Monday, November 30, 2009

Maddeningly Unhelpful Advice-How to make sure there are no Thanksgiving leftovers

I love Thanksgiving. No holiday can rival it in the food department (although Christmas comes close). And there is no other time of year when it is perfectly acceptable, in fact normal, to make a complete pig of yourself. My family has taken gluttony to a new level, though (well, actually, I shouldn't blame the whole family when my husband started this). We've turned eating into a sport, a competition really, complete with cash prizes. What are the rules, you ask? It's simple. We have a pre-meal weigh-in and then a post-meal weigh-in. Whoever gains the most weight is the winner.

It's quite a sight: the teenagers involved in this competition. They pound the potatoes. They down glass after glass of water. They periodically weigh themselves to see how their efforts are paying off. Three platefuls each of dinner and several pieces of pie later, the weigh in takes place. The winner this year, my adorable 15 year old niece (who won against her boy cousins and brother), gained 5.8 pounds! :) And in second place was my super skinny sister in law (go girls!) with 5.2 pounds. It's craziness.

But, you can imagine the aftermath of such an event. If you can't, let me spell it out for you. Bodies sprawled on the floor, lain across couches, or draped over chairs. Hands gripping sore stomachs. And the air is filled with a low, incessant moaning. Ah, Thanksgiving, I love it!

But, really, I am grateful for all that I've been blessed with. A supportive husband, wonderful children, amazing friends, and the opportunity to do something I love on a daily basis--write.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Reviews

So I'm in Utah and I didn't think I'd be able to do my normal Wednesday review. But I got to talking with my sister in law (whose home we are staying in) and she asked if I'd read the Percy Jackson series. I told her I hadn't but I wanted to before the movie came out because it looked really good. Then she said, I have that series if you want to start it. And of course I did so I followed her downstairs. Now, normally she leads me into the office which has a wall of bookcases. I'm usually awestruck as I stare at her vast collection of books. I search through them for a long time and come away with a handful to borrow. But instead of turning left at the bottom of the stairs she turned right. I hid my confusion and followed her back to a room I hadn't been to in years. And along the back wall was a massive bookcase FULL of YA and MG books. I gasped.

"Let's see," she said, "it's in here somewhere."

My eyes took everything in. "Why haven't you ever shown me THIS bookcase before?" I asked.

"Oh, I thought you knew it was here."

"Uh, no!"

I was so happy. It was like my very own library full of my kind of books. Turns out she had loaned the first book in the Percy Jackson series to someone else. Though I was a little disappointed, I couldn't be for long with so many other books to choose from. So, I chose the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld and was able to read Uglies yesterday.

It wasn't at all what I had expected, but I enjoyed it very much. I would highly recommend it. It's very creative and kept me reading all day. It's also very clean. I moved on to Pretties today. It's been a while since I read a series where all the books were already out so I'm excited I won't have to wait to finish all the books.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maddeningly Unhelpful Advice-Housecleaning 101

Well, as you can all see by my little progress bar on the side, I am an excellent housekeeper. Cleaning is my motto. So I thought it only right to give those of you who may not be as efficient or accomplished in the art of cleaning as I am, some good advice, things I've learned over this past month.

1. Why do now what you can put off until tomorrow? Seriously, if it's not going to grow legs and walk away, then it will still be there for you to pick up tomorrow. We all know that nobody else in the house will pick it up.

2. A layer of dust protects your nice wood from the harsh elements of the world. You wouldn't want to wipe away protection, would you?

3. Speaking of dust, if you leave it on your ceiling fans, then when summer rolls around again it is like a magical surprise for the children when the fans are turned on again. Like a pretty shower of dirty snow for all to enjoy and revel in--Christmas in the summer. It will be a scene your children will remember for ages.

4. Throwing away toys makes it so much easier the next time you have to pick up.

5. Bleach is our friend.

6. Favorite cleaning tool: Mr Clean Magic Eraser

7. Bribery even works on adults.

8. A clean house is overrated. I'd much rather be .... doing anything in the universe, even working out.

Okay, so I'm writing this post from out of town. I'm on vacation for the rest of the month so it looks like my NaHo is stopping at the whopping number of 1920. When I made the goal of 5000 I thought it would be close to attainable. Even though I didn't make it even half way, I did learn a couple things about myself. The first is that I really do hate to clean, which contradicts the second thing I learned which is that I love it when my house is clean. Can somebody tell me how I can have a clean house without having to clean? The other thing I learned is that I like a little healthy competition. When my friend, Linda, was beating me (which was often) it really did motivate me to do more. Thanks for that, Linda. And for those of you who aren't out of town and still participating, keep it up! Even though I accomplished less than half of my goal, my house looked awesome before I left.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday Reviews

I guess, that should read Wednesday Review, not Reviews, but I like nothing if not consistency. That's not true, it just sounded good. My point is, I was only able to read one book this week. Mainly because the great highlighting edit of 2009 that took place this last week. Good news in that front is that I've definitely pinpointed the probably (well, actually, I highlighted it, but again, pinpointed sounded much better) and am now working through edits. In the mean time, my other book, the one that landed me my agent in the first place, is going to spread its wings and get sent into the world very soon. (I keep saying that, but this time it's really going to happen because I'm done shoving other books into my agent's inbox)

Anyway, on to the title of my post. My review. This week I read the book "Eyes Like Stars"

First of all, isn't that the cutest title ever? And I love the cover of the book. This book and I had a love/hate relationship. The "hate" portion was my fault and I will explain that momentarily, but let me tell you about the love portion. This book was not only charming in its prose and characterizations, but the idea was amazing. It was different than anything I have ever read. Let me quote a little from the blurb on the sleeve: "Welcome to the Theatre Illuminata, where the characters of every play ever written can be found behind the curtain. They were born to play their parts, and are bound to the Theatre by The Book--an ancient and magical tome of scripts." Lisa Mantchev not only takes you into the life of the theatre with her plot, but with how she crafts every sentence. Every line, from the dialogue to how she describes the characters speaking and moving, is like a line out of a play. I was entranced.

Now to the hate part (which is my fault). I had this longing as I read to know more about the plays she had as her "stars". Hamlet, for example, should be a play I'm familiar with, but I'm sad to say that I've never even seen the movie. So some of the lines in the book that I'm sure I should've easily understood, left me confused or grasping for meaning. As a result, sometimes I felt very distanced from the book because of my lack of knowledge in Shakespeare's plays. That's not to say you wouldn't enjoy this book if you haven't read Shakespeare. Because obviously, I enjoyed it with only a basic knowledge of Shakespeare. But I think you would appreciate her book even more (which is what I sensed as I read) if you had a love and knowledge of Shakespeare's works. So the "hate" part came when I berated myself multiple times for being such an ignoramus. I sense I will be punishing myself soon by assigning myself Hamlet to read. (It's possible I read it in High School, but like many things in High School, I have since forgotten)

Okay, my head is pounding with the cold that has been lingering around my house for the last month that I have finally caught. Plus, I have to clean for company that will be staying at my house even though I will be out of town.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maddeningly Unhelpful Advice-Surviving a supernatural attack

This Thursday night millions of teenagers, moms, and other obsessed fans of the Twilight Saga will be lining up at theaters around the nation to watch New Moon (me included). It will be cold and dark out. Excitement will abound with its tell-tale signs of fast beating hearts, veins near bursting, and sweat-covered palms. The salty smell of this sweat and extra blood will hang thick in the air.

You might be thinking, 'oh no, the vampires are going to be out in full force.' You'd be thinking wrong. The vampires will all be in a vampire council trying to figure out how to prevent vampires from falling in love with accident prone humans. What we should really be worried about are the werewolves.

You see, they're angsty and always hungry (a lethal combination). And since I doubt anyone out there has their own personal vampire guardian, we need to know how to survive in that line since we wouldn't want to miss the movie we've been waiting a year for.

It's possible you've been getting conflicting messages in your YA literature as of late. One book tells us that the tiniest drop of werewolf saliva finding it's way into the bloodstream will turn us into a werewolf. Another book tells us we have to actually be bitten to be turned. And this is all if we actually survive the attack, which is unlikely.

Let's refer to the bible of werewolves, the Twilight Saga, to find the answer about being turned. Oh, phew, it looks like we can only be werewolves if it's in our genes. We've dodged a bullet there. If we're getting turned into something supernatural anytime soon, it better be a sultry vampire who does the turning.

(They'll do [btw, Ian, if you're reading this (and why wouldn't you be?), I loved you on Lost, where they killed you off entirely too early, and I'm glad you've come back to TV in such an evil way])

Okay, but this doesn't solve the real issue--an attack by a werewolf that could end in death (and keep us from seeing the movie). So, it looks like the moon will be a waning crescent on Thursday night. That would be good news if werewolves cared about moon cycles, which obviously they don't. So what now? If any of you have a baby that they could imprint on, that could work. I don't so I'm out of luck there. If you have brown eyes, you could be in better shape. Mine are blue. Hmm, I'm running out of solutions here. I could try flirting (it worked for Bella) but I'm out of practice. I should've thought to befriend someone who had the potential of becoming a werewolf so he could protect me from his friends, but it's a little late now. Maybe some of you thought ahead on that one.

It looks like I have no good advice for you. We can only hope that the attack will come after we've seen the movie and our lives are complete.

I would love to hear your advice on how to survive this imminent attack.

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Edit and A Bar of Soap

Yesterday was a very low day for me. I got a long awaited email from my agent about a book of mine she'd been reading. This was my most recent book and therefore the one I am the most in love with right now. It was the one that was going to get me published and be awesome. Well, guess what? She didn't like it very much. This in and of itself is a good excuse for being bummed, but what got me down even more was the reason she didn't like it. She said she didn't like the narrative voice because I was telling too much instead of showing.

WHAT??? That's like writing 101. That's something I had never had much of a problem with even when I first started writing. I was telling instead of showing? It shocked and embarrassed me. Plus, it wasn't something I could easily fix. It wasn't a plot hole I could patch up or a scene that didn't make sense. This was major. In my mind it meant a total rewrite. I was sooooo depressed. So what did I do? Well, after pouting for a while, I marched to my kids' bathroom.

Why? you ask. A few days ago my son had flushed a bar of soap down the toilet and it was clogged. My husband had been bugging me to call the maintenance guy (because it was really stuck), but I had been resisting. I didn't want to call the maintenance guy, I was embarrassed. Last year he had replaced two toilets and had subsequently been back to unclog them not once, but twice because of this same issue (not a bar of soap, but other items flushed by the boy). I didn't want him looking at me and saying: Why haven't you gotten toilet locks or locked your bathroom doors. I didn't want to have to explain to him it was because we were potty training now and I had to leave toilets open for the potty emergencies.

So anyway, I marched into the bathroom because I needed to unclog that toilet. I needed to have a feeling of success for the day because I was feeling so crappy. I must've spent thirty minutes in there with that stupid toilet snake and that stupid plunger. All for nothing.

I threw myself onto my bed. "I can't write a book or unclog a stupid toilet!" I whined. I think my husband thought I was nuts.

When I got over feeling sorry for myself, a thought came to me. I needed to highlight my entire book into sections. Green for dialogue, Gray for action, Purple for inner thoughts, Yellow for description, and Teal for narrative. It gave me a purpose. I sat down, determined. I reached page 120 last night (highlighting an entire book is a lot of work). And guess what I discovered? The teal sections need to go. They are the sections where I am "telling" the reader about my world. I need to either change them into dialogue scenes where I convey the same information or I need to cut them altogether. I also realized I can reduce the purple sections as well. My favorite sections were the gray and green. I wouldn't have to rewrite my entire book after all. It's still good. I still love my book. This edit is only going to make it stronger.

I was so happy and rejuvenated when I woke up this morning that I thought maybe I'd give the toilet another go. I wound that metal snake down there with confidence and determination. And I unclogged it! An entire bar of soap was yanked from the clutches of the toilet by the toilet snake. An entire bar of soap. So I can write a book and unclog a toilet! Wahoo!

Back to editing for me. This highlighting is so eye opening that I might start doing it for all my books. (by the way, my agent rocks!)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday Reviews

This week in reading I get to review all the books I read because I liked them all. I went through a few books in the last month that I wasn't too fond of. I was beginning to worry that I was just being critical because I'm a writer now and that I'd never be able to sit back and read a book again without analyzing it to death. But I realized this week that was not the case. As long as the book is really good, I have no problem relaxing while I read. :)

I'm going to be honest, I almost put this book down when I was fifty pages in. I was doing what I complained about above: analyzing every page, every sentence. I didn't like the style it was written in. And it wasn't even the fact that it was narrated by Death. It was just that Death kept interrupting himself and he was driving me nuts. I wanted to say, 'just tell me the story Death and stop trying to point out what you think I need to learn from it or the things I need to focus on.' BUT, like I said at the beginning, if I had felt that way through the whole book, I wouldn't be reviewing it now. As the book progressed and I got used to Death's ways, I was immersed in this heartbreaking story. It's about a German girl who grows up in Nazi Germany. This story is heartbreaking on so many levels so if you read it, get ready for some strong emotions. In fact, Death kept preparing me for future events and what I thought at first was an annoying way of telling me the future actually ended up being my life saver. Apparently Death knew that in this story he needed to soften the blow. (So Markus Zusak, you are a genius)

After The Book Thief, I needed something a little lighter. (I think anything I read would've been lighter) And my friend Natalie recommended this series by Kelley Armstrong. I loved these. There are only two of the three out right now. The third comes out May 1st.

Book one is about a fifteen year old girl who discovers she can see ghosts. She is put in a group home to get help with her "mental problem". There she discovers all sorts of cool things. (Okay, that was a really bad summary, but I don't want to give anything away.)

Thank goodness I had book two on hand because I wanted it immediately after finishing one. This book kept me up until 2am Sunday night. I kept telling myself to go to bed and then kept saying, just one more chapter. So finally I made myself stop reading and then lay there not sleeping. The longer I didn't sleep the more I thought about the fact that if my brain wouldn't let me sleep, I might as well be reading. But, I forced my brain into submission and finally got some sleep. Anyway, the point? Very good.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Maddeningly Unhelpful Advice-Teaching Independence

One of my son's favorite television shows is Max and Ruby. Perhaps you have heard of it. It's based on a book series about a rambunctious three year old bunny and his older sister--the ever responsible seven year old who is trying to keep him out of trouble. On a side note: I believe Max is my son's personal mentor on new ways to get into trouble. Anyway, I've noticed before that there are no parents in this cartoon. Occasionally the grandma comes to visit and sometimes the "bunny scout leader" is around. I thought at first that the parents were in the background. Like in the other room or something while the kids played (like the non-speaking parents in Charlie Brown). But the other day, when Ruby, you know, the responsible SEVEN year old was putting Max to bed and he kept getting up, I realized the parents are never around.

Are they working all the time? Did they go to Mr. McGregor's to bring back some dinner and never came home? Are they busy with their hundred other children? Where are the parents?

Maybe it's different in bunny families. Maybe children are independent at the age of seven. I realized this was a great teaching moment for my children. "Wow, look at that seven year old. She puts her little brother to bed, makes dinner, plays with him, and keeps the house clean." I think my subtle messages are working. By the end of the year my children will be ready to move out and get a job (or at the very least pick up after themselves).

Friday, November 6, 2009


This story starts on my birthday. I was sitting in the car next to Candi. We were driving to Cincinnati. She was mentally preparing me for a statue we were about to see on the side of the freeway when a horrible realization entered my mind. I gasped and grabbed hold of her arm. On a side note: gasping and grabbing someone's arm while they are driving is not a smart thing to do. Thankfully she didn't swerve off the road and end us in a fiery explosion. Anyway, the realization I had was that my license expired that day as I was sitting in Ohio. I gasped because I was certain I wouldn't be able to fly home, especially because the airports were in a code orange (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds ominous). Well, the rest of that story is for another post. The bottom line is that I made it home and, of course, had to make a trip to the DMV. And that visit is where this story takes place.

So I'm sitting there with my two-year-old son, waiting for my number to be called and knowing I was in for a long wait. My son was getting bored and started rifling through my purse. He found my digital camera. I didn't think it was a big deal at first to let him play with it. Not until, that is, he started aiming it at the man sitting two seats down from us. "Don't point it at people," I told him.

"But I want to," he whined.

At this point, the man looked over and said, "He can take my picture." (This was a statement that after five minutes, he probably wished he never made)

My son took no less than twenty pictures of this poor man. The blinding flash probably made him see stars. Each picture he had to personally show the man, who pretended to be excited. He truly was a good sport, but after picture twenty I was feeling more than embarrassed. Finally, I pried the camera from my son's little hands and shoved it into my purse. He cried and cried. Then he went to my purse and started searching for it. He immediately stopped crying when he spotted something else. Pulling them from my purse he screamed, "Look, it's my underwear," and promptly showed them to the man.

I will include some pics of the man so you can see the extent of my embarrassment:

Oh, and the statue I saw on the side of the road with Candi:

It's HUGE. Now you see why she had to mentally prepare me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wednesday Reviews

When I was visiting Candi in Ohio, I mentioned that we saw a charming (and perhaps a little creepy) movie by the name of The Vampire's Assistant. I enjoyed it so much that after watching the movie we went to the book store and I decided to buy the books. The movie is based on the first three books in the series and comes in a large volume bearing the same name as the movie. The boy who plays Darren in the movie is adorable. He was such a good actor. The movie definitely has the correct rating--PG 13. It has some disturbing elements (after all it's about a freak show as well as vampires).

The books, however, (at least the first 3) I've already let my 11 year old start reading. I really enjoyed them. They are middle grade, but I liked them a lot. I've recently started writing a middle grade novel, so reading these books came at a good time for me.

The first book introduces us to the world of the Cirque Du Freak. It's full of bizarre and freakish characters. And Darren with his subtly reckless personality gets into some big trouble.

Book 2 is all about Darren's struggle trying to come to terms with a life he wouldn't have chosen for himself. He's faced with some tough choices that bring moments of both tension and heartbreak.

In Book 3 Darren is fully immersed in his new life and taking control of that life. He's more deliberate and growing as a character. And we're introduced to many new facts about the world the author has built.

Like I said, I enjoyed the books. They do have a bit of violence, blood, gore, and freakish elements. So if your children are on the squeamish side, these books might not be for them. And again, I don't know how the series progresses after book 3, but I'm excited to find out. The books were quite a bit different from the movie too. They had the same premise, but not the same way of illustrating the elements of the world or of the characters. It did have the same general feel, though.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Maddeningly Unhelpful Advice-Traumatizing Children

Imagine if you will a family (mine) gathered together on a Monday night watching a film that talks of the "hidden dangers" in the world. To illustrate the point a metaphor of a crocodile hiding in various mud-filled watering holes is used. My 2 year old squeals with delight when he sees the crocodile (he loves crocodiles). "Look, mom, it's a crocodile!" The narrator's voice is calm and soothing while various animals drink from the water. Most are skittish, always looking around, always wary of the dangers lurking. The crocodile is creeping ever closer. My son is giggling. I'm smiling because it's such a fun, nature-filled video that the kids are enjoying. Then a family of elk begin drinking and the crocodile is moving in, the narrator's voice is even calmer, one by one the family of elk see the crocodile and pull away from the water. The only one left is the smaller one and SNAP the crocodile grabs him and pulls him into the water. I jump. My son's smile vanishes, replaced by a wide open mouth. My head whips towards my husband (who has seen the video and thought the kids would enjoy it). My son begins screaming, "SCARY CROCODILE!" My husband says, "Oh, uh, yeah, didn't think about the fact that it would scare him." Big tears are streaming down my son's face as he continues to whimper, "bad crocodile."

So, if you were wondering how to traumatize a two-year old, this works well. I can loan you the video. Or how about you just show up to the church Halloween party dressed like this:

That works too. Several children wouldn't get out of their cars when they saw Jared dressed like this. It doesn't help that he's 6'8" . He looked like death walking.

What about you? Have you traumatized any children lately? I'd love to hear how you do it.