids at family gatherings and a few newsy items for my high school paper. Well, plus that one ill-advised attempt at senior portraits, a cheesy set of shots of my best friend leaping over a stream in the woods just before high school graduation. Those never graced the pages of a photo album, let alone our yearbook.

Over the next decade and a half I whipped my camera out for every hiking, rafting, and camping expedition, but the results always made it look as if I went on these jaunts alone because no people ever appeared in the shots. Plenty of flowers and mountains and butterflies and chirping birds, but never, ever nature of the human sort.

Then I had a baby. I traded in my zoom lens for a 50 mm and finally read the manual for my auxiliary flash. Sunshine learned to ignore the camera and my embarrassing attempts to coax her into looking into the lens, while I learned to take portraits. No one who peeks at my hard drive these days can claim that Sunshine is not well-documented.

Here’s the thing about photographs of your baby, though: Even your most die-hard Facebook friends don’t need daily documentation of your child’s every facial expression, and the internet at large probably shouldn’t know that much about your little cherub. But photos are much more fun when shared (just ask a grandma), so I needed an outlet beyond portraits of my kid. And so, after nearly a year and a half serving as Sunshine’s personal paparazzi, my camera lens and I have rediscovered nature. Because the truth is, one subject is no longer enough, no matter how cute she may be.

This isn’t sudden, nor is it unexpected. It happens every time I begin working on a new book. There’s something about writing copiously that brings out the photographer in me, as if playing with photos is the twin of playing with words. Creativity is a funny thing.

If you’re curious, you can find the results on my photoblog, Playing with Pixels, which I finally started back up again. In the meantime, I’ll be outside, taking pictures of nature and Sunshine, in-between jotting down paragraphs for the book I’m working on.

By the way, if you have a photo – or even a photoblog – you want to share, I want to see it! Post the link in the comments. (No more than three links, though, or your comment will be kicked to spam, and we’ll all miss out.)

Carrot Cubes, Green Pea Puree and Other Baby Food Misadventures

These cherries now languish – crushed, mutilated, and wholly untouched – in our freezer.

Somewhere between buying thirty-six cloth diapers for Sunshine and committing to what our local Target calls ‘natural feeding’ (because some people consider ‘breast’ a terrible word) I heard about the wonders of making your own baby food. The magazine article claimed it was Easy! Wholesome! Cheap! Fun! And Totally Not Messy At All! Since I’m into cheap fun, I went for it.

It was not the first time I’ve been lied to by a magazine.

There were hints from the start that life would be easier if I simply opened up a jar of Gerber and shoveled it into Sunshine’s mouth. For one thing, Gerber doesn’t require a blender. But I’m a stay-at-home-mom now, so I feel an obligation to get my inner housewife on. Most of the time that means I toss laundry into the washer a few times a week, make dinner when I feel like it, and sweep the floor on a semi-regular basis. Otherwise, it’s all Sunshine, all the time. Still, girlie and I were lurking about the house anyway, so why not?

The peas came first. I lovingly cut open the bag (because, no, I was not going to hand-shell three hundred sugar snaps, no matter how much I love my daughter), dumped the frozen contents into our electric steamer, and set the timer. Now all I had to do was grind them into baby-safe mush. Easy. I poured a mountain of veggies into the blender, tapped the puree button, and waited for the magic. The engine whirred ineffectually, a burning smell tinged the air, and smoke curled out from under the base. Okay. Fine. Next button. More power. Still, those blades would not move. Hot pea juice fogged up the inside. Sunshine fussed. The Mother of the Year acceptance speech I’d been composing in my head dissolved.

A quick consultation with my father – who’d never made baby food in his life, but does have a knack for dealing with mean machinery – solved the problem. A little water, a little stirring, a little more water…a lot more water. With a groan, the blender finally complied, grinding the peas into an unappetizing neon green sludge.

Giddy with accomplishment, I slid Sunshine into her high chair and served up a big old glop of the stuff. Which, of course, she refused to eat. (Because, you know, who wouldn’t love warm pea mush for lunch?) Undeterred, I spooned the rest into three ice cub trays and froze them in baby-sized portions, as per the instructions in the magazine article, two cook books, and seven websites I had, by now, read on the subject.

Carrots came next, chopped and steamed and blended with a bucket of water, then chilled into little orange cubes. I dished up a mound of the sticky slop. Ick face ensued.

I was desperate for a victory, so when she ate the yams I sent a silent “Take that!” to Gerber and planned my next feat. Luckily, the end-of-summer trees were heavy with fruit. I peeled, sliced, and simmered apples. I halved and roasted hand-picked peaches and apricots, then slipped off the skins. I removed the seeds from so many grape-sized plums that my thumbs hurt for days. And every bit went into our now-compliant blender.

On occasion I trot out one of the cubes, let it melt, and dish it up. Sunshine still likes her peas round and her carrots chopped, but she’ll take a taste if I pretend I don’t care. As for the rest? Wholesome, cheap, and, if you’re fourteen months old, rather tasty.

Book & Chocolate Giveaway + Interview with Author Marilyn Brant

Please welcome super-talented author Marilyn Brant, who’s here to talk about her newest book, Friday Mornings at Nine. I finished it recently, and I loved it – possibly even more than her first book, According to Jane, which won the prestigious RWA Golden Heart award. The three women were so likable and interesting, and their stories so riveting that I had a lot of trouble putting the book down until I found out how everything worked out for them.

By the way, as a bonus we’ll give away a copy of Friday Mornings at Nine to one lucky commenter at the end of this week. Believe me, you want this one! Plus, just because we both love them so much, I’m also throwing in a bag of delicious Ghiradelli chocolate squares. (See below for details.) In the meantime, see what this wonderful author has to say about her newest book – and about writing in general. When you’re done, be sure to take a look at Marilyn’s blog, where she writes about a variety of topics in her trademark warm, witty voice.

 

Hi, Marilyn! Thanks for coming. So, what is Friday Mornings at Nine about?

Thanks for having me, Caryn. It’s great to be here. Friday Mornings at Nine is the story of 3 forty-something suburban moms who find themselves questioning their marriage, their friendship and themselves. I think the back-cover blurb encapsulates it well.

What a great premise! What inspired you to write it?

I’ve talked with a lot of women about their marriages — and, in some cases, about their affairs. Sometimes these revelations came in the form of random comments thrown out unexpectedly. Other times they were part of well thought out discussions about whether the women in question should or shouldn’t stay married. I met my husband 20 years ago and we’ve been married for almost 18 of those years. I consider us to be pretty happy, but I don’t know anyone who’s been married that long who hasn’t experienced some ups and downs. I think the fortunate couples are the ones who keep choosing to be together and work on their relationships despite all of those years and the inevitable changes. Of course, it takes both people to do that, and it also takes a lot of time and effort. The individuals involved have to want to get to know *now* these people they married (who may be different creatures than the ones they met a decade or more before), and they need to really pay attention to their own needs and desires, too. They have to know why they’ve chosen to be in that relationship (or friendship). Sometimes, in the process of that kind of deep analysis, it turns out there was a profound disconnect somewhere along the line, and it’s possible to reconnect. In other cases, it’s not… So, essentially, I wanted to write a story about three women who have marital disconnects to some degree, and this makes them wonder what would have happened if they’d chosen differently. Then I wanted them to finally take the time to examine their lives so they could choose mindfully where to head next. (more…)

That Beautiful Blank Page

I’m working on a new novel. To be clear, by “working on” I mostly mean “gazing into space” and “playing computer solitaire”. On occasion, though, I do actual plotting. I’ve even created a few characters and half a premise. (Go, me! Woohoo!) The voice is jelling, the characters jabbering, the setting settling in. It’s starting to feel like a book.

It’s such a relief to let go of the old, to be into something new. I’m half here, half in my writing, lost among possibilities, feeling for the shape of the thing, probing, questioning. Anything is possible, but everything is not. Everything is too much. So when new ideas sprout, I turn them over in my mind, maybe stop the stroller or the car or dinner to jot them down in my little spiral notebook. Some will survive. Some won’t. Only time and writing and revisions will tell.

Soon I’ll feel out the story with a chapter or two and, when I’ve dribbled enough, I’ll make an outline because, yes, I’m one of those people, the ones who prefer minor outlines to major revisions, planning to fumbling, plotting to pantsing. Plus, plans just plain make me happy.

In the meantime, though, I doodle in dialogue, half-formed conversations winding down the page, nameless characters asking me, over and over and over again, “What if?” And my answer is, so often, “Let’s see.” Because it’s a first draft, and anything can happen.

I love this phase.