Monday, November 30, 2009

Gratitude post #14: duh!

I am grateful for books. Duh. You were waiting for this, right?

This post could go on for days. Books give me something to do (write them), something to think about (teach them), and somewhere to go, to escape and/or hide. Books were my first friends--isn't that sad? But they were. And still are.

Instead of rambling forever, here's a quotation that, for me, is exactly the essence of books. JK Rowling deserves a medal for these paragraphs alone. Be glad you never had to endure a gratitude post about HP.

"Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry's ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

"Of course it is happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that is it not real?" (DH, 723)

I know, I know: flurry of entries at the end. Now gratitude month is over, friends, and I am sad. Next month: GIFTS. And giveaway gifts, too! Stay tuned for more nerdy, wordy craziness.

Peace out!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gratitude post #13: The Trickster

Today, friends, I am grateful for Sherman Alexie, because he marries the sacred and the profane better than any writer I can think of.

Sherman (I always think of him as Sherman, not Alexie) is clever, brilliant with a crowd (listen to him here, look for the words "listen to program"), funny as hell, and cute as a bug. And he writes from the center of a culture I'm always interested in, so that adds fuel to my literary crush on him. Is he always brilliant? No. Is he a great stylist? No. But the man has heart and passion to spare, and like I said up there, he has the ability to talk about the shit of the world and the beauty of the world in the same sentence, then help us understand how those two things are one and the same.

My favorite short story in the world is "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," which he wrote, and you should read it here. So brilliant.

You should also watch this fantastic clip of Sherman reading, then answering questions about books and boners. If I had a bone, books would give me boners, too, so I totally identify.

I always admire artists whose work is so powerful I can't stand to read/watch it. I had to do that with Smoke Signals--I had to turn it off, because the subject matter was too close to home. It took me 3 weeks to turn it back on. The cool thing about Sherman--he'll teach you to laugh at what used to make you cry. And that, friends, is a skill worth learning.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gratitude post #12: The Middle

Say it loud: I'm Nebraskan/Minnesotan and I'm proud! And I'm grateful to be a Midwesterner.

Hear that big THUD that happens when those words land in empty silence?

This post used to be a rant about those folks in publishing who have no time nor energy to waste on those who live in flyover country. I decided not to be a hater, even though I was sorely tempted, when I realized most of the publishing folks *I've* worked with (from everywhere) have been OK with my Midwestern-ness. Instead, let me just celebrate a few examples of Midwestern brilliance, quietly chipping away at the East Coast and/or Left Coast myths that nobody talented lives here or is from here.

Take the former poet laureate of the United States, Ted Kooser. Ted is the fucking MAN, and he is so happening and fabulous, he is from Nebraska (via Iowa), just like me. I wept, for joy and homesickness, when he was chosen. In the Minnesota creative community, either emerging from here or living here now, barely scratching the surface, we have Kate DiCamillo, Pete Docter (of Pixar) and the Coen Brothers. Some publishing personnel might think that we're square, stupid, and backwards, but let me tell you, Midwesterners persevere, just like the wind and the fields and the sunsets.

I love New York City and California--truly, I love to visit and I love the energy--but I also love my Midwestern writing community, my Midwestern publisher (who publishes fantastic writers from everywhere), and my Midwestern life. While I don't glitter like CA or move at the speed of light like NYC, my Midwestern cool its its own gift, handed down from the big, wide-open sky.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gratitude post #11: some like it hot

Strange, I know, to blog about this, but today I am grateful for passion.

It's not necessarily a popular emotion, because it gets people into trouble (oh man, been there). But it also gets people through the tough spots, because sometimes it's all a person has. Especially on the days when you say to yourself, "this m****rf***ing thing is a PILE OF SHIT and IT IS NOT A SPARKLY VAMPIRE and NO ONE LOVES ME!!" Those are the days you need some passionate belief in yourself.

Here's a guy who is passionate about bending things. Love this dude.

Here are some folks who are passionate about cake. Love cake.

Here's a family who's passionate about hedgehogs. Do not know if I love hedgehogs, but am willing to give them a go.

The writing community is passionate about words. The ranching community is passionate about cows. Whatever communities we belong to, passion keeps us together.

I should write it with a lot of exclamation points, in caps: PASSION!!!!!!!!!!!!!


(Do you know how hard it is to find an image for passion that is not people having (about to have) sex or crown-of-thorns Jesus?)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gratitude post #10: the essence of life

No, blog friends, not blood, not air, not anything so easy: the essence of life is music, and every second of every day I am grateful for music. And yes, I am prone to hyperbole (!), but I am pretty damn serious about this.

A day is not complete for me without music (or carrots and my kid's smile). Music can change my mood, put my head back together, keep me current, and remind me of why I love my life. From my virtuoso pianist grandmother to my brother the guitarist (check him out here, in my book trailer) to my aunt & uncle with the ginormous music collection to all 3 parents, it was an everyday thing in my house. And it remains so today--in their houses along with mine. My kid can't keep a beat nor sing a note, but he loves listening. That's enough for me.

BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN is all about music, and I've started to make iMixes for Gabe's radio shows (Gabe, the main character, wants to be a radio DJ). For Gabe, music is escape. Granted, his life requires more escaping than mine, but I totally understand the feeling.

I can't work on a book without music, and I know I'm not alone in that thought--many authors make playlists for their books. And friends, I'd bet you also have soundtracks to your lives. Alas, my darling spouse does not, no matter how hard I've tried to convince him that music is essential to living. It's a good thing he has many more redeeming qualities.

What's on right now? "Radio," Flo Rida. Up after that? "Radio," the Corrs, then "The Nightfly," Donald Fagen. Check it out: iTunes home page, then click "music," then click (way down on the bottom right) "iMix", then search "Gabe's competition." If music is your lifeblood too, I think you'll like it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gratitude post #9: those one particular kinds of nerds

OK, you're going to think this is a "duh," but today I am grateful for readers.

I am, of course, grateful *to be* a reader. My mom claims I learned to read when I was three, and books have saved me since then. As I said previously, there were times I was reading stuff I shouldn't have been reading, for better or for worse. But books have rescued me, educated me (I had no idea what a hard-on was previous to this), and sustained me. I believe books are holy. How's that for a huge misconception? But I don't care.

And without readers, there wouldn't be writers. And just maybe, somebody somewhere out there is reading my book, and enjoying it, maybe even laughing out loud (!). That's the best part, for me: knowing that my book has been good for someone else. I loved creating it, and I love knowing someone else might love it, too.

This isn't even scratching the surface of my gratitude for books. That's another post. But hallelujah chunky peanut butter for readers (I stole that phrase from this guy. I told you he was influential.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gratitude post #8: orange deliciousness

Blog friends, the gratitude is neverending, but I am out of time to come up with a post about the writing community--today I need quick and easy--so today I am grateful for mangoes and carrots. Mangoes aren't orange on the outside, but they are on the inside.

The only bad thing about mangoes? Cutting them up. Otherwise, I am a mango girl, on a par with my carrot fetish (a day without carrots is a day without sunshine). My favorite--Mango Madness Naked juice, or a mango smoothie of any kind. Carrots--raw, every day, lunch. Period.

I am not much partial to orange, though my darling spouse looks mighty attractive in it, but these two orange foods are to die for. Yum-ola!

Back to book gratitude next time.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gratitude post #7: my first crush

Call it work avoidance, and this will make you laugh your ass off, but today I am grateful for Saturday Night Fever. More specifically, Tony Manero. He practically glows with testosterone, and holy god, the man can dance.

I first saw Saturday Night Fever on television when I was eight or nine, and looking at Tony Manero was the first time I felt the "wow, I need me some of that!" feeling that grown-ups call desire. Seriously--who *wouldn't* be smitten with a hot working class Italian man from Brooklyn who can dance his ass off? For this grade-school girl from Central Nowhere, he represented the complete opposite of everything I knew. And that's attractive enough. But still . . . that smile. Pretty sexy, no?

I think this is also where my secret desire to become a dancer comes from. I wanted to be Tony's dance partner, define "dance" as you will. And, a corollary gratitude: I am grateful for disco.

I know (gasp, gasp), I said disco. But it's great. And so is he.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gratitude post #6: The Old Master

Today I am grateful for Stephen King. I don't write horror, but man oh man, he's the master of characters, and I want to be like him when I grow up. You'd know if a Stephen King character came and knocked on your door. Name any of the biggies--Jack Torrance, Annie Wilkes, Randall Flagg (a personal fave), and I'm NOT talking about their movie counterparts, I'm talking about their purest book forms--and you'd know who it was as soon as you answered the door.

I started reading Steve King (as he calls himself) when I was WAAAAY too young to be reading it. Like under 10. So I grasped nothing but the basic storylines: lots of blood, lots of bad things. But WOW, did I absorb things I had no idea I absorbed, stuff about love and sex and death and human interaction. I'm finding that out now, as I revisit his early stuff. These days I'm absorbing King in audiobook form, and it's teaching me something about how he shapes books, characters, and story structure. I also love King's casual, irreverent voice and tone. He's my kind of guy, and that was something I knew when I was 10--I knew I could talk with him, and he'd tell me what I needed to know. He could be why my own books are slightly (!) irreverent and casual. Plus, Steve King has written good stuff, and he's written shit, and he admits to both. I like that in a writer. I'm partial to his early works, but there are good ones later on, too.

As I listen to him, I'm also thinking a lot about Flux's statement that "young adult is a point of view, not a reading level" (a brilliant statement if there ever was one). Case in point: Carrie. Almost all the protagonists/antagonists are high school students, but are they thinking in high school ways? No. They're making very adult decisions and having adult thoughts, because they're being "watched" by an adult narrator (it's 3rd person). Even though it's YA characters, it's not a YA point of view. Interesting stuff.

Hail Mary, full of grace, let me win this stock car race. Thank you, Steve King, for your words and your voice. Sometimes I can't read you, because the gore or the plague or the sadness is too real, now that I'm a grown-up and I understand you, but I still love you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gratitude post #5a: more Sesame

I am sorry, but I just cannot resist. In 10 years, you'll get the same things--provided we have blogs, of course. But seriously, this show was all we had, and it gets stuck in your head. Like STUCK.

"Some and none"--not the best quality, but still hilarious and wonderful.

"Fat cat sat hat"--same monster dude, but better quality and maybe even sillier.

And seriously, how could I forget this one? "Mah na mah na"! A different version than I remember, but it still works.

One for my brother Chris: "Ladybug's Picnic". "Imagining shapes," in the first post, is for my other brother, Kjell, who is a square. He will come after me if he ever reads that statement. But also for Kjell: "Everybody Eats" and "Everybody Sleeps."

One for my dad: "The Alligator King"

One for my son: "Put Down the Duckie"

And one more for all you opera fans: "Orange Carmen."

You are kind to indulge me.

Gratitude post #5: Sesame Street

This one is obvious: today (every day) I am grateful for Sesame Street!

40 years ago today, the first Sesame Street episode aired. I am almost the same age as my favorite street, and when I was a munchkin in Central Nowhere, purple monsters and brown-skinned people were NOT people in my neighborhood. But I totally thought they were, and said thought has served me well in the rest of my life. I seriously credit my interest in cultural diversity to them. And, just to prove my Street cred: I remember Mr. Looper ("Hoopah, Hoopah"), David, and when nobody knew about Mr. Snuffalupagus.

So, my favorite skit of all time: imagining shapes. This was Jim Henson's *3rd* shape-imagining skit, but the first one on Sesame. Look up the other two on YouTube. You have to wait a bit for the payoff, but it's there. Imagine on, baby . . .

A couple existential/mystical pieces: the letter I, and the letter N, both in the same clip. I still puzzle over these. Deep, baby. Deep.

The coolest badass musician on the planet showing off on Sesame Street: my man Stevie. 70s funk at its finest.

I could go on and on and on (just ask my brothers), but I won't. Suffice it to say that I adore Sesame Street. And I adore all the people who put this stuff on YouTube, so I can continue my love.

Do you know what a square is? I know WHO a square is! And the wind is very still for the lowercase N.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gratitude post #4: details

Let me say this very clearly: today I am grateful for details. You know why? DETAILS MATTER.

Some of my students are notoriously I-could-give-a-fig about details, and it makes me NUTS. So are, for that matter, lots of people in our culture. Hey, as long as I get the big stuff right, what's the problem? They're just small chunks. Details don't matter.

But let me ask you: who's to define what the "big stuff" is and what's not?

I cannot even tell you how many times my name has been misspelled in the last six months--book-related and otherwise. That matters to me, I must tell you. To other people, it's a detail. Think about details in a book, friends: it's kind of a big detail that we know Edward can't be in the sunlight, yes? But what about knowing how hard and cold his chest is, and, despite this fact, Bella likes to snuggle with him? That small detail, to my eyes, is almost more important, because it gives us clues to understanding Bella.

Yes, I've heard it again and again: don't sweat the details. Well, the devil is in the details. And you should sweat the small stuff.

In my current work in progress, I'm figuring out details for characters. Hair color, clothes, that kind of stuff. But also small details like how Ray bounces from foot to foot while he talks, because he's really just kinetic energy contained in a body. Small stuff like Callie's dark circles under her eyes, because sleeping brings her nightmares.

I'll say it again: DETAILS MATTER. Sweat the small stuff. Get it right. It matters to the story. And to life.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gratitude post #3: mad scientists

Today I am grateful for agents (well, every day I'm grateful for agents, especially mine, but today I'm writing about it). I can hear you now: "but your post said mad scientists!?!" I use the label with the utmost, utmost respect, and I'd bet, once you think about it, the label will seem appropriate. Plus, it was just Halloween, so "mad scientists" is more fun than "agents".

But consider this scenario: once you've matched yourselves up, you come to your brand-new agent with a book, one you think is finished. And the agent says, "Wait! I have an idea!" And then s/he helps you slice and rearrange and chop and sew and come up with a brand-new creation. And you say, "Wow! Much better!" And then your agent takes your new monster out to make friends with editors. At least that's how it's been for me. I could never have imagined the shape or scope of my current book without my agent's mad scientist genius.

Maybe your agent is not a let-me-help-you-invent-a-new-creature type of agent. However, I bet your agent is out there working the phones and electrons, trying to get you a book deal. There's some mad science to a book deal, isn't there?

Along with being grateful to my own agent, whom I love, and to two more kind and generous people who've helped us out recently, I'm grateful to agents as a whole. Every agent I've encountered, in person or on the web, has taught me something. There are some fantastic agent blogs out there, and sometimes whole agencies, like Dystel and Goderich, blog together. Agents contribute a heap of help to the online writing world. We are lucky people.

I also know there are people with bad agent stories out there. But I've found those stories fewer and farther between than the stories about kind, generous, and helpful agents. I even crashed one agent's computer--and he still read my sample pages. Totally above and beyond, ladies and gentlemen! It's a hard job, and they do it well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gratitude post #2: profanity

First, the winner of the fortune contest is Angelique! Her winning fortune: Take a minute to notice a child. It might help awaken the one inside you. Yay, Angelique! A copy of JAKE RILEY is on its way to you.

Today's gratitude may be slightly unusual, but today I am grateful for profanity. To be clear, I don't mean insults--words you hurl at each other to hurt--and it only goes for particular audiences. Gotta be audience-conscious. But I love profanity when it's hurled at things you can't hurt--crabby computers or books dropped in the parking lot or cancer, in cross-stitch. Morgan loves profanity, and Gabe is a friend of it. The three of us are fans of the F-bomb, yes, but also words like "batshit". I love "batshit".

If you want a longer list of profanity I'm grateful for, I can send it to you. "Asshole" is the most equal-opportunity curse word, because we all have one, so we can all be one. But now we're getting into insults.

And no, I don't like profanity because I am out of more creative alternatives. My vocab skills are way too mad, so I can always find something else to say.

I just like it. And I'm grateful. So there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November gratitude: post #1

Blog friends, I'm trying something new.

November, of course (in America), leads us down the path to many things: snow and ice, below zero temps (in MN), gifties, much holiday feasting, weight gain, and CHRISTMAS BREAK, IN WHICH I GET TO WRITE A LOT, alternated with skiing with my son. All of that aside, November also leads to Thanksgiving, a time when we're ostensibly supposed to be thankful for things. Some folks don't care. I do.

I know gratitude is embarrassing if it's gushing and weird, so I'll keep it simple. I won't bore you with some of the personal stuff, probably just the writing world stuff, but who knows?

ALERT: I also know gratitude is uncool. I have to turn in my hipster cred (what hipster cred?) if I'm gushing like your grandmother over all our myriad blessings, praise be to above, yadda yadda yadda. So I'm going to try to retain some snark.

To wit: today I am grateful for snark, most especially Miss Snark (may she be at peace and drinking cocktails somewhere, read the archives for fantastic help, that's Killer Yapp gracing us with his photo) and The Rejectionist, who I would kiss if I ever met him/her, because s/he is so fscking funny, most especially the Karl Lagerfeld post and/or the Rachel Zoe post.

Feel free to post snarky gratitude in the comments, for whatever snark you're a fan of.