Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It All Started with a Closet

Our closet is small. I admit, we almost did not buy this house when we saw the closet. I also admit that we are spoiled, because even my first apartment, which was about 600 square feet, had a nice walk-in closet. The first house my husband and I bought had two huge walk-in closets, as did every other house we've bought since. Until this one.

This one has one closet in the master bedroom, and while it is technically a walk-in, meaning you have to walk through the door to get the clothes, there is no room for you and the clothes both when you get there. I have to choose my clothes before doing hair, because once I walk in, my hair is a lost cause. I've given up keeping my shoes in there, because I can't bend down to get them without knocking off a row of hangers.

So this past weekend we finally - after years of talking about this - went to look at closet organizers. We found some we thought would be perfect, and once I started actually getting excited that I'd have room to both keep my clothes hung up and find them, my husband says, "We should change the flooring first. If we're going to replace the carpets we need to do that before putting in the organizers."

Which means... never.

Or at least a very long time away.

But as we were leaving, me wondering why in the world we were even shopping if it wasn't a possibility to fix yet, we saw a dresser. A beautiful white perfect girlie dresser... for my youngest.

My youngest is currently using the dresser we bought before her brother was born 13 years ago. It is a diaper changing dresser. It has enough room for a small batch of baby clothes. She is eight. The bottom of two of the three drawers have fallen out and been nailed back in repeatedly, so that often she can't close the drawers. There isn't enough room in them so she also has several rubbermaid bins for less-used clothes. (I swear we are not poor! It's embarrassing admitting this, although in our defense, my daughter is totally emotionally attached to that dresser and does not want another one, even one that easily opens and closes and holds all her pajamas and sweaters.)

So we might not be able to fix our clothing situation, but we could fix hers! Hurray!

Until we started sizing it and realized it was about twice as big as the baby dresser, which would mean rearranging her room, which would mean taking some things out and putting them in our storage area.

Except our storage area is tiny, and it packed to the gills - floor to ceiling - with boxes. Boxes of baby clothes and toys I can't get rid of, of teaching materials I used ten years ago, of files and mementos and holiday decorations. There is no room for anything else. Frankly, like our closet, there is no room for me to even get in to find the stuff I need.

So off we trudged to the shelving department, where we found shelves to organize the storage room.

And that is what I've been doing for the last four days. Pulling every single box out, going through it to determine what needs to stay, what needs to be tossed, and what needs to be donated. I am determined not to be the next desperate case on the TV show Hoarders, so I am tossing with great abandon. The house looks like a cardboard explosion has taken place. The trash can has been packed every night. The car has been loaded and deliveries made more than once. There have been several trips to the store to get more Sterlite containers. There have been more than a few trips down memory lane.

And that is where I am now. In the middle of a mess that is bigger than it was to start with, with no closet organizer for my own room and no dresser for my youngest. And trying to keep up with school work, which involved a big packet due yesterday.

This is not unlike my writing. The last set of revisions I sent my advisor followed this same path. I'd see one thing that needed to be changed - just a small thing - something totally fixable. And then I'd spend four hour tweaking the following pages to accommodate those changes. It's crazy how taking out one stinking line can cause three hours of head-banging repairs. The idea of cleaning up one awkward piece of dialogue suddenly entails dragging all the characters and plots out into the open, laying them out and asking, "What here is necessary to keep, and what now do I toss?" One thing leads to another, and before you know it... I am buried.

So that's where I am, where I've been when I've not been blogging the past week. I apologize for not getting to all of your blogs. I miss you. I'll be back, I promise.

Once I find my way out from all this stuff.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What You Can Do With a Book (besides read it)

Someone passed this on to me and I was so in awe, I thought I'd pass it on to you.

Someone out there is making sculptures out of books. They are then left, anonymously, at libraries as a gift.

Mysterious paper sculptures

They are left with beautiful tags that say things like,

It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree.… ... We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books… a book is so much more than pages full of words.… This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. a gesture (poetic maybe?)

And there's this one:

Mysterious paper sculptures

There are lots more. A veritable literary/artistic mystery. My favorite is the tea cup with the tea bag and cupcake.

Go see them here. Be touched. Be awed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Do this! Or.. Not!

It's less than two minutes of your life you won't regret spending. And I won't even clutter it up with more writing you have to read.

Your welcome.

Monday, September 12, 2011

There Are Two Sides to a Story...

I have a confession. I sometimes annoy the heck out of my husband.

It's true.

The first time was early in our dating relationship, when we entered a tourist store on the Santa Monica pier. We had a question about some piece of artwork and the salesman was RUDE. Downright, undeniably rude. Dismissive of us, snippy, ignoring. We walked out without buying a single thing, and my husband was riled up.

I casually mentioned maybe the clerk was having an especially bad day. Maybe he'd gotten in trouble with his boss. Or his wife just left him. Or he'd been diagnosed with cancer that day. Or had his car stolen.

My husband turned on me and said, "Are you seriously taking HIS side?"

Of course, I wasn't taking anyone's side. I was just trying to SEE all the sides. All the possibilities. Would any of those excuses make it okay that the man was rude to us? No; but it might make me feel less upset about it.

One of the things I like about writing is that I can see life from all kinds of perspectives. I can be the woman who steals a husband from his wife. Be the mom who becomes addicted to drugs or abuses her kids. I can be the the person who forgives, or holds a grudge. I can, for a time, climb inside someone else's head and see life from their point of view.

Good fiction will help us as readers do that, too.

I recently picked up Randy Susan Meyer's The Murderer's Daughters. I don't remember where I'd heard about it, but the title alone caught my eye, and the description of the book hooked me.

Two young girls witness the murder of their mother by their father, and then, essentially orphaned by his imprisonment, they spend the rest of their childhood being shuffled from one unloving home to another.

The book follows them for thirty years, each girl dealing with the murder in drastically different ways, one acting as though her father doesn't exist while the other keeps him close. Both live in fear of the day he will make parole.

There are a couple reasons this intrigued me, the first being it's about girls who go through life with the identification of being the murderer's daughter. It's a powerful name, and one which haunts them each in different ways.

The second reason I wanted to read the book, and the thing which ended up being the reason I think this book is so fantastic, is that it is told by the two sisters in their own point of view. Switching POV in alternating chapters, the reader gets to be inside the heads of both the girls, who, having witnessed the same event, take it to heart in entirely different ways.

I read this book for school, so as I was sitting at my laptop writing the reading commentary for it, I had to ask myself, could this book have been written in just one point of view? The answer to that is both yes and no. Yes, of course one could write a book about a girl who watches her father murder her mother. But no, that book would then not be this book. Because this book is far more than that.

This book is about how two different people can come from the same place, be in the same circumstance, and see it in entirely different ways.

I love that the sisters don't get each other. Lulu can't wrap her head around the idea that Merry visits their father in prison, that she brings photos of his grandchild and keeps his letters. Merry can't understand why Lulu has essentially disowned their only living parent, or remember the good time they had with him. Lulu desperately wants to be out on her own, while Merry desperately wants a family to love her. There ends up being irony in that, but you'll have to read the book to find out why.

Because the point of view switches, the reader gets a chance to see things from the eyes of each of the sisters, to walk in their shoes, so to speak. It is like reading two versions of the same story.

On the surface this book is just a good read. It's fast-paced, engaging, unique. But more than that, it's a lesson that goes beyond the story of two girls living in the shadow of their criminal father: it's the story of how people can see life through different eyes, and both be right.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Going Back or Moving Forward

This weekend is the 10th anniversary of 9-11, and for months much ado has been made about it. There is a new memorial - including a park and a new World Trade Tower being dedicated in New York, and here in D.C. it's hard to get away from it, too.

This past weekend I took my kids to two museums in the city. On Friday we headed into the American History museum, because that's what they wanted to do with their last day off of summer vacation. There was a new exhibit open, a 9-11 room in which items recovered from all three crash sites were recovered. Pieces of airplanes, cell phones, dolls, clocks that had been knocked off walls and frozen in time, doors from crushed first-responder fire trucks. It was sobering to see the pieces of people's lives - the casual, everyday things that belonged to people that most likely were no longer alive.

At the end of the exhibit was a table with paper and pens so that people could write down their reflections and post them on a huge wall covered in corkboard. We didn't stop to read many of them, but one caught my eye as I passed. It read, "I miss the days after 9-11 when this country was united. We all knew we were on the same side, and proud to be there. Now all we do is fight amongst ourselves."

Wow. How sobering that sentiment is, because it is so true.

On Monday our family went to the Newseum, one of my favorite museums in D.C. There are six floors to the building, and on each floor there was at least one 9-11 related exhibits. A wall of newspapers from every country and state the day after. The cell tower off World Trade 1. The engine off one of the flights that crashed into the towers. A video biography of a photo journalist that died in the falling of the towers, leaving his camera as a record of the last moments of his life.

The terrace on the sixth floor overlooked the Canadian Embassy, which was cloaked in a huge banner saying, "Canada Remembers."

In an article in Entertainment Weekly this week, a quote was highlighted on the page: "The question [we] asked then – 'Why do they hate us?' – is a reminder of how naive we were."

I laughed at that - not in the funny way but in the "are you kidding me" way. Why do they hate us?? Look at our country - we hate ourselves! We hate each other. We hate our politicians that we elect. We hate our media that we continue to watch as though it has the answers to all our questions. We cannot hold a civil debate on facebook among our own friends.

On the news this morning a reporter stood outside the Pentagon asking an official if all this memorializing each year was good for the survivors and victim's families, or whether it just continued to rip the scab off their wounds. He said it was both. It's important to remember, but it sometimes keeps them from moving forward.

How do we do that, though? Remember but move forward?

I tend to think the answer lies in the note tacked on the museum wall. "I miss the days after 9-11..."  I don't miss 9-11, but I do miss 9-12. I miss the flags and the patriotism and the feeling that we all really wanted the same things: a safe place for our kids to grow up, to pursue their dreams. I miss thinking that despite all the differences of opinions we have, and the problems with our political system, we still have each others' backs. That humanity is more important than politics. That behind each bumper sticker is a real person who is not that different than us, and deserves respect, a friendly wave, a smile.

I miss the days when bumper stickers were not so antogonistic.

Some people will argue that 9-11 changed us forever. Maybe. But maybe not so much. Maybe it just changed the way we live. Security is more intrusive. Fear and distrust is more prevalent. More flags are sold. More people are active in politics. But internally, there is still all the hatred and anger and "I'm right and you're not" attitude there always has been. We don't need terrorists; we are destroying ourselves from the inside.

I'll watch some of the 9-11 events this weekend. I'll remember, not because I want to remember the terrorism but because I want to remember the hope we felt the days after, the fleeting unity of Americans, and indeed the world, that we as human beings are not enemies of each other but partners in this journey we call life.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is Publishing Changing for Everyone, or Just the Established?

I read this article today by Bob Mayer called The Changing Landscape of Publishing for Writers. If you have time, you should pop over and read it. It's a great overview of how one established author is revamping his idea of good career moves in publishing.

In short, though, Mayer explains how the e-book business is making him rethink his strategies for publishing, the idea being that an author makes much more money selling an e-book himself than through a publisher, and how, although he's hit many best seller lists with his traditionally published books, he has established his own publishing business for his own books (which essentially is self-publishing) and is, in part, eschewing the old route and doing quite well.

Also, he points out that those who most vehemently argue against this progress are those who stand the most to lose: agents, publishers, editors, etc.

I don't doubt that all he says is true. I've heard of several big-name authors - mostly those who write genre fiction - heading out on their own and finding they can make much more money selling the ebooks themselves and then lauding this as the future.

My question is this: as an author who is basically doing most of my own publicity (as the majority of authors do), and who is struggling with that even with a reputable small press behind me, does this new model espoused by already established authors work for everyone? Is the landscape of publishing changing for ALL authors - or just for those who already have a following and therefore can cut out the middlemen who have already put their time and effort and money into building the author a brand?

Certainly being able to publish one's books one's self on Amazon Kindle has opened the field for many authors who otherwise might not get published. It also has muddied the field and made it even more difficult to find quality writing in that arena, although there certainly are quality writers in there.

But with the stigma that comes from self-publishing, and with the swarms of novels now available in Kindle and epub formats, can a no-name author rise to the top of the pack and make a name for her or himself and make the kind of money offered in traditional presses (which, granted, is probably not a lot)?

What do you think? Will the traditional presses still be the best way to published in two, four, or six years, or will they merely be the stepping stone for authors? Or will they, eventually, become just another but equal option for prospective writers?