Friday, February 26, 2010

afternoon naps

Early this afternoon when I was out on a run- before the crazy wind and rain started - I ran by a parked post office truck and saw the postman sitting inside taking a snooze. It just made me think, wouldn't it be nice if we could all take siestas during the work week here in America? Makes me want to go to Spain or South America - they get to take siestas there on a regular basis, right?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

what would we be without each other

What would we be without ideas from each other? What would we be without advice from one another? What would we be without a slap on the back? What would we be without some space and some slack? Time to think about the words we share. Time to absorb between here and there. Yes. What would we be without ideas from each other?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

nice guys finish last

You've heard the expression before, nice guys finish last...well if it's not always true in life, it's certainly true in writing. I'm finding, after various critiques with my witting buddy, that I'm well, sort of a wimp when it comes to hurting any of my characters. "You start the threat, but then don't follow through," that's the critique I recently received about my book Trevelyn's Shimmer, which I've stopped shopping around to work on further, after numerous rejections from editors.

My writing buddy is right, too. I am too much of a wimp when it comes to hurting my characters. Convenient Coincidence is what it's called when your character overcomes a hardship before getting to the real nitty-gritty. I tend to do this a lot. My characters are thirsty - whoosh, water appears! My characters need money - ka-ching, cash appears! You see what I mean. I need to make them work for what they want, and in doing this, the novel becomes more real.

Roald Dahl didn't spare any lives when it came to the mean giants eating little kids in The Big Friendly Giant. Nancy Farmer didn't have her character Tom, in The House of The Scorpion, worry about the frog's feelings when he nailed him to the ground. And Kate DiCamillo didn't show Miggory Sow any mercy when her uncle walloped her against the head making her deaf in one ear in The Tale of Desperaux. Okay, those examples are pretty harsh, but life can be harsh, right?

So in my revised version of Trevelyn's Shimmer, when Marie loses her bag of food and money, and when her balloon gets pooped, she'd better hold on tight. You just have to say to yourself, it's nothing personal, it's a novel and even through hardships know that the nice guys, even when bruised and battered, don't finish last.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

common phrases

He stood as still as a statue.
My face turned white as a ghost.
She was so angry, steam escaped her ears.
I floated along as light as a cloud.
He crouched low like a tiger.
She laughed like a hyena.
She had a face like an angel.
She had the appetite of a bird.
It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
My mouth was on fire.
Her skin was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
His eyes were as big as saucers.
She was so upset her face turned red.
She was as fresh as a daisy.

Recognize these common phrases? They’re expressions many of us use all of the time to describe feelings or emotions like anger, happiness, sadness, shock, joy, anxiety, etc...and they are way, way over-used by newbie writers. I know this because I’ve used some of them myself and without even realizing it – especially the face turning white one. Oh, it’s so easy to unconsciously slip these phrases into your story – they slide down the throat just like Jell-O.

I was at a conference last year when I heard an agent talk about how frustrating it was for her to receive manuscript after manuscript after manuscript with phrases like “knuckles turning white.” Gulp, guilty – my face turned red. It’s so very hard to be completely original, but it’s so important to try. Sometimes you can’t avoid using a common expression, sometimes they get the point across better than anything else, but I find that if I really sit with the idea of what is easy to say, and think around it, really dig in and turn those mind wheels until I’m practically sweating, I can, surprisingly, sometimes, come up with an alternative phrase. When that happens I feel really, really good and exhausted at the same time. Like hiking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro! – no? Like reading all the way through War and Peace and understanding the entire book! Better? Like lifting a car over my head with one hand! Like finally understanding a foreign language! Oh, you see what I’m saying. Writing is hard, really hard, it’s when you finally strike oil and discover that original, one-of-a-kind phrase that makes the whole process as sweet as sugar.

What are the common phrases you find yourself using more often than not?

Monday, February 15, 2010

love at the dog park

Talk about feeling the love yesterday. I could write a story about each visit to the dog park that Sadie and I make. In fact, I'm starting a label called Dog Park Stories to file these under.

So yesterday, Sunday, the dog park was particularly crowded. A hot afternoon, my friend and I sat at a picnic bench soaking in the wonderful sun, and watched the dogs play. Sadie sat at our feet and occasionally greeted a newcomer then poked around the perimeter of the picnic bench looking for food in vain - no food allowed in a dog park. But that's neither here nor there. What made everyone get up off their seats and run with concern, was a skinny, brown dog with short hair and a wiry tail. The dog looked like he was having an episode of some sort. He picked up his feet like thorns were stabbing his pads and then wobbled from side-to-side like he was on a ship. My friend raced towards him as did about ten other people around. "Oh my God! He's having a fit!" "We need to help him!" People called out as the poor little guy continued his wobbly-sideways walk. His owner, realizing the growing concern was directed at his dog, ran over and said that the dog had a neurological disorder which made him walk strange. Poor little guy couldn’t follow a straight line to save his life. “He must constantly be thinking that someone’s playing a mean joke on him,” one woman said.

Everyone relaxed back into place, when a moment later a pack of dogs playing chase stormed by and walloped the dizzy dog, throwing him to the side again.

Oh, it was a hard scene to watch. But once again I was impressed by man's love for our small furry friends.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My friend Aimee Sicuro-Meade is so talented. She created this beautiful Valentine's Day piece of art that I just had to share with everyone.

A big, full heart isn't just reserved for your special someone on Valentine's Day. It's also about showing the love to your friends, family, neighbors and pets. I think Valentine's Day should be renamed National Share a Smile or Hug Day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

happy birthday kid sister

Happy Birthday to my little sister Kat! She's the short one in blue, I have on that lovely pink bathing suit with teddy bears. I was obsessed with teddy bears at one point. Kat turns a landmark age today which makes me feel like time is really going by, especially because I'm two years older. She had a growth spurt around the age of 16 and ever since we've been about the same height...I was a giant by 14- always head of the fire line in school...the only time I was ever picked first for anything!

Kat and I used to sing that song from the commercial for a fake-sister-doll, not because we wanted a fake sister, but because we liked the words, it went "Kid sister, kid sister, wherever you go, I'm gonna go...." yes, we were total nerds - still are. But that's how we were in this photo, always making up stories, singing, dancing and doing the same thing.

Happy birthday kid sister, I'm so proud of you~

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

ode to sadie

At the dog park on Sunday, I met a woman who rescued the cutest, little white dog with the most lovable face. The dog’s hind-quarters were shaved and the woman told me that was because when the dog was found running along the side of a road she had mites. The vet guessed that the dog had been abandoned or run away and gotten lost for up to four days. They cleaned her up and got her back to health – shaved her little rump – and when I met her at the dog park she was happily chasing dogs, greeting people and most importantly had a new dotting owner to look after her.

All of this made me think about how quickly life can change. One moment you can be starving and dirty on the side of the street, and the next given a clean home, warm meal and a soft bed. It can go the other way too, which is scary. Good thing for family and friends and people with big hearts.

Speaking of changes - less dramatic ones - Sadie’s been trying to get used to me going back to work. On top of that and missing her cousin Happy and her Aunts, Amanda and Julie, she’s been thinking of ways to try and get me to stay home, like going on a food strike. Sadie didn’t eat for an entire day, not even cheese which is her favorite. The hunger strike plus making me lift her out of bed and physically put her outside to go to the bathroom had me feeling like a terrible owner. Three weeks have gone by and I think she’s starting to get the routine. Happily she started eating with her usual appetite again, and she may even have gained a little weight because I’ve been giving her guilt snacks – those big, brown eyes get me every time! In fact, I just read an article in New York Magazine titled The Rise of Dog Identity Politics, stating that “the dog’s eyes were designed to induce human concern.” Translation = treats.

So as an ode to Sadie, here are some of my favorite photos of her...and Happy, too!

Sadie lying in the sun...her favorite place to be...

Sadie in her ladybug halloween costume. The antennas didn't stay on long...

Sadie in her infamous burping clam bed

Happy and Sadie, probably the closest they've ever sat to each other...

Friday, February 5, 2010

water pollution, the iron curtain and an infamous interview

When I was 12 years-old, I did a report on water pollution where I state that, “I became interested in the environment when things started to become pretty bad.” I went on to say, “I heard one time that experts say in the year 2000, or later, Los Angeles will not be a suitable place to live. It will be black and with not that much breathing air. The ozone layer will be diminished and the heat will be immense. I don’t think there will be anything living...”

Wow! What books was I reading back then!? My teacher, Miss McIntrye, must’ve got a kick out of this report. Nineteen years later some people may argue, for other reasons, that Los Angeles isn’t a suitable place to live, but luckily it still has breathable it somewhat brownish-gray.

In any case, with the launch of the Plastiki getting near- the boat made out of recycled water bottles, which I’ve mentioned here – I thought it might be informative as well as entertaining to share the interview portion of my Water Pollution report, where I interview my Uncle Rod who was working as an Environmental Engineer at the time in...gulp, 1991. If you know my Uncle Rod, and even if you don’t, you’ll probably find this interview entertaining because it's pretty clear he is talking "adult" to a 12 year-old kid. "Iron Curtain", "Toxicology", "Glasnost", just some of the words that I can still recall going right over my head during that interview, but one of the reasons you gotta love my uncle. Also, Miss McIntyre must’ve told my class to note the body movements of our interviewee, because you'll notice that I wrote down every single motion my uncle made.

But on a more serious note, water pollution, unfortunately, is still making headlines today (a la the Plastiki Expedition). So what I state as the purpose in my 1991 report, is still relevant in 2010: “I would like to find out about the water we drink and how humans can save it. I would also like to know how we can make our future pollution free.”

Interview with Uncle Rod, January 1991:
I came in the room and he was sitting in his chair crossing his legs and putting his index finger on his forehead. I sat down in the chair across from him, hearing the sound of typing and people chattering in the background.
I smiled and my first question was, “How bad do you think the water will be within the next few years?”
He cleared his throat and answered, “I think in the United States the water is actually cleaning up. It’s probably getting better, but I believe that the oceans and third world countries are beginning to worsen because of the terrain number.”
After that he sat forward in his chair and I asked him the next question.
“Do you think the Bay Area and other places in Northern California are going to become as smogged and polluted as Southern California, near the Los Angeles area?”
He smiled and answered. “No. I don’t really see that coming in our future. I think people will continue to clean up like they are starting to now.” He then sat forward in his chair and watched me write down his answer.
After a few seconds, he said, “Did you know that L.A. was polluted even before my future and yours was even born? When population increases, roads are used by more people and the pressure on the environment increases.”
After he told me that, I scribbled it down quickly and asked him, “If people keep littering, by the year 2010 or later, is there still going to be breathing air and suitable places to live? And if so, where would people go to live; and if people stayed, do you think they would start to clean up their own litter?”
He laughed and answered, “That’s occurring right now. People move away from their litter right now, there will probably be no place to live in the future because it will be all clogged up so we’ll move to a different country.”
I asked the next question. “If fish keep getting contaminated by litter in the ocean, and people catch the fish to eat, is it possible the people could get sick by their own litter?”
He uncrossed his legs and sat back and answered, “Oh yeah, if we fried the fish it would still happen.” He told me to write down “toxicology question.” So I wrote it down and he finished answering the question, saying, “Pollutants, especially heavy metals such as mercury, are found in the effluent of many municipal sewage systems and industrial outflows. They are absorbed in the fat tissue of the fish where they concentrate throughout the life of the fish; and when we eat them, we close the circle of the poison.”
After I finished scribbling that down, I asked my next question which was, “In a few years, do you think there is going to be any difference in the world (like if people stop polluting?).
He sat forward in his chair and said slowly, “On a global basis the world will be cleaner.” He turned in his chair and asked me if I knew about the thing behind the Iron Curtain? I said “No.” He turned his chair to a drawer in his desk and took out a magazine. Then he set it on his desk and looked through it. He looked up and said, “Well, I can’t find anything on the Iron Curtain right now.” Then he finished answering the question I had asked before. He said, “The Soviet Union and other eastern countries, have been under extreme environmental duress, now the Glasnost has occurred, they’re facing their problem.” Then looking happy, he sat back in his chair probably feeling satisfied about his answers.
I stood up and thanked him for his time in my interview.