Reading is Sexy

My husband went out in the windy cold this weekend to take some awesome photos for my blog. I love this one.

Miles run yesterday: 3 (icky, rainy, didn’t-wanna-be-out-in-it run)

Book club meeting I attended last night: 1 (We discussed 2030.)

Words I have written in my novel today: 0

Sometimes you have to hear things over and over and over for the words to sink in.

Sometimes when you hear the words over and over and over, you say words without thinking about them.

Sometimes this is a problem.

When I went on the field trip to Old Salem with my daughter’s fourth grade class recently, I embarrassed her beyond imagination. (A very, very easy thing to do.)

Every single restored home had large signs throughout the building; signs that the girls in my group were able to overlook with daunting regularity.

“Second Floor for Staff Only” placed on a stair riser became: “Oooh! Let’s go upstairs!” And “Private Residence: Do Not Knock” became “Hey! Let’s go in this house! Let me knock!”

I was beginning to wonder whether I was chaperoning juvenile delinquents or illiterates.

Finally, as five girls started to lounge against a stair rail that said, “Do Not Touch,” I yelled out:

“Reading is Sexy!”

My daughter wanted to crawl under an 1800s-era rock.

A few years ago, my husband had seen a bumper sticker–Reading is Sexy–and every time our kids now disregard the printed word, one of us laughs and says, “Reading is Sexy.”

Sexy is apparently a bad word among the fourth grade set.

Blurting out inappropriate words made me realize that all of the things we repeat in our daily lives sink in somewhere in the crevices of our gray matter.

Last weekend, when I was at the writing conference I attend each year, I walked into a “Slushfest” with two friends. Slushfest, for the uninitiated, is where two anonymous, laminated first pages of someone’s novel are thrown up on a screen, and agents riff on why the passage would be something they would consider reading further or not.

After four years at the conference, I was starting to get that apathetic, senioritis feeling. I was tired; I felt I had heard it all before.

An agent we had sat at dinner with the night before then said something that felt like he was talking directly to me: “We have all heard these things before. At times, you may think you don’t need to hear them anymore. But I think it takes many times and ways of hearing things for wisdom to set in.”

I perked up. If only a teacher had said those very same words to me years ago, maybe I would have sat up straighter in my seat; maybe I would be sitting in a swank office somewhere, contemplating string theory.

Or maybe not.

I’ll leave you with words of wisdom gleaned from these experiences:

1. Reading is Sexy.

2. We need to hear important information over and over for it to sink in.

3. Be careful what you tell yourself over and over. You may start to believe it.

What is a helpful mantra for you that has led to success? What have you needed to hear over and over that eventually worked its way into your psyche? Have you ever embarrassed your child beyond belief?

But Everyone Has One

A tree’s simple demands: sun, water, and soil. Divine.

Miles run today: 4.5

Interviews I am ahead by for next week’s deadline: 2 (yippee!)

Hours per week my son watches CNET: 10 (best guess)

Yesterday, my almost-12-year-old son handed me a spreadsheet.

There were lots of numbers. In rows. And columns.

Him: See, Mom?! We can afford a cell phone!

Me: Since when is $2,400 per year affordable?

Him: I thought you said you were getting a job.

Me: Not as Leader of the Free World.

Him: But look! There’s one that’s only $5 per month!

Me: What’s the catch? Is it cardboard?

Him: Everyone has a cell phone. [long sigh]

Me: You don’t.

Him: [another long sigh] I know.

I always wanted lots of things, even the dump trucks that boys on commercials drove through big piles of dirt. Here is a sampling of what I didn’t get:

A canopied bed.

A Barbie. (until I was 10, and then my mom got one for my sister, and she felt like she had to get me one, but by then, I was almost too old for them, so it was a Pyrrhic victory.)

A Big Wheel.

Penny loafers.

Cable TV.

A microwave.

When I brought out the “But everyone has one!” argument, my parents were unmoved.

I mean: stony faces, lack of sympathy, comments about how some kids didn’t even own shoes or have food to eat.

I didn’t have spreadsheets at my disposal. For all I know, they hadn’t been invented yet.

So I worked the Charm angle.

The problem: I wasn’t particularly charming.

When I was my son’s age, I really, really, really wanted a phone in my bedroom. I wanted a cream-colored one that looked old-fashioned: a princess phone.

At the time, all phones were very much attached to the wall, or the unit itself… you could walk around the corner in our kitchen, but the cord only extended so far. You could sit on my parent’s bed and talk, but the cord only stretched to the door of their bathroom.

Seriously: everyone had a phone in her room. Everyone.

I’m not sure what I needed to talk about in my room that was private. Most likely, the hot lifeguard who twirled his whistle lackadaisically in the summer sun. I do remember a long argument my good friend and I got into about why she was annoying because she was a Virgo and why I was so bossy as a Leo.

I think that may have been the moment my mom decided a phone in my room was not such a bad idea.

She dashed upstairs and plugged that cord right into the wall and slapped an old, plastic blue phone on my bedside table.

I was thrilled. I called everyone. Everyone.

And it didn’t cost $2,400.

The Next Big Thing

Can you imagine yourself as the Next Big Thing?

Miles run today: 11

Words written in my novel today: 0

Omelet with goat cheese eaten today: 1

I am a writer.

And as a writer, I have always lived at least partially in my own head… in a fantasy world of my own making.

When I was young enough to still be wearing orange polyester pants with little, yellow lions on them and a yellow turtleneck with one big orange lion on it, I told my parents that I was waiting for my real parents to come and get me.

My real parents, of course, were a benevolent king and queen who lived in a distant land full of dragons and beautiful, diaphanous dresses.

Luckily, my parents were the sort of parents who thought this was hilarious.

I never quite got over the fantasy world, and when people go on a bit with the boring details of how computers work inside or how to fix a toilet, I am usually hoping that Daniel Craig will show up and spirit me away to a spa somewhere.

My point being: visualization of big things has never been a problem for me.

There’s a fun exercise going around the blogging world, and awesome writer and photographer, Amy Makechnie over at Maisymak tagged me so I could tell all about my Work-In-Progress. She also sent me the novel, The History of Love, when I won it in a drawing on her blog. Yay! Thanks, Amy!

What is the working title of your book?
Reality Ever After

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I wondered what happened to adult children after they starred on reality TV shows, how it would be possible to lead a “normal” life.

What genre does your book fall under?
Commercial women’s fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I think it’s very bad luck to speculate about a movie when the book is in the query process. (I am knocking on wood and crossing myself to ward off bad juju.)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When Clementine Monroe Hartley receives an invitation to the twentieth reunion of her family’s reality TV show, “Runs in the Family,” she wants nothing to do with it; she has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the scandal that rocked the end of the show and create a normal life for herself.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I will be querying agents after I finish the revision process.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
I started this novel in April, I believe. My goal was to finish by last weekend’s writing conference. I got close! Before I finish the last few chapters, I’m going to go through and make some suggested revisions. I think the result will be a stronger book.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’m going to have to work on some good comps.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to know more about peoples’ lives after the cameras go away.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Romance, scandal, forgiveness, a funeral, music, running and family relationships.

I am tagging some of the next big things:
J.Bo.net

Ravena Guron

The Sense of a Journey

Dennis Langley

Khaula Mazhar

Rules of The Next Big Thing:

*Use this format for your post
*Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
*Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

The Misplacements

Imperfect perfection.

Miles run today: 4.5

Words written in my novel over the weekend: 0

Fun days I had at the SCWW writing conference: 3

I have so much to report back about writing. I don’t yet have 20,000 blog followers or 50,000 people ready to laugh uproariously at my nonexistent Tweets. I am, however, writing a novel that has a rocking query letter and a bunch of revisions left to do.

But I’m not going to write about that today.

Today, I am going to write about how people who have it all together can get distracted and misplace things all over South Carolina. And then, my son, who was here in North Carolina, managed to “misplace” both an Aeropostale sweatshirt and an entire bag of gym clothes within five days.

Also, I wanted to report that there is a lot of good in the world, and we experienced it this weekend.

Observations:

1. When you write something, by yourself, for a very long time, and someone, someone like a real literary agent, says something encouraging about it, you are lucky that you remember how to walk.

I got to volunteer at the Critique Room at this weekend’s conference. For the uninitiated, the Critique Room is completely unlike the Champagne Room but involves some of the same elements: sweat, adrenalin, performance anxiety.

Everything that happens in the Critique Room happens behind closed doors.

And when the wrung-out writers emerged from the Critique Room with encouraging words to hash out over and over and over and over in their minds, they often did uncharacteristic things. Things like walking up the stairs in a zigzag line with noodle legs like one of my friends (no alcohol was involved).

Or another one of my friends, who kept misplacing her makeup, jacket, shoes, bag and other possessions at various locales around the hotel, condo or car. It was almost like she was saying to the universe, “I’m about to have a book published! I divest myself of all worldly possessions!”

2. When you have spent lots of time alone, talking to your own characters and world building in your spare time, you get a little giddy around other people.

Either it is a myth that most writers are introverts, or everyone went against type this weekend. After spending hours by myself in my desk chair like I’m supposed to be doing, people, it was like a wild festival of the senses to see and speak to so many other people who do the same thing.

I am not kidding, y’all. These people talk. They talk a lot. Not that I did, of course, but you know, other people had a lot to say.

And not in writing. Like, in real life.

3. When I meet other writers, it makes me proud to be a writer.

Writers, as a group, are funny. Even the ones who write about death and violence and murder and mayhem and vampires and sometimes fireflies made my stomach hurt with their wit and wisdom.

The keynote speaker was hilarious; the volunteers were funny; my dear writer friends, whose numbers keep increasing with each conference, made me double over with stories about mules and body parts (separately, of course).

4. Most people are mostly good.

I stand by my opinion.

Yesterday, my friend and I were driving home from the writing conference when nature called. We stopped at a rest area in North Carolina just off I-95. I took my purse into the rest area; my friend took nothing but her keys.

Fifteen minutes later, I got a call from another writing friend, who was driving home and was a few minutes behind us on the road.

She sounded as if she was notifying me of someone’s death.

A kind stranger had found my friend’s phone at the rest area, where it had apparently fallen out of her jeans pocket onto the floor.

We pulled over to the nearest exit and waited for the sweet family to pull up in their white horse SUV. They were so excited to drop off my friend’s cell phone. Excited and happy. To do something good.

In other Misplaced Things News, someone had put my son’s sweatshirt in the Lost & Found, and when he left his gym bag on the bus, the bus driver saved it for him and returned it, intact.

(He probably should have had to completely lose his things and learn his lesson. But sometimes, as a parent, you hope they will learn their lessons without it costing you a lot of money… a kind of free-to-the-parents kind of lesson.)

What about you? Where have you witnessed kindness and compassion lately? Does getting a positive critique make you act like you’re drunk? Do you like bunnies?

High-Low Heels: A New Trend

Change is in the air.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Words written in my novel so far: 62,326

Times I have revised my resume since September: 12

Looking for a job back in corporate America of course makes me recall my early experiences with corporate America. I was in my mid-twenties, and my career stretched out in front of me with promise.

My first job after college was as a public relations assistant for the city schools. I loved it. But I was ready for something bigger; something where I could spread my wings and fly. So I applied for a new job.

Some jobs, like relationships, are doomed.

The fact that my car wouldn’t start as I left for the job interview should have been a huge red flag.

But I borrowed a generous friend’s car for the 40-minute drive, got the job, and went on to eventually wish I hadn’t.

On my second day of work, Hurricane Fran struck the Triangle. Our entire tri-city area was shut down. Trees lay across major highways, the power was out everywhere, and the newscasters were telling everyone to stay home.

But I had to go to work… I didn’t know my boss’s cell number (or, geez, if she even had a cell phone), and I didn’t yet know the protocol for what to do in an emergency situation.

So I drove through fallen limbs and debris, downed power lines and crushed cars to get to my new job.

Which was dark.

Very dark.

I tried going to HR to ask if they knew my boss’s number. But no one was there.

After waiting for a while to see if the power would come back on or people (any people!) would show up, I went home.

The job didn’t get much better after that.

One time, when my computer wasn’t working, I called in the IT help desk guy from next door.

“It would help if you plugged it in,” he said.

We did not have a close and meaningful relationship after that. In fact, I think he and his cohorts giggled every time they saw me.

My boss took a job at corporate about a month after I started and told me to move into her office immediately.

“I am telling you this to help you learn about the corporate world; I am helping you,” she said. “Move into my office now, and get situated. They won’t have the balls to move you out. Remember: possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

I moved in. It was a terrific office, especially for an almost-25-year-old. I had a big credenza, large desk, two nice “company” chairs and a fantastic swiveling desk chair. The office was freezing cold in both winter and summer, and I acquired a space heater from someone in HR that I had to hide when the office was inspected for fire safety. One time, I started getting weird burn marks on my legs, and I eventually figured out it was my heater.

The good news: there were Hershey’s kisses in a bowl on one of the secretary’s desks. I went to visit her when things got bad. I never could figure out why I put on five pounds that year.

One day, about a year and a half into the job, I was so tired. I was planning a wedding and working and couldn’t seem to get anywhere in the building without it taking supreme amounts of energy.

I looked down, and I was wearing TWO DIFFERENT SHOES.

They were both black pumps, but distinctly different heights. All day, I had been schlumping around the building, clomp-CLOMP, clomp-CLOMP.

When I had gotten ready for work that morning, I was trying not to wake up my almost-husband. I reached into the dark closet and pulled out two shoes. Not then and not until hours later did it occur to me that they could be two very different shoes.

Dangit.

When I left that job, I moved to a very similar job at another company… in a cubicle. It was the best cubicle I ever had. It was the best job I ever had. And every single thing about it was easier than the broken-down car/hurricane/great office/Hershey kiss job.

You better bet I appreciated it. Every day.

I donated one of my pairs of black pumps to Goodwill. And bought some navy blue ones with a wildly different texture. Lesson learned.

Discomfort and Being in the Field(trip)

The gardener was harvesting sweet potatoes at Old Salem. Yum!

Miles run today: 3

Words written in my novel so far: 56,961

Bird nests we saw yesterday: 4

My ears hurt. My head hurts. I haven’t yet recovered from yesterday’s fourth grade field trip to Old Salem.

You wouldn’t believe how loud a bus full of fourth graders can be.

What?!?!

What’s that you’re saying?

Sorry. I couldn’t hear you.

When we arrived in Old Salem, a 1700s-era Moravian settlement, my six little female charges for the trip clustered around me as we looked at the map. (Maps again!)

“I’m hungry!” one piped up. It was 9:30 a.m.

“Me, too,” I said. “Too bad for us, right?”

One of the little girls in my group could have turned out to be an issue. But she had an uncanny knack for spying birds’ nests in the most unlikely places. We walked through a covered bridge, and she found a dove with her baby in the rafters. We visited the old fire station, and she saw an abandoned nest in the corner. And when we stopped to wait for a couple of stragglers along the sidewalk (there were always stragglers), she found a nest tucked way, way back under some vines.

Her bird-watching was very charming. Her hunger was alarming.

She kept walking up to me, sniffing in the area of my neck and saying, “You smell like food, and I’m hungry!”

I wondered whether I smelled like a bacon cheeseburger or tiramisu, but I was afraid to ask. I was a little concerned that she might bite off my arm when I least expected it.

When a wild turkey gobble-gobbled up in front of a parked car along our route, her eyes grew big. A bird. And a source of food. I didn’t want to get in the middle of that.

“Come on, girls! Let’s go get some ice cream!” I sang out, charging forward, Mary Poppins-style.

Even Moravian settlers had a weakness for ice cream, I suppose.

We learned about sugar making, crop growing, fire eliminating, baking, fire making, tavern attending before the Temperance movement made life a whole lot less fun, and pulleys. I found out about Lattimer, an African American who devised improvements in Edison’s original lightbulb design, and the tightly-strung ropes that served as a mattress foundation, which is what “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” was referring to. I even discovered that Moravians had kitchens that were attached to the house and cellars, unlike most of the other American homes of the era.

I correctly identified mustard greens by taste and found out more than I ever wanted to know about the differences among sweet potatoes, potatoes and yams. (All, in my opinion, are yummy in my tummy.)

I felt sorry for the poor Moravians who never knew the comforts of central heating, box springs or Cadbury’s chocolate. They didn’t know what it was like to build sand castles while wearing a bikini or the joys of sweatpants.

They also didn’t have to deal with a bus full of riotous fourth graders.

My group was the last group on the bus, due to a long period of me herding catlike fourth grade girls out of the gift shop.

“Look! There are some seats at the back of the bus!” I said, pointing. Then I dropped into a seat way, way up at the front.

At least up there, no one tried to eat my arm.

When You Know How to Read Maps

Miss Spider knows the way home.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Words written in my novel so far: 55,529

GPSes that I own: 0

You can think I’m kooky. But I like maps. I like navigating by knowing which way is north and which way is south and figuring out by messing up a few times the best way to get to a new place.

Or asking a local where the best taco restaurant is and then trying to get there by remembering that the old guy with one tooth said to turn at the bent elm tree near the Smoky the Bear billboard. My kids call this old fashioned.

I call it self-preservation. I also call it fun.

When my friends and I first got our driver’s licenses, we used to drive around Atlanta. We didn’t drive around to get somewhere. We drove around. We found new routes, happened to see boys, followed them, lost them, saw restaurants, stopped to eat, made wrong turns, saw big mansions, ended up in dangerous areas, and found our way out again. We didn’t need no stinkin’ GPS.

My husband’s other wife is an English chick named Madge. She is the Voice of the GPS.

He always takes her side in any dispute, even though she has been proven slightly glaringly wrong on more than one occasion.

With his old GPS, we had a whole 30-minute section of interstate that Madge insisted was actually a large lake.

And with his new GPS, we have re-routed in rather major ways… once, for the better; once, I was pretty sure we were going to end up in someone’s basement in a Silence of the Lambs-style redux.

We head out on long trips, and my husband gets wonderfully excited. Like, the kind of excited where no caffeine is necessary.

Him: I want some coffee.

Me: We just left. Can’t it wait?

Him: Coffee.

It used to be that he would start similar rants each time we traveled about how Starbucks needed to build flagship stores along the interstate exits. Then, when they did, he ranted about how difficult it was to know where they were located. Then, when the GPS started telling him, he would lean over to Madge and start pressing buttons as I shrieked and said things like, “Braking, braking. Red lights. RED LIGHTS!”

And Starbucks would pop up in fifteen locations, most of which were about twenty miles off the highway.

Starbucks searches are the only time he gets testy with Madge. The rest of the time, his irritation is directed at me, like when the cars start backing up about 50 miles outside of Atlanta, and I pull out a Georgia map and start telling him a route we could take to get around the mess.

Him: We can check the GPS!

Me: But I have a map. And I can read it. There are little lines on here that tell me stuff.

Him: But Madge has the latest updates.

Me: You’re trying to tell me that they’ve built a few new interstates since… 2011, when this map was printed?

Him: [Sigh.] Look. Madge says to take a right.

Me: Into the swamp? Madge isn’t very smart. I vote on taking exit 87. We don’t have off-road tires.

And then there are the times when Madge has said there was a restaurant in a certain location, and when we arrive, there is an empty building. Or a pond. Or scary people.

I know: maps are so 1988.

But I’m glad I know how to read one, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to drive around and mess up and find my way again. Sometimes life isn’t all neat and tidy, and it definitely doesn’t come with an instruction manual. My advice? Learn how to read a map, and pull out Madge for a laugh. Make a wrong turn and wait for her to say, “Reconfiguring… reconfiguring… reconfiguring.”