Saturday, December 27, 2008

Y2K came today - just 9 years too late

I know, I know.... the blog is freaking out. For some reason the template I use has imploded. Interestingly, it has happened to a whole bunch of blogs that use this template.

I'd flip it to one of the blogger templates until I fix it, but then I'd lose all my links.

I'm too tired tonight to figure out what happened. I'm going to do what I do best with technology that isn't working: turn it off and hope tomorrow it magically fixes itself.

*** UPDATE***

The turning it off thing didn't work. After extensive Googling and some interesting page translations, I have found the fix to the HTML. Apparently too many gringos were using this Brazilian template (their words, not mine) and it crashed the site. So it's fixed. Sort of. Now I have to spend the rest of the evening translating everything on the template back into English and adding back into it all the HTML and links I lost. Sigh. At least I got it back. And my seven years of Spanish are coming in handy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Doing our part to save the publishing industry

And this was just Christmas Eve. Looking at the unwrapped presents this year, it's hard to believe we aren't single-handedly keeping bookstores afloat.

Life is good.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I meant to write this today, but time got away and suddenly, as I sit to write, it's already officially Christmas day.

We have a nativity set my children love to arrange, the wise men coming with their gifts, camel following. The shepherds in the fields watching over their sheep and the angel who arrives to tell them a Savior is born. A stable: an ugly, dirty, hay-strewn stable with a cow and a trough, and a mom and dad with a newborn baby.

They love Christmas because of that little baby. Because God is huge and unseeable and hard to comprehend, but Jesus - he's a baby. They understand a baby.

Yet when we lay him in the feeding trough, I think that the baby is harder to understand than God. He was before the world, he helped make the world with his own hands, and then came as a baby to live in it. He was all God, yet all man. He who flung the stars in space, who separated the light from the dark and the water from the land, came as a baby completely dependent on two very human, fallible parents. Parents young enough to be my children.

How much did Mary really understand? As she lay exhausted and tired and scared and mostly alone in that stable, holding a baby no different looking than any other, how much did she know? Could she even begin to imagine what life held in store? Could she even begin to imagine that the baby boy she kissed was God?

This Christmas one particular song keeps playing in my head over and over. Words to ponder this day as you celebrate the day:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Did you know
That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know

That your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you've delivered

Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Did you know

That your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know

That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little boy
You've kissed the face of God

Mary, did you know?
The blind will see

The deaf will hear

And the dead will live again

The lame will leap
The dumb will speak

The praises of the lamb

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is lord of all creation?
Did you know
That your baby boy will one day rules the nations?

Did you know

That your baby boy is heavens perfect lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding

Is the great I am

To all of you from me: Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

There's a Christmas Party....

over at my other favorite Heidi's blog. A blog party! I'm heading over with my scrumptious cookies that I spent all weekend decorating,

and some hot chocolate, in case the blog nog is all gone by the time I get there.

I'm stopping by the local high school first, for a candlelight vigil for my friend Jean and her son Jim. It's six degrees outside right now, so something hot will really taste good. Keep that fire roaring, Heidi! And save some of those awesome bacon-wrapped things!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

In Memory

Twenty four years ago I met Jean Smith. We were freshmen in high school and as different as night and day. I was shy. She was outgoing. I was a reader. She was a talker. We should have never been friends. And yet, we became the best of friends.

In truth, she was probably the person I wanted to be. Vivacious. Well-loved. Happy and confident and talented beyond belief. We both joined the speech team and spent many weekends together in school cafeterias and rental vans and hotel rooms. We terrorized Buffalo, New York with Groucho Marx mustache glasses and pretended to fall over the side of Niagra Falls. We wrote poetry about our teenage angsts and endless notes that we passed in the hall between classes. When she had her first baby, I was the first non-relative in the room, snapping photos of the amazing blue-eyed little girl. We sang the entire works of Billy Joel more times than is humane.

In fact, when I called last month, after four years of not seeing each other to say we absolutely needed to do lunch that Friday, she said, "Billy Joel came on the radio today and I was thinking exactly the same thing!" So, after four years, we met for lunch. And talked. And talked. And talked for hours, as if no time had passed at all.

Late this past Friday night, when I opened my laptop to turn it off, a message flashed across my facebook page. Jean was dead.

Sometime on Friday afternoon, after going to the high school to say Merry Christmas to the many teachers and students she works with, she went home. Her son Connor came home to find her, and her other son Jim shot to death in their own house.

My grief is overwhelming. For 36 hours time seemed to stand still for me. All my grand plans for the weekend disappeared. I am baffled, depressed. I want to sleep. Instead I cry. I hunt through boxes frantically, trying to find old photos I know I have but haven't seen in ages, and instead I come across letters in her beautiful scrawl.

There is no reason for this. Even if the police find something, some reason, there is no reason. There is no reason for a 39 year old mother and her 19 year old son, to be shot in their own home in the middle of the day.

On her facebook profile Jean writes: We all choose the times and the places and people where we think we should be. I hope that I am where I am needed, and that I chose wisely. I will have the opportunity to be remembered for what I have done, instead of what I have failed to do.....

Hundreds of people have organized spontaneous vigils. The high school where she served as a Choir Mom has set up counseling sessions. Her facebook page is filling with memorials from people she has befriended and affected as much as she did me. I think she chose well.

Goodbye Jean. I love you sky big.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

While this day didn't start out in any fantastic way, it has come around quite nicely. So in the spirit of all things Martha Stewart, here's my Friday list of things that are very good.

1. My new very good friend in the blogosphere, author Kimberly Derting, has tagged me for an I Heart Your Blog award. WOW! My very first award. (I say, dabbing the corners of my eyes with a tissue). Here is what she had to say about me on her blog:

Heidi Willis at Ocean Deep is a newbie for me. I’ve just started reading her blog, and I have to say, so far I love it! She has great information for those writers still trying to snag an agent’s attention, complete with articles and links. Plus, she totally taught me what a pellet stove was. Hurrah!

She also said I am funny and insightful.

I'll say it again: WOW! That pellet stove problem is really paying off for me! Not four hundred bucks worth, but hey - you can't buy an award like this! I love Kimberly's blog as well, and if you haven't gone there, you should, because she makes me laugh so hard I get cheek cramps. And she is publishing what sounds like a totally amazing book called The Body Finders. I've already got my 2009 calendar marked for the coming out date!

It's a pay-it-forward award, so I'll be posting my nominations next week. I know you'll be on pins and needles!

2. Well, you'd think nothing could compete with that kind of award, but I've got one that comes close. My Christmas cards are in the mail! Yes, stamped, signed, stuffed and all! Woo Hoo! Egg nog for all my friends!

3. Bun Warmers. Seriously. A VERY good thing. So good, my buns only want to live in the car. I keep thinking, Is there somewhere I need to drive today? I must have some errands to run! This is only my second winter owning a car with such a luxury, and now I can't imagine owning any other car. My buns are in heaven! Aaaaaahhhhhhh...... Can we get this kind of technology put into couches? Because with bun warmers in the couch and a laptop on my lap... well, who would need a pellet stove??

4. Christmas break. Now, I know some mothers are not at all excited about having kids home from school for two weeks, but well, I kinda like my kids. They are very cool. And they like baking cookies with me. And playing Wii. And watching Christmas movies. And making the grandparents art projects. And in general, they are just cool. And besides, it means that for two weeks (Christmas day excluded) I get to sleep in. Hooray for sleeping in!

5. We had company last weekend - company so enthralling and awesome and fun that I completely MISSED that last weekend was Survivor finale. SO: I have FOUR hours of Survivor on my DVR!! FOUR!! And I have no idea who won, which is absolutely fantabulous! So tonight I am cranking up that pellet stove, settling in with a glass of wine (or two) and completely and utterly relaxing. I KNOW! It's only six days to Christmas and I am going to relax!

Happy weekend to all, and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where's the Egg Nog When You Need It?

My Christmas cards are nearly ready to go out! Yay! And in record lateness for me, too! All I need to do is sign them, pick up our family photos at the store and buy a new ink cartridge and print out the rest of the letters and then stuff it all, put return labels on and stamp them! Pshaw - if I hold off sending them two more days it's possible half the people won't even get them before Christmas!

And why was this year harder? Undeniably, it was that pesky letter. That little update we always send with the cards so people we don't talk to every year know what's going on with us.

I put off writing the letter. Then I wrote it, trashed it, wrote it again, trashed it, wrote it again. Gave it to my husband to read, who handed it back and said, "It's okay. It's lacking something though. It feels like a list of things we did."


And then I realized why it is so hard this year. Tucked under mountains of information about the kids activities and places we've traveled, we've included the fact that I am seriously writing and trying to find an agent.

And that, folks, is the pressure. Because if I am a writer who wants to be published, surely I can write one measly little creative Christmas letter, right? One that everyone would read and say, "Oh! She should be a writer! She could get even this stuff published!" Every line I write, I think, is this good enough? Is this something an author -a real, published writer - might write?

The pressure, people, is like an anvil weighing down on me. I kick. I scream. I cry. Well, not outright, but inside I am. Finally, the hubby says, "just tell them to come read the blog."

What a great solution! Happily I type this in. Ha! I think. I'm done.

Then I see this blog and think, shoot. It ain't like this is all that creative and entertaining either. I guess I won't be writing memoirs any time soon!

Alert the press. Cards are going to be late this year. I think I need a good glass of egg nog.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

That was one expensive piece of coal...

So I've been asked the question: What is a pellet stove? So here it is, in all it's working glory.

Kinda looks like a fireplace, eh? Only with more expensive parts. That stop working erratically.

May I Have Another Piece of Coal, Sir?

The Pellet Stove Guy is here. It's cold in my house. It's been cold since November when winter decided it had had enough of fall and kicked it to the curb and we discovered that somewhere between April and November our pellet stove developed quite an attitude.

So there's been no heat, and apparently it's a rash of attitudes because the Pellet Stove Guy was booked until February when I called. And apparently in all of Virginia, Maryland and DC there is only ONE Pellet Stove Guy. Bummer.

So I did my little happy dance last week when he called and said he could fit me in today. YAY! Except he has been here over three hours and can't figure out what was wrong. For two months it has refused to drop pellets. No pellets, no fire. Pellet Guy, in all his niceness, called and talked me through a diagnosis over the phone for an hour one Sunday in the hopes that we could get it working before we froze into Popsicles. No success. No pellets. So today he comes, turns it on and WaLa! Pellets. I could have strung it's little iron-pipe neck.

I write the check for Pellet Stove Guy's time, grimacing at having to pay over a hundred big ones in the thick of economically depressed Christmas season while we watch the stove happily spit pellets into a roaring fire and wait for the blower to kick on. Only it doesn't. Not after one hour. Not after two. Not after Pellet Stove Guy drives to the hardware store, gets a part, returns, installs it and finds out that's not the problem. So we got fire. But no heat. I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure this isn't the way it's suppose to work.

Now I am starving, because I had no breakfast and I'm not sure what the etiquette is for eating in front of Pellet Stove Guy (and his very nice wife who fetches tools and holds the flashlight). Am I under obligation to feed them too? And is that on the clock? I can't fix lunch and not invite them.... that goes against everything my mother taught me.

Sigh. Pretty soon I have to go pick up the kids. I'm pretty sure tonight is going to be cold in the house. And I'm hungry. It's starting to feel like I'm in an Oliver Twist novel.

And just yesterday it was a sci-fi book. In retrospect, my life is pretty interesting after all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Who's In Charge of This Stuff?

I looked up at the clock suddenly and it is after one. In the afternoon. And I am still in my sweats with no make-up and a ponytail and an empty stomach. Is it possible there was a time-warp while I was checking emails?

How does the time suddenly disappear like that?

I think the problem lies when my universe gets out of whack. My small, orderly, routine universe. Upended by something as simple as, say, my husband driving my car today instead of his. My car. Which has my head phones in it. The ones I use at the gym. The gym I go to every morning.

There was truly a sense of panic and the world dropping out from under me when I opened the door and realized what had gone down. Kids crashing through the garage, yippee-ing about getting to drive to school in the monster truck that is my husband's usual ride and the bane of my existence. The big, huge, honking four-wheel extended bed quad cab truck that can't make the necessary turn in the drop-off lane at the elementary school. The one that does not have my headphones.

Any normal person would flex with this... pick up the shattered pieces and move on. I, however, found myself in a dilemma. My entire day was planned, starting with the gym. But I can't work out without headphones, can I? Who can do the cardio machine for an hour without some kind of music or TV station blaring in their ears?

So while I was making the 25-point turn in the drop-off lane, I made the decision to go back home and get some stuff done. I'll utilize the day. Get caught up on my crit group and emails and blogs that I've let go the week when I was going crazy. I'd bake some Christmas cookies that I'm behind on. I'll finish Christmas cards and our letter. I'll rewrite that query and first chapter. I'll wrap presents. I'll shower and get dressed and make soup.

Which all begs the question, in hindsight, exactly how much time did I think I was spending at the gym???

Still, you would have thought I could get something done. My first, and biggest mistake, was starting with the computer stuff. A few emails. Catch up on those blogs (man y'all have been chatty the last week!!). Yeah... that and.... and....

Well, that's it. That's all I've done. And four hours have past. FOUR HOURS!

I'm telling you.... I'm in the middle of some sci-fi book and there has been a time warp!

So if you are writing this book that stars me as your main character, could you at least make me come out of the time warp on the other side showered and clean? I'd really like that. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm Feeling Very "Fortunate"

Cracked open a fortune cookie yesterday and this is what I found:

Do you think it's a sign?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Effects of Fiction Writing on a Mac Keyboard

At the beginning of 2008, when I was getting serious about writing, I noticed a strange phenomenon. The N on my keyboard was starting to disappear. I don't have an N in my name, or in my passwords or email. It was however a letter in the name of two main characters.


By June, the N was almost completely gone, along with half of the H. Not surprising I suppose, since I do sign my name a lot.

I actually wasn't paying much attention, though, since I don't look at my keyboard when writing until yesterday when I gave it to my son to research for his science project. He looks at me strangely and says, "You're missing a bunch of letters, Mom. How am I suppose to know what to type?"

Indeed, the N, the H, the C, the M and the Y are entirely gone. The E is quickly disappearing too, along with the B which now just looks like a lower case B (Hmmm, could that be the use of the name Babs??). Interestingly, the T and S are still quite readable, which you would think odds would be against.

So I used a Sharpie to write them on. Yeah. Not smart, man. Not smart. Now I have seven keys that are purple smudges (I used black, but you know how that goes...).

I look at it as a badge of honor though. That must be a lot of pages of fiction I've written!

That, or it could be the over 2000 emails my crit group has written in the last five months....


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Army Navy Weekend

This weekend was the Army/Navy game, a football game you either had no idea about or one you prepared for with the vigilance of an overzealous fan. There is little in between.

I first attended an Army/Navy game my freshman year in college, driving to Philly with my then West Point Cadet boyfriend and sitting so close to the field I was practically in the players' laps. What I remember.... thousands of cadets in grey uniforms, and bitter, bitter cold. And three guys I didn't know who bought me hot chocolate in return for using my gloves for a couple minutes!

This year is my fourth year. After two turns driving to Philly for the game in college, there was a long dry spell as I moved around the country and let it pass as nearly a non-existent blip on my radar. Last year, friends got us tickets, and we braved the bitter cold again. What I remember from last year? Tailgating sausage, eggs and mimosas before the game and chili afterwards, applying for credit cards just to get the free hand-out blanket, and bitter, bitter cold.

I think there is an unwritten law of nature that the Army/Navy game has to be the coldest weekend of the year!

This year, I came prepared. Four layers of clothes, underarmor, snow boots with three pairs of socks and feet warmers. Hand warmers. Hats, gloves, scarves that would cover my face. And lots of blankets. The high was suppose to be mid-thirties. Possible snow. No sun.

Once again, awesome seats, although much higher up (all the better to see the game play out).
In college I sat in the Army section (boyfriend got the tickets!) and rooted loudly for Navy (I was in NROTC). Oh yeah... fun times! I'm lucky I survived.

After long, long years of enjoying the rivalry, this year I hung up my long past allegiance to Navy and cheered for Army. Of course, we were sitting on the Navy side this year. Oh yes... more fun times!

Except Army was so lousy that even the Navy fans behind us cheered with us when Army did something not entirely stupid.

We lost, but I didn't look at it that way. What I love about this game is that I love both sides, and that I admire and respect both teams, and at the end of the game, both sides will go back to their academies and continue to dedicate themselves to learning to defend our country. At the end of the day, we are all on the same side. It's about football, and yet it's not. It's so beyond college rivalry. Which is why, no matter who wins, at the end of the game the teams line up in front of both schools and take off their helmets and hold them over their hearts and stand at attention to the opposing schools' alma mater. And every cadet and every midshipmen stand at attention to honor each other, and the dedication to defending our country.

And through the intense ribbing that goes with the territory, I think they all know that when it really comes down to it, they will need each other to stay alive someday.

I dreaded the cold, and it was. I dreaded losing, and we did. I dreaded wind and snow, and they came. But there is something about being surrounded by military people that is addicting and feel-good. And if we get tickets again next year... well, I'll be there gladly. With my hand warmers on.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

When Will It End? (And by that, I mean, the economic problems, NOT the publishing industry... although maybe that too...)

More bad news from the world of publishing.

Really, guys, it's hard to stay positive when you keep posting stuff like this. I'd like to keep my head warmly in the sand. Stop coming along with your sand toys and shoveling me out.

Passion Does Not Equal Martyrdom

On Nathan Branford's blog today, he wrote a post entitled Will Write For Food. The post itself is great, as always, and full of Nathan's usual pithy humor. The topic? People are actually writing query letters in which they say they need to publish their books because they are in dire financial straits. What struck me though was the comments - 57 as I write this - almost all in harmony about how awful it is to expect to make money writing.

Sure, we all want to publish, but it's the art of storytelling, the need to write, the love of writing that should drive us all. We shouldn't expect to actually make a living doing it.

What??? Okay, I admit I don't expect I will ever be the next Rowling or Grisham or Meyer or Sparks or whoever the latest, greatest moneymaker in fiction is. And I fully understand the tiny odds of making enough money to put food on the table and shoes on freakishly-fast growing children's feet. But do all of these people honestly think that writing is something people do as a sacrifice to mankind - the starving artist thing we must do but can't ever expect payment for?

I say, Baloney! There, I've said it. What is wrong with being asked to be paid for your hard work? I can get a job filing papers and plugging numbers mindlessly in a computer (done it) and get paid a livable wage, but just because I love doing something, I shouldn't expect to get paid for it?

Isn't that Oprah's mantra? Find what you love to do and figure out how to make a living doing it?

I'm not saying we writers should get rich. I'm not even saying everyone who publishes should get paid enough to cover their mortgage. I'm just saying, when we start acting like writing is passion and creative art and not work, and that we are so privileged to get to do it that we should be willing to do it for free, we are selling ourselves short.

I work hard at writing. I put in hours and hours a day. Sure, I love it. But there are doctors who love their work and still get paid. And accountants who salivate over money and figures and bankbooks, and they get paid. Just because I love doing something doesn't mean I should give up the idea of making money at it. If the publishing industry feels like authors are groveling just to be in print, they will continue to pay practically nothing to them and then fork over millions to celebrities for memoirs that have no chance of ever recouping that advance.

I can know the realities of it and still not agree with it.

I'm not holding out for that big paycheck. I'm not expecting to pay my house off with an advance. But just because I know writing doesn't pay well to the majority of authors, I still think what I do is valuable, and worth being paid for. Even though I love doing it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Must Be Crazy

I've been talked into another Word-A-Thon. It's what I need, really. A good swift kick in the writer's block. October and part of November were query time. The last of November... trying to figure out where to go next.

I don't know if I'm heading in the right direction, but I'm finally writing again. When I get a couple thousand words under my belt, I'll write about it here. I'm still not certain it's going to work out, but I should know in a few weeks.

For now, a new goal. 45,000 words by January 14.

Just looking at it.... jimminy. What am I thinking?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dirty Little Secrets

I have a love affair with used bookstores. It's something I've been very open about, the way an alcoholic may admit they like vodka a little. But these days, it feels like that dirty little secret I should hide under the rug. What with the publishing industry struggling and publishing house acquisitions halted, and the fact that I joined the facebook group, Buy A Book, Save the World...

Well, I shouldn't be buying second hand books, should I?

I haven't been in a used bookstore in many months, actually. But over the weekend my father-in-law took me to the one he works in. And truthfully, for the first time, it seemed like kind of a sad place. All these books, some hardly touched and others worn thin, hanging around on the shelves unwanted. I think this is what got me most. Someone didn't want them.

I wandered the aisles wondering: What books are people most likely to give up? Is it a sign of the worth of the book or the story or the writing that they ended up here? Would I want to end up here, someone else's hand-me-downs they'd outgrown and didn't foresee ever reading again?

I know others view books very differently. I hardly ever give up my books. I'm a rereader. Have been since I was eight and reread Katie Kittenheart fifty times before my mother bribed me with a Habitrail for my hamster to read something else. One never knows when they might be in need of revisiting an old friend in a book.

Many people, though, see books as expendable. You read them once and move on. There are thousands of books. You can't read them all, let alone hoard them all. Why not trade them in?

It felt sad at first, the flickering fluorescent lighting, the thread bare carpet, the rickety shelves with so many books already broken in. And then I found a book I'd been curious about but too cheap to buy. And then another. And then another. And pretty soon, I'd racked up fifteen dollars worth of 25 cent books and another three dollars worth of dollar books.

I'd feel guilt except for this: 100% of the proceeds from this store go to the library to buy more books.

And a few books have found permanent homes to someone who will love and cherish them. Maybe it's not so much a used book store as a book rescue store.

And hey- if I really like one of them, I might just buy it as a Christmas present for a friend.... New!