Thursday, December 9, 2010

That Old Epiphany Thing

I don't have a lot of experience with writing contests. Generally, I avoid them because, well, the book, it ain't done (yet. Always yet.). This is kind of a sticking point since by entering a contest, I run the beautiful risk of having some ask for a full submission when I am yet without a full to submit. But really, at the crux of it all is the same fear that lies at the base of all my inertia – what if it really is total crap? At least by not entering, I could live in cotton-lined ignorance.

Last year, at the very last minute I entered the NJRW Put Your Heart in a Book contest, staying up till 4 in the morning on a schoo – er, work night to chop what I wanted to submit down into 25 pages plus a 5 page synopsis. Let no one tell you otherwise, those synopses are killers. I did not final, I did not want to final, but I did get some great comments and one excellent and one good score. Best of all, people liked it.

Since then, I've kept my eye out for contests that might be beneficial for me, always weighing entry costs against the benefits of final judges and exposure even though running the contest gauntlet is not yet at the top of my writing goals. Nonetheless, I entered the Beacon Unpublished Contest back in October. It had things that suited me namely, no synopsis or query letter required, 30 pages submission limit, and very good industry insiders as final judges.

My scores arrived over Thanksgiving weekend, and while I didn't finish (what is UP with these judges?) I did get what I consider to be really good scores. Judge #1 gave me 40 out of 45 points while Judge #2 came up with 38 out of 45. Better than points, ("it's an honor just to be nominated") were the fantastic comments and constructive criticism they both gave me such as:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Television Tuesdays: Human Target

I'm a big fan of the FOX action show, Human Target, so I was delighted when it was renewed for a second season. It sports one reformed assassin, one not so reformed, and a bitter former cop. Brought to life by Mark Valley, Chi McBride, and Jackie Earle Haley, from the start, this was a great, fun, exciting way to spend an hour every Wednesday night. Ever since the great Keen Eddie, I've been waiting for Mark Valley to get another chance at his own show and this immediately seemed to the perfect fit.

Imagine how I feel now to have to admit my disappointment with this new season.

The premise is this: reformed assassin Christopher Chance takes the impossible jobs protecting/helping people who are on their last hope for survival. If it sounds a bit like the intro to The A Team television show – "If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them..." – that's no mistake. Human Target invokes the very best of that era with strong characters and relationships – and ample chances to blow stuff up. Assisting our hero in his weekly endeavors at redemption is the former cop Winston (Chi McBride, late of Pushing Daisies, which I adored but I hear tell that he felt differently) and the morally ambivalent but fiercely loyal Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), who you do not want to ever meet in a dark alley. Week to week, they take cases, they save lives, they banter, all while pieces of their respective pasts are slowly, tantalizingly, revealed.

In the season one finale, the origins of Christopher Chance finally came out. "It's the name that strikes fear into a man." If you're having Dread Pirate Roberts déjà vu, you're not alone. In riveting flashback, no less than the iconic Lee Majors explained how Christopher Chance was a name passed down from one reformed human weapon to another. That finale was a masterpiece of infodump done right including how our Christopher Chance assumed the mantle of that name. It ended with Winston kidnapped by really bad guys, and Chance having to team up with his former mentor (Armand Assante, gleefully chewing every piece of furniture in sight) in order to rescue his friend from certain death.

Ooh baby.

Notorious for its lack of faith in new shows, FOX dumped the highly touted Lone Star after only 2 episodes and brought the season debut of Human Weapon forward from January to fill its spot. Cool, thought I. Less wait time before I can finally see the conclusion of that great cliffhanger.

Alas, whilst on hiatus (no, I don't know why I'm suddenly talking like a Victorian suffragette), Human Target had a production shake up that culminated with a new showrunner.

And man, can you see the difference.

Immediately noticeable is the absence of the evocative, "victorious" (according to my closed captions), theme song from Bear McCreary, who contributed so much gorgeous music to BSG. In its place, a pale imitation tries and fails to live up to its predecessor. Then the resolution (and I use the word lightly) of that great finale cliffhanger was wrapped up in the freaking cold open of the first episode. This was a huge waste of Timothy Omundson, who played a seriously creepy antagonist who could have been mined for several more back story episodes and instead was killed right off the bat. But the biggest change that is really beginning to bug me is this:

They added women.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Those Who Do, Don't Speak

Today is Veteran's Day, the day set aside for us to remember and thank those who have stood on the front lines in defense of freedom and liberty – and sometimes, simply because they were ordered to and honor and training compelled no other response.

My grandfather – my Dad-dad, often featured on this blog because he rocks hard
served in the Pacific Theatre of World War II on the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard. He is 92 now, but the memories of that service have not faded.

USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) c. 1944
Not too long ago, he told me the tale of his return, when the ship was anchored off the coast of California. It was one of the last carriers to arrive as one of its last duties was transporting discharged soldiers home. A fellow sailor sought Dad-dad out in the bowels of the ship to tell him Dad-dad's brother was on deck looking for him. When he went up top, he found my Great Uncle Henry, my grandmother's brother who was a Marine, himself recently returned from the war. They went off for a day doing whatever sailors do only on this day, after root beer at the club (he may have edited himself here), they went together to buy what would be my Great Aunt Vera's engagement ring.

It's been a few years since he told me this story, but I never forget it. I never forget how Uncle Henry referred to himself as my Dad-dad's brother when he was, in fact, a brother-in-law. Such distinctions had no value then. I never forget the smile that crossed Dad-dad's face when he revealed to me that it was Uncle Henry up top awaiting him or the pleasure learning his brother lived still gave him all those years later. I never forget how this was the first memory of that time that he ever shared with me, and that it was a memory of joy.

I never forget.

He doesn't talk about the war. He'll talk about what happened afterwards, once he even talked about a non-combative situation on the aircraft carrier, but he doesn't speak about what he did or what he saw.

And that in itself speaks volumes.

I was an adolescent when I first watched a Charlie Brown special called What Have We Learned?, the one with Snoopy as the ace WWI fighter pilot drinking root beer in the French café. The show concludes when Linus (who else) recites In Flanders Fields in a field of poppies. I'd never heard that poem before, and I had no clue to what event it referred. But my young self was so touched by the words, so impacted by the visual of cartoon poppies surrounding white crosses, the next day I went to the library to find and memorize it.

I can still recite that poem to this day (along with the opening paragraph to The Outsiders, but that's a different story), though I've only just realized that I've had the last line wrong lo these many years (still so Polish).

My grandmother's family sent seven men to World War II, including my Dad-dad; miraculously, seven came home. We are fortunate in the fact that it was the last time my family sent members into combat (we're mostly a family of women) but I am never unaware that others went instead (I'm thinking of you, Cavanaugh, wherever you are). They serve their country in battlefields around the world and many are suffering for it as well, as Aaron Sorkin illustrated this morning in his great piece for Veteran's Day.

Today, I'll call Dad-dad and thank him for his service (I tear up a little thinking about it) and I'll probably watch an episode or two of Band of Brothers and remind myself of the unfathomable courage those men exhibited every dang day.

In honor of those many men and women who have served and lived to tell about it, go thank or even hug a veteran or active duty soldier today, and tomorrow, and then again next week.

They've earned that and more.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Television Tuesday: Sherlock

I dislike plot points that invoke a disease as explanation for a lead character's personality quirks. I don't particularly like Temperance Brennan of BONES because I think she's a bit of an arrogant tool. Is she brilliant? Yes, unquestionably. But her assertion of rationality above all else is conveniently set aside when she's the one making leaps of judgment based on unqualified data, impressions, intuition, or gut instinct. Her inconsiderate and often outright offensive treatment of people is justified by her brilliance and success, and her rudeness and lack of social know how is generally excused (though never, to my knowledge, explicitly stated in the show itself) as due to her having a disorder along the lines of Aspergers syndrome.

I disagree. Now I know jack all about Aspergers syndrome beyond what TV tells me, and we all know how accurate that is, so please don't harangue me about how ignorant I am about the disease because I am well aware. Deconstructing the syndrome isn't my goal here. Commenting on its use as a character trait/excuse is.

I think Brennen's simply an arrogant if brilliant tool with no concern for the feelings or viewpoints of anyone else beyond herself (which are sacrosanct) and the people she values personally – and often, not even them – most especially evidence by the way she shifts her views of rationality based on what suits her best at the moment. This seems most evident to me when she insists on wielding a gun and going through a door side by side with her FBI "partner" Booth. A trained sniper and agent, Booth has the experience and training to go into potentially violent situations bearing arms. That Brennan vehemently and repeatedly insists she has every right to do the same without those years of training or specialty irks me sorely. I've stopped watching BONES because I can't tolerate the character any longer; not even the pleasure I have watching David Boreanaz succeed post-Angel is enough for me to further stomach more Brennan quirks. And with BIG BANG THEORY and COMMUNITY now in competing time slots with the show on Thursday nights, it's bye-bye-BONES.

As I watched A Study in Pink, the first episode of the BBC's brilliant new series SHERLOCK, early on I worried that this would be another quirky/annoying Aspergers-like sufferer exercising his brilliant mind coupled with an insulting and annoying personality in the pursuit of justice. I should have trusted the brilliant Stephen Moffat (co-creator of SHERLOCK and writer of A Study in Pink) more. Very early on in the episode, the exchange between Sherlock Holmes and the bitter pathologist with a grudge against him put my fears to rest.

"This from the psychopath," (or words to that effect) the pathologist sneers in response to one of Sherlock's startling observations.

"I'm not a psychopath," Sherlock retorts. "I'm a highly-functioning sociopath. Do your homework, [Smith]." This last bit of signature patronizing snark is laced with a keen self-awareness refreshing for its lack of glamor.

Color me hooked.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Good Kitty: A Cat Lover's Halloween

Happy Halloween!

I'm doing the poor man's black cat today (headband of cat ears, pumpkin earrings and socks, fluffy hair) and am basically using the day as an excuse to eat too much candy and laugh at my coworkers fantastic costumes. Here's a look at some of the atmosphere around here. Clearly we get into the spirit of things around the office today. Our costume party stars in six minutes and I've 2 big jobs to knock off first but that just adds the greatness to my lateness. I like Halloween. I'm no horror fan so its not the scares of the day that I enjoy (cause be frightened ain't funny, people!) but I love seeing the crazy costumes clever people can come up with. Set aside the creepy and the ghoulish and the certifiable and you have a special whacky day when the rules get set aside and the Id can take over for a little while in a good way. Also, I love me some Monster Mash.

Since my mom's beloved grandmother's birthday was 10/31, Mom always decorated our house with cool Halloween images that were funny and classic enough to offset the creepy. Of course, I love the black cats and the chance to be someone else for a while without people looking at you funny for a change - or if they do, this time, they're the ones with a problem.

On that note, watch this great video from (I SO want to go visit) where the kings of the jungle (and the rain forest and the mountains) are just big ole kitties playing with their bright orange pumpkins. Enjoy! May your sugar rush be worth it!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cleaning Out the In Box

I have a history of letting my e-mail inbox clutter up. Currently, there are 688 e-mails in my Gmail in box, a good portion of which are yet unread. Mostly this is a symptom of "I'll get back to that" syndrome. I'll mark something unread to remind myself to go back and deal with it and then I don't.

A few months ago, I unilaterally deleted everything in my office inbox. There were e-mails five and six years old in that thing and the sheer number of e-mails was staggering. Rather than waste hours sorting and filing, I deleted the lot, reasoning that if I hadn't needed any of them for this long, it was unlikely that their absence would make any difference.

But old habits abound and the in box, it grew anew. Yesterday, I girded my loins and waded through and about an hour later, only a neatly pruned list of five e-mails remained.

In a similar vein, I cleared out my writer's in box this weekend.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Television Tuesday: Fall Premiere Week

This week is fall premiere week on the telly, when the networks debut (for the most part) all their new shows and new seasons for existing shows. 

Ooohhhhh. Exciting.

Well, it is if you're like me and enjoy a slightly unhealthy addiction to the boob tube, as my father used to refer to it. I like me some good drama and comedy and there's a lot of T.V. shows that have been delivering just that for a while now (Justified, I 'm looking at you. Hurry back!). This year, for the first time that I've been aware of, it feels as though we've hardly gotten away from things over the summer. Adverts for new fall shows have been running since before the 2010 spring season ended and my EW magazine has been hemorrhaging ads for new shows practically since Memorial Day. It's hard to get excited for new programs when you're being hit over the head of them before you've had a chance to finish processing the finale of LOST (to be fair, I'm not sure that last bit will ever happen.)

But I am having television fatigue. Yes, I said it – I am weary of the boob tube. Even with my DVR, I simply cannot keep up and the time suck that's happening from trying to is becoming detrimental. 

As a result, I have decided to parse down my DVR "Must-See" list for this fall. A quick rundown after the jump.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thrilled to Pay the Piper

Courtesy of LOLCats
I love paying bills. I get particular pleasure mid-month when I clean out the household bills. There have been too many times when I haven't been able to pay when I've been out of work or out of sorts or simply having a bad run of it all at the same time. I know what it's like to dread the phone ringing and stare at the ceiling worrying throughout the night. Finally, there came a time when I had to make a conscious decision not to be afraid of any of it anymore but to answer the phone and open the mail and deal with it. It was tough and it was challenging but damn if a piece of paper was going to make me quake. 
It makes being able to pay things off now all the sweeter. For the first time, and I knock hardily on wood praying I don't jinx myself with this statement, there's more than only a flicker of dim light at the end of the tunnel.

Yesterday, I paid off an outstanding medical bill that vexed me on several points (do not get me started on the abysmal changes to our health insurance options that my company implemented for the year). The sheer joy of knowing that it's off my ample chest is almost indescribable. It's a real feeling of accomplishment, on a slightly smaller level than when I paid off my first car. Earlier this year, I finished paying off the bed I'd bought in 2009. Those were two debt goals I had this year and they've been reached earlier than I had originally planned. Whee!

As with other flawed decisions his administration has made (cough healthcare cough), the changes Obama has made to how credit cards determine payments has caused more day-to-day harm than good, certainly it did in my situation. I have two outstanding bank credit cards (which I have long since closed) that have large balances due to being out of work for an extended period of time in the early 00s, a time when my mother's physical disability kicked in full throttle. There was a lot of charging going on for nearly three years mostly on extracurricular things like food and gas and medication. I never once missed a payment or was delinquent in any way and I'm pretty damn proud of that. I am absolutely pathological about my credit rating and bust my butt to keep it pristine, even in the worst of times. This is why I've avoided using a consumer credit company all these years. While it can be incredibly helpful and beneficial, I wanted to wait until it was absolutely necessary so as not to ding my credit rating. 

This year, with the Obama changes, minimum due amounts are now being determined by taking 1% of the overall balance and adding the finance charge to it. The goal here is good: help consumers pay down more of the principal balance faster rather than have finance charges eat up nearly all of their monthly payments. Unfortunately, this "new math" increases the monthly amount due considerably and, for someone like me with a healthy balance on not one but two cards (they were really bad years), well, let's just say that the shriek I let out when I saw the amounts was matched only by the speed at which my hands began to shake.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fair and Balanced

I unload a lot on this blog about the frustrations of having my mother living with me and all her health issues that the last, oh, eight years have seen landing on our collective doorstep. It's only fair that I also include those things that go amazingly right because, let's face it, it doesn't happen often and it's good to be reminded that, as Tolkein put it, the darkness is only a small and passing thing. There is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.

My mother has had a medical aid here in our apartment since she was discharged from the rehabilitation center in late 2008. This is one of several benefits she receives under her Medical Medicaid qualification and it is priceless, truly. Isabelle, Mom's aid for the last two years, has been a real blessing in many ways but, as in all personal interactions, everything wasn't perfect. Among other things, her lack of conversational English was greatly prohibitive to any significant collaboration between her and my mother. She was very, very good to my Mom and they share a real and genuine affection, but there were bumps.

Isabelle went on vacation in early August and we had Mara for a week, and she was terrific but scheduling issues prevented her from staying more than a week. This was right at the time when I was going on vacation. Thankfully, Velka came to work with Mom and she couldn't be more perfect. With a little scheduling creativity, we were able to retain Veilka permanently. Unfortunately, the agency handled the situation with Isabelle poorly and there were some hurt feelings in the end. I volunteered to be the bad guy and the agency – and my mom – leaped at the option. Fine by me.

Velka is a dream. She is outgoing and positive. She chats with my mom and is a real companion to her. She monitors her medication and her new, multiple treatments for hands, feet, and lungs that Mom has to go do each day, and – Lord be praised – she proactively insists on and monitors Mom's exercises to the point of counting the reps and keeping her focused. The difference in Mom is atomic. This is best catalogued by the fact that her text messages to me have decreased from 15+ some days (and that's not an exaggeration) to 2 – maybe. Last week, while I was chauffeuring my grandfather to the VA clinic in center city Philadelphia , Velka's fan belt broke and she wasn't able to make it to the apartment. Throughout the day, she sent repeated text messages to Mom to check on her and make sure she'd taken her meds and eaten when she should showing an above and beyond commitment to her charge. Frankly, she checked in with my mom more than I did that day.

Now when I get home at night, Mom isn't climbing the walls, desperate to talk to someone (me) when all I want is the telly, the kitties, and some peace and quiet after a day editing pharma. And things get done! My sister's Christmas gifts are now packed and ready to be shipped – just in time for this Christmas. Mom's bedroom is transformed into organization – well, maybe organization is pushing it, but I can walk in and not trip over a thousand things and that's genius. And Mom herself has improved dramatically.

It's amazing how something so simple as having the right person in place at the right time can make such a huge difference.

See, I can manage fair and balanced. Some of the time.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Death and All His Friends – Grandfather Edition

On the phone with my grandfather

K: Hi there!

Dad-dad: Who's this?

K: Kiersten

DD: Who?

K: (shouting) IT'S KIERSTEN!

DD: Oh, hi! You don't have to shout.

K: (sighing) OK. How ya doin'?

DD: Oh, all right I guess. That pain doctor wants to burn my nerves

K: He's getting on your nerves?

DD: No, he wants to burn the ends of the nerves in my spine off. Where I have pain.

K: Um, I don't think so. Who is this guy?

DD: The pain doctor I've been seeing. The injections aren't working see. Your mom wants me to see Dr. J- first

K: I was going to say that. I definitely want you to get his opinion before you let anyone burn anything. He's a great pain doctor. He did really well by Mom when she lived down there. If anyone's taking a sodering iron to your nerves, it better be Dr. J-

DD: Yeah. I need to get this cardiologist stuff done first. Your aunt takes care of fall of that. She knows the guys at the hospital, see. I don't know why I don't just call Lownes and be done with it.

K: Who's that? The cardiologist?

DD: No! Lownes. The funeral home.

K: (laughing) Oh! Of course. Well, sure, that's definitely an option. A little premature perhaps…

DD: Yeah, I was talking to Peggy. She's the lady that organizes the van transportation and everything, mostly with the assisted living and healthcare people. She set me up when your aunt and I went down to the VA clinic last week in the van. And I was telling her that my granddaughter was driving down from north Jersey next week to take me back so I wouldn't need the van again.

K: Ri-ight.

DD: And I said to her, we should just go get a discount at Lownes. Six for the price of one.

K: (laughing) Did she laugh?

DD: (chuckling) Oh yeah.

K: Who are the other five people? Do you have anyone in mind?

DD: I dunno. I'm sure we could rustle up a few candidates around here.

K: Yeah. That shouldn't be any trouble for you.

DD: Whadythey call it when they drain all the blood from you?

K: Exsanguination?

DD: (with exaggerated patience) Noooo. I don't wanna bleed to death.

K: Mummification?

DD: Closer. Yeah. Embalming! That's what we should do. Just have them embalm me and be done with it.

K: That would save me from having to drive down there next week.

DD: See what I mean? Works for everyone.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wrestling With My Better Grammar Angels

Being a writer with a day job as an editor is a recipe for madness, because, inevitably, the little quirks of everyday language that most people would never, ever notice stand out like a garishly lit billboard in Times Square. I get a tad irked when "which" is used without being preceded by a comma as is grammatically correct in 99% of its usage. I'm irritated when sentences end in prepositions like "with" to the point that I've spent upwards of 10 to 15 minutes rewriting a sentence to try and avoid it only to (usually) fail. And the whole who/whom thing bugs me from time to time even though 9 times out of 10, I'm getting it wrong myself. Like any good editor, the urge to correct such errors is nigh irresistible.

It's tough because so much of our spoken language is grammatically incorrect and that's before we start looping in slang and urban and regional dialects. These days, there's almost a negative connotation to it and if you insist on proper grammar use in everyday conversation, you'll quickly get tagged as an elitist snob or something of that ilk. I wonder when it became a bad thing to insist on the "King's" English, so to speak. Probably about the time we picked up muskets and pointed them across the pond.

I was buying cat food the other day – or cat fud as I tend to write it on my shopping list thanks to an old Boynton cartoon. Yes, I make a list. I'm not completely undomesticated. At the checkout counter, one of those paw shaped magnets caught my eye. "Who Rescued Who?" it asks. Charmed, I bought it for the CR-V. It wasn't until a few days later when I was loading groceries that I looked at it, smiled as I always do, and then thought, "Shouldn't it be Who Rescued Whom?"

Well that was that. Seriously, people, it would not leave me alone. Finally, I caved and asked my boss to weigh in. No kidding, we spent ten minutes debating it on the phone and she even suggested I look it up in our AMA style guide. I managed to restrain myself from that level of craziness, but it was a near thing. And I only managed to do that because I decided the magnet was wrong. It should definitely be "Who Rescued Whom?" and that's all I have to say on the matter.

Except it taunts me. Each and every time I swing open the back gate to the CR-V, there it is, waving its irregular usage at me like discount shoes in the wrong size.

To put the cheeky thing in its place, I'm on the hunt now for a magnetic "M" of sufficient size to tack onto its end. That'll teach it to mess with me.

This grammar stuff ain't for the weak, you know.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Television Tuesday: Emmy Awards Roundup

The Emmy awards were last night. Did you notice? I did, even though I didn't get to actually see most of the telecast as Verizon Fios decided that NBC would be the one channel my DVR would NOT receive last night, but only between the hours of 8 and 11pm. What recorded on my DVR instead was three hours of blue screen. Every. Other. Channel. Worked. Just not the one showing the biggest television awards in the world. So off to the Internet I go – except NBC decided not to have a streaming broadcast, no doubt to appease advertisers. I spent a good 20 minutes searching for a streaming broadcast and found one site that would let me view it, but only after I filled out a survey for car insurance including all of my information, or downloaded a game to my computer and that was not going to happen. I wound up listening to it instead, woefully believing that I could watch it all later on my DVR. Boy, was I wrong. Still, I figured NBC would have clips up on its website this morning, but alas, only of the acceptance speeches and the Community promos for Infiniti (which were funny because that cast is very funny, but come on already!). Basically, it was an epic fail night for Fios and NBC as far as my household was concerned.

Ergo, rather than my typical blow-by-blow post mortem, I'm forced to comment in brief (Ha! Brief. Right.) bursts of flawed and slightly delayed opinion.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I came late to the social networking realm. It took me a long time (read, most of my early life) to work my way out of the desperate (and natural) urge to fit in with the world around me. By my mid-20s, I learned to not only embrace my tendency to be more than a little left of whoopee, but to trumpet it too. So when my sister got on my case about joining Facebook, I pshawed and scorned until I tried it, and then I proceeded to saturate myself in it. For the first few weeks, I was drowning in the thrill of finding people I'd regretted losing touch with, while enjoying not "friending" those people I was glad to be rid of. Petty? Maybe, but that's one of the pleasures of Facebook. I can be petty and no one will know about it. Now, I never got involved with Farmville or Mafia Wars. For me, Facebook was (and is) simply a place to reconnect and chat and share without having to be in the same room.

I had a reluctant attitude towards Twitter in the beginning too, though that was more out of ignorance and confusion. 140 characters? I haven't spoken in only 140 characters since I gained the power of speech. And it's not like I need another venue at which to talk. Jeez, I barely shut up as it is; I even talk in my sleep! But I kept hearing how important it was for book promotion (rock on LSFW and NJRW!). Then I was noticing great conversations from the people behind blogs I read like Smart Bitches and Dear Author (see sidebar for link) that I was missing because I wasn't on Twitter. And you know how I hate being out of the loop…

Monday, August 9, 2010

Notes From Pool Side

I know, I know, I've dropped the blog baton again. Bad Krum.

These last few weeks have been busy or boring depending on which day I was on. We've been experiencing consecutive vacation weeks at work shorting my department by one since mid-July. Typically, this means the remaining two people not on vacation are swamped with heavy volumes of work, which raises tensions and stress levels and other things. During the short interval between manager and asst. manager vacations, I was sick with the cough that wouldn't die and desperately wanted my lung to be outside my chest. Add in my birthday the first week of August and cap it all off with Major Work Drama as just before my spontaneous vacation (thanks M&S!) my P*****account at work exploded first with one problem, sussed out over a couple of days, then with another that blew up (for me) at 4pm Friday. Not. Fun.

The end of July brought the Romance Writers of America national conference in Orlando that I did not get to go to, (next year in Manhattan baby!) so I was a tad blue about that. Then Dorchester Publishing announced it was going full digital with print-on-demand trade paperbacks available for some titles after digital release. This is a BFD in romance publishing especially, so the Internet, it has been churning around my little hobby (as my mother sometimes thinks of it.) Speaking of mothers and vacation...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Return of Car Karma

My poor car karma is legendary – or perhaps more accurately, notorious. I've had a good run of it though lately, through no skill of my own, I assure you (and here I'm choosing not to include my mother's past unfortunate experiences with my Civic).

By my poor car karma returned in early June when I was rear-ended while passing through Manyunk, PA en route to spend the day with my grandmother. I'd stopped for the light at Green Lane when WHOMP! A car slammed into the back of mine. Apparently, there had been a bee in the car with the young girl driving it (without license or updated insurance card) and she "freaked out." Oy. Vey.

Let me take a moment here to say that you should pray never to be involved in an accident in Pennsylvania. Of course, you should pray never to be in an accident period, but Pennsyltucky turns the already difficult process into a nightmare. Apparently, the new law states that cops do not come to the scene of an accident unless the auto damage is such that a vehicle is undriveable or there are injuries. One must visit their local precinct the next day and fill out a police report. Except if you happen to be from out-of-state. Then you're supposed to call in to the precinct where the accident occurred. Except no one has told this to the precincts, because when I called in, I got an enormous run around where I was bumped from precinct to town hall to 911 operator and back to the precinct. This included a long, useless conversation with a new 911 operator who took the whole report over the phone with the beep beep of the 911 mechanism sounding the whole time only to be told by a new supervisor at its completion that this was completely the wrong office to take the report and I should call the local precinct and do it all over again. The officer then hung up on me. I'll leave you to guess what I said then.

Anyways, once I'd stopped shaking, I looked at my back bumper and was glad I'd bitten the bullet and bought a small SUV. To the naked, untrained eye there was limited damage but once the insurance assessor and the auto body shop got a look at it, more extensive repairs were determined. So my CR-V has been in the shop since last Tuesday and I've been driving a Jeep Liberty rental. It was a cross between that and a Kia Spectra and as they were offered at the same price, I took the Jeep.

I hate this car.

First of all, for a good-sized small SUV, it has small seats. The center console bulges into the driver's leg space and the space is narrow enough that the inner door handle and seat belt buckle press their images into my hips. Now, I admit, there's a lot of me to accommodate, but this is a little ridiculous. There's no cruise control either. A year ago, this wouldn't have bothered me as I'd never had cruise control in my life, but I've gotten used to it in my CR-V. And the Jeep is a noticeably heavier car; I'm finding it requires constant concentration. If I look down at the radio or the a/c control for a second, it drifts and if I zone out during for the smallest moment, suddenly I'm doing 80+. Despite my (OK, well-earned) heavy foot reputation, this is faster than I want to go. There's the position of things. When I glance down at the dash, the first thing I see is the RPM counter. To check the speedometer, I must look left. So there's maybe a 2 second disconnect before my brain registers that the speedometer is not where is should be and then tells my eyes to glance left. During this 2 second delay, while my attention is off the road, the car drifts. That's when I also realize that somehow I'm doing 85 mph. Also, it's a hatchback so I have to step back from the trunk after opening it to avoid being smacked in the head by the dang door.

Then there are the little things. Look, up till last year, all I knew was the one-armed bandit, roll-up window mechanism, but I got spoiled in that one year. The driver's side window goes down with one click but not up. And the lack of cruise control really bugs me. This is a big, expensive car and yet, no cruise control? It has an automatic function on the lights, with is nifty; you turn them on auto and leave it there. But when it's only raining, I can't tell if they're on or not, which is the law in New Jersey. With the constricted nature of the seats, I can't even reach into the back seat for anything. No sky hooks either, which makes getting in and out of the Jeep interesting with its height, heavy doors, and no extra loading ledge. There's only two cup holders (yes Dad that does matter), which are weirdly placed, and the a/c takes nearly a full minute to turn on, much less cool off the cab. It's a real pain in the donkey to park too; judging the space difference is dicey and I'm frequently hanging 1 or 2 feet out of the space for fear of bumping the front end.

Is there anything I like about it? Sure.

Um…hmmm…lemme think.

OK – it has interval wipers with gradations, not just one interval and then you have to go full throttle. I had that in my Geo Prism and really missed it when I transferred to Hondas. The gear shift is back in the center console where it belongs – getting used to the CR-V's on dash gear shift placement was a challenge, let me tell you. The engine is big. No, I don't know how big. Whatdya think this is, Top Gear (love you guys!)? But it's big and lugs along unless I push the accelerator to get it to downshift and speed up already, dang it. It's actually on the quiet size despite its size and does a decent pick up when I downshift without the resisting noises my CR-V sometimes blesses me with. Altogether, it's definitely a much quieter ride, offset by the one thing that's really makes the Jeep bearable.

Satellite radio.

Took me two days to realize I had it, but it's been pumping ever since. I've got octane rock, alternative rock, and coffeehouse rock on constant play with country (yes, country, deal with it), 40s on 40s and classical on the other presets. No commercials, no ridiculous DJ shenanigans, no multi-plays of the same 3 or 4 Boss songs, or Zepplin or Floyd or the Stones or AC/DC just to get to one Muse or Airborne Toxic Event, or Kaiser Chiefs or Hailstorm, or any other off-the- Billboard-list alternative rock bands that I'm enjoying. It does peter out under overhangs and overpasses but those are momentary losses and after years of DirecTV snafus, I'm a duck –it just rolls off my back.

It's a good thing I found the radio too, because I just found out that the auto body shop (Midland Park Auto Body; terrific guys doing terrific work) found more damage to my car as they were reattaching the door and it'll take at least another day. Frankly, I'm expecting to go through the weekend with this puppy, which will include a trip to PA this Saturday.

At least the tunes will be cranking. Pray for good car karma.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Appointment Television – The Choir

If you're not already watching BBCAmerica's The Choir – well, why the heck aren't you? It's perfectly lovely, a wonderful, uplifting treat.

Here's the sitch: Choirmaster Gareth Malone believes that every student should be exposed to music. Oh forget this. I'll never summarize it well enough. Here's a snippet from the BBCAmerica Web site.

From schools with no tradition of music to blue collar neighborhoods in need of a community focus, Malone is a man on a mission. It's an emotional journey of shocks and surprises, challenges and rewards with heartwarming results. At BBC America's session at TCA in January, Gareth achieved the unthinkable by getting the journalists in attendance on stage to sing a rollicking rendition of "Barbara Ann." This was a testament to both Gareth's fearless passion to unite people in song and his ability to make it fun for everyone.

From hit TV singing contest shows, to musical based films and television series to millions of downloaded songs - singers are front and center. It could be said singing is everywhere, but where are the choirs? Classically trained Malone embarks on a groundbreaking journey to save the choir and prove it's cool to sing together. Malone dives deep into the community's culture discovering where classical music stopped and what will ignite these people to be inspired to unite and sing.

For more info, check out

Pretty cool, right?

I've had my share of choirmasters in my time, a handful of them quite spectacularly hitting all the high notes and not just vocally. I was terribly excited for this show from the moment I saw the advert and couldn't wait for last week's premiere. The show completely rewarded my anticipation; I was totally enchanted. Gareth is an absolute delight, an inexhaustible champion for these kids and (in later episodes) the adults who make up his choirs, but a strident task master too. He inspires and challenges them all and they simply light up around him (though this sometimes takes a little time). It doesn't hurt that he's immensely talented and bears a striking resemblance to a certain doctor. Who else could pull this off?

Don't let press comparisons to the zeitgeist show of the last season, Glee, turn you away from this gem. That's simply the pitch and the marketing. In fact, The Choir has little to do with that campy, polished show (and I am fond of Glee).

In the 13 weeks that the show runs this summer, Gareth will put together and transform three choirs. With Northholt High School, he aims to take a nascent choir all the way to China for the World Choir Olympics. Next he takes a year-long teaching position at the all boys Lancaster School, determined to build a 100 voice strong choir to perform at Royal Albert Hall at a school with no music department and where singing is practically a dirty word. Finally, Gareth goes to the town of South Oxhey where "a divided community struggles to shake off a poor reputation that stretches back decades." Can a community choir revive the people of South Oxhey?

Tune in and tune up to find out.

Edited 7/14/10 to add: It helps if I tell you where and when to find it, right? The Choir is on BBCAmerica on Wednesday nights at 10pm.

Disclaimer: I did not receive compensation for this gushing review and Gareth is not coming to my apartment to serenade me in thanks anytime soon. Though really, tout suite on that one, kiddo.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hot Days in the Summertime

These days, everybody's whinging about the heat, me included. And I was born in this kind of weather. Well, at least this time of year.

We don't have a/c so every fan we've got has been working overtime all weekend. I move the small one to the kitchen to blast on while I've been working. And I have been working, lovies. Oh yes indeedio. I've powered through moments of deep doubt, I've rewritten and slashed and moved and compiled. I have four open Word documents on my desk top right now, the actual WIP, a file for lines I've cut, just in case, one for lines I want to use later so I don't forget them, and the last a section I wrote a few weeks ago that I'm hoping to have incorporated into the main document by the end of today. Irons, they are in the fire and piping hot. Why not? Everything else is.

It's a discipline I'm not used to – not in me, and it hasn't been easy to maintain. I spent seven hours at Starbucks yesterday working and then another three when I got home. And I'm back again today. My forearms are sore from leaning on the hard table, my back is aching from hunching over the laptop and man does my butt hurt from the chairs. But I'm here, and I have a plan of action for the day, which, with any luck will end with a dip in the community pool and another Tessa Dare novel.

Sidebar: I read Dare's Goddess of the Hunt Sunday while enjoy the cool of the pool, and I mean that literally because every, single child interesting in splashing, throwing balls, or jumping off the side of the pool did so right around me. No matter how many times I moved up and down the wall, and there were plenty of them, children would find me. Once, another woman was following my example (reading while standing in the pool) only two feet away from me and she was TOTALLY DRY. Of course she was – all the little heathens we hanging around me!

Look, if you chose to read a book in the community pool, you're going to get wet. Thems the breaks. I get that. But kicked, bumped, totally drenched, and literally leapt over? Srssly, they were jumping over my head. Sigh. I need my own damn pool.

OK – mean old lady rant over.

Goddess of the Hunt is an amazing novel. Already, I have the next two in Dare's series on interlibrary loan request and as I said, if my day goes the way it should today, I'll be back in the pool (glowering) and diving into her Once Dance with a Duke. I figure historical are a safe bet to read when I'm writing because it not the subgenre that I write in, so if her words get in my head and seep into my writing, they'll be easy to find and delete. As I've taken craft seminars and worked on shaping my own work to be ever better, I read books differently. I'm looking for the things I've been taught.

Well, I looked up at page six of Goddess of the Hunt and realized Dare did in six pages what I had yet to achieve in fifty. Hero and heroine clearly and well defined. Conflict defined, setting defined, all with showing, not telling. And funny, witty interactions between h/h from the get go.

Truly I am a swallow in a cavalcade of eagles. But rather than feeling completely hopeless, I've dug in deeper instead. I remind myself, constantly, that nobody gets it right the first time. That what I'm reading is years of work and rewrites and critiques forming a final product. I tell myself, again and again, that I don't have to do it exactly the same way that my way can be different, that it should be different that, outside of grammar and basic craft, there is no wrong way. That swallows are still able to fly. Some of them even carry coconuts.

Friday, July 2, 2010

America's Birthday

I plan to spend this holiday weekend mostly at my laptop with side trips to the community pool, West Point for fireworks, and perhaps cleaning and rearranging my room (though probably not that last).

I wish you all a safe, restful, and fun holiday celebrating family and good friends and barbeque and fireworks and most of all, our hard-won freedoms in defense of which men and women continue to stand in our place on battle scared front lines across the world.

Though not at all related to the 4th of July, or even to America, here's is a fantastic clip of the band Muse at the Glastonbury Festival in southern England this summer, playing WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME for their encore performance with a little help from The Edge himself. Enjoy!

And may God continue to shed His almighty grace on the United States of America.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Random Funny

The other day, I was reading a New York Times review of a new movie called The Killer Inside Me. This is not a movie I'm going to see - ever - nor is it anything I was particularly interested in especially once I read the brief description. I don't do serial killer movies and I find no aesthetic value even in what could be an extraordinary performance of said sociopath. Silence of the Lambs might be the only movie of that type I've ever willingly gone to see and that was more because of the guy I was going with than the movie itself. Though I do enjoy a good villain (Alan Rickman's over-the-top Sheriff of Nottingham and Hans Gruber top my favorites), I'm not big on glorifying that kind of dark, perverse evil that can and does exist within mankind much less celebrating it. I don't do horror movies either, mostly because I don't think getting the crap scared out of me is entertaining.

Hey, it works for some and there's no judging here, only love (you whackjobs), but it's just not for me.

Still, the review itself for Killer Inside Me was interesting enough that I journeyed on. And I was rewarded with this last jewel tucked in at the end of the piece amongst the rating notification for this depraved and violent movie. And I quote:
“The Killer Inside Me” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent to adult guardian). Sex, violence, violent sex, sexualized violence. And smoking.
There's SMOKING?! Oy, surely the essence of depravity!


It's not enough this guy escalates from increasing and various violent degrees of sexual congress to outright torture and murder. Like Whedon's penchant to identify his villains by having them light up, the killer inside this guy smokes - truly he is evil. (P.S. Spike, even in reruns, you're still my Big Bad.)

I love this reviewer's wicked sense of humor. That's my kind of MPAA rating caveat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Narnia: Maybe This Time

Narnia is my home away from home.

The summer I turned 14 (or maybe it was the summer after) I spent Friday nights with some of the best in the world, swimming, laughing, eating, and studying/discussing The Chronicles of Narnia book by book. Sure, I'd read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LWW), but before then, I'd never delved more deeply into the canon. Each week, we read one of the seven books, took a quiz, and discussed the novel particularly the religious and moral themes and insights. At the end of the summer, there was a final, very in-depth exam that, once passed, made you an official Knight of Narnia. I confess I never finished the exam (thought I still have it in a box somewhere).

To this day, those summer nights remain a shining memory amongst the angst of my teenage years.

Imagine my utter glee when I first heard the news that a feature film was being made of LWW, which a franchise of the entire series planned should the first film prove successful. Of course the combination of a beloved children's book brought to life on screen and the Christmas holiday made it a smashing success.

I loved the movie of LWW for many reasons. I was involved with the grass roots marketing campaign for the film, which was very exciting, so I was invested from early on. And they got a lot of things right in this movie. Tumnus, the Beavers, Father Christmas, the White Witch, the general sight and feel of Narnia. I've a few pet peeves; I wouldn't be me without them. I'm not crazy about Liam Neeson as Aslan, especially not the same year he was Raj Ah Gul in Batman Begins – added to Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars: Phantom Menace, that's too much mentoring from one man – but he does well enough. Also, it's hard to get a centaur right (no one has yet that I've seen) and after years of watching moviemakers try, I've decided it's the whole head thing. Horses' heads stretch out from their bodies; on a centaur the man/woman head stretches straight up and it just looks wrong. But while they softened the Christianity, they didn't jettison it completely and that counts big with me. I know Andrew Adamson (director and co-producer) loved the book as a child and was committed to doing it right and I think that shines through.

I was excited about the next installment, Prince Caspian (PC) because I wanted to see Narnia explode beyond the Christmas story even the uninitiated knew something about. But here's where Disney and Adamson (back again wearing multiple hats) went way off the reservation. PC has a slow start with dual stories running simultaneously, which is not how the story originally unfolded, though I have to allow that there probably wasn't any better way to reveal the two stories cinematically.

In the book, when the four slightly-older Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy) return to a much older Narnia, they rescue Trumpkin, the dwarf who was sent to find anyone who responded to the magical trumpet's call for help (I'm skipping a lot because I really don't want to go too far into the plot here). Trumpkin spells out Caspian's back story to the Pevensies. Having Trumpkin tell the story of Prince Caspian to those who portend to be his rescuers doesn't make for an engaging film; it's the "show, don't tell" storytelling ethos. So Adamson shows us Caspian's story first and has him blow the trumpet, not after being surrounded at Aslan's How and effectively reaching his lowest point as its written in the original book, but during his initial escape from King Miraz's castle.

By doing this, the film looses the rich context of the Pevensie's journey. It's during this journey that the essence of the story is explored, that of choosing the right path even in the face of great objection and even harassment from those that matter most to you. This is what Lucy experiences when she maintains that she could see Aslan and he was directing her to go another way. Peter's bullheaded desire to reestablish himself as a king of Narnia rears up here, not in a trumped up pissing match with Caspian. In the film, this journey isn't given nearly enough opportunity to explore these once and current kings and queens of Narnia.

Because the Pevensies deal with these themes en route, they are already in their Aslan mindset when they finally arrive at Aslan's How. In the novel, their arrival occurs as Caspian is being confronted by the witch and the hag, when the Pevensies storm the darkened central chamber and kill the baddies. In the film, it's the Pevensies that face off against those traitors who would resurrect the White Witch, effectively denying Caspian his own revelatory moment to "do the right thing" when alone and under great pressure and almost certain death, Caspian stands up to the evil denizens and irrevocably aligns himself to follow Aslan's way.

It's a pretty awesome moment, actually. In the book. In the film, the replacement confrontation between Edmund and the essence of the White Witch is engrossing, but the themes are well trod. Edmund made his choice long ago and has risked his life for that choice to prove it. The White Witch holds no more threat or enticement to him. This scene only goes to show how much Edmund has grown and how he has managed to surpass Peter in mien and bearing.

Look, I can forgive a failed, mid-film castle invasion scenario shoe horned into the story to add risk and cost to our character development and I even enjoyed the requisite end battle too, (though don't get me started on the river god apparition and its blatant and bad rip off of Lord of the Rings). C.S. Lewis' style doesn't help the modern filmmaker either; like Tolkien, he liked to describe a battle in retrospect, following the "oh my God, I can't believe what I just saw happen" narrative style. And thank God they got Reepicheep's tail sacrifice correct, or heads would have rolled. But while LWW was so faithful to the material while effectively cutting and parsing down for the modern audience (though I missed the lion, reanimated from the White Witch's stone garden, repeating reminding other Narnians that Aslan said "we lions." Little things), PC went way too far off the reservation for the purist and yet did not manage to commit to it enough to bring in the newbies.

Disney apparently had a similar reaction to PC, though probably more over less healthy box office returns compared with LWW than content adaptations objections). The studio had enough of something to discontinue the franchise. This is not a bad thing. The Chronicles of Narnia have real risk and real cost in its short pages and trying to express that while keeping it Disneyfied and gentle enough for kids is a fine line that is rarely walked successfully. Just look at PC

Despite my dislike of PC (I don't own it, the ultimate thumbs down) I was disappointed to think that none of the other novels would get their shot at a red carpet premiere. I'm actually not looking to see all the novels adapted. I'd be happy to get through the first four, rounding out the film franchise with The Silver Chair. The Last Battle is cataclysmic, but I won't be overly disappointed if it doesn't make the cut as the story is less rich what with the donkey impersonating the lion and that annoying ape. Plus, there's a reason not too many people remember The Horse and His Boy (read it and find out) not to mention some potentially dodgy cultural issues with the Arabic-like villains. And while Narnia's origin story in The Magician's Nephew could be a fun stand alone, I think seeing Narnia emerge through LWW is more poetically potent. But I really want to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (my ultimate favorite) and The Silver Chair unfold on the screen so long as they do it right.

Fortunately, the franchise was picked up by Fox, which normally would send me into tizzies of discontent, but for this one, anything not Disney is pretty good. Adamson is taking a back seat, serving as producer but ceding writing and directing duties to others. Michael Apted is directing. Among other things, Apted was responsible for directing duties on three of the best episodes of the first season of Rome and that field was a competitive one as nearly every episode was mind-bogglingly fantastic. The point is he's done more than Shrek (sorry Adamson) before coming to Narnia. Experience counts.

There is one major character shake up. Eddie Izzard, of whom I am ridiculously fond, was the voice of the warrior mouse Reepicheep in PC. Via, he will now be voiced by Bill Nighy. OK – I had a whole paragraph here about how great Bill Nighy is, but when searching for the link below, I discovered via that he's been replaced by Simon Pegg. Shame, it was a really good paragraph.

Reepicheep is sacrosanct. After Aslan, he's the one Narnian you do not want to miscast.

Do not mess with the mouse.

Izzard was great, playing the charming humor and dedication of the big, loyal warrior in the tiny body like an endearing version of Shrek's Puss in Boots without the tomcatting around, pun intended. But in Dawn Treader, Reepicheep becomes more, oh, so much more, and ultimately is the heart and soul of the story.

Simon Pegg will be great too, I'm sure of it. He's a closer match to Izzard's voice than Nighy and he'll definitely bring the funny; we'll have to see how he does with the more serious and poignant aspects of Reepicheep. But I was really looking forward to hearing Bill Nighy's humor, his talent, his plumy voice in Reepicheep, my favorite character of the Narnian saga.

Where am I going with all this? Right here. The new trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The first time I saw it I gasped, and a few seconds later gasped again, and then literally clutched my metaphoric pearls. I saw Reepicheep in the bow of the row boat, I saw lilies in the water, and I saw a wall of water flowing upside down.

"Return to magic. Return to hope. Return to Narnia," the tagline exhorts.

Oh yes, please.

I think, I think, maybe this time they got it right. On December 10th, we'll all find out.

Further up. Further in.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Soapbox Rant: Volkswagen Advert

Dear Volkswagen,

I love your cars. Really. German engineering – MWAH! Big kiss. Pain in the ass expensive to repair, but great fun to drive and you can drive those puppies into the ground. Also, potential to be incredibly cute in a way that doesn't bug (heh, see what I did there? no? read on) the crap out of me. By which, I mean the reincarnation of the Beetle. Kudos on that.

I grew up with Volkswagen cars. First there was the grass green Beetle of my infancy (really ugly). When my parents sold it, my sister and I stood by the driveway sobbing as the new owners drove it away. Mom and Dad traded up for the dark green Beetle of my childhood, followed by the grass green Rabbit of my pre-adolescence and finally the dark green Rabbit of my teenage years. The 'rents definitely had a green theme going on there. After that came the one lemon, the red Jetta, a totally cash suck for many years. Probably it was the color change that did it.

I loved that last Rabbit. I called it The Turtle thanks to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle plush toy (Michelangelo, natch. Kowabunga dude) won on the boardwalk of the Jersey shore that adorned my dashboard. And the whole green thing. Sadly, the name never caught on with anyone but me, but that was enough. That Rabbit was bliss, that car was freedom. And it was my first and last stick shift transmission. I loved driving that car.

Ergo, I have the pedigree for this rant. So pay attention.

It is NOT Punch Dubya. We are not, however much we may desire, punching George W. Bush every time we see a VW.


Get it right, you gits.

This is a (car) game specific to the VW Beatle – AND ONLY THE BEETLE. Beetle=a bug=buggy=Punch Buggy. I don't know where it came from or how it began, but I do know what it is and especially, what is it not. And every single time I see your commercial, I scream at the screen, "It's Punch Buggy you brainless gits!" If I was deliberating on whether or not to buy a VW right now, this would have lost you a sale. Yep, it's that important.

Listen. If you're going to use the parlance of slang that has risen up around one of your seminal, for better or for worse, products, DO NOT bastardize it by stretching a dodgy advertising campaign across the entire line of automobiles. All you're doing is creating bad will amongst those of us savvy enough to know and fond enough to remember your original incarnation of said model (namely me) for whom Punch Buggy is a reminder of long cars rides to the Poconos and other parts of the tri-state area when my sister and I negotiated for real estate of the back seat while we sang songs and played games (and fought) to pass the time in an era before DVD players and iPhones and iPods and whatever else parents stick on or at their kids to shut them up became de rigueur.

Seriously man! Don't violate my childhood with your flawed marketing schemes.

Deep breath.

I aim an emphatic finger in your collective direction.

Don't. Mess. With the Punch Buggy.



Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Design Maintenance

Notice anything new ye few, ye happy few who read my ramblings? Behold the new layout.

Blogger came up with some new templates recently so yesterday I played around with the template.

I'm quite keen for maps, a fondness shared by my father who never met a map he didn't like. When on road trips, we used to joke that we were in real trouble when Dad brought the map out. But when I knew I'd be driving around Ireland, the first thing I did was buy a map. Still have it too; I love that map. My mom bought me a TomTom for my birthday and I had her return it (one of the rare times I exercised my desires on a gift already given) because I'd prefer to figure a route out myself (and I wanted the new Kodak color printer). So when I saw the new map template, I thought, wow, blogger actually got something right.

I really dislike blogger and only remain here because I'm too dang lazy to transfer to wordpress even though I know it's heaps and heaps better and easier to use. I'll get there soon though and until then, I'll just keep playing with the template. I started out with a standard one for about a year that I never really liked, too unexciting, and then instigated the light house motif last summer. Now I'm segueing into map territory – here be dragons for sure. I like the thematic implications too, almost as though this is a place yet uncharted where I tap tap along at my keyboard writing whatever comes to mind and sometimes unwisely posting it here, but there you go.

Which is where ye few come in. Weigh in, will ya? I'm not crazy about the salmon background but I like how the map looks on it. The trick is getting everything to show up on a light background without resorting to too heavy a color for the text and accendiaries. I don't like web sites with dark backgrounds. I'm not writing paranormal here so I don't need the dark and stormy night implications. And blogger gives you a color palette to work from and though I'm never quite happy with the choices, I do what I can with what I'm given. I'm also trying to keep from simply making everything reds and blues and be done with it.

I do see myself biting the bullet in the near future and getting official about this web site stuff. Until then, it's trial by error, still working out the blog kinks and changing the look to suit my mood at any given moment.

Let me know what you think of my latest attempt at design maintenance.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cryin’ on the Inside

I had a phenomenally inspiring weekend that kicked off with the Long Island Romance Writers annual networking luncheon. I was a luncheon virgin having never attended before, but it was a fabulous event that I'll tell you all about - some other time.

As usual, attending a writing event lit the banked fire under my butt to write. I've actually been doing well, but I got stuck in editing the old stuff again in the hopes that it would inspire new stuff and, well, that never works. I have a couple scenes blocked in my head I only need to get them down on the page as they do no one any good locked in my brain. I churned the whole bloody thing out Saturday night with 3600 words spewing from my fingertips and then Sunday I massaged them a little and added till I reached the 5200 level. I'm pretty pleased with myself, but that won't last, and I'm not writing this to fluff up my traditionally drooping wings.

The scene is when my heroine delivers grievous news to a girl's parents. OK – yes, the girl is dead, but before she died, my heroine made a promise to tell the parents so they wouldn't spend the rest of lives in ignorance. She's giving them closure, a horrible kind of closure, but nonetheless. And it's an important scene because the hero sees her empathy and pain as she's talking to the parents and begins to finally accept that she (our heroine) is not the heartless, scheming, manipulative jade he thought she was. He's suspected this for a while, but he's been denying it. Now he has to finally accept it.

This is also a turning point for our heroine because she's got more to do with this girl's death than she's letting on. Confronting the parents here opens up this wound and finally, she starts letting our hero in and he (along with the reader) begin to learn more pieces of the back story. So it's a BFD scene, emotion wise for all parties, right?

OK – here's where I fess up that I am not a crier, which sometimes is simply another manifestation of my control freak tendencies (the "I will not cry mentality) but not always.

Here's an example: When we were driving to the cemetery after my grandmother's funeral, my rightfully grief-stricken sister said to me "why aren't you crying?" to which I answered, "because I'm a cold, empty bitch" but of course that wasn't it. For me, tears are a private thing whenever possible (and sometimes it's not). And at that particular event, there were things to do, cars to follow, people to greet, a mother falling to pieces, a grandfather mute with grief, and other family angst to manage. Grief (and crying) took a back seat. Also, a good cry makes me ravenous, seriously, will-eat-my-hand hungry, and there wasn't a WaWa near the cemetery (Kidding. A little.)

Crying is an important emotional release for a person. I get that and I agree with it. People need to cry sometimes or frankly, there's something wrong with them. It's a necessary part of being human and, probably, having a soul. And I think that's exactly what it should be used for, not some manipulative tool to get your own way. All too often people, particularly women and I'm guilty of this too particularly in my juvenile past, use tears to this end. I'm not that kind of person and, frankly, I think it stinks. Also, there's still that little girl in me who gobbled up Native American literature and believed that crying was a show of weakness. Those early beliefs are hard to circumnavigate as an adult however much reason says I'm off my rocker. Of course, I scream bloody murder instead – better to be angry than scared or worse, hurt –and I'm not quite convinced that's any better, but what are ya gonna do?

So there I was Saturday, the anti-crier for lack of a better phrase, writing this scene where this mother is literally destroyed by the news this stranger (our heroine) has brought to her door. And as I'm writing, she (the mother) is screaming at her husband that she wants her baby and the words, and I say this with no aim for hyperbole, were absolutely flying from my fingers. And as I came to the end of the flow and sat back, drained, in my desk chair, I realized the corners of my mouth were fiercely turned down.

Bet you expected me to say I was crying, right? Ah - psych. I'm not that far off the reservation yet, but after this experience, I'll admit, I'm not ruling it out either.

It was pretty cool. This woman, while a minor player in the overall scheme of things had become a real enough character to me that her pain was causing me sadness.

Listen, everybody remembers Joan Wilder writing the end of her novel at the start of Romancing the Stone while sobbing along, tissues used up, as she pounded out the triumphant finale. That will never be me.

But I've had years of listening to or reading of writers who say that their characters took off with the page, or that they had no idea what was coming next , the characters took over or any other myriad of things writers say about the creative process and where the work comes from. I never got that. I mean these people and these ideas are coming from the writers' heads. How could they not know?

I'm not sure I get it still, but I definitely had something special going on this Saturday. Hard won, hard found, and hardly known, but something.

Though I am curious about what might happen next.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

No Rest for the Wicked

I've got a stack of work on my desk that will not end till the end of my day because we're short staffed today, last month's freelance copy that I have to rewrite – again – for what's probably the fifth time by Monday, a deluge of *****X work expected to begin its June gestation at my desk tomorrow, and a pitch and summary to perfect before next Friday's big luncheon not to mention the need to finish writing the DAMN BOOK.

So I'm a tad stressed.

What I really want to do it curl up with Sherry Thomas' newest novel His at Night. Two days and I'm only on chapter 5. Unheard of! I've also got Julia James' Something About You waiting for me at the library and my cousin's Christmas Barnes and Noble gift card to bruise with Julia Quinn's Ten Things I Love About You. I need a vacation just to get through my TBR pile!

The freelance work has me annoyed. I'm so appreciative of it because, despite my client's title increase this year, I'm getting fewer and fewer assignments. There's a lot of good reasons for that, few if any that have to do with me or my work directly, but it's a dramatic enough decrease that it's no longer a piece of income I can rely on regularly. More time for my own writing then, you say? Well, yes, but the pay out for that is a long way off – if ever. And cash in hand is gooooood. My fabulous editor got me some extra cash for it because it really is a new direction for the copy, and that's very good. But I'm still annoyed because I thought the job was put to bed and here the editor hadn't even looked at it yet and once she did, decided it needed to be sweeter. Oh-kay. It's a pretty hot book, but apparently were focusing on babies and fantasies and happily ever after and sweet instead. I don't typically do sweet and having a baby is not my idea of happily ever after, so I lift an incredulous, Stephen Colbert-like brow at this and then repeat my manta – not my book, not my book, not my book.

Because it's not my book; it's someone else's hard work that my copy with help position to sell. Ideally. Someday perhaps, someone will be writing copy for my hard work. Yeah right. Like I won't rewrite that puppy a hundred times. But until then, I'll bend my pen to this title again to try to find the right words that are not too smart or witty, nothing remotely chick-lit-y about it, as, rather than weave my new bracelet into my WIP this weekend, I'll spend the few hours I have post another PA visit to rewrite and reposition this copy – very sweetly, I promise.

Because on Monday, the real work begins. On Monday, the faux wood of my desktop will disappear beneath the bevy of job bags from *****X. it may indeed save lives, but this month, as it does every June, it will do its damnedest to kill me.

Good thing I have a few good books to look forward to.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


That's how I began my day today – powerless, as in literally without power. It was the silence that woke me, the absence of the humming soundtrack of my nights produced by the two fans that cross check my bed. One is a standing fan that could make a strong run for the position of last airbender, and the other a table fan that runs year round to keep air circulating in my windowless room. I woke to quiet and darkness sans furry companions and realized that lo, the power was gone.

My whole morning changed in an instant. I couldn't dry my hair, which meant less prep time required to get to work. So of course, I went right back to bed. I try to never waste an opportunity for another 5 minutes of sleep. But my mind was already going at a mile an hour, processing the implications and examining the day ahead, mentally reorganizing my wardrobe choices to fit the change in circumstances, so I gave in and got up. And what was at the top of my list of concerns? The fact that if the power didn't come on by 10 PM, I'd miss watching Justified tonight. Yep, sometimes, that's exactly the height of my priorities.

Do you know how many things we do every day, infinitesimal moments of living that require power? All morning, I kept flipping on the lights without thinking and then actually wondering for a second why they weren't working. I was setting up the coffee pot for my mother and even with my handy Maglight I couldn't manage to see the watermark. But I didn't want to take it to the window for a better look because then I'd have to unplug it and reset the clock. Then I realized the clock was already gone because there was no power. Polish moment times ten.

Fortunately, the power came on just as I got out of the shower, so my blow drying needs were met and my wardrobe choices reversed once again. Despite the heat reaching crazy levels already here in the Garden State, I'm still forcing hot air on my head every morning. Can't be a Jersey Girl without the hair.


I had a pretty good Memorial Day weekend. I even cooked! Twice! OK, burgers one night and steak the other, but still an accomplishment for me. Caught Prince of Persia on Friday afternoon (next week's Movie Monday topic), and finally managed to clean my pit of a bedroom on Saturday (an event as I have the housekeeping skills of a 13-year-old boy). Didn't manage to point the vacuum in its direction yet, but that's coming. I can actually move in it now and even found an unopened bag of Starburst jellybeans along the way. No, not ewww. Unopened. That's key.

Sunday, we took a drive down to Lambertville, a family favorite activity that has become more wearying now that I live 30 minutes farther north in North Jersey than ever before. Not something I thought of when I suggested the drive. But it was a beautiful drive down the Pennsie side of the Delaware River itself flowing and churning along, fat and sassy from all the rain we've had this spring. Seriously, if you like tubing or canoeing or kayaking, this is the summer to get to it.

It was the first time I'd driven the CR-V down the windy, narrow route 32. Some of those corners freaked me out no matter that I've been driving them upwards of 15 years. Couple of times, I really expected to scrape up against the rock wall. I couldn't figure out why it felt difficult this time around more narrow and tricky. No, it wasn't my speed. It was the size of the car, the small SUV significantly broader than my former Civic. I'm telling you, it felt like we had some close calls.

We'd gotten fantastic STJ sandwiches at Market Basket and about 4pm finally planted ourselves on a bench outside the Sojourners boutique in Lambertville that I like so much. I really like the Sojourners boutique. It's pretty much the only shop in the town that I must visit when I'm there. I always wind up finding a nice pair of earrings for not a lot of money, which is excellent for me because I am abysmally cheap. This time, it was a pair of earrings, a necklace and earring set, and a beautiful bracelet. That's pretty much my shopping quota for a year.

There's an overt East Asian atmosphere in the store that grows as you move through the store and into its back room where handmade clothes and home décor are featured along with incense, candles, and their accessories. I'm long past my hippy dippy stage, if I ever had one, but I do have a weakness for Indian products. I love the drama of the jewelry, the beautiful saris and flowing pashminas in elegantly lush colors. Also, I'm fond of elephant figurines. Totally random. Go figure. But my favorite part of the store, apart from the jewelry is the shoes. Shocking, I know. I'll never, ever be able to wear any of the exquisite, unique shoes they sell; they're narrow and generously heeled. But they are glorious.

Lambertville was predictably packed with people, a lot of the foot traffic going back and forth across the bridge to New Hope. I love people watching almost as much as car watching. A black van drove by with the band The Who's emblem on its wheel well and the phrase "We won't be fooled again" headlining its back door. I could write a suppositional thesis on that alone. A bride and groom and their attendants walked through the town too, a trifecta of photographers in their wake. I also saw a red, two-door Honda Civic cruising by with – hey! – my dad at the wheel. Hi guys! Fancy seeing you here!


I haven't been to a parade in years. One thing you miss by not being part of a traditional nuclear family is an inclusion in the community around you. Without kids, there's none of the myriad school minutiae and connections to tie you in, no bands or baseball teams boy or girl scouts to march in the town parade. Normally, I've got something going on or simply can't be bothered to get up and get out to the parade – for some of those suckers, you gotta get up dang early to be well situated and I don't do well before noon. This year, I didn't want to pass another holiday watching NCIS marathons or the like. So I piggybacked on my friends' family's activities – my surrogate family – enjoying the Rochelle Park parade with them under Monday's unforgiving sun. I was their stereotypical "maiden" aunt, topping off my hat and shades couture with an actual umbrella to ward off the sun. Man, I'm getting old.

It was a blast watching everyone march past, smiling, throwing candy, the classic cars and the fire trucks, while band after band decided not to play just as they reached our spot simply to make us feel all special, I'm sure. Afterwards we walked the small distance to the American Legion to reclaim children and enjoy flat, cold soda (ambrosia), hot dogs and popcorn with face painting and balloon animals for the kids. That walk, small as it was, kicked my butt but good and I spent the rest of the afternoon napping on the chaise with a Harry Potter DVD running in the background while Hollis rollicked in the sunspot next to me. Not a bad way to wind down the weekend.

I looked around the American Legion patio and saw the community, the parents and grandparents, the weary, sweating marchers, the hoards of running, screaming children that didn't bug me for a minute. It reminded me of how much I miss being part of such a community. We've only been in our new place going on two years now, so we're still relatively new to the area and without those traditional community ties, it's not easy to break through that. My day-to-day life revolves boringly around work, parent, grandparents, bills, the next crisis and the one after that, and writing. Until I get to those bright, shining weekends when I'm instantly absorbed back into my go-to community of writers who remind me of how good it feels to belong.

Everyone needs a place to belong, a place to be in community. Otherwise, we really do become powerless.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Television Tuesdays: Loving the Last of LOST

As LOST winds it twisted way to its end, some of the best work yet on that show is unfolding on the television screen. I've been thinking about when it debut, the huge billboards on RT 95 in Pennsylvania as I drove my mom to the Philadelphia airport every six weeks for her flight to Massachusetts via Rhode Island or New Hampshire. My life has changed dramatically since then. Now LOST is catching up.

And with the 2 ½ hour finale looming ever closer, I keep thinking one thing: They better not kill Sawyer.

OK – that's not the only thing I'm thinking. There haven't been too many shows that I've followed from start to finish unbroken. Friends and Buffy come immediately to mind, but not much else. Trouble is, few shows can maintain a high level of quality indefinitely (I'm looking at you, Grey's Anatomy!). Eventually I'll get tired or bored or frustrated and just drop away. Even Friends and Buffy had their weak times and, with Buffy in particularly, as we got closer to the end, I grew more and more dissatisfied (Friends rocked all the way to the end. God, I miss that show). Hey, I like to see people achieve happiness in the long run. Joss Whedon seems bound and determined not to let his characters get happy for long and usually starts racking up the body count when they do. Realistic? Maybe. Entertaining? Not really.

Through highs (oh, way too many to list, but Desmond and Penny's reunion tops it) and the lows (Nikki and Paulo, Bai Ling) I've stuck by LOST. And it's rewarded my loyalty with a kick ass final season. Some hiccups, yes, but the story is now running full tilt to the end and, seriously, I can hardly catch my breath as I watch it.

Even if I have absolutely no idea what's going on.

All right, that's not entirely true. I have a pretty good idea of what's going on for the most part, but there's no way I remember all the subtle layering that the showrunners have put in place over the last six seasons. I think it's a pretty safe call that nearly everyone is going to die. I have no idea how the sideways flashes are going to intersect with the island action. But now that Desmond is in metaphysical play, getting everyone together in the sideways world and, hopefully, coming out of the well in the island world pretty soon, I expect all that will interweave very soon. It has to, there's only 2 or 3 nonfinale episodes left.

I'm expecting to cheer when they eventually kill Kate – though with my luck, she'll be the lone survivor. Still that gunshot could get infected in the island air. Hope springs. She's long outlived her use for me, wavering between the Jack and Sawyer so much I wanted to smack her upside the head by season three (though I did think the polar bear cage nookie was pretty hot). I do wonder if she and one of the guys will be the skeletal couple discovered in season one but then yesterday, I thought maybe it'll be Claire and Alt-Locke. Hmmm. That's definitely one long term question I'm looking forward to finally getting the answer to. And I'd like Hurley to come to a happy end, though I doubt there's going to be such a thing for anyone. Maybe he's destined to be the voice of all those island whisperers, the souls of those who died on the island.

The deaths last week were heartrending. Showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have said in interviews since that they wanted to make it abundantly clear that Alt-Locke is a bad dude. I never thought anything else. The guy murders people left and right. Pretty good indicator of bad in my book.

Sayid's explosive end happened so quickly and so much trauma occurred right afterwards, what with the flooding and the drowning, that there was barely any time to process it. Then Jin and Sun died and while poignant and painful and beautiful, I kept yelling at the scream "what about your daughter, you gits?" So much for the parental bond, huh. Also, this was a Whedonesque crappy thing to do. They're finally reunited – remember Jin and Sun haven't seen one another since the freighter blew up at the end of season four – and happy again and the very next episode The Powers That Be (to complete the Whedon analogy) go and kill them both off. Cuse and Lindelof said they did it so we the audience know that no one is safe. Dude, have you watched the last six seasons? No one is ever safe.

Not even Sawyer. Poo.

Tonight we get the full skinny on Alt-Locke, also known as Smokey or Esau or The Man in Black (no, he's not Johnny Cash. At least, not yet). Allison Janney of West Wing hits the beach tonight. I love this endless wealth of quality actors peppering the entire series. She's one of the best yet.

There's no way to be happy with whatever ending Cuse and Lindelof have cooked up. I know some things will tick me off, others will totally wow me, and still others will baffle me for endless wasted hours to come. I'm OK with all of that. LOST has been an awesome ride and I've loved every climb and dip of it.

I wanna see how it ends.

Edited 5/12 to Add: OK - If you watched last night's episode, you know I was way off with speculating the identities of the two skeletons in the cave and I want to say that I'm perfectly happy to be so. That was an awesome reveal, really, even if some other elements were a tad clunky with the info dump download.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Taking it Easy

Still reeling from a very hectic weekend that involved A Lot of driving, I took today off.

This morning, I went to see Iron Man 2, which I loved, at the 10 AM showing and no, I was not the only one there, though that would have been great. I'll review it here next week. This afternoon I sat on a couch and held my baby nieces and laughed with my best friend (they're her babies) who I haven't seen in nearly 2 months. Tonight, I will scrub the stove so it stops smoking and I can cook dinner, clean the cat boxes, and write.

There may also be some kitty cuddling. Could you resist this belly and that face? Your heart is far harder than mine then, friend.

And that's saying something.

The writing has been going really well, which probably means I'm going to crash on it soon, but for now I see things very clearly and it jazzes me to get to it. I gave up trying to push through to the end just to push through the end because that wasn't working for me. Yes, I know that not finishing for finishing's sake means having the best written first chapter in the world, but I can't write the end to the story when I already know how the middle is going to have to change. Now that I'm fixing the middle, the emotional journeys are coming out and some very, very cool stuff is revealing itself and I am, as I said before, really jazzed.

Here's hoping your Monday ends with a jazz.