Wednesday, August 31, 2005

U-C-L-A, fight, fight, fight

I'm heading out west for the weekend for my uncle's eightieth birthday. On this side of forty, eighty is sounding really impressive! He's just a gem of a guy and our entire family is gathering to celebrate the incredible man he is.

Before I head out to Riverside, land of hot weather and smog in September, one of my best friends from college and I are going on a little nostalgia trip together back to UCLA. I haven't been there in years and have heard it has changed dramatically. Of course, some things never change: like Royce Hall (above).

I used to walk to the quad as an undergrad and when Royce Hall broke into view against the blue sky (it was blue every day of the year), I'd think "I'm the luckiest person on earth to be a student at this university." I knew it then. I still know it.

So I'll see you next week and hope to have a few Bruin photos to share.

We'll also drop by the sorority house (Kappa Kappa Gamma) and see how the 21st century decorates the old place. Can it really have been twenty one years already?

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I can't tell you how nice it is to have THE END at the end of that novel. Total number of words: 51,172. 180 pages.

Let's pause and light some incense shall we?

I noticed as I approached "the end" (while cranking out words wildly) that I forgot to tie up the loose ends of several sub plots. Oh yeah! What about that mysterious book? And what did Mitch know? Why did I think he knew it again?

Fortunately, my main character had been in a coma so I could conveniently fix the problems of plot "while she was sleeping." And that, my friends, is exactly the quickest way to send your novel straight to the round file.

All good novels (not mine) have the protagonist triumph over her problems without help. I, on the other hand, have this sick need to have everyone else rescue the damsel. Why? Why? This is my plotting nightmare. I love stirring up a hornet's nest, but then I call in the exterminators. I don't want to beat those bugs back all by myself, do I? Can't I just sleep through it?

Anyway, I sat down and fixed the lost plots and resolved the primary crisis and ended with a line I liked. Fortunately, the two main characters get together (phew) but the baby didn't make it (awwww). The seemingly not so good guy turns out to be more than decent.

Life is harder than expected, but richer too. (Deep)

Anyway, had to share. It was fun, fun, fun.

Pop! There's goes the cork. Cheers.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Blogging takes backseat to noveling

My novel is over 48,000 words and I have three days left to write. Hencequently, I am not blogging but writing. Eeeee. Highly recommended. Very fun. Ridiculous, ludicrous, bad writing. But so entertaining!

See you again when I surface.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Sweetest Thing

Johannah hopped in the car after her first day back to school. She goes part time and does the rest at home.

Me: How was your day?

J: Okay. I really like one of my teachers: Mr. Black. He's just like Dad!

High praise indeed.

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Not Extinct!

Cornell Lab of Ornithology (These are the guys who sponsor the backyard bird watch every year.)

The ivory-billed woodpecker was spotted in Arkansas!

Pretty exciting stuff for birders everywhere.

Monday, August 22, 2005

When the NML talks, I listen

You know the NML (Non-Material Layer) is working overtime when Kim Possible and Six Feet Under have the same message a day apart.

Kim Possible's nemesis Shego said to the bad guy: "What's the point of taking over the world if you don't stop to smell the roses?"

From Six Feet Under. Dead father talking to discouraged son who is still alive.

Nathaniel: "You're alive, you can do anything you want."

David: "It can't be that simple."

Nathaniel: "What if it is?"

What indeed?

Good stuff

Tiger won the NEC in Ohio. I love to watch him get out of trouble.

Six Feet Under passed gracefully from HBO. I loved that Claire lived to 102 and that she married un-hip Ted. Thought all the story lines developed beautifully and logically. Cried so many times. Think Brenda is a model of courage to overcome family demons.

Made sugar cookies with Caitrin after swimming at the YMCA. Cookies taste great with tea. Caitrin sang the whole time we cookie cut stars and boots and trees.

I added another 5000 words to my novel of the month this weekend. This is the final stretch. What will happen to my heroine Sami?

The weather is cooler (low nineties now) and I got a new used Dodge Caravan 2001.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Book Writing 101

Start with an idea: a short organized method for writing essays.

Add teaching the essay for five years.

Mix in a healthy dose of university composition as explained and discussed with husband who teaches freshman composition. Substitute teach and learn much.

Read and reread the freshman college text and realize that you have a lot to learn about essay writing and so work on learning it for five years.

Test ideas on real human beings. Modify ideas.

Plagiarize the best ideas and then realize you are plagiarizing and have to start from scratch.

Scrap project and eat chocolate for three years.

Return to project when fans and clients start hounding your inbox with requests for promised high school book that is only overdue by three years... what's the big deal? Oh your kids are heading off to college without it? Oops.

Start grad school to avoid writing book.

Write long papers.

Learn critical personal experience observations about academic writing while in grad school (iow, write papers while crying... very helpful insights into the pain of academic writing).

Finally face the truth: essay book is long overdue and must be written.






Lay out. (hubby's job)



Lay out again (first version wrong).



Enter copyedits (copy editors deserve a special place in paradise - they are saints)

Publish into PDF format.


It's done. All 176 pages of it. My second full length book. I have the scars and dementia to prove it.

Incidentally, I did all this revising and rewriting this month while I'm working on that NaNoWriMo novel of the month. I'm at 33,330 words right now. Think I'm sick of typing WORDS?

Okay, off to celebrate. Have some chocolate on me.

P.S. I was asked recently to explain my business on this blog. I'll do that in the next few days. I'm too tired to think straight.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mommy Guilt

My iBook came with this strange feature. It's got this six foot chain with locking handcuffs that erupts clangingly from under the keypad every time I boot up. It locks me to my chair in Harry Potter fashion when I sit down to work on my high school book for Brave Writer (knowing that I'd bolt otherwise and go skip through the sprinklers with my cutie-pie daughter).

Even now, the restless clanking of the chains distracts me from the most riveting aspect of book writing (entering the copy editor's OCD edits... this woman needs a life!). I know it's important to get rid of widows and orphans (bet you don't even know what those are in the editing world... we send their sorry asses back to the projects), but does it really matter if the first three words on the left side of the page all have apostrophes? Do I have to realign the whole frickin' paragraph?

I digress.

So with ball and chain and computer, my eight-year-old daughter, who makes me laugh every day by quoting Seinfeld verbatim (you see how much I'm working lately?), is understandly an orphan herself.

Can you spell G-U-I-L-T???

Last night at her usual 11:45 p.m. Mom-neglects-me-so-I-stay-up-late bedtime, she asked me, "Mommy, how do you spell 'appreciate'?"

I rattled it off.

"That's a long word! I like it."

This morning, I woke up to find a sheet of paper slid under my bedroom door:

I love you Momy
I love you Momy
I appreciate you Momy
I love you mr thn ennything

Each letter "i" was topped by a heart and the whole group of lines curved in an arc like a rainbow until it crashed into a pool of overlapping hearts. My own heart crashed into a pool of guilt.

Then the most mysterious thing happened. This epistle of love gummed up the iBook's masochistic chain and cuff program and I'm free! Today I'm taking my girl to the pool for some swimming and Seinfeld quoting.

She's the best little orphan around. I love hr mr thn ennything.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What the devil?

So we went to the bigtime West Chester Bash where Smash Mouth entertained the masses of midwestern kiddos and their parents. You have to live in West Chester to appreciate how far the mighty have fallen that this top forty hit band would come here for a gig. Sure, we have a respectable upper middle class crowd who can swill the Warsteiner with the best of them. But honestly, these folk are mostly country-western fans or devotees of Fox classic rock.

The "bash" boasted an unattractive platform stage bordered by huge speakers that couldn't be heard on the other side of the festival. So much for big sound. Above the performers hung a tacky plastic banner promoting PNC Bank, of all things. Not exactly rock band material.

No matter. When Smash Mouth got to the stage and began with the soundtrack from Shrek 1, everyone got jiggy with it.

Then the mid concert slump hit in song two. These guys look older and more tired than they probably are, their five albums are lack luster and for stage presence, they offered a strange mix of rasta hair on the bassist and an oversized black shirt on the lead singer.

We endured a bunch of songs we couldn't hear well or understand to get to "Walkin' on the Sun" where little girls and women who should have stayed on the ground got up on stage to dance. I'm now at the uncomfortable age where my peer group embarrasses me. I mean do we really need forty-something women shakin' what their mamas gave them oh so long ago for everyone to see? Yikes. I wanted to yell "Family hold back!"

Then the show picked up as the bassist entoned the distinctive riffs of none other than rock gods Van Halen. Unfortuantely, that's when the whole experience just got flat out weird.

Lead singer Steve Harwell shouted "Are there any parents in the house?"

::Cheers and beers::

"This one, I said, THIS ONE is for the parents!"

And suddenly we were into a ripped off version of "Runnin with the Devil." That's right, for all those terrific parents out there who 'run with the devil' every day so that their kids can grow up to 'run with the devil', this song's for you. The wild child in each forty-something male broke free and lifted his beer in honor of all those days of devil runnin'. It was, sniff, sniff, beautiful.

Then a misguided blonde in her forties and bouncing halter top scaled her husband's shoulders and flashed devil horns to the beat for the whole song! (Amazing how she balanced that beer and didn't spill a drop on her kids, either.)

Yes, we run with the devil - this one's for us!

In case we hadn't gotten in touch with our inner devils (those of us who grew up in the decade to forget—the 70s), Smash Mouth played a little VH encore: "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" because, hey, these songs are for the parents and who are we kiddin'? Were we talkin' 'bout love with our kids? Hell no! We're runnin' with the devil. We ain't talkin' bout love, no way, no how! We're talkin' 'bout beer! Woo-hoo... devil horns, devil horns.

Now honestly, I would be a bit less hard on the guys if the lead guitarist had even held a candle to my old home town guitar hero, Eddie Van Halen. But let's be clear about this. No face-melting guitar solo to be had! No gut bustin' drum solos either. And no one even attempted a David Lee Roth scream that sets your spine on fire.

Weirder still, in spite of their not living up to VH's fine reputation, these two songs were better than the rest of their own repertoire combined except for their encore hit "All Star." We did enjoy singing that one, every single word.

So we ended the night shouting to our kids: "Even shooting stars break the mold..." not really knowing what the heck that means, but hoping our kids wouldn't go home and start running with devils or stop talking 'bout love.

Six Feet Under and Smash Mouth

This brilliant masterpiece of television is nearing the end of its fifth and final season. Only two episodes to go.

They will air a two-part memorium before the finale:
SFU schedule details

If you've missed years of the show, it is available on DVD except for this most recent season. I dreamed about Nate two weeks ago, so potent was that episode. Thank you HBO. Thank you Alan Ball (my favorite writer/producer since "American Beauty").

For all who ponder life, death, relationships, values and the intersection of flesh and spirit, SFU is the artistic and performatist vision bar none that peers unflinchingly into matters of the soul.

On a lighter note, Smash Mouth will be performing at our local West Chester City Center Bash tonight! We, of the "Ratrace" fan club (having watched that movie so many times, our little family has it memorized and can recite entire sequences for hours on long car rides) will be there singing "I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed..."

Good times.

Friday, August 12, 2005

How Bilbo Made Me Homesick

One of my buddy bloggers just got back from a camping trip on the west coast (also known as "My Coast," or "Julie's Coast," or "The Best Coast," or "The Coast is Clear" because it is not in Ohio).

His Internet name is Bilbo and he is a friend to nature. He got the "cautionary tale message" of the LOTR series and thusly, spends time in natural settings, then photographing them and then torturing displaced Californians with photos to drool over.

So go take a look.

Stunning! Might make good desktop wallpaper.

Bilbo's West Coast Camping Trip

You have to scroll down a bit to get to the photos... but reading his recounting of his trip is worthwhile too!

Enjoy. (My favorite photo is the one of the seagulls in flight, being the backyard birder that I am...)

Monday, August 08, 2005


Novel writing for procrastinators

Have you heard of the book No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty? It's the maniac's approach to novel writing. Perfect for me.

I've been batting around novel ideas for as long as I could hold a pencil. I have reams of scenes, descriptions (I'm a sucker for a good description), character sketches, waiting for that quiet period of life where I could focus on writing a novel and not writing about writing (you know, like after I'm dead).

Chris Baty got this absurd idea that people could write 50,000 words in a month and check the "I will write a novel some day" objective off their "before I die" lists if they did it together and set the objective of clicking out 1667 words per day. So he gathered some friends and they embarked on a freewheeling, coffee-sustained adventure of noveling (in San Francisco, that crazy city where sane people live) in 1999.

Their success emboldened Chris, as all successes do. He became the Jesus Christ figure for knocking out novels - the one with the special key to the kingdom of prose. His book and website have become a veritable movement, verging on religious devotion.

And my son and I are hooked. Noah and I met for coffee this a.m. to discuss week one and offer each other moral support... and the all important hints for better story development. It was a blast! I've got through the first week with over 12,000 words. I dream about my book, it's that intoxicating.

Don't get me wrong. The writing is crap. Honestly. No one can write anything brilliant when smacking the key pad so hard the letter engravings all fly off (one endearing feature of the Apple iBook). But it's a heck of a lot of fun! I feel like I'm playing tennis, batting around words to see if I can lob them, smack them, serve them up or volley them to the unsuspecting character lurking in the alley.

Try it; you'll like it.

National Novel Writing Month is typically in November. You can sign up and join the literally thousands of brave freewriting novelists by visiting the website:

We are writing ours in August before fall term papers are due. :)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Am I glowing? (The Aftermath of Spruce)

I need to make a confession. I love Bruce Springsteen, but I have not been a loyal fan. I spent fifteen years away from rock 'n roll due to a misguided notion that I ought to only ever listen to worship music: "Call the elders of the church!" (Kevin Prosch, anyone?)

During those years, the Boss created albums like "Born in the USA" and "Tunnel of Love." I never owned either. I was an early fan, who learned about Bruce from a friend who'd heard about him from another friend who had been to a concert. And that's how it was in the old days. You didn't know Bruce from the radio. Nah. He was waaaay too good for that (so we said). You heard about him because his concerts rocked!

So I remember the first time I heard "Born to Run" and almost lost consciousness. It was just so incredibly tight and right and a song I knew I had to learn by heart right away...

And then I stumbled on "Thunder Road" and wept. I sang that song at the top of my lungs so many times—in the window frames of dorm rooms and old youth hostiles in Europe and as I went jogging or while I washed dishes in my little college apartment. That song became the theme from my college soundtrack—the one that called to me that there was a chance worth taking, that it wasn't too late.

If there were credits for my life story, this would be the song you'd leave to.

Once I had been bit by the Bruce bug, I went backwards and bought all the rest of his albums (we called them albums back then, for those of you who were still in diapers—you know how you are). I saw Bruce for the first time on the River Tour right before I left for France as an exchange student. Right before, like two days before.

My boyfriend bought seats on the floor. We were spitting distance from the stage. I prayed for that spray to hit me in the forehead. It nearly did during "Rosalita!" Bruce jumped and sweated and screamed... and threw his sweatrag into the audience. One of my girlfriends actually caught it! We cherished that thing all year in France. And then...

Only God knows why: between 1985 and 2000, I fasted from rock 'n roll as unto the Lord.

My return to the fold occurred about the time my faith unraveled. Probably no coincidence.

And since that return, I'm amazed in a whole new way at what a talented poet our Bruce is. "The Rising" stands apart, in my mind, as a generous gift to America, a gift of grief that we can share so that we might heal. My husband and I went to that concert in Cinci two years ago and I felt like I'd come all the way home.

This most recent CD is stunning. "Devils and Dust" has many stories to tell. English professors of America would understandably drool over the quantity of material Bruce offers. I'm in awe... still full from just listening to him sing the lives of people I'll never know save through his songs.

Last night, we got to attend the performance of many of those songs...

I'm still processing the whole thing. Right at the end, a man grabbed my husband and me by the arm to say, "Now there's talent. I mean, the E Street Band is great, don't get me wrong. But that there is talent. He was AMAZING! THAT THERE, my friend, is TALENT!"

Jon whispered to me as we walked away, "He just had to tell someone, didn't he?"

And that's how I feel today.

Suffice to say that the acoustic solo performance by Bruce Springsteen last night might be the most memorable concert I've ever been to. (U2 fans, don't throw tomatoes...) As Jon said, Bruce sang more words in one night than some artists write over the course of ten albums. Bruce is a poet story-teller. He casts a spell.

I was deeply soothed and refreshed this morning, like, to the bottom of my soul.

Bruce sang about parents and their kids, about the sounds we make when we breathe in our sleep, about the struggle of Mexican migrant workers and how some of them die in their attempts to get to America and leave behind the loves of their lives. He sang about dreams and Mary's love for Jesus and her desire to protect him, he sang about what happened after Thunder Road and Rosalita, he sang about lost love on the Amatitlian Plain and a dreary hotel room, he reminded us of the empty sky after 9/11 and the confusing fight for our soldiers in the Middle East where faith and trust meet doubt and fear...

He stomped his foot for percussion on "Reason to Believe" and wheezed into a distorted mike. Chilling. He smacked his guitar and thumped it on "The Promise." He strummed or picked or slid his hand up the neck. He changed guitars for every song and even played the hammond organ, the piano and some other cute little piano who's name I didn't quite catch (electric, apparently). He gave us "Janey, Don't Lose Heart" on that little one and chuckled at his struggle to play it well. And there were the rich tones of the ever-present harmonica. A master at that like no other.

There were no big rocking tunes like he plays with the E Street Band. Instead, the audience was subdued into quiet while we watched a master at work. But we didn't just watch. It was a fully participatory experience. Chills and tears, smiles and hope.

All around me couples were snuggled close to each other. A surprising number of little kids were in attendance and really engaged. He played a couple of his older songs: "Racin' in the Streets" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town" (one of my favorites).

A few times, I just started crying. "Jesus Was an Only Son" absolutely split me open. He contributed commentary between verses that put his writing into context. I hope to blog about that at another time.

"Matamoros Banks" broke my heart it was so beautiful.

He closed the night with a song that repeated in a meditation "Dream Baby Dream, I just wanna see you smile." No big flashy finish. Just this mantra over and over again with crescendos and dimuendos... as he shook hands and handed out his characteristic guitar picks. One cute little girl rode her daddy's shoulders and Bruce made a special effort to say hello to her.

Bruce is the real deal: raw, honest and true to his calling and his message...

His message? Hope, dreams, faith, proof, promise and above all - struggling to reach each other through love, especially that one love.

That's enough church for me for awhile.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Brave Writer, the rock concert

Bono needs 50,000 people screaming his name to feel normal.

I need fifty emails an hour to feel sane.

Yesterday was the day before the registration for my Brave Writer Online classes. I felt like Ticketmaster - all these nervous moms writing me notes asking for the rules. Can I sign up using Paypal which is PST at 9:00 p.m. when you said we had to wait until August 1, since you are in the eastern time zone? Your blog says registration is open now so I registered, but now that blog is gone. Am I in? (I accidentally posted the "registration now open" post too soon).

All kinds of questions, nerves...

And then Boom! This a.m. my inbox was stuffed with registrations, questions, orders.

I almost jumped on a table with a wooden spoon and sang "Oh you look so beautiful tooo-niiiight" to my peeps!

I will say this, at least Paypal could handle the modest spike in sales my classes generated and no one, I say NO ONE, got bumped after registering for a class. Ticketmaster, watch and learn.

It's a weird sensation to have started a business with a tiny little email address on yahoo (no website) five years ago and suddenly to have so much business, I don't have enough staff or classes to satsify everyone. Heady stuff... the stuff of rock star dreams. :)

Btw, I will be in the presence of the Boss tonight.

I wanna build me a house, on higher ground
I wanna find me a world, where love's the only sound
High above this road, filled with shadow and doubt
I want to shoulder my load, and figure it all out