Monday, May 30, 2011

Tag, Announcement, & Book Reviews - If I Stay/Where She Went

Happy Memorial Day!

First the book reviews. When I found the cover image for Gayle Forman's awesome debut If I Stay (link) I remembered why it took me so long to read the book.

I saw an ad for it in Entertainment Weekly that said, "Will appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight." And I thought, Yik!

The last thing I wanted to read was another poorly executed, paranormal, Stephenie-Meyer-Twilight-wannabe.

Let me say right now, If I Stay is not paranormal or poorly executed, and the only resemblance I see to Twilight (apart from being YA) is that both books are set in the Pacific Northwest--Twilight in Forks, Washington; If I Stay in Portland, Oregon.

Different places and vastly different stories.

I'm not kidding when I say this is the best book I've read since The Hunger Games trio, which would make it the best book I've read this year. Wait--then I read Where She Went, the sequel!

I read the second installment in one day, and I confess, it took me a few hours to recover once I finished. In a good way!

These books are intense and powerful. If I Stay starts out with broody, cello player and classical music lover Mia and her quirky family--ex-punk rocker parents and precocious little brother Teddy--all heading out for a visit to friends on a snowy morning.

Eleven pages later, her parents are dead and Mia's watching her body being transported to the ICU in a coma and on the brink of death.

The family is in a horrible car wreck that kills both parents instantly, and the remaining 200 pages follow the next 24 hours as Mia remembers her family, her friends, her boyfriend Adam, her feelings of never really belonging, and ultimately decides whether she wants to stay and continue living or let go and be with her family in the next life.

It's a moving, positive and ultimately hopeful story.

The sequel Where She Went (link) picks up three years later and is told from the point of view Mia's boyfriend Adam, whose life has fallen apart after the accident and Mia's subsequent choices. But at the same time, his music career has soared as he's poured all his heartbreak into his songwriting.

I didn't think I was going to enjoy the second book as much for those two reasons, but I was so wrong. Adam's story is just as captivating, and the ending is very satisfying...

Forman's descriptions of Mia's parents were so authentic. Her tough, protective mom, her father evolving from punk to bow-tie wearing "responsible" dad. I even dug her theory on coma victims.

And wow. The depiction of Mia as band girlfriend was unexpected. I spent Age 19-23 in almost that exact spot, and I never expected my feelings to be depicted ... well, anywhere. I felt like my response to that position was so goofy and hard to explain. And then Forman went and nailed it. How predictable am I? (OK, except for the licking Adam's sweaty face part. I never had that urge... ew. *snort*)

Good stuff.

Anyway, I'm afraid saying more will spoil the story, so I'll just say these books are amazing. I never laughed--too intense!--but I cried twice and was so touched. Super A+ to both, and hats off to Forman.

Heads up to moms, unlike Twilight, there are several F-bombs in both books, Mia and Adam have a sexual relationship that is only alluded to (no graphic details here), and there is substance use and abuse. Poor Adam's pretty messed up in Book 2.

So the books are adult at times, but still I highly recommend both for older teens and adults. They're fantastic and will stay with you for a while.

Now, for that Tag!

I was tagged by RaShelle (link) and then "Bambi" (*snort*) Johnson (link) and someone else (?) with this next bit, so I'm feeling the pressure to play. But I'll keep it short.

Do you think you're hot? It hit 92 degrees here yesterday and a zillion percent humidity. I know I'm hot.

Upload a picture or wall paper that you are using at the moment. This is my youngest enjoying some quiet time at my favorite place on earth, Seaside, Fla.

When was the last time you ate chicken? Hmm... Oh! Mom and Dad were visiting last week and we had chicken for dinner Tuesday.

The song/songs you listened to recently. My iPod is a musical mushpot of songs ranging from Broadway to pop, rap, classical, country, kids' stuff... Lately, I've been on a Ryan Adams kick, though. Very much diggin "Everybody Knows," "16 Days," "Dear John," "La Cienega Just Smiled" ...

What were you thinking while doing this? Who cares when I ate chicken last? (*snort*)

Do you have a nickname? What are they? I always despised nicknames. But my uncle went through a spell of calling me "Leigh-Roy" in high school until my mom made him stop. Then a coworker called me "Leighbert" for a while. (Leigh + Talbert). College boyfriend, who was 6'2" called me "sweet petite" and then "punkin," which unfortunately stuck for the duration of our five-year relationship... These days I'm just Mom.

I'm going to skip the tagging portion of the show, because I can't think of anyone who hasn't done this... And it's time for my Big Announcement.

I hate to do it... I've been resisting... but the truth is, I'm in over my head now. And I'm about to go off the radar for a bit, guys.

Most of you know we're moving 800 miles due north. Well, the time has come, our house has sold, and Zoikes! We have not found a house in our new location yet.

June is going to be the month to survive for me. New Owners take possession 6/23, so I'm going to be house-hunting, packing, moving, possibly homeless...

You guys are the one constant in my life right now, and I enjoy chatting with you all so much, but the truth is, I'm not going to be able to keep up the blog through all this.

So I'm on hiatus until July. My goal is to be back July 12. In the meatime, I'll be missing you guys! And I'll be trying to keep it together over here.

Have a great June, reader- and writer-friends! Til July~ <3

Thursday, May 26, 2011

HS Rereading & Review - The Scarlet Letter

I reread The Scarlet Letter last week. I've been working on two historical MSs, so it was part-research, part-curiosity.

TSL was first assigned to me in tenth-grade English, and I remembered thinking it was the most laborious book I'd ever been forced to read.

The language was so archaic and dense--Who writes like this? And the descriptions of all the minutiae--Oh, God! Why?

But I slogged through it.

I went to a magnet school, and we were drilled that we were "college prep." We were selling ourselves short if we didn't do our best. And as one of my friends said in horror, "If you don't do the assignment, how will you ever get those points back?"

Yeah. That was my high school experience. But it was good for me. No complaints.

So anyway, going in I anticipated something like this: Boring, boring, boring. Sudden intensity! The End.

Rereading it as a married mother with a few adult relationships under my belt, I had a very different response than I did at 15.

I can now appreciate the story of the pretty young bride, the disfigured, neglectful older husband, the smart, charismatic young minister.

I empathized with the whole single mother situation, and could imagine the added pain of being alone, a social outcast. I also could understand better why Hester wouldn't reveal her illigetimate child's father.

The scene in the woods when she bares her soul to her baby-daddy (I won't spoil it in case anyone on the planet hasn't read this book) was particularly poignant.

Hester was a young girl in love. And she glamorizes her otherwise mundane life with her protection of her co-conspirator.

At the same time BD still irritates me. He's ambitious and allows Hester to hide his guilt so he can go on pursuing his career goals.

Yet he's so weak, his hypocricy literally kills him. He can't muster the strength to leave it all behind and take Hester and Pearl away. Even after confessing his love for her.

Wow. Hats off to Hawthorne. I think I've met that male protagonist. And I know I've been guilty of playing Hester before in at least one relationship. Forget my needs, I love him!


So no wonder it's a classic. Now here's my question: Is this book wasted on a 15-year-old audience?

I taught 15 year-olds, and I guess my answer would be, "Not if it's done right." And alternatively, if they're not made to read it then, will they ever? And then will books like these be lost?

Doubtful about the lost part. It's a good book. I recommend picking it  up sometime, and feel free to skim the lengthy, dense descriptions of minutiae. I did.

Have a great week-end, reader-friends! Til Monday~ <3

(Hey, P.S. Read, or reread, any good classics lately?)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Are You a Teacher?

I get asked that a lot.

When I was younger, I'd get all offended because I thought the speaker was implying that I was frumpy and unfashionable. Basically, uncool.

I was still set on becoming the next Anna Wintour. So I was all black, severe diet, severe hair (Ha!), very focused on my career as an editor.

Sigh... kids.

Now when I'm asked that question, I have a very different response.

I actually did teach my first year out of college. I was 23, and I taught tenth grade non-honors English at my alma mater, Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge.

My sophomore English students were the absolute best--we had a blast. But I also had to teach one class of seniors, and it was hard for me. I was too close to their age, and discipline was a problem.

And I'm not very tall. That does matter when you're scolding an 18 year-old boy who's looking down at you, grinning.

Anyway, so last weekend at our yard sale, a poor black lady walked up with her son. He looked about middle-school aged, but he was as big as me. And he was constantly humming under his breath as he shoved through the stacks of books, toys, movies, whatnot. Very bull in the china closet.

The lady tried to direct his attention, but he was focused.

I've shared with you guys about my first boss as an editor Susan and her autistic son Seamus. This boy reminded me very much of how Seamus acted. (If you're interested in that post, here's the link).

This boy could speak, so I called to him, "Here, look at this."

I had one of those fridge-phonics toys where you put the letter in the little square box and press it down. A song plays that teaches the child the letter sounds.

Some of you probably have it: "E says E, and E says eh. Every letter makes a sound..."

The boy was ecstatic! He grabbed the toy out of my hands, and I felt his strength. I glanced at his mom and remembered Susan's biggest fear was that one day she'd have to put Seamus in a home.

She had tears in her eyes when she told me that.

You see, autistic boys grow just like every other boy, and for a single mom, their tantrums can turn into inadvertant physical injury.

Anyway, he was smiling, so excited. He wanted to press it and press it and press it. I took his hand and said, "Here. Watch."

Then I took another letter out of the bag, showed it to him, then showed him how to fit it in the slot. The toy was made for preschoolers, so it wasn't hard. Then I pressed it. "O says O, and O says ooo..."

He yelped with glee and then grabbed me in the biggest, hardest hug. He almost knocked me down. I laughed. His mother was so apologetic. It was Okay, I said.

Then she said it: "You must be a teacher."

I smiled and shook my head. I wasn't, I said, although I had taught one year a long time ago.

It was an interesting moment, and it made me think about several things. First, how stupid I was in my 20+-year-old estimation of teachers. But also how every relationship in your life leaves you with a particular understanding of other people and their individual fears.

My writer-brain kicked in, and I had so many potential character ideas. The poor mother. The big, strong mentally challenged son who responds to the smallest kindness. Her patience. The response they're probably expecting or used to getting. How my reaction could've changed the scene.

In closing, it's the last week of school here, so I'd like to say a big THANK YOU to the teachers we've had at Spanish Fort Elementary School.

Not only are they some of the most fashion-forward teachers I've ever seen, they love their students, and they're the best I've encountered.

I'm honored to be mistaken for one.

Have a great week, reader-friends. Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This One Bites

Wow. First, THANKS to everyone who participated in the LITBM fest. It was a laughing great time, but it would've been nothing without you all.

I'm still recovering from this week. So I'll present you with another funny, but it's also something of a problem.  A funny problem.

Most of you know we have a cat, Flower.

Well, Flower's not the greatest cat in the world. She was found by my dad in the back woods of Mississippi. We've had her since she was about four weeks old, and she's regularly fed, etc.

You'd think that would make a difference to her, right? It doesn't.

We (somewhat) affectionately call her our "booger cat." Flower doesn't like to play, she doesn't like to be petted. Occasionally, I'll find a half-eaten lizard carcass in some odd place in the house, and some days, out of the blue, she'll bite one of us.

And homey don't play with those bites, either. She draws blood.

Flower is affectionate on two occasions 1-When it's cold; and 2-When I take the white clothes out of the dryer and start folding them.

Just the whites. Here's a shot of her in them purring. Loudly.

She's a black and white cat, and I don't want her on the white towels because she leaves black hairs on them.

Somehow I think she knows this.

And when I try to shoo her off them, guess what she does? Yep. She bites me. Here's a shot of her getting ready to bite me.

I'm about to go for that sock under her foot, and I took this picture because I've gotten to where I can read her actions. See those eyes?

Many of you are cat owners. What do you do with such a cantankerous feline?

I'm considering donating her to the new homeowners. No, that wouldn't be right. I know her, and I'll put up with her quirks.

I'd just like to make her cut it out. If possible...

Have a great weekend, reader-friends! I'm behind on awards to distribute, but I'll do that Monday~ <3

Monday, May 16, 2011

LITBM Blogfest - Some Quickies

Woo! It's HERE! And I think we can ALL use a good laugh after the Blogger meltdown recently. So since we had such an amazing turnout for the fest, I'm keeping this to a few short bursts.

Five quickies, if you will.

And I can't wait to get around and read all the hilarity. So here goes.

(And for the record, we could think of zero writer jokes. I can't wait to see if any of you found one.):

Q. What do yo get when you cross an elephant with a rinocerous?
A. HellifIknow.

*Pah dum-pum*

#2-A horse walks into a bar.
Bartender says, "Why the long face?"

#3-A hamburger walks into a bar.
Bartender says, "We don't serve food here."

#4-A skeleton walks into a bar.
He orders a beer and a mop.


And finally, specially for my UK friends,

What do you get when you pour hot water down a rabbit hole?
Hot, cross bunnies.

drum-roll... crash!

(Gah! And two bonus blonde jokes. I forgot my blonde jokes. Because I'm blonde, of course.)

What's the definition of eternity?
Four blondes at a four-way stop.

Why did the blonde stare at the orange juice can?
Because it said concentrate.


Now, off to read the rest of yours. And here are the links to all our hilariously humorous participants. Be sure to run around and overdose on some funnies!

Have a great week, reader-friends. Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Keep It Simple

It might not show in pictures, but I've always been sort of a laid-back personality. Sure, I'm super Type-A, but that's mostly when it comes to things like accomplishing my own, personal goals.

I think that's what attracted me to my husband. We're both extremely driven. But we don't expect others to be that way. In fact, we're both almost apologetic for not being more cool and laid back--Zen--about things like careers and fitness and personal goals...

Okay, so that's a long buildup for what I'm about to say: I got no beef with that little Rebecca Black song.

"Friday" is all about pure joy, man, and I just don't understand the hate. Now get over yourself, and listen to me.

Yes, the words are inane and the the vocoder on her voice makes her sound like a tree frog, but when you get right down to it, "Everybody's lookin forward to the weekend."

That's something we can all understand. Right? It's so simple, it's corny.

My preferred version is the Stephen Colbert/Jimmy Fallon production (link). But you all know I'm a fan of dancing girls and glitter guns (and feather boas). The Glee cast also did a pretty good rendition. (link)

Anyway, I got to thinking about writing and the book I've currently got on submission. When I started writing that one, I had one thing in my head: Keep it Simple.

I'd recently re-heard that This American Life broadcast where Starlee Kine wanted to write a break-up song, so she enlisted the help of Phil Collins. I don't know if you've heard it, but it's gut-wrenching. Here's the (link).

Anyway, I always thought Phil Collins was a tool and his music was oppressive. But after listening to that TAL, I decided he was among the first people I was inviting to The Party.

After Shatner and Bill Murray and Kirstie Ally. And Wes Anderson. And my little sister, Reese Witherspoon.

Yes, this is a fictitious party in my head. So?

Here's my point: Last week (or so) I posted about writing a classic, and we all weighed in. The comments basically added up to the fact that a classic presents relatable characters going through situations we all face in an engaging, timeless way.

I'm not saying "Friday" by Rebecca Black is a classic. But I think it deserves examination. It doesn't over-think the situation. It boils it all down to the basics. I'm snorting as I say this, but it's primal. And it's damn catchy.

The lesson I got: Do that logline exercise described by Nathan, Rachel and now Natalie. Then start writing. Keep It Simple, Sweetheart (KISS).

And see what happens.

Okay, I'm just throwing it out there. What do you guys think? Have I lost it this time?

Remember, LITBM blogfest is Monday! Here's the (link).

Have a great weekend, reader-friends. Til Monday~ <3

Monday, May 9, 2011

Twenty-to-One Shots

So I started watching the Derby with my Dad when I was a kid. My mom'd had a horse when she was young, and she'd always spoken of it as being this sort of magical playmate.

I was scared of horses back then, but I liked looking at them. Then at camp one summer I was assigned to the stables, and ultimately got over my fear.

In my 20s, I fell in with this group of guys about 15 to 20 years older than me. They were old bachelor curmudgeons who I met because I worked with one of them. I was his boss. He was my senior editor.

That arrangement was ridiculous, but he was very cool about it and a huge help to me in that difficult workplace.

One afternoon I met up with them at a local LSU hangout The Chimes (link). They were smoking stogies and arguing the best performance by Orson Welles. The Mars radio show was tossed out as was Citizen Kane. I weighed in with The Stranger and instantly upped my cred.

They started tolerating my presence, and before long they were including me in their rituals, one of which was juleps and the Derby on race day.

Before it was all over they'd even invited me to their annual Christmas Eve day-long "dinner" at Galatoire's in New Orleans (link). I never could go because my mom's birthday is Christmas Eve, but it was nice to be invited.

I miss those guys.

Anyway, my daughters are finally old enough to care, and on Saturday, we sat down about ten minutes before race time and I explained it all to them. It was fun. They were into it, and as we talked, I realized how much like anything involving hard work, skill, persistence, and a little bit of luck it was.

Like getting a book published, for instance.

We work hard, train, hone our skills, then we pass our horse off to an agent and hope for the best. We're advised to put our heads down, not obsess, write while you wait (or as I like to say, "just keep swimming").

Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and before long (the hope is), you'll look up and you're there. You've made it.


Who knows. You might even be the 20-1 shot, and on your 13th try, on a horse you weren't even supposed to ride, you win.

Have a great week, reader-friends!

Quick reminder: Our "Laughter is the Best Medicine" blogfest is next Monday (link). I'll post another reminder Thursday--should be a laughing good time.

Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Historic Times and Personal Media

So the last seven days, right? First we have the worst tornadoes in recorded history sweep through my state, followed by a Royal Wedding, followed by the killing of the (arguably) worst terrorist leader in U.S. history.

If that weren't enough, I finally found my sea legs and got my writing mojo back. And I ventured more actively into the world of Twitter.

All these historic events got me to thinking... What next? Locusts?

Seriously, it got me to thinking about two things in particular. First the international events. I was impressed by the solemnity of the Royal Wedding. It seems the era of Paris Hilton-style heirs and heiresses has ended and a restrained elegance has returned.

I'm all for that. I mean, you all know I love a party, but can we keep our panties on? Or at least while the cameras are out? (And while we're entering or exiting the vehicle or climbing stairs...)

Have I officially become Grandma? Do you agree or disagree? Are these Royal Fuddy-Duddies too young to be acting so old?

Next is the killing of Osama bin Laden. I had friends who figuratively threw a parade over his death. My response was more sedate and solemn, sadness remembering the evil this one person wrought on the lives of so many.

But on the third hand, I have friends who've confided in me they don't believe it really happened. Or, they believe it happened a long time ago and for whatever reason, it's just now being announced. Very Wag the Dog.


I love listening to conspiracy theories, although I rarely believe them. I do agree it seemed out of the blue, and following all the garbage about Obama's birth certificate, you'd think our President would want to bombard us with proof of death.

But we are not barbarians. We do not videotape the slaying of our enemies or place severed heads on pikes. C'mon, people. I think we're going to have to go with our military on this one and take their word for it.

Do you agree or disagree? Am I the naieve one here?

As for Twitter, I'm learning to be loose and float randomness into the ether. My first few weeks, I decided the whole system was weird. I'm more of a relational social-media user, and Twitter seemed very isolating to me.

I never knew when friends were there, I tweeted at folks never to hear back from them, I tweeted and wondered why.

I was about to throw in the towel when suddenly it opened up for me, and I started finding people.

I was online at the same time as friends. I downloaded an app to my phone that plays a little tune whenever I get an @ message. I might disable that one soon...

There's been some discussion about types of social media and what's going out or staying or dying. I think it depends on your personality and your goal.

For quick networking with others doing what I do, it seems Twitter is good. For really getting to know people who do what I do (Writers), sharing and supporting, blogger seems ideal. And then for keeping up with family and friends, Facebook has been great.

What do you guys think?

That's it for me. I'm just over 7K words in the new MS, and it's very exciting. I wish I could do nothing but write (#amwriting), but I can't. I'll be around.

Have a great weekend, reader-friends! Til Monday~ <3

BIG HUGS to you all for the outpouring of encouragement and support on Monday. It really got me out of my funk, and demonstrated my point up there about blogging. What would I do without you, my long-distance, international support group? Love you guys~

Monday, May 2, 2011

9 months ago

Warning, over-sharing ahead: I was sitting on the toilet looking at the ceramic tile floor in my bathroom when it hit me. Everything in my life is upside right down, and nine months ago it wasn't.

Why the ceramic tile? Well, I'll tell ya.

My dad and I put that tile down. The two of us. By ourselves. And it looks pretty darn good.

Before that I had carpet in my bathroom. Carpet. In the bathroom. Yuck.

But at the door leading from my bathroom to my bedroom, we couldn't find the right strip to put there. So we left it with just the tile meeting the carpet. No overlay, no nothing.

It was fine for me, but now that I'm trying to sell my house, I realize potential buyers won't know this story.

They won't know that my little girls were six months old and 17 months old when we moved here, which explains why there are chocolate milk spatters in various odd locations throughout the house. (Sippy cups leak when thrown.)

I've tried to wipe them all up, but I still find stray ones hidden in corners.

They won't know that nine months ago, I decided this less than two-thousand square-foot home was too small for us and started looking around Spanish Fort for a new one.

They won't know that I gave up after a week.

Because there aren't any other homes on corner lots that end in cul-de-sacs where I know all my neighbors and we all like each other.

Where the youngest had daughters old enough to babysit when we moved in, and where the oldest brought me an Easter lily and told me what all the flowers were in my yard.

And then she groused because the previous owner "didn't know when to stop" when it came to buying new flowering plants.

That neighbor and I had the same birthday. She died four years ago, and when we put the For Sale sign out in front of my house, I went for a run. When I got back, I went straight into the front yard of her now-empty house and held onto her satsuma tree and cried.

Some mornings when I'm in the kitchen making coffee, I can still see her 87 year-old self puttering around her over-planted yard. The people who buy this house won't remember her.

Nine months ago, I was active in the PTA. I volunteered in the cafeteria when budget cuts meant we lost a lunch lady, and I never missed a field trip.

Nine months ago I belonged here.

And now I don't. Now my friends talk about the kids joining soccer teams and school functions I won't be around to attend.

Wow. I'm sorry!

It's Monday, and I've turned into a depressing ninny-baby on you all! I've even picked up some new followers. Hello, new followers! I'm typically not such a dismal hostess...

Here's an incredible story:

We moved here in Feb. 2004. In March 2004, a couple came to the house and asked if it was still for sale. I told them that it wasn't anymore, we'd bought it. They asked if they could see the place anyway, and it was so odd, I said sure.

They were from south Louisiana, too. They'd been off living on a yacht--people do that around here--and had seen the house online and wanted to buy it. I apologized and said I guessed I'd beaten them to it.

They were very kind, and we shared some laughs. And I never heard from them again.

Yesterday, they drove past the house, stopped and got out. They've been wanting to move back to this area and had been driving around looking at houses. None of us could believe it. I wonder if they'll make an offer.

Finally, True Confession: I buried the lede. My MS is on submission right now. It has been for two weeks, and so far I haven't heard anything. I really thought I'd be cool during this part of the process...

I am so not cool during this part of the process.

I'm freaking out. This is so much worse than querying because this is IT. The last layer where I find out if I'm in or I'm out. I feel jumpy and sweaty and nauseous all at the same time if I think about it too much.

Nothing like everything happening at once.

Have any of you experienced any of these things? Any words of advice for me? I could sure use a bit of encouragement. Thanks, my reader- and writer-friends.

Have a great week, don't forget to sign up for the "Laughter is the Best Medicine" blogfest (link) to be held May 16. (I could use it today!)

Til Thursday~ <3