The Writer’s 12 Days of Christmas

Instead of a book review, I have to do something festive. Okay, and this post was supposed to be for Christmas Eve, but I never got around to posting it. But really, if I’d posted it on Christmas Eve, I wouldn’t have known that the last one was actually true! And in the original version, it was “purple,” not “lovely.” Since it isn’t purple, I’m glad I had time to change it.

Let’s take this from day twelve to avoid the repetition that is the hallmark of this song.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Twelve pens of red ink,

Eleven pristine notebooks,

Ten packs of Post-Its,

Nine friends a’reading,

Eight cups a’brewing,

Seven books on writing,

Six story boards,

FIVE PAPER REAMS!

Four babysitters,

Three critique groups,

Two conferences,

And a lovely laptop just for me!

This list is slightly exaggerated, but even then, I am spoiled blessed.

A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler

Set-up: Aura’s an artist, and artistic talent runs in her family. When her mom’s schizophrenic episodes start to peak and Aura is alone in caring for her, Aura begins to worry that schizophrenia runs in her family too. Believing art and mental illness to be linked, she starts to alienate herself from the one escape she has: her art.

Main character’s goals: Aura’s goals are quite different from your average teen’s: keep mom alive, contain mom, prevent mom from burning the house down. Her approach to these goals changes throughout the story.

My reaction: Ah. Big sigh of happiness. I’m really digging my sabbatical from series books, because the finished endings in my latest reads are so satisfying. The ending in A Blue So Dark was absolutely perfect. I wouldn’t have changed a word.

Of interest to writers: Literary fiction does not have to be slow or boring! The beauty of this novel is that although the prose is poetic and there are no werewolves ripping people to shreds, the tension is high throughout the book. Also, the epigrams at the beginning of each chapter were often quietly hilarious.

Bottom line: I don’t know how much attention this book has gotten (it was another random library shelf pull), but it deserves to be read. Spread the word!

The Challenge of Turning 30

The clock is ticking and I’ve got six months left of my twenties. I want to do them right.

The thing is, I feel like a kid most of the time. There’re all kinds of things I don’t know how to do or even handle, and so like the bibliophile I am I turned to a book. I (rather smugly) gave this one to Husband when he turned 30:

30 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do Before Turning 30, by Siobhan Adcock.

Here they are (lifted from the back of the book) (with slight commentary as embellishment where necessary):

  1. wrap a present
  2. start a successful fire in a fireplace, at a campsite, and in a barbecue
  3. finish a piece of furniture
  4. get a raise (whahahaha!)
  5. order wine at a restaurant without getting stiffed
  6. parallel park in three breathtakingly beautiful movements
  7. dance a “slow dance” without looking like an idiot
  8. use a full place setting properly, including chopsticks and Asian soup spoons
  9. clean your place in under 45 minutes, when friends, relatives, or prospective lovers (hahahaha) are coming by unexpectedly, and soon
  10. hold your liquor
  11. cure a hangover
  12. do the Heimlich maneuver
  13. use a compass
  14. change a flat
  15. jump-start a car
  16. open a champagne bottle
  17. send a drink to someone’s table
  18. cook one “signature meal” (I’m shuddering in fear at this one)
  19. whistle with your fingers
  20. take good pictures
  21. fold a fitted sheet (those damn things are so annoying!)
  22. remove common stains
  23. sew a button
  24. carve turkey, lasagna, and birthday cake
  25. hold a baby (hahaha!)
  26. change a diaper (if only I didn’t know how to do this)
  27. keep a plant alive for more than a year
  28. make dogs and cats love you
  29. help someone out of a car
  30. write superior thank-you notes

The rules for my challenge are simple. I have until my thirtieth birthday. I’ll write here about my successes and failures. I’ll try not to burn down any cities (#1–whoops, Dana pointed out this should be #2, not #1), bite off my fingers (#19), or make everyone else’s pets move to my house (#28). As much as possible, I’ll stick to my regular blog posting schedule, but if I have Breaking News, things might get switched up a bit. Breaking News will not include items I feel I already have proficiency in (such as keep a plant alive for more than a year, hold a baby, change a diaper, and a couple of others).

Wanna join me? No age requirements. You can be 30, close to 30, or nowhere near 30 (on either side of the number).

In totally unrelated self-promotion, come by on Friday for an interview with Vintage Veronica author Erica S. Perl, and my first ever Giveaway Awesomeness.

We gon’ light it up like it’s dynamite

In which the Ever-Suffering Mother listens to pop music.

Some months ago a friend posted on Facebook that some days, country music is a necessity. I know I will offend more than a few people when I say that country music is only a necessity if your aim is to drive people away. And up until a month or two ago, I would probably have said the same thing about pop.

Let’s travel back in time to see Beth as an Enlightened College Student, rather than an Ever-Suffering Mother. She (ten or fifteen pounds lighter) walks around her flower-bedecked college campus with her diary book, some pens, and a well-read copy of T. S. Eliot’s collected poems. American Beauty, although dead depressing, is the most meaningful movie she’s ever seen. The Enlightened College Student has just discovered Pink Floyd. She never heard such beautiful caterwauling. Such dips and valleys of emotion in a single Shine-on-you-crazy-diamond kind of song.

Pop music blares from the open window of a shiny white Jetta blazing down the street. She wrinkles her nose, distracted from translating her own dreamy/angsty poetry into French, naturellement. Pop music? Quelle horreur. It’s such a cliché. Please. That Jetta-driver is killing brain cells with every beat of the synthetic bass drum.

[Fast-forward sound effects, please.]

The Ever-Suffering Mother needs some pep. She’s sleepy. Unhappy in the mornings. Grouchy. She filled a prescription for antidepressants but was too afraid to take them. She’s tried re-reading all her favorite books, and they are great escapes. But she cannot read them while she’s driving. The Spanish radio stations are fun in their way, but she keeps searching, searching…there. Rihanna’s rich voice sounds from the speaker. The Ever-Suffering Mother turns up the volume. What is this? This is…shallow. Light. Easy to digest.

She is transported into another world. What are these sounds? This is nothing like the alternative rock she listened to as a teenager. Where is the anger, the creepy “give it up to me” the Toadies intoned over and over? It is not here! This is one-second teenage-dream infatuation! Pop stars slinging out slang she will never ever understand: like a G-six? What? The announcer comes on, name-dropping faster than a stuffy literature professor. The Ever-Suffering Mother cannot even interpret where the names end and the song titles begin.

What a great escape! For a few minutes, she pretends she’s in a club, where they go hardcore and there’s glitter on the floor and she’s just dancing dancing dancing (and not looking like an idiot because after all this is a fantasy).

Then a voice sounds from the back seat of her sport-utility Mom-Mobile: “Snack please?”

Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls by Beth

This is my 100th blog post, so let’s celebrate with an extra-special book review. This book is currently out of print, so I spoke with the publisher and she told me she didn’t mind my posting the book in its entirety on my website.

As I am the author of the book, I agreed to be interviewed by an anonymous, sympathetic interviewer who we will all agree to pretend is not me. Suspension of disbelief, people!

ASI (Anonymous, Sympathetic Interviewer): Beth, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us about your book, “Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls (Written by Beth).”

Beth: It’s the product of an afternoon spent at my grandparents’ house. As a young girl, I was inspired by beautiful, strong women wearing sagging tube dresses. Cats and flowers figured largely into my fantasies as well, as you can see from the first page of the book. (shown below)

ASI: Could you tell us a little bit about the “NO” and arrow pointing to the cover image’s…skirt?

Beth: Well, as I was illustrating the cover, I realized my readers would most likely appreciate a non-example of what my book was about (i.e. an ugly girl). However, the title clearly says “…Pretty Girls” so I needed to succinctly indicate that the cover girl is indeed not pretty. [Truth: I was trying to draw a pretty girl, failed, but had already written out the title. As I was creating this masterpiece in ink, there was nothing to do but make sure the audience knew that I knew that the ugly girl on the cover was a mistake.]

ASI: I’m not sure how to put this delicately, but I notice there is a large number of typographical errors in this story.

Beth: Yes, my editors worked only part-time, and only when requested. For example, I recall asking for the spelling of “girls” for the cover page. At the time of writing, I couldn’t be bothered to ask for the spelling on subsequent pages, nor did I think to refer to the cover. Perhaps the cover had already gone into production and was unavailable; the details are fuzzy on this.

ASI: How old were you when this book was published?

Beth: I think I was five. Possibly six, although I’m pretty sure I knew how to spell “girl” by the time I reached first grade.

ASI: Have people likened your child genius-ness to other young authors such as Christopher Paolini and Hannah Moskowitz?

Beth: Not yet, but I think with the recent publicity of this book, “Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls (Written by Beth),” they will soon.

ASI: Even though you’re, um…no longer young?

Beth: I thought you were supposed to be a sympathetic interviewer?

ASI: Right. Tell us about page 2 of your book.

Beth: I didn’t want to limit my audience by focusing only on flower princesses. By adding the castle princess to the story, I feel I really moved out of a niche market and into a wider audience.

ASI: Any comments on those Edward Scissorhands-ian fingers?

Beth: Hands are difficult to draw. I was on a deadline. And long, pointy fingernails were all the rage in 1986.

ASI: Do you think the waistline of this figure sets up unreasonable body shape expectations for young girls?

Beth: I suppose you could ask the same question of Barbie and every single Disney princess. I think everyone should instead focus on her poofy sleeves.

ASI: The paper medium you utilized for this project is very unique.

Beth: Yes, printing costs were up, so I made do with scratch paper from a library’s card catalog. (Click here for a Wikipedia entry on what a card catalog is, you young whipper-snappers who’ve never heard of such a thing.) My maternal grandmother worked in a library for some years and kept us in good supply of scratch paper.

ASI: With the third page of your book, you really branched out.

Beth: Not wanting to limit my audience to princess-admirers, I included a rock-n-roll girl…complete with side ponytail and sticky-up bangs.

ASI: That’s amazing artwork. She’s wearing a sort of Disney Peter Pan dress.

Beth: That’s her cool mid-80s grunge rock dress.

ASI: Wasn’t grunge a 90s thing?

Beth: What’s the point of this interview exactly? I thought it was me, and my book.

ASI: Moving on to the last page of your book, we can see how you really experimented with textual and rhythmic forms.

Beth: I’m especially proud of my use of repetition as a literary device.

ASI: Let’s type out the text here to make sure all of our readers can catch it:

Pritty (girls) are very very Pritty.

Handsome boy’s are very very Handsome.

do you need a doll or do you Need a Boll.

two frot’s are moore fun then one [note: “frot’s” should be “fruits”]

Beth: I should confess that the last line was borrowed. From a commercial slogan, if I remember correctly.

ASI: Well, almost as amazing as the intelligence, insight, and industriousness of this book is the fact that you have remained the owner of the sole copy in existence for all these years.

Beth: I expect to start getting bids for the original any day now.

ASI: Well, folks, this is the only place you’ll find Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls (Written by Beth). Thanks for stopping by, Beth, and indulging my questions.

Beth: (gracefully, modestly, and looking ten pounds lighter) Any time. I’m happy to be here.

Diary Books I Have Known and Loved

The topic today is diaries. I have more books than I care to count, and most of them are full (although I just bought two new blank ones when I was picking up my copy of Mockingjay).

So here are photos of the book covers and some of the pages, in all their glory, spanning over ten years of writing. Except for one, every one of these has been filled up with my (often pointless, repetitive, self-obsessed) writing (something like this blog, actually).

By the way, I had quite a few extra “excerpt” photos, chosen for their bright, colorful pages and/or illustrations. Upon closer examination, though, I found either embarrassing confessions or cruel, vindictive entries (usually about ex-boyfriends. Sorry boys).

What makes a good diary? An accidentally pornographic cover is always a plus (see black & white photo diary, above). My preferences include plain, quality paper so I can use a variety of pens and they won’t bleed through. Spiral-bound is easier to write in. I prefer somewhere in the ballpark of 6 by 8 inches, although some of my favorites are 8.5 by 11.

If you have a favorite diary, or diary preferences, I’d love to hear about them.