Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I'm nice . . . Who knew?

My buddy Kristen, writer of From There to Here and Back, just nominated me for a "nice" award:

This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Once you’ve been awarded please pass it on to 7 others who you feel are deserving of this award.

I was especially tickled since I was coming off of a week (or maybe even ten days) when I hadn't been feeling particularly nice. It's good to be reminded that niceness is a quality to celebrate. So, I get to now nominate seven other bloggers who are richly deserving of this award . . .

Bev Marshall, St. Tammany Writers Group

Larramie, Seize a Daisy

The Fun Women at The Good Girls Kill for Money Club

Melanie Lynne Hauser, Refrigerator Door

Therese Fowler, Making it Up

The wonderful women at The Writers' Group

Mary Evelyn Lewis, The Virtual Wordsmith

(I would have also nominated Lisa at Eudaemonia, but Kristen beat me to it!)

So, there you go. I'll close by quoting some advice my grandmother gave at her 100th birthday celebration: "Be nice. It makes a difference."

P.S. I just read a nice review of my novel; you can read it here

Monday, August 27, 2007

Writers in their own words-GCC

On this August Monday, how about a flight to France?

Laura Florand's "semi-autobiographical" debut, BLAME IT ON PARIS, has been called "hilarious" by Booklist and a "frothy, French confection" by Publisher's Weekly.

Here's Laura in her own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

It generated itself. I was living this absolutely crazy, fun, rich story, and I had always written (usually fiction), so one day I saw a travel anthology was looking for travel stories on wine, and I decided to write a travel essay about one little bit of what was going on. Then the same publisher had another anthology, on Provence, and I had a funny story about that. And then I realized that I didn’t have just little bits of funny stories here and there, but that everything that had happened from the moment I first spotted that handsome Parisian waiter was a wonderfully funny and romantic true story that could really reach people.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

S├ębastien. He’s so cute, that’s why. Also, the first time I met him, he gave me his chocolate mousse.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

My writing environment is a complete mess. My writing process is really to just sit down and write. I will write scenes that come to me for no other reason than I love the imagined scene. For some of those, a story arc develops in my head, and I go for it. I have others, though, absolutely beautiful scenes that I just love, and which keep sitting there, because the story arc for them just won’t come to me. Maybe it never will. Many of those scenes I eventually forget, but there are some I would just love to see develop into a story.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

The dreaming part. Sometimes re-reading something and realizing that it’s very good, that I really nailed it in those few pages.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

To write. Write, write, write. But don’t forget you’re writing for people to read it. Unless you don’t care if people read it, in which case, just enjoy yourself.

So, check out Laura's story--sounds like a perfect way to while away the long weekend ahead!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

We Just Want to Go Back

"What do you think of this Cabernet? Is it better than the first one?"

"Should we take our nap at 3 or 4? I guess it depends on when we're going to dinner."

"Do you mind getting me another mimosa?"

"Would you rather picnic up on this hill or down by the river?"

These were the sorts of questions we bandied about during our five+ days in the Napa Valley. Far different from the questions that define our more mundane (and stress-filled) everyday life.

We reveled in the trip. We relaxed more easily than I'd ever thought we could.

We began our trip tooling around in a silver mustang convertible. Completely impractical in our real lives but a blast on vacation. And perfect for driving down the Pacific Coast Highway on our last full day on vacation. After awhile I ran out of superlative comments for each new ocean view, finally settling on a whispered "damn."

If you've never been there; go. Go now. Stay here. You will not only stay in a gorgeous room where you'll have a fireplace and a complimentary bottle of wine waiting for you, but every morning you'll get to dig into an amazing champagne brunch (at no extra charge. This is NOT your typical free hotel breakfast.).

If you stop in to the St. Supery Winery, I promise you will not be the first to ask, "So what percentage of the people here spit rather than swallow?" I was relieved that when my husband posed this question, his attention was focused on one of the lovely spit buckets, so it was clear to all in the tasting room what he was referring to.

Following a tour of Mumm's makers of champagne, we wandered along the road to V. Sattui. You can't buy their wines anywhere but here, so pick up a few bottles. We also availed ourselves of their deli and put together a great picnic. Later in the week, we stopped at the venerable Oakville Grocery for picnic supplies.

It's hard to rank the different restaurants, so suffice it to say you'll eat well at any of these places--Mustards, Tra Vigne, Hurley's, Uva, and Annabelle's (in San Francisco).

One of the best wine tasting/tours we went on was at the Robert Sinesky Winery where they have culinary tours where they pair food with the wines. Both were superb.

But we weren't only gluttons for food and wine (just mostly). We visited one of the three Old Faithful geysers in the US where we made some not too terribly original jokes as it prepared to spew and tried but failed to startle the goats into fainting. I also read 2 1/2 books (4 hour plane rides are good for that!): We Need to Talk About Kevin, Never Change, and Forecast of Evil.

It was a hard trip to bid goodbye; tough to admit it was over. Tomorrow a new work week begins, but we're now 48 hours into re-entry and we're no longer grumpy about being back, but rather we're happy we went (I realize that sounds pretty hallmarky, but I guess I'm still feeling the glow.).

I promise my next post will be all about writing. I have a book to finish and then revise after all. But, I have a hunch my mind will be wandering often in the next few weeks back to a picnic at a table on the grounds of a winery, or watching the sunset over the vineyards, or smelling the tang of the ocean spray as we come around another turn south of Half Moon Bay.

Great trips and good books have that in common, don't they? The ability to take you far away, take you back, take you to worlds removed from your everyday life.

A toast, then, to books and travel.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Real Quick . . .

Check out this new review on Virtual Wordsmith.

That's it for now. I'm on vacation and there's a champagne brunch calling my name.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Getting Organized

Some of my nearest and dearest will be laughing themselves silly with the title of this post. I tend to be cluttered. I have good intentions, but I've always been able to ignore mess if I have a good book to read or the NYT crossword to solve. I straighten up the coffee table in the family room, but within a short time it's crowded with my stuff. I'm often asked if I outline my novels and I laugh and respond that only if post-it notes stuck on my laptop and various legal pads counts as outlining (and, as an English teacher for 15 years I know it doesn't).

I do try. I have a file for all my 2007 tax receipts. I just can't always find the file. (Oh, and yes, I know I should put it in my file cabinet. I'm not stupid.)

And, I'm not a slob. I just keep things. And I have yet to find the perfect organizing system.

In some areas, though, I have systems in place. In my classroom, each class was color-coded. Red handout? Fourth hour. Grading sheets? Green. But I frequently lost my keys under the mounds of papers and files on my desk. My recipes are neatly divided in my recipe box. But, sometimes I use a recipe for a bookmark in a cookbook.

All that said, I love having a structure, a rhythm to my day. I get the coffee ready the night before and I make sure that there are four cans of Diet Mountain Dew (ick. yuck. gross.) in the fridge for my husband who, while not a coffee drinker is a caffeine needer. I not only make a list before I go to the grocery store, I plan out the dinner menus for the week. I do crosswords in ink.

So, that's why I love this time of year--we're about to get back to school. Structure. Set schedules. Every June, along with the kids, I celebrate the arrival of summer vacation--no nagging about homework, no late night runs to Target for posterboard. No pleading with the school custodian to please, please, please let us in to the part of the building where a certain locker is with a certain chemistry book inside of it.

But . . . by the end of July (and maybe a tad earlier) my husband and I start whispering to each other, "When does school start?" Because the kids, as kids do, view every night as Friday night. Their alarms aren't going off at 7 a.m. But ours are. And we still ask our kids to wake us up when they get home. And that ranges from midnight to 3 a.m. And teenagers are nocturnal nightfeeders. And we're tired. I'm ready for the house to be empty for 6 or 7 hours every day.

So, right now, I'm rejoicing as much as the kids are grousing. The schedules have arrived. The summer reading is 50% done. The college books are ordered. I'm taking one back to school tomorrow. (And the next day, my husband and I take off for our last gasp of summer--6 days in Napa Valley. By ourselves.) And on August 22, I will have a quiet house by 8 a.m. and will be able to gather all the post-its and other scribbles and get down to the business of finishing my novel so I can then revise. I'll post about that process in time, but right now laundry calls. Hope the buzzer on the dryer doesn't wake any of the sleeping kids.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Writers in their own words-GCC

Today, I'm offering another installment from The Girlfriend Cyber Circuit--today's guest is Ellen Meister author of Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA.

The paperback version will be in the stores this Tuesday and it's the perfect almost-back-to-school-but-not-just-yet summer read. Meet Ellen through my interview below:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

The idea for the book came to me at a PTA meeting. I had only recently decided to stop procrastinating and pursue my dream of writing a novel, and as I smiled at all the other moms, it occurred to me that no one had any idea I had this great dream. In fact, no one in the room knew I had an inner life at all. Then it occurred to me that everyone there could be feeling something pretty similar. As soon as I had that thought, I knew I wanted to write about these types of women--to explore the pain, passion, heartache and joy hidden beneath facade of the perfect suburban housewife--and do it with humor and compassion.

From there I set out to construct a plot around an event that could affect the community as a whole and the women as individuals. Eventually, I got the idea to bring a Hollywood movie studio to their town, and select their schoolyard as a possible location for the filming of a George Clooney movie.

As far as your second question, I do think my writing is more character-driven, despite the fact that the book is plot heavy.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

Well, I have three protags and choosing a fave would feel like singling out one of my children. I will tell you that the one who surprised me the most was Ruth. She's the brash, wealthy character I created to show that even the women who seem to have to all--designer house, designer clothes, designer car, etc.--can be hiding unimaginable pain. In some ways, she represented the type of woman who had always intimidated me. But as I got to know her, I found that she had this giant heart, and I really came to love her. Talk about cathartic!

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

I admire writers who can bang out a messy first draft and then go back later and edit. There has to be a certain freedom in that. My process is a bit more ... let's say, "retentive."

I always compose on the computer, and try to get each paragraph as perfect as I can. Once I have the draft complete, I print it out and edit it again in hard copy.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

Those two words: THE END. Talk about satisfying!

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

Write the story you most want to read. That's a paraphrase from J.D. Salinger, and of course it wasn't directed to ME, but it felt like it was.

So, there you go . . . another great pick for your reading fun!

Friday, August 3, 2007

All Things Jane

I don't know about you, but I've always thought Jane Austen is the British writer from the 1800s who would be the most fun to gossip and drink with. The Brontes would be a bit too brooding. Jane would make those perfect killer comments about the bimbo at the end of the bar and would have just the right retort for the too-slick guys with overworn pick-up lines. I just always felt like she got it--that the right guy is out there (but not where you think he'll be and not even WHO you think he'll be). And, she's having quite a revival these days. I wonder, when she sat in her room a couple hundred years ago, writing without any of today's modern conveniences, if she could even conceive of the possibility that in 2007 she'd still be read and considered hip? Cool? That she'd have writers turning to her for inspiration? You go girl!

Well, my fellow writer and friend Laurie Viera Rigler has written a fabulous, fun book Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict which combines this love of Jane, a fascination of that time period, a fed-up-ness with looking for love in today's world, and time travel in a book that's funny and sweet and will keep you curious until the very end. I kept wondering how she was going to pull it all off and she did it masterfully. This is a perfect book for your end of summer vacation (or, if you're not getting one of those, it will whisk you away anyway.).

Go buy it. Thank me later!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Just a Little Nuts

That would describe me and the week or so we've just had around here. Even in a normal week it's often chaotic. Living in this house are two adults, five kids who range in age from 14-22 (all of whom occasionally think of themselves as adults most often when exhibiting non-adultlike behavior), a three-year old golden retriever and a twelve-year old diabetic cat. These numbers alone caused me to dub our house (if we were the kind of people who named houses and lived in the kind of house that got named) "Blathering Heights" when our Brady Bunch group (sans Alice) moved in two years ago.

In the past week we've added:

~a broken refrigerator (diagnosis: dead compressor. I'd have thought compressors had longer lifespans than two years) which won't be fully functioning for another two days. For the first day, we lived out of a cooler. Then, we spent two days living out of my son's dorm refrigerator (oh, and had house guests at the same time!), then I broke down (not like the fridge or anything) and scrubbed out the old fridge (that's twenty years old and still has the compressor it was born with!) that had been in our basement (unplugged) so we could at least use it for cold beverages, necessities and ice. I've discovered I'm a huge ice addict.

~a leaky toilet. It wasn't leaking on the floor or anything, but, had a slow leak (caused by a bad flapper) which meant every few minutes it would refill just a tad. If you were on it when it happened, it was startling. If you were in the other room trying to finish writing your next novel it became akin to chinese water torture.

~a stalled air conditioner. Not good in St. Louis in July. Turns out the electricians installed the wrong kind of switch two years ago which made it a tad touchy. Sort of like my husband and I were when we were trying to get to sleep the night before it was repaired.

I know that in the whole scheme of things, these aren't even blips, but they've tended to keep me from more important pursuits--so, I apologize about the lack of insight (or even amusement) in this post.

Also, in the next few weeks we'll be getting one son packed up and back to college, another son packed and off to a vacation with his girlfriend and her family, both daughters geared up for their first and last years of high school (one of each) and my husband and I packed and ready for six days in Napa (the convertible rental car is already reserved!). And I'm still trying to finish that book I've mentioned a time or two. So, my posts might be a bit hit or miss and more book reviews than anything else, but I'll try not to have many more like this tale of domestic woe.

Oh, one last thing: GO CUBS!!