Monday, December 22, 2008

How not to take a Christmas photo

Thanks to everyone who was on the ball this year and already got their cards to us. We've enjoyed seeing how much your kids have grown, and I've tried to keep up with new addresses. Hopefully our card will eventually find you.

I finally took a picture of the kids on Saturday. Usually I'm a little more together, but this year I just said, Fine. Wear whatever you want (to some degree). Let's just get this over with.

This is not the pose I used in the card but thought it reflected my kids' true personalities. Maybe next year I'll be a little more laid back and use one like this.
I guess it's time to finish up the cards and get them mailed. Mia just handed me a Family Nice List and my name had an X beside it because she said, "You're not playing with me at all today." Jacob's had a check beside it because, "He's been messing with me which is kind of like playing with me and that's okay." Here's to hoping she doesn't pass it along to Santa.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sounds like love...

Excerpt from a conversation I had last night with my son, a high school junior, regarding his recent crush on a senior.

He: She actually talked to me today.

Me: Really? Cool. What did she say?

He: She said, "Move your big head. I can't see."

Me: Well, that's a start.

(The photo was taken of us after his school's production of Scrooge on Saturday. He doesn't usually wear his hair like that.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Christmas Short Story

Tonight I had plans to attend the monthly gathering of the Writers' Guild of Texas. I'm a member but often wrenches get thrown into my plans and I have to miss. Tonight it was inclement weather. I had prepared a short story to share, and since I didn't get to read it, here it is for everyone to enjoy endure.

Christmas Carol

Every year I meet my friend Carol for spiced cider the week before Christmas. I’m never on time; she’s always early. I tell her that way, she gets to choose the table--preferably one with a cute waiter.

I enter the cafe and scan the seating area. There she is, waving me over. I stomp the snow off my shoes before crossing the sunny room, nod my head and mumble Merry Christmas to some folks I recognize.

“Sorry I’m late, traffic was horrible.” I take my seat across from her and she reaches for my hand.

“The weather outside is frightful,” she says.

I smile with relief. She’s not mad I’ve kept her waiting. “I’m almost done with my shopping,” I tell Carol. “I just need something for my little niece.”

She pulls a sales flier from her purse and points to a picture. “Give her a dolly that laughs and cries, one that will open and shut her eyes.”

I fold the ad and place it in my purse. “I knew you’d have an idea.” I sip the drink she thoughtfully ordered for me. “Thanks for the cider. I can’t believe we have snow.”

She smiles and says, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

“I know!” I agree. “Joe’s parents are due in tomorrow. I’m not sure what we’ll do for fun.”

Carol, of course, has the perfect suggestion. “It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.”

I say, “That’s perfect. Joe’s parents love sleigh rides.”

Then our waiter appears with suggestions for dessert. “Ladies, can I get you some applesauce cake? Or perhaps our pumpkin torte?”

Carol says, “Oh, bring us some figgy pudding.”

I nod my head but he frowns at us. “I’m afraid we don’t have figgy pudding.”

Carol is not easily dissuaded. “We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here.”

He takes a step back. “Um, well, I’ll see what I can do.”

After he walks away, I say to her, “Do you and Chris have plans tonight?”

“Later on we’ll conspire, as we dream by the fire,” she says.

“Well, that sounds cozy,” I say. “I know you’ve been worried ever since he lost his job. Things any better?”

She smiles slightly. “From now on our troubles will be miles away.”

Suddenly I’m intrigued. “What do you mean? Are you moving? Planning an escape?”

She shakes her head. “There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief or pain. Because it’s Christmas, Christmas once again.”

Now I’m confused. “I’m so sorry. It must be really hard this time of year especially,” I say sympathetically.

“Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more,” she says.

I can’t help but wield the feeling that there’s something she’s not telling me. “You’re moving, aren’t you? We won’t be able to meet again like this--like we’ve always done all these years.”

She pulls a pack of tissues from her purse, hands me one and takes one herself. “You’d better watch out,” she sniffs. “You’d better not cry.”

But I do. The tears just come. “I’ll miss you. Christmas won’t be the same without your friendship.”

She wipes the tears from her cheeks and stands to hug me. “Don’t you cry, I’ll be back again someday.”

I hug her tightly, sad to see her go, and when she gets to the door she tosses her plaid scarf over her shoulder and turns to wave. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas now,” she calls and then she’s gone.

I sit back down and the waiter reappears at my elbow. “Did your friend leave? I found some bread pudding. Is she coming back?”

I look at him, incredulous to his insensitivity. “If only in my dreams.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Moonrat weighs in

Several months ago I ran across a contest sponsored by Moonrat on her blog. (Moonrat is an editorial assistant at a publishing house—you can read her profile if you’re curious.) She has a friend who is receiving treatment for cancer and has no health insurance. Not only is Moonrat an insider who generously offers advice to those of us trying to get published, she’s wonderful to her friends as well. She created a raffle, offering her feedback to those interested. I purchased one chance at her reviewing a partial manuscript. And out of 252 entries, I was lucky and got selected.

I waited a while before submitting and then asked her to review the first 50 pages of Center Court Seats and a Pair of Jimmy Choos, a romantic comedy that I wrote along with my friend Joan. Joan and I met for lunch one day at Mimi’s CafĂ© in Lewisville and hammered out the story idea. A year later, we were done. Joan took on the writing of the character Mimi (named in honor of the place where she was conceptualized), a romance author. And I decided to write her sister Jac, an investigative reporter for a fictionalized Dallas newspaper. (Later we’d muse about how the story might have unfolded had we written the other’s character.)

Here’s an excerpt from our query letter to help you understand the storyline:

Dallas reporter JACLYN LIVINGSTON considers romance writing the fallback for wannabe journalists. Her sister, romance author MIMI, becomes exasperated by Jac's attitude and presents an improbable challenge: Jac must write a novel and get a publishing contract within six months. Since Jac doesn't read romance, and her non-existent love life can't possibly inspire her, Mimi assumes the bet is hers to win. As Jac dives headfirst into the contest, Mimi discovers her boyfriend cheating on her—with her agent. Unaware that her sister is using her misfortune as a storyline, Mimi struggles to put her life back together while Jac finds love in a most unexpected place.

Through mishap and betrayal, sexy trysts and serendipitous twists, the sisters discover that in life, as in fiction, you can't always stick to the outline. And pursuing the subplots can lead to a better ending than the one you planned to write.

So we sent off the entry to Moonrat along with our query letter since she offered to critique that as well (Did I mention she’s generous?), and this is an excerpt from her response:

"This is a very clean--almost impeccable!--manuscript, and an engrossing read. You guys are in really good shape. I only tended to mark things up when I wanted to suggest a change, so if you're basing a judgment on what you see marked up in the document you're bound to think I didn't like it, which is NOT TRUE even vaguely.

Congratulations on all your hard work! Please remember that anything--ANYTHING!!--I've marked up is just a suggestion. Obviously my feelings will not even be vaguely hurt (I won't even know!) if you just override what I've put in. But I hope that some of it at least is helpful to you!

This, ladies, was a very enjoyable read. I sincerely hope that someone snaps it up in a heartbeat!"

Joan and I then spent some time reviewing and accepting her suggestions and now I have to make those changes to our manuscript so we can begin querying more agents. I’ll be sure to let everyone know what response we get.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Giving a book for Christmas

I planned to write up some favorite books for gift suggestions and will here, but have been amazed at the lists that two people in the publishing industry have amassed. Here is Jim McCarthy's, an agent at Dystel & Goderich, and Moonrat's, an editorial assistant at a publishing house. (More on Moonrat tomorrow.)

My list of favorite books is here on the left of my blog. Unfortunately I didn't read the volumes of fiction this year that I normally do, for various reasons--mostly writing got in the way. But some suggestions follow:

For that seldom-reader sister-in-law who likes to laugh: We're Just Like You Only Prettier by Celia Rivenbark or anything else by Celia. Also Laurie Nataro's Idiot Girls books are funny (but for some reason, I always feel like I need to take a bath after reading her), and Amy Sedaris (David's sister) is a hoot.

For that brother/uncle/friend who likes a quick, light adventure: You can't miss with Harlan Coben. His Myron Bolitar series is the best. You can go to his website to find them in the order they were written although you can read them out of order and not suffer any irreparable damage.

For little kids: The Ant and the Elephant by Bill Peet, Frances books by Russell Hoban, Peach and Blue by Sarah Kilborne, Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, Green Wilma by Tedd Arnold, Ain't Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont, and if you can find it--Tommy at the Grocery Store by Bill Grossman (it's out of print but worth the hunt).

For artistic kids: Doodles: A Really Giant Coloring and Doodling Book by Taro Gomi. Jennifer bought this for my kids one year and they all enjoyed it.

For grade school kids: Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park is my fav, especially the books on CD. (My daughter listens to them almost every night before falling asleep.) The Magic Treehouse books are good as are Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

For preteen girls: I'm passing along recommendations from Julie since I asked her professional opinion--as a mom of two daughters. Here's what she wrote: Catherine Ryan Hyde (she wrote Pay It Forward, which I didn’t read but saw the movie) and she has several YA books, and it seems I’ve heard girls raving about Sarah Dessen. Emilie (her daughter recommends) the Ally Carter books, too.

Kristen said something about a series with books called “Among the Hidden,” “Among the Betrayed,” and so on. I’ve never heard of them, she hasn’t read them because she said they’re always checked out at the library. On Amazon that they are the Shadow Children series.

I just remembered a book I’ve wanted to find by an author/editor I met at La Jolla. They sound quite funny but also with good messages—Deborah Halverson's Honk if You Hate Me and Big Mouth. I just got the giggles again reading the summary for Honk if You Hate Me.

I'm also curious about the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. The premise sounds fascinating and I'm going to read these myself in the new year.

So, what are you buying or what would you recommend for someone on your list this year? I'm sure we could all use some suggestions.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Update on writing

Unfortunately I was much more successful at participating in No-Shave November than I was at NaNoWriMo. My legs stayed warm but my manuscript failed to make the 50,000 word mark. Not even close. At least I have December. And January. And maybe February to finish it. Who picked the holidays as the best time of the year to write a book anyway?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sleeping through the Blackness of Friday

I’d like to express my apologies to the retail industry for not leaving my mark on Black Friday. Thursday evening I returned home from Thanksgiving dinner at Joan’s and promptly fell into a tryptophan-induced coma by 10 o’clock. I had no intention of setting my alarm to go shop at an hour when only vampires are awake. The only expenditure I made on Friday was at the drive-thru at Chick-fil-a when Jacob decided that sounded good for lunch. At 2 p.m.

I have shopped the day after Thanksgiving before and sure, I lived to tell about it, but I couldn’t think of anything I needed to buy that would make me go fight the crowds at the mall or local discount department store. No one even asked for a Wii at our house. In fact, I hadn’t made a shopping list, so I didn’t even know what to look for. Therefore the ads remained untouched in the newspaper on the table and are now in the recycling bin.

Maybe it’s all those years working retail that has scarred me. In high school and college, I dreaded the holidays, particularly Christmas Eve, when all the men would realize they couldn’t put off shopping any longer and finally braved the department stores in search of the perfect gift for their girlfriend or wife. I worked in lingerie for several years and, trust me, playing 20 questions about what a woman you’ve never met might wear/like/not return because she’s too humiliated to is not fun. Me: Is she about my size? He: No, bigger. Me: Yeah, I got it.

Tomorrow I will try to make amends with the economy and buy some gifts. In an effort to save the publishing industry with aspirations that I’ll have a book or two on the shelves one day soon before I die, I am joining a grassroots campaign to buy books as gifts this year. I’m meeting The Writing Women (Julie, Joan and blog-less Elizabeth) at the new Legacy Books in Plano and then we’ll lunch. We want to check out the new, independent bookstore that recently (and quite optimistically) opened its doors in a market replete with going-out-of-business signs.

So, if you are looking for a gift that sure to fit someone of any size, shape, or reading level, buy books this holiday season and log your purchases here. A book might not exercise your body like a Wii, but it sure does wonders for your brain.