Saturday, January 30, 2010

There's a first time for everything

Because I'm a rather voracious reader, people are often surprised when they find out I haven't read every book ever published. No, I've never bothered with a lot of Jane Austen because I didn't much care for the ones I have read. And just because I forced my way through the Lord of the Rings Trilogy doesn't mean that I ever got around to reading The Hobbit.

And yes, I watch a lot of movies, but there just aren't enough hours in the day for me to see every one of them. Talkies have been around for almost a hundred years now. That's a lot more movies than even I can manage.

But today was the end of an era for me. I finally watched The Return of the King all the way through for the very first time. After spending years telling people I had seen the beginning and end and parts of the middle about five different times, I sat down with a couple of friends and watched everything.

My conclusion? I'm really glad we didn't go for the extended version, and I really should have re-watched the first three because I haven't seen either of those since they were in the theater.

Maybe now I'll finally get around to reading The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mocking Bird. (Don't judge me. I'm sure there are plenty of classics I've read that you haven't.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Get Off My Back, Murphy!

This guy has been stocking me for some time now, and he just doesn't seem to want to go away. And wherever he happens to be, stress and mess is sure to follow.

Mostly, it's just little things that are going wrong that tend to add up to a big headache. (You know, a snag in my tights combine with a broken strap on my shoe.) In the past week, I have spent more time moving furniture and boxes and books because of one disaster or another than in probably the past two years combine. And I seem to be leaking money at every turn because something is broken/missing/needed. It's a good thing my roommate is so understanding and vigilant because I have also left more windows open, doors unlocked and electronics turned on than I care to admit.

I think I've finally cracked.

But then I think about all of the things that really could be going wrong in my life. But instead of dealing with earthquakes and unemployment and sick children, I'm just dealing with inconvenience. While my problems will eventually be dealt with, forgotten or fixed, there are many less fortunate people out there who aren't so lucky. Maybe it's time to forget myself in service and deal with my problems by helping others.

After all, Murphy's not such a bad guy once you get to know him.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

writing about writing

For a blog about writing, I sure haven't been posting a lot about it recently. Maybe that's because I'm doing a lot of it and don't want to take the time to write about it. But here is an update just for you. Yes, you.

I'm in the middle of revising my NaNoWriMo novel*. I haven't actually finished it, so I don't know if this counts as revisions. But what I have written I wrote so fast that I can't seem to go forward until I go back. But it's a fun story, and I really like the characters. It's not something I'm willing to give up just because my writing in the moment wasn't the best.

Preparations for the SCBWI WIP Grant are underway. I'm having the hardest time with my synopsis. The novel I'm applying with is complex, and I can't seem to describe it in a way to make it work for the application. I keep trying to envision what the book jacket would say, but that doesn't seem to be helping. I'll get it eventually.

My writers' groups have started up again. With the holidays, everyone was in and out of town, attending parties and doing hoards of other things that prevented us from getting together. I can't tell you how happy I am to be meeting with other writers again! It's been far too long since we've traded manuscripts, bounced ideas off each other or given book recommendations. While writing is a solitary pursuit, writers are more often than not a sociable people. We are just people who need people. Does that make us the luckiest people in the world?

I've been spending a lot of time in my ideas folders. Literally. I have a folder on my computer called "Ideas Box" and a file folder labeled "Writing Ideas". I have been reading a lot of things in both this folders and seeing what ideas need to be dumped (at least for now) and which ones I'm ready to work on again. Sometimes the best ideas are old ideas.

And if all that wasn't enough, I start tutoring again this week, and I'm registered for an art class at the community college. I get so much inspiration when I'm learning. Because I tutor a junior in high school and we mostly work on SAT prep, I'm constantly exposed to new words and concepts through our work together. And this will be the first art class I have taken since, well, grade school. Luckily, it is a graphic art class, and I've done a lot of layout and design classes, so I think it will push me just far enough outside of my comfort zone without being too overwhelming.

*I really need to come up with a better title than that. Especially since NaNoWriMo has been over for more than a month now. And most of the novel has been written after the fact.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Thin Man and the Southern Rogue

I love old movies, and get an especially big kick out of the Thin Man Series. There is something about Myrna Loy that is charming and funny all at once while William Powell pulls off that nonchalant genius better than anyone else. And the two of them together are just magic.

I had totally forgotten I've had the Manhattan Melodrama in my Netflix queue for a few years now and never got around to actually watching it. Until I watched Public Enemies last week and saw both Loy and Powell headlining in the movie along with another old favorite, Clark Gable. So up the "to-watch" list the Manhattan Melodrama went, and last night I sat down with my buddies Ben and Jerry to enjoy an old black and white.

This movie was so much better than I was expecting it to be! I laughed: "I was born at home, because I wanted to be near Mother at the time." I was intrigued by unexpected ethical and philosophical questions: "And I'm not sure, maybe ideals have ceased to exist. Maybe they're outmoded like oil lamps and horse cars. But they're mine, and I'm stuck with them." And I found myself fighting back tears: "If I can't live the way I want, then at least let me die the way I want."

I always forget how old movies have the ability to suck me in and sweep me away. I get distract by big names and mind-blowing effects. And while I'm sure the Manhattan Melodrama was a pretty big box-office draw when it first hit the silver screen, there is a simplicity about it that reminds me that sometimes less is more.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Stories of Three First Dates

The wonderful Sydney Salter posted about first-date no-nos today, and that got me thinking about the many first dates I've been on. And how they all, somehow, seem to go horribly wrong. Horribly. (No names have been used to protect the innocent boys who had no idea what they were getting themselves into.)

Story #1

Like the time I had an allergic reaction to something I ate. My face swelled up like a balloon. I decided to tough through it and took a bunch of antihistamines to stop the swelling. We then played a game with a bunch of other kids, but it had rained that day and all of the leaves had fallen in the cool weather. I proceeded to slide down the hill, got horribly muddy and also ended up with the BIGGEST BRUISE EVER on my hip. After a quick wardrobe change, we went to a movie, but the meds I had taken earlier made me fall asleep. I'm sure I was snoring because I couldn't breath very well. My date was really nice and asked me if I wanted him to take me home. Of course my delicate emotional state made me burst into tears, which didn't help the puffy-face situation in the least.

Story #2

Another time my date ran out of gas. Yes, ran out of gas. In the middle of the road. I had to push the car across the street to the gas station. What kind of boy makes his date push the car? (A word to the wise, if a guy makes you push the car, say no to date two, no matter how cute he is. The second date didn't go much better.)

Story #3

And then there was Crazy Boy. No kidding. He was crazy. He was a friend of a friend, so even though we had only talked once before for a few minutes, I agreed to the date. His idea of a good time was to watch Star Wars on his sofa and make me a microwave burrito for dinner. This might be okay for like the sixth date. But date number one? No chance. And it gets even better. He didn't have a driver's license, so he insisted on walking me home while pushing his bike so he could ride it back to his place. He walked me up to my apartment door and got that look on his face like he really wanted to kiss me. Well, that was not going to happen, so I pushed out my hand for a warm, friendly shake. Instead, he grabbed my hand and started singing to me. Right there on my front porch for all the world to see. Thank heavens my roommate came home from her date just a minute later and I was able to escape.


But there have also been some really good first dates as well. Memorable moments that I hold very dear to my heart. With guys who are now some of my best friends. Okay, and a couple of guys I won't talk to if my life depended on it. Dating is a funny thing. Even if it all goes horribly wrong, you keep coming back for more, hoping for those perfect moments that make it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Katherine Paterson Have I Loved

I was very excited to find out Katherine Paterson was named the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress. It's been a lot of fun following Jon Scieszka for the past two years, and now I'm excited to see where Paterson's theme "Read for Your Life" will take us in the coming two years.

I remember reading Jacob Have I Loved for the first time when I was in sixth grade. I remember crying and laughing and being able to connect with history in a way I never had before. I saw myself as Sara Louise because I had an older sister whom, like Sara Louise's sister Caroline, I thought was prettier, smarter and had more to offer the world than I ever could. And for the first time, I realized that I didn't have to be defined by my relationship with my sister. I was the one who was forcing myself to live in my sister's shadow. I could be whatever I wanted to be, and the only person who could stop me was me.

Fifteen years later, I have realized that my sister probably felt much the same way about me. Sisterhood is the most delicate of family relationships, especially when you are so close in age. (My sister is only 19 months older than me.) Now I hope our relationship is more about supporting and encouraging each other rather than comparing ones failures to the others successes.

If one book, read so many years ago, could teach me such a great lesson that still affects me today, can you imagine what Paterson will be able to accomplish in her new position?

P.S. The SCBWI WIP Grant process is upon us. If you are a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators or have ever considered becoming a member, now is a great time to get a writing sample together and ready for submission. I'll be applying for the Grant for a Contemporary Novel for Young Readers this year, which is a total departure for me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Five of the best books I read in 2009

I'm feeling like a bit of a poser at the moment. I usually read tons of books every year and review a lot of them. But this year, I only read about 40, and many good books that I really want to read and think I will really enjoy are still sitting on my bookshelves. So while this is a list of the best books I've read in 2009, I feel like I should have another list of the most amazing books I didn't get to this year.

This list varies a lot more than last year's list. Last year I have five YA fiction books, but this year includes a contemporary novel, a picture book and a nonfiction book as well as two YA fiction books. This is probably the only place you will ever see a combination of books like this on a best books list. Seriously. Talk about strange bedfellows.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

I picked this book not only because it's such an amazing read but also because it's a part of history that rarely gets told. So often the ugly parts of history are brushed aside for prettier stories that make us feel good about our heritage. But the thing is, we can learn the most from the things we understand the least. You really get into the main character's head in this book, and it is so flawlessly researched that you don't even really see the history as you're reading it.

Into the Wild by Jon Krackaur

I read this book after I saw the movie but also because I've read a couple other Krachaur books and loved them. I don't read a lot of nonfiction, and it's books like these that make me want to commit to reading more. Like with Chains, there were so many moments I didn't understand in this book, but I feel like I came away a more compassionate person with a greater appreciation for nature and what drives people to do these extreme adventures.

Big Frog Can't Fit In by Mo Willems

Seriously, what more can you ask for in a book? I honestly think this book marks a big change in the pop-up medium because the story-line would never work in any other format. Plus, it passed the "kid test" and is by the beloved Mo Willems. This book was a treasured find from this year's National Book Festival.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Maybe it's because I feel so connected with music that I could connect so well with this novel. Or maybe it was because the writing was so beautiful. Or maybe it was because I understood a little about what the female lead wanted in life but couldn't seem to find. But this book ripped me open and left me naked. While Chains helped me understand history, and Into the Wild helped me understand other people, this book helped me understand myself more than any other book I read this year.

Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron

I liked the idea of including this book on my list because of all the potential in it. Jon is going to be a great addition to YA lit. He has a new and fresh perspective on the genera that will allow him to incite change. But no pressure, Jon. Just write what comes to you and the evolution will happen naturally.

You can read my best of 2008 list here.

Entering the 21st Century...Again

We have a connection! After a week with no internet, I am once again online. You never realize how much you do online until you can't do it anymore. From getting work done to paying bills to looking up word origins to staying connected with friends. Oh, yes, and Mafia Wars--can't forget that. A lot of my time is spent online. And because my roommate is still visiting her family, I have felt totally cut off from the world. I can go hours without talking to anyone and have watched a lot of movies in the past week just so there are some voices in the apartment.

Speaking of the apartment, I moved again. Yes, again. But I promise this will be the last time for at least a year, hopefully more. I used to love moving. It gave me the chance to purge unwanted stuff, meet new people and get a fresh perspective. But after being in six places in the past two years, I am really ready for some consistency in my life.

Wow, I never though I would say that.