Saturday, January 30, 2010

making one's cake and eating it too

It was supposed to be the cake of all cakes, the cake that was going to put me into an orgasmic coma. It was supposed to be my finest baking hour. And see, that was my mistake. I set my sights too high.

Well, one of my mistakes.

The recipe was from a Paula Deen magazine, so you know right away I was starting off bad. It was named "Decadent Chocolate Layer Cake", but the surprise was the extra layer of cheesecake inside. Hence, you can see how deluded I became to the task ahead of me.

I'm an ok cook, but I especially enjoy baking, and that's where most of my successes land. I mastered Tyler Florence's Ultimate Cheesecake, improvised slightly on Giada's Chocolate Amaretti Cake, and blow the doors off the legendary "Neiman Marcus" chocolate chip cookie, just to name a few. I rarely, if ever, diverge from the recipe because baking is so precise.

Mistake #2 was that I got delusions of grandeur. Worse still, I tried substitutions.

Stop laughing.

Each part -- chocolate cake, cheesecake, and frosting, required almond liqueur. I can't use wine in cooking because I'm allergic to sulfites, but the truth is that my body doesn't do well with any kind of alcohol or liquor, or liqueur. So I decided to use almond extract, and guessed at the measurements, since I couldn't well use half a cup. (I think I used a tablespoon in each one.) The delusion of grandeur came in my insistence on making the whole damn thing from scratch even though Paula's recipe called for using a box mix for the chocolate cake. I used Mark Bittman's recipe and -- sorry Mark -- it wasn't as simple as he claimed it to be. Anything that requires whipping egg whites (I never know if I've gotten the peaks stiff enough) and folding them into the batter is not a simple procedure. I think I've also finally succumbed to the fact that I need an industrial electric mixer and not just the hand-held one I use for everything.

The cake actually came out good -- or at least it seemed to. Perfect baking time, toothpicks clean, nice shape, etc. The cheesecake is where things started to go downhill. Plus my poor time management skills. And one other little flaw: I didn't follow directions. Rather, I didn't read them in advance.

I had started this whole baking project at 4:00, thinking I'd make a nice little dinner for myself and have a late evening dessert, complete with candles and soft music. Yes, I was dining alone for my birthday, but I didn't mind. (I had friends over the following night and cooked a rather successful tilapia and citrus glaze, but that's another story.) The first cakes didn't get in the oven until about 5:00, I think, but little did I know how long the cheesecake was gonna take. It required 45 minutes of baking time, plus another hour sitting in the oven w/ the oven turned off. So that pretty much killed my other meal plan, and I didn't have much else in the house to cook other than breakfast food.

So I had cereal.

Yes, my birthday dinner consisted of cold cereal because quite frankly by this time the whole production had gotten a bit on the frustrating side and I was getting rather tired of it all.

Wait, there's more.

So I took the cheesecake out of the oven (finally!) and it looked ok, and I had to let it cool a little bit longer, which I did. By this time it was well past 8:00 and I was still hungry and wanted to eat my damn cake. Don't worry, it'll all be worthwhile once you have your first forkful, I told myself. So I made the frosting.

The recipe called for six cups of confectioner's sugar and two sticks of butter, among other things. After all, this was a Paula Deen recipe. By the fifth cup of confectioners sugar, my beaters were stuck, I had to add in milk to soften it up, and finally took over mixing by hand. On top of that, the sugar wasn't sifted (the recipe didn't call for it, but should have).

I'm cursing at my mother-of-all-cakes by this point.

The cheesecake layer started to fall apart as I applied it, plus was bigger than the chocolate cake layers so I also had to trim the sides to get it to all match.

Then came the frosting. Each cake layer required a layer of frosting, and trying to frost a cheesecake is not easy. All I kept thinking was that this so doesn't look like the picture, both Mark Bittman and Paula Deen lied to me, and what was I gonna do if this thing didn't come out? How much money was I about to throw away, not to mention food (it always kills me to throw food away)?

What caused the final unraveling was my impatience. I just wanted to eat the thing, dammit -- I earned it, and cripes, I'm 40 and sitting alone eating cereal and watching Bones like any other night. It was this impatience that had caused me not to read and follow directions carefully, thus I missed the part that said the cheesecake needed to be chilled for four hours and instead had gone straight to putting this cake together.

Aw, crap.

In the end, I put the whole damn thing in the refrigerator, never did have a piece of cake for my birthday, or any other kind of dessert because by then the whole experience had rather deflated me. Instead I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (my second of the day), and ate it somberly, until I called my wombmate who, incidentally, had his own series of mishaps earlier in the day.

In short, CAKE = EPIC FAIL.

I was too embarrassed to even show the thing to my dinner guests the next night. However, one of my friends bought cupcakes (from the aptly named "cupcake shoppe") and I made ice cream and homemade caramel sauce (which came out fabulous).

Last night, however, I decided to be brave and taste it. And ya know, it wasn't that bad. A little heavy on the almond flavoring, maybe, and I've had better cheesecake (it was also a bit sweet, which I think was due to the frosting, which is either a sign that I really am getting older or that there really is such a thing as too much sugar). In short, not orgasmic, but not bad. I may even have a slice today.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

40 for 40

Sally (weeping): And I'm gonna be *forty*!! Harry: When?
Sally: Someday...

Well friends, it's finally here. And I gotta tell you, so far it's rockin'.

I know I've been a little list-crazy as of late, but here's the last one for awhile. I promise.

40 things I want to do/complete/achieve this year (in no particular order):

1. Hit #1 on the Kindle best-seller list. (What's fabulous about this is that I started compiling this list last week, having no idea that I'd come so close today -- I'm at #11!!)

2. Buy a Volkswagon Beetle. Red.

3. Meet my friends from a certain discussion forum in person. (Just because we haven't met in person yet doesn't mean they're not "real" friends.)

4. Finish WILS.

5. Attend a writer's conference.

6. Start a Reiki practice.

7. Resume playing my guitar, and get better at it. (Lessons would be nice)

8. Sell more print copies, and get into more bookstores.

9. Sell movie rights to Faking It and Ordinary World.

10. Buy a new bed. (Seriously, I haven't had a new mattress in a friggin' long time, and my headboard is just plain bad feng shui.)

11. Meet Nora Ephron for lunch.

12. Meet Aaron Sorkin for dinner.

13. Meet Duran Duran for the helluvit.

14. Start painting again (pictures, not walls).

15. Take a trip w/ my best friend since birth. (Not my twin brother, my other best friend, although I've known her almost as long. Although he's invited too.)

16. Travel to at least 3 cities I've never been before.

17. Go on a chocolate-themed vacation.

18. Host a dinner party. (I was gonna say Thanksgiving dinner, but I don't know if I'll be ready for that this year!)

19. Spend less time on Facebook and more time writing. (Yeah, right. Good luck with that one...)

20. Write a pilot script for a TV series.

21. Pay off my credit card debt.

22. Attend the premiere of The Social Network.

23. Be invited to the premiere of The Social Network.

24. Attend a Major League Baseball game.

25. Do an interview with NPR.

26. Meet Richard Russo.

27. Color my hair (aka, get rid of the damn grey! It's the only thing I'm complaining about as far as age goes.)

28. Stop reading my reviews.

29. Take better care of my teeth.

30. Record a song.

31. Make audio versions of my novels.

32. Buy a bicycle and use it (and seriously, learn how to ride again!)

33. Find out my grandmother's golden cake with chocolate frosting recipe. (Although who am I kidding? It'll never come out as good as hers. Ever.)

34. Spend less time watching re-runs on TV. (I mean really, how many times can you watch Law&Order, any version?)

35. Reduce my courseload to part-time.

36. Get an agent and traditional publishing deal. (I've been waffling on this one. Certainly I've been doing ok on my own, and I've been critical of some agents' and others' attitudes toward self-publishing and indy-published authors. But the fact remains that there are advantages and opportunities available to authors with agents and traditional publishing deals. I think the real accomplishment for me would be knowing I *could* get one if I want, and I believe I can and will this year.)

37. Buy a turntable (You knew that one was comin', didn't you. The funny thing is that I don't even own an iPod yet. Or a Kindle, for that matter.)

38. Re-vamp my website. (Or, at least update it.)

39. Better manage my time and energy.

40. Celebrate our birthday with my siblings on Long Island.

And to my dear twin brother: Without you, my entire life would've been short on joy and long on loneliness. Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

good news

On the eve of turning 40, the gods have blessed me with book sales.

As of this moment, Faking It is ranked #19 on the Kindle Store bestseller list, with Ordinary World following at #133. (I'm even beating out Dan Brown at #22!!)

Keep a few things in mind (and my ego in check): The Kindle Store rankings fluctuate quite a bit. Also, they don't necessarily reflect the rest of the market (i.e the New York Times Best Seller list). You'll see that most of the titles on the Kindle list are either free or priced at a buck, so you can see where the attraction really is.

But still.

I'd like to think that my price gets them to the door, and the writing keeps them inside.

And yet, I can't help but have an uneasy feeling about this. Booksellers and agents are voicing opposition to the low pricing, and claim that devaluing our books (beyond just price) is killing publishing. And I agree with them to a point, actually. Not necessarily that it's killing publishing, but it's certainly upsetting the industry, and I'm a part of that now.

But hey, I'm a bookseller too. And I can't help but think about how much fatter the check would be even if I at least doubled my price. But would as many copies have sold? They didn't the first time around (although I didn't have the patience to find out if the readers would've come around anyway). I've got readers now. And reviews. Good ones, too. That's what I really wanted all along.

But I worry if traditonal publishers will reject me now because I'm not playing their game and am part of the devaluing. I took advantage of the capitalist system, that's all. I persisted. It's the number one advice I get from agents, editors, and other writers. Persist.

Anyhoo... I'm getting off track here.

It's a neato birthday present, is all I'm sayin'. And it feels good.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I am author, hear me roar.

Let me start off by warning you that I'm a little cranky this morning, and thus may be overreacting to something that I read while catching up on my blog-reading. But it so rubbed me the wrong way that I decided to post on a Saturday.

A literary agent, while summing up the week's publishing happenings, included this bit of news:

The head of Author Solutions (the company that is teaming with other publishing houses to help them sell self-publishing to author wannabes) has created a message on You Tube inviting the leadership of the writing organizations that are critical to a discussion. . .about the role of self-publishing in a changing publishing environment.

Am I just being overly sensitive and mis-reading the tone in the phrase "author wannabes"? 'Cause I gotta tell you, if I'm not then I'm getting a little sick of such a characterization.

I'm an author.

I published my book. My book is selling in stores. Maybe not nationwide distribution, but it got there because my product showed both quality and promise.

To date, Faking It has sold 5000+ copies on Amazon Kindle, with Ordinary World following just under 2,000 in just three months. The average run of a traditionally published print novel is 5,000 copies. A successful run is 10,000.

So tell me, what makes me an author wannabe?

Virginia Woolf self-published. Is she an author wannabe too?

I'm taking exception to the term "wannabe". Its meaning connotes someone high on pipe dreams and low on logging in the required number of hours to hone craft and take action. In short, tenacity. People who play Rock Band and Guitar Hero are wannabes. And even then I use the term with more affection than the way I've heard some literary agents and traditionally published authors use it.

Yes, I wanted to be an author. So I wrote. I honed my craft. I learned about the business of querying agents and selling books. I queried agents. I made mistakes and learned from them.

The agents rejected my work.

So why stop there? Who said that the only road to be an author was through the agent? When did that become the only road to be traveled? It's like saying the only way to travel is I-95. There are other roads. Longer, less traveled, out of the way, perhaps. But a road, nevertheless. A course of direction, visible on a map.

I wanted to be an author. So I became an author.

But I am not, nor ever was, an author wannabe.

STOP deligitimizing aspiring authors who take their careers into their own hands and create their own channels to realizing their aspirations. STOP deligitimizing them for wanting to do for themselves what you have refused to do for them, regardless of your reasons.

STOP lamenting about turning down good writing, and then criticizing those good writers for finding a way to bring their good writers to readers.

STOP tutoring authors about the business of publishing, and then resenting authors for making business decisions.


Are literary agents afraid of becoming obsolete? I wonder. Are they afraid of change? Or am I just being cranky this morning?

I'm an author. Stop negating me just because I didn't do it your way.

(By the way, I'm not the biggest fan of Author Solutions, but I applaud the invitation to respectful debate and discussion. Check out that invitation here.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

40 albums

Since I wrote about my nostalgia trip w/ vinyl, and since I'm still on this 40 theme, I decided to compile a list of albums from each year of my life. In each listing, either the album or the artist has some significance to me. Perhaps it's a favorite of mine (you'll figure out the obvious ones, and my creature-of-habit tendencies shine through). Perhaps it's a favorite (or a reminder) of one of my siblings. Perhaps it's symbolic of the year it was released.

The mid-80s was when I couldn't just choose one album, and as the 90s went on, my choices got harder since I started my slide into the generation gap I so vehemently insisted to my mother back when I was 16 that I never would. By the new millenium I was cooked because I was only buying one CD a year, if that much.

This is by no means a "Best Of" list, and I was really tempted to list "Spiceworld" just to be a troublemaker. Please feel free to share your own notable albums. I left a lot of good ones off, I'm sure, especially in the last ten years. You'll also see that I left 2010 blank. (I'm hoping the new Duran Duran album will be ready and released this year.)

1970. Let it Be: The Beatles
1971. Tapestry: Carole King
1972. Trilogy: Emerson, Lake and Palmer
1973. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: Elton John
1974. Pretzel Logic: Steely Dan
1975. That's the Way of the World: Earth, Wind and Fire
1976. Hotel California: The Eagles
1977. Out of the Blue: ELO, Saturday Night Fever: Bee Gees, Born Late: Shaun Cassidy
1978. Shadow Dancing: Andy Gibb, Van Halen: Van Halen
1979. Off the Wall: Michael Jackson
1980. Zenyatta Mondatta: The Police
1981. Duran Duran: Duran Duran, Private Eyes: Hall & Oates
1982. Rio: Duran Duran, Thriller: Michael Jackson
1983. Seven and the Ragged Tiger: Duran Duran, Sports: Huey Lewis and the News, She's So Unusual: Cyndi Lauper
1984. Purple Rain: Prince, Stop Making Sense: Talking Heads, 1984: Van Halen, Big Bam Boom: Hall & Oates
1985. The Power Station 33 1/3: The Power Station, Riptide: Robert Palmer, Dream Into Action: Howard Jones
1986. Notorious: Duran Duran, So: Peter Gabriel
1987. The Joshua Tree: U2, Kick: INXS
1988. Big Thing: Duran Duran, The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. I: The Traveling Wilburys
1989. Rhythm Nation 1814: Janet Jackson
1990. Liberty: Duran Duran, Violator: Depeche Mode
1991. Achtung Baby: U2
1992. Unplugged: Eric Clapton
1993. The Wedding Album: Duran Duran
1994. Crazy Sexy Cool: TLC, Hell Freezes Over: The Eagles
1995. Thank You: Duran Duran, The Beatles Anthology: The Beatles
1996. (What's the Story) Morning Glory?: Oasis
1997. Medazzaland: Duran Duran
1998. Seriously, I couldn't find one for this year. Any suggestions?
1999. Supernatural: Santana
2000. Pop Trash: Duran Duran
2001. Room For Squares: John Mayer
2002. Come Away with Me: Norah Jones
2003. Heavier Things: John Mayer, Concert for George CD: Eric Clapton and friends of George Harrison
2004. Astronaut: Duran Duran
2005. The Essential Daryl Hall & John Oates
2006. Continuum: John Mayer
2007. Red Carpet Massacre: Duran Duran
2008. Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles: John Mayer
2009. Battle Studies: John Mayer
2010. ?????

Thursday, January 21, 2010

the signs of turning 40

Of course, there are the visible signs of turning 40 - the grey hair, the crows feet, the getting-your-ass-kicked in Guitar Hero by your young nephew, and coming to terms with your nieces and nephews getting their driver's licenses, getting their college degrees, getting married... Then there are the signs not necessarily visible to the naked eye, but present nonetheless. The I'm-getting-a-head-start-on-my-midlife-crisis signs. To know me is to recognize them.

Mind you, there are some areas in which I have never fully grown up. I still consider the pop tart an essential food group. I still jump up and down at a Duran Duran concert. Hell I still go to Duran Duran concerts. I watch vintage Sesame Street and The Electric Company shows on DVD. (I'm waiting for The Best of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood). But lately I've been resurging other parts of my youth. The parts that don't make me cringe. And it's not that I want to be young again. I sure as hell don't want to be a teenager again, and parts of my 20s weren't all that terrific either. But there is something to be said for nostalgia, for listening to the scratches and pops on vinyl records. There's something to be said for re-reading Judy Blume books, or visiting your elementary school and noticing for the first time how small it looks.

There's something to be said for seeing how far you've come.

Sign #1 (Trust me, there have been previous, but I'll start with the most recent): When I left Long Island on New Year's Day, aside from Christmas gifts and six pairs of shoes and suitase full of books, I also went through my mother's basement and found my record and poster collections, and took 'em home with me. My turntable hasn't worked in eons, but vinyl is making a comeback, and I wanna jump on the bandwagon. Lord knows how warped my records are after years in dank underground storage, but there was something about holding them in my hands, admiring the cover art that didn't require reading glasses to look at, amused by some of my choices. (Come on, you know you had that Kajagoogoo album too!)

I want to listen to my albums again. But I have no plans to hang the posters on my wall, although the thought did cross my mind for at least one or two...

Which leads me to Sign #2: I bought The Essential Daryl Hall and John Oates 3-CD set.

There was a time when you were labeled as massively uncool for liking Hall & Oates. Maybe it was their names. Maybe it was their god-awful cheesy videos. Maybe it was John Oates' mustache.

Relax, it's safe to come out now.

The compilation spans three decades' of songs. Three-fourths of my life!! Shit, man! One thing about Hall & Oates is that they always moved with the times. You can hear it in the production values, the electronic drums and synths, the progression of songs from ballad to pop. Hall & Oates made fantastic pop songs, and Daryl Hall still has one of the best voices in the business. The man can belt out a tune with such soul that you almost wanna shout out an "Amen!" I haven't heard many of these songs in ages, and I can't tell you the pleasure of singing along in my car. If you see me groovin', chances are I'm listening to "I Can't Go for That" or "Your Imagination". If you see me singing happily, it's probably "Private Eyes", "Kiss on My List", or "You Make My Dreams Come True". Great songs. Great, great songs.

Better still, I'm finding myself thinking, How would I cover that? when listening to certain Hall & Oates songs. I like when that happens -- it feeds the creative side of me, and reminds me that I'm always a revision girl.

Nostalgia can be wistful. The antithesis to the pleasure of these songs and posters was a child just trying to keep her head above water. But in the end, the good has far more lasting power. I'm smiling today. And I think 40 is just fine.

If I start searching for Shaun Cassidy records, however, you know I'm in trouble.

What are your nostalgic pleasures? Feel free to share.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

39 for 39

I'm turning 40 one week from today. Since it was too late for me to steal blogger Andi Fisher's 40 by 40, I thought instead I would share 39 things I accomplished in my 39th year (in no particular order after the first).

Here are 39 things I accomplished this year (in no particular order after the first)

1. Had a chocolate/dessert party to kick off my farewell to my thirties tour. If you’ve never hosted one, start planning now. There’s no better way to celebrate your life than with your good friends and a lot of chocolate.

2. Appeared on TV. Ok, so it wasn’t Oprah or the Today show, but the Raleigh Television Network does reach some 50,000 households in the Triangle area. Problem is, only about 10 of those 50 actually watch it… About two months after my interview on The Artist’s Craft debuted, one of my students entered class and said, “I saw you on TV last night!” So there. It’s gotten some 200 views on You Tube, so hey, that ain’t bad either!

3. Appeared at Quail Ridge Books, where for the first time I signed books for people I didn’t know. My hand was shaking so much I could barely write.

4. Appeared at my alma mater as a guest author for the Temper release party. First ever!

5. Was interviewed for a magazine that is published for the US Embassy in India. Should I start picking out a Bollywood costume now?

6. Read approximately 30 books. That number is down from the last couple of years. I completely blame Facebook. The number also includes audiobooks – don’t let anyone tell you they don’t count.

7. Finished the first draft of Why I Love Singlehood (WILS). Revisions are currently underway.

8. Completed and published Ordinary World.

9. Got Faking It in three independent bookstores in as many states. More to come!

10. Visited the Outer Banks for the first time. When do I get to go back?

11. Organized a blog tour. Stay tuned for my even bigger tour coming up next month!

12. Saw U2 in concert. 'Nuff said.

13. Got swine flu. Does this count as an achievement? Don’t know, but apparently I was damn trendy.

14. Met some FABULOUS people on a certain discussion forum. Ok, we haven’t “officially” met in person, but I feel like I know some of them as if we had.

15. Met a Facebook friend in person. We went to The Flying Biscuit, of course.

16. Was asked by Aaron Sorkin for a copy of my book. I think I’m still smiling over that one.

17. Was a semi-finalist for the Best of the Best e-book contest. I intend to win next year!

18. Debuted my books on the Amazon Kindle. They hit the Kindle Store bestseller lists!

19. Actually saw a Kindle up close. Held it in my hands. Way cool, but I still love tactile books.

20. Received touching letters from people across the country about how they enjoyed my books. Still blows me away.

21. Recorded vocals for a song my eldest brother wrote. I’ve been talking about this to my close friends ever since it happened (while I was in NY for the holidays), but I haven’t been able to write publically about it because it turned out to be such a profound, emotional experience. All I can say is that it was a gift to our dad from all of my siblings, and we all participated on it. I sang both harmonies and lead vocals throughout.

22. Made lots of ice cream. It’s the gift that keeps on adding.

23. Became a certified Reiki Master. After 12 years practicing at Level II, the right time, right place, right teacher(s) finally showed up. Awesome.

24. Met David Sedaris.

25. Attended a reading by Mary Kay Andrews.

26. Reunited with my writing partner to kick off revisions for WILS. When do we go back?

27. Upgraded my cellphone. Not all that exciting, actually. It’s still just a phone and doesn’t do my taxes and all that other stuff.

28. Visited my 98-year-old grandmother, who still asks me what I want to eat.

29. Baked lots and lots of cookies.

30. Mastered the art of instant cake-in-a-mug.

31. Bragged to people who don’t care that Joshua Malina is my Facebook friend and follows me on Twitter.

32. Watched about a dozen episodes of The Hardy Boys on my computer in a 2-day span thanks to Netflix. I chalk this up to getting a head start on my mid-life crisis and regressing to my childhood. Who knew those shows were so bad? Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson were still cute as hell, though.

33. Saw two movies in the theatre. That number might be up from recent years. It also might be wrong, since I can’t remember when Frost /Nixon came out.

34. Shoveled two feet of snow. This is noteworthy considering I haven’t shoveled snow in four years. Hell, I hadn’t seen snow in quite some time! My back did not appreciate this though, and at one point I could be heard screaming like John Lennon, “I GOT BLISTERS ON ME FINGERS!”

35. Walked a mile in my shoes.

36. Came into contact with fabulous people from all over thanks to the World Wide Web.

37. Had a slice of Junior’s cheesecake. Need I say more?

38. Requested and received an early birthday present. I’ll share that one with you next week.

39. Laughed. A lot.

Next week I'll share 40 things I want to achieve for my 40th year.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

short but sweet

Thanks again to everyone who submitted titles and/or character names. I've decided to use all of them in various combinations/genres. I'm going to give myself two months to write five pieces, and I'll post each one here as I finish them (which means they'll likely be shorter pieces).

And... that's all I have to say for the moment. I promise that tomorrow's post will be better. I'm already composing it in my head. Why not write tomorrow's post today? You'll see.

In the meantime, please enjoy Stacey Cochran's interview with my friend Nancy Stolfo-Corti, author of The Other Side of Tuscany. (I tried to embed this onto the site, but the picture came out way too large. If anyone knows how to fix this, please share!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

what kind of weekend has it been

As much as I wanted to keep my streak of posting every weekday going last week, I let the previous post stand alone an extra day because in my imagination I hoped someone connected to Ms. Ephron would see and pass it on to her. Some of my Facebook friends informed me that there is a Nora Ephron listed on Facebook, and they are enthusiastically advising me to pass my letter on to her there, but I confess that I am afraid that either a) it's not the real Nora Ephron, or b) she'll think I'm an idiot.

Nevertheless, I was pleased to see that Meryl Streep won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in Julie and Julia, but confused as to why the film was included in a category for Best Comedy. I don't know that I would strictly characterize it as a drama either, but I couldn't help but wonder if there is a stigma attached to "chick flicks" in that they're not to be taken as serious films. I wouldn't call Julie and Julia a chick flick any more than I would call it a comedy, but nevertheless, Ms. Ephron's been typecast as a chick flick writer-director, unfortunately. (And really, why wasn't she nominated for Best Screenplay or for Directing?)

I did go to bed imagining myself winning a Golden Globe for my screenplay adaptation of Faking It, and being completely surprised and wondering if I would be all emotional (who am I kidding?). I imagined the music starting to play because I was taking too long, and whose faces would be captured by the camera. But really, I imagined myself approaching Paul McCartney along my way to the stage and saying, "I hope this buys me five minutes with you later... there's a guy you absolutely have to record with." Then give him my brother's name.

Yes, sometimes my brain works this way.

On a completely unrelated note, my laptop had the mother of all computer viruses this weekend. I have no idea what I opened or downloaded or touched (and I'm typically careful about such things), but the sucker crippled my entire desktop and hard drive, preventing me from opening anything but the internet. My first fear was for the Why I Love Singlehood manuscript. Granted, my writing partner has a copy of it, but not the most recent changes I've made to it. Ditto for my blog tour files (I'm currently writing posts in preparation for next month's blog tour, and it's gonna be fab!). It's a lesson to BACK UP my work on a regular basis rather than the occasional updating I usually do. Seriously. Back it the hell up, man.

In the meantime, I watched football, followed by the aforementioned Golden Globes. (Never mind that I could've been reading, dammit. Or writing longhand.) And I noticed that I was quite productive today until I retrieved my laptop. These screens, be they tv, cellphones, or laptops, are the crack of the future, my friends. We'd better start putting together the support groups now.

Got anything you wanna share? Golden Globe opinions? Computer hell stories? To steal from my good friend Elspeth's blog, "Please leave a comment, as I'd love to hear from you!"

Thursday, January 14, 2010

an open invitation for Nora Ephron

Dear Ms. Ephron,

I cordially invite you to have lunch with me.

Knowing how fond you are of cooking, you are more than welcome to come to my humble apartment in the Raleigh suburbs. And while I'm no Julia Child (or even Julie Powell, for that matter), I'm sure I can handle boeuf bourguignon (although I don't think I can say it). I also make a decent shrimp scampi, and I now know the difference between sesame tahini and sesame oil (not that either belong in scampi). And have you ever had my chocolate amaretti cake? It's fabulous, I promise you.

Or perhaps we can cook something together, perhaps from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. You would especially love the bread recipes.

If you're up for neither, Raleigh has some great restaurants. Porter's, for example, makes a mac and cheese to die for. Or The Flying Biscuit -- my mouth waters at the mere mention of The Flying Biscuit. Or I could come to New York. We could venture out to Brooklyn and eat at Junior's. Or simply find a pizza dive. My treat, of course.

We'd have many things to talk about during lunch. We can talk about being women, New York, purses, men, and perhaps swap a recipe or two. And writing. What I really want to talk to you about is writing. I enjoy your writing, Ms. Ephron. I enjoy what you write about. I relate to your writing about what you know. I appreciate your sense of humor. Your writing has inspired my writing. I even mentioned you in the acknowledgements of my novel.

It doesn't have to be a long lunch -- I know you're a busy woman.

So what do you say? Will you have lunch with me?
I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

interpreting dreams, or telling stories?

Had an interesting dream last night (rather, early this morning) in which the only thing I remember is being in the car with an ex and putting my head down on his shoulder.
"I hope you know that nothing can come of this," he said (this referring to my impulsive gesture of affection -- he was still an ex in the dream, by the way) .
"Yes, I do," I replied. "Thank you for being so straightforward."
I don't remember if I said it out loud, but I recall thinking something along the lines of "this is all I needed."

My dreams tend to be very tactile-- I can feel warm hugs, moist kisses, or cold stares. I can smell things in my dreams. I can see vivid colors and hear noises. I speak Spanish in my dreams. I compose music in my dreams. In this case, the sensation of my head on my ex's shoulder was incredibly comforting and quite satisfactory. But his response intrigued me, especially since the manner in which he said it seemed to say that he was not put off by the gesture. One theory of dream interpretation says that all characters in our dreams are really different manifestations of ourselves. (The same can be said in consciousness, too.) From what was I really forbidding myself -- a second chance? additional pleasure? success? was I being coy? was I lying to myself about something?

No longer in a dream state but not fully awake yet, rather than analyze the dream I treated it as two characters in a story. Where were they going? How had they wound up in a car together to begin with? Was he married? Was she? Would indeed nothing come from her head on his shoulder, or would they begin an affair? Given time (and consciousness) I probably could have drafted a short story -- by the time I had awakened, I had two characters, each wanting something, a time and place, and a conflict. No ending, but it was what was going on inside the car -- that very moment of her head on his shoulder -- that seemed to be the defining moment of it all.

My point, if there is one, is that when it comes to inspiration, everything is fair game. Stories hide in corners, buried under junk drawers, or in plain sight, in the smile of a collaeague. Stories happen as news breaks, or when commercials end. Dreams are stories, and stories are dreams.

We only need to be aware, be awake.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

my partner in crime and me: a story of collaboration

I've been promising you this post for weeks now. Here's how my writing partner and I worked on our manuscript back in December:

We each came armed with a massive binder containing our manuscript. Each of us had annotated its pages with questions, ideas, reminders, and the occasional smiley or frowny face.

We had a pretty set schedule. Up at 8am. By the time the morning routine was done, we immediately got to work, never later than 10:00.

We'd go page by page.
Me: Do you have any comments on this page?
Her: A couple.
Me: Share.

And then we'd systematically go through our notes (sometimes of the same line or paragraph or character motivation) and would proceed to talk about the characters and story as if they were real people and places. Sometimes we got stuck on a word or a line, and spent 20 minutes wordsmithing (even my mother, a room away, chimed in a few times). Sometimes we disagreed on a piece of dialogue or a character response or description. We made our cases, and usually compromised in the end. When we liked something, we complimented the writing (at times unsure of which one of us wrote it). When we didn't like something, we made fun of the writing and each other. (As the novel progressed, we marveled at the new levels of suckage it had reached.) The ability to laugh at yourself and your work, especially if the writing is not going well, is a crucial step in the process. More so if you are collaborating.

This was all before lunch.

After lunch, we'd resume our place, and work until dinner. After dinner was West Wing time. We included this as part of our work. The West Wing provided us with simultaneuous motivation and relief. Some nights we squeezed in a couple more hours of work before bedtime.

Some days we changed our scenery, be it the Barnes & Noble cafe or a different room in my mother's house. When we weren't talking about our manuscript, we engaged in debates (is Long Island really an island?), trivia (Where did the Pine Barrens get its name?), and I put her three years of chiropractic school to work (Why does my jaw pop when I eat certain foods? Why do women get menstrual cramps? What is that annoying knot in the back of my neck?). And so on. We laughed a lot, we ate good food, and we enjoyed the beauties of the East End. I even showed her the creepy Santa that stands outside the variety store on Main Street and sings when you pass it (it's not human, but it's real...)

We still have a lot of work to do on our manuscript. More scenes to write, a lot more to revise, and more feedback from readers. The best part of the project is how much fun we've had. We always said from the get-go that even if no one else likes our book, we do. And sometimes that's all that really matters.

Monday, January 11, 2010

what's in a name

So, here are the title/character names readers have sent to me thus far, in no particular order:

  • "Up Your Ziggy with a Wa-Wa Brush!"
  • In the Billiards Room with the Candlestick
  • A year in Hell.
  • One Way Ticket
  • Abandoned Warehouse
  • "Lelani's Tomb"
  • Howard Franklin and Caroline Travis
  • Natasha Bourgeous & Maxwell Privvy
  • Trent Black
  • Stacey Fenmore
  • Declan Jacobs and Posey Lamont
  • Steve Plinko
  • Amos Sheridan
  • David Mink
What do you think? Which are your favorites?

Remember, you have until Thursday to give me titles and/or character names, and I'll write something in the genre of my choice, selecting five of each. No limit to submissions!

Friday, January 8, 2010

keep 'em comin'!

I've been getting some great titles and character names, both here and on Facebook. Keep 'em comin'! Remember, you can suggest more than one.

What I've decided is to do five and five of the best titles/characters, and I'm going to either let my readers vote for the best, or I'm gonna have someone else do the judging. Preferences for either one, readers?

My wombmate loved the idea, and even he wants to get in on the action, so he's going to write one of the pieces; better still, he's agreed to let me post it on my blog -- woohoo!!

All I can say is that I'm going to have my work cut out for me. Keep in mind that I reserve to use the titles/characters in any genre. I may use a title for a nonfiction piece or a poem, or write a story or a chapter using a title and also include a character. One reader has even given me a title with the character's name in it -- smart!!

Keep 'em comin', I say. Keep 'em comin'.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

a writing challenge for me -- and I need your help!

When it comes to writing, I'm a stickler for two things: names and titles.

Character names a big deal for me. The name Andi Cutrone was the result of Andi being my favorite girl's name when I was a teenager (Andrew my favorite boy's name), and Cutrone was the last name of a boy I liked in high school. The joke of Andi dating a guy named Andrew was too good to pass up, and I also wanted Andrew to give her an unusual nickname, hence the phonetic shortening of her last name, "Cutch". (I like nicknames too, if you hadn't noticed.)

Way back when I had first conceived of Faking It, I had thought to play on names that juxtaposed with very Catholic associations. (Maggie came from Magdelene, and Christian explains itself). Devin came from "devilish" -- but I also wanted him to have a name that meant something really special. I learned that David means "beloved".

Sam? That was my blatent homage to Sam Seaborn from The West Wing (right down to the Rob Lowe description-- I was watching a helluva lot of West Wing at the time). The name Vanzant came from my perusing my bookshelf and looking for a last name that would go well with Sam.

Like charcter names, titles have to "feel" right to me. They have to be eye-catching, ear-catching, and they have to take on the identity, the soul of the story. The original title for Faking It was The Escort. (I had played around with a different title for Ordinary World, too -- Making It -- too corny, I decided early on).

So I thought I'd give myself a little challenge. Sort of a writing improvization. You give me either a title or a character's name, and I'll write a story, or a chapter, or an essay, or hell, maybe even a poem using that title or name. I figure I'll take the five best titles/character names, and write one piece per week and post them here. (Then again, given my schedule, it might have to be one per month!)

I'll give you a week. You can submit as many titles or character names as you want.

Whattya say? Do you dare me?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

have yourself a merry Little Christmas

Today is January 6th. The 12 days of Christmas begins on December 25 and ends today. The Catholic Liturgical calendar calls this the Epiphany, or the naming of Jesus. My mom always called it "Little Christmas".

For the last 15 years (at least), we've been putting the Christmas tree up on Christmas Eve. It is my job to adjust the artificial branches to make them more life-like; it is my wombmate's job to string the lights, and then my mom joins in and the three of us trim the tree with ornaments and garland. Bing Crosby and Vince Guaraldi (aka A Charlie Brown Christmas) are musical staples. The rest of the house has already been decorated -- my mom adds a little during each week of Advent, signifying the preparation. The tree and decorations remain until January 7th.

On January 6th, my mom used to place an extra gift in our stockings. I wish I could remember what they were, but they were always fun, a special little extra surprise. Just a Little gift for Little Christmas. We honored the day. And in more recent years, I've named the year. Change. Love. Trying New Things. Last year was Farewell to My Thirties.

For the last 10 years, I've not gone through the untrimming of the tree (sadly, my mom has to do that all by herself), and I've not "celebrated" Little Christmas. I don't decorate my apartment since I spend so much of the holiday somewhere else. I don't hang a stocking, and no one leaves a special gift. I miss such traditions.

So tonight I am beginning a new one. Send a message to someone you love. Let them know that you're thinking of them, that you love and appreciate them. Offer a prayer or happy thought. Perhaps even buy a little trinket, a candy bar, a leftover stocking stuffer. Wrap it with a little bow. Wish someone a happy Little Christmas. Name your year, but keep that little gift to yourself. Take time to notice and give thanks for the little things.

You'd be surprised how something so small makes a heart so big.

Happy Little Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

good intention, poor execution

Here's an example of good intention, poor execution.

Of course, like most people, I always intend to eat better once the holidays are over. I also wanted to get back into cooking, since I seemed to have fallen back into my grad school habits since last summer (aka a lot of cheap food, little chopping or use of pans, and lots of carbs). I blame this loss of interest on cancelling my cable and missing the Food Network.

Anyhoo, one of my intentions was to not only get back into cooking, but take out my cookbooks and try some new recipes. Aside from a shrimp and broccoli stir-fry from Cooking Light magazine, I also wanted to try a raspberry pie recipe in Dr. Andrew Weil's book Eating Well for Optimum Health. It also includes an "Easy Bake Pie Crust" recipe.

When making my shopping list, I remembered that a couple of recipes called for sesame oil, so I jotted it down.

You can already see where this is going, can't you.

I decided to make pork chops with a maple-soy glaze instead of the stir-fry, and the raspberry pie for dessert since the easy-bake pie crust also called for maple syrup.

Turns out it also called for sesame tahini.

Further turns out that I never put sesame tahini on my list, either forgetting to or confusing it with sesame oil.

I'm not exactly a bad cook, just an amateur one. Maybe one rung under "amateur" and one over "underpracticed". I've never used sesame oil nor tahini in anything. So the first thing to do was text my wombmate, who is a fabulous cook. When he didn't respond, I went to Google. This answer was the most helpful: "The difference between sesame tahini and sesame oil is like the difference between peanut butter and peanut oil."

Aw, crap.

My wombmate is a whiz at substitutions. Mine don't always go so well. In fact, my substitution blunders have become legendary, complete w/ my wombmate's parody: "I didn't have any ketchup, so I used battery acid instead."

This was supposed to be a healthy alternative pie crust and pie, so what would make a good substitution? Apparently sesame oil was out once I learned the difference between the two. I considered peanut butter, but I had no idea what that would do to texture (especially since I only eat crunchy peanut butter), and I couldn't afford to screw this up 'cause I was down to my last package of graham crackers.

I used butter. Good ol' artery-clogging butter.

Poor Dr. Weil was shaking his head, I just know it. Not to mention my wombmate, who finally got back to me and laughed, as usual. Turns out he had his own blunder after attempting to make caramel ice cream. "It didn't come out," was his only admission.

In my own defense, the pork chops came out marvelous. The pie wasn't so bad either, but I admit that the crust left something to be desired.

There's a reason why so many people use cooking as a metaphor for the writing process. There's a lot of trial and error, playing w/ combinations and substitutions and improvisations along the way, and there are also times when sticking to the recipe is crucial. It's also crucial to laugh at yourself along the way, to have good tools, good support, and to keep trying.

Thank goodness books don't require massive cleanup.

Got any cooking (or other) blunders you'd like to share? Post a comment!

Monday, January 4, 2010

it starts today

Most people can't stand the idea of making new year's resolutions. The problem is that most set goals so lofty a pole vaulter couldn't clear them. They wanna erase their 15,000-dollar debt, they wanna lose 40 pounds (when they only need to lose 10), they wanna quit smoking, red meat, and video games, all at the same time. They wanna find the man or woman of their dreams. They wanna write a hit play and direct it. And they wanna do it all before the end of January, June at the very latest.

I've always liked the idea, however. It's a bit of a ritual for me to make a list at the beginning of the year and then re-visit that list at the end of the year -- how did it go? Did I accomplish what I wanted to? Did I fall short? Did the failure of one thing make way for something even better or happily unexpected?

I call these things intentions rather than resolutions. "Intent" gets everyone in the universe in on the game, and why not make it a game? Why take yourself so seriously? Most of all, forget the damn deadline. Every day is another today, and every moment is another now. Begin when you're ready to begin.

There are some intentions that I refuse to share with anyone. These are very private, special intentions for the betterment of my life on every level. Others are more superficial, but no less important. These I don't mind letting you in on. So here are a few:

Post here at least once a day during the work week. This gets so hairy from mid-term on, so I should modify the intention to find the time to post at least once a day. More specific still, find the right time to post. I somehow had it in my head that I should post first thing in the morning, and tried to write the post the night before. Didn't work.

It's possible that my lack of routine also has to do with my still-questionable rhetorical purpose for the blog, despite the description underneath the blog's name. It has evolved quite a bit since conception, from face lifts to name changes to content, but I still wonder if anything I say here is worth a grain of salt, or whatever the metaphor is. I still wonder about my audience. Am I writing for my Faking It Fans? Am I writing for writers? For readers? For my buddies? For me? All of the above? If it's all of the above, can I accommodate all of the above? Hmmmm...

Finish *Why I Love Singlehood*. I promised you tales from my writing partner's and my cram session a couple of weeks ago, and I shall deliver. We still have a lot to do, but we're still excited about it. This will be my writing partner's first published book (I keep telling her that makes her an author, but it hasn't sunk in yet), and I think I'm more excited about watching her go through the experience of holding it in her hands, seeing her name on the cover, opening it up and smelling the pages (yes, we do that in my family), and saying out loud, "Holy crap, I wrote a novel!" than my own accomplishment. Besides, I have two more novel ideas waiting to be born. At least two. I need a time machine. I need a gazillion sales so I can quit my day job. Or I need to have a robot made in my image and send her into the classroom in my place. (The robot idea is way cooler.)

Pick up my guitar again. And play it, too. I don't know what got into my head or what triggered it, but I haven't played since the summer. I'm hearing the same voices that I heard when I was ten, how it doesn't come as easily to me as it does my sibs, how I have to work twice as hard at it, how I need lessons and want to spend the money on other things (like shoes, or a Volkswagon Beetle), and so on.

And yet, I know that I have musical ability, if not talent. I have the aptitude to play for fun if I just practiced and committed myself and told the damn voices to go to hell. I mean geez, I at least know enough chords to play in a punk rock band.

But this is what connects me to my students when they tell me how much they struggle with writing, when it doesn't come easily to them, when they can't quash their own voices. I understand.

Have fun, and be awake. This intention applies to every aspect of my life. It frightens me how quickly these last ten years flew by. I don't want to be unconscious for the next ten. Obviously I don't mean consuming large quantities of Red Bull just so I can catch another three hours of Law&Order CI re-runs. I mean being mindful of the things I do in my life, appreciating the little things, and following my bliss, which is not just an expression used for commencement speeches, but something that requires consciousness. I always too Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield's slogan "If it's not fun, why do it?" to heart, but it seems that lately I've been making too many excuses. No mas.

What are your intentions for 2010? Where in your life can you be more mindful? What projects await your completion (or your beginning)? Are there voices in your head stopping you from greatness? Are you having fun?

Happy New Year, friends.