Happy Thanksgiving!

In a move that is particularly lazy on my part, I’m going to celebrate the holiday by re-posting an old blog entry of mine in which I tell the woeful tale of the year my dog ruined Thanksgiving. I originally posted it the day after Thanksgiving on the year we lost our old girl.

Have a great holiday!

The Thanksgiving Feast

To me, one of the greatest parts of Thanksgiving is what starts today. No, not Black Friday shopping—I refuse to participate in such madness. I made the mistake of facing the crowds at dawn once, years ago, and found myself clutching a Game Cube in a football hold, rushing toward the registers in a frantic rush to escape the feeding frenzy as quickly as possible, preferably with all of my limbs still attached.

No, today is the day we begin to consume the beautiful and succulent delicacy known as leftovers. Turkey sandwiches, soup, pot pie…and speaking of pie, we have pumpkin and sweet potato. Alas, I should stop before Ralphie from A Christmas Story sues me for copyright infringement, which brings up a story fans of this holiday classic will appreciate: our very own Bumpus Hound.

For those not familiar with A Christmas Story, first of all, stop reading and go watch the movie—right now! I’ll wait…

All right, just in case you don’t know about the Bumpus Hounds, and didn’t follow my instructions, I will give you a brief recap, though it will ruin my life-imitating-art story.

Ralphie’s family lives next door to the Bumpus family and, as Ralphie put it:

“Our hillbilly neighbors, the Bumpuses had over 785 smelly hound dogs, and they ignored every other human being on earth except my old man!”

On Christmas morning, the Bumpus Hounds come barreling into Ralphie’s kitchen, and devour the unprotected turkey, fresh from the oven and resting on the kitchen table. His mother screams; his father declares the family will be going out to eat. Cut to the Chinese restaurant and roast duck.

Which brings us to Thanksgiving, 2000. My husband and I were the proud owners of an eight month old black lab puppy named Karma (insert irony joke here). She was, of course, extremely interested in all the smells of deliciousness emanating from the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. Every time I would take the turkey from the oven and baste it, she would be right by my side, sniffing joyfully.

This, dear reader, is called foreshadowing.

Dinner went off without a hitch, the turkey and all its trimmings enjoyed by all. As is typical, I made far more food than was needed, leaving us with a bounty of leftovers to enjoy.

On that fateful Friday, we went out for a while (for what purpose, I no longer recall. Perhaps the day has been blocked out as result of the ensuing trauma we endured). We came home in happy anticipation of tasty turkey sandwiches for lunch, but instead found ourselves in what we would later describe as KARMAGEDDON.

You can see where this is going.

Karma, our precious pooch, had made a discovery. She could open the refrigerator.

AND

SHE

ATE

EVERY

SCRAP

All of the turkey—the carcass was stripped bare.

All of the stuffing.

The mashed potatoes.

The cranberries.

The sweet potatoes.

The gravy.

And the pies. Oh, the pies.

We found her lying on her side, her belly protruding in an obscenely convex manner, her groans of pain (or ecstasy? We’ll never know) greeting us at the door. It was a scene of horror and destruction: foil and storage containers strewn about as though struck by a hurricane, the refrigerator door swung open wide, its bare shelves taunting us, the dog in a heap on the kitchen floor, having eaten herself into a stupor, unable to even escape to the next room. The smell of Thanksgiving was in the air, but the contents of Thanksgiving were in her belly.

I’m pretty sure the dog recovered before we did.

It was with great sadness that we had to have our dear old Karma Doggy put down this year, unexpectedly.

I thought of you every time I basted the turkey, old girl. Thanks for the memories.

Collaboration

I’m pretty terrible at keeping up with my blog. I go in fits and starts, blogging consistently and then disappearing for weeks—even months. Successful bloggers fill their pages with consistent content, often built on regular columns or installments. So I’ve set to work coming up with ideas. For starters, I will be bringing back my Way Back Wednesdays reviews, because I, for one, found them to be lots of fun. And that box of books from my childhood isn’t reading itself…

 Today, I’m test-running a new piece, one which may or may not work as a regular thing, as it is dependent on the cooperation of a child. So…we’ll see how it goes. The idea came to me yesterday as I was driving my just-turned-five-year-old home from school. We began to make up a story together, and I thought it would be fun to blog our results. When we got home, we sat down to hash out our tale. He did most of the storytelling, and proved to have great resolve in the tone and theme of the story he wanted to tell. What follows is the results of our collaboration. I have changed his name and “kingdom” to preserve his privacy. Our story begins:

 

Once upon a time in the Kingdom of Wisconsin there lived a young prince named James. James spent his days adventuring with his trusty dog, Sully.

One sunny day while out on a particularly grand adventure, James and Sully came upon a bridge crossing a roaring river. The bridge was made of polished wood from the tallest Chocolate Tree in all the land. It smelled delicious.

Just as our hero James and his dog Sully were about to cross the bridge, they heard a mighty roar. The ground shook. James and Sully spotted an enormous dragon on the other side of the bridge. The dragon was a deep, shimmering green with red polka dots.

His booming voice called out, “Who dares cross my chocolate bridge?”

“It is I, Prince James of the Kingdom of Wisconsin!” James said boldly.

“Woof!” said Sully.

The dragon charged across the bridge toward the fearless duo. James raised his fist, and with the dragon’s breath hot on his face, he bopped the dragon on the nose.

“Woof!” said Sully.

The dragon reared back on his hind legs and drew in a deep breath. With all his might, he breathed a fiery breath upon the prince and his dog. But instead of fire, the dragon breathed jellybeans! The sweet beans piled high on the ground, covering James and Sully’s feet.

James reached into the pile and grabbed a strawberry jellybean—his favorite! He ate the jellybean, and the dragon began to cry.

“Cheer up!” said James. “Have a jellybean! There are plenty.” James took a handful of the jellybeans and offered them to the dragon.

The dragon wiped away his tears and smiled. “For me?” he said. “Nobody has ever shared jellybeans with me before.” The dragon smiled and ate the jellybeans.

“Woof!” said Sully.

And the duo became a trio. James, Sully, and their new friend the dragon lived out their days sharing many adventures together.

THE END

 

Way-Back Wednesdays

Today I bring you the second installment of Way-Back Wednesdays, my new blog series in which I review the contents of a box of books I was recently given, with a new book re-read and reviewed each week. This box is oddly random, a strange assortment from my childhood bedroom with little semblance of logic or order. Books from a series, with various titles in said series absent, chapter books from elementary school along with Shakespeare and Ray Bradbury—odd indeed, but should make for some fun over the coming weeks (months, even).

In selecting titles for review, I’ve utilized the very scientific practice of closing my eyes, reaching in the box, and grabbing a book.

And now to this week’s selection:

Little Witch, by Anna Elizabeth Bennett.

This is a chapter book I recall reading quite a few times around age eight. The copyright is 1953, and it definitely reads that way—plenty of cigar smoking, calling females “sis,” and vaguely sexist, fear-inducing authority figures. This is a bit of an odd read, but still kind of fun.  And there’s plenty of nostalgia, as I do remember how much I liked it as a kid.

It is the story of a young girl, Minikin, who has the great misfortune of being the daughter of an ill-tempered witch. Madam Snickasee, aforementioned witch, goes out each night, gallivanting about on her broomstick and working her black magic, while poor Minikin (Minx, for short) is stuck at home making Black Spell Brew and trying to find a way to conjure up a fairy.

Story of my life.

Many of the neighborhood children have gone missing, having fallen victim to the sorcery of Madam Snickasee. Any child who dared cross her was turned into a flowerpot and stuck in her windowsill. And the flowers have faces, people. FACES.

See?

Fortunately for the children, Minx has taken it upon herself to tend to the botanical kids, making sure they get plenty of water and sunshine.

Madam Snickasee sleeps through the days (what is she doing at night?), not stirring from dawn to dusk. Yet, oddly, she is not a vampire. Not even a sparkly one.

Unsupervised, Minx decides it is best to enroll herself in school (because what kid wouldn’t, right?) and meets a new friend, who takes in the poor, unkempt, underfed child.

After several run-ins with various threatening adults—the head of the PTA, a private investigator, the school principal—things get a bit treacherous for poor Minx. That private investigator is getting mighty suspicious about those missing kids, and as it turns out, she could be jailed for practicing witchcraft! No mention of burning at the stake, so at least she’s got that going for her.

Fear not, dear reader. You will be relieved to know it all works out in the end. Madam Snickasee is turned into an anteater (no, really) while answering charges of witchcraft in a courtroom, and Minx finds out she is actually the daughter of a fairy. Win, win.

Oh, sorry. Should have posted spoiler warnings.

I hope you can forgive me.

Way-Back Wednesdays!

Welcome to my first installment of Way-Back Wednesdays! Which, conveniently, can also be called Flashback Fridays! Perfect for a lazy blogger such as myself.

What, exactly, is Way-Back Wednesdays?

I’m so glad you asked.

Way-Back Wednesdays (not to be confused with Peabody’s WABAC Machine), is a new series in which I will be re-reading and reviewing books from my own collection. And it’s a very specific collection, at that. I will be limiting myself to the contents of a random box of books I was recently given from my childhood bedroom:

And there are some doozies in there. So prepare yourselves. There has been no cherry-picking on my part, no hiding the occasionally…umm…eclectic literary choices of my younger self. The USOC has monitored all box searching activity to assure the purity of the sport.

Just to show I’m being honest, here’s a book for the ages:

Today, however, I will begin with an absolute favorite of mine. In my house we have not one, but three copies of Norton Juster’s classic, The Phantom Tollbooth. In this box is a well-worn, and apparently STOLEN copy, belonging to my best friend. Sorry, Marsha. I will send it back, I promise!

My apologies for this ridiculously short review, but really, I can sum it up in one word: brilliant.

Our story begins with a boy named Milo, who is exceedingly bored with, well, everything. And that’s really all we know about him, but it works. Within the first few pages, Milo finds several boxes in his home, the contents of which are “ONE GENUINE TURNPIKE TOLLBOOTH” and an electric car. Milo decides to set aside his boredom and assemble the tollbooth and car, and in no time, he sets off on an adventure into a land of puns and wordplay.

Stuck in the Doldrums, he meets Tock the watchdog and they travel to Dictionopolis, where they are sent off to rescue the princesses, Rhyme and Reason. This is an adventure filled with clever puns and an ever fascinating play on words. Juster’s sharp wit leaps from every page, and Jules Feiffer’s fantastic illustrations only add to the overall appeal. It is such a brilliant combination, resulting in a perfect tale for the ages.

The overarching theme of finding magic in ordinary things is timeless, and this book, now more than fifty years old, is as appealing as ever.

I think one of the true tests of children’s literature is its ability to not only appeal to adults, but transport us back to childhood, sweeping us up with the same magic we felt as kids. This book does exactly that, and it’s one of the many reasons this will always be a favorite of mine.

If you’ve reached adulthood without having read this classic, you must go forth and consume it immediately. If it’s been years since you’ve had the pleasure of drinking in Juster’s words, go find that stolen copy you’re hiding in a box somewhere and read it!*

*And then return it, 25-30 years late.

I Go All Advicey

 

I still feel so new at this being an author thing. I know I’ve been writing for quite some time, have labored over my novel, have worked hard to learn the craft, and have managed to land myself a two-book publishing deal for my debut young adult novel, but I still feel a bit like an imposter. That’s why I’ve hesitated to offer any sort of writing advice, because who am I to tell people…well, anything?

 

But there is one thing I know plenty about, and today I’ve decided to boot myself off the cliff, Thelma and Louise style, as I lay some advice on you.

 

Distraction and procrastination are, of course, two of the greatest enemies of creativity. The reality of the technological age is our medium (writing) coexists on a machine rife with distraction (hello, interwebs). As authors, there is now an expectation that we create and maintain a web presence, and when we are already predisposed to distra—ooh! Shiny!

 

Sorry, what was I saying?

 

Right. Distractions and procrastination feed off one another, playing into our natural tendencies to doubt our abilities. We’re a neurotic bunch (see agent Rachelle Gardener’s spot-on description:http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/05/bad-habits-of-authors/ ), easily falling prey to self-doubt, which only fuels the procrastination monster. And the aforementioned web presence we must develop can lead to further procrastiona—excuse me for a sec. I need to go check Facebook. Oh, and somebody mentioned me on Twitter. Plus, I haven’t checked my Klout score in like three days. How many hits have I had on my blog today?

 

Sorry.

 

The distraction monster may still get the best of me at times, but I have one such monster I’ve recently figured out how to defeat. The research monster.

 

Research is an important part of storytelling, and no place for shortcuts. If you are not accurate in the realistic/verifiable details in your world-building, you lose the trust of your reader and cast doubt over the entire world you’ve painstakingly created. As a reader, I hate to find glaring errors in the logic or details of a story. To me, it shows the author didn’t care enough to do the extra work, and when you don’t do your research, it shows. Publishing is a competitive world, so why give your potential audience a reason to put your book down and grab something else on the shelf (virtual or brick and mortar). There are, literally, millions of choices.

 

It’s a delicate balance, the writing game. Most writers have day jobs (or happen to be stay at home parents, like yours truly), families, social lives, and this passion for writing that we cram in wherever and whenever we can. When you throw the necessary research into the mix, it makes the task of getting the words out of your head and onto the paper seem daunting.

 

And we’re perfectionists. We want the words we put to page to be perfect, living in a constant state of disappointment (and occasional elation, when we hit the sweet spot and manage to impress ourselves with our storytelling). This constant struggle for perfection feeds the monster, and she’s always hungry.

 

Research can derail writing momentum, so what do you do? Because if you’re anything like me, you can’t just give yourself permission to skip over the research bit and ride the writing momentum. But if you let the momentum slip away, you face the very real danger of getting stuck in research mode. Forever.

 

It becomes the perfect excuse to unchain the distraction monster. Well, I need to interview a physics professor about this next chapter, so I guess I’ll stop writing for the day—oh, look! A new cute baby video!

 

It really is as simple (and as hard) as just giving yourself permission to not have every detail just so in your first draft.

 

Crazy, I know, but it works.

 

For example, in my current WIP, I have the following sentence written:

 

Blah, blah, blah, medical stuff and lingo and so on. Interview a medical professional so you don’t sound like Dr. Drake Ramore.

I stared at the page for a moment, horrified, and then, guess what? I got a lot done. It was empowering to realize that first drafts are just that. Imperfect. Sometimes terrible. First drafts are not finished products, and if you allow yourself to get stymied by research at that stage, you will never get to a final draft.

 

Allow yourself to write it wrong. Just get the sentiment on paper. Keep going. The details of what a patient would see upon awaking in an intensive care unit just don’t matter in your first draft. It’s okay to get it wrong, so long as you make sure, later on, to get it right.

 

So stop what you’re doing—right now—and insert some senseless drivel into your WIP. And get on with the writing! I promise, your manuscript will survive.*

 

 

 

*But save a backup file, just to be sure. And if something horrible happens, it’s TOTALLY not my fault.

Getting A Little Obsessed

It’s funny, the thoughts that occupy the minds of preschoolers. I can’t speak for all of them (I only have the one, after all), but my son goes through obsessive phases. They can last days or weeks, becoming his primary interest.

Right now he has two:

Elvis:

and

 

the Tooth Fairy:

An odd, yet awesome combination, no?

Whenever we’re in the car, Elvis is his first—and only—choice. He runs around the house singing The King’s greatest hits. He grabs his Phineas and Ferb guitar and rocks out. He’s working on his “Thankyuuuuu, thankyuuuverymuch,” and I find myself asking if he’s busy TCB (he always is).

With Elvis, it’s pure fandom. The Tooth Fairy, on the other hand, is something else entirely. He saw a children’s show a few weeks which dealt with Ms. Fairy and her role in the lives of children. As the excited cartoon child placed their tooth under their pillow and fell into a peaceful slumber, things went south. Seeing the arrival of Ms. Fairy, kiddo clamped his hand to his mouth and screamed “WHY WOULD SHE STEAL MY TEETH???”

Oh, boy.

I explained that she does not steal teeth. It is merely a business transaction. In exchange for your tooth, she gives you cold hard cash. Capitalism!

He remains unconvinced. And to be fair, having some strange magical woman float into your room while you’re sleeping and make off with your teeth is a bit…weird.

He now keeps in his room a letter he had me write. I was merely the secretary, taking dictation as he issued his Tooth Fairy Directive, which follows:

I can’t wait to see what obsession he comes up with next.

Reinterpreting The Saga

When not busy dismembering his Lego Minifigures (which can be seen here), my kiddo loves reenacting scenes from Star Wars.

 

 

Everyone remembers the gripping confrontation between Darth Vader and C-3PO, as Yoda tried in vain to bring an end to the conflict…

 

 

…and the edge-of-your-seat, pusle-pounding duel between Yoda and the battle axe wielding cheerleader…

 

 

…all leading to the action-packed melee in the exciting conclusion.

 

 

Take a bow, everyone!

Ride Like the Wind

My son turned four last month, and he has recently fallen in love with the idea of getting a “big boy” bike. In other words, step aside tricycle! Spring is coming, and that trike is so last season.

We took him to the store a few days ago (evil big box retailer once again. We are weak. Weak, I tell you!), and let him try out a few, to see what size would be the best fit. Unless you have kids, you probably don’t realize that little kid bikes come in several sizes. We were quick to learn he’s in the 16” frame market. And they had Spider Man! Cue happy kid (and happier Dad!).

As we were busy corralling him so he wouldn’t take off down the aisles on “HIS” new bike—explaining he’d have to wait to see if maybe the Easter Bunny would bring him one is a whole ‘nother story—I took note of how blissfully stable the training wheel setup was. And I got jealous of the safe, fun way in which he’ll get to learn to ride.

A little.

When I was a kid, learning to ride a bike, even with training wheels, was a bit…terrifying.

Why is that, you may ask? Oh, you silly youngsters.

Not to age myself, but I have no choice if I’m going to explain this properly. You see, when I learned to ride a bike in the magical year of 1979 (I was in kindergarten. Yeah, I’m old. Get over it.), training wheels weren’t the lovely, stable, smooth, run flat on the ground support enjoyed by kids today (and kids since sometime in the early 80s, I believe).

No, our training wheels rode a couple of inches off the ground. The idea was you’d learn balance, but the wheels would catch you so you wouldn’t actually fall. This resulted in an odd combination of elation and terror. A feeling of panic grabbing your heart as you tilted first to the left and then to the right, your heart racing as the training wheels caught you at the last possible second before certain death. Panic and blind fear. That’s the way to learn, man!

“I’m doing it! I’m riding a bike!”

“AAAHHH! I’m gonna die!”

“Yes! The wheels caught me! I’m INVINCIBLE!”

This range of emotions would span a period of mere seconds, repeated on a continuous loop until you a) learned to ride a bike b) said “Screw this! I’m going inside to watch The Love Boat!” or c) gave up and rode a Big Wheel for another year.

And we didn’t have helmets.

But we did get to ride bikes with banana seats. And there is something to be said for accomplishment gained through terror. It’s more meaningful to overcome than to never have really faced adversity. We conquered our fears. Not to say it won’t be a little scary once the training wheels come off, but to have no fear of falling before they do? I think you miss out on something.

And did I mention we got banana seats? Suck on that, new millennium!

Sometimes My Kid Can be a Little Creepy

Is dismembering Lego characters normal four-year-old behavior? Because, to be honest, it’s freaking me out. A little.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a bit weird to find dismantled Star Wars figure displays scattered throughout the house, no?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps we should be glad he has no access to carbonite. Notice how Darth Vader is exempt from such treatment?

 

I’m Going Slightly Mad…

Join me in a journey into madness…mwahahahaha!

*ahem*

Sorry about that. What I meant to say was, today I feel like discussing the process of querying agents, as I am in a swirling vortex of query-induced crazy right now. Hopefully you feel like reading about it, otherwise you’ve picked the wrong day to visit my blog (although I do have some other lovely posts which might be of interest to you).

Based on my—albeit very limited—experience, this is a process which can turn the most sane and rational person (like me, for example. Stop laughing. I said stop it!) into an obsessive, paranoid, irrational, impatient mess.

And I blame the internet.

For those who don’t know, let me give you a little set-up on what it is to query. Let’s say I have toiled for many long years (months, days) and have in my hands the most perfect, brilliant manuscript, destined to be the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Percy Jackson. What do I do next? Well, after many, many rewrites (at least one) and lots of peer critiques (grandma loves it), my next step is to find an agent who will a) see what a super-genius I am, b) help me polish my manuscript until it shines and c) find my work a home with a publisher, thus making me the next sparkly vampire sensation, and making us both gazillions of dollars. There are about a thousand other things agents do, but I’m just knocking it down to the basics, here.

So how do I get an agent to recognize what a brilliant writer I am? First off, I write a query letter, summing up my novel in a neat little package. Some agents wish to see a sample chapter or two, some want a synopsis—essentially a slightly longer query, which hits the story’s high-points from beginning to end.

As you can imagine, agents get a lot of queries.

A LOT.

Some get over 100 per day. So, in addition to all the stuff they do for their clients, meetings with editors, and so on, they sift through this daily deluge, known as the “slush pile,” searching for the next great writer.

We aspiring novelists, all absolutely certain we are that next great writer, send off our queries and quickly descend into needy, demanding shells of our former selves (Excuse me while I go check my inbox. No, really…). And this is where I blame the internet.

You see, it used to be a writer would type up their query, sample pages and synopsis and mail it off with a SASE to said agent. And repeat.

And then wait.

*crickets*

Months later, the writer would receive their submission back with a postcard saying “Thanks, but no thanks,” or words to that effect. Or, if they were supersupersuperduper lucky, they might get a request for a partial or full manuscript to review, and the mailing/waiting process would begin again. In this sort of process, I have to imagine you can’t obsess that much. I mean, you kind of have to let it go. It’s out of your hands, and there’s no way to really follow the process along.

In the age of the interwebz, however, most agents allow (and many prefer) e-queries, which can often result in near-immediate responses. Within hours, or days, you can get that rejection sling-shotted back to your inbox.

But here’s the problem. The refresh button.

No reply yet? WHAT? It’s been two days!

*refresh*

Huh. I wonder if something’s wrong with my email. Or theirs. What if they didn’t get it?? What if I’m in their spam folder with all the Nigerian Princes??

This is not a healthy way to live.

Another problem? Social media. We now have access to celebrities, CEOs, and yes, agents, like never before. Most agents are on Twitter, which can be really handy for the aspiring writer. Tweets like “I am now caught up with all submissions through January 24th” give the submitter an idea of how long they may have to wait. But for an obsessive narcissist, you could find yourself doing this:

Why are they tweeting about kittens when they haven’t responded to my query yet??? Hey! Nachos aren’t THAT important, especially while I’m waiting for a reply!!

Whoa. Take a step back there, sister.

We’re not always the precious snowflake we think we are.

I’d love to keep chatting, but I really have to go check my inbox. It’s been at least five minutes…