Thursday, March 31, 2011


I feel doubly blessed to be deemed Stylish again! Thanks so much to Jen at Jen's Bookshelf for making a tough week a little brighter.

As is the custom here in this strange (e)land. Here are seven things about me:

1) Actual style. My actual style is pretty much non-existent. My clothes, aside from the fabulous yellow crocs, range from olive green to brown. I wear jeans everyday-- ill-fitting baggy ones-- and shapeless thrift store sweaters. A student once told me "My jacket costs more than your whole wardrobe" and you know, he was probably right.

2) This summer, my family spent almost two weeks Newfoundland. We loved it, and dreamed about living in "Jerry's Nose", a small town on the Port au Port Peninsula

3) I was a vegetarian for over ten years, though now I am able (sorta) to slaughter and eat our own sheep, pigs and chickens. I still don't buy meat from the grocery store.

4) Back when I was a vegetarian, I volunteered to take care of rescued wildlife at a local zoo/refuge. My first job was to cut "bite sized" chunks for the carnivores from this bloody pile of raw meat. It was close to a hundred degrees that day, and there were hundreds of shiny black flies that'd buzz up from the carcass every time I touched it. I spent my whole three hours doing this without complaint and never went back.

5) I am a rockhound. I used to cut and polish stones and make jewelry for a hobby.

6) The best vehicle I ever owned was a little red Nissan Truck with a white cap (15 years later, I still miss it!) the worst was an olive green pinto named "Reuben"

7) I would be very happy owning almost nothing, living in a conversion van and traveling the highways. (My family, however, has other ideas.)

Okay, then. I'm sending this award on to these fabulous bloggers:

Samantha at The Slight Detour
Jen at OxyJen and Query Goblin
Marion at Joy and Wonder

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Your Weekly One Hit Wonder!

"Da Da Da" by Trio

Okay, probably you only know this song from the Volkswagen commercials, but it was indeed a hit in its own right back in 1982.

The song (it's complete name is "Da Da Da I Don't Love You You Don't Love Me Aha Aha Aha") is really (really!) catchy, the video, hideous.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why We Do it (Version One)

Okay, I'm going to start this post off with a Grover-esque warning

There is a rather gory picture of sheep innards towards the end of this post. If this sort of thing makes you queasy, you best avoid it.

So... why the gross picture, you ask? Long story.

See, it all started at the Boston Museum of Science. I was fortunate enough to forgo my mountains of educational paperwork and attend a field trip to the museum this week. It was a great outing. We contemplated the societal definition of race, checked out some cool electrical exhibits, and saw some chicks hatching in an incubator. (Although I am an old hand at chickens, I can't resist this sort of thing.)

Then we came upon a lab table where an actual sheep heart-- and attached lungs-- lay like a chunk of meat (I guess, technically, it WAS a chunk of meat). Red, and beige and streaked with what looked like some sort of fatty substance, it grossed us all out, especially when a museum volunteer blew air into the organs' windpipe and the lungs expanded like two bloody balloons.

But here's the thing, when those lungs expanded, I found myself breathing in as well, and although I just-then imagined the way my own lungs might look (not dissimilar to the ones on the table, I thought....) and could be totally grossed out by them, I could also, on a whole other level FEEL the goodness of that breath, the slight ahhhh of tissue expansion and delicious quality of oxygen as it began a short lap through my body and rushed back out to join the rest of the world.

What on earth does this have to do with writing? Welllll.... It occurred to me as I stood there looking at that bloody organ, that this is what good writing (or art or music) can do for a person-- lift a given sort of experience into some other territory. It can connect us to a new understanding, to make us feel both viscerally and more abstractly, what it means to exist.

Okay, okay, I'm backing away from the deep end for a while.

"Why Write?" I often ask myself. After all, I could take up some more practical hobby; I could make quilts or garden or landscape or just do a better job of cleaning this wreck of a homestead, but here I am in my head, again.

So this, I suppose is one sort of answer. There are many others though, and I'm sure I'll pour out a few other versions of the "Why do it?" post along the line. (Hey, I think I have!)

But enough about me: Why do you write?

Quick note: Don't forget to enter my 101 is Wonderful contest. Seeing as there are only a few people entered, you have an excellent chance of winning!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Your Weekly One Hit Wonder PLUS!

Okay, Bonnie Tyler is actually a Two (maybe even three) Hit Wonder, but I'm just going to go with it.

Imagine this: it's 1982 and you just got your driver's license. What could ever be better than driving around in your big beige Oldsmobile with a grease-spattered bag of French fries on the seat beside you listening to top 40 radio?

Nothing, right?

Especially when this song comes on:

(Hold up, people. there's really no need to torture yourself with this video. It's kinda bad and not in a cheesy good way either.)

Now, where was I? Right--Driving around in that big ol' Oldsmobile of yore. You love this song because it is so easy to sing, especially when you are in one of those angsty teenage moods. You love singing the "Every now and then I fall apart" part with feeling and also "I get a little bit restless and then I see the look in your eyes" and it all means so damn much.

Ah.... those were the days, weren't they?

But WAIT! Now that I've shucked my teenage angst, I find THIS literal version of the 1982 video hilarious! It's definitely the one to watch:

(Please pardon the cat frame, evidently Sony isn't too jazzed with the parody. If you'd rather watch this sans cat, go here:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

101 is Wonderful Contest!

Well! As you might have noticed, I have 101 followers in the little box to the left there.

Honestly, I can't believe it. I feel like such a blog baby. I know nothing of the customs of this strange and wonderful land. I just put one post in front of the other and gaze about me at all the cool people and things.

Seriously, though, the online writing community is an awesome one, and I have learned so much from y'all.

I thought I'd try a little contest to celebrate (and to thank you) With real prizes and everything.

Here are the prizes:

1) A critique of the first 101 pages of your manuscript. I am not a professional editor, but I can certainly give you a fresh (and critical) set of eyes and typed one-page+ critique.

2) $10 gift card for iTunes so that you can buy yourself a couple of one-hit-wonders to celebrate.

3) 100 (X3) yards of pure Icelandic yarn from my alter-ego at Maggie's Farm.

How might such abundance be yours?

Here's how it works:

Add the first 101 words of your manuscript into the comments section of this post by April 15th I will use a random number generator to choose three winners.

It should be fun to share, and I hope-- in blog hop fashion-- you might stop in and visit the authors of your favorites.

You don't have to be a follower to win (though of course, it'd be appreciated) and you don't have to post about the contest (but again, that'd be super nice of you)

Random Book Review: "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave

"Little Bee" is the story of a Nigerian refugee who flees to England to find the couple she met on a beach during the most traumatic moment of her life.

I'm still trying to figure out what I think about this book, so bear with me if you would...

On one hand, there's no denying the power of the beach scene. I have no doubt that this scene sold the book and carried it. Cleave hints about "what happened" until about the midpoint and then, although the narrative begins to falter soon after, you can't help but keep going. Such is the power and momentum of a well-written tension-rich scene. (Sorry if this seems cryptic, but I can't say much more about this scene without a major spoiler.)

On the other hand, there's the whole tricky matter of race and gender. Cleave writes in the voice of Little Bee, and it's sort of offensive that Little Bee is so damn noble all the time. This gives the book a "Driving Miss Daisy" tint that I just can't shake.

Yes, it's brave to co-opt the voice of some other race, gender, socio-economic class, etc etc, but it is impossible too. And slightly offensive. I don't know much about Mr. Cleave, but he feels to be dabbling here, Bee's emotions seem too.... simple, neat, pat. I don't trust he knows what this kind of trauma is like or that he can understand Little Bee's world. I don't trust this sort of co-opting is entirely respectful. Bee seems at times like the Disney version of a traumatized refugee, valiant, spunky, uttering the sort of hopeful wisdom that can change the life of poor privileged English folk. This is compounded by the other main character, Sara. Sara alternates between selfishness, confusion and the starry-eyed belief that she can "save" Little Bee like a starfish on the beach.

On the other hand, the novel is beautifully written, rich in texture and metaphor and descriptions so interesting and unique you'll want to store them away to mull over later. Cleave is a very skilled writer, there's no doubt about that.

On the other hand, there are many events that felt contrived to me, plot points that seemed designed to carry the story forward rather than growing organically from it--SPOILER ALERT!-- Sara's asking Bee to call the police on her cell phone, or Sara's realization that her son is the neglected center of her life one minute and her decision to cart him off to Nigeria and put him in mortal danger the next.

On the other hand, I needed to finish this book whatever the flaws. It kept me reading.

On the other hand, it is preachy. There are moments of dialogue-- especially between Sara and her self-centered boyfriend, Lawrence, that have no purpose other than to help us readers consider the issue of refugees and asylum. I wish Cleave had trusted us to come to our own conclusions.

What a great many hands! Eh?

Little Bee is interesting, a good read, not the amazing book it is purported to be (bee?) In the end, it fails to address the many issues that buzz around it like a swarm of (pardon, please) little bees.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sorta Stylish...

Yesterday I got my second ever blog award. Woohooo! Thanks so much to Laurel over at Laurel's Leaves. I believe this is the first ever time I have been referred to as "stylish" in any context.

So. I am supposed to tell you seven things about myself and pass on the award. Here goes:

1) As a teenager, I was obsessed with Richard Adams' Watership Down. I wrote a suspiciously similar novel (about Rats not Rabbits) and got about 150 pages in before I quit.

2) I have a weakness for bad Chinese Food, most notably vegetable egg foo young which is more or less deep fried scrambled eggs with gravy. (I know its sort of gross, I just can't help it....)

3) I have three kids (ages 7, 9 and 11) who right this minute are squabbling over Legos in the next room

4) I live on Maggie' Farm along a ridiculously muddy (snowy, bumpy, dusty, icy) dirt road waaaaay out in the wilds of Western New England with 3 dogs, 7 sheep and a gazillion chickens.

5) Like Laurel, I have the teenaged habit of listening to the same album or group over and over. Right now, I'm on a baffling Modest Mouse Kick that just won't quit even though at 44 I should be into more sedate music.

6) At 19, I was fired from my summer job as a breakfast cook for The Hatchet Motel in Wyoming. (Not the best job for a vegetarian college student who liked to sleep late and couldn't cook.)

7.) When I was 7, I impressed my parents' friends with my ability to quote Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" from start to finish.

Bonus #8) I truly appreciate all your comments and follows. You make my days-- many of them! Thanks.

I am passing this award on to:

1. My writing group buddy Ariel at "Writing Blog"
2. Grub buddy Alicia at "Slice of the Blog Pie"
3. N. Blank at "The Blank Pages"
5. Catherine at "The Writing Room"

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Oh, the title! So important, so utterly, utterly difficult!

I'm working on a new title for "The Novel Previously Known as Idylwilde". And let me tell ya, it's a miserable process. I need something catchy, meaningful, but not too meaning-full of itself. Sigh....

I checked out this great little article on AbsoluteWrite. This one is too. They didn't help.

For the record, TNPKAI is Southern lit fiction. (I will post my new query for it once it's decent).

Here's what I've got so far (Paired with the first reasonable Google Image that came up):

"Left of Unsaid"

"Orange Lake"

"Swamp Girls"

"In the Kingdom of Memory"

"Down to Clay"

...and then there's the tried and true "Idylwilde" which a New-York-Centric agent once remarked sounded "like an airport" but evidently is a fishing fly company:

According to the sort of bizarre Lulu Titlescorer, each of these has a "10.2% of being a best seller" (Not sure how this thing works, and honestly, who has the time to figure it out?")

I have a hunch the titlescorer has nothing on you guys. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Your Weekly One Hit Wonder

"Mickey" by Toni Basil

Today's my birthday, and so far it's been sort of crappy (literally)

So I thought I might cheer myself up with a FUN one-hit-wonderful post. And, this.... this is definitely it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Conflict in Fiction: Freaky Friday vs Freaky Friday

Personally, I'm not big on conflict. I tend to let the hard things lie a bit too long, talk about them only after the anger (or annoyance) has pretty much dissipated. This workswell. Dan and I hardly ever argue. Life is good.

But while avoiding conflict may be a great real-life strategy, it doesn't work on paper.

I have to fight my peace-maker impulses to create a compelling story. For example, in my first (and second and third) draft of Family, Genius, Species, I wrote about the break-up of my main characters from the point of view of someone listening behind a closed bathroom door. There was no dialogue, just the blah blah blah of angry-sounding words. My eavesdropping character emerged from the bathroom to find that a "dumping" had occurred (okay, I didn't mean to use a pun, but this is sort of funny so I'm leaving it.)

Not so dramatic really.

This week my eleven year old had the stomach flu. She flopped on the couch with her barf bucket watching Food Network (no joke) and Spongebob (don't get me started on how much I hate Spongebob...) until I dug up an old DVD of Freaky Friday, the new version, which she totally loved.

I didn't watch it with her, but I heard much of it from the next room and it got me thinking about conflict in fiction.

First off, let me say I have fond memories of the original Freaky Friday.

It was released in 1976, the same shaggy-dog year as my character, Roger "Zorro" Weitz's big hit. The movie was huge that year and I remember quite clearly standing in around-the-block lines to buy tickets for it at least three times over. In retrospect of course, Friday is terribly dated. (The daughter's main challenge is dealing with her homemaker mother's oh-so-difficult life of appliance repair people, grocery delivery boys and new curtain selection.)

But more importantly, from a writing perspective: It totally avoided the main conflict. The switched mother and daughter never (to my memory) see each other in their switched bodies or attempt to solve anything. This is an opportunity lost. The whole movie, to my grown up writer's sensibility, is anemic, episodic, a series of little conflicts, while the big one-- the one that could be really interesting-- is left untouched.

The newer version isn't having any of that. It goes right into the conflict: Mother and daughter in the same room, trying to switch back. This is rich dramatic territory, and funny too.

I imagine it was kind of scary to write this scene. So many things could have gone wrong. Too much dialogue, and drama could leach from it like helium from a slow-leaking balloon.

But here's what the 2003 movie makers knew: ya just HAVE TO do it anyway. If it doesn't work, try it again, and again.

Who knew Freaky Friday was educational?

In my current re-write, that argument will happen right there on the pages.

How do your personal preferences and style affect your fiction writing?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Where the Time Comes From

Besides the novel writing thing, I am a mother of three (7, 9 and 11 years old), a (very small time) shepherd, a teacher with a two hour each way commute (Yes, I know this last thing is utterly insane).

People sometimes ask "When do you find the time to write?"

Well.... I don't FIND time at all. I steal it away from all the everyday stuff I'm supposed to do. I let the house go and go and go. I decline social invitations if they interfere. I let the laundry and dishes and toys pile up.

Here, for example, is the kids' "project table", a dumping ground for all the stuff they are working on, have taken out and not put back, etc. (Notice as well, that the wilting Valentine's day roses from my sweetie are in a charming plastic pitcher because the money that we could be putting into nice stuff for the house goes into writing conferences or books or kids.)

And this, people, is the tip of the domestic iceberg.

Is it worth it? I have no idea.

Worth is a tricky concept where writing is concerned. I don't do it because I want to see my name in print or make bucoo bucks. I do it because I kinda-sorta HAVE to. I steal my moments. I steal them fervently, wantonly. I steal them, because without writing, a little chunk of my soul might wither and die. (How's that for melodrama?)

Perhaps I'll regret all the time spent writing. I might end up a grumpy old woman mourning the friendships I didn't have time to develop, the cluttered tables of my youth, the times I ditched everybody on a fine sledding day to hang out with words. It's certainly possible.

But then, I just can't help myself.

Anyway, that's where the time comes from.

How do you manage your writing time?