Friday, December 11, 2009

It's Getting Sappy Up In Here...

It’s that time of year—time to deck the halls, fruit the cake, steamroll the mannheim, and nog the egg. We’re simplifying this year—buying fewer presents, spending more time together, and recognizing the inherent joy in the smallest of things. Decorating gingerbread houses. Bumbles and Yukon Cornelius (who came up with that name?). Singing in the church choir. Linus on national television reminding us what Christmas is all about. My son putting only the following three items on his Santa list: "a real live parakeet, 200 bucks, snow falling in my backyard." Trader Joe’s sea salt caramels (you've heard me talk about yin and yang...don't get me started on salty and sweet. Perfection in a cello wrapper). Peppermint hot chocolate and snowman Peeps. Not hearing that awful Christmas Shoes song. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. The Star Wars Christmas Album (what do you get a Wookie for Christmas, when he already has a comb?). Cousin Eddie’s dickie, Aunt Bethany’s jello mold, and Clark Griswold demanding we have the “hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby danced with Danny [bleeping] Kaye.”

There is also joy to be found in honoring your craft. The best gifts we can give ourselves cost nothing—time to write amidst the frenzy of the season, stolen moments with our characters, juicy plot developments all wrapped up with a fat bow. And grace. Grace to accept that 1,000 words a day may not happen until the New Year, but each sentence, each word, each thought related to your work is a small treasure. This season, may you receive presence, along with your presents.

(And, because I can’t resist, for you Twilight fans . . . an extra special gift, courtesy of the LOLcats. It makes me giggle!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Riding the Climb or Climbing the Wave

What do Miley Cyrus and Ursula K. Le Guin have in common? Presumably, very little. Okay, probably nothing. But its been a bit of a rough spell for Jayne Lynne. Not the one-of-us-has- taken-seriously-ill or-something-like-that kind of rough spell. But the kind of rough spell where the writing isn't coming and the time that should be spent writing is commandeered by annoyingly superfluous things like our jobs, our families, our friends, the holidays, and, admittedly, the occasional red wine hangover. I know what you're thinking. The economy is in the tank, no one has a job, its crazy cold in California, Tiger Woods is no longer the Golden Boy, and this is your rough spell? Well, yes. Everything is relative.

It seems that we let our new book, Done Fell Out, sit for a while. And it turns out that an unfinished manuscript is not unlike cheese. In some cases, it needs some age; in others, it just gets rank. And its pretty rank up in this beeatch, if you know what I mean. We recently took on Chapters 9 and 10 and proceeded to wrestle with them for the better part of a month. And I mean alligator mud pit wrestling. And, much like alligator mud pit wrestling, the outcome wasn't so pretty. And to make matters worse, I read through the first eight chapters and had to look around the house to find the person who had written those words. I knew Laura had written her parts, but mine? I couldn't find that woman anywhere. And I'm a little worried she's not coming back. I've talked often lately of hanging up the keyboard and have been prone to indulge in other bad, overly dramatic metaphors indicating I might just be done with writing.

And then this weekend I received a gift from The Writing Loft - a thank you for speaking at Artoberfest. It was a book by Ursula K. Le Guin entitled The Wave in the Mind, and it struck a chord I worried had been rendered inert-an inspired, creative chord. And later I was organizing my son's room, pulling out forsaken toys and unidentifiable pieces of plastic, when Its the Climb came on the radio. I was singing at the top of my lungs, in resonant frequency (high school physics anyone?) with that inspired chord (although, notably, cleaning my son's room and not writing), before I realized, with shame, that I was singing Miley Cyrus. I rationalized that she most certainly hadn't written the song, and then I silently thanked those who did because they reminded me to worry less about the destination and just enjoy the climb, or, as Ursula would prefer, ride the wave.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mother Knows Best (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Technology)

Kris and I recently gave a talk about how we write together. Like an old married couple (think the vignettes in When Harry Met Sally, finishing each other's sentences, saying the same thing at the same time), we told the story about how we met at the firm (a very pregnant Kris interviewed me), how we discovered we both loved writing (talking late one night while working at the firm, wine in hand), and the genesis of The Pecking Order (a particularly long, pointless, billable-hour-sucking meeting that ended in a decision to, yes, have another meeting). We praised the benefits of having a writing partner to share in the struggle, the disappointments, and the joys, and we also explained our process. And it goes a little something like this (hit it!): we loosely outline two chapters; Kris writes one chapter, I write the other; we switch and edit; we switch and edit again; and so on and so forth. And we do this all over email, putting our edits and thoughts in bolds and brackets, so our drafts end up looking like this (note, real live excerpt from early working draft of The Pecking Order): “You’re right. A little harmless flirting never hurt anyone. I should let myself have fun. I work hard and I deserve it,” I say [uncorking our first bottle of wine] [delete – we have a lot of champagne going on….popping the cork on our first bottle of champagne.]

Then we each put the latest version in our respective running documents (on our respective laptops), which may or may not match each other at any given point, depending on whether I remembered to email the most recent draft to my work account or Kris could access the document on vacation or the planets aligned and the heavens smiled on us, making all things domestic and career-related run smoothly. Goodness gracious, it's a lot of work just to type our process . . .

Some time back, my mom (who is ridiculously more technologically advanced than I am) questioned why we weren't using google docs. She might as well have asked why we didn't have the robot prepare dinner or why we didn't drive to work in a hovercraft. We ignored her. For years. Until we finally tried it last week. And people, let me tell you, google docs is all that. You can store documents online and choose who to share them with. Much like a yahoo or gmail email account, you can access your document from anywhere with internet access. Now, we have a single running document and anything we write, be it a single sentence or entire chapter, goes into that document. No more passing bolds and brackets back and forth through email - one of us can open the document and make edits that the other can see simply by logging in. It's genius, I tell you, and not just for writing teams--it's a good back up system for any writer, and ensures you have your manuscript at your fingertips anytime, anywhere.
So, yea, I guess I should have listened to my mother the first time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Haiku

Steady rain grey skys
Lovely Seattle hotel
I forgot to blog

Sunday, November 8, 2009


You know MTV Unplugged--that show where a major musical artist sits on a cozy stage with only a guitar or piano or ukulele (or whatever instrument he or she uses), plays, and sings without benefit of amplifiers, background tracks, or bubble machines? It's just an artist and his or her craft, and more often than not it is moving and raw and real. Well, guess what fellow writers? We need to unplug every now and then, too. Not from sound enhancers or the whammy bar (thank you, Guitar Hero, for my current state of musical literacy), but from all those things that are necessary and helpful, but often get in our way. I'm talking about you, Facebook and Twitter and Writing Blogs (but feel free to finish reading this blog before heeding my advice).
I don't know about you, but when I sit down to write, my process usually goes something like this: Make tea. Sit on chaise with laptop. Open manuscript. Read the last paragraph. Check email. Open Twitter. Log on to Facebook and read multiple status updates from friends stressing out about their NaNoWriMo word count. Open and wonder, once again, why these girls aren't my best friends. Read Inkygirl's latest blog and comic--if there's a new caption contest, spend the next few minutes trying vainly to come up with a witty caption (girlfriend is hilarious, btw . . . I know I'm telling you to go offline, but you really should check her out.). Maximize manuscript. Write a few lines. Send email to Kris telling her I'm writing. Refresh gofugyourself. Refresh Twitter. And so on and so forth . . .

Sound familiar? Sure, I've read all about how we need to cut the electronic leash--heck, my pastor literally wrote the book on simplifying our lives, on saying yes to the important things and no to meaningless distractions. And yet, I rarely put it into practice. But this past week was different. I attended a legal conference at a lovely hotel with lovely, child-free rooms and lovely, squishy, crumb-free beds . . . and wireless internet access priced at $9.95/day. I've mentioned I'm a public sector lawyer in California, right? And you've heard of a little thing we like to call CALIFORNIA'S MASSIVE BUDGET CRISIS, right? So, yea, I can't rationalize ten bucks for internet access when words like furlough and pay cut and phasing out are bandied about my office the way we used to talk about American Idol contestants and how Jon and Kate seemed like a cute couple. (Of course, I tried every unsecured network that showed up on my laptop to no avail. . .curse you kittyboy17 and your weak signal). So I sat in bed, ate a $3.00 bag of cheese crackers for dinner, and wrote. I wrote 500 words in about 40 minutes. I nearly finished an entire chapter in one evening. I unplugged and, oh my gosh, it worked.

And then in the morning (after discovering the lobby has free internet) I read a tweet from @inkyelbows (InkyGirl's twitter alter ego) announcing, "when you're reading about writing, you're not writing." Amen, sister.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Red Baron Lives.

I really like champagne. Okay, that has nothing to do with this blog, other than that its Friday night, I should have written this post this morning, and now I'm reveling in a lovely bottle of bubbly supplied by my parents who, fortunately for me, happen to have fantastic taste in champagne. The apple doesn't fall far and all that . . .

Anyhoo, its Halloween. The time for trick or treat, candy and costumes, ghouls and goblins. As I dressed my son in his store-bought "Golden Dragon Ninja" costume today (an early victim of precisely targeted marketing, my son. He has two other very viable ninja costumes), I felt sad I hadn't made his costume, that we hadn't culled together random pieces of fabric, poster board, old jewelry, and make-up to come up with some fabulous iteration of Sponge Bob, Anakin Skywalker, or Caillou (yeah, I know I could just shave his head and call it good on that one. . . .what's with that kid having no hair?). But, for better or worse, that's not how we roll in the Blanco house. A homemade meal, for sure. Homemade costumes, never going to happen. But does that mean I have to forsake all sense of tradition and authenticity? Well, perhaps. On Tuesday night, when I cleared my schedule and set the whole house up for an Its the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown viewing, they just wanted to watch Goosebumps and then the Monsters vs. Alien Halloween special. They begged, they pleaded, but I made them sit and watch Its the Great Pumpkin and I'm not ashamed to say I issued several threats during that half hour. I repeated Lucy's jokes, highlighted Schroeder's talent, but you know what? They didn't care. I guess I can only hope that one day my son will fake complain that his mother made him watch The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown every year and that he'll meet people later in life who have the exact same story.

So I'll ask the same question I always do. What does this have to do with writing? Well, not much. But it has something to do with reading. My book club has recently read some great new books - The Selected Works of T.S Spivet being one of them. What a book, what a character. I would recommend it to anyone. But now we're reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I can't help but think of Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin and Snoopy as the Red Baron lost in France during WWI, and ask where would we be, who would be, without the classics.

Friday, October 23, 2009

And the Student Becomes the Teacher...

I had the pleasure of helping edit some short stories today for a writing class. The assignment was to write a story in 10 minutes or less, in the spirit of a Native American legend, explaining something we take for granted in our modern world. The stories had titles like, "Why the Sun is in the Sky," "How Snakes and Legless Lizards Came to Be," and, my personal favorite, "Why Women Talk So Much." (In case you're wondering, a lovely, handsome man wooed a young maiden and they would have lived happily ever after, except she ran around the woods and proclaimed her love to all who would listen and he was hounded day and night by curious and annoying woodland creatures until he had enough and sailed away, leaving the maiden with only her own voice for company. I probably would have titled it, "Why Women are Better Off Alone Than With Some Tool Who Can't Express His Feelings," but that's just me...)

I must say, I was impressed. The stories were only a page or two in length, but fully formed. The students were instructed to use their senses, so the stories were engaging, but also to the point. There was no digression, no backstory, no sentences requiring more than one breath, no cramming of words where they don't fit just because they sound pretty. Sure, given more time the authors could have rounded out their stories, but the exercise reminded me that, at its core, writing is about the story. The plot. The point! So often, I find myself stumbling over my words, trying to craft something beautiful, publishable, worthy of a table at Barnes and Noble. I've stared at a blinking cursor, trying to sift literary gold from the muddy recesses of my brain for longer than the time it took these students to write an entire story. Maybe, in those instances, I should try to just write what happens. After all, once I lay the foundation, I can build upon it later. Like Maria von Trapp always said, the beginning (the very beginning) is a very good place to start. So, thank you, Mrs. Sloan's fourth grade class (yes, fourth graders!) for helping me get back to basics.

And, in that odd, inexplicable way that everything seems cosmically connected these days, I stumbled upon this link on InkyGirl's website (helpful blogger for writers, and ridiculously hilarious literary cartoonist). It's called "One Word," and each day it provides a different one-word prompt. Writers have 60 seconds to write about that word. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks like it would help those of us (you know who you are) with the tendency to look far too long before leaping.

Friday, October 16, 2009

10 Things I Hate . . .Not About You, I Promise

It's not cool to put negative energy out in the world. I try in earnest to live that each day so that's why I'm considering this more of an unsolicited, benign airing of pet peeves than a rant about things that bother me. And in any event, I'm hoping I have enough stored up in the karma bank should the universe take it a different way. What does it have to do with writing? Well, let's see.

10 Things I Hate . . .Not About You

1. Those things you often see on the roof at car dealerships that look like a large dancing person, but are really just heaps of plastic that move by the gale force of a large fan. I hate those.
2. Passive-aggressive communication. Hate that.
3. The sound and feel of styrofoam. Ick.
4. The fact that businesses employ people to stand on the road waving a sign. Bums me out.
5. Waiting in line for the car wash when the person in front of me does the super slow drive out under the dryer. Get a hand wash if you're that concerned, people. Its a drive-thru.
6. Kalamata olives. Gag.
7. All of the Kardashians and Paris Hilton. Sorry, that's kind of about them, I suppose.
8. When people take themeselves too seriously.
9. Being grabbed in that tickle spot around/just above the knee. And I don't fake-ha-ha-squeal-hate that. I hate that.
And what I hate most of all . . .David Lettermen (although maybe I shouldn't so easily invoke his name) drum roll here . . .

10. Writer's block.

Friday, October 9, 2009

My life story, Holden Caulfield, and a living saint

So, you know I planned to post a blog a day for Great Books Week. Well, I skipped the past two days - circumstances beyond my control, I tell you (and maybe, just maybe, some Chardonnay). But, never are posts for the last three days, all rolled up in one convenient, easy to use post:)

Topic: I'd write my autobiography, but I don't need to because my story has already been told in [what classic book].

This was supposed to post Wednesday, but when I divulge the name of the book that most resembles my life, you'll understand why. Okay, okay, so it doesn't track my entire life, but if I just take a snapshot of my life right at this moment (with one kid home sick with swine flu, important deadlines looming at work, successive dinners from a box or bag, and a stalled manuscript)'s Lord of the Flies by William Golding. (I considered One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with an inmates-taking-over-the-asylum analogy, but thouight my family might take issue.). I don't know exactly when it happened, but somewhere between "we're not going to be too indulgent as parents" and "okay, boys, you string hammocks in the hallway and eat canned frosting for breakfast if you'll just settle down and let me finish my work/work-out/chapter/edit/glass of wine" I lost control of the little three bedroom, 2 bath island we call home. Rescue missions appreciated...bring chocolate.

Topic: I hated [book] when I had to read it in high school, but when I read it on my own later, I loved it because . . .

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. My impression in Senior AP English? Blech. It was about a boy. Bo-ring. And he was whining about college, of all things. I'd just sent off my applications, worried I'd be stuck in my no-movie-theatre, party-in-the-cow-pastures town forever, and Holden was complaining about college? Even the much-hyped "bad word" didn't save the book. I thought he was a whiny boy with no real problems and I didn't understand why I should care about him. I reread the book last summer, after having two boys of my own (and raising a husband). And, it just clicked. Maybe it's our culture, or the benefit of psych 101, but Holden came across as a depressed ADD-addled narcissist. And that, is actually interesting.

Topic: When I want to give someone a special gift, I give them [book] because...

Oh, there are soooo many! It depends on the person and where they are in life. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is a favorite. (I tend to even urge strangers to buy it, and I've given it to many, many friends). Another favorite is Three Cups of Tea. In fact, I know someone who sent her copy to President Obama after she read it, because it moved her so much. I'm going to re-post here a blog I wrote earlier this year about the book - it will explain why it is a special gift, and hopefully inspire you to buy it for yourself, or someone you love.

Here's the thing about Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin . . . you just need to read it. No matter your political affiliation, religious beliefs, social status, gender, ethnicity, race, age, or favorite breakfast cereal (mine's Cheerios . . . I'm old school), it will speak to you. Within the pages of the book, "hope" and "change," which have saturated our airwaves the past two years, cease existing as words and take shape as tangible ideals.
The book is non-fiction - a true account of American Greg Mortenson's failed attempt to climb K2 and his subsequent recuperation in a remote mountain village in Pakistan, which spawned his promise to build a school for the village, and led to 15 years of single-minded devotion to educating the war-stricken and impoverished children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I know, I know, it sounds kind of dry. But it is not. It reads less like a factual account and more like an action-packed novel with a daring protagonist who just happens to have integrity running through his veins. It's like the love-child of Into the Wild and a biography of Mother Teresa. There is enough action to induce stomach acid (falling down mountains, kidnapping by a radical sect of Pakistani militants) and sufficient facts, figures, and maps to appease a scholar. But above all, there is the story. The story of impoverished communities in the Middle East whose hospitality toward Greg made me examine my own notions of love and acceptance. The story of children, their villages and parents and siblings destroyed by years of civil conflict, foreign wars, and American missiles, who scratch figures in the dirt because they have no school but want to learn. The story of radical Madrassas sprouting up across Pakistan and Afghanistan, built with blood money, certain to educate generations in the art of terror and graduate scores of Jihadists who hate America, unless the children have the option of attending real schools. The story of Muslim leaders agreeing to educate girls, because they recognize the importance of education for the future of the individual, the nation, and the world. The story of a Pakistani girl (who, ten years ago, had never attended school) now studying to become a doctor for women. And the story of Greg Mortenson who, through sheer determination and love for humanity, began raising money, building schools, paying teachers, and otherwise attending to the real human needs of the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. While living out of his car. The story of hope. The story of change. The story of peace.
I don't presume to know how the book will affect you. For me, it engendered many feelings. I was embarrassed that I had to keep referring to the map at the beginning of the book because I never learned Middle Eastern geography. I was ashamed that in the days after 9/11, I was scared of the turbaned men on the BART train with me--that I considered myself progressive, and yet subconsciously equated Muslim with Terrorist. I was so incredibly thankful for my life in America, for my education and my opportunities, which I admit, I've taken for granted. The book talks about teachers and children climbing a ladder to reach the second story of their school, because the stairs were bombed out. I couldn't help but think about what would happen in America. Here, parents would be outraged if their child's school didn't meet each and every building standard. Here, most kids would be thrilled if they couldn't reach their classroom. I was inspired by Greg. I believe that one person can make a difference. I was frustrated at our government's lack of humanitarian aid, but simultaneously so proud to be an American, because, as citizens, we can be a beacon of light around the world.
It is so much more than a book about the Middle East. It challenges, educates, and inspires. For me, it shifted my perception. It clearly demarcated the notions of "want" and "need." It led me to pick up trash in my neighborhood and seriously consider whether I "needed" to add another pair of jeans to my closet. Given the result of the election, I think Americans are ready to embrace a spirit of volunteerism. Even if you think are not, please, read the book. It exemplifies pioneering spirit and perseverance at its best.
To learn more about Greg's foundation, the Central Asia Institute, or to make a donation, visit: To learn more about Three Cups of Tea, visit:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Great Books Week, Part Deux

NAIWE's blog topic for today, in honor of Great Books Week, is: "When I was a child, my favorite book was… because…." I could fill pages (screens) with my love for Laura Ingalls, Betsey and Tacy, and, sigh, The Secret Language. But I'm going to modify the topic a bit and post a blog I wrote last year as a guest blogger for Engine Ed (for more discussion of children's books, check out Engine Ed's site). Let's call it, "now that I'm an adult, my favorite children's book is...because..."

I started reading chapter books when I was four years old, imagining myself putting on a show with Annie Oakley, sleeping on a bed of pine needles with the Boxcar Children, and traveling in a wagon with Ma and Pa Ingalls. When my boys were born, I couldn’t wait until they were old enough to enter magical fictional worlds . . . and I was devastated when they were uninterested. They’d spend hours with a snake encyclopedia or guide to rocks and minerals, but my attempts to engage them in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh were met with yawns. And then my older son received a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends for his 6th birthday. Thanks to Shel Silverstein and his perfect imagination, we read and laugh together nightly. To say that his poems are funny or interesting merely scratches the surface. Shel Silverstein had a gift for giving voice to topics that roll around silently in most kids’ brains and are dismissed by adults. Silly topics like belching (Rudy Felsh), scary topics like getting sucked down the bath drain (Skinny), and important topics, like how we’re all alike inside (No Difference). His poems address these topics without condescension, preaching, or advice—they have just the right amount of humor and irony. And though they seem silly at first, they often touch upon a deeper truth about how kids feel and think. A great example is the poem What a Day, which describes how it feels to have the weight of the world on your shoulders—a feeling many adults incorrectly assume is reserved only for grown-ups. Uncle Shelby writes: What a day/Oh what a day./My baby brother ran away/And now my tuba will not play./I’m eight years old and turning grey/Oh what a day/Oh what a day. Indeed.

I highly recommend this book, as well as his other poetry collections (A Light in the Attic, Runny Babbitt, etc.). I like to think of the poems as small bridges across the generation gap. Not only will you laugh, you’ll also remember what it’s like to be a child. And, if you’re like me, you just may find that the poems mirror your dreams and desires for your children. As Mr. Silverstein says:

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
hen listen close to me—
Anything can happen, child
ANYTHING can be.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Great Books Week!

I was posting more chick twit today (in case you haven't seen, we're tweeting the first chapter of The Pecking Order, check it out), and came across Grammar Girl's tweet about Great Books Week. In honor of Great Books Week, the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors is "hosting a Blog Tour with a specific daily topic Monday through Friday." Though it may cut into our fug girls time, it sounds fun and we decided to participate. Here's the first topic:

If I were stranded alone on a deserted island with only seven books to read over the next few years, I would like to have…
1. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. If I were stranded alone on an island, I’d probably be neck deep in self-pity (and sand), and Gilbert’s book would, as always (the two to three times I read it each year), remind me that I can choose how I wish to feel in this vast universe.
2. The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy. Language. Beautiful, lyrical, gut-wrenching language. Plus, he so effectively conveys the splendor of the ocean and the tides, with which I’m destined over the next few years, apparently, to become intimately familiar.
3. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. I had to make a chart the first time I read this book, and even then I’m not sure I fully grasped the time travel component. Time travel hurts my head. It’s why watching Lost sometimes puts me in a state of panic. But if I have a few years to figure it out, I’d love to dive back in.
4. Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews. Because I have to have a guilty pleasure now and then, and there won’t be any US Weekly or OK magazine stands on the island. And I doubt the coconuts make good gossip fodder.
5. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. Solitude doesn't exactly do wonders for one's sense of humor and laughter is the best medicine and all that, so I can't imagine a deserted island without at least one of Sedaris's collection of guffaw-inducing essays.
6. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. This book is a reminder that books are fun, stories are fun, language is fun, perhaps moving me to pen a humorous, fictionalized account of my ordeal on banana leaves or the bark of palm trees.
7. The Collected Works of Shakespeare. Lust, murder, disguise, and iambic pentameter. Does it get any better? Plus, it could make an effective tent.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dharma and Karma and Funeral Homes

Last night at Zuda, I was in the second minute of Utkatasana (or squat for my gym friends)--sweating, wincing, possibly cursing--when our instructor said "When things are hard, the teacher is in the room". The teacher, of course, being the universe or God, depending on how you roll in that regard. And at the end, he chanted something for which I can't remember the exact translation from Sanskrit, but the gist was the universe--or God-- is wise, all-knowing, and our greatest teacher.

Fabulous, you're thinking, what does this have to do with writing? Well, as you few, but fierce fictionlimbo followers know, Laura and I trekked across the country last week for a real, live Done Fell Out research trip. If you know me and Laura, or if you're a mother who often feels the weight of your family, perhaps the world, on your shoulders, you know how not-easy it is to make a solo trip and leave the troops behind to fend for themselves. Will lunches get made? Will homework be completed? Will they make it to practice? Will they--God, please--wear underwear to school? I could go on and on, but you get it. So as the date approached, Laura and I worried we were being frivolous, indulgent, even delusional. Sure, as we went through security and boarded the plane, we gave lip service to the commitment to our craft, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and other Oprah-isms, but not so deep down, we both questioned whether the trip was a good use of our time.

This is where the yoga comes in, the chant, the universe, God; because we found our answer shortly after we walked into McDougald Funeral Home and Crematorium, a place we were referred to as a result of chance encounters and the kindness of strangers. (In the interest of context, and in case I've not mentioned this before, our main character in Done Fell Out--a California native-- inherits a funeral home in a small town in North Carolina). There we met Beacham McDougald, whose family has owned the funeral home since the mid 1800s when it was a funeral home and a furniture store, who happened to have a free hour to discuss his business (he had two funerals that afternoon), talk about the families he serviced, give us a tour, and who happened--hello universe, God--to be a writer. He didn't say as much, but when he gave us (yes, gave and let us take home) a personally bound collection of the stories he'd written about the families his home had serviced, we knew writing was also his personal passion. Laura and I looked at each other with the tears and goose bumps of gratitude because we knew with all certainty (and how often does that happen?) that in that moment, in that instant, we were exactly where God, the universe, intended.

A special thanks to Beacham McDougald for his time and his lovely stories and a special apology to Ty at Zuda for possibly butchering his lovely chant.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Right Place The Right Time

Laura and I embarked on our first research trip for Done Fell Out last Thursday at 12:55 am, returning home yesterday at 10:45 am. North Carolina and back in two days. Needless to say we are recovering and will write more than you'd ever want to know about what was an incredible, fun, and ridiculously helpful and productive trip in due course, but for now, you can follow our adventures in NC on twitter - just click here. We tweeted like mad women . . .stay tuned for next Friday's post.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It Takes A Village

We often think of writing as a solitary endeavor, picturing authors tucked away in some version of Walden Pond chewing on the end of a pen, or sitting alone in a dark room with only a computer for company while a highball sweats a ring onto the desk. Think Virginia Woolf in The Hours, William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, Mort Rainey in Secret Window (Don't know that one? It's based on a Stephen King novel about a disturbed writer, played onscreen by #1 on my laminated list, the delectable Johnny Depp. Psst, Johnny, call me.). And, yes, at some point every writer has to sit down without distraction and put pen to paper. But just scan the acknowledgements page in any novel, and it's clear "Writing" (with a capital W) is a collective effort.

So, even at the early stages, when your characters just begin to come to life, share them with others. We didn't do that when we first began writing The Pecking Order (fearful, I suppose, that this fragile little piece of art we'd carefully sculpted and polished and protected would shatter under criticism) and it was a lesson hard learned. Believe me, it's better to hear something doesn't make sense from a friend, over Pinot and manchego (and maybe some tangential discussions about Johnny Depp), than from a prospective agent declining to represent you. This time around, we're sharing chapters of Done Fell Out as we write it, and it's invaluable. So far, we've not only learned a pivotal plot point was confusing, but also that a peripheral character interested readers and may warrant a bigger part. And yes, in case you're wondering, just like every Kindergartener knows, sharing is easier said than done. You need to find encouraging people (family, friends, other writers) who are comfortable expressing their true opinions, but also gentle in their delivery. And, if you're the type of person who feels bad saying no to telemarketers, and thinks you've done something wrong if a stranger doesn't smile at you, you'll have to develop a thicker skin (although, if you 've been sending work out and receiving rejections for any length of time, your skin could probably already deflect bullets). Maybe start by reading to your dog. Most of all, you need to have a well-working internal filter, so you can take in the useful comments, and expel anything that is harmful or doesn't further your vision. Remember, all consumers of art have different tastes and, ultimately, it is your work.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Falling Short

Laura and I agreed we would blog every Friday. This week was my week. It's now Sunday. We also agreed we would begin a series of entries about what we've learned on the path to (almost) publication. (See You Might Learn Something When You're Not Looking) This blog entry is not about that. My son had timed math tests on Thursday and Friday last week. I knew about neither of them. I haven't yet finished the book selected by my book club, I forgot sunscreen last weekend at the beach and now my face is peeling off in large chunks, and didn't hit my half marathon training goals this week. And to top off the week, I went to the air show here in Sacramento today. Our tent was next to the Thunderbird tent and I sat within earshot and arms length of Thunderbird No. 9, their female flight surgeon. Hot, female flight surgeon. Did you get that? She's beautiful, a surgeon, and a Thunderbird. The coup de gras of a seven day streak where I seemed destined to fall short.

And here is where I should close with a smidge of wisdom, a modest life lesson, or at least relate this entry to the struggle to publish our work, which really seems like it would be simple enough given the theme. But, listen people, I may fall short on a lot of points, but consistency isn't one of them . . .

Friday, September 4, 2009

You Might Learn Something When You're Not Looking

We had our first speaking engagement last weekend at a working retreat for writers (notice I didn't use the term "aspiring writers." Writer = one who writes. If you write, you are a writer - embrace it, live it, shout it from the rooftops!) hosted by the Writing Loft, a writing school here in Northern California. (And I can say it's our "first" speaking engagement because we've just booked another. This is humbling and exciting!) We drove up into the hills and braved the sub-Saharan heat (seriously, it was 106) to meet a diverse and inspiring group of writers. In addition to speaking, we helped critique their works in progress, one of us ate far too much pasta with cream sauce, and one of us was stalked the entire time by the biggest, hairiest, most persistent cat to ever pad the Earth.

All in all, it was a good time. But in the days leading up to the retreat, we were somewhat anxious (I know, I know - us, anxious? Shocking.) about our talk. What in the world did we have to offer? How to write a rambling first draft with no discernible plot? Lessons in the art of getting ahead of yourself (also known as casting the movie and planning the book tour with only 10,000 words on the page)? A slide-show of our numerous rejections, perhaps one of the largest in the hands of private collectors? So we put ourselves in the writers' shoes and asked what we would have wanted to know five long years ago, when our children were still babies, we were toiling away at the law firm, and The Pecking Order was just a twinkle in our eyes. And--Eureka--we discovered we've actually learned boatloads about writing, securing an agent, the publishing process, marketing, and the state of the publishing industry. In fact, we realized we had so much to say, we had to leave some things out. (Lawyers with a lot to say. Again, shocking, I know.) In the next few weeks, we're going to post some topics from the retreat, in the hopes that someone, somewhere might find them useful. Because I don't know about you, but I'd rather hear about the process from someone who's learned through trial and error (emphasis on the error, in those early days) and late nights and hard work than someone who tells of meeting their agent when they were stuck in an elevator together. Unless you plan on stalking agents and orchestrating power failures at opportune moments (which I wouldn't really recommend, you know, from a legal standpoint), that's just not helpful.

So, check in next Friday for the first topic, "It Takes a Village." For now, I'll leave you with the story that opened our talk - our story. People are always intrigued by how we came to write together, and how we can write together. For us, it seems so natural now; we are extensions of each other. As one woman put it at the retreat, we may have husbands and families, but the two of us share a special, rare connection. Maybe the stars were aligned or God was nudging us in the right direction or the dice just rolled that way, but for whatever reason we both ended up at the firm at the same time, as the only female associates with babies. And it was hard. Like, my hair started falling out hard. Like, I once was so agitated the phone receiver flew out of my hand and gave me a black eye hard. Like, we both often contemplated, at the turn-off to the parking garage, just driving right on by and applying for a job at Starbucks hard. The work, while high-level litigation, wasn't over our heads, but the management of life was impossible--midnight feedings and 6am diaper changes and 8am marketing meetings and noon visits to the lactation room and 7pm preservative-laden microwaved dinners for the family and 8pm screaming at the kids to get to sleep and 9pm treks back to the office once they fell asleep. Yea, that was hard.

One night Kris showed up at the office late, and I was the only other one there, toiling away on some motion or brief. And, God bless her, she'd brought red wine. Lacking any fitting travel container (because, as new mothers/professionals, locating your thermos is about as likely as having sex with your husband, which is to say it's not going to happen), she'd brought the wine in a baby bottle. Needless to say, we became fast friends. We talked often during those late nights about how litigation and motherhood was a zero sum game, about being stretched to the breaking point, about the absurdity of the large law firm where we lost valuable billable time each day doing ridiculous things like waiting for our secretaries to finish making the partners' vacation reservations or securing their tee times before agreeing to look at our work, or taking the three elevators needed to get us from the parking garage to the 23rd floor (a stroke of architectural genius, that one). At some point we realized we both had dreams of writing more than legalese, and we decided to try our hand at a book--fictional, but based largely on our experience. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I've gone on long enough at this point, so I'll leave discussion of how we write together for another time. Have a safe, fun, and creative Labor Day weekend. See you next Friday.

Friday, August 28, 2009

In Defense of Lawyers

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
William Shakespeare, Henry VI, (Act IV. Scene II.)

So we have a bad reputation. We've heard the jokes, we've seen the shameless DUI defense billboards, we watched as OJ was found not guilty, and we've personally witnessed various other miscarriages of justice orchestrated at our hands. We get it. We deserve it. We're sorry.

Recently, however, I have been reminded why I am more than willing to take up the flag for lawyers. I like lawyers. Lawyers, as it turns out, are some of my favorite people. (That's not to say I don't have favorite people who aren't lawyers, of course . . .) As a general matter, we're funny. We are. You can't endure the circus that is law school, complete with the socratic method, existing and still applicable legal principles from the time of the covered wagon, and the mania that is class rank and law review, without at least a modicum of humor. Not to mention what you have to do to get through the billable hour and, in the case of women, the still testosterone laden practice, and the deadlines . . .oh the deadlines. I recently attended a small all-women, all-attorney party where the banter was faster than Usain Bolt, and (she says proudly) baser than any bachelor party. Love those lady lawyers. . .

And we're not just a funny bunch. Several weeks ago someone dear to me was in need of an attorney--and for something serious, and not of their own making. I wrote a few e-mails, made a few calls, and within minutes had helpful responses from, if you can imagine, several busy lawyers. So, you see, we're useful. Sure, kind of like flashlight useful or baking powder useful--you never think twice about us, but if you need us, you really need us--but useful nonetheless.

Then, of course, there's my writing partner Laura, without whom this blog, The Pecking Order, Done Fell Out, my razor thin margin of sanity, my love for Chico chai would not exist - and what kind of life would that be?

So as I sit looking into the future, after 18 months of voluntary unemployment, and see the practice of law on the very near horizon, all I can say is, put down the Shakespeare and bring on the jokes. I promise we'll laugh.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


If you scroll to the top of this page you're reading, you'll see the title and description of our blog. See that part that reads, "unrelated thoughts on . . . well . . . unrelated topics?" That's where this post is headed. I got nothing. My kid had the pukes this week (yup, woke me up at 5 a.m. to tell me he didn't feel good, then puked the previous night's spaghetti all over my feet . . . twice. I gotta learn to move) and school has started and work is nutty and we're writing like crazy on the new book and, basically, my creativity is all tapped out. Oh yea . . . and I haven't had a drink all week! What I'm trying to say, in a terribly verbose, round-about way, is that this post has no rhyme or reason, no structure, no coherent narrative. It's more like . . . say . . .well, the aforementioned spaghetti - I'm just going to spew my thoughts all over the page.

So, my gynecologist is really cute (told you I'd spew - no segue, no transition, just bam! Random thought). No, that's not an apt description. He's burn-your-retinas hot. So hot, in fact, that this week, when he talked to me for over 20 minutes about healthcare reform (of all things) after my annual exam, I batted my eyes and tossed my head and asked questions, not even caring that I was still in that dusty rose paper open-backed crop top with nothing but a glorified paper towel over my nether regions and some poor woman was probably waiting in another exam room to hear her baby's heartbeat. Classy.

Know what's not classy? Telling me about your ENTIRE DAY in one long Facebook status update. Do I want to know that you opened your front door and a goat was standing on your porch? Absolutely. Do I want you to quote some (a) obscure or (b) naughty or (c) nostalgic song lyric and wait for others to quote additional lines in their comments? Might be entertaining. Is the occasional one sentence update about your hot gynecologist interesting? Usually. But please do not do this: Had fried eel for lunch today, then fell asleep at my desk. After work went to the store. Preparation H was on sale so I bought three tubes. Then Hector and I got in the spa and watched the stars. My favorite was the big dipper. We just finished eating ice-cream sundaes and now I'm going to brush my teeth, use the Preparation H, and go to bed. Stop. Just. Stop.

And now, I will heed my own advice and put this post out of its misery. But first, I have to share one more thing . . . when I'm blogging, the tab at the top of the page says "Blogger." And every time I read it, my internal dialogue goes like this: "Blogger? I hardly know her." (I do the same thing with Twitter. Yep, just did it again.)

So now you know. I have a crush on my gynecologist, I'm not interested in the minutiae of your life, and my humor is base and juvenile. Pretty sure I'm about 12 years old. Thanks for still being my friend. I promise to write something more interesting next time . . .

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Can't (Probably Shouldn't) Touch This

So I'm of the age where, at least once a day, the passage of time is at the forefront of my mind. Whether its a new laugh line or the desire for neck surgery or the fact that I am now the coach and not the player, its there. Often. I'm also of the age where if I mention this to any number of my loved ones, they roll their eyes, call me a baby, and say "just you wait".

Today I am staking official claim on feeling old. I don't care if I am still occasionally carded when buying wine or that I wander into Bebe every now and then, which really should never be done by anyone larger than Twiggy (see, not really a spring chicken with that reference). Why, you ask. Because I've decided, after research and consideration, to opt out of fashion this season and I urge you women who also lived through the 80s to do the same.

I sat below the dryer at my salon, and, yes, its a salon, complete with tattooed assistants and uber-hip stylists in leather and 6 inch heels, although, in the interest of candor, I haven't changed my hair style in any meaningful way (save a mishap in Paris last year that cost 300 Euro [do you know the exchange rate!?] and a large measure of self-confidence) for over a decade. I was reading Elle's 20 must have fall fashion items and all I have to say is, in the spirit of Joan Rivers (just keeping the vintage consistent), can we talk? Of particular concern is the following:

Man Trousers: Okay, that's not exactly what the folks at Elle were calling them, but its close and it doesn't really matter, because what ever you call them is a mere euphemism for high-waisted, pleated slacks. PLEATED slacks, people! Did we not finally decide in the early 90s that, to our collective horror, a front pleat is never, ever our friend.
MC Hammer Pants: I'm sure there's a revamped name that taps into the collective conscious of the kids too young to remember "Can't Touch This", but they will always be MC Hammer pants to me. Not only is all that material a little less than comfortable to walk in, I'm not sure its ever a good idea to leave that much to the imagination in that particular region, if you know what I mean.
Neon: I think we called it fluorescent in the 80s, when I was 13 and it was okay to wear the particular shade of pink that sears the corneas. Fluorescent, neon, whatever you want to call it, its like a fling with the guy from the coffee shop--fun while it lasted, but it should never be revisited.
Shoulder Pads: Please refer to MC Hammer Pants comments and incorporate by reference comment from Man Trousers re: never being our friend.
And finally, my personal favorite:
Leather Shorts: And not just leather shorts, but high waisted leather shorts. There are so many things to say about leather shorts that if I have to spell them out, you might as well just buy a pair and find out yourself.

I emerged from the dryer and closed the Elle magazine, taking up silent arms against the fashion powers that be who are trying to bring back the mishaps that litter my old photo albums. And when I returned to my stylist's chair and she asked if I wanted something different, I looked down at my boot cut jeans and muted t-shirt, looked up proudly and said, no, don't touch it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Art in the Modern Age (Or, Does This Mean Pale Ale is the New Absinthe?)

When my family and I went to Paris last summer with Kris and her son, we stayed in the Montmartre. (And by the by, for anyone who thinks that sentence sounds snobby, please know that since that fabulous trip, we have been eating ramen and vacationing in Oroville while we pay off the credit card bill…). Our metro stop “sortie” funneled us past the Moulin Rouge, and the Place du Tertre was only a short, steep, smoke-filled walk from our apartment (about the equivalent of 6-8 blocks, or as I measured it, two crepe stands four boulangeries, one cheese shop, and about 15 cafes . . . sigh). Even though the area is now somewhat touristy and commercialized, the mention of “Montmarte” still conjures images of anbsinthe-addled artists communing to share vision and talent and wax quixotic on all things bohemian, of men like van Gogh, Matisse, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec living the artist’s life, of Picasso setting up his easel in the Place du Tertre. We’ve all seen Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s poster for the famous Montmartre cabaret, Le Chat Noir (yes, you know it, it’s orange and yellow with a large “artsy” black cat, can be found on postcards, canvas bags, and adorning the wall of at least one of your college friends, most likely the one majoring in theatre or dance), and maybe some of us (me) have wished we were part of the artistic community it’s come to represent.

Well, let me tell you . . . we are. The ideals the Montmartre have come to represent—a marketplace for creativity, the exchange of “big ideas,” a haven where emerging artists can rub shoulders with those who have paved the way—are alive and thriving and can be found . . . on Facebook. Artistic endeavors can feel lonely, especially in our modern world, where art is often relegated to hobby status—to something we fit in after work and the kids’ soccer practice and walking the dog and cleaning our toilets (my life is glamorous, no?). It’s not our “real job,” so we don’t bring it up in conversation, hesitate to ask for input from others, and often pursue it quietly and alone. But Facebook has changed that. In the past year, I’ve discovered many of my friends—not only those I’ve just found, but also those I know well—are artists. They are talented photographers, children's authors, video-game designers, choreographers, purveyors of cupcake creations, actors, models, tutu-makers, and rock stars. We may not live in the same place, but we can engage and innovate and inspire one another simply by putting our work out there. Nothing rips me from the banality of daily life and gets me back to the manuscript faster than reading about a friend starting a fashion/music/lifestyle company, or another friend touring with his band. So, for all its problems (no, I don’t care that you just bought a cow for your farm or that your fairy name is Princess fussypants), Facebook serves an important (I would argue necessary) purpose. Sure, it can be a time-suck, a voyeuristic escape, a narcissistic soapbox—but it can also be an artistic enclave without geographic constraint. To all the artists . . . let your light shine! Please, comment, and let us know about your creative endeavor.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Falling Out of Perspective

A word about perspective--the precious, elusive thing that it is. Like wisdom, it usually comes with age and almost always too late to do anything but nod your head with a wry smile and lament what you could have done better. I could give you a number of examples, but most of them are simply too personal for this blog, so let's take an easy one--my ill-fated move to North Carolina at the age of 26, the day after I graduated from law school.

Let's be clear--I am not the faint of heart when it comes to moving. The child of an Air Force officer, I'd had seven houses and seven schools by the time I was fifteen. You do the math. So showing up in a new place, receiving the stares, the whispers, eating alone, faking nonchalance, disinterest, confidence, ingratiating myself to strangers, learning who to ask questions and from whom to stay away--all this was bred into me as strongly as my love for all things coconut (other than car air fresheners) and Jim Croce music, which is why I braved the first move of my married life with, well, what I thought was perspective.

As my husband and I drove the Honda Accord and Toyota Landcruiser from Arizona to North Carolina, it didn't occur to me that I hadn't lived in the south for, oh, 18 years. That I had become, in my own mind, a native Californian, that even Arizona (where I attended law school) was a little too far from home and right of center for my taste. I won't bore you with details of how difficult the move was and I'll only briefly share something that happened while I worked as an assistant public defender in a small, rural, town on the border of North and South Carolina and, if you think there's not much difference there, you're wrong.

After months of losing cases, trying to help clients with problems neither I nor anyone else could likely solve, and feeling generally eroded by representing the indigent in criminal court, Mary Jane Bryant's case was called. She was in her fifties, dressed to the nines--meaning she wore a bra--and charged with larceny for stealing lipstick, lingerie, and condoms from Kmart (I'm not making that up). It was not her first offense and a conviction would mean jail time. Not a lot, but I'm not sure the amount of jail time is really any one's first concern. As I was heading to the courtroom for her trial, one of the probation officers came running in and said "Mary Jane Bryant done fell out again!" And there she was in the middle of the courtroom, pretending she'd fainted, trying to stop her eyelids from fluttering, waiting for the ambulance, or whomever, to pick her up and cart her away to another day of freedom. It was mildly funny at the time, but more than anything I was concerned with what the judge would say because, you see, Ms. Bryant had apparently pulled this stunt a time or two.

I don't know what happened to Mary Jane Bryant and her larceny case because I quit my job and moved back to California to take the bar and start my career here. I wanted to leave North Carolina quickly as I could, but once I arrived home, I found myself talking constantly about this place I'd just spent the last two years. And now, with 8 years behind me and yes, you guessed it, a little perspective, I wish I could have seen the situation for what it was--a brief, colorful period in my life that would produce dozens of ridiculously funny memories, not to mention be the inspiration (one of them) for our second novel, Done Fell Out. If it's ever published, I'll be dedicating my portion to Mary Jane Bryant.

Unrelated post script - please note for the record my dear friend, you know who you are, the change in title. You can rest easy that there will be no raised beach scenes or purple cursive writing on the cover of this novel.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Random . . .

I am vexed. Perplexed. It's like I have been hexed. (Straight outta 8-mile, yo). Bad rhymes aside, a few things are troubling me lately because of their nonsensical nature. Because they defy rational explanation. Because they are so random. Why, for instance, are there so many dead snakes on the side of the road I take to work? I get that snakes crawl out of the fields to the hot asphalt at night. I get that these unsuspecting, moonbathing serpents are likely hit by cars. But why do they end up on the side of the road, just on the shoulder? Are they flung there by car tires? Do they slither slowly off the road after a mortal wound, only to collapse and die once they cross the fog line? Is there a roving band of snake killers in python boots veering off the road to take them out while the rest of us sleep? Again, it vexes me.

Here's another one. I live in a small-ish town. I have a fairly tight circle of friends and acquaintances. Yet, I know at least five different women-bright, lovely women-who sell Mary Kay products. Do any of them really think they'll sell enough to earn that pearly pink Cadillac? Have they heard of market saturation? Yep, perplexed.
There's one more, and it's the most troubling, the most random, the most explanation-defying, the most likely to prompt an audible "WTF." I work in a nice office. We have cake each month to celebrate birthdays, baby showers for employees, and potlucks every now and then. We are courteous and professional to one another. We have adjustable office chairs, ergonomic keyboards and Vista on our 27-inch monitors. We don’t wear open-toed shoes, skirts above the knee, or bare shoulders. And yet, one wall of our employees-only bathroom (which is decorated like the public sector version of Las Vegas’s version of a cathedral, complete with faux-paint, stenciled border and tri-color light) is covered in . . . wait for it . . . boogers. I know, right?! WTF?

These things pain me. I need the world to make sense. I soak up order and patterns and logic. And, yet, I recognize our blog has had no discernible posting pattern. Sometimes we post twice a week, sometimes once a month. Well, no more! From now on, dear readers (all 5 or 6 of you), we post every Friday! Fictionlimbo Fridays are here!

And now that you can breathe that huge sigh of relief, I'm interested to hear what vexes you . . .

Friday, July 17, 2009

Vomiting with Precision

So I've been boycotting my own blog. I'm not sure why. Maybe I should have known it was coming considering the last, bitter entry I penned, i.e. Pity Party. The party, however, seems to be over and I thank Laura for continuing to post on our behalf. Good woman, that-not-quite-a- cougar-but-she-will-be-all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips-in-five-years (see Choose Wisely) dear friend and writing partner of mine. Now, onward.

During my blogging hiatus, I observed at coffee shops, read interesting books, took my son and a friend to Folsom Lake (yikes), all of which could have inspired a blog entry. For example, I sat down to begin an entry about bumper stickers after I saw a quintessential, silver 1980’s Fiero (did they actually make them after the 80s?) with a spoiler and a bumper sticker that read “I’d Rather Be Driving a DeLorean ”. Awesome. There were so many things to say I had no idea where to start with that one, so I didn't. (But stay tuned, I still think there’s valuable stuff to mine on the topic of bumper stickers).

Where I will start is the same old place we always start—writing. Last week, I was editing the first two chapters of our second book, currently entitled Star Struck, when I noticed that we used a certain word three times. This happens when two people write together, whether it’s subliminal, by happenstance, or because we are of the same mind when it comes to choosing words. Whatever the case, it happens more often than we even realized. Take vomit, for example. Laura has mentioned (Warning! This Post May Self-Destruct!) that we couldn’t seem to get enough of vomit in the Pecking Order and, as it turns out, there’s not a great substitute for vomit. Puke is too coarse, throw-up is awkward, hurl is too colloquial, and so on and so forth.

In the first two chapters of Star Struck, we used the word precise twice and precision once. And as I was pondering a good alternative (I have yet to come up with one, by the way; precise sounds so crisp and neat its hard to replace), I realized that the difference between the words vomit and precise captures the difference between our first and second books, not only in terms of the style in which we're writing, but the way in which we're writing it. The genesis of The Pecking Order was two vignettes - one that discussed a giant fruit of the type a farmer ties to his flatbed truck to haul down to the county fair for the big blue ribbon prize (or something equally ridiculous); and a second about being lost in the grocery store in the middle of the day. After these two vignettes, which had nothing to do with one another (both were cut from the final draft), Laura and I proceeded to upchuck (see, I've learned my lesson) all over the computer screen, trying to cleanse our souls of the big firm litigation experience by writing about it. Upchuck writing: cathartic, yes; glimmers of brilliance, certainly; plot producing, no. So, and you know the story by now, we cleaned ourselves up and set about making a book of it.

We've done things differently with Star Struck, which, as an aside, is a title subject to change (a dear friend of mine scrunched up her face and said "Jackie Collins" when I told her). Before putting proverbial pen to paper, we toiled over the plot, sketched out major and minor characters, giving them birthdays and histories and quirks and hangups, and debated tone and point of view longer than you'd believe and definitely for more than several Sponge Bob episodes. Dare I say, we've approached it with--wait for it--precision. And it shows in the writing and the ease with which we edit and move on to the next chapter. The writing gods willing and the creek don't rise (method writing, I suppose - some of Star Struck is set in the south), we'll be finished in five months rather than five years. And while we might repeat the same word every now and then, we definitely don't feel like vomiting.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Choose Wisely

A few words about word choice, inspired by my weekend.

I attended a wedding last weekend. In the evening. With my husband. Without my kids. With a full bar. So, you know, nirvana. I actually shaved my legs, plucked my brows, bronzed and glittered and coiffed, and poured myself into a far-too-expensive-but-worth-every-penny spaghetti-strapped cocktail dress. After dinner and cake and champagne, the dance floor opened. I didn't even care that my shoes hurt and I couldn't get very "low low low" in my tight dress. But after the fourth country song in a row, I did need a change of music. I shimmied up to the adorable DJ, and requested something rocking. I believe the exchange went something like this:

Me: Hey, Mister DJ, how about something rockin'? How about some KISS? (I may have actually stuck out my tongue and given him the "rock on" hand gesture and head bang. It's a bit fuzzy.)
Cute DJ: KISS? Who's that? I'm only 22.
Me, slightly slurring, patting aforementioned cute DJ on the arm, batting my eyes: I'm only 23 and I know who they are. Please?

So, back on the dance floor, what do you know, the DJ started playing Rock and Roll All Night. All of us of a certain age hooped and hollered, and the group I was with gave me high fives for asking. And then, it happened. Over the loud speaker, across the dance floor, the DJ said, "THIS GOES OUT TO THE 23 YEAR OLD COUGAR!"

Oh. No. He. Didn't. Cougar? Really? By definition, I believe a cougar must be in her forties. Me? I'm a young, perky 35. And I take issue with the characterization. In writing, and on the dance floor, for the love of women everywhere (and my ego), choose your words carefully. MILF would have sufficed, thank you very much.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Warning! This Post May Self-Destruct!

We learned many things through the process of writing and struggling to publish The Pecking Order: we have a weird, inexplicable obsession with the word vomit; when a smarmy guy “in the know” sidles up to you at a bar and tells you to start a blog and generate a following, you should listen instead of putting it off for four years while the blogosphere expands all around you and publishing deals are made after the click of a mouse (note, we did not make the same mistake twice…check out fictionlimbo on twitter); perseverance really does pay off.

You know what else we learned? Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie rule the world! (cue sinister laughter of the mwah, mwah, mwah variety). Seriously. You already know pop culture references permeate our blog entries. It should come as no surprise that The Pecking Order is also seasoned with dashes of pop culture. Off the top of my head, I know Dr. Phil, Leonardo DiCaprio, Linda Evans, and Matt Damon all make an appearance. Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie were in there, too . . . until we were told to take them out. As originally written, when Abby, The Pecking Order’s stretched-to-snapping lawyer/mother/wife, worries that her husband is spending too much time with his hot young protégé on an environmental law issue, she refers to them as a socially-conscious, aesthetically pleasing couple—as the “Brad and Angie of the East Bay.” Ms. Reality Check, the professional writer who helped us hone our draft, red-lined those words right off the page. We thought maybe the reference was too obscure (you know, if you’re living on a not yet discovered planet with no Earthly contact), so we changed it to “Brangelina.” More red ink. We relented and wrote “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.” This time the word “NO!” screamed at us from the margins. But Leo and the others? No problem.

When we readied our final submission, we snuck our Brad and Angie reference back in. Our soon-to-be agent didn’t so much cross-out the reference as obliterate it so the original words were unrecognizable. In the legal profession (and, probably, in organized crime) we call that total destruction of evidence. Yet again, the other names we dropped were not an issue. Maybe it was a particularly bad sentence all around. Perhaps it was disjointed or threw off the rhythm. Or maybe, just maybe, their names are to be spoken only in hushed, reverent tones, and printed only with their permission because they do, actually, rule the world!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Portrait of an Artist?

Jennifer Weiner, author of Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and the upcoming Best Friends Forever (and, as we recently discovered on twitter and her blog, generally hilarious person who we may have been separated from at birth and who should clearly be our new BFF), wrote a funny and inspirational blog post about her writing space. Apparently Entertainment Weekly is doing a piece on writers and their writing spaces, and she blogs about how (and I'm paraphrasing and condensing and hopefully not butchering here) she writes on a laptop in her closet, rather than in her fancy office, and how writing is about the margins and the stolen moments, not the ostentatious “arty-ness” of the endeavor. (“Arty-ness” is my word, by the by. Ms. Weiner would have used a much more fitting word. And, you know, probably one in existence. Maybe that's why she's the published one...).

Anyway, it occurred to me, writing not only occupies the margins . . . it shoves other parts of my life right off the page. Consider my legs, if you don’t mind. They are scaly. Reptilian, even. If some Hollywood genius decides to remake the television show V (which, OMG, I just found out is actually happening!), I’m all over it. You might ask, why? (Or, like my kids, you might just say “ew.”) I don’t have time for lotion. Every so often I’ll slather up, but usually, I rush from bed to shower to closet to kitchen to car with no time for extras. If I didn’t spend hours each day writing or researching or outlining, in addition to working and raising a family, I just might have time for a little lanolin love. (Or, let’s be honest, I might just start watching reality TV; I hear Daisy of Love is enthralling). Writing colors my other habits, too. Like the fact that I often can only fit in a workout at lunch, which means I end up practicing yoga in the corner of my office in my underwear on an afghan embroidered with cats. Classy.

Jennifer Weiner is a writer with a capital W. She has published novels and Entertainment Weekly talks to her about her writing habits. Me? I have leg hair so far beyond stubble it's frightening . . . and this is how I know I'm a writer. I don’t write as a hobby or write only according to a strict schedule or write when the house is quiet and the work is done. I write. I write even though I can’t find time for a real work-out and my kids had boxed mac-n-cheese three nights in a row and publishers aren’t knocking down my door. Writing is under my scaly skin. It is part of my soul.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pity Party

Writing sucks and it’s hard. If you have a good idea, it’s really hard to turn it into a proof statement. Then it’s really hard to turn that proof statement into a fluid plot and an interesting story. Then it’s really hard to snowflake that story into the places, characters, and scenes that will make the book a book. But if you manage to do that, it’s really hard to pick the right words, to show the story instead of tell it, to set the right tone, to keep the right rhythm, to vary the sentence structure and not use words like “vomit” fifty times.

But even if you do manage to work through all that and write a good novel, it’s really hard to write a good query letter. But if you write a good query letter, it’s really hard to write a synopsis. Like pulling out toenails or chewing on foil hard. But if you manage to do all of these things, its really hard to wait the months and months after you’ve sent your query package to agents, many of whom won’t give you the courtesy of a response, and the rest of them who will just say no. And it’s really hard to wait 4 years for this process to finally come to fruition. But if do you manage to get an agent, it’s hard to listen to his or her criticism, stay up late making the changes, and then worry about whether they are good enough, whether you are good enough, and whether what you wrote is actually a book rather than thousands of words strung together for your own self-indulgent edification.

And then, when the agent loves your changes and agrees to market your book to major publishers, you think you’ve finally cleared the hurdles and that’s anything but hard. That’s wonderful. But then you wait and wait and wait and that waiting is the hardest part yet, because you’re finally so close to your goal. And then it gets harder when that first publisher rejects the manuscript for reasons unrelated to the quality of the writing. And then it’s a little less hard when additional publishers reject the novel for the same reasons. But then you do something silly like read the blog of a woman who writes mommy lit books about Bunco groups and has published not one, but two of these books and that’s hard. It’s so hard you do something base and unfair and lashy-y out-y like make a caustic comment about this author’s hair-do.

Then you try to let go of the hope that your mommy lit, chick lit, upscale commercial women’s fiction, whatever those ne’er-do-wells in the publishing world want to call it book will be published and you start the second book. And that’s hard. It’s all hard. And it sucks. And I won’t even qualify with a bunch of comments about how wonderfully fortunate I am and that I have my health, a wonderful family, a house, a dog, a very cool washer and dryer, and an express chill function in my fridge that chills my wine in 5 minutes. It’s my pity party and I don’t have to. Writing sucks and I hate it so much I can’t stop.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Updates and Chewing Gum

Update. I don’t know how Webster’s defines the word, because I’m too lazy to get up and get the dictionary off the shelf. defines the word as “an act or instance of bringing a person up to date on a particular subject.” Laura-and-Kris-the-neurotic-writing-duo define “update” a little differently. It’s a six-letter word inducing nausea and heart palpitations; an act or instance of relaying information likely to kill a dream. Okay, so our agent, the lovely Ann Collette of the Helen Rees Literary Agency, is wonderful about keeping us in the loop. She champions our book and sends email updates of editors’ responses, always using the word “update” in the subject line. At first, we tore open these emails (virtually, of course) with gusto. They said things like, “another editor is interested in reading your ms,” or “Editor X makes four editors to ask for the ms.” (ms, by the by, is publishing lingo for manuscript. And, just for fun, the publishing world uses “softcover” not “paperback.” We’re so savvy now. ) Lately, however, when an “update” arrives, we’re inclined to leave it unopened, having already read our fair share of, “Editor Y likes the book but doesn’t think he can market it,” and “Editor Z thinks you are hilarious and the book is well written, but is going to pass.” Hear that? That’s the sound of our dream gasping for air, struggling to hang on. We still hope one of the editors with the ms will come to the rescue, but instead of sitting around praying for that possibility or brooding about the alternative (which we’ve done, extensively, times two), we’re chewing gum. I dated a guy in high school with a fantastic family. Dad watched The Simpsons and wore Hawaiian shirts, mom baked cookies and drank California Coolers, and little sister looked up to me and let me "teach" her gymnastics for hours on end. Mom believed Wrigley’s Spearmint gum was the answer to every problem. Carsick? Chew some gum. Headache? Chew some gum. Didn’t make the football team? Chew some gum. And though mom probably ensured vacation homes and convertibles for the kids’ future psychologists with her gum/denial therapy, there was some merit to her minty madness. In a word…distraction. If you want to stop dwelling on a problem, find something else to do. In our case, we’re not masticating our problems away . . . we’re writing. We finally sat down and started our new book in earnest and it’s added so much joy to our lives. This morning, for the first time in weeks, I woke up and the first thing I thought about was a particular character in the new book. I didn’t even wonder if there was an “update” on my BlackBerry until I was on the way to work. Score one for chewing gum.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Keeping the Dream Alive

My family and I were blessed to visit Kris and her family in Germany last summer, and take a whirlwind tour of parts of Europe. I not only learned interesting facts about European history and culture (The Pieta is the only piece Michelangelo signed; don’t touch the fruit at the French open-air markets unless you enjoy public scorn and ridicule; Spongebob Squarepants transcends the language barrier) but also discovered some facts about myself and my family. Like, I have an unlimited capacity for French cheese and coconut gelato. Like, no matter how much beer I drink in Rome, I will never get drunk when I walk around in the July heat. Like, even though I haven’t practiced Catholicism in decades, it still feels right to make the sign of the cross in a Cathedral. Like, I can see God in the sun rising above St. Peter’s Basilica. Kris and I both noted something about our children at the Louvre. (And, yes, we took three boys, ages 4, 5, and 7, to the Louvre for 5 hours and it was, miraculously, wonderful.) Our kids speak in pop cultural references. The mummy at the Louvre warranted a Scooby Doo reference, naturally. Raphael and Michelangelo? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There we were, in the middle of this amazing museum, in the heart of culture, and our kids were referencing cartoons . . . Kris and I winced more than once. But, in retrospect, I understand. Of course our children speak in pop cultural references . . . the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. A quick look at our blog shows that tv shows and movies and books color our lives. It's also evidence that we have a particular affinity for pop culture from the ‘80s. And, apparently, there's a special place in my heart reserved for the Coreys. I’ve already referenced The Lost Boys; this time, it’s The Goonies.

If you haven’t seen The Goonies, you’re missing out! If you haven’t watched it in years, watch it again. (It holds up well, but you’ll be surprised at the incessant swearing. I suppose it says something about how sanitized adolescent movies have become that I flinched each time the “S” word was uttered. ) Remember that scene when the kids are below ground searching for One-Eyed Willie and they find a mountain of coins? They all start screaming “treasure!” and stuffing their pockets and thinking they’ve saved their family homes from the big bad developer until Mouth (Corey Feldman) stops them. He stands on the coins, water streaming down his face, and tells them they can’t take the coins. They’re at the bottom of a wishing well, and the coins represent wishes. To us, he says, the coins are treasure, but to the people who tossed them down the well, they are dreams. And you can’t take someone’s dreams.

We received two rejections from editors in the past few days. They complimented our writing style and noted that the book had much to offer, but passed for various reasons. I get it; to them, the book is a commodity. Especially in this market, they have to know they can sell it. But I can’t help wanting to scream, “it may be a commodity to you, but to us, it’s our dream! Don’t take our dream!” I just have to keep reminding myself, other editors are considering the book and, at the end of The Goonies, the kids find treasure after all.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Labor Pains

At the risk of sharing too much, my husband and I are considering a second child. We've always wanted a second child, we always assumed we'd have a second child, but the years have slipped away and we have remained a one kid family. I know, I know, you're thinking big woop, you're not exactly the first family to consider a second child. But its been more than five years since we had our son and the prospect of going back to a house with diapers, wipes, and and cabinets I can't open, not to mention the sleep deprivation, oh my word, the sleep deprivation, well, you get the picture. Its down right scary. And that's just logistics; what about the "will I have time for this child, will I have time for my son, will I love this child as much, what if he or she isn't nearly as cool as the child I do have, will I ever have a quiet moment with my husband again, will I ever do yoga again, exactly how fat am I going to get and will it ever come off?" I have, if you can believe it, been accused of over-thinking things, which is clearly just unfair. Or maybe it isn't, I don't know, I should give that some thought.

When Laura and I asked our agent if there was anything we could do while the editors consider our book, she told us we could start another book. We've always wanted to write another book, we always assumed we'd write another book, but the years have passed and the second book has remained a mere twinkle in our eyes. And in many ways, it feels like The Pecking Order just got out of diapers and is finally able to feed itself. Writing a new book means brainstorming, character development, plot structure, writing, and editing, oh the editing. And that's just the logistics; what about the "will I have time for this book, will it be any good, am I really a writer, will Laura and I gel in the same way we always have, will I ever do yoga again, exactly how fat am I going to get and will it ever come off?" I have, if you can believe it, been accused of body image issues, which is clearly unfair. But do you think this blog makes me look fat?

Attempted self aware jokes aside, the prospect of another book is, like the prospect of another child, scary and overwhelming. But, in the end, the joy, love, and pride the first one brings is enough to make you (kind of) forget the pain and do it all over again. And so Laura and I begin again . . .anyone have an epidural handy??

Thursday, March 26, 2009

5 Random Things You Didn't Know About Abby

Those of you who've read our One Novel to Live blog entry know Abby Taylor is the protagonist of our novel, The Pecking Order. Laura and I both readily admit Abby began as an amalgam of the two of us at our most manic, most stretched (which was the original title of the book, by the way), most certifiably insane (now we're just uncertifiable). For the good of everyone involved, Abby has now, like all good fiction characters, taken on an identity and a life completely her own. If you know either one or both of us, you don't necessarily know Abby, but here are five tidbits to introduce and entice you. We hope you'll get to know her very well and very soon.

  • Abby calls only the most deserving people in her life by their given names. The rest receive only monikers--think The Pecker, The Blowhard, Man Slippers, and Sweat Rings.

  • Abby's been known, after equal parts peer pressure and booze, to remove her underwear in public places.

  • Abby's husband, Adam, is the love of her life, but kids, work, and the occasional ill-timed fart have rendered them celibate by default.

  • Abby's learned the hard way that a particularly messy diaper and a quick-footed toddler can wreak havoc at a dinner party.

  • Abby believes she can have it all, believes she can find balance, but when we first meet her, she has no idea where to look for it.

Here's to hoping you can take that journey with her.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Morning After

So, I’m feeling like a victim of Lestat today. Wow, does that reference date me, or what? No Edward Cullen for me—when I think of vampires, I think of Tom Cruise in the Anne Rice Vampstravaganza. (Sometimes I think of The Lost Boys, too, but I associate that movie less with blood-sucking and more with my own teen angst and a monster crush on Kiefer Sutherland). The point is, all hyperbole aside, I’m feeling drained. The last three days since securing a literary agent have been a whirlwind of excitement, incredulity, well-wishes, and congratulations. Of blog posts, Facebook notes, and many, many emails to and from Kris of the “can you believe this is happening” variety.

Today I woke up tired. And anxious. It’s like my boyfriend proposed and I ran around and told all my friends and picked a date and couldn’t focus on anything else for three days, and then I realized the wedding was a year away and even though I had a shiny new bauble on my finger and only wanted to focus on auditioning bands and tasting cakes, I still had to go to work and clean the litter box and pluck my eyebrows and . . . OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS . . .what if, in that year, we have a huge fight and don’t get married after all? So, yea, that’s how I’m feeling. I’m thrilled at our prospects, but, ever the realist and conditioned to contemplate failure (see, e.g., self-flagellation after every single test I’ve ever taken in my life), I’m also nervous about the process and, ultimately, the result. As best we understand, our agent is submitting queries (and then, if requested, the manuscript) to specific editors at the major publishing houses. If an editor likes it, he or she takes it to a larger group of editors. If they all sign off, they prepare a sales and marketing plan and determine whether to publish us and what they can offer to us. And, at that point, our screams of joy shatter the very screen you are reading this on. Now, don’t get me wrong, just getting the agent is cause for celebration and we are still beaming—but right now, there’s a teeny tiny part of me that can't help but worry my fiancé will leave me and I’ll feel embarrassed for getting so worked up about him in the first place.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Big News

Kris and I often refer to our relationship as yin and yang, by which we mean we are complementary opposites within a greater whole. (Note that I used the word “complementary” as opposed to “complimentary.” I’ll never forget a business trip to San Francisco, when I stayed in a hotel that had a room service menu certain to raise Grammar Girl’s ire. The menu listed “tea, with compliments.” Imagine my dismay when, after a particularly harrowing day listening to Constitutional Law updates and statistics on the high number of alcoholics in the legal profession, I ordered said tea and it arrived with lemon, honey, cream, and sugar, instead of flattering remarks about my beauty and sense of style. False advertising, I say.) Our friendship is the circle, itself, and each of us, at any given time, tends to occupy the yin (black) or yang (white) components of that circle—the comma or the apostrophe. This is most apparent in our attitudes toward our book, The Pecking Order. Over the past few years, I can’t count how many times Kris or I considered throwing in the proverbial towel (which, in this case, would have involved throwing the laptop out the window), only to call the other and hear how excited and optimistic she was about the book’s prospects. Or how many times one of us emailed words of encouragement out of the blue, not knowing the other was slumped in front of a monitor with writer’s block, finishing a second box of Junior Mints and flirting with the blues. I believe this symbiotic dynamic—which cannot be manufactured, but must exist organically between two people—is largely to account for not only the ease with which we write together, but also the depth of our friendship (other factors include a shared affinity for French macaroons, a mutual desire to simplify our lives, and the fact that both of us have children who are preoccupied with bodily functions).

But today . . . today we are all yang. Today, that circle is bright white and burns with the intensity of the Vegas strip. For, today . . . cover your ears, I’m about to scream . . . WE ARE REPRESENTED AUTHORS! WE HAVE A LITERARY AGENT! Remember that agent who expressed interest in working with us on a rewrite back in November? (Of course you do, because you diligently read each of our blog posts and stay up at night worried about our future, right? God bless you.) Well, she worked with us. We rewrote. She read. She loved it. She’s our agent! Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that . . . this is the culmination of four-plus years of hard work, of carpal tunnel, crashed computers, wrestling with mail merge, deciphering the intent behind phantom agent emails, and accepting disappointment. Of many, many, dark, yin moments. But through it all, we never let hope die completely; at least one of us always kept a toe (desperately in need of a pedicure, most likely) on the light side. We know we have a long road ahead of us, filled with prospective editors and rewrites and who-knows-what-else. But, man, does it feel like we cleared a hurdle bigger than Ryan Seacrest’s monthly salon bill. We’ll post updates on the process and our progress but, in the meantime, if you happen to see one of us . . . you’d better bring your sunglasses, because we are shining!