Friday, May 30, 2008

Trouble at the ballfield

Wednesday night my middle child had a baseball game, and my daughter made a beeline for her requisite visit to the concession stand. She stepped up and asked the cute teenager behind the counter for a Coke. And a bag of chips.

I asked him for cup of ice to go with it. He added it to our order and we handed over our money.

Me: “I need a lid too, please.”
Teenager: “We don’t have any.”
Me: “I got one the last time we were here.”
Teenager: “Well, we don’t have any.”
Me: “Can you look? I know you have them.”
Teenager: “Well, we don’t have any now.”
Me: “Just look. They look like coffee cup lids.”
Teenager: “Ma’am, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Me: hahahahahahahaha!

The cute teenager behind the counter was my older son. He has a great sense of humor and fortunately a mom who gets it!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Official Jason Mraz - I'm Yours video

Summer has officially started for me when I find a new fun song. This is it!

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Logline. No, it’s not what you wait in at Six Flags to ride a fake piece of wood down a water chute. A logline is a one sentence teaser, typically used to promote a movie but it also applies to novels. Sometimes it will be two lines. Or three. One is best. Bob recommends 25 words or less.

When I started submitting my first manuscript to agents, I faced the challenge of writing a synopsis, a one-page summary of my story. I researched how-tos online and found one that suggested writing one sentence (a logline), then expanding it to one paragraph. Then taking that one paragraph and making it one page. Piece of cake! Once I had the luxury of an entire page, it was much easier to do.

Here’s the logline for my first manuscript, A Forgiving Season: When a single mom returns to college, she never imagines a disabled professor will show her how to love and trust again. Tagline: We all have disabilities—some are just easier to detect than others.

Imagine you’ve just read a great book and are recommending it to a friend. They ask you what the book is about. Your response is a logline. Or you’re channel surfing and pull up a movie to watch. Your cable provider gives you a one-line summary to entice you to watch it.

Here are some examples of movie loglines (a few were originally books):

1. After serving as a perpetual bridesmaid, a young woman wrestles with the idea of standing by her sister's side as her sibling marries the man she's secretly in love with.

2. A teen living under house arrest becomes convinced his neighbor is a serial killer.

3. When a fairytale princess is sent to New York City by an evil queen, she begins to change her views on life and love after meeting a handsome lawyer. Can a storybook view of romance survive in the real world?

4. A young widow discovers that her late husband has left her ten messages intended to help ease her pain and start a new life.

5. The life of a top chef changes when she becomes the guardian of her young niece.

6. Single-girl anxiety causes Kat Ellis to hire a male escort to pose as her boyfriend at her sister's wedding.

7. Two men from opposite sides of the law are undercover within the Massachusetts State Police and the Irish mafia, but violence and bloodshed boil when discoveries are made, and the moles are dispatched to find out their enemy's identities.

8. A hardened trainer/manager works with a determined woman in her attempt to establish herself as a boxer.

9. Karl Childers, a simple man hospitalized since his childhood murder of his mother and her lover, is released to start a new life in a small town.

10. A naive young woman comes to New York and scores a job as the assistant to one of the city's biggest magazine editors.

11. Cady is a hit with The Plastics, the A-list girl clique at her new school, until she makes the mistake of falling for Aaron, the ex-boyfriend of alpha Plastic Regina.

12. When a sports agent has a moral epiphany and is fired for expressing it, he decides to put his new philosophy to the test as an independent with the only athlete who stays with him.

13. A FedEx executive must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a crash landing on a deserted island.

14. Two business rivals hate each other at the office but fall in love over the Internet.

15. A bored married couple is surprised to learn that they are both assassins hired by competing agencies to kill each other.

16. Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child.

17. The music of the Beatles and the Vietnam War form the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.

1. 27 Dresses
2. Disturbia
3. Enchanted
4. P.S. I Love You
5. No Reservations
6. The Wedding Date
7. The Departed
8. Million Dollar Baby
9. Sling Blade
10. The Devil Wears Prada
11. Mean Girls
12. Jerry Maguire
13. Cast Away
14. You’ve Got Mail
15. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
16. Juno
17. Across the Universe

Not so hard to do now that you’ve seen it done, right?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You go, Grandma Pittenger!

Last year we decided to take advantage of our home’s close proximity to a large lake and buy a boat. With three children ranging in ages from 16 to 4, finding activities that interest everyone can be challenging. Boating seemed like the perfect solution. And it has been a purchase we haven’t regretted.

I haven’t water skied in almost 20 years and I systematically rebuffed my son’s routine pleas for me to try it again. Or wake boarding. Or even tubing. I kept telling myself that it was never a good time to be hurt. I had a conference I was attending in a month. A party coming up. There was always a reason not to.

This year I’m taking a different approach and my change of attitude comes from a 96-year-old woman named Edith Pittenger. She is the grandmother to my cousins, the mother of my uncle Jay. (His wife is my mother’s sister.)

Yesterday Edith, a long time fan of Indy racing, took a spin around the track. She has attended the Indy 500 for the past 44 straight years. This time she saw the track from a different vantage point. Going 180 miles per hour seated behind driver Arie Luyendyk, Jr., this great-great-grandmother fulfilled a dream and had a smile on her face the entire time. She set a record for being the oldest person to accomplish this feat.

The photos here were taken by my cousin’s husband, Ryan Mackowiak. Along with Edith, several dozen family members were present to cheer her on. What have you always wanted to do but were just too afraid to try? Or maybe you’re waiting on a better time, a day when it wouldn’t matter if you got a little banged up. I’m going to get out of the boat this year. If anyone takes pictures, I’ll be sure to post them.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The First Lines

Your first kiss. First love. First baby. Baby’s first steps. Memorable firsts.

As in life, very often in literature a good first can be priceless. The first few lines of a book. I pulled some of my favorites from my shelf and reread the first few sentences, wondering if there was something there that kept me reading or was I curious enough about the story to persevere, even when the beginning didn’t grab me.

Here is a sampling:

1. In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky.

2. All right, so I’m a diva. There are worse things—a mass murderer, a bigot, a telephone solicitor.

3. You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.

4. The Tuesday before it happened was a perfect summer day. Driving through town on my way home, I saw two young girls holding hands as they tried to cross a street against the light. They would start to cross, then stop; start again, stop. Finally, all the traffic sighed and halted; and the girls bolted to the other side of the street and began to laugh and push each other, exhilarated by their survival.

5. Three days before her death, my mother told me—these weren’t her last words, but they were pretty close—that my brother was still alive. That was all she said.

6. One evening early in the summer, conversation was going around Grandmother Curtiss’s dinner table, as it was wont to do. Earlier dinner conversations had turned to yelling matches, with each person talking louder than the last and sometimes pounding on the table.

7. This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.

8. If Annabelle hadn’t found a body lying under “Sherman,” she wouldn’t have been late for her appointment with the Python. But dirty bare feet stuck out from beneath her nana’s ancient Crown Victoria. One extremely cautious glance under the car revealed they were attached to a homeless man known only as Mouse, who was famous in her Wicker Park neighborhood for his lack of personal hygiene and a fondness for cheap wine.

9. It wasn’t every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of a road, not even in Dean Robillard’s larger-than-life world. “Son of a …” Dean slammed on the brakes of his brand-new Aston Martin Vanquish and pulled over in front of her.

10. February the fifteenth is a very special day for me. It is the day I gave birth to my first child. It is also the day my husband left me. As he was present at the birth I can only assume the two events weren’t entirely unrelated.

11. The scent of slaughter, some believe, can linger in a place for years. They say it lodges in the soil and is slowly sucked through coiling roots so that in time all that grows there, from the smallest lichen to the tallest tree, bears testimony.

12. I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

13. When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands. There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss.

14. I used to love this season. The wood stacked by the door, the tang of its sap still speaking of forest. The hay made, all golden in the low afternoon light. The rumble of the apples tumbling into the cellar bins.

1. Lucky by Alice Sebold
2. Welcome to the Great Mysterious by Lorna Landvik
3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
4. Never Change by Elizabeth Berg
5. Gone for Good by Harlan Coben
6. Sins of the 7th Sister by Huston Curtiss
7. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
8. Match Me if You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
9. Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
10. Watermelon by Marian Keyes
11. The Loop by Nicholas Evans
12. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
13. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
14. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

What do you think? Would you have kept reading past the first few lines of these books?

Friday, May 16, 2008

High Maintenance Puppy

This week has been crunch time for me. Emails from friends tend to get ignored for a while, the laundry piles up and I don’t get much sleep. I had four articles due this week and another one assigned yesterday.

So, last night after soccer practice and getting kids tucked into bed, I tackled an article and vowed to finish it before I went to bed. About thirty minutes after sitting down, my daughter appeared at my office door. She had been bathed, read to, and was supposed to be listening to a book on tape. (She napped yesterday, so it was really late when she surfaced.) Apparently tonight’s excuse for not staying in bed was a fear of the dark. I told her to go climb in my bed. Dad was out of town.

“It’s dark in there too,” she said.
“I’ll be in there soon,” I told her. “Just give me twenty minutes.”
“How long is twenty minutes?”
“About as long as it takes to watch an episode of Clifford.”
“I can watch Clifford?”
“No, baby. That’s just how long I’ll be. Go lie down and think about an episode of Clifford and then I’ll be done.”
She wasn’t buying it. “It’s still too dark.”
I pointed to the sofa in the living room. “Go lie on the sofa and I can see you from here and you can see me.”
She turned around. “It’s dark in there too.”
She dropped to her hands and knees and crawled over to my feet, barking along the way. (Did I mention she was a puppy all evening that I’d rescued from the pet store, then bathed, then read to?)

So, like all good dogs, she curled up at my feet while I worked and next thing I knew I heard heavy breathing underneath my desk. Twenty minutes later she was still sound asleep when I pulled her out, willing her not to sit up and crack her head, and carried her to bed where she slept like a baby. A baby dog, that is.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The end is in sight

We are now at the end of the school year, that final sprint to the finish line of the marathon of academia. Where’s the beverage person when you need him? And when will that ever elusive adrenalin kick in?

Tonight we have three children performing in three events at three different locations: a high school choir concert at a local church, a middle school band concert at the high school, and a preschool program at another church. All start at 7 p.m. And the two concert kids have to wear their tuxes and have no idea where they are. One tux, I know, spent the last month wadded up in a gym bag. Let’s hope he’s standing in the back row.

May seems to be the month when everything gets wrapped up: school, soccer, baseball, etc. What will we do in June when no one has to be anywhere at any specific time? Maybe a day lounging at the pool. Or possibly we’ll just hang out here and do nothing. Let me put it on the calendar…

For today, I’m going to relish the next three hours of just me and the dog here at home, listening to Marc Broussard on iTunes, and try to focus on completing some articles that are due. If someone wants to bring me lunch later, that’d be great. If not, I’m sure I’ll survive. The dog and I aren’t all that picky when it comes to eating.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I called for you...Laura, Laura...

Is it allergy season where you live? It’s bad here. It’s always bad here. Since we don’t get much cold weather, apparently every blooming thing never goes too dormant. And if that’s too scientific for you, relax. I made it up.

I had to share this video, in the spirit of men who are such babies when they are sick. That’s one thing I think you can bank on. We women might have husbands who differ in work ethic, sense of humor, ability to endure shopping, but every man seems to turn into a wallowing clump of goo when he gets sick. I remember coming down with a bug, only to have my husband tell me he had it first and I yelled back, “For once, I would like to be the sickest person in the house!” Really, is it too much to ask?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Have you heard the one about...

I miss the nights when we sit down and have a family meal. They are one of my favorite times of the week. Between baseball, soccer, and other commitments, sometimes days will go by without a dinner with all of us present.

A typical meal begins with my daughter saying the prayer. At four and a half years old, I swear she has a hotline to Jesus. Usually her prayers go something like this: “God is great, God is good, and God, we just want you to know, we love you more than anything. More than the flowers, more than the trees, more than the bushes, more than the bushes with flowers, more than the trees with flowers. We love you so much. And we just know it, so we want you to know it too. Amen.” Sometimes she goes on and on about foliage, wildlife, friends and more until we have to encourage her to wrap it up before the food gets cold.

Last week the boys were on a roll, telling really horrible un-PC jokes at dinner such as, Why couldn’t Helen Keller drive? Answer: Because she was a woman. Or this one: What’s the smartest thing a woman ever said? A man once told me… From there it just got worse—much worse—and I made them reel it in a bit until their sister excused herself from the table. There are some things she doesn’t need to share at preschool.

This morning it was evident that my daughter has a way to go before matching her brothers’ joke-telling abilities. We were snuggling together in bed:

She: I have a knock-knock joke to tell you about a monkey, but it’s not funny.
Me: Let’s hear it.
She: Knock-knock.
Me: Who’s there?
She: Monkey.
Me: Monkey, who?
She: Hey, monkey, why’d you put me in a cage?
Me: That’s not very funny.
She: I told you it wasn’t.

Good sport that I am, I laughed anyway.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Weight a minute

Last month I saw on the Today show that carrying excess weight around your middle can be linked to amnesia. No, not that. Umm, let’s see. Dementia. That’s it. And I thought the humiliation of not being able to button my pants was making me crazy. Didn’t know there was something scientific about it.

I read an article today that if you have an hourglass figure (aka big boobs, big butt), you’re less likely to develop diabetes. This reminded me of an afternoon not long ago when I was outside, pulling weeds in the front flowerbeds and my older son happened to be coming home from school. I was greeted with his singing, “I like big butts and I cannot lie…” Lucky for him, he was out of striking range at the time. I learned not to pull weeds between the hours of three and five. But I can’t lay claim to an hourglass figure. I'm thinking he just had a bad angle.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to read about research indicating that not giving a flip about what a few extra pounds does to your physical or mental health is actually quite gratifying. Fat and happy is not just a cliché. It’s a way of life. Tonight I was out shopping with my younger son for his eighth grade dance clothes. We passed a lovely halter dress that I admired. I commented that I’d love it, but I really need to lose some weight before I expose my arms this season. He turned to me with a shocked look on his face and said not to, that I was just fine the way I am. (Right now, loving son number two just a little bit more.)

My grandmother always preached that you should carry a few extra pounds just in case you get sick and can’t eat for awhile. Unfortunately that line of thinking never really works. You might get sick and not be able to eat, but somehow the weight never goes away. I’m sure it’s scientific. The body is designed to maintain its status regardless of food intake. It’s just waiting for you to exercise before it will drop the pounds. And tonight, that just sounds like a whole lot of work.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Butt on the chair again

I just arrived home after attending a writers’ conference this weekend. It’s so encouraging to meet with authors, agents, editors and other writers who all have one thing in common: a love for the written word. Much has been reported lately about how no one reads anymore, and I think this weekend reaffirms that you can believe what you want. But ultimately writers create, readers read (whether traditionally or now via e-readers), and the goal is to continue to entertain with stories told in new and meaningful ways.

Feedback on my writing was a bit all over the place. I got great responses from a few authors, author mentors and book doctors. The negative came from an agent and editor—who unfortunately are the gatekeepers into the publishing world. This leads me to believe it’s not that I can’t write, I might not be writing what publishers want to publish. So, it was a bit of a rollercoaster weekend.

Today, I put all that aside and attack the pile of assignments I have on my desk. Then later this week I’ll dive back into the fantasy world of fiction, fine tune my query, reevaluate my manuscript and continue to write my work-in-progress. And at some point, I hope to enroll in an online workshop. Who needs to sleep, right? I hear it’s overrated.