Thursday, April 30, 2009

Careful, You'll End up in my Novel....

It's another rainy morning here. It's been raining on and off for the past couple of days. I don't mind except sometimes it rains at the strangest time. Take, for example, last night. I went to my friend's to watch Lost. She lives in the same apartment complex so it's a five minute walk at most. When I left my place, it was sunny and warm and a beautiful evening. Two hours later and it was raining. I was wearing a t-shirt. I got wet. Wasn't that an exciting story?

Lately, the stories in my head haven't been quite as exciting as the world has been around me. House hunting is quite exciting though of the slightly-terrifying variety of exciting. I still haven't found out if my offer was accepted. There was a competing offer submitted so now I have to wait to see which of us gets the house. It's almost like being on a game show except, you know, my prize is paying a lot of money to buy a house. If I don't get that house, I want to put an offer in on the other one I saw that I mentioned yesterday. I keep thinking about that house and how I'd like to live there. Then I think about the house I did put an offer on and I realize I want to live there too. Thus, whatever happens, I think it'll work out the way it should.

Another thing that happened this week was earlier. I forgot to mention that in my blog but now I feel like I have to. Remember how I mentioned that the CEO was temporarily living above me? Well, she has a boyfriend who flies in from California fairly regularly. To be as tactful as possible, let's just say I don't necessarily know the boyfriend is in town until I hear him. When you're lying in bed and you suddenly hear the strange sounds of what seems to be a porno movie and then you realize that it's probably inches above your head when you stop to think about it and that steady thudding sound, you suddenly realize that now is a good time for the good old iPod. It's not that I have anything against couples having a good time but, well, it's my CEO. And it's a porno film above my head.

This, of course, would be nothing except for the fact that the other night, Sunday, I think it was, I had returned from my parents and as is typical, I was carrying a lot of stuff. Thus, in a very rare moment of forgetting to be obsessive-compulsive, I didn't check to see if my door is locked. Normally, I check it at least six times an evening. This time, I didn't. I live in a safe building. In spite of the frat boys being a little loud at times, it's fairly quiet and peaceful. Especially now the boy-who-shouts-at-his-girlfriend-on-the-phone has seemingly moved out. Thus, on the rare occasion that I do forget to lock my door, it's not likely to cause major crime.

Anyway, a little later that evening I sat on the couch in my pajamas watching the DVD of Iron Chef that I'd rented from Netflix because I'm currently obsessed with that show. I still hadn't realized that I'd forgotten to lock my door. Again, let me emphasize, my lack of door-locking is really unusual. Suddenly, while I'm watching one of the chefs do something fancy with that ravioli cutter, my door opens and a little dog runs in followed by my CEO's boyfriend. I had already christened him "The Grunter" in my head.

Immediately, I can tell he is mortified because he's realized his mistake. He's one floor too low. Me...I'm amused. Now, if he'd have come in while I was changing into my pajamas, I would have been embarrassed. But, as it was, I just think it's funny. He doesn't. He tries to go but the dog won't leave. To be fair, it really wasn't The Grunter's fault. I know the dog does, for some reason, like to come to my door on a regular basis for some reason and he'd obviously just followed the dog. Yet though I try to chat to him, to make him a little less embarrassed, he just continues to mumble and beg the dog to go with him.

Finally, the dog leaves. So does he. If he had rubber on his feet, there would have been a burning smell. I immediately locked my door. Then checked it about nine times. I did hear My Own Personal Porno Soundtrack again later that night but, again, the wonder of earbuds is that they drown out noise.

I wasn't going to say anything in the office. After all, I felt sorry for The Grunter. However, he had other plans. He had to drop something off for our CEO the morning afterwards and when one of my coworkers let him into the office, he immediately asked if I was there. Thinking he wanted to talked to me, my coworker told him I was and to go on down. Apparently, he backed away slowly, went red and said, "NO! I'm avoiding her." Which, of course, led to the scampering of several pairs of feet to my office after he left to hear why he he might be avoiding me. Not a good way for him to be discreet.

I haven't seen my CEO since. She's been out of town. I think, like me, she's probably very amused. She's a fun lady and I know that she doesn't embarrass easily which is probably why she keeps her windows open when she and The Grunter do their thing. Aside from the fact that my overactive imagination wonders what happens if that loud thudding of the bed leads to a ceiling collapse and I'm crushed by the weight of two over-enthusiastic fifty-somethings, I don't care that I can hear them having sex; it's just more that, well, she's my CEO and that's a little weird.

So, it's been an interesting week. Aside from being stalked by large spiders who have invaded my home and forced me to attempt to scoop them up while trying not to squeal like a girl and drop them off my balcony back into the wilderness of the grass below, the house hunting and Grunter Invasion have been the most interesting parts. Work is going well, I'm going out with my old friend this weekend and I just came up with another idea for a short story. It doesn't involve a Grunter or someone who buys a house. Yet, now I'm thinking about it...I'm sure those things will work themselves into a fictional effort at some point. That's the beauty of being a writer; nothing is safe. I have this sweatshirt a good friend (and fellow novelist) gave me that says "Careful, you'll end up in my novel."

Grunter, you have been warned.

Happy Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reality: (Potentially) Buying a House is Scary....

I'm a very tired Monkeypants today. That's what I get for staying up too late. Truth be told, I don't think I could have gone to bed any earlier. I had a very busy evening and I was a little bit wired. Besides I had decided to bake bread in my bread machine at about 11:15 p.m. and I wanted to ensure that it rose so I couldn't go to bed any earlier until the bread was actually baking.

I went house hunting last night, as I mentioned yesterday. I put an offer down on a place. It's a terrifying, overwhelming thought. It's also an exhausting process. I looked at six places last night. Of the six, three were very great houses. The first one I looked at was cute, had an awesome little yard and was on a nice street. It also had a converted garage that I loved for the fact that it was a room that could be anything I wanted it to be. The kitchen was small though and the laundry room was the kitchen. I have a feeling, in summer, that kitchen must get awfully warm when the dryer is on. I put that on hold in my mind. There were things I loved about that house. It also helped that the current owner is clearly a younger man into graphic novels and comic book type stuff, rather like me. My realtor is quite nosy which is fun. Plus he'd left some of his art on the kitchen table; he had some tattoo sketches and some panels from graphic novels. He was really good. I actually wanted to meet him because just looking around his place, he seemed very interesting. And clean. The house was...very clean.

We looked at a couple of other places that were ok but nothing spectacular. Then we got to see a house I'd wanted to see the last time I was out. Since it's still occupied, it makes it harder to get in for a look. On the porch, last night, sat this little old lady, waiting for us. The front yard was immaculate, the house clearly well-taken care of. We talked to her for a while and then we went in.

This house felt like home immediately. It was clear from the pictures on the walls that this house belonged to people who had loved it. There were photos of the lady with her husband. He wasn't there which led both my realtor and I to think she'd been recently widowed. The house itself was lovely. It just needs a little updating. Without trying to sound like an age-ist, it was pretty obvious that the house belonged to old people. Just a replacing of the curtains would make the house seem a lot more modern. But, overall, it felt like a home to me. It had the big kitchen I wanted, a laundry area, a garage. It has a big yard, nice sized bedrooms. All the appliances come with the house. The price was low. The taxes are low. Long story short...I felt like this was my house.

My realtor agreed that it seemed like a great buy. Afterwards, we talked to the lady for a while. Sure enough, she was widowed three years ago. I was relieved to find out she'd only been living in the place for twelve years. I would have felt horribly guilty wanting her house if she'd been there, say, thirty years or something. Twelve years is long enough to feel like a place is home and I felt for her because she was clearly sad. Yet because the driveway had a little slant, she said she had trouble with it and her son wanted her to move to Alabama to live with him.

By the time I was done talking to her, I knew that the neighbourhood was great, the location was great and I'd be getting more than a good buy: I'd be getting a place that was well loved, treasured, even. Also, you'll be happy to know she's not the "Derron Lady" although I will confess for a few seconds when she first spoke, she sounded a little like that lady. On a side note, she's still calling. I've discovered that Derron is her grandson. She always calls when I'm not home now and leaves Derron messages on my machine. I almost feel like I should offer to help locate Derron next time she calls. She just sounds so irritated that my answering machine is answering the phone and I still have not yet transformed into Derron.

I digress, as usual. Anyway, so, after looking at a few other places that didn't compare, I knew I had to move forward. My realtor took me to dinner and talked me through the process. I will tell you that just making an offer on a house is exhausting. There are hours worth of paperwork to be completed. I can't even imagine the amount of paperwork if I actually get to buy the house.

So, it's been just over a month since I decided I wanted to look into buying. Now I might have a place. I'm trying not to hope too much because if my offer isn't accepted, I'll be disappointed. However, like everything else in life, if it doesn't work out, I'll adjust. However, if it does work out, I will cross their scary bridge of thinking about being a homeowner and becoming one.

So, you see, last night was an adventure. I got in late. I knew I couldn't sleep. So I decided to try again with the bread, attributing the previous night's failure to bad yeast. This time, I knew I couldn't fail: I found Mario Batali's recipe for basic bread. With Mario behind me, what can go wrong? However, I did read the comments below and discovered the recipe has a typo: use 1 and a half cups of water rather than just the half-cup that is printed.

By the time I'd made the bread, I still wasn't tired and so I'd chatted on the phone to my friend in California. By the time I was done, the bread was rising and almost ready to start baking. This time, it looked like bread, at least.

I woke up this morning to a loaf of lovely crusty bread. I just had some for breakfast and have to say, once again, Mario Batali is my hero. It is delicious. I have my ham sandwich for lunch. I will find out this afternoon if my offer is accepted. I'm terrified. But I'm also excited. I'll keep you posted. Thanks, as always for reading...

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Not One of Those Days After All....

I'm hoping today's not going to be one of those days. It has a few of the signs of being one of those days. For example, I attempted to bake a loaf of bread in my breadmaker last night and I got up this morning to find an odd jagged looking scone-like loaf that was rock hard and inedible. I'm not sure what happened. I used the same recipe I always do. I put the ingredients in like I always do and yet...no bread. Most odd.

I had baked the bread with the intention of making fancy ham sandwiches for lunch. I love homemade bread on a good sandwich. So I had to go to plan B which was to make a salad. Fortunately, I had made a whopper bowl of salad for dinner last night so all I had to do was put some in my tupperware but it's not going to compare to the sandwich I had in my mind. I know you're thinking, "Wait, didn't Captain Monkeypants just complain about how sick she was of ham sandwiches and ham sandwich weather?" Well yes but not the kind of ham sandwich I had in my mind to make. That was to built around ham I had simmered all day yesterday in my crockpot with rosemary infusion. It would have had hydroponic butter lettuce and german mustard on my crusty homemade bread. That's definitely not the same as Oscar Meyer Deli Sliced ham slapped on two pieces of cheap wheat bread.

So, I must settle for my salad. The bread was a disappointment, however. I really wanted that sandwich.

The second sign that it's going to be one of those days is that literally the minute I had stepped outside of my apartment building, rain began to fall. When I say the minute I stepped out, I mean the exact moment I left the shelter. I made it to my car but, naturally, I had picked this morning to take out my rubbish. This means I had to run out in the pouring rain from the shelter of my car and get momentarily soaked just so my flat did not smell like rotting vegetables and stale bread. I have a very small trash can. It fills up fast and when you add a loaf of failed bread machine bread to it, it gets a bit full. So...I got wet.

I would have used my umbrella except one of them was at home and the other at the office. I made a note to myself to keep one in my car. The problem with non-ham-sandwich weather is that it's a tad unpredictable. I like that but I don't necessarily like getting soaked before I get to work and thus entering the office looking a little like a drowned rodent.

Those are really the only signs that it's going to be one of those days aside from the simple fact I had to go to work. I like my job. I just don't like politics and, after over six months of working for a company, I'm beginning to get fed of being the "new person". I know I'll be the new person until someone else new starts in my area but it means I have to constantly be pushed to the sidelines because I'm still not trusted completely, no matter how hard I work. I've had a lot of new jobs in my life because I variety. I've been the new person before. It takes time. I just have to be patient and, eventually, I'll feel secure in my job and not like I'm going to get fired because I'm useless. I'm going to try not to have one of those days at work.

Of course, in the course of my blogging, I've managed to publish my blog accidentally which means, currently, the world can read an unfinished mish-mash of words.

Sometimes I wonder if those days that I speak of, the ones we all have are of our own making or they're days in which the world just wants to take out its bad mood. I mean, we all have days like that. When I'm snippy and crotchety, my poor mother is my punching bag. She puts up with my attitude and listens to me complain. I also have some good friends who know that sometimes all I need to do is vent and get my frustation out of my system. Yet I know on days like that, nothing is going to make me content; I'm on edge and because I am, there's an invisible jagged barrier between me and the world; those are days on which I can't ever relax because nothing feels right.

Maybe the world around me is having a day like that. Or, maybe, more realistically, I'm having a day like that. It's still raining outside. I'm hoping the sun comes out, just for a little while. I'm going house hunting again tonight and my realtor is planning a marathon. I think I have 10 houses to see. I'm not complaining. I'm loving the hunt and the possibility that each place could become my home.

Yet, maybe if I don't concede and admit it's one of those days, it won't become one. Maybe my refusal to acknowledge it will make it not happen. Maybe all I need to do is put on my iPod, listen to the new Green Day song and focus on the positive. I mean, I have a job and I like it. Just because I'm not feeling like I completely fit yet doesn't mean I won't eventually. Maybe it's better that my ham sandwich plans were foiled; salad is healthier anyway. Maybe the fact that it started raining is a present because I love rain. In fact, when I look at the fact that I couldn't have a ham sandwich AND it's raining, maybe that's the universe's way of saying, "hey, you wanted this! I'm just trying to help you out!"

Which means it's definitely not one of those days. It's the opposite. That's a great thing.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Surreality: Amish on Rollerblades

It's Monday morning and I can't believe the weekend flew by so fast. I know it always does but it doesn't mean I wouldn't have liked to have reached out and grabbed hold of it to make it last longer.

It was, as anticipated, a lovely weekend. The weather was unbelievable. Just a week ago, we were all shivering in the frosty chill of the morning. This morning, the temperature is already 70 degrees. The weekend was hot. There was always a strong wind blowing which, at times, served to cool down the hot day and, at others, add a layer of sultry humidity so that it emphasized the heat.

I learned that I love garage sales this weekend. I spent the day with my sister and brother-in-law on Saturday going around to the sales. The nice thing about a City Wide Garage Sale Day is that no matter which neighbourhood you're in, someone is having a sale. I spent a grand total of $14 and came home with a box of treasures. I found a nice food processor for $1 which works just fine. I found drinking glasses for ten cents, brand new leather boots in my size for $2 and a ton of other treasures. I did learn that the more expensive the neighbourhood, the higher the price tags on the items. This is a rather ironic thing given that people with money still have the same sort of junk as everyone else. Overall, I learned that garage sale-ing is fun yet exhausting and the earlier you start, the better the deals. We started at 9 a.m. and by 11:30 a.m. many places were already packing up, the only sale-ables left were meager pickings of children's clothes and bric-a-brac that doesn't seem to fit anywhere.

The rest of my weekend was also wonderful. I got to spend time with my parents and Sausage. I decided this was the weekend where I would teach Sausage to walk on a leash. This has been attempted before but has only ever resulted in Sausage plopping himself down on the floor, lying as stiff as a board and refusing to budge. The only way to get him to move is to drag him which I don't like to do because, well, it's not very nice. Also...it's not easy. He's very heavy when he decides to play "Rigor Mortis Sausage," as I have dubbed it. He also stares up at me with those massive sad eyes, pleading for me to stop and just let him sleep. Have I mentioned he's manipulative?

However, this weekend, I decided to try him with a harness rather than a collar. Also, I decided carrying a piece of chicken would, perhaps, provide an incentive. I can proudly declare my mission successful. Not only did Sausage walk nicely on the leash but he also went for a bit of a lollop. This is how I describe Sausage when he runs. He's got rather tiny legs and his long body looks awfully comical as he tries to move quickly and so rather than run, he lollops. I think, perhaps, it might have been the chicken that inspired both the walking and the lolloping. I suspect this because on the first attempt, I rewarded him by stopping on a patch of grass and giving him his chicken. On the second attempt, I was chicken-less but he managed to stop in the exact same place as before and sniff to see if there was any more chicken. Sausage has a good nose. There was no more chicken but still he walked on the leash. I hope the success continues. I'm supposed to Sausage-sit while my parents take a trip to the UK next month and it would make life much easier if he will walk on a leash to do his business.

Overall, I would say, it was a very successful weekend. I had fun, Sausage walked on a leash and I got to see my family. I'd say that was a pretty good way to spend my days. Even the two hour drive to get there and get home was nice. Being that it's spring and that I have to drive through a lot of countryside to get to my parents, it's a fine time to be driving. The fields are full of cows, sheep and horses and they all have new babies. I love seing the new lambs and calves still glued to the sides of their parents and still trying to find their feet a little.

One other thing I saw on my drive is probably one of the most surreal things I've seen in a while. I think I've mentioned that my parent's town is close to an area where many Amish families have settled. Usually on my drive, I pass at least one horse and buggy. Yesterday, being that it was a beautiful day, I passed several. One of them was packed full to the brim with a family. The father drove the horses, the mother sat next to him with a baby on her lap. Crammed onto the bench beside her were two small little boys. Behind the buggy, clad in the lighter dresses that the Amish females wear in summer were two little Amish girls. They held onto the back of the buggy and they were both wearing rollerblades.

I had to do a double-take when I saw that. I mean, it just seemed to be one of those sights that you have to stare at to take in. When I thought about it, it seemed to me to solve the problem of not having room in the buggy in a rather innovative fashion. I would have snapped a picture but I know the Amish do not like to have their picture taken and I didn't want to violate that. However, I wish I could show you. It's one of those moments in life that you just have to say, "huh, would never have thought of that!" when you see it. It brought to mind the movie "Back to the Future" in which you see Marty hang on to the back of vehicles on his skateboard. I suppose that might just be the Amish equivalent. They had the wheels under their feet, even if it did look a little odd with their long homemade dresses. They had the vehicle. It might have been driven by a giant cart horse but it was still a vehicle. Now if those girls had suddenly broken out into some fancy skating moves, I might have been a little more alarmed. As it was, it was a sight to see in it's simplicity.

Now, I sit here on a Monday morning, enjoying the fact that it's quiet for now. It's supposed to be another gorgeous day today with only a slight chance of storms tonight. Even though I'm in the office, I can feel the sun beaming through the filtered light of my basement "window" and that makes a big difference when starting the work week. Here's hoping it's a great week for everyone.

Happy Monday.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sunny Days and Carrot Seeds

It's Friday. It's an unbelievably amazing spring day out there, already nearing seventy degrees. The sun is shining, the air smells heavenly...how can anyone possibly be in a bad mood?

I can't be. Not today. It's too nice out there. I slept really well. I have a cup of coffee. For now, all is right in the world, at least for the fifteen minutes I'm currently living. Baby steps, right?

I'm not going to vent anymore about my bad review. Just as always is the case, whenever I'm having a hard time with that, the people who care about me most came through, lending me their shoulders to cry on, the ears to yell into and their unwavering faith that someday, I'll show those idiots at Publishers Weekly that they were wrong. Also, they're all boycotting Amazon.com which is a rather sweet touch, I think. I know I'm considering doing all my shopping with Barnes and Noble and Borders. Same books, same prices...instant gratification because there is actually a store to browse...there's a lot to be said for that.

So, I'm going to start my weekend feeling upbeat. It's supposed to be fantastic weather all weekend which makes me happy because I can help work in my parent's garden. I'm also going to garage sales tomorrow with my sister. It's a city-wide garage sale day in my parent's hometown. My sister's a pro at those. I've never had much luck; I always feel a little weird perusing people's stuff. However, before I moved from L.A., my roommate and I had our own yard sale. It wasn't exactly a rip-roaring success but it did make me realize that people having yard/garage sales don't mind people pawing through their stuff...they just want them to buy things. So, I'm going to happily peruse. I'm hoping for some kitchen bargains. You never know. There are an awful lot of gifts out there that people don't know what to do with so I'm hoping to run into some hidden bargains. My sister and her husband are always finding things like garage door openers for $3 or kids clothes for fifty cents. It should be fun.

I went house hunting again last night. I think I found a place. It needs a little modernizing and personalizing and even some updating but, overall, it's a bargain and it has the loveliest yard. It's in a quiet neighbourhood that is walking distance from a big park. There are woods behind the house that I would be able to cut through to get to the park. I'm hoping to find out more about it but it was one of those finds that...just felt right.

So, again, I'm trying to emphasize the positive in my life and ignore the negative. I had my wallow. I had my vent. It's time to move on. I have a new idea for writing; I'm taking a temporary break from the novel on which I'm currently working. Until I can figure out what shape my ABNA book is really in since my feedback is so conflicting, I don't feel confident or even comfortable writing a new novel that features one of the same characters. He doesn't mind too much. He may even feature in the new idea I have which might be a lighter, sunnier effort than I usually write.

Regardless of what happens with that, the most important thing is that the ideas are still flowing through me, my characters still whisper in my ears. A bad review didn't stop any of that but, rather, had the opposite effect for which it was intended. It makes me WANT to write, to say "screw you!" to the the world of negativity from which reviews like mine arose.

My good friend and former roommate recently gave me a kids book called The Carrot Seed. It's about a little boy who plants a seed that everyone says will not grow. He watches it for a long time and nothing happens. Everyone tells him to give up. Then, one day, the carrot seed DOES grow because the little boy never gave up on it. She gave me the book to remind me that no matter how many people naysay my writing, one day, it WILL grow. I keep that book on my desk when I write. I read it the other night after I got my review. I love that book. I love my friend for giving me that book. It's a simple lesson but one that is important to remind ourselves during every step of life: Don't give up on something you believe in because, eventually, your faith and belief will pay off.

So, with that in my mind and the sunny weekend looming ahead, life feels good. I've now had a good half-an-hour of good, peaceful, sunny calm and I know that more is ahead. I hope it is for you too.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

(Book) Parents DO Just Understand...

Sometimes, my blog sits before me like a blank canvas and I wonder whether I'll find something to write about. Eventually, I do. The one thing that's always been easy for me is words; I use a lot of them. This is probably why some of my novels are longer than the recommended length for submitting to an agent of publisher. I never have understood that, to be frankly honest. Yes, I know the time it takes to read a book should be taken into consideration but a true reader, one who enjoys a good book, doesn't look at the thickness of a hardback or paperback and say, "oh, no, too long!"

For me, as a reader, the thicker a book, the more potential it has. It's a bigger world for me to get lost in, an escape from reality that will suck me in and keep me there for longer. If you're like me, when you find a book you love, you never want it to end. You find yourself reading every word, savouring it like good food or fine wine, trying to talk yourself out of picking it up and reading it every time you have a few minutes because if you do, it means you'll be done more quickly. Then, when you get close to the end, you start to feel a strange sense of deflation and grief because you know the end is coming, whether you want it to or not.

Books like this are rare but they're out there. That's the way I felt when reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It's the way I felt when I read Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True or A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Neil Gaiman's American Gods was like that too. Stephen King and Peter Straub's Black House earned a 'book hug' for making me fall madly in love with Jack Sawyer and then breaking my heart a little at the end. I could go on and on. I love books and always have. That's probably why I want to write them.

I still do want to write them, even after the brutal review I wrote yesterday. I've had time to process it and even though I will forever dislike Publishers Weekly and I think Amazon.com should be put to task for allowing their contest to become such a psychological mindgame for their writers, like I said yesterday, I'm going to have to ignore it. If I don't, I'll second guess every word that I write from now on. I'll find myself going back to the other novels I've written and I'll worry that those, too, are worthy only of burning, the way the critic suggested of Sleep.

Truth be told, I know that when I get published, I will have to develop a thicker skin. I'm sure this won't be the last nasty review I receive. I think my only hope is that I am, at least, published and not a struggling writer who wants to hang onto ever piece of (constructive) criticism I receive. I hope that I at least have some positive reviews as well as negative to balance out the nastiness.

And my review was nasty. I think that was why I was so angry yesterday and why I'm still a little angry today. Whoever my reviewer was, I pity them. Clearly that person is so unhappy that he or she is thriving on the pitiful power that is given to them to take an author's prized work and offer their opinion. Whether or not they liked my genre, my writing or my story, they should at least take into consideration they were reviewing a work that was completed, that was the result of months of careful labour, a work that is so precious to an author, it is like a child.

I am not one of those gushing people who thinks all babies are beautiful. I've seen some ugly babies. Yet I've also seen that no matter how funny looking a kid is, their parents still love them a lot. If you're around that baby long enough, you realize it's not ugly at all, it's just not the same as all the other babies. Just because it doesn't look like something off a Gerber baby advertisement doesn't mean it's bad; it means that it's different.

I don't think my reviewer must like babies very much. If he or she did, they'd probably grasp the concept that behind every book that's in their hands, there's a writer who put it into the world. I wonder how many of the reviewers from Publishers Weekly who read our ABNA entries have actually written a book themselves. If they had, they probably would have a kindler, gentler approach to reading someone else's work. Though I have no kids, I imagine that when you're a parent, it makes you more aware of other people's children and makes you protective. I am an aunt and since becoming one, I've noticed that I am more aware of children around me. I find myself watching my language if I'm in public, I find myself worrying if I see them doing dangerous things. If I had my own kids, I think I'd be even worse.

And though I have no child of my own, my novels are my children. Creating them, shaping them, moulding them so they're ready to go into the world is hard work but when you feel like you've done as much as you can for them, you sit back, breathe a sigh and let them go. Then you hope they don't run into nasty people who kick them when they're just finding their way into the world. In this sense, I view my Publishers Weekly reviewer a little like a sociopath in society who steals from the poor; they put no thought into the fact that their victim is a human being and needs everything they have in their meager little living space, they can't be bothered to care and so they steal anyway.

My reviewer at PW have sent my 'child' home to me. It's come home as a shivering, quivering mess. It's so bruised and broken, I don't know what's wrong with it or if anything in it is worth keeping. I think once the injuries have healed, I'll be able to see what's happened. I don't think anything is ever so broken, it can't, at least, be fixed a little even if the damage is so bad, it'll never be stable without being rebuilt from the beginning. When the sting from all this has gone, I'm hoping to look at Sleep and help it become a better book. I'm a 'parent'. I owe that to my 'child'.

Though it may not have happened with Sleep, one day, I hope to write a book that people don't want to finish. I want to write a book that creeps under its readers' skins and becomes part of them. I want them to see my novel in a bookstore and want to buy another copy just because they're afraid something will happen to the one they currently own and cherish. I do that with books, I do that with CD's. I even do it with DVD's. Maybe I haven't written anything like that yet but I think I can and I hope I will.

Until then, I'll continue to create and form new books and hope, beyond hope, that in the future, the world is a little kinder to them.

Happy Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Brutal Nature of Reviews.


I'm not going to wax poetical about spring today. Truth be told, I'm not feeling very poetical. Mostly, I'm feeling slightly angry, horribly frustrated and rather sad.

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest has reared its head again. As you probably remember, I made it through to the quarter-finals. I didn't make it to the semi-finals but I was ok with that. All quarter-finalists were promised a professional review of our entire manuscript by Publishers Weekly, regardless of whether we advanced in the contest or not. The 400 of us who didn't make it forward got our reviews last night, supposedly our 'consolation prize.'

I would like to say on record that if this is supposed to be a prize or a reward, I'd very much like to not make it to the quarter-finals next year, please.

When I say that, I can hear the imaginary voices of the thousands of other writers who didn't make it to the quarter-finals saying "INGRATE!" and "At least you got that far."

Except, to be frankly honest, I'm wondering how I got to the quarter-finals, based on my professional review.

I confess, I am a little sensitive to criticism and I know I need to thicken my skin to it. I still don't handle rejection as well as I like and the more specific it is, the harder I find it. No writer likes to have his or her work attacked, criticized and placed under a microscope. However, it is a part of writing. Criticism, when constructive, does make us better writers, even though it feels like a slap in the face when you first hear it.

So what, then, of non-constructive criticism? What, then, of criticism so brutal that it gives you no bright spot, nothing to cling to in order to say, 'at least they liked X in my book', whatever X might be?

That's my review from Publishers Weekly. They called my book "repetitive" and "plodding", my characters "one-note" and "dull". It was written as though it would be posted on Amazon.com for all to see. I really, really hope it never is. Thus, most of the review was a recap of my novel which meant they read it. Which meant they hated it. In the entire review, there was not a single positive word, not one.

Naturally, when I read it, I was devastated. As I mentioned in that last wallowing post I wrote a few months ago, aside from the pep squad of friends and family, I haven't had much affirmation from anyone that my writing is actually good, that I am good enough to become a published author. I shouldn't need that.

I do need that. I thought I had finally got some affirmation by advancing in the ABNA contest. Yet the readers who put me there read the first 20 or so pages of the work. Publishers Weekly read the whole thing. Aside from my lovely mother, I've let 3 people read the entire novel. Not one of them has given me any feedback, though I asked, which only leads me to believe that they didn't like it and can't bring themselves to tell me that. Yet, you know, I think I might even be ok with that as long as they could tell me why they didn't like it. It would give me something to fix instead of nothing.

With my Publishers Weekly review, I have nothing to work with aside from burning the entire thing and pretending it never existed. This poses a problem with the novel I'm currently working on because it features one of my "one-note" characters from my previous novel. Do I keep working on it? Is it worth writing?

I think the answer is yes. It's worth writing because I want to write it. Whether or not it turns into another "repetitive" and "plodding" novel, doesn't really matter. Not yet, anyway. Maybe this is a sign that I'm not supposed to be a writer. Maybe it's supposed to be a sign that I'm not. I think I'm going to do what I often unintentionally do with speed limit signs, I'm going to ignore it. If I don't, I'll sit here and doubt myself, doubt my writing and wonder if my writing will ever go anywhere.

Instead, I'm going to remember what I said last week, it's about the roadtrip, not the destination. I just hit a massive bump in my road, a dead-end in which I'm going to have to go around. I've done that on real roadtrips and sometimes that dead-end leads to a detour that adds a couple of hours onto the trip which is frustrating and makes you want to turn around and go home. Yet, on those detours, you do get to see things you wouldn't have seen otherwise, landmarks, nature, interesting-looking people.

I wallowed last night when I read my review. A lot. Then I talked to a couple of members of my 'pep squad' who, as always, came through for me. My parents are wonderful because they believe in me, no matter what. They pooh-poohed the review and said in their British accents that it was "rubbish" and that I shouldn't listen to it. My friend who was smart enough to realize I was having a meltdown on my Blackberry Instant Messenger when I told her my news called me and, in her normal frank and wonderful style, that any review that has absolutely no constructive criticism cannot be taken seriously. She reminded me that even when I'm ranting about, say, Stephanie Meyer or Dan Brown, I do, at least, recognize that it's just my opinion and I usually do say positive things too. I might not like the Twilight series and think much to Ms. Meyer's writing but I do recognize that there is an audience out there for it and I give her kudos for writing something that reaches them so deeply.

When I do reviews for others, be it stories, books, screenplays or even web-sites, I always start with a positive. Even if I hate the thing I'm reviewing, nothing is ever so bad that good things can't be found in it. With Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown, there are enough people out there to disagree with me that I don't feel quite so inclined to do that but I do try to make that the exception, not the rule.

I know our reviews were supposed to simulate the review we would get on our novel if it was published. However, my sensitive soul wants to know why Amazon.com and Publishers Weekly couldn't be...a little gentler, why they couldn't take into consideration that even if we've been writing for years, we're all mostly still newbies who are trying to get published and thus...be a little more helpful and a little less cruel.

I don't know if I'll be entering ABNA again next year. What positivity I felt by getting to the Top 500 is now threatened to be quashed by the fact that my book, apparently sucked. It's too uneven; even the Top 100 semi-finalists didn't get very nice reviews leading us all to wonder, exactly, how bad the other 400 reviews for of us who didn't advance would be.

Now I know. I was upset last night. This morning, I'm better. I'm angry that this is my 'prize' for doing so well in a contest. To me, it feels like I was made to feel comfortable, felt good about my writing and then BAM! someone comes and hits me with a two-by-four and say, 'by the way, you're NOT a good writer and your book blows.'

Thanks for that, Amazon. Thanks for that, Publishers Weekly. Right now, I hate you both. I'll get over that. The anger feels way better than the depression that threatened to loom last night. Shockingly, although if I think about it too much, the pangs of feeling sorry for myself begin, I'm feeling much better this morning. I even forgot about it long enough on my commute to work that I began to think about tonight's dinner.

I recently watched a movie called "Happy-Go-Lucky" about a lovely woman named Poppy who is always cheerful and always sees the bright side of life. I loved her. No matter what happened, she took it in stride, accepted it and moved on. Poppy came into my mind this morning on my commute. In the film, Poppy has to take driving lessons from a man who is her polar opposite, he hates life and is miserable. His way of making her remember to check her three mirrors is to constantly say 'En-Ra-ha", the names of fallen angels. I got stuck behind a student driver this morning and found myself chanting, "En-RA-HA!, EN-RA-HA!" It made me laugh, a lot and I realized when I was laughing that there are few shadows in life that can't be chased away by a good laugh. I want to be more like Poppy and so today, I will.

Shut up, Publishers Weekly. I'm sure you've said many bad things to a lot of good writers. I hope that you enjoy the view from your Ivory Tower because one day, I'm coming up there and I'm going to throw you out the window.

Ok, so the positivity probably should be a little less...violent, huh? I'll work on that.

Sorry, it's such a long blog today. Thanks for reading as I work through my psychological issues.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Adventures in House Hunting

The sun is shining today. It's chilly out there and the threat of rain looms but it's still a day, struggling to start brightly.

I know how it feels. Once again, I got to bed far too late last night and had to get up far too soon. I'm currently devouring my rather large cup of coffee which I actually made at home with my nifty little French press. That thing makes tasty coffee and it's way easier even than a regular coffee maker. It's a bit messy to clean but it's well worth it. It means I can bypass the office coffee for a day which, while no longer vile, is still just office coffee.

I did go look at houses last night. Naturally, I did the one thing I'm not supposed to do. I loved the first one I saw. Granted, we looked at four and the other three were definitely not to my tastes but that first one...well, I could live there. Don't worry, I'm going to keep looking but it's definitely on my radar.

Looking at houses is fascinating. The first one had just been redone and you could tell that the owners had put time and into effort into making their house sellable. They had put in new appliances, painted and cleaned. It looked liked they wanted someone to buy their house. I wanted to buy their house. Then we looked at two others, priced similarly to the first. What a contrast. The second one felt wrong when I went in. It had old carpet, no longer lying flat but easily trip-able. The basement was dark and gloomy and though there was an interesting '70's style padded bar and seats, the newly installed wall paneling had already buckled and I knew it was hiding something bad. It just felt like an antique store that sold nothing but junk, no treasures thrown in to keep it interesting.

The third house was a bachelor pad. The owner was asking the same price as for the first house I had seen. This was also a contrast. The carpets were thick, shaglike. They were dirty. As mean as it sounds, it smelled like a bachelor pad. The bathrooms were sparse and the corners were dirty. The kitchen had potatoes that were actually growing leaves because they had been left for so long. It was just...dirty.

It was an eye-opening experience. People think very highly of their houses and ask a lot of money. It amazes me that the first house was clean, airy, the fridge, oven and dishwasher still with their factory manuals taped to them, they were so new. For the same price, the third house had an oven that looked like it belonged in a bomb shelter from the 1970's, the yellowed plastic and manual clock frozen in their attempts to blend in to the 21st century. Both the good house and the other two were within three blocks of each other so there's not even much room to rationalize that the vastly different quality but the similar prices were about location.

I'm lucky. My realtor is fantastic. She's thourough. She's blunt. She's not afraid to point out flaws and tell me what to look for. She also refuses to allow me to fall madly in love with one place but wants me to keep looking and if that first place is still appealing after a lot more looking, then it can be a possibility.

I did look at another place but though the door was supposed to be unlocked, it wasn't and the best we could do is look in the windows. That was enough for me. The driveway was almost vertical up a hill. As a wary winter driver, I'm not about to think about trying to get my little Corolla up a hill that would be tough, even in summer. So, that was an automatic no.

House hunting is fun. Each place offers the chance for me to picture myself living there, to picture where I'd write, the ways I can decorate to make it my own. I am in the best situation possible to buy a home: I rent so I don't have to sell a home before I can buy a new one, the market is a buyer's market, the interest rates low enough that even I on my meager salary can consider buying instead of renting and I'm willing to compromise. The possibilities are endless and I'm no longer terrified of the possibility but excited.

I finally rolled into my apartment around 10 p.m. last night. Being Monday, I had my weekly calls from the Derron-lady on my answering machine. Since that first night, I've realized her urgent need to talk to Derron is limited to Mondays. I feel for her because she clearly can't comprehend that when my answering machine says, "Hello, you've reached [Captain Monkeypants]", it's not really code for "Derron is really here but he's hiding from you." Personally, I'd rather like to take Derron aside and give him a good talking-to. Clearly, he's either not calling this lady back or he keeps giving her the wrong number which happens to be MY number. She doesn't believe me when I tell her it's not Derron's number. She doesn't believe my answering machine. Short of changing my number or unplugging the phone, there's little I can do. It's just another incentive to move, I suppose.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, April 20, 2009

IKEA, Cooking and a Rainy Start to the Week

It's a dark and stormy Monday morning. The sky is grey and heavy and looks like it's going to open any minute and launch a torrent onto the world beneath that is just waking up and trying to be motivated to go to work or school. It's one of those days where there's an ominous tone to the world, heavy with greys and shadows, the flowers looking as though they're trying to hide from the heavy rains that loom, imminent.

I know how they feel. I think most people do on Monday mornings. I have yet to meet a person who sits up and jumps out of bed saying "YAY! It's Monday!!!". If those people exist, they would frighten me.

I think my problem is that I like weekends too much. I love having two days that don't conform to the self-made pattern of my work weeks. I like knowing I can get up when I like, even if it is always around 9 a.m. at the latest. I like knowing I can read in bed if I still don't want to get up, that I can work out any time I choose.

This weekend was another good one. I spent the day on Saturday with a friend. We went to IKEA. I love IKEA. I love that you can go in there and spend less than $35 and come out with a ton of handy items, some of which you might actually need. I do need to make a note to myself that I really need to NOT watch "Iron Chef America' before I go to IKEA. You see, this leads me to do something I never thought I would ever do: Get excited over kitchen tools. I used to mock my friends and my dad for getting excited over odd contraptions like fancy peelers, sodium containment units (a fancy salt pot for those unfamiliar with Alton Brown and the Food Network) and chopping boards. This weekend, I went to IKEA and I got excited over a peeler and chopping boards and a French press coffee maker. Yes, I've crossed over to the dark side. You know you're in trouble when the lemon juicer just has to be yours because squeezing fresh lemons is far better than buying those plastic lemons full of concentrated lemon juice.

Stupid "Iron Chef."

Aside from IKEA, we browsed Barnes and Noble which, alas, did not have any copies left of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a book that my friend really wanted to read and was kindly going to loan me. Yes, it's based on the original text of Pride and Prejudice but has, you know, zombies attacking the village of Meryton and it's up to Elizabeth Bennett and Proud Mr. Darcy to defeat them. What's not to like about that?

We also went to see a movie. We saw "State of Play". Yes, I know, I know, I've complained about that remake a couple of times. I can hear you thinking, "Wow, Captain Monkeypants is a hypocrite. She's supporting Hollywood in their horrid remake campaign." My defense is....an embarrassed shrug. It's true. I have no defense. I will merely apologise and move on.

Actually, I won't. You didn't really expect that, did you? My friend wanted to see it and it was the only movie starting at the time we wanted to see one. It had good reviews and, I confess, Iwas curious to see what they did with it. It was...ok.

The original is far, far better. I will say the movie did a fabulous job of condensing the mini-series which ran over five hours into a two hour movie. Russell Crowe was excellent in his role. Rachel McAdams was good, also. Ben Affleck played Ben Affleck very nicely. I was a little confused why Helen Mirren decided to act her role as though she were playing Bill Nighy playing her role. I mean, even her gestures were very similar to those of Mr. Nighy in the original. Over all, it was ok. I missed the James McAvoy role from the original and was disappointed that Jason Bateman's slimy character didn't have more screen time or a larger role but, as I said, it wasn't bad at all. I still say watch the original, it's much less polished, far grittier and far more believable. However, the BBC mini-series does lack Russell Crowe's spectacularly bad hairstyle, I'm sad to say.

The rest of my weekend was rather nice. I woke up on Sunday with the urge to cook. Stupid Food Network. Stupid Mario Batali. So, I cooked. I made homemade ravioli. I made the dough myself. It was ridiculously easy because Mario Batali told me it was and he's usually right. I stuffed it with roasted butternut squash and tossed it in a sage butter sauce. I also added a salad of sauteed beet greens topped with roasted beets.

You're scared, aren't you? Yes, me too. I think I might have officially watched too much "Iron Chef America". I will say that the meal was delicious, even though that sounds horribly self-congratulatory. My only problem is that I still lack a rolling pin and I, naturally, do not own a pasta rolling machine thingy so I had to use my infamous trick of using a wine bottle to flatten out the pasta dough. Thus, no matter how hard I pressed down, the dough remained thicker than it should. It was tasty...just thick. I like that I can try these recipes on myself and if they're revolting, I'm the only one who has to know. However, if it does turn out right, I can add that to my repetoire for when I do cook for others. It's fun. I'm planning on trying to cook in my parent's far better equipped kitchen soon. My dad has all the gadgets including a pasta rolling thingy. I plan on using my mother as my sous chef. She doesn't know this yet.

As for the house hunting, that was postponed by my realtor. We're going tonight, instead. I'm excited. It'll be interesting to see the difference between the fiction of the pictures I've been viewing of houses and the reality of the houses themselves. I think I'm prepared. I don't plan on falling madly in love with one place and putting all my hopes on that because I know that often, you have to make offers on a couple of places before you finally get one. The looking is the fun part. I plan on enjoying that.

So, thus ends the past week and today the new one begins. It's a little less stressful since the pressure of making it in the ABNA contest is off though, in the end, that turned out to be little stress, just a good rallying point for me to realize, once again, it's about the roadtrip, not the destination.

In a way, I like that it's raining. It seems fitting for a Monday morning. I'm sure as the week passes, the clouds eventually will too. In the meantime, they provide a convenient excuse for my Monday sluggishness, not the fact that I stayed up too late reading. I shall, to quote Milli Vanilli, those old pop "singers" of yore, "Blame it on the rain." Why not?

Happy Monday.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Wordsworth Kind of Friday...

"Daffodils" (1804)

I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

-------------------------------------------------------------
It's going to be a beautiful Friday. The sun is shining again and the temperatures are supposed to reach the 70's. That's what I call a good start to the weekend. It's been a long week, full of ups and downs but mostly ups...which makes for a good week.

My weekend looms before me, the weather forecast is very typical for the Midwest in the spring; it's supposed to be sunny with a chance of rain and the temperatures will range from teh 30's to the 70's. I have no real set plans aside from looking at houses this weekend. I'm quite excited about that. I've never looked for my own house before but I'm certain that there's a place out there, somewhere, that I'll eventually be able to call my own.

Aside from that, it's one of those delicious weekends in which nothing is written in stone and during which I can do anything or nothing, whatever strikes my fancy.

I like that I've been dreading this past week for a month, the knowledge that my novel, Sleep, would hit its peak in ABNA and I'd be back to starting over with query letters for it. The reason I like that I've been dreading it is because now that it's happened, it's over and rather than bring me down, it's boosted me up.

I had a good evening last night too. I made breakfast for dinner: Scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, hash brown patties and grilled tomatoes and green peppers. I watched "Iron Chef America" on my laptop and discovered that while I adore Mario Batali, I do not care for Bobby Flay. I find him stressful to watch because he seems so focused and intent that he doesn't seem to be enjoying his work very much. When I watch Mario Batali, I get the sense that he enjoys cooking, that he is inspired by the ingredient he's given. Bobby Flay seemed rather miserable about it. Maybe it was just the episode; the secret ingredient was beer and Flay was challenged by an Austrian cook who clearly knew how to use the ingredient. Poor Bobby seemed a little irritated by his ingredient and when his fondue turned about badly, I almost expected him to throw it at his sous chef.

Aside from that, I did download the new Green Day song. As expected, it is good. Then I wrote, while listening to Green Day. There's nothing better.

So, I seem to be continuing my campaign of positivity which, for me, is a pretty good accomplishment. I can be optimistic but I can also be dark and twisty, full of darkness and self-doubt. I'm glad I didn't go to that place but, instead, I let Spring have its effect on me. It's hard not to when the sun is shining so brightly and you pass hosts of golden daffodils constantly on your way to work. Even though I have the work day to get through before my weekend begins, I can live with that. It makes the anticipation of two days of freedom even better.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Roadtrip of Writing...

Rather than dwell on my lack of advancement in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, I've decided to ignore it completely for now. I won't lie and say the disappointment has already vanished because that would be a lie. I won't say that every now and again, I don't have the urge to check the postings on the site to make sure I wasn't one of the winners. I'm not going to make up excuses or be bitter. I venture to guess that a large percentage of the semi-finalists have also had their share of rejections and disappointment and they are finally getting a chance to be read.

So, I'm deciding to embrace that which I do have in my life rather than what I don't have. For example, today is looking to be a beautiful day. The sun is finally shining, the trees along the roads that line my route to work have exploded into white cotton-ball-like blossoms with a few hardy pink magnolias thrown in. The tulips have budded, ready to show their blooms and the daffodils and forsythia each throw their indulgent yellow tones out into a world that has seemingly turned back to green overnight.

I woke up to the sound of Green Day on my alarm clock. For anyone who knows me, Green Day is my absolute favourite band in the entire world. I haven't gushed about how excited I am that less than a month from now, on May 15th, their new album "21st Century Breakdown" will be released. Consider me gushing now. Today, their first single from the album, "Know your Enemy", is going to be released on iTunes. As of half an hour ago, it wasn't there yet. I know because I already tried to download it. I'll be patient and get it tonight. I'm excited. Their last album, "American Idiot," is my all-time favourite rock album. It inspired me to write an entire novel. Even if their follow-up only has a couple of good songs (which I doubt), I wait with excited anticipation. Any day, like today, that starts with Green Day has to be good. It's a law. In my head.

I'm also grateful for Facebook. Through this site, I have had the chance to reconnect to friends that I haven't talked to in years but wondered where life has taken them. I'm in touch with some of my family in the UK. Through simple things as "Status Updates" and "Five Favourite Things", I can learn about them, see what they're up to. It's a powerful thing. Yesterday, when I was so deflated about the Amazon contest, my friends rallied in support, posting lovely positive praise about my writing and letting me know that this isn't the end, but the beginning. Sometimes you just need to hear things like that. Yesterday, I did.

My family is the same. They seem to believe in me, no matter how often I feel like I'm losing my way. My mother, especially. It's nice to feel appreciated. I know, as a writer, you're not supposed to use your mother as your 'Ideal Reader' (to poach a term from Stephen King). However, my mother is a reader. She's an extremely discriminating one. She is the one I can count on to tell me if a book I'm thinking about reading is worth the time. This is why occasionally I'll give her a stack of my unread books and tell her to let me know if they're worth my time. I'm lazy. She doesn't mind. It works out well. This is why I always let her read my stories and novels first. She is positive but she will tell me what's wrong with my story, whether the ending is too treacly, whether she doesn't like a character. It's a useful thing and it keeps me going.

I also found out I can now buy a house. That's a terrifying thing. I've been approved for a mortgage. Technically, the shopping can begin. I've never house-shopped before. I don't really know what to look for. I'm a bit afraid I'll find a place with a darling fireplace, a lovely garden and I'll forget that working plumbing, unexposed wires and solid walls are usually a must for a habitable environment these days. Still, it's an exciting prospect. It also means I'm really turning into a grown-up. That's a terrifying thought but it had to happen sometime.

So, though I'm still feeling the lapping of disappointment whenever I sit back and forget to block it out, it's not the end of the world. It's not the end of my writing. My characters are still in my head, waiting for their stories to be told. I still feel the tug of excitement as I realize my current novel is going in a completely different direction to what I originally planned. Though I did ask Gaz, my main character, if he'd have any objection to being turned into a vampire and/or being written for young adults. That's the target market these days, it seems, for fantasy.

Gaz said no. He wasn't very nice about it. Which, actually, given the fact that he's not particularly nice anyway, wasn't a surprise. I think I'll stick to keeping him who he is. Characters are far more interesting when you let them tell you who they are, when you don't try to make them into a cookie-cutter hero or a typical villain. I'll let him tell me his story though I might have to censor him a bit. He has a foul mouth that one. Throw in an East London accent and you have a very interesting man although he's made me promise I won't picture the Geico Gekko when he's talking. It's hard not to though. I love that lizard.

So, on this lovely spring morning, I'm accentuating the positive and ignoring the negative. It's getting easier already. Maybe it's the sunshine, maybe it's the fact that Green Day are back with fresh material, maybe it's the fact that I've realized, once again, having good family and friends in my life can make up for a lot of things I don't have. Whatever it is, I'm looking forward, not back. Like a smart friend said yesterday, roadtrips are often more fun than the actual destination. My writing is my journey, success is the destination. If I get there too quickly, I won't have time to wind down the windows, turn up the music and eat too much junk food. Road trips are the best things, especially when you have good company. I'm lucky in that regard; my friends and my family are always there, supporting me, entertaining me and reminding me to look out the windows and enjoy the view. Even when it's raining, it's still a good ride.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stepping off the Ladder

Since I've talked so much about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award already, it seems fitting to live blog about the fact that I just discovered I did not make the semi-finals.

I'm disappointed. That's the truth.

I'm trying to see the positive. I made it to the Top 500. I'm going to get a review from Publisher's Weekly to find out what was wrong with my novel that I didn't move on.

That's also a negative. It means I have to face the truth that I am not yet a Great Writer and that I did something wrong.

I did get further than ever before and so I'm going to try to push onward and not look at existing novels and my current project as unpublishable but, rather, as something that can be finely tuned so I can make it the best I can do. I'm also bound and determined not to be bitter about the entries that did make it. I already mentioned that next year, I hope Amazon makes a rule that finalists who make it to the top three not be allowed to enter the same work the following year. That's a space in the contest for someone who has never had the chance to get a little bit of hope, even if they just make it to the Top 500, like I did.

That's all I'll say about that. It's my one bit of creeping bitterness that someone who had a shot is getting the exact same chance again even though it obviously wasn't fruitful last time. I don't blame Amazon, I actually blame the author for not having the grace to step aside. Yet, I wonder, would I do it? It's hard to say. I'm not in the position so maybe it's easy to say...harder to do.

Otherwise, I'm going to try to be a noble loser. I'll stop whining and try to keep writing without thinking, "I'm not good enough." I got to stand on the ladder for a month, look up at the open skies of success and have the possibility and hope lay before me that perhaps this was finally it, I could finally stop beating my head against a wall and I could have my shot.

I'm stepping off the ladder. For now. I'll be back. Thank you, everyone, for your kind words of support, consolation and friendship. You make me feel like a champion even if I'm not holding the prize.

Thanks for reading.

Iron Chefs and Rats Who Shouldn't Cook...

It's another gloomy day today, similar to yesterday but the warmth has gone and a damp cold seems to have found its way into my fingers. No matter what I try, I can't quite get warm. It reminds me of my days of living in England; the damp cold clings to you inside and out and only burrowing yourself into a mountain of blankets in bed can warm chill from your bones.

Thus, I didn't want to get up this morning. I actually slept remarkably well last night which was a pleasant surprise given that today is the day the Top 100 in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is selected and the rest of the 400 quarterfinalists will be notified that their novels didn't make it. Try as I might, I can't ignore it and I have tried. I've tried to distract myself by not thinking about it. I figured if I psyched myself up to receive that rejection, it wouldn't bother me. The problem with that is that it's negative thinking and that's not good either. So, I'm trying a new strategy: being positive. I'm not sure how that's working for me; it's hard to be in a great mood when you're feeling sluggish and tired and you want to crawl back under the covers. Yet I'm trying. Whatever happens, happens.

So, instead of spending last night obsessively reading the ABNA forums, I found other things to do instead. Besides, the ABNA forums are getting on my nerves. Nothing is going on there other than a little snark, a little teasing and a little patting each other on the back. I managed to get 10 reviews through the process and every single one of them actually made me flush with surprise and happiness; people like my book. That's a pretty awesome feeling.

One of the other things I found to do is watch TV on my computer in bed. I've got a confession; I think I might be getting addicted to "Iron Chef USA." I watched it with my parents this weekend and, well, it's pretty cool. As a food lover, I can't believe what those chefs can throw together in 'one hour'. Since it's TV, I have to think some prep work was done ahead of time and the 'secret ingredient' wasn't so secret. My favourite is Mario Batali. Wow, he makes me hungry. Last night, I discovered that The Food Network has some full episodes to watch online so I watched Jamie Oliver (aka "The Naked Chef") take on Mario Batali. They had to use a weird fish called Cobia. Both chefs made dishes that actually looked like they'd be tasty but as he seems to always do, Mario Batali was the one that made me want to reach into my television and sample his food. There's something deeply satisfying about watching a talented chef cook.

Believe it or not, this weekend was the first time I've ever really seen "Iron Chef". I do love the food network. Alton Brown's "Good Eats" was my previous favourite. He's a great cook too because he makes sense of what he cooks and how flavours work together. Also, he doesn't have all the fancy gadgets to use that make me feel woefully amateur because I do not have a Chinese Hat Funnel in my kitchen. Jamie Oliver used on of those last night on "Iron Chef".

The Food Network is the reason I don't have cable or satellite TV. I know, for a fact, that if I did have it, I would probably always find a way to procrastinate and turn on the TV. There's always something to watch on that channel. I tend to indulge at my parents' house. I love Anthony Bourdain's shows, I like Alton Brown, I love Iron Chef. I've also watched that show with the bald man who goes round the world eating disgusting things. For the life of me, I can't remember the name but it's on late and he will eat ANYTHING. I find it disgustingly entertaining. I also liked that "Dinner: Impossible" show in which a man goes to places and throws together a meal for huge amounts of people in a very short time.

You get the idea. I love food, thus, I love the Food Network. It's very dangerous to my productivity.

Just in case you were wondering and (*SPOILER ALERT), Mr. Batali did defeat Jamie Oliver in "Iron Chef USA". Not that it's a shocker. I will say that Jamie Oliver only lost by 3 points and he made fish and chips using Guiness beer in the batter which made me like him. Also, he's British which made me like him even more. It was pretty amazing watching two chefs battle it out because neither of them got flustered, they just focused on the task at hand. What amazes me is their soux chefs who get none of the glory on screen but are running around, making it possible for the Iron Chef and his competitor to masterfully create dishes with the ingredients they've prepped.

It reminds me of that film, "Ratatouille." Aside from the fact that the film disgusts me greatly because it's a RAT in the KITCHEN, TOUCHING FOOD, I do like the fact that we get inside the hustle and bustle of a busy kitchen at work. I liked the food aspect of that movie. I just can't watch it enjoyably because even if it's a cartoon, there are still RATS. In a Kitchen. Touching Food. I find it ironic that I have a vivid imagination but I can't get beyond the fact that I'm disgusted by the rats, even though they're animated and they can talk. Really, I should be able to suspend my disbelief that these aren't real rats; they're magical talking ones that aren't disgusting and covered with germs.

Yet, after I saw "Ratatouille," I saw a real rat in the jasmine patch I walked by daily when I worked at USC. I tried to picture that rat in a cute chef's hat, talking to me, washing his paws ready to cook. I couldn't do it. All I saw was a nasty, germ infested creature with beady eyes and a horrible, long, naked tail. Apparently, my suspension of disbelief doesn't extend to rats cooking, no matter how often they wash their hands.

I think I'll stick to watching master chefs in the kitchen at work, chefs that stand up on human legs, washing their human hands and cooking human dishes with the help of other humans. I'll stick to my Iron Chef's and my bald men eating disgusing foods. Which, my apologies, is NOT on the Food Network but is on the Travel Channel and it's called "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman." Sorry, Andrew Zimmerman, I shall try to remember your name and not called you "Bald Man who Eats Weird Food." Still, Travel Channel or Food Network, I still love watching people cook and eat. It's a good distraction from life.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Unnecessary Remakes: The Sequel

It's a drizzly, foggy, dark and gloomy day outside today. It's one of those days that seems like it will never be fully-daylight. There's a clammy dampness to the air which is making everything feel and look heavier than it is. It's definitely Spring though; that bitter biting chill is gone and for the first time in a while, my hands weren't freezing when I drove to work.

I'm back at work today, obviously. I'm trying to be excited about that but, well, I'm not. I had a four day weekend, thus I'm spoiled and wanting more freedom and less work. Still, it's not like I hate my job so that's definitely a bonus. I also have a meeting with a mortgage broker today which is slightly terrifying but I keep reminding myself it's not like I'm committing to anything and, also, it's just a meeting. I'll let you know how that goes.

During my time off work, I did get a chance to catch up on my entertainment reading. I wish I hadn't, actually. Once more, I'm irritated beyond belief with Hollywood. I already complained a while ago that they were making "State of Play" into a Hollywood Blockbuster when it had already been made rather recently as an excellent mini-series in the UK. I'm ignoring the Affleck-ness of that situation, only that I find myself groaning whenever I see the trailer. I know Russell Crowe is supposed to playing a hard-hitting news reporter, but why does his hair look so terrible? Is he making a statement about news reporters because, if so, that's not nice. It's a bit like Tom Hanks' hair in "The DaVinci Code"- it should have its own separate credit, it's so terrible. Never mind that it's a silly thing to be remaking in the first place. Just rent the original. It has James McAvoy and Bill Nighy in it for goodness sakes and John Simm who is playing what I think is the Russell Crowe role....stellar.

Anyway, I already complained about that. I'm just doing it again because I'm irked. Something that is now irking me more now that I just read about it: Hollywood is remaking "Death at a Funeral". I don't know if you saw the original, I mean it was made SO long ago...Oh, wait, it was made in 2007. For the mathematically challenged that was TWO YEARS AGO. The original was funny. It's a black comedy, set in Britain with a great cast of British stalwarts like Keeley Hawes and Matthew Macfadyen. It's also got some good American actors like the always fantastic Peter Dinklage and Alan Tudyk. It's about an dysfunctional family that becomes even more so at the event of the patriarch's funeral. It's a little twisted but in that nice, dry British way.

The remake is going to star Morgan Freeman, Martin Lawrence and Danny Glover. I think they're obviously going for an ethnic version. Thus, I will add the disclaimer: I am not racist, I don't care what colour the cast is, that is not the point of my tirade.

The point is THEY ALREADY MADE THIS MOVIE. TWO YEARS AGO.

Here's what I'm thinking. Hollywood has given up. The greed of making a few quick bucks at the box office is superceding the need for a quality film with longetivy. At this rate, they're going to be simutaneously making the remake at the same time they're making the original film. I mean, why wait to remake it when you can shoot two movies with different casts on the same lot? They don't have to release them at the same time. They can wait maybe six months so that when the original gets a little stale, you can watch the same thing with different actors. Whoo hoo! We'll have "Candyland, the Movie" starring Miley Cyrus and "CandyLand" starring Kristin Thomas and Michael Cera six months later. Same plot, same script...different actors and slightly different titles!
Yes, I am oozing sarcasm. No, I am not kidding about them actually making a film based on the children's board game "Candy Land." Oh, how I wish I were kidding about that.

Here's my biggest issue with Hollywood. I used to want to screenwrite. I moved to L.A. with the intention of trying to make it. I did discover I preferred writing novels but I did give it a try. I have several friends who are still trying. They are talented, they are original. Each of them would willingly sell their script for pennies just to have a chance to see their work on film. So why is Hollywood ignoring this talent to make remakes of movies less than two years old?

I wish I knew. I can only assume it's because they don't want to bother. They've become complacent with mediocrity. It's much easier to greenlight a movie that's nicely packaged than try to gather up new ideas and new talent and try to find a way to present it and still make money. For every "Juno," there's at least five romantic comedies like "Bride Wars." These are movies with big names with plots that are so predictable a seven-year old could tell you how it turned out. Yes, they're watchable but you walk away and forget you ever saw it. I'm not even talking about the big blockbusters. With those, at least, there's usually some good acting even if the explosions and gloss obscure the fact that there isn't really a great plot.

That's not to say that some good films aren't getting made. I rewatched "Slumdog Millionaire" this weekend and enjoyed it just as much. I still standby the fact that "Watchmen" was an excellent adaptation, even if it isn't your cup of tea. I can't wait for the next "Harry Potter" because...it's Harry Potter.

Yet between the good, there's a slew of bad. I used to want to see at least one movie a month. Nowadays, I barely can be bothered to go every other month and, ironically, I live ridiculously close to several theatres. I have access to the movies but I'd rather save my money and watch a TV show instead. I'm finding more and more that the writing, directing and acting talent is on my TV, rather than at the cinema. I challenge anyone to find more intriguing entertainment than "Lost" these days and to find a stronger acting talent than Michael Emerson as Ben Linus. I've been rewatching "Veronica Mars" on DVD, a show that sadly only had 3 seasons but had the best writing and acting than any show in recent memory.

So, maybe that's my solution. I'll just watch TV instead. It's cheaper, more rewarding and longer-lasting. Yes, they're remaking shows again on TV (90210 and Melrose Place come to mind) but there's still some fantastic entertainment out there. As long as HBO makes shows like "Dexter" and ABC takes chances on hilarious comedies like "Better Off Ted," there is still something produced in Hollywood that is worth watching. And as long as Joss Whedon is allowed to produce TV shows, I'm going to be there on a Friday night watching (yes, that is a note to Fox: Don't you DARE cancel "Dollhouse".)

Yet as much as I adore TV, popcorn at home just doesn't taste the same. Please, Hollywood, take a step back and look at some of the unknown talent that is trying to get their names out there. Give them a chance. Put that remake of "Clue" on hold and see what else you could make that hasn't been made before. Ok, so "Clue" wasn't the highest quality movie but it was good, campy fun and a lot of people are angry about that remake. Try something new....I beg you.

Thanks for reading and Happy Tuesday.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Springtime Activities and the Sneaky Manipulations of a Sausage Dog

I'm blogging just a little later than normal today but at least I'm blogging. When I take a day off, it always feels like a tiny, vital part of my weekday is missing. Sometimes I can't even put my finger on what it is that's missing until I really think about it. Blogging has become part of my routine and, as I've mentioned before, Captain Monkeypants likes routine.

I actually took the day off work today so, technically, I'm still on my Easter Break. It's been a great weekend; very relaxing, fun and down-to-earth. I'm actually writing this from my parent's house and I currently have a Sausage dog staring mournfully up at me. He's actually upside down, lying on his back and craning his neck to make eye contact. His ears are skewered to the side and he's making these awful pining sounds. He does that a lot. Since I am often swayed by the pitiful cries he makes for attention, he expects attention at all times while I'm here. I'm trying to ignore him but those big brown eyes are making me feel guilty because I'm daring to ignore him. He'll probably start to bark in a minute. He has a very deep, melodious bark that's as mournful sounding as he looks. When he barks, I imagine he's saying, "I'm RIGHT here, I need you to pet me and rub my nose because otherwise I shall cry and cry and never be happy again." I'm being strong today and ignoring him. It's not easy.

Aside from spending too much time paying attention to Sausage, I've been up to all sorts of Springlike activities. I did, in fact, colour Easter eggs. I didn't have to do it in the microwave which meant there were no casualties. I did, however, buy one of those kits with the cups, dye tablets and wax crayon. The wax-crayon and I didn't get along well. When I took it out of the package, the top completely snapped off and went flying across the room. My mother, who was assisting me in the Great Egg Dying of 2009, was a good sport and used the blunted crayon. Then, later when I managed to snap the bloody thing accidentally with my avid attempt to draw flowers on my egg, we both ended up with half a wax-crayon each. I pretended I did it on purpose but I know mum wasn't fooled. I'd like to think that the flimsy wax crayon had an affect on both our artistic endeavors. The problem with a wax crayon is that it's white. So is the egg. Thus, drawing on an egg is not an easy feat and our attempts to be creative turned out to be slightly off-kilter and bizarre looking when the dye of the egg revealed our designs. I also ended up with pink and blue fingers because I'm rather a messy creature and even when I tried not to dye my fingers, I did anyway.

Easter Sunday turned out to be a beautiful sunny, spring day. I spent a good part of the day in my mum's garden. Now is the time of year to clear away the old and let the new plants breathe. Clearing away the winter debris seemed quite a fitting activity for Easter Sunday. I also discovered that I enjoy chopping things down. My father actually trusted me with a saw so I could cut away the dead wisteria and honeysuckle vines that were choking the archway to my mother's garden and threatening to topple it down. I must confess, I was rather surprised when my dad handed me the saw with minimal argument. I'm not known for my grace and care with sharp objects but you'll be happy to know that I had absolutely no accidents with the saw. I did, however, have a few incidents with the vine. It pinged me in the head a few times and gave me some splinters but, in the end, I did triumph. My biggest issue was with the windchimes that were hanging from the arch. I keep forgetting they were there and they kept hitting me in the head. It only occured to me afterwards that I could probably have taken them down for the duration of my vine-slaying. Still, it's not a good gardening experience if you don't learn anything. For example, yesterday, I learned the following: 1)Take down windchimes if they keep hitting you in the head. 2) Gardening gloves help reduce splinters, keep your hands free from dirt and prevent hard-to-clean nails. Naturally, I did not have any gloves and thus, after much scrubbing, there's still a layer of dirt ground into my hands. 3) Weeding is not considered successful if you just turn the dirt in which the weeds are growing upside down to hide the weeds from your mother so she thinks you weeded. It's actually much easier to just weed anyway.

Today, the sun has gone away again and we're left with a gloomy, drizzly, dark April morning. While I'd enjoy a walk around the garden to see what changed overnight- which actually does seem to happen this time of year- I also love the constantly changing weather. It reminds me that I've put those ham sandwich days behind me and that I'm back in a place that doesn't allow for predictability in weather unless the predictability is the lack of predictability itself.

It seems on this rainy Spring morning, that Sausage has reached his tolerance for being ignored and is being rather obnoxious. His head is practically on my lap and he's staring up at me like some horribly cliche Hollywood dog that's been trained to be adorable. Naturally, I fall for it every time, just like I'm doing now. Thus I must pay attention to him before he starts to whimper. I hate that I'm being manipulated by an 22 inch long dog that stands about 12 inches of the ground but I let him do it anyway.
I can't help it. I'm a sucker.

Happy Monday.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Variety is no longer a Ham Sandwich...

It's my last day at work for the week today. There's nothing better than a Thursday masquerading as a Friday for the work week. Even the weekends where Monday is a holiday isn't quite the same because you have to go to work for four days afterwards. It's the weeks that give you Friday off because it's three days of pure non-work-related peace. In my case, I decided to splurge and give myself the full traditional Easter holiday. I'm looking forward to not having to leave my parent's mid-afternoon on Sunday as is usually my habit when I go home for a weekend visit.

This has been a good week; I'm not sure why. Nothing of significance has happened more that it's just felt...nice. We've had all the weather extremes to high 70's on Sunday where it was warm enough that it actually felt humid to freezing temperatures that actually provided snow flurries. We've had rain, we've had thunderstorms. Now we have sun. It's amazing to be able to live in a place where you look out the window and don't have to think..."Oh, look, it's sunny again."

I can hear you all thinking, "What's wrong with that?" Well, as I've blogged before about this, I'll just briefly reiterate my previous point. I enjoy sun yet I also like a little variety. For example, for several years when I worked at USC, I would make my lunch every night before bed. It would consist of either a ham, mustard and lettuce sandwich or a turkey, Branston Pickle and lettuce sandwich. I'd also have some carrots, an apple and usually an orange or other kind of fruit. I enjoyed this habit at first. Then, without realizing it, I suddenly found myself groaning at the concept of making another ham sandwich because it meant I'd have to eat it. For some people, they wouldn't have been able to eat them so often in the first place. For me, I liked the routine until, finally, I realized I didn't.

That's how I feel about the California sunshine. I enjoy it. Yet, like those ham sandwiches, I really have to be in the mood for it otherwise, I inwardly groan at the thought. I recently discovered that though my brain still thought it was a good idea, the actually eating of raw baby carrots for lunch was a no-go anymore. I simply had eaten too many.

Thus, I now live in Ohio and I now have variety for lunch. I think I've made an sandwich maybe twice. Instead, since we have a microwave, I bring in healthy foods to eat without having to spread mustard on that bread every night.

So, over the years, I've learned that though I am a creature of habit, I like a little variety. I'm trying to bring a little to my life at the moment by entertaining the idea of buying a house. Everyone I mention this to gets excited because it's a great time to buy, not a great time to sell which means there are great deals out there. It's not to say I don't love my apartment because I do. Yet our company is moving in the next few months and, once again, I'll be commuting in the mornings and evenings if I stay put. I'll be able to do it for a while; I've had enough practice in Los Angeles. Yet I don't want to do it forever and I also think that it'd be nice to have a place of my own. The beauty of Ohio is that, compared to California, it's very cheap.

I have to say, I'm both excited and terrified about the possibility of buying my own place. It's a huge commitment and, well, I do have a few commitment issues. Yet I also know that if I find the right place, I won't care. At least...that's what I think I'll think.

I'm still in the early stages of entertaining the idea. Until I actually move forward, it's going to remain an exciting possibilty rather than a scary reality. Yet I think moving forward might be nice. Apartment living hasn't quite reached the level of intolerance that I've reached with my ham sandwiches but every time I hear the frat boys across the hall with their not-so-bright girlfriends, every time I hear the stomp of my CEO's footsteps on my ceiling, every time my apartment office hassles me to renew my lease even though I have until August, I think how nice it would be to live in a house where I didn't share walls, where I didn't have to feel like I was under my landlady's tyranny because I'd dared think about hanging a picture on the wall. When I moved into this complex, I was handed a list of prices that every potential piece of damage to my apartment would cost me. So, every time I accidentally spill wine on my floor or I notice a scuff mark on the wall, I feel compelled to pull out that sheet and see how much it might cost me if I don't clean it up perfectly.

At least if I owned my own place, I could charge myself for my calamities. Yes, there'd be a lot more maintenance, yes I'd have to fix things myself but...the idea is new and exciting. I'm hoping that I follow it through. It'd be nice to move from my apartment building while I still had some fondness for apartment living. I don't want it become a ham sandwich in my life. I want it to be like the California sunshine: A fond memory, a nice treat to visit but something that I don't want every day, all day anymore.

We'll see how that goes.

Happy Thursday!

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