February 29, 2012

Y La Bamba is the...no, I won't say it.

A long time ago on a blog far, far away I wrote this.

Yes, I wrote a super-enthusiastic and highly energetic blog post following a great night in which I'd had too much to drink with my husband, and played groupie to a band of which I'd never even heard. 

It was awesome. I still smile when I think about it.

I followed the band on Facebook but otherwise didn't give them much additional thought. I'd liked their music, but I'm terrible about remembering to buy things like albums. Unless I mention something to Charles, it doesn't get bought.

Then this afternoon I saw this. Y La Bamba, the band from my crazy-silly post, has a new album out! NPR has the whole thing streaming for your listening pleasure.

So listen to it. Do! If you like folky/bluesy stuff with a Mexican flavor, listen! If you like Feist or Florence + The Machine, listen.  Because you'll like it.  And then you'll want to buy it.  Like I want to buy it. 

I did!

And their accordion player? He's still the coolest.   

P.S. I can't believe I've never written about music on this blog. I mean, I know I'm all about the written word and all, but I love music. And I just had to add a "music" label to tag this post! What? I've been slack and I'm sorry. I will write more.

P.S.S. Also, RIP Davy Jones. I am very sad.

February 27, 2012

Working-Mom-Unpublished-Writer Day

Several weeks ago the Twitterverse was all, well, a-twitter.  

Many agents posted dozens of times one day under the auspices of #AgentDay. They talked about how they spent their time, what they did, with whom they spoke.

It was all very interesting and educational. They do a lot, those agents, juggling tons of balls at all times.

It got me thinking, though. What the heck do my days look like? I work. I'm a mom. I'm a wife. I'm a dog owner. I'm a writer. My days are WAY different than the glamorous lives of those in publishing. And I juggle! I swear, I juggle.

So...here goes:

4:45 a.m.  Startled awake by something. Turns out to be Zoe standing inches from my face, awake with a booger-nose. Yes, I had to wipe boogers of my three-year-old's face at 4:45 a.m. I escorted her back to bed. 

5:00 a.m. Aaaaand there's the alarm. Yes, we get up at 5 on workdays, so we can go to work prior to most local traffic. I hate it. I am NEVER cheerful at 5 a.m. I hit snooze, but as soon as I close my eyes again Zoe's back in my face. Charles rolls out of bed, and Zoe rolls in.

5:15 a.m. I get out of bed and start the morning routine. Shower, get ready, head downstairs, get coffee, get Zoe dressed, give her breakfast, make lunches for Charles and me, clean up Zoe's breakfast, clean up lunch dishes, hustle out to the car and leave the house by 6:45.

7:00 a.m. We're in the car. I'm grouchy. Tired. But Zoe starts telling a story about "toodles," creatures that look like ants and come out at night to poop in your grass. I finally laugh.

7:20 a.m. Drop Zoe off at school. She stands at the window like a puppy, waving, banging, and giggling as Charles and I walk away. It's always the cutest and the saddest part of my day.

7:30 a.m. Head to my desk at the office. I work in a gray cubicle, but luckily I'm surrounded by great people. I test software for a living. It's...every bit as exciting as it sounds. This early in the morning, I eat breakfast, run the daily software update to get all the latest code, and figure out what I need to do that day.

7:35 a.m. I swear, that's usually when the first idea hits. Want to write. Oh, so want to write. But I'm at work.

10:00 a.m. Still testing software. Today, my cubemate and another good friend were both out. Things were quiet. I had another good idea, but persisted in software testing.

12:00 p.m. Lunch! Woo! Foods! Internets! Jotting notes for future work! 

I should add here: Charles works downstairs. At least once today I went to his office to get a handful of Lifesavers wintergreen mints that I keep stashed there for myself and for his team.

Various points throughout the day: Would you believe I received no less than THREE agent rejections today? I know it's all part of the process of trying to publish your first novel, but still? THREE? In one day? Not such a great day.

4:00 p.m. Time go go home! Huzzah! I head downstairs to collect my husband, eat another mint, do a little chatting, and we finally head out the door.

4:15 p.m. Pick up the beast!! We head to the playground at her school where I chat with her teacher and Charles watches Zoe and her friends climb on the monkey bars.

4:20 p.m. We climb in the car to head home. Zoe wants to play I-Spy. We each spy various colored-objects, most of which turn out to be either the gray sky (me), a green street sign (Zoe), or a purple sticker (Charles).  

4:45 p.m. We're home! Huzzah! I go into the back yard to take care of the dogs, feeding them and hanging out for a few even though it's still raining lightly. Zoe shows me a boo-boo sustained on her index finger. She thinks it needs a band-aid (it doesn't). Still, when we get inside, I placate her with a Wolverine one.

5:05 p.m. Time for me to work out a little. Zoe and I get out our weights and do a little strength-training (ha!).  She mostly just dances with hers and almost drops them on her toes and head no less than six times. 

5:30 p.m. Time to make the dinner! While I prep foods, Charles watches Iron Chef America (in which the secret ingredient is SAUSAGE and the carnivores in all of us drool). Zoe plays. Tonight the game was racing her Lego cars and trucks around the loop between our living room and kitchen. They get disqualified when they're not nice to each other.  Also, when they crash. Many cars and trucks are repeatedly disqualified.

5:35 p.m. I pour a glass of wine. I need a glass of wine. Charles is feeling amorous and keeps kissing me. I pour a second glass. See above note re: THREE rejections in one day. Usually I only have one. Ack! I only have enough in my house for one more glass tomorrow night. Must head to Trader Joe's for wine this weekend!

6:00 p.m. We sit down to dinner.  Even though we're not a religious family, Zoe sings a nightly blessing.  It is sung to the tune of Frere Jaques.

We are thankful, we are thankful, yes we are, yes we are. Thank you for our families. Thank you for our friends. And our food.  And our food.

She then sings a list of all the foods on the table for which we are thankful. Tonight it was: quesadilla, tacos, beans, tomatoes, chips, salsa, avocado, lemonade, beer and wine. I am especially thankful for the wine...I mean, my family...

6:45 p.m. Zoe and I head upstairs to get her in her jammies.  Charles cleans the kitchen.

7:00 p.m. Charles and Zoe are watching the Daytona 500 tonight.  Apparently they discovered Saturday that Zoe likes car races.  She can stay up a little late to watch it tonight, but she NEEDS to be in bed before 8:00 p.m.  See above note re: waking up at 4:45.  Please note: I do NOT care for NASCAR.  It's loud. 

So. It's now 7:30 (ish). I can finally sit down and start writing. I am energized right now, having just started a new project about which I'm super-excited, so I should be able to bang out about 2000 words tonight. But reminder: see above note re: waking up at 4:45 a.m. If I stay awake until 9:30, it'll be impressive.

This isn't a strange day - this is actually fairly typical. Minus the NASCAR - that is new, and annoying. I am trying to create a career based on one or two hours of work per night before I collapse in exhaustion. When I'm writing a first draft, I try to average 1500 words per night. Right now, I'm drafting AND querying, though, so that eats up time as well.

It's a bit of a hectic life. I wish I had known that I was a writer before Zoe came; I think of all that free time I used to have and I drool. But considering I only really started writing last year, well, my progress hasn't been terrible.

I love what I've written thus far, and I'm excited about my new project. SO excited about my new project.

And about my life? I honestly wouldn't have it any other way.

(Minus the NASCAR. Please can we turn off the NASCAR? Please, someone, rescue me from the NASCAR!)

February 24, 2012

Housekeeping

Bear with me. Some family and friends follow this blog as a way to keep up on how things are going for me, so I thought I'd post some updates.

What am I doing these days?

Life is pretty routine for us. I work Monday-Thursday. Sometimes Zoe stays home with me Fridays (today is one of those days); other Fridays I have to myself to get done massive amounts of housework, writing or editing.  

Saturdays Zoe has gymnastics, her favorite time of the week. She starts soccer in a few weeks. Also in a couple weeks Zoe and I are going to visit my brother in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We're both really excited for the trip.

I am still squeezing in writing time where I can, usually at night after Zoe has gone to bed. Today I'm writing while Charles is getting ready for work and Zoe is eating breakfast and watching her morning Disney shows (3 max on weekends). 

Incidentally, my favorite Disney Junior cartoon is Little Einsteins, mainly because the soundtrack is often classical music my mother played on her keyboard when I was a kid. Warm, cozy nostalgia on the flat-screen.

I also squeeze in workouts, which make me a happier person. I need more waking hours in each day, but I don't know how to make that happen. If you have any ideas, I'm all ears.

What am I reading?

One of my favorite recent books was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Coolest. Author. Name. Ever.). It's a YA adventure/fantasy, merging often-creepy old pictures with story until I was afraid to turn the pages, nervous that another strange child would be there, staring at me with eyes that were somehow accusing (I have guilt issues). I enjoyed every page of that one.

Now I've moved back to non-fiction and am more than halfway through Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (another cool name, but not quite as cool as Ransom Riggs). It's...really crazy. She writes about a slum in Mumbai, the lives of its residents, and the corruption entrenched within that city.  It's devastating. It's confusing. It's beautifully written and I struggle to remember it's non-fiction. I often want the stories to not be true. A "character" died in the chapter I read last night, and as I was dozing I remembered...he's no character.  He was a real person.  

And then I almost cried.

What am I writing?

Ack! What am I writing?

I have this sudden problem where I have three distinct stories/voices in my head, and I am struggling with focus.

Idea 1: Book 2 in my zombie series...the only problem here is I'm learning that the zombie market is particularly glutted right now, so I'm not sure if that's the best place to spend my time. But I've had two requests now for a sequel from Beta readers, and I've got over 30,000 words written, so maybe I should just buckle down and finish?

Idea 2: Possibly YA, possibly still adult...but it's a story which combines elements of Frankenstein and a murder mystery. I LOVE this story, have much of it envisioned, and would like to work on this. 

Idea 3: Ack! This is where I get confused. I had an idea for a creepy short story last week, which I've now written and put away for a little while. But then the idea grew into an idea for a Middle Grade (i.e. young readers) novel with a super-cool girl as my narrator, an adventure to rescue a parent, and some major fantasy elements. Since when did I EVER plan to write for children?  

So I'm a bit muddled. I'll probably start work on all three ideas and see where I have the most fun...for now....but I do need to buckle down.

How's the trying-to-get-published thing going?

Meh.  :)  More of the same, I guess, although I've gotten some great feedback lately. One agent liked what I was doing, but had a very similar book/client on her list already. She actually told me to send her future work, though, which is REALLY exciting. That makes me want to focus on idea 2 above, to have something else to send her.

I keep plugging away, knowing there are tons of options available these days for e-publishing and the like, which is also really exciting. 

So there you have it. My housekeeping updates. I hope you enjoyed, and that you have a lovely day!

February 21, 2012

The ins and outs of our Savannah Weekend

Zoe was born almost four years ago. Since she arrived, Charles and I had not had a single full weekend away, by ourselves, and now that Zoe's a champ at sleepovers with her grandparents, we figured it was time.

And Stephen King giving the closing address at the Savannah Book Festival was cause enough to book the hotel room, line up our parents for childcare, and hit the road...all two-hours-worth of them.

It was blissful. It was fun. The weather was way better than we anticipated, giving us a lot more time outdoors in the city.  

Savannah is fairly cool, we discovered.  Not the staid, sleepy place I encountered once on a day-trip, nor the totally crazy party place I found one Saint Patrick's day a dozen years ago (they do still party for the holiday, but it wasn't like that this weekend). 

Here are some snippets of our trip.

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The road between Charleston and Savannah is mighty pretty in some places, kind of creepy in others.  It's the kind of path that runs through salt marsh at its most lovely, and trailer parks at other times.  Sometimes, a trailer sits alone in a field, next to nothing, rusting, falling down, and I wonder: Who lives there? What are they doing in that little home.  I like to make up stories about he inhabitants: a single-mother who works nights to pay for that little trailer, an ex-millionaire who blew his savings gambling in Monte Carlo and became a miser out in the sticks. A Thoreau wannabe who just wants to return to nature.

It's almost like going through a time warp, and a socio-economic one.

***************

We stayed in a hotel on the river, and it was dim and old and pretty.  The hallways were slanted; the bricks were crumbling; the elevator was so crotchety that it tried to eat me more than once.  

Our room had a four-poster bed and a view of the street below. The first night, I was kept awake for hours by someone leaning on a car horn outside our window, but the second night I managed to sleep through fireworks that Charles said shook the whole room.

****************

The food we found was hit-or-miss.  We made reservations at a fancy place which came up short.  The omelet I ate at a bakery we stumbled upon after an hour-long quest for brunch was delicious. The French Onion Soup I ate as a snack at one of our hotel's three restaurants? It was divine.

****************

We waited in line to buy books to get signing cards to actually meet Stephen King.  The rules of the festival stated that no lines could form in front of the theater prior to noon, so we planned to meet up with our friends, Layne and Anna, at 11:30.  Mr. King wouldn't speak until 3:00.

At 10:15, Charles's cell phone rang.  

"Hey, man," Layne said. "We just drove by the theater. People are lining up on the other side of the street already." 

So we checked out of our hotel and made a run for it.  

The line was filled with devoted King fans. One couple brought their boys, ages 2 and 6, in homemade "Stephen King's Littlest Fans" t-shirts, which was cute, until hours into the waiting game, when the 2 year old started to lose it. I felt bad for the little man; he was overtired, overstimulated and also bored.  I'd have melted down, too, were I only 2.

There was a man with a mullet, the back of which was tied into a braided ponytail.  He was that guy. You know the one.  The loud one who had to tell everyone he'd gotten there first, but had left to get a snack and wasn't going to pitch a fit about the fact that he wasn't first in line (while simultaneously pitching a fit about the fact that he wasn't first in line). Who had to open the door to his shiny black pick-up twenty times, while boasting about how nice it was to have it right there, you know, right?

There was the nice lady from Florida who decided we were her new friends. She has pictures of us, actually, on her digital camera which died shortly thereafter. She was on her own, aside from us, and had a lot to say about life, smoking, drinking, and the economy.  I grew weary of her by the end (four hours later), but really, she was sweet. Quirky. Entertaining.

We all waited for hours, first on one side of the street, then on the other, dreading rain which luckily never came.  When the sun came out, the group gave a collective sigh of relief, and people began peeling off layers.  Soon the street was littered with rain coats and umbrellas, and we all headed inside to see a living writing legend.

*****************

More on that later.

February 15, 2012

The beauty in reading and writing

Last week I talked about what I considered iconic. I said that's probably all any creator wants - to create something that people remember, that sticks with them. I know it's what I want.

But is there more?

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I've been reading a lot more lately.  It takes a bit of forcing, honestly, since mostly, I'd rather be writing. 

But I've come to realize I can't create in a bubble, and there's too much to learn from all the books that are already written. I can't ignore them anymore.  I can't rest on my "I've been a voracious reader my whole life and can take a break from consuming to create" laurels anymore.

There are too many beautiful things to read in the world. I can't close myself off from them because I'm afraid I won't measure up.

**************

I made a new friend this week. We'd been acquaintances for a few weeks before we discovered we were both writers. She asked to read my book; I asked to read her screenplay. We found other bizarre things in common.

She sent me a copy of her screenplay, and I opened it with trepidation. I so wanted to like it, but sometimes when you exchange work with a new friend, it can go wrong. So very wrong. The writing can make you cringe. It can make you regret requesting it. 

This...was not one of those times.

Instead, I read something beautiful. Something relevant. Something with just a touch of magic, and a ton of love.   

It was amazing.

And now, I'm feeling SO inspired. Because if writing like that exists in this world, then I thrilled to be a part of it, both creating and consuming.  It's a beautiful world in which to live.

February 10, 2012

Iconic?

I was just out running, which is typically where I do my best thinking.  I was mostly spacing out this morning, though, listening to some good tunes and trying to stay warm, when I saw it: across the street from me, a neighborhood lawn was swarmed by at least a hundred small, black birds.

My heart rate quickened; I sped up. I needed to get away from those birds. 

It's all Alfred Hitchcock's fault, you know.  I don't have the best relationship with birds in general (it's a valid phobia, I swear), and I've never actually seen his classic The Birds because I know exactly how much it will terrify me, but I've seen the footage. The movie posters. Those birds, attacking, killing.  I shudder, even now, just picturing it.

But it got me thinking.  How amazing, right? Hitchcock created this iconic movie, this iconic scene in a movie, that has terrified generations!  That's all anyone who creates wants to do: create something that will stick with people, that will move them.

I know that's what I want to do.

But in the spirit of images that move us, I thought I'd share some cinematic, literary and (gasp!) television moments that have stuck with me for life.  What are yours?

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To Kill a Mockingbird (novel): There are two scenes here that get me.  First is the scene in which Tim Johnson, the rabid dog, makes his way down the silent, closed up February street, and Atticus readies to shoot him.  I can hear the silence, if that makes sense. I can feel Scout's heart racing. I can see Jem's confused admiration.  There's also the moment where Atticus stares down a mob of good ole boys coming to lynch Tom Robinson at the town jail.  Here, I can feel the velvet-soft night of a Southern summer. I can smell the liquor on the mob's collective breath.  I can feel the tension, and then feel it break when Scout accidentally shames the men by making small talk.  

It (TV movie): This one's all terror.  The scene in which Tim Curry's Pennywise the Clown first goes from normal(ish) clown to evil creature with razor sharp teeth, terrifying Eddie Casprack. I never looked at clowns without fear again.

The Wizard of Oz (movie): The scene in which Dorothy first steps out of her sepia-toned house into the colorful Land of Oz.  Can't you picture it now? And can't you smell the flowers and hear the munchkins giggle? You know you can.

The Wonder Years (TV): For me, The Wonder Years has always been about that final scene in its pilot episode where Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper share a timid first kiss.  I can feel Winnie's anguish - she's just found out her brother was killed in Vietnam. I can feel her need to feel something other than that anguish.  I can feel the cool autumn night air.

That was just to name a few.   Again, I ask...what are yours?

February 6, 2012

Wallflower

I was an overachiever in school. I never had to work for my grades. I could ignore most of what the teacher said, spend less than thirty minutes studying, and still ace a test. Even in college - I have memories of writing ten-page papers the night before they were due and getting easy A's.  

I never learned how to work hard. To be patient. That not everything in life was going to be that easy.

But this writing thing? Getting published? It's kind of hard.

The thing is, much of the publishing industry is SO accessible these days.  Agents and editors fill Twitter and Facebook with advice and tips. They promote their clients.  They are real people out there.  Many of them seem cool, like people I'd hang out with in the real world. But this is the Twitter World.

And it can be easy, when you've been following these agents for a while, to forget that you don't actually know them, and what's more - they don't know you at ALL.  They have absolutely no reason to distinguish me from the thousands of other writers playing this "trying to get published" game.  

I'm like a kid at a dance.  I have no date, no real hope of dancing, but I can see the cool kids out on the dance floor.  And they're laughing. They're partying. They're sharing drinks and stories and living it up in the way that only the cool kids can.

Because those cool kids? They've already made it.  They've paid their dues.

I haven't.  So I can watch and listen and learn their dance steps, but until one of them notices me and asks me to dance, I'm stuck.  A wallflower. 

And that's where I'm struggling, because I'm part of the generation that was raised to think I'm special. That the cool kids should see me by now.

But they won't. Not, at least, until I do something spectacular.  

Or else, maybe there's someone out there on the dance floor who likes the nerdy wallflower girls.  Who likes how I move or what I'm wearing, and I just need to find that one special person, or for them to find me.

I can wait a while longer at this dance. I can be patient.  I'm the little wallflower who could, and I think I can...I think I can...I think? 

I can.

February 2, 2012

And then this happened...

Last fall, I took a fabulous online class about the publishing industry and how to get your novel ready for publishing.  The group in the class was excellent, and we all hit it off.  When it came time to say goodbye after the last class ended, no one really wanted to, so we decided to continue our "class" and call it a "writer's group."  I was SO excited for our first meeting tonight.  

I missed it.

So I had to send this (entirely true) email to my classmates.  Enjoy.

***************


Hi friends,

So.  I am SO SORRY that I missed tonight.  I have a really great excuse though - trust me, this one's worth reading.  I'll give you the whole run-down, just so you know I'm not the type who typically misses meetings.

It all began around 3:10 this afternoon, when my neighbor called to tell me my two dogs had escaped my back yard.  Luckily, she was able to rescue them. Hooray!

Then, I got a haircut.  Because, if you're not able to go to a Jimmy Buffett concert to which you had tickets, clearly you need to get a great haircut.  And trust me, it's a great haircut.

BUT...things went downhill because, right before I left work to get said haircut, and my husband Charles went to pick up our daughter Zoe from daycare, I saw on the Internets that there was either a "jumper" or a car bomber on one of the two major bridges that are my ONLY route home from work.  Seriously, there was a white SUV with things like "Game over" painted on the windows parked at the top of the bridge. 

So...some background: the areas of Charleston are divided up by several HUGE rivers, over which there are bridges that tend to be the ONLY way across. To get across the rivers to get home from work/daycare, Charles, Zoe and I have exactly two ways to go.  

The jumper/bomber was on the biggest bridge, on the route that we don't typically take.  That bridge was quickly closed.  So that meant EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER took our normal route home, which meant that was completely stopped dead by the time I left my haircut place.  So we went the OTHER way (translate: towards the jumper/bomber), hoping they'd have that all cleared up by the time we got there.

They didn't. It was still closed.  We were now officially stuck in the WRONG TOWN.

By then, it was approaching 6, which was 2 hours since we left work, and was getting on towards dinnertime.  After Charles made the same loop around the town in which we DO NOT LIVE, trying to get across the bridge that was CLOSED, we made the call to stop at a restaurant and get some dinner.

So.  Yeah.  Through all that, I kind of forgot we were meeting tonight. I should have emailed earlier and I apologize. I forgot until about 7:45 when we were finally on our way home, Zoe was passed out in the back seat, and I realized, "Oh no! Writing group."

And now, 30 minutes later, I'm finally home and in my jammies. Thank goodness. What a night.

And in case you don't believe me, here's a link to a local news station.

So anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it, but if you've read this far, please know that I'm really, really sorry I missed tonight, and I hope you all had fun catching up!!

x's and o's
Leah

February 1, 2012

Dueling Reviews

Years and years ago (ohmigosh, it was almost 15 years ago and I'm so old and I can't believe it!), I walked into one of my first classes at Montclair State University. It was some sort of freshman year English Lit class, and almost as soon as class began, I noticed a girl sitting near me.  

Her name was Rhea, and when the teacher asked who in the class liked poetry, she was one of the first to raise her hand. I quickly wrote her off as someone with whom I'd clearly have nothing in common (then, as now, I did not enjoy poetry, which is slightly embarrassing for a writer to admit).

But, as the days and weeks passed, we became good friends, and have remained such despite our differing stances on poetry. She's awesome, and as we took many, many classes together through college, our opinions on literature provided us with some feisty debates. (Incidentally, our rhyming names also confused lots of professors, especially when we sat near each other.)

Nowadays Rhea writes book reviews for Time Out New York, and I write them here, and for the first time we've reviewed the same book within a week of each other. Turns out we still have lots of different opinions. If you'd care to take a look at two divergent reviews of the same book, please check them out.

Rhea's lives here.

Mine lives here.

As a writer, it's a GREAT reminder to me. We're two people, two friends, similar is so many ways, but yet the same exact words can cause completely different reactions in both of us. Amazing to think what would happen if thousands of people get their hands on my book! The opinions I'd hear! Crazy!