Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tweet This

My dad sent this to me yesterday. I thought it was really funny until I realized people actually want you to do that, and then I felt panicky. :)

As far as the writing is going, Tuesday was my great writing day: Three and a half hours. Sounds not as good as it felt. I added 2,500 words to my book, and then deleted 500 words of a scene that had to go because it centered around a character I've since gotten rid of. Gotta love revising.

Wednesday was not nearly so good. I had probably less than an hour total, although I knew it would be that way. Wednesday is my tight day, and my scant time was interupted several times. I added a few pages and revised a few more. Overall, passable.

I think what I'm learning is that I'm no where near a full-time writer.

With birthday parties and some other big news I'll share tomorrow, there's not going to be a huge amount of time to make up what I've missed so far. Still, I have less than 60 pages left of this book to revise before another run-through of more detailed editing. Not too shabby.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Oh How I Love to Write; Let Me Count the Hours...

Patti Nielson has challenged writers to keep track of how many hours a day we write for one week. She put the challenge forth this way:

My intention was not to get people to write more, but to see how much time we actually spend and see if everyday we can increase it. Not to the point where it takes over our lives, but to the point where we feel is manageable in our lives.

You can still sign up if you want. Go here and add your name to the list, or just join in.

I'm curious how much I write. Especially days like yesterday, where the beginning of the day seemed to hold so much promise and by the end, it all seemed to have evaporated. Where does the time go? Getting three kids up, fed, packed and off to school, the gym, a shower, writing two blog posts, catching up on blogs I missed, lunch, replying to emails, a half hour left and the kids start straggling back in, piano lessons are on us and homework and dinner and off to bed. The day is done.

Where does it go?

Maybe the better challenge for me is to count the minutes I'm NOT writing and figure out what I'm doing with them!!

It felt yesterday like I hardly wrote at all. 30 minutes before the kids came home, 20 minutes while dinner was simmering and the kids were having down time, and then 20 minutes after dinner and bedtimes. It seemed like not much. One hour and ten minutes. But in that time I added nearly 1,000 words to the novel I'm now revising, and I've done less on days where I had lots of time to write.

Today I'm hoping will be even better. I've got coffee. I'm finishing a Bible study this morning and then cracking open the WIP for more serious revisions. This challenge is a challenge for me to turn off the internet, stop checking emails, and just write.

That's my hope anyway. How's your writing going?

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Survived The National Book Festival!

This weekend was the National Book Festival in downtown Washington D.C. It was a gloriously beautiful, albeit a tad hot, day for book lovers!

This is the tenth year anniversary of the book festival, which was begun in 2001 by Laura Bush as one of her first big initiatives as first lady. Say what you want about her husband's politics, but you gotta love a first lady who loved reading as much as she does, and brings this type of event to D.C.

The entire mall (which is NOT a shopping area!! It's the huge grassy area between the Washington Monument and the Capital Building)  fills with circus-sized tents, each marked with a particular genre. This year there were tends for fiction and mystery, poetry and literature, history and biography, teens and children, children, (Yes, I know some of these seem to overlap...), contemporary life (which this year seemed to consist of mostly cook book authors, although last year hosted the American Idol and now Tonight Show band leader Rickey Minor). I'm sure I'm missing some categories.

There are also tents for buying books, mobile RVs for testing out digital libraries, tents for PBS kids activities (which also boasted several "real" PBS characters to get your pictures with), and tables for author book signing.

Information tables throughout the grassy mall gave away free posters, bookbags, and bookmarks. I loved seeing so many red bookbags everywhere. When we went home on the metro, more than half the people crammed in the cars had red bags. I felt like nodding at each of them, silently telling them, "Yeah, I'm a book lover too."

(And as a total aside, the people working the information booths were TOTALLY cool and let me put out bookmarks for my own book beside theirs!! I was the only non-festival author that did that, and by the time I left all the bookmarks were gone, and I saw not a single one on the ground!  Book lovers love their free bookmarks!)

Can I say there is rarely anything better than being among a huge hoard of book lovers and their beloved authors??  Truly. Fun fun fun. It erases any negativity you might run across online about the demise of the publishing industry, and leaves you feeling nearly buoyant.

The best part, of course, isn't the free bags or the hoards of people (which frankly were all a bit sweaty and larger than the narrow seats they set up way too close together). The best part is listening to the authors.

This year they put all the people I wanted to hear at the same time, in different tents. I suppose that's because they were all the most popular people and they needed to spread out the crowds a bit.

I tried first to make it to hear Laura Bush. How often do you get to hear a former first lady in person? And the founder of the Book Festival to boot? 

Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to have this same idea, so that even though we arrived well before her appearance, the tent was closed off.

For any other author, they don't close the tents. They let you stand 50 people thick behind the chairs if that makes your day; but for Laura Bush, the security was a bit.... zealous. And when I watched her speech on TV (yes, I'm the kind of geek who DVRs the Book Fair on CSPAN 2), nearly everyone in that tent had passes to be there. I did feel a little put out that she was there, but not practically available to listen to. I wasn't the only one either. As we were pushed further and further away, a near-melee occurred between security guards and festival attendees. Poor Laura. I wonder what she thought of the scuffle caused by outraged admirers?

Still, I am not the scuffle-causing kind, so I took advantage of the security guards temporary lack of attention on me and scooted in towards the baffles to get some pictures. I took my very old, not very good camera, but it has a massive zoom lens. Cheers for photography that makes it look like I could actually hear anything she said!

So that lasted about ten frames worth, and then I got booted away as well. I would have been sore but two tents over Suzanne Collins (of the Hunger Games trilogy fame) was still talking. Booyah!

So I got to hear the last ten minutes of her speech, and also the ten minutes of Q&A, which is often the most entertaining time.  What I loved was that the entire line of questioners was all kids. Drooling, swooning, total-gaga kids who gushed about how much they loved her books and begged to know when she'd be writing more. I could completely see why YA authors love their audience. I must say the kids in this tent had energy and enthusiasm that put to shame every other tent.

 So I sort of saw Laura Bush, I caught much of Suzanne Collins, and I totally missed Jonathan Franzen, who was in another tent at the same time. I heard a few sentences of Diane Gabaldon and managed to shoot a few poor pictures of her that were mostly the guy in front of me's head. She's now writing graphic novels. I moved on.

The rest of the day was not quite as exciting, as I didn't know nearly as many authors this year as I did last year, and I ended up in the History and Biography tent much of the day, along with hearing some incredibly talented high schoolers reciting poetry.

By late afternoon, the only person left I really wanted to see was Mem Fox. If you don't have kids, you might not know her, but she's written 36 picture books, one of which (Time for Bed) we read every single night for over two years to our children. Every night. And I not once got tired of it.

So I went to see Mem, and let me tell you, she was not disappointing!! She had the audience laughing so hard tears were rolling down my cheeks. She started by saying, "I'm probably the only author at this festival that will tell you writing is really hard work, and I like to do it as little as possible. Five minutes a year if I can get away with it."

She talked about growing up as an Australian in Africa and learning to write while sitting under a tree and practicing her letters in the dirt as her teacher drew them with his finger in the air. She talked about how she came up with the ideas for some of her books, and why some are so special to her, and then she read some of them for us.

I could listen to her read all day. I wanted to go out, right then, and buy every one of her books, even though my kids are past picture book age. I'll probably do it anyway.

After Mem, we decided it wasn't going to get better than that, and we should pack up and head home. I'd left at 8:30 in the morning and got home about six at night. It was a long day.

A long and wonderful day.

And if any of you live in Texas or are going to be there in October, there's a Texas State Book Festival which was Laura's predecessor to the National one, and should be equally as exciting. And let me tell you, there's nothing to make you so fired up to go home and write as being part of a mass of people who love to read and write.

Cheapest therapy ever.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I had an interesting conversation over twitter with a mom of a diabetic last week. In a diabetes chat forum, the question was posed: Do you think there will be a cure of diabetes in our lifetime?

I was actually shocked to see that the resounding answer was no.

Have people waited so long, heard so many "We've almost got it," been so beaten down by the day to day dealing with poking fingers and shooting insulin that they've lost hope?

If you ask a group of people with cancer if they think there will be a cure, they will resoundingly say yes.

Why the difference?

Of course, after doing so much research on diabetes cures for Some Kind of Normal, I couldn't help but chime in. There are SO many avenue's being looked at right now, and we really are, truly, so close.

And one of the moms countered back: "Like what? Name one."

Me: "Adult stem cell research is already curing people in other countries."

Her: "I'd never let my son be immunosuppressed."

(Can I break here to say this is the main treatment for leukemia, and has been done successfully for many years with bone marrow transplants?)

Me: "Well, Dr. Faustman has found a vaccine that's worked on reversing type 1."

Her: "Have you seen the chemical in that? They're very dangerous."

Me: "It's a commonly used vaccine."

Her: "Well, they haven't gotten past the mice stage, and everything works on mice."

Me: "Actually, this is the only thing that's successfully reversed diabetes in mice."

Her: "My son is not a mouse."

Me: "Did I say he was? You brought up mice. She's past that and has had great success in the 1st human trials."

Her: "It's a long way from working."

I sighed, because what can you do with someone who doesn't WANT to believe? What I really wanted to tell her was that the question was whether or not we could find a cure, not whether or not she would like any of the cures they found.

Heidi the Hick passed on to me this morning this AMAZING video of a Canadian morning talk show segment in which the host and an actor previously battling cancer explore a lab where adult stem cells are being used to create new hearts (!!!) and produce insulin. The actor herself underwent adult stem cell therapy in which they extracted some of her own stem cells and tweaked them and now she is in a very solid remission. There was a shot of BEATING HEART CELLS!!  Did I say AMAZING!!!?

The host of the show literally had his jaw dropped the entire time. It is that incredible. It is that possible. We are that close to cures.

And they echoed the same thing I say all the time: Why isn't EVERYONE talking about this???

If you want to see the video here is the link. I don't know how long it will be up, but if it's not the top video when you click on it, find the link on the side for "Lisa Ray and Seamus explore stem cells." It was the best five minutes of the morning.

Here is another link I found from the same news program about the success of adult stem cell treatment in reversing MS in a patient. This is especially encouraging to me because I have a very dear friend in the early stages of MS.  Another great five minutes of time.

Because no matter how bad things get, or how long you've waited, there should always be HOPE.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mommy Meltdown

I am now officially on our third week of the kids being back in school, and I have to be honest: I thought I'd have a lot more time.

Over the summer, the kids were an ever-present pull on my time, and I got nearly no writing done. I juggled the guilt of not writing with the guilt of not entertaining the kids and spending time with them, and the kids won. They won in part because they are just so darn fun, and in part because I know they are growing so fast, and there won't be many summers left when they want to spend time with me.

But when school started, I thought things would change. They'd magically disappear onto the school bus every morning and I'd magically have five full hours to edit and revise my current book.

That was the plan, anyway.

What really happened was more something like this:

1. One child needed books from the library which necessitated a four hour cross-county, multiple branch scavenger hunt.

2. One child needed swim lessons scheduled and another needed evaluations for swim team placement.

3. Orthodontia appointments. Enough said.

4. Groceries. Clean Laundry. Apparently people need that stuff.

5. Friends that I'd neglected long summer months wanted coffee. I wanted adult interaction.

6. Car brakes were recalled, oil change needed, and sliding van door broke.

7. My running shoes fell apart. Literally. I had to hit five stores to find decent replacements I could still afford.

8. The bathroom scale said I desperately needed to hit the gym on a more regular basis.

After school, there's been a barrage of homework, piano practices and lessons, swim team practices, paperwork, choir, Bible studies.... in short... barely time to scrounge dinner and get everyone off to bed.

The nights have been late, the morning early. For the one hour I've gotten to sit and actually write, I looked like that picture up there. I'm exhausted. I fall asleep at the computer.

I've started getting cranky when things pop up to keep me from writing. I threw a pencil across the room yesterday when someone demanded something of me right when I sat to write. I yelled. "I give up trying to make writing a career. I can't have a career. I don't know why you think I should have a full time job when I can't even make a part time job of writing when everyone still just thinks of me as a full time mom with nothing more to do than get everyone else's stuff done!"

It wasn't my finest moment.

I still wrestle with how to get everything done. My stuff and their stuff.

Today I didn't shower, I didn't go to the gym, I didn't do my morning Bible study. I put the kids on the bus, threw my hair in a ponytail, made a huge pot of coffee and sat down to write. Writing first today.

And it's gone really well. I added over 1000 words to a scene I've been writing in my head since summer, and I'm ready now to move on to editing the next chapter. I think things are shaping up really well for this book.

My plan was to go to the gym once I finished that one scene, but now I'm thinking I might just keep writing. The gym will wait. My butt will still be just as big and need just the same workout tomorrow.

Today, no one is home. No appointments are scheduled (until after school). The dog is happy outside in the fall-like weather. And I'm getting stuff done.

Somewhere in here I'll have to fit in the shower, but for now, my computer doesn't care.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why I Write

Weronika posed this question at her blog today, along with two essays by famous writers who answered that very question. Weronika's challenge for those of us who write was to answer the question as well.

Why do I write?

I know so many people who say they write because they have to. I wonder if it makes me not a true-heart-writer that this isn't true of me. I've spent most of my life writing in some form or another, I guess. Middle school and high school I journaled nearly daily, with much poetry thrown in for good teen measure. And in college I took so many elective classes in writing that I ended up with an "option" in it.

But there have been years where I didn't write. Not short stories, not poems, not even journals. I was too tired. Too up to my eyeballs in spitup and diapers and scraped knees and playgrounds. There were years where the highest level reading I accomplished was "Good Night Moon" and "How Much Do I Love You," read over and over and over until I was speaking them in my sleep.

Those years, I didn't write. So I know it's possible not to write.

So why do I write? It isn't for the money, for sure! It isn't for fame or notoriety. I'm actually more comfortable letting people assume I'm a stay-at-home mom with no other vocation than to speak up and say that I'm a published author. I don't have characters talking to me in my head until I've already well-pushed them down their plotline. I don't write for catharsis. It's not always fun. It's often hard.

I do have stories flitting through my head constantly. I see people and wonder what makes them tick. Where are they off to? Why are they smiling that way, or mad at the world? I read news articles and think how I could develop it into a novel. When I read books, I think about how, with a single small change the entire story could take another turn.

And yet I don't write most of those stories.

So I found myself asking today, why in the world do I write?

For one, because I love it. Even when it's hard, or when it's not fun, I love it. There's few things I'd rather do than sit and create stories and watch characters evolve. In a sense, it's like creation. Yesterday there were no people... today there are. I make up towns and coffee shops and conversations that are so much more elegant or snappy than ones I can have myself. One a story gets started, for me, it becomes a sort of reality, as if those characters are real people who I can care for and love and worry about. So even though I don't need to write stories to live and breathe, I do love it.

But I think even more the question for me is not so much why do I write, but why do I write what I write?

I write what I write to make a difference to people. To let someone know they aren't alone in their experiences. To make people see a new perspective, to see something from another point of view they might not otherwise see. I write with the hopes that people will talk and debate and have conversations about what they've read. It doesn't matter if you agree or not; but that it makes you think.

There was a point two years ago, before I sold my first book, when I said to myself that I didn't care if I became a huge success or sold a lot of book or made enough money to buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate that milestone. I just wanted to make a difference to one person. If I changed one person's life, if I made one person stop and think and feel like they were understood or suddenly understood someone else, then that was success to me.

Today, when considering this post, I wondered if that was enough anymore. I've had readers write and tell me I did make a difference in their lives, and there's nothing better to hear for me. But still.... if I don't sell a certain amount of my debut book, I won't get another publisher willing to take a risk on another book. It's important to sell books, and write books that sell, not just for me but for those people who invest in the process as well: agent and editors and publishers need to do more than make a difference in one person's life. They need to make money; and as an author, my job is to help them do that. So, my own version of success could mean ultimate failure.

So is it enough? Is making a difference to one person, and then letting the dream go, enough?

And if I say it is, does that mean I'm not a true writer in my soul? If I can be content with following another career path should things not work out, does that make me less ambitious? Less deserving of that publication?

I can't imagine not writing right now. But I'm hoping also to get a masters degree that will allow me to teach at the college level, or be an editor, or do something to do with writing and books that doesn't just mean creating my own stories.

In the end, though, I'm a fairly content person. There's very few things I need: God, my family, basic survival necessities like food and a shelter. So do I need to write to keep living and breathing? No. But I sure do love doing it, and as long as I am able to make it a priority, I will.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Drama on the Hallowed Ground

There are lots of places in life where drama is expected. "Reality" TV shows, for one. Weddings. Protest rallies and radio talk shows. Blogs even. I've certainly seen my share of blog drama, words flying so fast and angrily in the comment section you can practically feel the spit flinging out of the screen at you. There was, in fact, a blog post this weekend that had me grinding my teeth with my itchy fingers poised over the keyboard ready to step into the fray.

But I didn't. I didn't because the post wasn't written in such a way as to say, "Hey, why don't you share your opinion and lets openly debate and discuss this issue." It was written with one fist raised in a "I dare you to disagree" way. And lets face it, I'm just not that into controversy.

So it really set my teeth on edge when someone came gunning for me, ready to start a war on my hallowed safe ground: my facebook page.

Honestly, folks... don't we choose our facebook friends? Isn't the point of being selective so that you are surrounded in that little piece of real estate by people you actually like? How many places in life can you do that? Facebook should be a safe haven.

So when a supposed friend came at me – and all my other friends – with rude and snide comments, I was a little shocked. Especially over the topic at hand.

Was it politics? Religion? My choice of Nikon over Canon? My occasional mention of Justin Bieber?

No. The offending status update was over this:

This is a pool. It is my pool. Well, not mine, per se, but the pool my family belongs to. It's on an Army post, at an officer's club. My husband used to be an Army officer and now works for the Department of Defense, which gives us certain very limited access to post facilities, like the O-Club.

The status update wasn't even about the pool. It was about a welcome-home-Daddy sign I saw on the lawn of one of the houses I passed leaving the pool. It was a sweet, sweet sign that made me tear up.

Apparently, this is offensive.

I go to a pool that should only be for officers.

A question was asked rudely, which I answered politely. Others chimed in on the answer, and the rudeness on the "friend's" part escalated. I made a joke to diffuse the situation and it got even uglier. Other friends tried to make a joke of it. It got downright hateful. I had friends writing me personal emails, "Who the heck is this girl and where in the world does she get off saying this stuff to us?"

This isn't the first time I've been treated combatively by her before.  Anything I write seems to set her off. And the sad, sad fact is that this isn't some random person I met over the blogosphere. This is someone I've known. Someone who's house I've stayed at, who I've made dinner for and vacationed with. Her husband was in our wedding party. And yet, it's as though I don't know her at all. This is not the person I once was friends with.

But to criticize me and be snide with me is one thing. When she went ballistic on my friends, that was the end of the line for me.

So for the first time in my facebook life, I un-friended someone.

There was immediate hateful kickback, and then all went silent.

Blissfully quiet.

This kind of quiet:

Because life is too short to surround yourself voluntarily with people who try to make your life miserable. And if facebook is the only hallowed peaceful ground I have left I can control... I'm going to exercise my right to make it drama free.

I'll leave the drama for the new season of Survivor.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering 9/11

It's been nine years since the terrorists attacked the U.S. It's hard to believe my kids have never really known a pre-9-11 world. They are asking questions now, especially my youngest, like "Were the people on the planes scared because they were flying into a building?" "Why didn't the firemen just spray water on the fire?" and "If people jumped out a window, was there a fountain on the ground they could fall into, like in front of Daddy's old office?"

It's natural, I suppose, that most of the conversation revolves around New York and the twin towers. We've been there and seen the hole in the ground and the building around it being reconstructed. We've been in the fire stations and the TV shows focus on that event. My husband used to work there, and was on the top floor when the bombing of 1993 occurred. So there is connection.

But we live in D.C. now, and we know people who were in the Pentagon. We pass the building often, hardly noticing anymore how it's been fixed, one wall slightly whiter and smoother than the others. Unlike the Ground Zero area, the Pentagon rebuilt quickly and moved on.

For a few years after moving here, we participated in a "Freedom Walk" on September 11. It wasn't a protest or march or anything political. People of all faiths, political points of view, and ages gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument and walked through D.C., by the Lincoln Monument and across the bridge, by Arlington Cemetery and over to the Pentagon, where a flag was draped over the section of wall that the airplane had taken lives. We were all Americans. We all loved this country.

When Obama became president he canceled the 4 year tradition. He said it was the former president's thing, and we could no longer organize. Funny thing, it wasn't even organized by the president. It wasn't mandated by him or suggested by him. It was organized by a group in the Department of Defense that supports the military and their families.

I miss it.

Anyway, today I remember. Everyone has a story about that day. If you'd like to share, I'd love to hear yours.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Snapshot of an Addict

At this moment, I’m sitting in my car in the pitch black, half-way down my long driveway, mooching internet off a neighbor. I have, in the past 36 hours, stood here, jumping on one leg and batting away the mosquitoes that hover around me like they know my blood sugar is high, just in an effort to download my emails onto my itouch. Occasionally I’m ashamed I’ve yelled at the itouch: “Download, you stupid emails!! Download!” It’s times like this I wish I’d gone ahead and admitted my addiction and gone for the full-blown iphone with connectivity anywhere.

I am here because yesterday morning, our neighbors (from whom I’m mooching) had Comcast come bury a cable that had been lying across our driveways for four months. When they arrived, instead of waiting for the guy who, as is required by law, comes to mark all power and telephone lines, they dug huge ditches anyway. And snipped our lines in three places. And as we have DSL, no telephone means no internet.

They shrugged and told me to call the phone company, which I did. Of course, I couldn’t call on my phone line because that was dead. And my cell phone battery was nearly dead as well. So I had to plug my cell phone into an outlet. This wouldn’t be a big problem, except that we live in the woods and there are only a few spots where we get phone reception in the house. None of those spots are near an outlet.

So I call on the almost dead cell phone with spotty reception, and go through a 15 minute computerized answering service that tries to diagnose a problem I could tell live person in 2 seconds. The computerized voice tells me that if I wish to speak to a representative, I can say “agent” at any time.

The conversation with the computerized person went something like this:

CP: If you’d like to speak to a representative, you can say “agent” at any time. Is your phone receiving a dial tone?

Me: Agent.

CP: I don’t understand. Would you like us to run diagnostics on your phone line?

Me: Agent

CP: Running Diagnostics.

Me: Agent! Agent!

CP: I don’t understand. Running diagnostics. Just a minute more.


CP: I can’t tell if the problem is in your phone or in the phone lines. Is there more than one phone in the house?


CP: I don’t understand.

Me: hanging up now.

I call back. It only takes me yelling agent four times before the computer finally says, “I think you said you wish to speak to a representative; is that correct?”

So I get the representative who isn’t particularly friendly and tells me since Comcast did the damage I won’t be responsible for the charges to fix the lines (at which part I start seriously rolling my eyes at her) and that they can come out in three days.

At which point I nearly fall apart. I’m pretty sure I sounded like a drug addict when I panick-ly tell her I can’t possibly go without internet for three days.

When I finally calm down and realize no amount of crying and begging is going to get someone here any faster, she finishes getting the information and then says, “So the technician will call you when he’s on his way. Is this account number the best one to reach you at?

Me: Ummmm….no. The account number has no dial tone. The phone lines are snipped. Remember?

Her: Oh, well, then, shall we send you an email?

Me: NO!! I can’t get internet, remember? Thus my previous meltdown!

Her: Oh. Well, they’ll be there when they get there, okay?

Me: Okay. I’ll be home… standing in the middle of the driveway mooching wireless from my neighbor and smelling of bug spray.

Her: Okay. Have a nice day.

So, dear blogging buddies, I haven’t see your posts or written back to your lovely emails, but I am hoping tomorrow it will all be better.

In the meantime, I’m getting monstrous amounts done since I’m not on the Internet. I’m not happy about it, but I’m getting it done.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Julie/Julia Project: A Book, Movie, and Inspiration

If you dropped by thinking you were going to get a book review, you're wrong. Well, partly wrong. Partly, because I haven't even finished the book yet, alhtough I'm a mere whisper away from the end, and I'm not even sure what to say about what I've read.

Anyone read this book?

It's a memoir. In case you're one of those who hasn't heard of the book, or at the very least heard of the movie staring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, the book is about a woman named Julie who, in a state of depression and frustration, decides to turn her life around by cooking through the entire Mastering the Art of Fine Cooking by Julia Child.

She began the Julie/Julia Project in conjunction with a blog... this being in the days before blogger and livejournal and the onslaught of blogdom. And by half way through the book, I wish I'd just read the blog instead of the book that it's based on.

I'm conflicted, so far. It doesn't read like a story, which maybe is a hallmark of a memoir. It's sort of chronological, but then again, not really at all. There's not really a plot, save the cookbook, which isn't exactly plot-rich. There are relationships: her husband, her brother and parents, a few stray friends, a business colleague or two mentioned by name, but none of these characters very fully developed. They pop in here and there but without purpose other than to serve food to. As a person who writer, and reads, to get to know characters, this bugs me a little.

Despite what the movie might allude to, the book itself features almost nothing of Julia Child herself. There isn't the grand flipping back and forth, and the only little snippets you get of Julia's life are before she really learns to cook. I think what I'm learning in the book is that I want to read a book about Julia Child.

The writer herself isn't that likable, either, which is hard to say because since she wrote the book and it's about her, shouldn't it make her to be likable? Does that mean she's really self-deprecating, a quality that usually balances out most other faults? But I don't think she is. I think she's just opinionated and critical and judgmental and a bit bitter, and unafraid to admit that. And some of that rubs me the wrong way. Others who agree with her might not find it grating, though. I found it interesting how endearing the movie made Julie: weepy at the 9/11 calls, bonded with co-workers, either happy or sad, but rarely bitter and angry in an ugly sort of way; this is not the Julie of the book at all.

Still, I find the book unputdownable. There is something about a memoir that forgives a great amount of lack, because it's real, and because you as a reader know it's real. I'm intensely interested in people and in their lives (hence my DVR schedule of reality TV). I like people watching, and so a memoir is that. And Julie writes in such a way that makes you feel as though you are getting to watch her as she goes through her days. Not the high points of a life, the awards and political appointments and dramatic moments of a celebrity memoir, but the minutia of the day-day-day we all struggle with, and her unique way of dealing with it.

I will say there were chapters that gave me nightmares. I woke one night this past week feeling queasy and sick and ran to the bathroom. My head pounding, the tile cool against my cheek, all I could think of was aspic. The mental image of making aspic, the smell of aspic, the color of it and the way it jiggles in the pan, of blue eggs soaked in red wine resting in the middle of it. And I realized I'd been dreaming of the chapter of eggs and aspics, and it had made me literally sick.

I slunk back to bed, still feeling ill, and hoping in the morning I, like Julie, would turn the chapter on that and head into something better and more tasty.

I don't think reading Julie and Julia would be especially inspirational to most people in the area of the art of mastering French cooking. I've heard great things about French food, but after reading this book, I certainly don't feel like eating it. The recipes she chose to include in the book, I can only surmise because they are the most dramatic, are ones which include calves feet and creamed livers and bone marrow. I want to know more about Julia Child, but I don't care to pick up the cookbook!

Still, motivation still comes because I love cooking, and because the cooking itself, while seeming to drive Julie and her husband to madness, is also her salvation and sanity. And so, the book buzzing in my brain, I decided to bake scones for my childrens' teachers on the first day of school.

I've only baked scones with Bisquick before, so I hunted the most complex recipe with five stars I could find on google, gathered supplies, and set out to be my own Julie/Julia.

I didn't save my life through them. I didn't find myself or make my miserable life less miserable. I didn't accomplish any great feat or gather media attention or get a book deal or garner tons of dedicated blog readers through it, but I did make delicious blueberry scones. And today I think I'll try orange and cranberry, and some chocolate chip ones.

Because, while Julie the blogger/author would move on to the next recipe, a deadline in hand, I have all the time in the world to perfect and hone my scones. And I think that's exactly what Julia Child might do.

** Okay, I finished the book, and near the end there are maggots. MAGGOTS!! Oh yeah, like I won't have graphic nightmares about that description. So after thoroughly cleaning and cloroxing my own kitchen, I set about keeping the nighttime nausea at bay by slow cooking ribs with steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes. I knew that Julie and Julia would know what to do with all those juices in the bottom of the ribs, whipping it together with butter and cream and mushrooms and onions and artichokes and other things I can't even remember to make some delectable gravy. I, however, am not Julie or Julia, so I threw it away. And made more scones.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Language and Violence and Sex... Oh My.

I ran across a blog post by Nathan Bransford last week that got me thinking. In it, he quoted from another post by a woman named Sheryl Cotleur who raised the issue of violence in young adult books. In particular, she referred to the latest book in the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

I have to preface the rest of this with saying that I haven't read the Hunger Games books yet. I have the first two, but somehow always find other things that top my list. I'm not a YA author, so the types of books that pique my interest aren't usually YA. So while I haven't read the books, I'm not able to speak specifically towards the appropriateness of the violence in them for younger readers.

What the remarks by both Sheryl and Nathan did make me think about was the broader subject of what's appropriate for young adult, and even middle grade and children's books. I've been thinking about this for a while now, my own son and daughter entering the age and reading ability that brings them into the YA realm. And having read some of these books, let me say it scares me.

I freely admit to being restrictive to what my kids have seen in movies and read in books. I'm sure you'll find it shocking that I was uncomfortable with the "torture" sequences in the Pixar film "The Incredibles." I'm not one of the parents who think their child is going to be exposed to sex and violence and language  and alcohol in the world around them so why protect them. I protect them so that they are shielded from that for as long as possible. There will be a whole lifetime ahead of them to be exposed to those things. And being exposed is very different from presenting it to them as acceptable. I don't care what the world around us says: sex and drinking and cursing are not appropriate for a 12 year old, let alone a ten year old. At least not for my kids.

Finding language in a book aimed at kids that would make a movie rated R disturbs me. I've read other blogs and the litany of comments over the last year, so I know this puts me in a minority. I know YA authors find parents like me unreasonable and idiotic. Last year I sat down with a stack of YA books I hoped my daughter would be interested in reading in the next few years, and I was dumbstruck by the amount of casual sex in it. It wasn't even like Forever, the Judy Bloom book that is entirely about sex, which treats it as something big and significant to dive into. This was total casual sex. By fourteen year olds. In books aimed at 12-16 year olds.

In my own little perfect world books aimed at kids under the age of 16 wouldn't have any of this, but I know this isn't realistic. There are enough people out there yelling about the rights of authors to write what they want, and for kids to read what they want, that I'm fairly sure the tides are not going to turn back towards innocence.

Still, why not a rating system for books?  If authors insist on writing with certain amounts of violence or language or other material that parents might object to, and parents continue to object (which there actually are some of us), why not just rate the books the same way music and movies and video games are rated? That way a parent – or a teen, even, as I do know some that don't want that in the books they read – can make decisions before they choose.

I know this is controversial. I've googled "book rating systems." Go ahead and try it. It's vicious out there. People think it's tantamount to censorship. They think books are already adequately labeled just by putting them in the middle grade or YA category (which I can promise, by reading hundreds of these books, does not mean they are clean of what might concern some parents). I've read many, many of these articles and arguments, not a single one of which addresses the real concern of parents and teens, or does so in a way which dignifies their point of view. There's not a single argument against the rating system that I could find that I couldn't logically rebut.

I suppose there's a part of me that's flummoxed why authors would be so angry about this. Is it because they don't want parents to know what's in their books? Is it because they're afraid they'd lose readership? Is it because the surprise of finding questionable content and the resulting outcry generates free publicity for them? If an author truly thinks sex and language and alcohol use among teens is common and unremarkable, why should it bother them if that's listed on the book cover?

As for the violence in the Hunger Games that started this discussion on Nathan's blog, I think it's still a matter of content and context and information. The holocaust is a horrific event that would no doubt draw a less-than-G rating, but even so there are middle grade books that address the topic gently and carefully which even cautious parents would consider. The point is that in knowing what's in the book, those parents who care can use those books as springboards for discussion and kids with squeamish stomachs can choose something else.

It's not about censorship; it's about being able to make informed decisions. I remember when the music industry first began dealing with ratings, and there was an uproar then. Now... who cares about it? There are still 5-year-olds out there listening to rap music with language that would make a sailor blush. That's their parent's choice. And parents who choose otherwise, choose something else. Is that so bad?

So my question is this: What's your opinion on a book rating system for middle grade and YA? And do you think it would change the way writers write?