Wednesday, March 31, 2010

At the Movies

On the iPod, "Young Turks" by Rod Stewart.
On the brain, waiting waiting waiting to hear back.
Also wondering if I have undiagnosed ADD...

In previous posts, I mentioned how I love love love movies. If I could get away with it, I would spend the day in the theater. Video rentals are OK, but hitting the theater for any movie (not just the big, action flicks) is one of my all-time favorite pastimes.

When I was in college, I ran with a big gang of friends. The core group was 12, nine guys and three girls, but the number would expand or contract depending on what was going on at the time.

Most of the guys had graduated high school together in Baton Rouge, and of the girls, one was my BFF Dara and the other was a friend of hers from high school who I adored, Louise.

Side note, Louise and Dara are now married to two of the guys from that group. One of the guys was my college boyfriend. It's inevitable.

Anyway, Louise, Dara, and half of the guys were also enrolled at USL in Lafayette, a 45-minute drive southwest from Baton Rouge. So they'd drive up for the weekend and we'd all go out, goof off, have fun. Our Sunday night wrap-up/ritual was catching a flick at the dollar movie on the LSU campus. Then the Lafayette contingent would make the 45-minute trip back across Whiskey Bay to college.

We saw so many films, and we were a goofy, hilarious bunch. So our favorites were comedies, but we watched anything--good stuff, bad stuff, awful stuff, scary stuff... Whatever. It was all about ganging up in the dark, chomping popcorn, heckling, and being entertained.

Currently, I'm very limited in my movie-going, and it's killing me! OK, I'm being dramatic, but I seriously can't wait for the day when the girls are old enough to start going to movies with me.

We do it now, but at the moment we're stuck waiting for the sporadic kid-flicks that they actually want to see. My girls are somewhat picky on their movie choices.

But I go with them to see whatever they'll try. Some I like--Diary of a Wimpy Kid (great!), Earth (super, but sad)--and some are a little disappointing--Princess and the Frog (stereotypical), Chipmunks II (not surprised), Barnyard (OK, Mamma-wuss actually cried)...

At the moment we're just holding our breaths for Airbender to open this summer.

I'm a little concerned, though, because it looks kinda scary for my little two. I mean, it's one thing to see Fire Lord Ozai as a cartoon and a whole 'nother to see him in real life.

My point in all this is there's required reading you do in high school to get you caught up on the history of books, to learn about the evolution of literature, to be enlightened on the different styles, to understand what was happening in society at the time, etc.

I think there should be a similar study involving movies. I'm sure there is, of course. I know when I was working at LSU, one of the English professors had a course that examined scary movies and one that looked at history in film.

I went through a major old-movie phase when I was about 12 years-old. I didn't have much else going on, and my parents were pretty strict when it came to TV. So I started renting old movies or watching them on cable.

It gave me a pretty well-rounded knowledge of films--at least old ones. I wasn't allowed to watch stuff from the 1970s forward, which was appropriate. I'm playing catch-up now, though, and wow. That was a crazy, edgy time at the box office.

Richard and I were watching Bridge on the River Kwai the other night, and I got to thinking. If I were to create a Top Ten movies to watch to get caught up on like where we've been and how much has changed (and how much hasn't)... hmm. Not sure I could do it. There's so many!

I guess I'd include the following:
-The Stranger (Orson Wells is a Nazi disguised as a teacher in New England--scary!),
-The Maltese Falcon (love the interplay between Bogey and Peter Lorre)
-Key Largo (the ultimate disenchanted war veteran/lost generation film)
-The Big Sleep (you gotta watch this one about 100 times to get it--the screenplay's by Faulkner)
-Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford slaps that girl--yes!)
-My Favorite Brunette (Bob Hope's best, plus Lon Chaney's a hoot. But only watch this one after the Bogy flicks...)
-Splendor in the Grass (the best of those 1950s "troubled teen" movies)
-Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Paul Newman... swoon!)
-Pick a David Lean film... Dr. Zhivago, Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, they're all amazing and give you a feel for that director's style along with great storytelling and sweeping cinematography...

And I haven't even scratched the surface. (Umm... film geek, Table 2?) Maybe I could just start throwing one out there every post. And please share! I love finding a new, great film.

Currently, the girls and I are anticipating the release of Oceans on April 22. Hopefully, there won't be another "circle of life" moment, although I'm sure there will...

Monday, March 29, 2010

On Do-Overs & Stereotyping

One, two, three and to the fo', Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at tha do'...

The latest installment in the ongoing saga of the Spanish Fort toro in the publishing china closet involves the fallout from my startling St. Patty's day discovery of a problem in Debut Novel. There was actually more than one.

Panic stations!

So after fretting about it for a week and then receiving a very kind "thanks anyway" from one Interested Party, I decided to take the bull by the horns and beg for a do-over from remaining Interested Parties.

The good news is they have all been extremely understanding and wonderful, and I've spent the last four days ironing out the rough spots as our buddy E.J. says. I just finished shipping off new and improved Debut Novel (version 1.2), and it is shining like the top of the Chrysler bldg.

But shew! We have been in The Zone over here. I feel like I just came out of the ringer, and Sunday's Easter. (Hello!)

In the meantime, I was thinking about a post I read recently about an agent's admitting that he/she wouldn't handle a novel in which the main character smokes.

First, I agree that that was a brave thing to admit. But I also agree with the writer who was commenting on this agent's revelation with regard to how that can limit character development.

Think about it. So much can be conveyed about a character through a small detail like that. I know I read all sorts of life experiences, expectations, random details into the description of a 15 year-old smoking a cigarette. Don't you?

Now, here's the flip side. How many locals have noted that Spanish Fort (heck, most of Baldwin County from I-10 south) tends to be very Tattoo You?

Please don't misunderstand, I am not harshing on the urban ink. I was simply thinking about this character development debate and where I live. There are a lot of kind-hearted, tattoo-covered, black-leather wearing, Harley Davidson riding folks around here.

I think it's kinda cool, but it totally kills that whole stereotypical image trick. I don't know. Maybe it doesn't, but it might for local readers reading about local characters.

So there you go. That's what's knocking around in my little exhausted writer's brain this Monday.

Ain't nuthin but a G thang, baby~

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pen Pals

I was updating the other day, and I came across a great idea for teachers. A class at one of the Daphne schools paired up with a class in Spanish Fort, and all the students became pen pals. Isn't that fun? And what a great way to teach writing.

When I was in high school (in the Stone Age), we didn't have texting. And teachers forbade passing notes in class. So naturally, my friends and I all wrote novella-length notes to each other and then passed them in the hallways to be read and answered in the next class. I still have a lot of them, and they are absolutely hilarious.

The best one involves one of my best friend's little dog running into her room, barfing on her carpet and then running out again. I don't remember what else happened, but I think she was on the phone with one of the fellas she had a crush on at the time. Maybe she was home sick. I don't remember.

Now Catherine has a little BFF at school, Ivey, and she and Ivey pass notes all day long. I have to admit, I love it. And I'm not really coming down too hard on her about it, because I really believe all this writing is great for her academic development.

I know all the kids I used to pass notes to in high school are currently excellent communicators. They communicate my ear off most excellently at least once a month when we manage to catch up with each other.

So back to pen pals. When I was about 12-ish, I had a pen pal in Tobago. I don't remember how I got involved in that program or the girl's name, but I remember reading her letters and imagining what she looked like and what her life was like.

She lived in a Third World country and we never met, but I felt like we were friends and had something in common. We both liked to write...

There's so much benefit from written communication, and people love to read a great story. In the publishing world, there's a lot of drama going on about ebooks and the iPad, but I think bookmakers are quite safe. There's something about reading what another person's written that makes you feel like you know them.

I've heard discussions that Facebook, email, Twitter and other forms of electronic communication put virtual walls between people and distance them from real life. But I think for those of us who love to read and love written communication, these tools are invaluable in maintaining relationships.

Many of you reading this I've known for years, and now we're separated by hundreds of miles--some even oceans--but wouldn't you say we're just as close? Possibly we know each other a little better now because at times it's easier to express yourself in writing than in speech.

I recently engaged in some email communications with a potential coworker. I never met her in person, and as it turned out, we're not going to be working together. But how odd it was to feel like we knew each other after only seven emails. And how strange it was to say goodbye and feel a little sad.

I feel like I've wandered off topic. Sorry. Update on Debut Novel coming soon... Target date: Monday.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Undah Pres-sha

First, took the girls to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie yesterday, and it was a hoot! I was glad I'd read the first half of the book aloud at bedtime with them before going. It helped me be ready for the jokes.

It's also had the added benefit of keeping me from getting the "cheese touch" at the playground lo these many weeks. (Note to reading Moms: crossing your fingers on both hands grants you immunity.)

So what's all this about pressure? Well, it's tough, I tell ya. Waiting to hear back from favorite agents, waiting to hear back on queries that are lurking out there in the far silent reaches of queryville... It's pretty easy to become self-absorbed.

But an interesting, very recent turn of events got me to thinking about life on the other side of the wall.

I know, I'm making you guys gag, but I have a tendency to try and get into the head of the "other guy" in situations like these. I try to imagine what could be going on in his/her brain and why she is (or in this case isn't) doing what I think she ought to be doing. (Like going crazy over Debut Novel!)

It just so happens there's a particular agency out there that has represented just about every book I've ever loved. OK, that's a grand, sweeping statement that isn't entirely true. But they've handled a lot of them.

And in my little pea brain way back last year, I thought it would be just amazing to have my book in there with all those other ones I loved. So before I'd even finished writing Debut Novel, I shot a query to one of their junior agents.


Did I mention I've learned all about *breaking* into publishing by being the proverbial bull in the china closet?

Well, at the top of all Agency No-No lists is this (it's usually like #1 or #2): Never, NEVER query an agent until your novel's finished.

I learned the Why behind that rule as I actually finished Debut Novel and saw how it changed and evolved as I wrote it. I told Richard, if anything, the experience of writing an entire book really stretched me as a writer who's accustomed to doing quick, in and out news stories.

I learned how books can take off as you write them and head down different paths than you expected. Things you weren't really paying attention to before can become very important, and characters you thought were going to be minor can become major.

It's a lot of fun! It also makes going back and re-reading a few weeks after finishing super important.

So too bad for inexperienced me, junior agent at Dream Agency kicked my little query to the curb. I'd violated Rule #1 (sometimes #2 behind "spell agent's name correctly.") No hard feelings; his assistant was super nice about it.

I tucked my little devastated tail and kept writing. Also, most importantly, I kept researching. And I discovered another potential agent at Dream Agency who might, might be interested in my novel. (However, I'd also learned at this point to finish the dang thing before querying again.)

So I wrote wrote wrote, and kept my eye on second Ms. Junior Agent. But as I watched, I noted an interesting evolution in the tone of her advice to potential queriers.

When I found her in, let's say November, (OK, it was October, but I was eager!), she was very happy, "I love agenting. I'm seeking that novel I can't put down." To queriers, she wanted to see a personalized query letter and the first ten pages of the book.

Then I found an interview with her in January in which she lamented the staggering number of queries she was receiving (as many as 200/wk), and noted that maybe one day she'd have an assistant.

By late-February, her requirements had dropped to query letter, first page of your book.

And there was a definite tone.

I still had my eye on Ms. Junior Agent, but I waited. I had just sent out a batch of queries, and the rule is to wait several weeks and give folks time to get back to you.

That part's extremely hard. Especially when you read interviews in which agents say they "get back quickly" when they're interested. It's also hard when you have those agencies who say you won't hear back if they aren't interested. (Who's holding the clock?)

And then there's the agent who Tweets the following: "Everyone who queried me before Feb. 8, if you haven't heard back from me, consider yourself rejected."

That agent needs to have her portrait made into a dart board.

So on Friday, after refreshing the Gmail for the 5,000th time, I wandered over to see what Ms. Junior Agent was up to and found a strange notice. She had quit Dream Agency and seemed to have gone "off the radar."

It was odd. I felt like I knew her after reading all the interviews, planning my letter that would be personalized just for her and even going back and forth on whether my half-page Prologue should be included with my query now that she was down to "first page only" status.

The wheels in my little imaginative writer's brain were nudged into motion. What could have happened? Did she become so disillusioned that she ran screaming from the building? Maybe she stormed out one day amid a cyclone of unpersonalized query letters and first pages of manuscripts that did not fall into her stated preferences.

Maybe she looked at the sea of 200+ queries coming in week after week embodying the dreams of all those aspiring novelists and the mountain became too much for Mohammed. Maybe she just got sick of waiting on that assistant.

I like to imagine my query might've given her hope. (Eh, who knows.)

Perhaps she could be a character in New Novel. Something like the disillusioned junior agent who meets the singing goose artist who refuses to allow post-production to take place on her bare-bones recorded tracks.

They leave their fields of choice to go off in search of adventure and perhaps even to save the world. Maybe they fight crimes.

Anyway, it was interesting to me as I continue waiting. I realized there just might be pressure on both sides of this wall.

Friday, March 19, 2010

FACT or Air Quotes

Let me preface this by saying I don't watch a lot of late-night TV (or any), so it's possible this might be old news. Sorry if that's the case.

But has anyone noticed the steady uptick in the use of "FACT" to introduce statements in television dialogue? It's in commercials, TV shows, movies...

For example, Richard and I love watching The Office, and our favorite characters are Dwight and Andy. Oh, and Darrel. And Erin. And that whole love triangle involving Angela was just classic good TV.

Anyway, the episode where Jim dresses up as Dwight and imitates him had us rolling on the floor, and a big part of it was Jim's using "FACT" to start each of his statements to Dwight. That's what started us discussing this phenomenon. (Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.)

I was trying to remember the first time I ever heard someone say "FACT" followed by a statement. Richard said it was in the movie Philadelphia with Mary Elizabeth Masterintonio (whatever).

JRM: (high, girly voice with fake Southern accent) Fact. Tom Hanks gave everyone in his law firm the AIDS.
LTM: She said that?
JRM: I don't remember.

I never saw that film. So for me, it seems like the first time I remember hearing FACT was by Owen Wilson's character Dignan in Bottle Rocket.

LTM: (best Owen Wilson impersonation) Fact. Mr. Henry uses The Lawn Wranglers as a cover operation.
JRM: I like the Future Man part the best.
LTM (best Future Man impersonation) Look at this guy. He looks like a little banana.

The point of our discussion was whether FACT could take the place of air quotes in making statements funny.

For those of you who missed it, a while back someone noted that the use of air quotes around a word, any word, in a sentence, immediately made that sentence funny.

Try it. Here, I'll give you a sample. Say this sentence out loud and hold your hands up to make air quotes where quotes are indicated:

My mom said she's bringing her "dog" to the vet today.

See? And it really doesn't matter where you put the air quotes either. Try moving them to "vet." Still funny.

So would it work with FACT? Hmm... maybe not. But I'm still enjoying the use of FACT by various characters in comedy. Or maybe I'm just a nerd.

FACT: I think it's funny because I am a nerd.

(I don't know... it might be funny!)

Have a great week-end guys! FACT: Spring starts tomorrow. I'll have a fun, new post for you Monday, and hopefully some news on Debut Novel. FACT: I have heard nothing back on full MS requests.

(OK. I'll stop now.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Scottish St. Patrick

For me, the cool thing about writing fiction is getting to create interesting characters and then set them in motion and surround them with circumstances to see how they'll react or how they'll change.

It's not easy, and that's probably why people often confuse fiction with reality because you have to start somewhere, and the safest place to start is with yourself. You know, the ole "write what you know" logic. (That's also assuming you won't try to sue yourself.)

Creating consistent characters is one of those basics of fiction. If you can't do that, well, there's always nonfiction. Or music!

Speaking of music (again), I'm thinking that's another reason why so many writers use music for inspiration. Songs can really help you visualize characters or remind you how one is motivated. It really works. I've heard of writers going so far as to create iTunes mixes for books they're writing. It's not a bad idea.

So everyone knows I'm shopping Debut Novel, and at this point, I've got a few agents I like looking at the full manuscript. Well, imagine my horror when I decide to sit down and read DN again (it had been a few weeks) and made the startling discovery that somewhere around Chapter 4, Main Character exhibits some uncharacteristic behavior.

How did this happen? How did I miss this? I know I read this book at least three times before sending it out. I even had test readers read it.

Now, I worked for many, many years as an editor. I still do to a certain extent, although nowhere near as heavily as in past lives. So I might be a little hypercritical. Also, it's my book, so that could make me oversensitive. I can admit these things.

But I should've caught this.

So I made my discovery and naturally I announced we were having Lebanese food for dinner because I falafel. (Insert little drum-cymbal sound.) Also, naturally, my little family went into goof-off mode to make Mommy feel better.

I love those guys.

Part of that effort involved Richard telling us all the story of St. Patrick and why he has his own special day. It started out that he was born in Ireland and that he died on March 17.

But somewhere around Chapter 2, Richard's accent went from something like Bono's to exactly like Mike Myers's dad in So I Married an Axe Murderer.

Then he told the children about how St. Patrick made a flute and danced around to the tune of the bagpipes. I think Richard also mentioned St. Patty loving the heather and the loch. And at one point he mentioned the Saint having a shpilkis in his genechtagazoink. (Me: That explains what he's been doing in Boca Raton.)*

Did I mention I love those guys? (Note to the girls' teachers and fellow classmates' parents: I'm sorry.)

All this to say, I've been sort of wigged out for 24 hours. The nice thing is Favorite Agents have acknowledged receiving corrected pages, and hopefully won't move Debut Novel straight to the "kindly pass" pile.

Note to aspiring novelists who are reading, when you get the request for the full manuscript, you're probably safe to take a day and read through the whole thing one more time before sending it. That is, of course, unless you've written Moby Dick or Insomnia.**

Finally, filed under funny/odd coincidences, on the front page of the Baldwin Register today, there was a great picture of a cute little Gulf Shores High School cheerleader named Alex along with my Get to Know feature on Karen Kyzar.

Since it's the luckiest of all days, I wanted to interpret this as a sign of some sort, but I couldn't figure out what it could mean. So onward and upward. As my Irish-Jewish former boss (who I loved) used to say "we live in hope."

*The Thighmaster is neither a thigh nor a master. Discuss.
**I pick on these books because it won't matter to the authors one bit if I say I think they're completely unreadable.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Musical Inspiration & Junie B. Jones

I've been reading different writer's blogs lately, and I've found that (like me) a lot of writers use music to get ideas for plot and character development.

It makes total sense because songwriters have to get in and out so fast, they can only hint at characters or situations and convey the emotion of them. It's a great jumping off point for a writer.

I remember being a kid and hearing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from the Evita soundtrack. I loved the melody, and I imagined this entire storyline around it based on the few words I remembered. I was a little disappointed when I finally saw the show. Kind of like seeing the movie version of a book you really liked.

Speaking of that, I can only think of one movie version of a book that I thought was really well done. (OK, two if you count that BBC miniseries of Pride & Prejudice.) Curious? It was Bridget Jones's Diary.

That was the first (and only) time I walked out of a movie feeling like it did a great job capturing the spirit of the book. I'm trying to think if I can remember another... Anybody got one?

Catherine recently went through all those Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and she's So Excited about the movie opening this weekend. I've only read half of the first book, so I wasn't sure about the movie. But Richard stopped me to watch the trailer on TV the other morning and it looks funny.

I wonder if it's just the diary books that translate.

The girls are also into Junie B. Jones. We've read about six of her books so far, and I happen to love Junie B. Jones. Richard says she doesn't use proper English, and the other day Laura came in and said JBJ "says bad words."

To Richard, I said it didn't matter; to Laura, I said, "Wha--?"

This is coming from the child who took ballet for a year, and while showing me the different positions she learned, she threw in "Position 14."

Position 14 involves turning your backside to the audience, sticking it out and then shaking it from side to side slowly. Sort of like a burlesque.

It was her Grandpaw's favorite ballet move of the year and he demanded repeat performances every time he saw her. He also likes to write on her with ink pens. Grandpaw's a character.

A while back I told Richard I was afraid Laura would grow up to be our Sarah Silverman child because of all her stunts, but I got my casting wrong. She's very concerned because JBJ says "stupid," "dumb," and "darn."

So maybe she'll be our Gypsy Rose Lee rather than our Sarah Silverman. I wonder if she realizes Mommy uses these words. I suppose I shouldn't be such a potty mouth.

I hear they're making another Eloise movie--this time in Paris with Uma Thurman as Nanny. I never imagined Nah-nee looking like Uma Thurman. Nah-nee's more Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life.

I love love love movies, so I'm sure the girls and I will be there for E in P. I'd like to see JBJ made into a movie. Maybe we'll have that to look forward to before long as well.

I hope it's not rated R for language.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Art or Talent?

Made it through the sickness, Bidding of the Bulls was a success (or so I hear). Thanks to everyone who called to check on us. Maybe next year I'll actually get to go.

Also, note to self: When home alone caring for sick children, don't play around with follow-up email ideas unless you're comfortable hitting "send" instead of "save." Hello! (Me: just act cool.)

What have I been doing... Well, Thursday night I got an idea in my head for the first few sentences of what could be a new, different book. So on Friday, I finished all my paid writing assignments and sat down to get typing and after about three pages I stopped.

It's good stuff, but I'm not sure where it's headed.

It got me to thinking, I was reading a writer's blog last week, and the writer was talking about how she outlines her entire novels before she writes them. That's her style. My brother also mentioned outlining when I told him about Debut Novel.

My dirty secret: The idea of outlining an entire book before I start writing it gives me the itch.

I used to think that meant I was a bad or undisciplined writer until I read Stephen King's On Writing. He doesn't outline either. He just gets an odd idea in his head and charges after it to see where it leads.

As a hopeful novelist, that was very reassuring to me. And you kids out there who've decided to give up writing because the ideas of outlining and extensive reasearch make your eyes glaze, take note! Your style might work for you. You just never know.

Also on Friday I was jogging and Nico popped up on the shuffle. She was singing about "leaving in the fairest of the seasons," and I was thinking how her voice reminded me of a goose.

I don't dislike Nico, I actually find her interesting. She gives me ideas for a future character if I find the right story. (Who knows, she might turn up in the one I started.)

I did a little research on her and her recordings with the Velvet Underground and her time at The Factory a while back, and she's so odd. But not in a bad way.

The song I was listening to was from her debut album, Chelsea Girl, which she reportedly hated because of all the production work done after she laid the tracks. She just wanted bare bones, her voice, an acoustic guitar, and I think a harpsichord.

If you're familiar with Nico, you can imagine how dreadful that would've been, and I can just imagine the record execs' eyes glazing at her unmarketable ideas.

(See how I sneaked some research in on myself? You might be doing it too and not even realize it. ;o)

Then I started thinking about artists. Working in the creative field, there's always pressure to be an artist. A lot of people refer to themselves or are referred to as artists, but I'm not sure that's always accurate. I think there's a difference in being an artist and simply being talented.

In my experience, artists are typically not concernd with the market. They also don't always care what the client wants. Sometimes that works for them and usually it doesn't.

Can fiction writing fall into the realm of art? I haven't thought through the criteria, but it's a creative field. So I'd say yes.

Then I thought of the prolific writers like Stephen King or John Grisham or Barbara Kingsolver. Margaret Atwood and J.K. Rowling. Are they talented or artists? Is it possible to produce only the occasional work of art? (Does that make you an artist or just talented and lucky?)

Or perhaps in the case of the Charlotte Brontes, you create one work of art that endures. Speaking of the classics, was Charles Dickens just talented or was he an artist? What about Shakespeare or Jane Austin?

So that's where my brain's been. Anybody read any good art lately?

Here's the link to that Nico song.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I used to go to sleep-away camp every summer when I was a kid. It was for three weeks, and I started going when I was seven years old.

The idea of sending Catherine to camp for three weeks right now by herself blows my mind. But if it was with Mr. Guy and Ms. Beth Tanner (the owners of Kueta-T Camp for Girls in Norwood, La.), I wouldn't hesitate.

Those guys were saints and grandparents and leaders and listeners all rolled up into one. They had six kids (plus them made eight, hence the "Kueta") and a dream of having a safe, fun, nondenominational camp for girls.

They also opened it to churches during the winter for retreats, and I think anyone who ever had any contact with Kueta and the Tanners came away loving those guys.

At Kueta the days were divided into activities you signed up for at the beginning of the session. You went to four or five a day, I can't remember. And the options included horseback riding, canoeing, archery, riflery, sign language, crafts, swimming, tennis... all the typical camp fare.

When I was a SMITY (Staff Member in Training) my last year to go, I taught drama and journalism. The journalism kids made an end-of-session newsletter and the drama group ended with a play. It was something about a princess and I can't remember what. Seems like there was another P-word in the title. (No, it wasn't "Pea.") It was hilarious.

My favorite part of the whole experience was the singing. Mr. Guy and Ms. Beth had graduated from LSU way back in the 1940s, and they had rewritten a bunch of the great old songs from that time with Kueta lyrics.

They were all about how great it was to be a camper at Kueta-T, and we would all sing a few after breakfast each morning. There were usually one or two that were divided into rounds.

Campers at Kueta aged from seven to seventeen, and after three weeks, everyone knew the songs. The year I was a SMITY, I got to help lead the singing after breakfast with Diedra (an actual grandaughter of MG & MB). It was awesome.

I also liked the sessions when they'd have a chorus option. A camper friend of mine Hayley and I loved to sing together. I remember Hayley had a really strong voice and the most beautiful, well-behaved blonde hair. There was no electricity at camp, so you can imagine what I looked like after a day.

During the sessions we were housed in open-air cabins called "Hogans," and the bathrooms were a hike down the hill from where we slept. Night-time bathroom runs were always ... exciting. We were out in the piney woods, you see, and it was Dark.

I thought about all this last night. I was feeling very tense and I had to go to choir practice at church. Since we moved here, we joined a small church that has an equally small choir. But it's a great bunch of folks--friendly and warm. They'd fit right in at Kueta.

We sang a song last Sunday that we hadn't practiced in a while and we hit a few wrong notes. The Duck in our choir fussed the whole way back to our seats about it. Something about sounding like cats and wishing she hadn't had a dog in that fight. Ms. Duck cracks me up.

Richard told me the Duck said she fell at the car wash one time and decided to just lie there until paramedics came and helped her up. She's one of the funniest, scrappiest old ladies I know, and I Love. Her.

Anyway, what all that has to do with harmony is this. I'm not the strongest singer in the choir, but I've got a decent ear for harmony, and I'll tell you something. There is nothing in this world like being surrounded by a group of voices ringing out a perfect four-part harmony.

I left last night feeling more relaxed than after a yoga class. Refreshed, too. Bro. Randy, our minister of music, is one of the hardest working men in show biz, and he always likes to say we're lead worshippers.

I don't always feel like a leader, but I always come away from that group restored, refreshed and ministered to. It's almost as good as coming off three weeks in the woods with no electricity and nothing but singing.

Kueta's no longer open. Ms. Beth's not doing so well, and Mr. Guy's up in heaven.

I like to imagine some of the songs he gets to sing up there including the words, "We call it fun, but you may call it ma-adness. Stay here with us and you'll forget your sa-adness. Happy campers are we having fun 'neath the trees and when we are gone you'll remember our song we call it Ku-eta-Tee, Ku-eta-Tee, Ku-eta-Tee, Ku-eta-Tee, Ku!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


People used to talk about "it" a lot when I was in college. (Maybe they still do, I don't know.) I was thinking last night about "it" and wondering if only people have "it" or if things can as well.

What's this "it" of which I speak?

Ugh, let me see if I can remember... "It" is/was defined as that indescribable quality that causes someone to stand out from the rest. It transcends talent and enters the realm of the undefinable. It's what the French call "je ne sais quoi" or "I don't know what."

Clear as mud?

People used to talk about supermodels having "it." Like what makes one pretty skinny girl stand out from all the other pretty skinny girls. Like Cindy Crawford had "it," as did Naomi Campbell. Heidi Klum has "it" when she doesn't speak.

Actors like Johnny Depp, Robert Downy, Jr... I'd go so far as to say little Miley Cyrus has "it." Bands and musicians can have "it." For example, what made Britney more popular than Xtina? She isn't a better singer...

Can you lose "it"? Hmm... Madonna still seems to have "it." As does Mick Jagger. (C'mon. You know you're gonna stop and stare at whatever they come out with. Confess!) I'd say Paul Newman never lost it. But there are probably people who had "it" who don't anymore.

Back to last night and wondering if things can have "it." Things like TV shows or movies or music or (wait for it...) books! Would you say Grey's Anatomy had "it," or was it the cast? I mean, what made it better than say that other doctor show... Boston somethingorother. Or even that Private Practice.

I never watched any of those shows, so I can't say.

Or reality TV. Again, not being a watcher, would you say any of those "housewives" shows seems to stand out from the rest? And would you say it was because of the people or the show itself as a whole?

I don't know. These are the thoughts I have as I wait to hear back from somebody... As the clock tick tick ticks and I try not to lose the other "it"... I hope my books have "it."  (smile)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring is springing!

First, cool tune alert: "Stylo" by Gorillaz. (For those of you trying to remember, Gorillaz is the cartoon group who released that "windmill, windmill" song about five years ago, "Feel Good, Inc.")

I downloaded "Stylo" a few weeks ago, and I have to say it gets better with every listen. That, and I really dig Mos Def's voice. Good vibrations.

Second, several peeps have asked for the latest on Debut Novel. Here's where we stand: I've had five requests for the full MS and one request for a partial.

And I wait. And yes, it's torture.

But the full MS requests came quickly over the last 10 days. (I finally figured out that query-letter trick.) Typical turnaround on fulls is 4-8 weeks. I'll keep you posted.

Now for spring! I was out jogging this morning, and it is so nice right now. The Bradford pears and Japanese magnolias are blooming and it's 60 degrees outside. Wow.

There were still little bursts of dead leaves that would rain down every so often while I ran, and it made me think of my first boss as an editor at LSU, Susan Rogers. She was a neat lady.

Susan was Irish. Actually, she was Jewish, but she was born in Ireland and then raised in London. Very multicultural. Still, she had this great British accent and she was extremely refined. She had a little teapot, and she liked to observe tea time. She said it was important to pause and reflect at some point during the day.

She taught me to write sentences that began with "would you please" and ended with "thank you" in the letters I sent back to professors with their edited manuscripts.

(Rather than "do this" and "do that" and "explain this" and "you stopped using English here.")

Susan also used fun catch phrases such as "we live in hope" and "keep calm." (Yes, there were times when those catch phrases were needed.)

Our offices were in Prescott Hall right next to the offices for this government program Law Enforcement Online (LEO). I never was quite sure what LEO did--busted hackers? Used satellites to track spies?

I did know we weren't supposed to go through their double-glass doors for security reasons. But the hall bathroom was just on the other side of their little suite of offices, so we ignored that rule. Sorry, federal government.

The lady in charge of LEO was this obnoxious redhead. She liked to stand in the hall and have loud conversations with her underlings who were in their offices. Her yelling typically involved lots of cursing, and it drove Susan nuts.

The redhead drove me nuts because every day after lunch she would go in the bathroom in her office and spray the crap out of her hair.

The building where we worked had been a dorm in a past life, so the bathroom of this woman's office was connected to my office, but the door had been sealed shut. (I'm sure to keep me from going postal on their butts.) The only problem was it wasn't airtight, so after she finished her grooming, my office was awash in Aquanet.

I would seriously have to stand at my door and fan out the hairspray. Rex Rose, my first graduate assistant got the brilliant idea of using clear packing tape to seal all the cracks around the door. It actually worked.

Oh, if only he weren't better at editing the manuscripts I gave him. He was actually pretty terrible. Susan was always calm and rational, but once he provoked her to say "bugger." That was So. Funny.

Susan had a daughter Rosie and an autistic son Seamus. Rosie called the office once and I answered the phone. Our conversation went like this:

Rosie: Is my mom there?
LTM: She's not in the office. Is everything OK?
Rosie: Keep calm.
LTM: Ooo-kaay... What's wrong?
Rosie: There may or may not be peacocks in our yard, and Seamus may or may not be chasing them.
LTM: (Well, which is it?)

That situation worked itself out. Seems their neighbors kept peacocks. Baton Rouge is also a quirky place to live if I haven't already mentioned it.

Seamus didn't talk and he wasn't toilet trained. He was also nine years old, and quite a handful. Some days Susan had to call in sick because he'd been up all night. She was a single mom. Her jerk husband had left her after they found out Seamus was autistic.

I say "jerk" because she implied that he blamed her for their son's condition. Seems that used to be the school of thought--autism was somehow the mother's fault. Jerks.

But Susan was always so upbeat and positive, and the few conferences we attended together were a blast. She was a lot of fun, and I admired her very much.

The reason I was thinking of her today was because she taught me to catch leaves.

Susan had lots of fun Irish folklore, and supposedly if you catch a falling leaf, it's very good luck. I managed to do it once when we worked together. I caught my leaf and then tossed it aside. Susan later informed me I had thrown my luck away. (You're supposed to keep it, silly!)

Catching leaves is hard. If you try it, be sure you've got an open, flat space to practice. Looking up and runing around is a great way to get hurt.

This morning when I was jogging I caught a leaf. I smiled and thought of Susan. She moved back to England several years ago. To a little village called Lowndes. I like to imagine those guys are doing great, having fun, enjoying life, observing tea time. Rosie would be grown now.

St. Patrick's day is a week away. Get outside and catch a leaf!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Marketing and Yo Gabba Gabba

Yo Gabba Gabba finally got an article in Entertainment Weekly.

Now I've admitted I'm a techno-lover (I blame formative years spent in the late-1980s). I recall the Kraftwerk-"Music Selector is the Soul Reflector"-turn on the strobe light and "Dance Your Love Away" scene as the ultimate in Good Times.

So two years ago when the girls and I happened across this odd little show on Noggin starring a funny black guy in an orange jumpsuit, furry hat, and horn-rimmed glasses dancing around to the musical stylings of Mark Mothersbaugh, we were checkin' that out!

Muno did give me pause, but the girls assured me he was just a hot dog from outer space. (Me: OK!) And by Halloween 2008, my big ole buddy Patrick Johnson and I were rockin out with the kids to "Party in My Tummy" and lovin it.

Can I just say, I know "PIMT" is intended to persuade little ones to eat their green beans and carrots (who are crying because they want to go to the party in your tummy). But if you're anything like me (and Patrick), and you know there's nothing better in life than hoggin' out, then that is the song for you.

Yo Gabba Gabba songs are available on iTunes, btw. I recommend the following: "Don't Bite Your Friends" (good message for kids and adults); Party in My Tummy" (see above); "Working Together" (again, good for parents and kids); The episode "Dance" (for obvious reasons).

What does all this have to do with marketing you ask? Well, I'll tell ya. I mentioned in a previous post that I came across an online forum dedicated to why the Twilight series was so successful.

There were a lot of haters going on about how badly the books were written (e.g., adverbs overload!) and feminist yadda yadda yadda. Personally, I thought the books were a lot of fun. I read them all in less than two weeks with a Disney trip thrown in the mix. They were entertaining and escapist and had an engaging love story.

But seriously, why would those books do better than say, a Sarah Dessen novel? My response = Marketing!

My reasoning was I would never have been aware of the books if I hadn't seen a big feature about Stephanie Myers and "the Twilight phenomenon" in Entertainment Weekly.

Therein lies the bug. I've known about YGG for two years, and EW's just now getting around to going ape over it.

So why is it so successful? I don't know that they've done much marketing for it. Maybe because it's on TV? Maybe because there's a buncha fan-parents out there who can't stop singing the songs and giggling about it to their friends?

I know I sing "Let's Get the Sillies Out" at odd, random moments. (I also bust rhymes from "Forgot About Dre," so I'm not such a great example.)

But I do have this question buzzing around in my head. What is making these books/shows so successful?

From what I understand there were lots of Moms out there reading Twilight before it went viral as well. Maybe that's it? If you can find something the kids like that the parents find irresistable as well, Eureka! You've done it?

I think it's the stylish clothes myself. I mean, heck. You can't beat that orange hat. And if I ever get anywhere near famous, I'm begging DJ Lance to please please please let me be a guest... I could do my Coco the Bird Lady dance!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Little Miss Strawberry

I was a pretty shy little kid.

I'm telling the truth. My older brother, who I've mentioned before, was not shy. My husband is not. And it looks like neither of my children are either.

My mom likes to say my oldest daughter acts just like me as a child. I don't know about that. I do know last year when Catherine was tapped to be Dolly in the first grade Broadway show, I was all prepared to give her the ole pep talk. You know the "stage fright is only in your head," "everyone is rooting for you," "the audience really wants you to do well" talk.

Then she got out there, they hit her cue, and she lit up like a born performer. She sashayed across the stage, smiling and blowing kisses, twirling with the little boys, skipping. You could've knocked me over with a feather. I don't know what Mom's seeing, but that was not me.

First-grade me would have sped across the stage, chin stuck to chest, completely forgetting what the heck I was supposed to be doing up there, and why I was even there in the first place.

So I wasn't too surprised when Catherine came home a month ago saying she wanted to be in the Little Miss Strawberry pageant.

I did have to giggle when she asked if she would wear a little green hat and red outfit. "No," I explained. "You don't dress like a strawberry. It's for the strawberry festival."

Personally, I don't really care for pageants. I think they put too much emphasis on appearance.

I know, they're not all like that, but this one is. This one is 73 little second-grade girls walking out on the stage, and from there they go down to seven. From there to one Little Miss Strawberry. It's completely old-school, Miss America-Atlantic City, 100% appearance-based.

I'm a little conflicted about the whole thing. I wanted to stop her from doing it, but some of her friends are in it. And my mom always put me in pageants, shyness and all, and I don't think it hurt me.

Little me would look around at most of the other little girls there, and I understood we were different. They were the kids who must be on stage.

That's also why I've never thought anything negative about my friends who've done pageants and who really like them. It's not one of my things, but that doesn't mean it can't be someone else's. (Please note, I'm not talking about the crazy pageant-mom types. Those ladies need therapy.)

It's like me vs. my husband. Me = "Crap! Why is everyone looking at me?" Richard = "Crap! Why is everyone NOT looking at me?" Or me and my brother.

Did I mention my brother won "Master Bayou State" as a child? You should see the picture of him with his little crown and scepter. He's just beaming.

So it'll be interesting to see how this day plays out. I'll let you know,* and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

*UPDATE: She did not win LMS. Catherine was OK with it; Laura was not. Laura was mad Catherine didn't win and said she'd never be in a pageant. LOL!
I said to Catherine, "You know, Grammy used to put me in pageants, and I never really liked them."
Catherine: "Well, you weren't in a Broadway show."
Me: "That's true..."
(Thanks, Dolly, for bolstering the ole confidence! Onward and upward!)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

L O S T Anthems

A while back a friend recommended I download "Big Light" by the group Roman Candle. Very luminous, I know.

Anyway, I did, but I didn't really listen to it at the time. I'm sure you guys agree, you have to be in the mood for certain songs. Lately, it's been in constant rotation, much to the children's annoyance.

The girls are very into "Les Champs-Elysses" by Joe Dassin. I blame my French-teaching friend Jenni and Eloise in Paris.

Don't get me wrong, it's a fun, catchy tune, and I'm diggin the multiculturalism. But after the 100th time, I'm thinking thoughts I can't translate into English... 

"Au soleil, sous la pluie, a midi ou a minuit
Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Elysees"

I've also been liking "Animal" by Kie$ha. Another anthem and great inspiration for romance. Yep. That's the emotion you're trying to capture. Good stuff.

(Can I go off on a tangent for a second and wonder what's the deal with no pants? I know we have Madonna to thank [again], but jeez, isn't the leotard look over yet? You're fit. That's awesome, now go get dressed already.)

So L O S T is in it's final season, and it is totally RULING!

My theory: the events that are happening off the island are going to end up being how the show rides off into the sunset. When they were on the plane, and Jack looked out the window and they showed the island underwater, I think that's what un-Locke/Smokey is ultimately going to do (sink the island), and our friends the Lostaways are going to be bounced back to what's going on in the real world.

Juliet did say "it worked" after all.

But that's just my theory. I have a group of friends in a separate email discussion who blow my mind with all their theories. Of course, they're all ST:TNG/Sci-Fi/Fantasy geeks, so I'm used to it. Having never read An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, I'm behind the curve. It's fun, though.

So I was thinking, those of you out there who watch, two questions:
1-What do you think?
2-Which L O S T  character are you?

I have to admit, while I'd like to be Kate, and last month I felt like I was turning into Rousseau, the truth is I'm really Hurley.

He outweighs me by like 200 lbs and all, but every line he utters is totally in my head before he says it. I'm as completely confused as he is (in which cases, I do tend to go all Zen and be like "whatever"--Hurley!), and I would have totally been writing the screenplay for Return of the Jedi, because he's right. Ewoks sucked.

That's it for today, kids. I've got to get back to Bidding of the Bulls. Let me put my lighter away...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Life Goes On

Bidding of the Bulls has eaten my life! It's OK, though. I'm not complaining because I was going a little nutso hitting the "refresh" button on the ole Gmail every five minutes waiting for query replies.

So I'm up to my neck in volunteer publicity. Here's a little for you, no charge: Attention SFES parents, Bidding of the Bulls is our biggest fundraiser of the year!

March 12, 6:30 p.m., Daphne Civic Center. Tix: $25/$45 in advance, $30/$50 at the door. Adults only.

On the auction block: Orlando vacation, P'cola Beach vacations, Season passes to Toros football games *with parking*, GMAC bowl package for four, Several golf packages, two sets of orthodontic packages with two-year follow ups, and more. Good stuff!

All money raised goes directly to SFES, so come out and support our school!

As for fun reads, well, I'm a bit swamped. Hours spent on BOB: 20; hours spent on work that actually pays me: 2; hours spent revising Book 2: 0.

I can say I recently did a get to know feature on a super-interesting fellow, Darrel Williams. He's a transplant from jolly ole England, has explored the world Indiana Jones-style twice, wrestles crocodiles, eats pirhanas, survives botfly attacks, and (big points for him) says Baldwin County is the best place he's ever lived.

Well, we could've told him that.

He's a trainer at Fitness Together at the Eastern Shore Centre if anyone's looking to shape up. He's also in training for the Iron Man triathlon in Utah, May 1. Wow. And I complain when I have to run in "the cold." (Seems I remember running in the snow in Indy.)

You can read the article here. Happy reading, and I'll be checking in with you guys soon!

Again, I apologize to those of you having problems following my blog, leaving comments, etc. I'm glad that I sent the world this blog address and now it seems to be quite user-unfriendly. Heads up to those who've talked to me about starting your own blog: I've read Wordpress is much easier. (Sorry, blogspot.) For now, we'll hold on here. If it gets too unbearable, I'll see about relocation.