Thursday, December 30, 2010

Personal Grooming: A Dangerous Trend

Okay, children of the eighties. You will recognize the slippery slope we've been descending since our youth. Back in the day personal hygiene responsibilities were basic. Shower daily, shave your face or legs and pits depending on gender. At the time I thought that was pretty unfair since I am borderline furry and have to shave every day, twice if I want to show some leg without a five o'clock shadow.

Summer upped the ante for us gals. The bathing suits had gone decidedly northwards and the expectation was that no hair show beneath the line of the suit. (Thanks, Sports Illustrated.)

Note the severe vertical line of the bikini bottom.

Whatever happened after you crossed that line was your own affair. Since razor burn on the upper/inner thigh is nearly as unsightly as awkwardly escaping hairs of the extremely intimate variety, alternative, permanent methods of hair removal gained popularity. Electrolysis. Absolutely medieval, people. I know. I tried it and wasn't man enough to handle it.

This trend toward beautiful, hairless skin caused no end of consternation but in the grand scheme of things, we didn't know how good we had it. Those damn Playboy girls took it to the next level. I turned around twice and gals were opting for anything from the landing strip to bald as a cue ball. (That was where I drew the line. No lasers, no electrical shocks, and no razors. Dudes, some things are sacred.)

This hairless pussy is clearly unhappy.

Starlets, showing off their well coiffed hoo-hahs, all went commando in their mini whatevers. All of a sudden, the collective acceptance of which goodies you show and which ones you cover up changed. It went from a sedate amount of cleavage to a free-for-all, including hints of butt crack in $5000 Golden Globes gowns.

Celebrity flaunting bald vajajay

And now it is time to draw the line. All these bald or thinly fuzzed peep-show personal areas have engendered a strange new notion. You should care what your va-jay-yah looks like. To the point that they now have jewelry and plastic surgery for it.

Bedazzled vajayjay

No. Just. NO.

Not reconstructive, like post delivery repair work. The pretty-it-up kind. If you have a few thousand dollars to spend on personal improvement, body repair, whatever you want to call it then why, for the love of all that is holy, would you spend it on a place that presumably only your MD will be looking at very closely? Even your partner should be, erm, focused on other things. Like what you're doing with it. Or what they're doing with it. It's not exactly celebrated for its innate beauty, like, say, a nice rack. A pretty waist. The small of the back.

And seriously. Hef's sac must look like two old socks with golf balls in the bottom by now. Think he's going under the knife? Or even cares?

Sock stuffed with ball. Observe the unaesthetic nature of said article.

I'm going with the old-fashioned way to achieve desirability, myself. Keep it exclusive and voila! It's a hot commodity. When the fellas start going in for ball lifts, maybe I'll give it some more thought.

Nope, not even then.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas is like Florescent Lighting, OR, How the Holidays Reveal Every Flaw

Every one tells you how the magic of Christmas is once again revealed when you have kids. This is BS. For a few reasons. Allow me to elaborate.

Reason #1: My husband. He's nosy as hell about where the money goes even though I am not a woman who spends money with abandon. It's annoying when he wants to know "What is this $1.76 at Circle K?" but I make allowances since we have caught fraudulent charges this way.

HOWEVER. I am now a "stay-at-home-mom." This was a joint decision, made in the best interest of the family as a whole. As in, not necessarily what is best for MOM, but what our kids needed and, well, since we decided to procreate and all, time to suck it up and commit. This ended the era where Mom (previously known as Laurel) earned an actual paycheck. Joint checking gained an entirely new significance. Gone are the days when Laurel could purchase a nice-ish gift for that boy she married and have any reasonable expectation of surprising him. This is how she was reduced to asking her dad to pay for this year's gift with the promise of paying him back as soon as the gift was opened. A bit humiliating, truth be told. Dad was a really good sport about it, though.

Reason #2: My mother. I've discovered that my mom has a bitch streak as wide as an oxcart. This should not surprise, really, since my sister and I both sport healthy bitch streaks. But Mom? Honestly, you would think we were Jewish or Catholic based on the reverence we (and everyone else) share for my mom.

Mom is over the holidays. Fair enough, as she has spent every single Thanksgiving and Christmas in the kitchen for the past forty years. BUT. She has two able-bodied adult daughters and one son-in-law who are all bang-up cooks. And a nephew who is a professional chef. As in, New York and Chicago's coolest restaurants sous chef. We volunteer year-in, year-out to bring/cook anything and everything. My dad even offered to have the holidays catered this year. Mom has refused each and every overture to take some of the holiday burden from her tired shoulders. And then she gets pissed because she is doing all the work. The pathology surrounding the laundry room is perhaps even worse.

Reason # 3: My dad. Holy hell. He lives in a bubble. The only reality for him is the one he is in that very instant. I'll be juggling dirty dishes, whatever casserole my mother has granted me permission to be in charge of, and a six-year-old and three-year-old who are wild as bats because SANTA IS COMING TONIGHT!! and from the computer room I hear, "Laurel?"

"Yes, Dad?"

"Can you help me with this for a minute?"

Inevitably, the "this" is related to email. I have never been able to explain to him how Microsoft Outlook is a program. On your hard drive. It downloads email from "out there" and puts in on your computer "right here". If you do not use or link it with an online server, then the email gets pulled from the mysterious internet and only exists on the computer you downloaded it to. I've tried analogies, like how voice mail from BellSouth is different than an answering machine. No love. This has been going on for years.

I swear he's a smart man. He just gets wrapped around the axle on something and you can't dislodge him. He always comes back with: "But I have Outlook on the computer in the office. Why don't these messages show up there?" Nothing I say will penetrate the frustrated conviction that because both computers have Outlook they should exhibit the same information.

Reason # 4: People who should be here and aren't PLUS people who shouldn't be here and are. My grandfather was a Christmas staple. The holiday didn't start until he and his wife arrived. Seriously. It just wasn't Christmas until Pappy pulled up in his big gray sedan and wheeled their suitcases into the guestroom. He died almost three years ago and things haven't been right since. I mean, less right than they were for the previous three years when his wife had Alzheimer's and was so fragile in any space outside her own home.

Then there are the widows and orphans. I am SO GLAD that we are this sort of family, but it does make me, erm, bitter when I'm ready for all the extra people to go on home. Someone doesn't have family for the holiday? Can't afford to travel? Recent loss in their family? They'll be at our house. I really, really love this about my family but I'd like a year where we can wander around with no make-up and pajamas all day.

We talk about inventing a holiday for this express purpose. We won't tell anyone else when/what it is. It will be our family holiday. But I'll be damned if my mom does the cooking or my dad brings his computer.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mixing Genres


Okay, disclaimer over. For the twisted sense of humor set:

Mixing genres allows the creative juices to really flow. Observe what happens when this clever Australian quartet combines a Wiggles-type ditty with adult themes:

Genius, I tell you. Genius. Way better than Jane Austen zombies.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I am not a baker.

I like savory things. Savoury, truth be told, since I think the extra vowel in the British spelling is sort of like an onomatopoeia for the palate. More layers to the word, more layers to the flavor. Even subtle layers, like an extra vowel you might not hear but somehow sense is present.

Lobster enchiladas? No problem.
Rack of lamb with rosemary and red wine reduction sauce? I could do it in my sleep.

Sugar cookies? Epic fail.

We produced the ugliest sugar cookies EVER today. They were tasty, mind you, but could my 6 and 3 year old cut them into anything resembling holiday shapes? That would be a resounding NO. We had to settle for green and red sugar sprinkled blobs.

My poor kids. They may never overcome the tragedy of their childhood.

I think I'll stick with coffee creme brulee. It's the only dessert I can produce with the desired result.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Resolved: Something Seasonal Will Get Done Up in Here

The Rejectionist! Uncontest! Here are my resolutions:

1. I resolve to actually put something on the tree. Lights AND ornaments. It's up in the living room and mocking me in its naked state. The kids have concluded that the boxes of ornaments are actually kitty toys since they have been on the floor for two days and still show no inclination of migrating toward the tree.

2. I resolve to take the tree down before New Year's Valentine's Day.

3. I resolve to complete the annual family slide show that we watch on Christmas Eve. Oh, and the slide shows that I didn't get done last year or the year before.

4. I resolve to get my poor little boy scout's badges attached to his uniform. Since I have had both for three months.

5. I resolve to apply the super ideas to improve my MS to my MS.

And in the actual self-improvement instead of get caught up category:

6. I resolve to do one randomly nice thing each day. Take someone else's grocery cart back to the store, pay for the next person's coffee, something. Smiling at someone who is rude to me totally counts.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

24, Family Style

24 hours in the car. That's just getting there and getting back. I am not Michelle Duggar. I don't travel with a list of fun songs we can sing or prepared to quiz my kids on the histories of the states we traverse. Mostly,  I huddle against the front heated seat, thank Heaven for the invention of DVD players, and cling to the hope that one of those all-too-brief respites of quiet will erupt in the back seat.

Coloring books get us through the first hour. Then Mama and Daddy cave and put in a movie. Three hours in, things have gone pretty well. (Mama's not looking for liquor stores just off the interstate. Yet.) We watch How to Train Your Dragon, a universal favorite. 

HtTYD finishes and we have not quite enough time for another flick plus the kids need to start winding down since we are spending the night in a hotel. You know, exotic and exciting for the six and under set who have not yet developed volume control for the larynx and cause disturbances for other guests.

So the Pirate invents a travel game. 

"Mama, I have a dragon in my head. Know what he looks like?"

The swollen, rusty remnants of the blue harvest moon wink at me from just over the Blue Ridge mountains. Time was the moon and I would flirt with each other in quiet until it grew too silver and important to talk to the likes of me. No such luck tonight.

"No, sweetie. I have no idea. Tell me about the dragon." Pleasepleaseplease don't let this be one of those topics he gets looped on.

"His tail is two miles long and his fangs are one mile long. The moon looks kind of like his eye."

Ha! The moon has often been my dragon's eye. A sleepy dragon, waking just enough to open one eye and look me over. It's kind of a cool moment of connection.

"Do you have a dragon in your mind, Mama?"


"What does he look like?"

"SHE is sometimes glittery black, but sometimes she is copper, like a new penny. Her eyes look like the moon, too. Her wings are like bat wings but very beautiful."

"Daddy? Do you have a dragon?"

"Yep. He has a fluffy blue tail, he is blue and white, and he has a blue button nose."

Pirate giggles. Then he asks the Princess what her dragon looks like.

"Pank." (Really, I swear we say "pink" despite any and all claims of redneck heritage but Princess persists in "pank.") "Wif pank polka dots and pank wings."

"My dragon is born in a thundercloud and that's where he lives. Where does your dragon live, Mama?"

Mama's dragon lives in a volcano. Daddy's lives in the dryer lint. Princess' lives in a pink castle.

"My dragon's weakness is rain. He doesn't like it." An unfortunate circumstance for a dragon who resides in thunderclouds, but there you have it. "Does your dragon have a weakness, Mama?"

"Ice. That's why she lives in a volcano."

"What about yours, Daddy?"

"Dryer sheets."

Pirate asks Princess what her dragon's weakness is. I wait with bated breath, wondering what could possibly threaten such a terrifying amalgamation of Pepto-Bismol colored horror.

"Two seven eight," Princess replies, deadly serious.

Fifteen minutes of that road trip were high quality family fun. I even felt like a pretty good mom. And despite meeting Grandpa and "Auntsy" (the three year old contraction of "Aunt Nancy"), pony rides, and a house full of cats and musical instruments, Pirate's favorite part was the road trip. Because we were all in the car together.

It melted my grinchy heart. Or maybe that was just the seat heater.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Animal Dialogue

TBIM is out of town. He usually lets the dogs out last thing at night and they get a "cookie" when they come back in. He trained them or they trained him. You be the judge.

Stage: Dark. Quiet. Kids in slumber, house at peace. Quiet rumblings of dryer and sussurations of dishwasher.

Mama: Okay! Everybody out. Get busy!

Dogs exit stage.

Dogs re-enter.

Lulu: Snuffle, whuff, snort, happy dance. (Dog-ese for "I love you! Love, love, love you! Love ya, mean it! Good stuff comin'?"

George: Elegant, dignified wave of gorgeous plumage he calls a tail. ("Yes, milady, favor us with a courtesy.")

Mama (oblivious): Good dogs! Good job!

Lulu: BIG happy dance!

George: Happy shuffle.

Mama moves to stage right, the living room. Mama reclines. Dogs follow in disbelief.


Scene: Mama at ease on sofa. George resigned on floor. Lulu darting back and forth to the door in the universal code for gottago gottago GOTTA GO!

Mama: You just went out! You can't be serious. No. Uh-unh. No way.

Lulu: Squirmy wriggles.

George: Sad gaze of the betrayed.

Lulu: More squirmy wriggles. ("No, srsly, I mean it!")

Mama: Fine. But take care of business this time.

All: Hustle to the back door. Dogs exit.

George and Lu: Promptly return to door. 

Mama: OOooh! I coulda had a V-8! Cookies!

Crunchings and munchings for George and Lu, tranquility at last for Mama.

The End.

OH! Except for the cat, who tried to follow my roastbeef sandwich INTO MY MOUTH. Saucy little minx.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Grounds for Divorce

That Boy I Married took the princess shopping yesterday while the Pirate and I spookified the yard for Halloween.

They returned with a pinky-purpley-sparkly make-up kit. With NAIL POLISH.

I've endured four applications of saccharine flavored lip gloss already this morning. I am assured that I look very beautiful. Nails have been painted to glittery perfection. The campaign to paint again is now officially launched.

Oh, Lordy! She's eyeballing the dogs with a bottle of nail polish clutched in her manicured fist. Signing off now.

Pray for us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Banned Book Review: Speak

A day late and a dollar short, but The Rejectionist's call for banned book reviews has been heeded!

I read Speak last week just because it was banned. I didn't think I would like it because everywhere I looked this book was described as the story of a girl who was raped and kept silent. In this regard, proponents of Speak are making the same mistake that nay-saying book banners are.

It is not about rape. It is not about a rape victim who chooses to remain silent.


Melinda, the main character, is raped. She does not choose to remain silent, she simply can't speak. Her trauma has left her so isolated and depressed that she can't bring herself to speak of it, or much of anything else. The inciting incident could have been any trauma, the point is that this girl withdraws so abruptly and so far that no one can figure her out and furthermore, no one tries to. She has no support. She is representative of so many marginalized kids that she is practically a poster child for why the high school years are NOT the best of your life.

It is about a girl who is drowning while no one notices.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, on to the review-y portion of the show.

First: This book is side-splittingly funny. I'm like most of the unwashed genre-reading masses. I'm unlikely to read a book because it tackles a tough issue but I will devour a book that keeps me turning the pages. Every synopsis, every reference to Speak makes it sound downright bleak but Anderson does a masterful job infusing Melinda's voice with an authentic, sometimes acerbic commentary on high school life.

On the first page Melinda applies her full concentration to where she will sit on the bus. Again in the cafeteria. Her friends have judged her a narc and abandoned her and the only person who will sit with her on purpose is a transfer student with no friends. Really takes you back, doesn't it? Who doesn't remember the crushing importance of where you sit and WHOM you sit with?

Heather-the-transfer-from-Ohio is now Melinda's only companion. Heather is quite the joiner, looking for any entre onto the high school social ladder. Drama club, the Marthas (a clique of seasonal sweater wearing, crafty, teacher supportive types), pep rallies, all of these represent inclusion to Heather. Melinda gets swept along for the ride because she lacks the energy to object. She harbors no hope or ambition of being included.

Meanwhile, Melinda's ex-best friend Rachel is carving out a new identity for herself:

Rachel is with me in the bathroom. Edit that. Rachelle is with me in the bathroom. She has changed her name. Rachelle is reclaiming her European heritage by hanging out with the foreign-exchange students...She can swear in French. She wears black stockings with runs and doesn't shave under her arms.

And later:

She puts a candy cigarette between her lips. Rachelle wants desperately to smoke, but she has asthma, She has started a new Thing, unheard of for a ninth-grader. Candy cigarettes...Next thing you know, she'll be drinking black coffee and reading books without pictures.

Melinda's observations on her teachers are equally funny and insightful. Over the course of the year we see her first impressions of her art teacher flesh out, but he is the only teacher who makes an effort to reach her. He is also the one who comes closest to getting her to talk. She has stretched enough in his class to create a truly disturbing sculpture of a mute Barbie trapped inside a literal skeleton- the remains of the turkey her parents failed to render edible for Thanksgiving.

Her art teacher and relationship with art evolve in a fascinating way. She struggles with expression. Her teacher recognizes this and encourages her to keep trying, to find what works. He gives her a book of Picasso sketches. The disconnect from reality in Cubism speaks strongly to her own view of herself and her reality. Melinda's struggle with expressing herself through art proves her need to communicate even though conversation is beyond her grasp. It's delicate and subtle, but this detail underscores the idea that Melinda did not choose silence. She needs to be heard and lacks the tools to make it happen.

The remainder of Melinda's teachers seem uninterested in her frequent class-skipping, satisfied with the stolen hall passes she provides. Her grades are terrible, a huge departure from the previous year, and as a result her parents decide to tighten up on discipline. Heather eventually abandons her because she is such a downer. Not once has anyone asked her what is wrong or if they can help. When she tries to tell anyone anything more than "yes" or "no", her throat closes up to the point that she cannot talk. Her parents schedule a conference with the principal:

We have a meeting with Principal Principal. Someone has noticed that I've been absent. And that I don't talk.

They want me to speak.

"Why won't you say anything?" For the love of God, open your mouth!" "This is childish, Melinda." "Say something." "You are only hurting yourself by refusing to cooperate." "I don't know why she's doing this to us."

Melinda observes the conference, removed and imagining the entire thing as a scene in a musical. Her mother is concerned that the principal will think there are marital problems. The father threatens to call the school board. The guidance counselor institutes a carrot-and-stick plan whereby negative behavior has "consequences" and positive is rewarded.

At the end of the conference Melinda muses:
"Do they choose to be so dense? Were they born that way? I have no friends. I have nothing. I say nothing. I am nothing. I wonder how long it takes to ride a bus to Arizona."

By the end of the school year, Melinda's need to speak is so urgent that in one or two passages I felt my own throat tighten, trying to push the words out for her. She also has meaningful conversation with two people, both of whom show an interest in her. Her classmate David reaches out to her with a note first, supportive of her, indicating that her parents should have taken action against the teacher who forced her to do a report in front of the class. He follows up with conversation at her locker. It is the first meaningful dialogue she has outside of her head and occurs in the last quarter of the school year (and the book).

It stood out for two reasons. First, it was the first time I realized how little dialogue there had been. That's damn hard to pull off and keep a reader interested. Second, all it took to get her to speak more than one word at a time was a kind gesture and indication of true interest. It cracked her armor and the next person who speaks to her instead of at her is Ivy, another former friend. They talk in the bathroom and Ivy gets her to open up just enough to engage in bathroom graffiti against her attacker.

So little was required to free her enough to speak at all but she has passed through almost the whole school year with no one noticing or caring enough to reach out.

Suffice it to say, the ball is rolling and Melinda is finding her way back to the world by the end of the book. It's a great ending, redemptive, realistic, and hopeful.

But this book is not the story of a rape. It is the story of an epic fail on the part of a community to recognize Melinda's crisis and try to understand instead of force her to conform.

I will absolutely recommend this book. I will recommend it because it is a great read, compelling and funny. I will admire it for being important in spite of those things. And I will tell anyone who thinks it should be banned that I think that is a great idea. That way, more people will read it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Adventures of a Part-Time-Never-Was-Beauty-Queen

In honor of the spirit of The Rejectionist's public humiliation post, I offer the following. All my spiral bound, purple inked attempts at fiction met their demise during a year of exceptionally fierce spring cleaning on the part of my mother. Apparently, she assumed that if I had not even lived there for ten years that meant that not every single item, decayed corsage, and hello kitty note was essential to the fiber of my being.

In the darker times of a slower place, back in the day, there once was an awkward girl who did something drastic. She tried her hand at living up to social expectations.

Girls who wanted to do a team sport tried out for cheerleading. This girl- the awkward one, or Miss A for short- was not cheerleading material. Not even a little bit. It's good to know your limits.

For the smart but cool anyway crowd, there was Leader's club. Miss A had the GPA but lacked whatever other elusive quality got you selected for Leader's club. She was aware enough to know that it wasn't the sort of thing you could lobby for. Very mysterious, the Leader's club. Thus far in her high school career, Miss A's club exploits were based solely on grades. Math honor society, Spanish honor society, stuff like that.

But Senior Year there was one thing, one major thing, that was judged by people that did not already know everyone at Jefferson Davis High School, where Miss A took the most AP classes in school history but did not attend many dances. It was a big deal coming-of-age ritual for twelfth grade young ladies in the cosmopolitan hub of culture known as Montgomery, Alabama. So big that even the girls from Luverne, which was practically Crenshaw County, turned out for it. Everyone started from the same place. Your GPA, talent, and interview counted just as much as anybody else's. No extra points for cheerleaders or Homecoming Queens. That's right. The ultimate level playing field. A truly egalitarian selection process. The Montgomery County Junior Miss Pageant.

Miss A examined the Herculean task of entering the pageant. She knew she wouldn't win, but placing in something might look good on college applications. Just like the Junior Miss people, the college people liked applicants who were "well rounded."

She took stock of the judging categories and how she might fare in each:

Academic: One area with no cause for concern
Appearance: Acceptable
Interview: Who doesn't like to talk? And how different can it be from college entrance interviews?
Talent: Hmm. Problematic. Don't sing. Don't dance. Refuse to do a Gone With The Wind monologue. I never should have quit trumpet. What to do, what to do?

All she could do reliably was perform well on standardized tests, which did not translate on stage unless people enjoyed watching someone completely fill circles with a number 2 pencil for 90 seconds. Well, she could also draw. But that wasn't much better than filling in circles for entertaining an audience.

Miss A's speech and drama teacher came up with a genius solution for the talent problem. She suggested drawing to music. In time to the music, an image from the song. So that's what Miss A did. She rocked her way through a giant cartoon frog, timing the strokes to "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog."

It wasn't great, but it sure beat the girl who played the piano in a hot dog costume, finishing with a flourished version of the "Oscar Meyer Weiner" song. Another girl walked on her hands, for Heaven's sake. In a clown costume. Really? Drawing to music…not as good as the girls who could sing but in the grand scheme of things it was not cause for massive embarrassment. And Miss A's primary goal, first and foremost, crucial to her estimation of a successful experience in this brave new world of "normal girl life," was to not humiliate herself.

During pageant prep she faced two major hurdles. One she was used to. One of the coaches plain old did not like her. She couldn't put her finger on it but she suspected he felt that she lowered the standard median of candidates for Montgomery County Junior Miss. He liked the girls who were the local rock stars of their high school lives. This was annoying but how seriously should you take a middle aged MAN who devoted three months of every year to coaching teenaged beauty queen wannabees? The other hurdle, though. Well, the other proved her downfall.

Miss A knew the second she laid eyes on the Poise and Appearance outfit that she wanted no part of that particular portion of the program. It was a hyper-feminine monstrosity of soft white chiffon with sleeves so puffy that they might have rendered the wearer airborne if she flapped her arms fast enough. And it had tiny sparkles on it. Anne Robertson, a much more traditional participant for Junior Miss, had been hand selected by the coaches as the outfit model. Anne couldn't even make it look reasonable and she was a good six inches shorter than Miss A, who was guaranteed to look ridiculous in it. Outside of a four year old on Easter Sunday- a four year old with indulgent parents who let her pick her own dress- nobody could have pulled it off.

Miss A groaned, sucked it up, and resolved to do her best anyway. Her mother bought the material, found a seamstress, and had the dress made. At least it zipped up the side. The zipper went from hip to bust, leaving the dress accessibly wide open until every frill and ruffle was ready to hug the appropriate virginal curve. That disallowed unfair advantage to cheerleaders, who were by their very nature limber and better equipped to handle quick costume changes with zippers in the back.

She learned the stupid Poise and Appearance dance. This was not a bad attitude on her part. It was stupid. Everybody knew it. The song was Michael Jackson's I Just Can't Stop Loving You reformatted to elevator music and the choreography matched. Not even the Miss Congeniality types could find anything good to say so they were the only ones who did not say anything, having been raised better than everybody else. Miss A secretly bet they prayed about it, though.

She practiced enough to be reasonably certain that she would not flub it, confusing or possibly knocking down anyone unfortunate enough to dance near her on stage.

The night of judging rolled around. In the Montgomery County Pageant, Judging takes place the day prior to the public at large show. The audience is the judging panel only, not even family. This stroke of genius on the part of the pageant organizers creates a dress rehearsal that matters and eliminates crowd induced stage fright on the part of any particularly fluttery participant. Pageant people might have lousy taste in clothes and music, but they're good at event coordination.

Miss A did not suffer debilitating stage fright but she did get a little nervous. The Poise and Appearance routine went smoothly, though, with no forgotten steps or unfortunate episodes. Everyone finished in triumphant relief and flowed offstage like so much sparkly ice cream melting under the stage lights.

"What were the judges laughing at?" Ann Summerville asked as soon as they entered the stage wing. She was a veritable sprite, so tiny she looked like she might live in a mushroom. The dress almost worked on her.

"I didn't notice they were laughing," Miss A said. She had been concentrating too hard on NO MISTAKES.

"I don't know. Did somebody mess up?" Hot Dog girl asked.

"Are you kidding? They were laughing at the dresses," Shelley Garrison said. Shelley had an awesome talent. She did a dance routine to the theme from "Mission: Impossible" in a nude colored leotard that somehow looked more cute than sexy and therefore slipped through the approval process. She would make the top 10, for sure. Plus, Shelley was always nice to Miss A. Even though she had been a cheerleader in 10th grade AND was in the Leader's club. "Uh, Laurel? Please tell me you just now unzipped your dress."

Miss A glanced down to her left side, which was completely exposed to the world. Well, damn. No wonder she didn't get too hot on stage. Too bad they didn't award points for matching your underwear to your bra. Because make no mistake about it, everybody would have seen both.

"Whoops," she said. The stunned silence and sympathetic pats assured her she had officially knocked herself out of the running for anything. There are places where showing your goodies on stage is rewarded, but the Montgomery County Junior Miss Pageant is not one of them.

Sure enough, show night they announced the top 10. Miss A was not among them. Shelley wasn't either, surprisingly. Anne Robertson made it. And Crissy, the girl who walked on her hands for her talent. In fact, Crissy went on to win the whole thing, including a $500 scholarship to one of the local colleges. They had a few more consolation scholarships to hand out after the illustrious Junior Miss was crowned but the girls were all tired, a few of them weepy, and pretty much over it. Everybody but Crissy, anyway.

And for the next five minutes, Miss A did not get a chance to sit down. One college offered her a full tuition scholarship. Another stepped up with room, board, AND tuition. A third sweetened the deal with an additional $500 a semester stipend on top of the free ride.

Her suspicion that pageants might be a socially acceptable form of displaying goods for consumption was confirmed. She was the object of an outright bidding war. Being objectified was rather appealing after the previous day's fiasco.

Miss A became a lifetime supporter of pageantry that night even as she vowed never to do it again. She had learned a very valuable lesson:

If you flash the judges at the Junior Miss pageant, you probably won't win. But you get to go to college for free and that is even better.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Banned Book Week!

Yay for banned books! Banned book lists are the best place to find good stuff to read. If it weren't for the nutjobs out there trying to make sure we didn't get to read anything, you know, fun- or even worse, challenging- I would never have read Harry Potter. So cheers, guys! Thank you for highlighting the greatest books out there. Saves me lots of time.

I'm going with Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is way off the beaten path for me since I avoid books with major downer topics like the plague. Sorry, lovers of issue and important books, but I get plenty of drama in my real life. I want my book life to be a predominately happy place. Hence, YA Fantasy.

I'm making an exception for a couple of reasons. After the internet kerfuffle over the Op-Ed piece by the idiot in Missouri I grew curious. Looked up the book, read the excerpt. I feel for this girl. I was this girl but with a different issue. I remember being the one in the cafeteria that everyone assumed must be contagious if pariah was a communicable disease.

I'm also reeeeaaal tired of blame the victim/cover it up. A rape survivor is entitled to do whatever she (or he) needs to in order to cope. Even if that is keeping it private. We shouldn't force or shame people into telling their stories. But we sure as hell shouldn't shame them into keeping quiet, either. For the quiet victims out there, the ones who are too scared or too private to talk to an IRL human about their experience, there has got to be a venue. A place. Nothing is safer than a book. It won't tell anyone your secrets even though it pours its own out. Books like this one are a lifeline.

People like the man who believes recounting an attack is equivalent to soft porn are a perfect example of why we need books like this. Can you imagine being the daughter of someone who thinks like this? You would be terrified of telling your family what happened to you. Speaking of it makes you dirty (dirtier?). You can't tell the truth because then everyone will know you are damaged. Your stock will go down. Who will want to marry you?

Where would you turn for understanding? Solace? Recovery?

So I'm going to read this book. I imagine my kids will, too, eventually. I'm good with that. I'd like them to be sympathetic, have some way to understand or relate to anyone they meet who may have experienced this. And God forbid they have personal experience with it, but if they do, I want them to feel not so isolated. I want them to know their parents don't think they are dirty or at fault. I want them to trust that I won't see them as less than they are because someone else did something very wrong.

We can't ban rape victims. Banning their stories, their truth, doesn't make the criminal part of this saga not happen. It returns the power to the aggressor again and again. Enduring a rape does not make you dirty. It makes you a survivor. Telling the truth does not make you pornographic. It makes you brave.


Since posting I done hauled myself to the libary and read this book. Holy crap. Phenomenal. It is hugely funny despite the immense weight of the issues Melinda is dealing with and a very redemptive ending. It is also artistically damn near perfect. So, so, so glad this book got some book banner's dander up enough to catch my attention. I tore through it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Save the Cat!

Blog buddy Lydia Sharp highly recommends
Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder as an instructional resource for all sorts of nifty writing tools like tag lines and pacing. The title is explained in a character development section. You have an unapproachable, bitter, or otherwise unlikeable character who is actually a good guy. The first inkling of inner goodness comes in the save the cat moment, when this character runs into the burning building to rescue the cat from certain incendiary death. Through one act of kindness, this person is now redeemable in the context of the story.

Well, cats and kittens, I have my very own real life Save the Cat story! For realz!

An acquaintance/BFF/relative (anonymous person) I know has been dating a guy who insists on acting like a teenaged asshat a lot of the time. To the point that people who know better (me and all her other friends) are killing the sacred cow and advising her to be rid of him.

So she got engaged. C'est la vie, right?

A week ago she received a phone call from someone claiming to represent an attorney seeking to claim an outstanding debt. Should she ignore/refuse said debt, she faces jail time. BUT. Lucky her. They would settle for a bank draft...immediately...and consider the matter clear.

Our heroine did not just fall off the turnip truck. She knows something is fishy but is concerned about identity theft. So she wastes a goodly portion of the workday contacting her bank, credit card companies, and credit agencies to get to the bottom of the matter. Turns out the whole thing is a scam designed to intimidate people into getting robbed.

Since she has a phone number for this "attorney", she traces the number to California. Eureka, California. She alerts the appropriate authorities in Eureka and the Great State of California but is none too optimistic that anything will happen to shut this shady operation down.

So. The formerly mentioned asshat calls the number. He somehow hacks into their voicemail system. He changes the outgoing message to say:

"If you received a call from this number it is a scam. Do NOT send them money. Do NOT give them any information about your bank or your router numbers. You do not owe these people money. They are THIEVES."

And then, for good measure, he changes the password so they can't get back in to their own voicemail. It has now been their outgoing message for several days. Boo-YAH!

He is getting phone calls from many a grateful soul who were terrified they faced some prolonged legal battle or emptying their liquid assets in an effort to avoid jail. He is now promoted from asshat to asshelmet.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

To the Dogs

In honor of Chris Eldin's triumphant return to blogworld with
Alpha Bitch Whisperer and per her request, here are photos of our own canine companions. Many, many photos. We're a little funny about our dogs.

This is George. He is a golden/chow mix. Here is Lulu:

Here are some more of Lulu when she was a young whippersnapper. She is a purebred German Wirehaired Pointer, bred for show from field trial champions. The white spot on her body is a major flaw for show. Since I have never shown a dog in my life and have no plans to start, I don't mind it. In fact, I think it is sort of adorable.

The next photos are of the best dog who ever graced God's green Earth. Her name was Mazie and she was my first German Wirehair. When I had my shop in Atlanta, she came to work with me every day. She stayed perfectly still, not moving unless someone came up to her or spoke to her. Then her stump of a tail would wag so hard it shook her whole backside. She wouldn't let anyone in the stockroom unless they were with me but somehow knew the front of the shop was public. She died right before the pirate turned one and we got Lulu three weeks later. I love Lu and George, but Mazie was special. I'd have given her a kidney if she needed it. I miss that damn dog.

And these are just the general chaos that rules our house. If you don't know them, it's hard to keep Mazie and Lu straight so don't bother trying. The yellow lab who shows up in some of the photos is a rescue I foisted on my mom and dad. Her name is Peaches and she is pretty awesome. She reminds me of Mazie with her smarts and stubborn. I found her in the street the same week we got Lu. I thought that boy I married would have an apoplexy when I brought another puppy into the house but the story ended up with a very happy ending. Peaches is the highlight of my parent's life and since Dad has a farm- complete with a pond- she landed in it pretty good.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Can't Stand It

I know who I want to be when I grow up. I've known for a while. She's one of my mom's best friends and her name is Carolyn.

We've been trying to put together a trip to Charleston, SC for a couple of years- me, my mom, and Carolyn. Never seems to work out. This year turned out to be a bust because Carolyn got diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. She's tough, though, dealing with chemo the same way she deals with everything. Practical humor and keeping her cards close to the vest except for a very select group of supportive friends that she knows are as tough as she is and won't get sucked down in her drama. Today is her last day of chemo. We've all been holding our breath and praying a lot.

Carolyn has an important job. She's the secret keeper. You can tell her the dirtiest, darkest, career ruiningest, marriage wreckingest secret you know. Ten years later, even if all parties are deceased and no harm can be done, Carolyn still won't have told a soul.

Carolyn's kids are my age-ish. Her oldest son, Frank, was my first homecoming date. He was taller than me so he qualified. Prior to the eighth grade homecoming dance, most of our interaction involved the annual innertube down the river trip and occasional visits to their farm where Frank and his younger brother Avery threw dried out cow pies at me and my sister. They weren't being tacky, they just thought it was fun. Susan is the youngest of the clan and wisely avoided her brothers. She hovered on the edge of the action and enjoyed the respite of having a different set of targets in the vicinity. Susan grew up to be the only one that a yankee wouldn't immediately assume was a redneck.

It's been years since I've seen any of the kids. I keep up with them through Carolyn. I know how many children they have but not their names, what stresses they have in the marriages, their strengths and shortcomings. Carolyn has a special way of talking about even her near and dear that doesn't sugarcoat anything but doesn't paint them in a bad light. She sees the truth of things and works with that.

Frank died last night.

Avery was in the car in front of him. He saw Frank lose control of the vehicle on a bridge and get ejected from the car. In classic Frank form, he never wore a seatbelt.

The only thing I can think to hope for today is that Carolyn is insulated by shock. For the first time, I hope that chemo knocks her on her ass so she can sleep through the next week. Her friends and family can set out the casseroles, answer the phone, haul her bleary, drugged self to the funeral, and cry for her while she's sleeping. Avery and Susan can entertain Frank's four kids. I don't know who will run the Greyhound bus business. It was a family business and Frank was the current patriarch in charge. Avery never wanted it.

I can't stand it. Today is going to be one of those "I wish I were anywhere but here, in any moment but this" days.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

(Insert Disenfranchised Minority here) Best Friend

I've been trying to get a grip on this trope for a while. Most of my WIPs do not have the semi-required gay or black best friend and I feel like I am shirking some societal responsibility. I can't do a legit MC from either perspective because honestly, I'm not that good. I'm not saying it can't be done, just that it takes a better writer. I'm whitebread through and through. I still like Third Eye Blind. There is no hope for me.

Still, I do have friends who are not white. Or straight. I like them. I respect them. So why don't these folks pop up in my MSs?

I had an epiphany yesterday. I saw an article on the internet about the "Black Best Friend." She is everywhere and always portrayed favorably. Her qualifications are: sassy, grounded, cooler than her white Main Character counterpart. She offers the words of wisdom that Ms. Whitey must embrace to achieve her goal of career and relationship fulfillment. The Gay Best Friend does the same thing but with more swishing and better fashion advise. Occasionally the best friend is Latina, but she is interchangeable with Black Best Friend. Earth Mother hip types who enjoy the spiritual gift of perceptive insight into humanity.

I think it's degrading. It is a shortcut purely for the development of the white character. The reader/audience knows that our hero is a good, non-prejudiced person because of the props in place, in this case a minority best friend. It's also code for the writers/producers to pat themselves on the back and say to the world: "I'm not a racist homophobe! I like you people!" I haven't thrown any of my real life non-white/alternative buddies into stories because I do not want to reduce them to props.

Now that I've put my finger on the source of my reticence, I feel better able to tackle it. For a while I thought I just disliked the cliche of it all but I have other cliches that crop up here and there, so that really wasn't it. When I look around at my own circle of friends I notice two things: each one is an individual, not a representative of a group. And I have more than one friend whose first language is not English, who not too long ago would have been denied membership to the Country Club based on race or religion, or whose marriage is not legally recognized by my state.

The trick to populating fiction with characters instead of cardboard cutouts of acceptable minority roles is to make the MC's circle of friends match reality. If her best friend is black it seems unlikely that this person would be her only black friend. People don't take applications for friends, assigning one slot to each minority and filling the rest of the positions with faces that look just like theirs. Ensemble casts in books and movies do. There is a reason they call it the "token" whatever friend.

Why can't our forward-thinking, enlightened MCs have a more checkered clique of homeys? In reality, people tend to be either very segregated or very desegregated. It's either all white folks at your dinner party or about half of them aren't. I'd like to see this revolutionary concept incorporated more widely. Maybe even an MC who is the token straight, white kid surrounded by "other" people good enough to overlook it and judge the individual by her merit. That I could pull off...I've been that guy. I'm bored and annoyed with the MC who is a kind enough person to look past differences and have A friend from another background. It's just a reinvention of the benevolent white protector who always gets to be the hero.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Auld Lang Sign

Jason Evans' Clarity of Night contest is now ON! The first five entries are up. The contest has gotten so big that this time around his scoring system for the Forties Club is being applied to the posts. The best possible score is 45 and entries that score 40 or higher get posted. You have all week to enter if you like. 250 words or less, inspired by the photo ""Uncovered." This summer's theme is in honor of The Tavernier Stones by Stephen Parrish- great read if you've not already gotten your hands on it.
Sadly, this seems to be the first time I've not made the Forties Club but I'm posting my entry here:
Auld Lang Sign

"Tell her I love her, Frank. Happy New Year."

John studied his dead wife's brother. Thirteen years since they lost her. Twelve since John married Susan, hoping to give two little girls a stand-in for their mother. Six since Susan sealed his fate with another daughter.

John turned from the casket to see Susan tap her watch. He shuffled to the second pew, the nearly family section.

"We need to get going. The party starts in two hours and I've got to make the cheese tray."
Susan slithered out of the pew before John could sit. She slowed her exodus only to eye the tired satin and greenery on the sanctuary door. It wilted like last night’s cocktail dress on a hungover celebrant.

“When I came along we had Christmas down by New Year’s Eve.”

Like most of her commentary, it required no response from John.


John surveyed the hall closet.

“Why do you keep all those coats? You only ever wear the one.”

Any space that was his pissed her off. John retaliated with an ancient coat from the back. He jammed fists into pockets while Susan stalked down the hall.

Frayed card stock nestled against his hand.

12/31/73, Louisville to Boston. The boarding pass he unearthed was from his real wife’s first cancer surgery.

John marveled at the faded treasure her hands once held, turning it over. Quenching sweet pain bloomed fresh at the sight of her loopy handwriting on the back.

It said, “I love you, too.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Upon Why You Should Have Beta Readers Who Are Not Writers

Full disclosure: I am not published. I have worked in publishing, but on the textbook end and in sales. The closest I came to any sort of editing was working with acquisitions. So, I don't really know any secret insider information.

But I have a theory about beta readers.

Should your betas be writers? Uh, yeah. Writers are more plugged in to trends in the industry, what's getting picked up right now and what's getting passed over. They are more likely than your sister's best friend from college to catch hackneyed phrases, mistakes, repeats in your MS, etc. They also have an ability to zero in on what isn't working and why.

But in all the time we spend learning about what agents and editors are looking for we get caught up in minutae. We put so much blood, sweat, and tears into trying not to be just another vampire book or cozy mystery or whatever that it screams at us when we see it in an MS. Basically, we fall into the trap of writing for agents.

It makes sense, since most of us won't get published until after we cross that first hurdle. But agents are not your actual market. People who will buy your book for any other reason than they know you, like you, or feel sorry for you want to read a good story. If you are a genre writer, you'd best know what expectations those people have. Odds are good that they do not look for massive doses of originality. Sci Fi readers who like space stories want some cool gadgets. Romance readers want an HEA. (Heck, some of them want as many HEAs set in nineteenth century France as they can get their hands on.) YA readers want to know who to cheer for. Mystery readers want to know who pulled the trigger.

So your authorial beta readers, who are looking for fresh, cool ideas and solid writing, sometimes pay more attention to those things than the story. They get so turned off by something that seems like a cliche that it might kill the whole MS for them. Readers, plain old garden variety, don't care so much. Otherwise, how do you explain John Grisham?

If all your writer friends think you are amazing but nobody normal gets carried away with your MS, then you have an elite but unprofitable target market. Get a couple of people who don't know anything about anything to read your MS and tell you if they like it or hate it. You might have to fish for info, ask specific questions about things you aren't sure work, but their opinion should count because at the end of the day, those are the people who will pay real money for your book.

My personal theory is start with a couple of non-writers you trust to be honest. If they like the story, get some writer betas to help you sand down the rough edges and make it pretty. Then run it by another non-writer (or even one who's already seen it) and see how it plays. That way, you get input on craft and the impact of the story.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In Which the Importance of Gal's Father is Explored

A grown woman finds herself in the surprising position of being the mother of two young children. By its very nature this circumstance provides explosive episodes of self-realization, sometimes multiples in one day.

The youngest, not yet three, yells at the top of her lungs: "Don't talk to me like that!"

Huh. Little whippersnapper's pretty sassy. And with a strong sense of what's acceptable. Perhaps misplaced, given her tender years and status on the totem pole, but hey, it's nice to note the healthy expectations of how she should be spoken to.

And thus, the self-realization takes on its inevitable layers and the thickness of generations.

How do my kids know how they should be spoken to? Treated? Regarded? How do I know how to teach them?

I remember.

I remember learning to put a worm on a hook and being told, gently, that yes, my father feels a little sorry for the worm, too. But worms don't have the same kind of nervous system we do and while the worm surely isn't happy about his/her predicament, it isn't the same as what I might feel under the circumstances. I was tender-hearted, not a fishing failure.

I remember being taught chess and nascent algebra during the summer break after third grade. In the middle of the night. It was a magical moment where all the world hid in sleep but us, just me and my dad. I was important.

I remember being told after my one and only straight A report card fell to all A's and one B that it isn't really the best thing in the world to be a bookworm. That was second grade and my B was in handwriting. It was the first time I heard the expression "bookworm" and my dad had to explain it to me. Unlike a classic bookworm, I was well-rounded.

I remember doing jigsaw puzzles and playing games of Old Maid around the game table. I was fun to spend time with.

I remember a counselor during a trying period in my college years observing that the reason I had not dated much in high school was that my father had set the standard very, very high. I was shocked. I didn't enjoy a robust dating life in high school, but until that moment I hadn't given much thought to how many boys I turned down or discouraged. Even in that insecure time I was not willing to settle. I wasn't a dateless wonder, I was discriminating.

I struggle with the standard. I've done things in my life I didn't think I could do because I didn't want to not meet the measure of the man that raised me. I was glad I did them. I've things yet to do, some that seem near impossible, but I remember the confidence of the man I think the most of and it becomes sacrilegious not to try. I think of his older children, not blessed with the same mother as I, so damaged and still shaped by the standard. They know the benchmark and rebel because they haven't met it, whatever it is.

If I had to define the mysterious standard, this would be my best effort:

Professional: Whatever you choose to do, be good at it. Use your intellect. If you are a server, shoot for head waiter. If you work in Corporate America, shoot for the highest position that will make you happy. If that is CEO, you can be that. If you don't want to engage in office politics and general B.S., dominate the division where you enjoy working. But paramount is that your professional success should not be dishonorable or predatory. It should be a manifestation of your God given ability and hard work.

Personal: Don't let people take advantage of you. Expect what you deserve. If you don't get what you deserve, cut bait- whether it's business or personal or a blend of the two. Be compassionate. You will know other people who do not have the resources you do. When you find them, help them in a way that protects their dignity.

Family: The greatest charge you are given as a human is responsibility to your family. Honor it. The faith you give to your family honors the people who raised you and teaches the children you are raising.

As fathers go, one could do worse than a father who teaches these things. But one could not do much better.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

People Who Are NOT Cool

I love blogworld. I've met some of the most fascinating people and been privileged with exposure to much better writers. But there are always those people. The ones who point out your typos in the comment thread. COME ON. That is grade. It reeks of "I'm smarter than you are and I just wanted to make sure everybody knows it." It's like online heckling.

Unsolicited critique in a public forum is even worse. Somebody posts a poem or flash fiction and does not finish with a request for your thoughts? Don't put your negative thoughts in the comment thread. If they want a beta reader they will let you know. A contest setting or a submission for critique is totally different. Then you can let it rip.

Every blog I follow has an email address linked to it. Use it. Most people are open to improvement and appreciate a chance to fix a mistake they didn't catch but it's nice to have a chance to do it on the down low.

This situation came up on a friend's blog last week. It was low profile, everyone was cool about it, but I felt my latent defensive streak flex. If I knew where to find the commenter, I'd fill her Splenda packets with salt.

Anyway, in a private conversation with the lucky person who gracefully accepted the public illumination of each possible flaw in her research I came up with the following:

I wouldn't use a microphone to tell you that there is toilet paper on your shoe.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

People Who Are Cool

Elton John played Rush Limbaugh's wedding.

He was totally cool about it, too. I love this attitude from him. While Mr. Limbaugh has never come out anti-gay, as in gay people should not exist or be free to be gay, he is anti-gay marriage. Elton John is most definitely pro gay marriage and for obvious reasons affected by the issue.

I know he got paid to perform but he could have booked another gig.

To play music at someone's wedding when that someone doesn't think you have the right to a legal marriage is extremely generous.

*I got to stand next to Elton John at the bar of a restaurant in Atlanta once. I was too chicken to say anything so I just pretended I didn't notice him. Standing one foot away. I'm such a dork.

** This post is an observation on one person's character, not a launchpad for political discussion on this issue. Whatever you think, half the country is firmly in the trenches with you. Half the country is adamantly opposed to you. Nobody's making a move to change anyone else's mind. Except maybe Sir Elton and he did it with a soft blow. SOOOoooo, if this triggers a need for venting personal feelings of the "gay marriage attacks the institution of marriage" variety send me an email personally or find a politics blog to yell on. If you post it here, I'll delete it in the interest of keeping things relatively warm and fuzzy. Same applies if you want to bash on Mr. Limbaugh.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


The pirate is a problem child. Ask anyone. Ask his teacher, ask his parents, ask the kids in his class.

Just don't ask the pirate. He'll tell you he's smart, he likes art, and his mom is really proud of him. He doesn't see himself as a problem child.

The way I see it, I need to keep his self-image where it is and get the rest of him to match it. Progress to this end is notable.

He's learned through a combination of conditioning and experience that he gets away with more when he smiles and regularly employs phrases like "please, thank you, and ma'am." Manipulative, but hey, it works.

As far as his "problem" goes, let me describe:

My five year old boy can't sit still.
He likes to wiggle.
Sometimes he talks without permission.
He doesn't always wait for the teacher to call on him before he blurts out an answer.
If he's bored, he's inclined to play cave by crawling under the table at school.
He's impulsive and acts without thinking.
In art, he likes to paint on things besides the paper.

Clearly, he needs medication. Again, ask anyone. Ask his teachers. Ask his classmates. Ask the school administrator. They told him so. (Well, some of the kids did. The administator asked him if he was taking his medicine. The teacher considered meeting with a social worker on his behalf. The pre-K 4 teacher wanted him tested for every acronym she could think of.)

On the behavioral bell curve, there is no doubt he is not on the bell. I know this. He's further from the bell than he would have been twenty-five years ago because all the kids like him are on meds. Except the ones with parents like his. Two parent households, higher education, enough income that one parent can devote a lot of time to handling problems. Parents with the education and confidence to tell a school system and a pediatrician, "We appreciate your involvement and support. We're not going to go that route. Let us know in what other ways we can help you get him to where he needs to be."

I go to the school on a regular basis so the teacher doesn't have to spend all her time on my child. Because I can. I don't have a 9-5 job that I will lose over this. I'm not backed into a corner or in a position to be intimidated.

Twenty years ago, rich kids were on medication. Ten years ago, all of them were. Must have been a golden age for early education. Now, poor kids are way more likely to be on medication than their luckier counterparts. This is crap.

We are about to see a generation come along where creativity and independence are fostered in the privileged and medicated out of the kids who have no advocate. Their mothers love them just as much but they are more easily influenced by an M.D. and a Masters in Education. Those people most know what's good for our kids, right?

Juvenile brains are developing. Learning pathways are being established at a phenomenal rate. Those pathways laid down under the influence of a scheduled, mind-altering drug are permanently designed to require that drug to function at optimal levels. I'm not raising my kid on speed. (Yes, it's speed. Adderall's primary active ingredient is amphetamine.) Not only am I worried about his brain but his physiology. I can't imagine a growing body subjected to a 60 year old diet pill for ten years is not going to be at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes as an adult.

But what about other people's kids? It's gotten to the point that they damn near need a semester of pharmacology as a requirement for an education degree. I don't propose that there is NEVER a reason to use medication and I'm certainly not okay with telling parents they shouldn't any more than I'm okay with people telling me I should. But there is gross abuse here and as always seems to be the case, the people least able to fight back are the most likely to be victims.

The only thing I can do is be vocal. I explain our decision to the pirate's teacher. I provide documentation. I let her know that I appreciate how much easier he would be on a prescription but the long term risk is too great. And I pray that the love of children that led her to be an educator in the first place will give her the patience to deal with kids like mine and advise another mother, a single mom who's struggling, that medication is faster and easier but not necessarily better.

The guy in this video makes my point better than I can. It's about twenty minutes, but if you're pressed for time start it at 15:41. Watch the whole thing when you have time. He's very funny and really makes you think.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Love Triangle

Good Lord. It's everywhere. If it isn't the MC it's a subplot. I hate them. Hate 'em, hate 'em, hate 'em.

I'm trying to figure out what is appealing about the love triangle. Obviously, many women/romance readers dig it. Two strong heroes fall all over themselves risking life and limb to protect/save/rescue the foolishly spunky gal who's up against more than she bargained for. Is it incredibly romantic to have a heroine with two wonderful specimens of masculinity pining over her while she wrings her dainty hands in indecision? She knows she's hurting them both but she simply can't choose because...why, again? Oh, yeah. She can't bear to hurt one of them. What?

Let's flip it. Two lovely ladies hotly pursue a male protag who loves them both. They compete for his affection. In the spirit of the trope, let's go with the most adorably feminine counterpart to fisticuffs and rescue of the heroine. One bakes him her state fair winning coconut chiffon cake. The other joins the DAR to buddy up to his mother. The first one strikes back by learning how to hunt. (She is just adorable hoisting that rifle up like she might really shoot something. Aw.) The other takes up fly fishing and learns to create her own lures. Would ya look at that? She's so good at it she starts her own online business selling lures.

So does this make the hero a tragic figure torn between two soul mates? No. It makes him an asshat who's stringing along two women at once. And the women both deserve him because they are idiots.

Maybe that's why the love triangle annoys me. It's vaguely misogynistic somehow, like women are too flaky to make a decision and go with it but we expect men to know their own minds and hearts. On the other hand, Hamlet couldn't make a decision and I didn't like him either. Guess I just don't go for wishy-washy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Junior High Talent Show

Do you remember what it was like when you were twelve or thirteen and you had to sit through the talent show? Subtropical waves of heat shimmy through the gym because if it's winter the heat is on and it only runs full blast. If it's late enough in the spring, the air conditioning can't cool it off fast enough. The tennis shoe/vinyl/aerosol deodorant/popcorn smells mix together in toxic fumes that guarantee at least one nervous performer will get sick.

A skinny, scruffy air guitar band leaps about and only gets away with applause because it consists of the coolest guys on the varsity whatever team. Several wobbly monologues delivered in tinny, squeaky sincerity are punctuated by awkwardly spaced dramatic gestures. A piano solo or two trips along the keyboard. But once or twice- in the era, not every year- somebody special takes the stage.

They look like everyone else if not marginally worse. The audience squirms in uncomfortable anticipation of whatever's coming. We've been programmed to keep expectations low. As in, please don't let this one suck because I can't feel sorry for one more person tonight.

Then this happens:

I think that must be what it's like for agents reading queries. You straighten up a bit. This one might not be so bad. In another sentence or two, you start to get excited. You get to the sample pages and read with a mix of elation and sheer gratitude that this person did not make you pity them, wonder what they were thinking or how their mother created such a delusional fantasy world for them. In the mix of the good, the mediocre, and the absolutely dreadful it must be an amazing eureka moment to find one that is fan-damn-tastic.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Hat Tip and a Heads Up

Stephen Parrish is an author I stumbled across in blogland last year. I know from his blog that he is a fantastic writer and a lot of people already know about him, but just in case you forgot or it slipped by you, his novel, The Tavernier Stones, just published this week. It looks like it is going to be rock solid. (Pun intended. It's about a gemologist. And a treasure hunt.)

He also has absolutely the coolest promotion going for his book. It is also a treasure hunt and the prize is a one carat diamond. Seriously. Get your copy and get cracking.

So hats off to Stephen and heads up to all of you!

Below is the book blurb from his website:

When the well-preserved body of 17th century mapmaker Johannes Cellarius floats to the surface of a bog in northern Germany, and a 57 carat ruby rolls out of his fist, treasure hunters from around the globe race to find the Lost Tavernier Stones of popular European folklore.

According to legend, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier was robbed of a priceless hoard while returning from his final voyage to the Orient in 1689. The hoard reputedly includes some of the world's most notorious missing jewels. Among them the 280 carat Great Mogul Diamond and the 242 carat Great Table Diamond, the largest diamonds ever unearthed whose whereabouts are unknown.

John Graf is an Amish-born cartographer who has never ventured out of Pennsylvania, let alone embarked on an international treasure hunt. David Freeman is a gemologist who has done his share of prospecting, but little of it within the boundaries of the law. Between them they have all the expertise necessary to solve the mystery. They also have enough differences to derail even the best of partnerships. And ahead are more obstacles: fortune seekers equally qualified and every bit as determined.

The race spans two continents. The finish line is in Idar-Oberstein, the gemstone capital of Germany. There, in chambers beneath an old church, where unspeakable events took place in centuries past, winners and losers alike find answers to age-old questions about the Lost Tavernier Stones.

Monday, May 3, 2010

ICK. Or: What is hot and what is NOT?

I read a lot of books with a romance thread. Action with a romance woven in, UF with a romance woven in, mystery with a romance woven see the pattern.

Some (read:most) is formulaic. Once in a while something is fresh. Writers are always looking for the angle to bring a new twist to the ancient story of boy meets girl. Like a sonnet, a few rules must be observed or your story/subplot does not qualify as a romance.

  1. The protag must be single at the beginning of the story. Possible variances include attached in the context of a bad/abusive/dying relationship.
  2. The couple must be together by the end of the story. Or, in a series, there must be clear intent to move in this general direction.
  3. During the course of the story, there must be tension. If our hero and heroine are the destined to be together/soul mates/love at first sight variety, the tension will be external, like a mutual enemy. Dean Koontz does this to great effect. The other end of the spectrum is the classic love/hate tension. They drive each other batty but have an undeniable chemistry and a moment of vulnerability somewhere during the story where they gain a better understanding of each other. Think Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. I'm a sucker for this trope. And the du jour of pop fiction is the "I'm a human and my lover is not" variety. This one is usually resolved by "upgrading" the human in some way.

The beginning and end are pretty easy to master. They start off apart and end up together. The tricky part is how they get there, the journey and the tension. And this is where the shark jumping takes place.

Please. If you are writing a book with romantic elements, for the love of all that is holy, respect the limits of the ICK FACTOR. For the most part, the couple should not be so May/December that the reader is prompted to speculate about basic biological limitations like ED and reduced post-menopausal sex drive, for example. If you go there, you better be good. Harold and Maude? Soul mates, hilarious, and a great soundtrack worked to downplay the ick factor of a barely grown young man falling madly in love with an eighty year old free spirit. The Mary Russell books by Laurie King have a fifty something Sherlock Holmes fall for a twenty year old difficult genius. The age disparity is dwarfed by the complete lack of anyone else in the world who might be a suitable companion for either character.

Occasionally somebody pulls off a Thornbirds. I suspect this does not have the shock value it used to, though, so not many people go for the man-of-the-cloth trick to heighten tension.

But I read one over the weekend that is irredeemable. Absolutely not. NO WAY. Let me set the stage: YA UF. Usual cast of characters. Decent world building. Snappy dialogue. Love triangle (which is not my cuppa but I make allowances since it clearly makes millions swoon). So we have some nice little sparks flying in the middle of a generational conspiracy for genocide. Sweet little kiss scene followed up by the fellow being a complete jerk but we know he's not such a bad guy, simply conflicted. We're doing well on the tension front. But since the author has designs on a series (there are published sequels) there must be the Big. Bad. We can never be together. So what's it gonna be? Guilt? Angst? Misunderstanding of I Love Lucy proportions? No such luck.

INCEST. Incest, people. As in, the two people you are pulling for find out at the end that they are brother and sister. And yes, being a savvy reader I totally get that this will most likely be resolved in some convoluted plot twist involving a baby switch or something but the damage is done. These two people think they are siblings so there is no potential for anything but ICK. ICK. and more ICK every time they gaze longingly at one another, innocently brush hands reaching for the same death dealing supercharged silver tipped ninja star, whatever. It's not just no spark. It's anti-spark.

Greek mythology in UF? Totally acceptable. Greek tragedy? Not so much.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Creativity and Making Mistakes

Most of the creative people I know have one big quality in common. Mistakes don't scare them. They don't really care if they get something wrong. What they do care about is getting better.

Many of my creative type friends are perfectionists, too, but that seems totally different from fear of failure in the souls of these intrepid groundbreakers. They won't suffer imperfection in their own work. But they acknowledge the mistakes, the flaws, and sand them out. Striving for perfection requires mistakes. I don't know how they always knew this but I had to learn it. I'm lucky I've always gravitated toward people who are lots cooler than I am.

These people who are so much cooler than me did things I would never have had the balls to try. One got an MFA. She is now a sculptor. A couple majored in glass blowing. I thought they were nuts, but really cool. Wished them luck with that. They now have their own studio where they do custom work, their own stuff, and give lessons.

A friend from high school wanted to act. Even at seventeen I knew that was pie-in-the-sky but I certainly hoped it would work out for her. Maybe she could teach drama and speech when she grew out of it. But guess what? Her acting credits now include Spider-Man (yes, THE Spider-man, not the cartoon), Beauty Shop, Never Been Kissed, and a buttload of other stuff. She narrated the audio book for The Help.

Another friend from high school read cheesy romance novels all the time. I knew they were cheesy because they had people kissing on the covers but I didn't judge because all my books had dragons or unicorns on the covers. She also wrote cheesy romance in her spiral bound notebook. I figured it was as good a hobby as any. I didn't have time for hobbies because I was too busy taking all the A.P. classes my high school offered. Her third book just published in April.

I have a double major in Biology and English. English because I just liked it and Biology because I knew I would never use the English part of my degree in anything that would pay the bills. I now find the science portion of my educational background to be extremely useful in Trivial Pursuit and making an educated guess as to whether my children's runny noses are due to allergies, bacterial infection, or virus.

I sure wish sometimes that I had grown a pair a little younger. I always liked writing. It just seemed so stupid to think I could do anything with it. I finally got over being too chicken to try it and even if I never get it right it is the most fun thing I have ever done. Even the mistakes.

So cheers to all of you who had the courage to do what you loved even though it really was pretty dumb. I always knew you could do it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Showing vs. Telling

Huh. The more I pay attention, the more the superiority of showing something vs. telling it seems to crop up. This article on revamping your resume underscores ten overused cliches on resumes and offers examples of how to show a potential employer that you have the skills they are seeking rather than just telling them. Some examples:

  • Kill this: Results-oriented professional. Replace with your own version: I love to solve thorny supply-chain problems
  • Kill this: Strong work ethic
    Replace with your own version: I taught myself HTML over a weekend in order to grab a marketing opportunity
  • Kill this: Meets or exceeds expectations
    Replace with your own version of this: Invited to join our executive staff at a strategy summit during my first year at the company

Of course, in the article it doesn't mention showing and telling. But they definitely advocate showing and the examples cited demonstrate why it is so much more effective.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I recently read a much anticipated sequel to a book I adored. I waited. I counted the days and hours. I checked my Kindle every hour after midnight on the release date until the book finally showed up at three AM.

I was ultimately disappointed in a big way. So disappointed I was kind of mad about it. It's been a week and I'm still a bit put out. I trolled reviews on Amazon to see what this author's other minions had to say and about half of them agreed with me.

So what was the letdown? Sophomore slump? Overhype? There did seem to be a bit of the "second book syndrome." First books go through years of loving care and pruning, critiqued by friends, romans, and creative writing groups who lend us their eyes, but the second published book goes through a much smaller albeit more elite funnel. On the whole, though, the wit and voice I loved so much in the first book was still there. It should have gone down on my list as "pretty darn good but the first one was better. Still can't wait for the next."

Instead, I've been fighting the urge to post a "WHY did you do this to us/What were you thinking?" message on an author blog. Damn if she didn't throw in a big, fat, old fashioned, soap opera style FRIGGIN' CLIFFHANGER.

I get that not everyone breaks out into hives over cliffhangers. I do. BUT. They are kind of like politics. Whether you are for or against, half the room is going to disagree with you. Safer to stay away from it altogether as far as I'm concerned.

As a reader I feel cheated if the story doesn't feel resolved, or at the very least paused. Cliffhangers just feel...truncated. Like you ran out of paper before you got through. There are two possible reasons to employ such an ending. One, the story you have to tell is longer than the book you have been contracted to write. If this is the case then suck it up and figure out how to make your story tighter. Two, it's a cheap trick to manipulate me into buying your next book.

I was going to buy it anyway. So was everybody else. I'm still going to buy it, but now I feel a little bitter about it. I'm also advising anyone who hasn't read books one and two to wait until the third publishes.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Blog Interview

Here is my blog interview over at Heather's Edited Within An Inch of My Life. Hop on over and check it out.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

I've decided those birkenstock-wearing, patchouli smelling folk who really are kind to animal, vegetable, and mineral alike might be on to something with the "Practice random acts of kindness" bumper stickers.

Driving down one of Florida's many, many, many expensive toll roads this weekend I took a whim to pay the toll of persons behind me. Doubled my fare for the trip, but honestly, it was the MOST fun. Lest you think I qualify as beneficent, let me clarify.

When you pay the toll for the person behind you, it is highly unlikely they can ever pay you back. Or even say thank you. There is a possibility you will drag race to the next toll booth and if they beat you they then return the favor. BUT. Since you come out of the tollbooth bottleneck a half mile or so ahead of them, this scenario is unlikely. If they want to say thank you the best opportunity they have is a hand wave at your exit, when you slow down.

This confuses people.

Seriously? Why did the person in that car do that? Do they think they know me? Are they supposed to be in a car caravan where the person behind them had no cash? Why would they DO that?

I drove along and laughed and laughed. More entertainment from a one dollar bill than you can get anywhere north of Tijuana.

Random acts of kindness. You really do get more than you give.

And maybe there was a tiny case of the warm fuzzies when a car would pass me and wave at the person who did something nice for them for no real reason.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Negative Criticism in The Public Arena

If your published or public work gets reamed by someone else, congratulations! First, you're published. Second, enough people know about you to assume opinion about your work might interest other people. That's kind of huge, if you think about it. Something you created is well known enough that people who make their living writing about stuff other people wrote picked on your book as a title whose name recognition they could skate on.

And finally, if you must respond, take a page from Sandra Bullock. She didn't post a drunken diatribe on a webpage, she took the heat, and she defended her work without telling anybody they were wrong or too stupid to "get" her.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Which the Unfortunate State of My Face is Explained

We dance in our kitchen while supper cooks. The five year old pirate, the two year old princess, and Mama rock out to everything from The Beastie Boys to Tchaikovsky. "Dancing" generally starts by miming what we hear in the music. 1812 Overture, for example, has several martial interludes that are just perfect for prancing like horses.

Inevitably the free form interpretive dance devolves into mere spinning and giggling.

On Sunday, Mama spun herself so dizzy that it was all she could do to release the boy before he joined her in what may have been the most spectacular faceplant in the history of mankind. The floor, armed with a thin woolen area rug, leapt up and slugged Mama in the face while the pirate looked on in horror. Said area rug offered no buffer from the hardness of the floor but did contribute a lovely, oozy rug burn to the insulted area of her face. It's crusted over nicely. Mama is a special kind of pretty this week.

It hurt. A lot. I may have been mildly concussed as I had a couple of episodes of retching after this impressive display of grace and dexterity.

I invited my Facebook friends to please help me come up with a better story. Among the more inspired suggestions were:

  • I sustained the injury in an altercation with the Canadians during one of the hockey games at the Olympics. (I like this one. I could work "puck" in there and we all know what rhymes with "puck." I'm a sucker for word play.)
  • Several references to domestic violence. "I'm not a good listener" and "Supper was late." No, neither I nor any of my friends think actual domestic violence is funny. The notion that that boy I married might perpetrate it, however, is so out there as to be Monty Python hilarious. As is the notion that I wouldn't kick his skinny white a@@ if he ever did such to me.
  • And my personal favorite: I took an elbow from a stripper who was jealous that I had more bills in my t-back than she did.

My cheekbone still looks like the stunt double for the Pilsbury Dough Boy but the glorious technicolor has faded. I just hope the kids are not forever terrified of dancing now. They already have to overcome being Baptist. Adding risk to life and limb as well as the immortal soul can't help my case.