Monday, March 28, 2011

That Crazy Frog

I’ve been away from my writing for a couple of weeks, and I woke this morning excited about getting back to my computer and my novel. Run, shower, breakfast, brush teeth, a load of laundry in the washing machine and finally I settled down, computer booted up… and the crazy frog began to sing. Everyone knows that Crazy Frog song , the one that likes to party… New York to San Francisco, An intercity disco… so if you like to party, get up and move your body.

I could hear, loud and clear, the Arroyo Vista Elementary School jog-a-thon. A thousand grade-schoolers running their hearts out accompanied by a DJ and a variety of songs complied, I’m sure, to inspire little kids to run. Don’t misunderstand me, I love children and I love running, I’m just not a fan of the jog-a-thon, especially when it’s happening on the other side of my fence, making my dog berserk. Perhaps it’d once been mildly amusing when I could look out my window catch glimpses of my children, sweaty and red-faced huffing by, but I today I'm not amused.

When ten o’clock arrived, I pack up and moved to the library. It’s quiet here, but I’m reminded of my last visit. I’d been writing and happened to look up and notice a mentally handicapped woman sitting directly in front of me, staring. I smiled at her and she regarded me without expression, her gaze never leaving my face. I went back to my work, but after a few minutes, looked back up and into this woman’s unflinching stare. I switched chairs. This library is huge. There are many rooms and many chairs. I simply moved camp without much effort. After a few minutes, I once again looked up, and there sat my friend, directly across from me, same expressionless steady gaze. After a few minutes I went to write in my car.

Sometimes, like today, I’m ousted from my preferred spot and other times I’ve had to leave because I was no longer comfortable with where I’d been. Sometimes I’ve moved on because it’s simply the next step on the ladder… graduation, from the apartment to the house, a job transfer, etc.

I was thinking about this while I was visiting my dad in rural Washington. He still lives in the house where I was born. During my stay I got up to run every morning before dawn. The roads are dark there, no lights, the street signs unreadable, but it didn’t matter because I’d been on those roads thousands, if not millions of times. I could never be lost in Arlington, despite the fact that some of the pastures have been converted to housing developments and some of the farms now have gates to large homes. SUVs have replaced cows.

A path through the woods to the farm houses on the side of the slough, up the burn road, my kindergarten on the left, the hospital on the hill, the high school on French, the tiny, moldy house where my husband and had spent a rainy summer on a back alley off of Cob. Once I belonged. People in Arlington treat me kindly because they know my father, brothers, uncles, aunts and cousins. Sometimes I miss that, but I know I don’t belong there anymore. I haven’t for a very long.

I live in a bedroom city of Los Angeles. One woman in a sea of many. When I first went to Boston, this bothered me. By the time I went to New York, I liked it. I love the anonymity, being faceless and nameless, the freedom of not being watched and held up to a standard. But, that doesn’t really happen. It may happen less in Southern Orange County, CA than in Arlington, but I still know people and they still know me. Being watched, or not, is a choice no one gets to make.

Once after a bad haircut, I consoled myself with the thought that at least it was unique. Then I went to Trader Joe’s and counted about five other women with the exact same cut. (I’ve since changed my hair.) Of course, I’m not defined by my hairstyle, but it’s made me think about where I belong and where I fit and how I’ve molded my life to fit my surroundings. Even if that was never my intent.

Sometimes, despite everything that I’d planned, that crazy frog is coming, and everyone is jumping…

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

I'll admit I picked up this book because of it's great title. Loved, loved, loved it (the book and the title.) It's keeping company with Tuck Everlasting on my favorite shelf.

Here's a quote to take and keep:
"It's better to travel with hope in one's heart than to arrive in safety...Celebrate today's failure because it's a clear sign that our voyage of discovery is not yet over. The day the experiment succeeds is the day the experiment ends. And I inevitably find that the sadness of ending outweighs the celebration of success."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Writing Tips

Yesterday while looking up writery things on the net, I came across an article entitled 7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Jane Borden. I enjoyed her article, but realized her writing tips belonged to her. If I had to make a list of my top writing tips, they wouldn’t be the same. Not that hers were wrong and mine are right, but because we’re different people. Just because we’re involved in the same activity doesn’t mean we’re going to take the same path. Just like there’s more than one way to get to bookstore (on foot, by bike, on roller-skates, by way of the doughnut store) there’s a zillion ways to write whatever’s in your heart, dying to get out.

So, here are my writing tips. They’re undoubtedly poles apart from yours.

1. Don’t fight.
This is pretty basic, but it’s important to remember. If you’re like me, the perfect retort to a rude comment isn’t always at my tongue’s tip at the encounter. If you’re fuming and rummaging through your head trying to formulate the perfecting stinging comeback, you won’t be in tune with your story or characters. It’s impossible, for me at least, to feel in sync with my writing if I’m too busy mentally constructing closing arguments. I’m not advocating being a pansy, I’m just saying learn to be a peacemaker. It’ll help you be a better writer (and a nicer person.)

2. Write somewhere where no one knows you.
I live in Rancho Santa Margarita, but I write at the Mission Viejo Library. Rancho has a perfectly lovely library, but I’ve lived here for twenty years and I know people. Chatty people. So, if I can’t write at home, I go to the Mission Viejo library. (My hometown library, by the way, only has one chair. Sometimes writing at the library isn’t an option.)

3. Pay attention.
Being a writer isn’t an excuse for poor citizenship. Just because you’re thinking about your book and not about the road doesn’t mean you get to run red lights. Once while writing at the Mission Viejo library, I turned off my laptop, stood up, only to suddenly realize that a person on the other side of the glass partition, not more than eight feet away, must have had some sort of collapse. The room was filled with paramedics, a gurney, and a crowd of about forty people. When I left the library, I passed an ambulance pulled up to the curb, lights flashing. I don’t know how I missed all of this, but I’ve since taken it as a life lesson. I never want to be so caught up in my own private world that I can’t recognize and help someone in need.

4. Take Notes.
Truth really is stranger than fiction and I like to look for what I call novel fodder. Strange and incredible things happen every day. People, especially children, say amazingly clever things. Novel fodder happens right outside my door. For example, once while attending a school board meeting at the beach club, as I listened to a member of the school board give his speech and spin his lies, a mother duck and a line of her babies wandered through the crowd, quacking. It was such a funny contraposition I used it in my novel A Library in Rhyme. So, go ahead and eavesdrop. And take notes. Something bizarre it bound to happen.

5. Don’t try to be like Jack or Marylou.
Jack and Marylou belong to my writing group and are very poetic writers. I love their use of language. Their prose is lyrical and beautiful. Their sentences are long. I confess, I fell into the trap of trying to mimic their style. It didn’t work. I just had a slew of run-on sentences. One of the best bits of writing advice I ever received was this, write like you’re telling your best friend a story. If your best friend is Cormac McCarthy, go ahead and wax poetic, but if not…be yourself.

And find the best writing tips that work for you.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Friend's Books

One of the wonderful things about life is getting know everyone else. I really believe that everyone has something to share, something to teach. Being a writer means I get to meet a lot of other writers and I’m certain their creativity rubs off on me. I always leave my writers group inspired, thoughts and ideas bouncing around my head, eager for my next writing session. Writer’s conferences, workshops, book signings, anywhere writer-types gather to mix and mingle there’s sure to be creative energy flowing. And, if I’m lucky, and I usually am, I make friends with writers who actually sell books.

So, here’s the link to two writer friends. The first is my critique partner, Melanie Jacobson. Her first book came out this week. She’s the answer to my niece’s question, “Why can’t anyone write clean chick-lit?”

The second is a man I met four years ago at a writer’s conference. I don’t know Scott well, but I do remember him, and I’m proud to say I knew him when his book was not much more than an idea. (Perhaps someday he’ll say the same about me.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chapter 1 Redux

I rewrote the first chapter to Beyond the Fortune Teller’s Tent and read it last night at Fictionaire’s. The last time I read this chapter, no one seemed to like it. Although they liked the premise, they didn’t like Petra. They thought the fortune-teller smacked of Disney cliché. I tried to make Petra more sympathetic; my friends told me that I succeeded. (I’m so lucky to have them in my corner.) And I turned Fiorella the fortune-teller into Fester, thus giving me one of my favorite lines, “He sounds like he needs a squirt of Neosporin.”


The Arroyo Oaks Renaissance fair is the brain child of Mrs. Brighton, part-time English teacher and full time witch. She enchants Arroyo Oaks residents to forego the Medieval Times show- house in Anaheim and lures them to the canyon. Glass blowers, potters, and herbalists mingle with students, teachers and parents. Knife and ax throwing are not only allowed, but encouraged. Games include Drench-a-Wench (Mrs. Brighton) and Soak-a-Bloke (Principal Olsen.) Wizards, elves, beer and barely covered booties are all welcome as long as they help raise thousands of dollars for the drama department.

Petra’s notes

Chapter One

Silky curtains, beaded strings, the faint aroma of vanilla, the fortune-teller’s tent was a gaudy riot of color, the jewel of the Arroyo Oaks Faire. Just looking at it made anticipation, as real and as palpable as a funnel cake, well within Petra. She’d been waiting for eons.

Robyn squeezed her hand. “It’s so romantic,” she whispered. “This is the perfect place for him to ask.”

“It’s so him, right?” Petra returned Robyn’s squeeze, but her eyes never left the fortune-teller’s tent. Most of her friends had been asked to prom weeks ago. Some even had their dresses. Petra hadn’t actually bought her dress, that would have been presumptuous, but she did know which one she wanted to buy. She’d even found the perfect shoes. She hoped Mylan would be okay with the salmon colored vest she’d picked out for him.

“It’s so who?” Zoe demanded.

Petra put her hand on top of Zoe’s orange curls. Zoe was the fly in her honey jar, the pooper at the party, the stepsister that never should have and would have stayed at home if not for sick Aunt Ida. Petra had never even met Zoe’s Great Aunt Ida. She sounded like a potato.

Robyn rolled her eyes at Petra. Robyn and Petra called themselves telebuddies, because they could read each other like open books. Robyn nodded at the tent, her head bob saying, just go.

“Do you think he’s in there?” Petra whispered.

Robyn widened her eyes, as if to say of course. “He said he would be, didn’t he?”

“Who’s he?” Zoe demanded. “Are you talking about Mylan? You are, aren’t you? You know Daddy doesn’t like his hotitude.”

Petra swallowed. It still stung to hear Zoe call her dad daddy. “Actually, he didn’t say anything, but his note said to meet at the tent at two.” Petra gasped as a horrible thought struck. “What if he didn’t send it? What if someone’s playing a cruel trick --”

Robyn shook her head and her curls bounced around her shoulders. “It was Mylan.” She sounded way more confident than Petra felt. Robyn cut her a sideways glance and a small flicker of doubt tickled in Petra’s mind. Why did she suspect the fortune-teller’s tent was more Robyn’s idea than Mylan’s? Petra quickly squelched the traitorous thought and focused on Mylan. He was her fortune.

“Hotitude, the attitude that sadly so often accompanies physical beauty,” Zoe sighed, parrotting her mom.

Inwardly, Petra groaned. It was so unfair of her parents to dislike Mylan because he was a rock star handsome.

“Ignore her,” Robyn mouthed over Zoe’s head. “And just go already.” She gave Petra a little push towards the tent.

Petra dug in her heels, or in this case, her silky flats. “Wait, how do I look?”

“As always, you’re beautiful.” Robyn straightened Petra’s tiara, gave her a small hug, and then turned her shoulders tent-ward.

“Pretty as a Petra poopy picture,” Zoe said, under her breath.

Petra frowned at Zoe and then glanced down at her dress, last year’s prom gown. She and Robyn were the only two at the faire dressed as princesses. All around her she saw women wearing laced up bodices, men in tights and knee high boots, horses covered in bright cloths and even a snowy white owl on a perch. Zoe in her cut up pillowcase and drapery tassel looked more in place than Petra and Robyn in last year’s prom-wear. She sniffed. She didn’t care that she was overdressed. She wanted to look beautiful for Mylan. Only he mattered. He was going to ask her to prom and she was going to say yes. Straightening her shoulders, clutching her beaded purse, she headed to the tent. Her steps faltered and she turned back to Robyn and Zoe, suddenly struck with nerves. “Come with me,” she said to Robyn, taking her friend’s hand and tugging her along.

Zoe’s mouth dropped open. “You can’t leave me here by myself!”

Robyn motioned to all the faire-goers: teachers, fellow students, and neighbors. “You’re hardly alone.”

Zoe’s eyes, for a moment, looked almost as wild as her tangerine curls. “There are witches, people with swords, wild animals!”

Petra saw several people she knew, but Zoe, who had only just moved to Arroyo Oaks, probably didn’t know any of them. She knelt down, so that she could look Zoe in the eyes. “And not one of them will hurt you, I promise. If anyone bugs you, which they won’t, call a yellow jacket,” Petra said, referring to the Arroyo Oaks security guards that patrolled the school grounds and kept peace by way of blow-horns.
“Please, just sit.” Petra stood and pointed at a well placed stump. She wished for perhaps the zillionth time that Zoe would take lessons from her dog. Frosty greeted all instructions with a lolling tongue and wagging tail. Zoe didn’t receive instructions, she counterattacked them. Poodles and eight year olds had very little in common, except for, in Zoe’s case, the hair-do.

“If you leave me here --” Zoe began.

Petra silenced her by holding up a finger. “If you can be quiet, sit and not say a word, I’ll buy you a funnel cake.” She raised her eyebrows to see if Zoe would take the bribe or would if she needed to up the ante and toss in a caramel apple. Her health-foodie stepmother, Laurel, wouldn’t pony up for brand name peanut butter, let alone funnel cakes.

Zoe sat with a humph and picked at the hem of her pillowcase tunic and then her gaze went to the corral across the sawdust strewn path. Her eyes lit up. “I want to ride that horse.”

Petra and Robyn both turned to watch guy lead a stallion through a wooden gate.
“Giddy-up,” Robyn said, starring.

The guy had brown shoulder length hair tied back with a leather thong and wore soft, fawn colored breeches and matching knee high boots. His white shirt billowed around a wide leather belt that hung about his hips. Three simultaneous thoughts struck Petra. The first: everyone else, including herself, wore costumes, but this guy looked at ease in his breeches and boots as if they were his everyday clothes. The second: his eyes and the small smile curving his lips sent a jolt of recognition up her spine, although she knew they’d never met. She would have remembered him. The third: she was quite sure this guy could never be told to wear a salmon colored vest.

“Isn’t he awesome,” Zoe breathed, her eyes large and round. “He’s so huge.”

Robyn gave Zoe a funny look and Petra laughed, shaking her head. “You can’t ride him,” she said, watching the Arabian toss his mane and pull at the reins held by the guy with long brown hair. The stallion fought the bit, rose up on his hind legs and scissored the air with his hooves. “He’s not one of the ponies they lead through rink.”

Zoe frowned, sending her freckles south. “I’m sure he’d rather be with me on the trail than in that silly jousting place.” They’d tried watching the jousting competitions. That’d been a disaster. Zoe, unconcerned for the knights being thwacked about by lances, had wailed in concern for the sweat dripping horses.

“I’m sure you’re right, Zo, but I’m pretty sure I’m right, too,” Petra said. “They’d never let you take him out of their sight. Besides, he looks fast, barely tame.”

“I like them fast and barely tame,” Robyn said under her breath, smoothing down the pink chiffon skirt of her prom dress.

From the jousting arena came the cheering and huzzahs of the crowd. Petra heard the horses’ hooves thundering and the clanging of lances hitting shields and armor. She smelled roasted turkey legs, the fires from the pottery kilns and dung. Her senses seemed on overload and when the guy with the horse caught her eye and winked, dizziness and a skin-pricking sensation of déjà vu washed over her.

Zoe looked up at her, smiled and said, this time, in a voice as sweet as funnel cake, “If you let me ride that horse I won’t tell about your face-sucking Mylan.”

“There’s been no face-sucking!”

Zoe put her fits on her hips and jutted out her chin. “Who says?”

Petra blew a loose strand of hair from her eyes. “You can’t ride that horse!”

Zoe’s gaze cut to the corral and lingered on the stallion. “But you can ask if I can.”

Robyn nodded in agreement, a flirty smile on her lips. “We can ask.”

Petra shot her look that said, traitor.

“Hot horse guy,” Robyn murmured, flipping her brown curls over her shoulder. Robyn’s puppy dog pretty reminded Petra of a brown eyed, curly haired spaniel.

“And offer him money,” Zoe put in. Covered in freckles and cursed with orange hair, Zoe wasn’t puppy pretty or even reptile interesting. She was more weasel cunning.

“How much money?” Petra nearly growled. Since her dad’s marriage she’d been given an allowance ‘to help her find her own financial feet in the real world,’ Laurel’s words, and Petra’s feet wanted to wear an extraordinarily expensive pair of salmon colored heels to prom.

“I saw him wink at you.” If Zoe had been a cartoon character she’d have dollar signs flashing in her eyes. “Maybe you wouldn’t need to pay him.”

“We’ll ask him right after we visit the fortune-teller,” Robyn promised Zoe, sending a let’s-get-together-soon smile at horse guy.

Zoe looked cross, folded her arms and watched the horses parading in the corral, but she didn’t budge from the stump.

Petra turned to the fortune-teller’s tent and forced herself to not look at hot horse guy, although she imagined she could feel his gaze on her back. She towed Robyn with her.

Held up by large wooden poles, the tent had brightly woven damask walls. A barrel-chested man wearing nothing but gold chains, large rings and red bloomerish pants guarded a money jar. A hand printed sign propped by the jar read Fester Foretells your Fate.

“Fester?” Petra asked. “He sounds like he needs a squirt of Neosporin.”

“You’re stalling.” Robyn pulled on Petra’s hand.

“What if he’s not in there?” Petra asked, stopping in front of the guy dressed in bloomers.

“I can hear you,” Zoe said. “I know you’re trying to ditch me.”

“Then will have our fortune’s read.” Robyn said.

Petra scowled at Zoe. “We’re not ditching you. It’s more like we’re parking you.” She made a motion, like she was pulling a lever. “There, I put on the emergency brake. You’re stuck.”

“I’m telling Daddy that you left me here, ALONE,” Zoe said.

“But, what if he doesn’t come inside?” Petra asked Robyn. “He could stand out here for eons while some old biddy predicts I don’t get into a good school and end up selling shoes for the rest of my life.”

“You love shoes,” Robyn said. “Besides, I’m sure he’s already inside.”

“And, just like me, probably listening to every word you say!” Zoe added.

Petra sent Zoe another be-quiet-or-be-dead look before she dropped money into Fester’s jar and pushed back the curtains of the fortune-teller’s tent. When the curtain of crystal beads fell back into place behind Robyn, it sounded like the tinkling of falling glass shards. Heavy incense hung in the air. Petra blinked, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. A crystal ball on a table draped in silks glowed and sent a shivery light that didn’t reach the far corners of the tent. Large pillows dotted the tapestry rugs and Petra nudged one with her foot, wondering if she should sit. She didn’t see Mylan.

“Petra, welcome,” a voice in the semi darkness cackled.

Petra laughed when Robyn, just behind her, jumped. It took a moment for her to find the owner of the voice, a hunched man sitting on a pillow in a dark corner. In front of him lay a collection of tarot cards, face up: a fool dancing, tossing stars into a purple sky, a magician holding a wand scattering glitter.

“I’m afraid you must come alone,” Fester said, leaving his gaze on Petra’s face as his twisted hands gathered the cards, and tapped them into a deck.

Robyn’s eyes flashed a question at Petra. Petra squeezed Robyn’s hand, sending her a silent signal.

“I’ll wait with Zoe,” Robyn said.

Still expecting Mylan to suddenly appear, Petra didn’t even watch her friend leave, but she knew when Robyn had gone by the flash of daylight that came and then left with the rise and fall of a curtain and the jangle of the crystal beads.

“There are journeys some must undertake on their own,” the fortune-teller said, staring up at Petra.