Monday, August 14, 2017

Replacing Sliced Bread

My friend was visiting from back home and we were leaving my house for lunch. As I put my SUV in reverse the back-up camera appeared on the display screen, replacing the radio and temperature settings. I stared at the screen as I navigated my narrow and steep driveway, never looking over my shoulder as I was taught in the 80s on a school owned Ford Tempo, complete with passenger side breaks.
“Oh, your new car has a back-up camera too. I can’t live without mine.” Liz exclaimed.
“I know, right? I’m kind of ashamed how much I rely on it, but seriously – what a great invention.”
“Yeah, it’s like the greatest thing since…” She paused and squinted. I knew what she was thinking.
“Sliced bread?” I offered.
“That’s what I was initially going to say, because I always do, but that seems an outdated analogy now.”
“Especially when comparing to a microscopic camera that automatically kicks on and off simply by switching gears.”

Like most people, I grew up with “sliced bread” as the standard to compare all inventions. Though I’m too young to appreciate the novelty of purchasing bread that has been pre-sliced for the first time, my parents used the saying enough that I got the gist.
“These new microwave ovens are the greatest thing since sliced bread.” My mom exclaimed to her friends regarding the Amana monstrosity recently delivered to our countertop, circa 1982.
"Velcro! The greatest thing since sliced bread.” My dad. Yeah, he bought the wallets, shoes and pretty much anything that featured the “space-age technology.” The ripping sound irritates me to this day.

“Yeah, there must be a current standard. Something else we could never live without now and would fit the ‘greatest thing since,’ comparison.” Liz looked up and a perfect example caught her eye on my windshield. “Like EZ Pass. Easily one of the greatest inventions of our lifetime.”
“Agree,” I nodded. “I could never go back to not having one. That’s a good one. But, how about caller ID? I mean, would you even think about answering a phone now without knowing who’s calling?”
“No way. No name, no answer. Move that one to the top of the list.”
“Well, that leads us to cell phones. Smart phones to be exact.”

“Except, sometimes I want to throw mine out the window. EZ Pass and Caller ID have never frustrated me, or broken, cracked, become obsolete…”

“Good point. I think we all have love/hate relationships with our phones.”

I navigated a parallel parking spot and thought soon this will be a thing of the past too. Liz then pointed out I’m lucky my next car will most likely have that feature standard. I stuck my tongue out at her.
We entered the restaurant and ordered drinks and salads. The waitress used an ipad. When she left we both said,“Ipad.”
“Are we making a list?”
“Sure,” I said. “We haven’t found the gold standard yet and I think I feel a blog coming on.”
Liz rolled her eyes, but offered, “satellite radio.”
“How about medical advances? I got my sight back seventeen years ago and am grateful for Lasik everyday. But, I guess that’s not universal.”
“True, maybe that’s your personal sliced bread.”
“I think yours is the DVR since you work and travel so much.”
“Ooh, that’s true. It’s awesome to fast forward through the commercials too. Though I still watch funny ones on Youtube on my laptop when travelling.”
“Laptops. Computers in general.”
“True,” She said, but took a sip of her beer and added, “but really, where we would be without the internet now?”
“I guess that’s the absolute thing I couldn’t live without.”
“Me too,” she said. “That has to be at the top.”
Our salads arrived and we dug in.
“Mine is great.”
“Mine too, As great as…” I looked around, “Well, I guess it’s time to get rid of the sliced bread analogy since no one serves it anymore."
Liz laughed. “True. My salad is a as awesome as the internet. Though I’d kill for a slice of bread.”

How about you – what’s your sliced bread?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Matt and Jackie Find a Home

Over the past five or so years, Matt and Jackie have been searching for the perfect home. I am their realtor. I set out on their search right prematurely only to find the market wasn’t right for them at the time and it caused me to question whether they were truly ready to settle down, so I backed off.  It happens.
Matt and Jackie are the main characters in my novel, White Lies and Promises.
They patiently waited in a digital file as my other stories found their homes and got published. I would periodically revisit them, change a few details – including the title, and send a query or two to agents, but they never found perfect fit. I kept the faith it would happen someday. Someday arrived on their birthday.
May 1st was my self-imposed deadline for a New Adult novel I’ve been writing since last summer. In April, I hit a snag and began finding excuses to extend the looming deadline. May 1st came and went. I had a very clean and organized house, but a very rough manuscript in no condition to submit for anyone’s consideration. Frustrated with myself (but still open to distractions) I sat down at my computer on May 18th to finish and polish the NA novel. When I noticed the date, however, I found the day’s distraction. It was Matt and Jackie’s shared birthday. I promised myself one quick tweet and wrote: You know you’re a writer when you remember your characters’ birthdays #amwriting. I watched as the few likes and retweets popped up in my notifications and thought I’d move on. But, that’s not how Twitter works, especially when you’re supposed to be doing something else. I trolled a few profiles and hashtags before landing on #MSWL – Manuscript Wish List. I periodically check there to see what types of submissions agents and publishers are currently ‘wishing for’.
While browsing, I noticed a new indie publisher seeking submissions, including romance. My mind began to race with thoughts - Matt and Jackie’s story is a romance, it’s their birthday, I believe in Fate. I immediately clicked the link taking me to the website for Bon Chance Press. On the shiny new site was a dragonfly representing new beginnings. With the urging of Bon Chance – good luck, I knew I had to submit.
I spent the next two hours assembling a query letter, reviewing my previously written synopsis and re-re-reading the first three chapters of the manuscript. After another cup of coffee, I began the email to Bon Chance Press. I was happy with my query letter, satisfied with my synopsis (no one loves their synopsis, impossible) and was about to paste in the first three chapters when I hit the tab button to adjust the heading on the synopsis. That’s when it disappeared. It sent. It sent before I could paste in the chapters. Rule number one in submitting is to follow directions and now my submission was on its way appearing as if I didn’t follow directions. First, I panicked. Next, I thought it was hopeless. Then I remembered the date and the motto and got the courage to draft a new email explaining the snafu. I included all the required info and added ‘corrected submission’ in the subject line and hit send. I sat back and wished Matt and Jackie good luck.

Twenty-four hours later, I heard back. It was a request for full – the holy grail of querying requests. I dropped everything that day and furiously reviewed the entire manuscript before submitting. Only ten days later I got the call. Yes, a call! On Memorial Day I received an offer from Bon Chance Press.

The past few weeks have been a blur. I am in awe of my publisher, cover designer, and editor. White Lies and Promises will be available 12/12/17 – move in day for Matt and Jackie.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Resurrecting Characters

While writing my current work-in-progress, I’m discovering I’ve been unconsciously borrowing traits from previous characters in my first manuscript. I say ‘manuscript’ and not ‘book’ because the manuscript phase is where it remains stuck for the past eight years. Although it never made it into reader’s hands, it has been in my head for over a decade. The characters are as familiar to me as the real people in my life. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find them slipping into my current writing. In fact, they are resurfacing with ease.

So why the dilemma? To allow them to resurrect, I have to admit they are dead.
I’ll back up.

Years ago, when I finally admitted I was writing a book, everyone told me my first story would probably not get published. Not because they had read it, but because – that’s what happens. I didn’t want to believe the warning. Of course I thought my fabulous story would be the exception to the statistic. I would be the exception. And of course, I was not. Totally-new-idea/manuscript number three actually became my first published work. By the time my fourth book had been published, I had moved on from the original. I no longer looked at it and more importantly I stopped shopping it. Had I given up? I wasn’t sure. I told myself I would know when it was time to truly ‘shelve’ it. I know the story isn’t a seller, the writing weak, but the characters are strong and they are what has held the hope alive until, I guess, now.
The time has come to say goodbye to the story, but I will take with me the knowledge it has taught me – some tough lessons about the world of publication and the power of resilience. I’ll take some characters along for another ride, reintroducing them under disguise, if only for my benefit. I laugh alone realizing only I would ever now that Vicki is morphing into Mel, and Mike into Chris. The work-in-progress features brand new main characters, but their friends are beginning to look familiar to me and it feels right.

No one is going to call asking for my first messy story, so I’ll get to work cleaning up the old cast. No time to dwell on what didn’t happen, it’s makeover time.

Monday, January 9, 2017

New Year - Take Two

No, I didn’t screw up last week and need a do-over. Today is the first day all three of my kids are back at school since the holidays, so for me this is the real start to the new year. Actually, that’s not quite right. I consider my year to start when their school year does and since today is the first day of their second semester, I guess it’s mine as well.

First semester was good, not great. I’d give myself a B+. Not bad, but room for improvement. I could write more, have more patience and be more organized in all aspects of my life. I scoured Pinterest the last few weeks looking for inspiration and motivation. I saved, liked and pinned all the interesting and challenging posts about ways to purge, organize, and focus in the new year. I boiled it down to changing my daily ‘to-do’ list. As of today it is now broken down into three categories – Must Do/Should Do/Want to Do.

So far I’ve accomplished the Musts since they were the suckiest. It felt good to get them over with early in the day. I’m three for five in the Should department. Not bad for noon. The only thing on my Wants today is to read. I’ll consider that done since I plan to leave early to pick up the youngest from school. I rationalize that I need a good parking spot, but everyone knows I’m reading for fifteen minutes before the bell rings.

The downside – tomorrow’s Musts are already taunting me. I’ll give it a week and if it needs tweaking, I’ll tweak. Since I’m both the student and the teacher with this assignment, I'll reassess in a month and scrap it for the old laundry list if it's not working. I'm shooting for an A, but this may turn out to be a pass/fail semester.

I wish everyone reading this has the year they strive for and hope you get to your Wants list every day.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Confessions of a Halloween Hater

Image result for google image of a witch

I hate Halloween.

There I said it. I haven’t always felt this way, only since I became an adult. So, it’s been long enough. My kids are no longer little—or currently care what I think—so I’m ready to end the charade.

I never understood why my mom hated Halloween until I had kids of my own. As soon as my oldest was two it all became clear to me and only got worse when her sisters were born.

What exactly do I hate about Halloween you may ask?

Easy answer: EVERYTHING

1)      The season – yes it has its own season. Beginning with the initial discussion of costumes in July and ramping up when the stores start replacing back-to-school supplies with jumbo bags of candy and plastic packages of costumes for kids and pets. This occurs in August around here. Yes, you can buy candy corn to enjoy at the pool in the 90 degree heat.  Personally, the H word is not allowed to be spoken in my presence until October.

2)      The costumes – from July to October the kids will have changed their minds on their ‘idea’ six to seven times. Each kid. Every year they will tell me they’ve decided on ‘the one’ and assure me it will be easy, that I won’t have to do a thing. I will then make a dozen trips to the pop-up store (see 3 below), 3-4 confusing visits to the craft store and countless excursions to Target, often multiple times on the Saturday before Halloween. Compromises will be made as well as the inevitable last minute Amazon Prime order. (By the way, my love for Amazon Prime is as strong as my hate for Halloween). In the end, the costume will look amazing, but the costume-wearer will know and let me know, something isn’t quite the way it was planned.

2a) The back-up costume – a necessary evil and expense. I discovered when my older two girls were in pre-school that they are expected to wear their Halloween costume approximately 6 times before the actual ‘holiday.’ They would have to dress up for the school party, the park district party, gymnastics, at least one Halloween themed birthday party, and a Halloween walk through our downtown that I managed to keep my girls from knowing about until their friends in Brownies ratted me out. With all these events including chocolate, caramel apples, and colorful drinks I should consider myself lucky we got way with only two costumes per season.

3)      The pop-up stores - I don’t know when this phenomenon began, but I became aware of them 15 years ago when I moved to our current town. Seemingly overnight, abandoned stores transform to havens of costumes, decorations and everything my kids, ‘NEED!’  These stores lure kids like the flashing lights on slot machines at a casino and suck your money out at about the same speed. My husband and father-in-law think these places are ingenious and have no qualms about buying plastic rats and flashing skulls to ‘decorate’ my yard.

4)      The candy - I soo want to be the house that hands out an alternative to candy, but I think my house looks better without cracked eggs adorning my front door and windows. The only thing worse than handing out all that sugar is my kids coming home with their loot. After I’ve handed out 5 large bags of candy, it returns in triplicate and in various forms. We struggle over rationing, hiding and donating. In the end, they eat too much and we keep it too long, always.

5)      The parties – the little kid versions I had to attend were bad enough, but then the ‘big kid’ stuff hit. The school my kids attend/ed ranges from pre-school through 8th grade. There is a Halloween party at the school, a drop-off party, for 4th through 6th graders. Sound like fun, right? As long as I avoid the volunteer email I get to drop them off for two and half hours.  The kids have a haunted house, a DJ and food. What’s not to love? The prize for best group costume. Suddenly in 4th grade, kids will form cliques as they decide who should and should not be included in their group costume. One kid and mom will take control and drama will ensue. Someone will drop out of the group, someone will feel left out. By the time my third daughter entered 4th grade I figured out to encourage a stand-alone costume that could part of a group, or not. Best costume to date = a rubber ducky. No one knows there was originally an Ernie who was supposed to be her partner. She/I won ‘most original.’

6)      The decorations – tacky, messy, and oftentimes just gross. Have you ever tried to remove fake cobwebs from bushes? After it snows – because it snows on Halloween here at least half the time. I used to enjoy carving a jack-o-lantern until I become responsible for the guts and later disposing of the squirrel-molested pumpkin carcass.

We’re two weeks out now and I’m waiting for the drama to drop. The older two are in high school now and assure me they don’t need anything and will just figure things out later. This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. The youngest is in sixth grade, so her last school party is fast approaching.

 I could go on and on, but she just yelled up from the basement asking where I keep the hot glue gun.

Happy H Word

Monday, July 25, 2016

Y (A) I Need a Break from Young Adult Books

One of my favorite genres has always been young adult, even before the now-immensely popular category earned its own bookshelves and could only be vetted out among the children’s section and adult fiction.

As an actual young adult, I felt the need to be seen reading literary novels as I rode the commuter train, but the book on my night table would tell a different story – one of high school romances and carefree summers.

I was the mother of three when The Twilight Series hit, and I truly tried to resist, but ultimately gave in and lost. For weeks my kids survived on Nick Jr. and cereal as I read the entire series and sought out other bleary-eyed mothers in the drop off line at school to discuss Bella and Edward.

As an early e-reader owner I found solace in covertly reading Pretty Little Liars on my device while simultaneously toting around a hard copy of my book club’s latest historical fiction pick.

But, lately the thrill is gone due to the young adults in my life. In a couple of weeks my oldest daughter will be a high school junior, the middle daughter a freshman and the youngest in sixth grade. Aside from the drama my girls already provide and not having a need for any more in my life, YA books now present a dilemma I had not anticipated. They are planting seeds of worry.

Now, I’m not na├»ve. I know they have lives separate from me and do plenty of things I don’t know about and I’m sure they are feeding me the lies they think I want to hear on a daily basis. I’ve also made them well aware that they may think they are coming up with new and creative ways to get away with stuff, but I am no stranger to pushing the parental limits.

Back in the day I made sneaking out an art form. My friends tried to outdo my spectacular fibs and maneuvers, but I could not be beat. My claim to fame remains to this day: shortly after my sixteenth birthday my family moved to a big house. I told my parents (probably with crocodile tears) I was scared being so far away from them and feared not being able to get out if there was a fire. I suggested purchasing a rope ladder that can be kept under the bed and thrown out the window in case of a fire or another emergency; the commercials were currently running on TV. See where this is going? Well, they didn’t and I snuck out the same night we bought it at the hardware store. Oddly enough, I used it more to sneak friends in than I did to escape. I’m happy to report I never had to use it in a real emergency.

Maybe the identification with the deviance was why I liked YA books so much – until it became real. Now when I read a YA book I find myself wondering if my girls are doing the outlandish things the characters in the book are doing. Will S run away with her best friend’s brother tomorrow when she told me they’re going to a movie, ‘in a group’? Is K secretly going to cult meetings when I drop her off at guitar lessons? (I never actually see her go in the door, hmm). Is E’s sudden interest in coding not just a nice nerdy hobby but an attempt to hack into the school’s computer and change her grades?

If I don’t take a break our dinner conversations are going to get weird. Instead of asking about their school day or tennis practice I’ll be asking if they have gambling problems or participating in satanic rituals.

“Sweetie, are you making fake IDs in the basement when you say you’re watching Netflix?”
“Honey, pass the salt and have you been buying crack from your science teacher?”
“I’m glad you did well on your test and by the way are you and your friends facetiming with Russian drug lords?”

All mothers’ minds worry and go right to worst-case scenario mode, I know this is normal. Reading about teens drinking, having sex, skipping school and running away just doesn’t help me keep the worry in the normal range. So for now I’ll leave the YAs and catch up on other genres.

Of course the new Harry Potter book is an obvious exception. I’m sure I’ll see some of you at midnight this weekend.

Monday, June 6, 2016

I Need a Hero

Not the kind Bonnie Tyler sang of in Footloose – though that is an epic song. No, I’m not holding out for a guy fresh from the fight, just a main character I can root for.

Until about two years ago, I'd say 99% of the books I read featured a main character I liked. Whether I identified with him or her, fell for them right away or developed appreciation for their plight along the way – I wanted their happily ever after.

Then something changed. I read the book everyone was reading and was sucked in instantly. About 30% in, I realized I actually hated the main character, but it was acceptable because the story was so compelling I didn’t care. I think I actually wanted him not to get the happily ever after. It was unsettling, but I didn’t think much of it. Now, two years and about 8 books with main characters I didn’t care for I’m wondering what’s up with that?

I’m not going to name titles or authors, it’s not the point I’m trying to make or discussion I’d like to open. For the most part, I loved the books despite not liking the character (narrator in most instances) so the author did a great job. One particular story had me downright hating the shallow narrator of the story, but I could not put the book down. It’s a different experience than the familiar meet the main character, love them, and hope for everything turns out okay in the end. Different, not terrible, sometimes unsettling, but not exactly bad.

Having now read quite of few of these though, I have to say I’m ready to return to my heroes. Just in time for summer vacation, beach and pool reading I will be reading reviews with a little more scrutiny and using the ‘sneak a peek’ option so readily available now before investing my time in character. I need someone to root for, emulate and maybe fall for.

Hmm – romance maybe?